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Press release


Ulrike Meinhof and Eberhard Itzenplitz, Leonie Nagel, Martha Rosler, Annette Kelm, Esper Postma and Maurits Koster, Jumana Manna, Kasia Fudakowski, Marina Pinsky, Tobias Madison

Curated by Alexandra Symons Sutcliffe and Justin Polera

Performances at the opening by: Monilola Ilupeju and Womanman ft. Alex Rathbone.

“Composure is the least innocent of all virtues.” Adam Phillips.

In the Ulrike Meinhof and Eberhard Itzenplitz television drama Bambule  (1970), the rebellion of the girls held in a reform centre and sadistic cruelty of the nuns and state officials who discipline them is depicted as a somatic hysteria. Violently unsettled, Bambule is a metric to the political discontent that drove Meinhof, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and their followers to form the Red Army Faction and carry out acts of domestic terrorism. While it is polemic to show a work by a member of the RAF under the title Innocence, this exhibition makes no claims for the blamelessness (or otherwise) of Meinhof, or any of the artists included or subjects depicted; rather, it is the condition and function of innocence that is on trial.
Drawing on the psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas' theory of "violent innocence," this exhibition brings together time-based media, documentary, and sculptural works that play on the movement between the personal interior and wider political contexts. Bollas’ study of the violent innocent argues that innocence is produced through denial and exclusion of the other in order to maintain the sovereign boundaries of oneself. Framed and introduced by his reading of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible  in which Miller dramatizes the Salem witch trials as a critique of the Joseph McCarthy’s persecution of Communists in 1950s America, Bollas writes, “The violent innocent sponsors the affective and ideational confusion in the other, which he then disavows the knowledge of- this being the true violation.” The violation is of the possibility of co-existing difference and  the right to a non-contingent autonomy--this is emotional imperialism. 

Because we do not comprehend each other, we must invent one another, and through doing so we invent the boundaries and hierarchies of interpersonal and social form. There is no innocence, just the ceremony: the performance and the ritual, the frame and the stage. Innocence is a legal and social category. Children at play are innocent through the adult lens not because they are without politics and desire, but because the adult diminishes and miniaturizes the child world, making whole lives a proof for adult rationality and superiority. Likewise, history infantilizes the failures of past political rebellions to prove the inevitability of the current political climate, yet it is the only victor that can claim political innocence.
The occasion of the Innocence exhibition is PS120’s first anniversary, which coincides with Berlin Gallery Weekend. The core of the argument of the Innocence exhibition is rooted in contemporary German identity, acknowledging Berlin as the capital of permissive European Liberalism, and also acknowledging that this space is produced at the expense of others. The Innocence exhibition documents and unravels the civic and psychological states of innocence. The contexts and specificities of each artwork vary and contradict one another, and we ask you to look at yourself as much as at them. As Bollas writes, “If a subject denies perception, he does so because it bothers him.”