October 15, 2010

Phil Collins – Cornerhouse, Manchester

Phil Collins
Cornerhouse, Manchester
Through 20 November 2010

Just as it was mandatory in British schools to attend Bible lessons, in Soviet Russia, Yugoslavia or East Germany, Marxism was a central part of the curriculum. I’d often wondered about this. What had happened to the Marxist teachers now? Were they teaching business studies?  -- PHIL COLLINS

Marxism Today is a film project by British artist Phil Collins. It takes as its starting point the Marxism classes that were a compulsory feature of East German schools prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, investigating what became of the teachers of this subject after Marxist ideology became increasingly discredited and after the teachers themselves became surplus to requirements. 

After extensive research, Collins located many former Marxist-Leninist teachers from across the former German Democratic Republic. From the ones that came forward, the artist selected three women – Andrea Ferber, Petra Mgoza-Zeckay and Marianne Klotz – to be the subject of a 35-minute film, called marxism today (prologue), which launched to considerable acclaim at the Berlin Biennale in June, and will have its UK premiere at Cornerhouse, in October 2010.

Combining interviews with these women in their homes or current workplace with archive footage from the heyday of the socialist state, Collins’ film considers the ramifications of the social and political transformations of the past two decades from a human perspective, and with a generous and engaging sense of empathy. We learn that one of the interviewees switched from introducing students to the principles of Marxist/Leninist philosophy to setting up a dating agency for intellectuals, while another refuses, on principle, to eat bananas or drink Coca-Cola to this day.

The second phase of the project shifts its attention from former East Germany to Manchester, where Marx’s confidant Friedrich Engels wrote his influential ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’ in the late nineteenth century. While Marxism Today: Prologue is exhibited at Cornerhouse, as part of the AND Festival, Collins will be in the city for a series of workshops and events, and preparing for a second stage of filming. For this next chapter of the project, Film and Video Umbrella and Cornerhouse will bring three of the Marxist-Leninist teachers to Manchester to give an introduction to Marxism at a state school, a private school and a religious school.

Collins will follow the lives of students and teachers at these schools through the eyes of the visitors, recording the reaction of pupils and parents to the lessons of this apparently discounted political creed. In the context of the recent global financial crisis, what kind of conversation will emerge from this encounter, and how do issues of class, labour and economic value figure in the lives of young people now?

marxism today is funded by Cornerhouse (Manchester), the Berlin Biennial 6 and DAAD Berliner Kuenstlerprogramm, Film and Video Umbrella (London) and Abandon Normal Devices (AND).

PHIL COLLINS was born in Runcorn, UK in 1970 and currently lives and works in Berlin. The artist earned his B.A. at the University of Manchester and received his M.F.A. from the University of Ulster, School of Art & Design, Belfast. Recent solo exhibitions include the world won’t listen, Tramway, Glasgow (2009), Aspen Art Museum, Colorado (2008), Dallas Museum of Art, Texas (2007), Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2007), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA (2006), Tate Britain, London (2006-7), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2006). Recent group exhibitions include The Making of Art, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (2009), Acting Out: Social Experiments in Video, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2009), Cinema Effect: Illusion, Reality and the Moving Image. Part II: Realisms, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington (2008), Life On Mars, 55th Carnegie International, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2008), Double Agent, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2008). Collins was nominated for the 2006 Turner Prize.

2 October - 20 November 2010