We Never Sleep

From September 24, 2020 to January 10, 2021, the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt is dedicating an international group exhibition to the fascination of espionage, highlighting this theme as a current source of artistic inspiration. Although spies are presented as glamorous in popular culture, the information they gather in covert actions can prove to be explosive within society. Spying is about the unauthorized obtaining of secret knowledge or confidential information. Whereas in the past, individuals or states were spied on by national governments, in times of digital communication citizens make state secrets public, and whistleblowers denounce the surveillance of the general population by their own government. Today, the openness and transparency of modern states is countered by new mechanisms of surveillance, manipulation, and espionage. Digital networks and technologies, as well as the willing spread of personal data, open up hitherto unforeseen possibilities for obtaining and disseminating intelligence. Against this backdrop, a renewed interest in the strategies of secrecy is emerging.

The exhibition presents works by 40 international artists, including Simon Denny, Thomas Demand, Stan Douglas, Dora García, Rodney Graham, Gabriel Lester, Jill Magid, Metahaven, Henrike Naumann, Trevor Paglen, Cornelia Schleime, Noam Toran, Suzanne Treister, Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas, to name just a few. About 70 paintings, photographs, video works, sculptures, and installations explore the topic from a contemporary point of view, with the works touching on aspects of espionage such as surveillance, paranoia, conspiracy, threat, camouflage, cryptography, manipulation, and propaganda. On view are a multitude of artistic strategies dealing with the “golden age” of espionage during the Cold War, while other works probe the current context of media super-exposure. New and already existing projects, as well as a collection of unexpected objects, are immersed in unorthodox ways within a specific environment—exploring the world of espionage between reality and fiction. Historical apparatuses such as the Enigma encryption machine provide insights into the reality of surveillance and secrecy. Also, popular culture has created a glamourous image around the myth of the spy, featuring heroic and shady figures, an image that continues to thrill audiences still today. As early as the nineteenth century, spy novels emerged as a separate narrative genre; and the history of film and cinema has also contributed much to the popularity of the subject. Selected book covers as well as film posters and film extracts will be on show in the exhibition, demonstrating how the entertainment industry has been inspired by the reality of intelligence gathering. Indeed, the title of the exhibition We Never Sleep evokes the fact that spies who live undercover, having constantly to change identities, are always on the run and have no time to rest.

More information here.