Up to the end of the 18th century public displays of punishment ended in true funfairs. In cruel execution practices — from today’s point of view — arbitrary power demonstrations of the sovereign as well as popular rage, empathy or sadistic curiosity could be released. Small offences were punished with public humiliation, the so-called shaming punishments. Depending on the crime, the pillory or several other instruments of castigation awaited.
The temporary installation Humiliation by the artist duo Clegg & Guttmann recalled this background. For four months the installation was located on the Wiener Graben not far from the plague column. The artists had rebuilt a gibbet, a coat of shame and shame flute in metal and wood and layered them asymmetrically one on top of the other as a larger than life sculpture that was more than five meters high.
The installation was built on an axis to the plague column, at the site of which a gibbet stood until the late 17th century. This is a fine hint that Humiliation is reminiscent of historical aspects of the Graben.
True, with Clegg & Guttmann there is always an exterior and an interior level of reading, some kind of micro- and macrocosmos. Despite all the formal characteristics — photography, sculpture, performative composition or video — and various work groups such as Community Portraits, Recontextualized Portraits, Libraries, Cognitive Exercise or Spontaneous Operas, their basic method however consists in combining scientific research with the artistic action of collage and synthesis. Scientific sources of information influence works, which can be deduced from their symbolic value or develop into social sculptures as a result of participation. The microcosmos is here the “surface” of the work, the macrocosmos is ist “interior.” In this sense, Humiliation is not a sculpture in the classical sense. It is rather a discursive sculpture in the form of a sculptural collage from set pieces of a historic penal system which represents a social attitude linked with the notion of publicness.
As a consequence of the "great transformation of the years 1760 to 1840", as the French philosopher Michel Foucault puts it in "Discipline and Punish", in Europe as late as in the 19th century punishments were shifted from the public to closed institutions. With this move, the shaming punishments also vanished. With their installation Clegg & Guttmann pointed out the social transformation that stands for Enlightenment thinking and for humanism in modernism. They noted that the disappearance of public punishment, “was one of the most important processes through which modernism differed from earlier times.” Based on Foucault’s considerations, the artists thematized with Humiliation not only the development of the penal system as a mirror of shifting systems of power as well as their power practices and control mechanisms. They raised at the same time the question of what this development means for the current form of publicness and how society today deals with the constituent accomplishments of the Enlightenment. What has replaced the former public punishment spectacle? Maybe art in public space? Eventually, this is the third level Humiliation operates on: an analysis of the medium art in public space.
Text: Cornelia Offergeld
Kunstplatz Graben, Höhe 21, 1010 Wien
Clegg & Guttman
is an artist duo consisting of
*1957 in Dublin (IE), lives and works in Vienna, Berlin (DE) and New York (US)
*1957 in Jerusalem (IL), lives and works in Vienna, Berlin (DE) and New York (US)
About the work
steel and wood
ca. 520 x 140 x 140 cm
(additional pedestal: 100 cm)