Oliver Ressler and Zanny Begg

The Right of Passage, 2013
Still da video / Video still
Courtesy the artists and Galleria Artra, Milan

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Zanny Begg & Oliver Ressler (Australia, 1972; Austria, 1970)

The Right of Passage, 2013
HD film, 19’
Courtesy Galleria Artra, Milano

The Right of Passage deals with the theme of citizenship in capitalist societies during the time of globalization, characterized by the surpassing of old borders and the simultaneous construction of new constraints, limits and modes of discrimination: an investigation into human beings deprived of those official documents that ensure access to citizenship.
The footage begins with an image of an airplane at a departure gate seen through a mesh screen, already symbolizing a movement that is denied or impeded by an obstacle.  The film then proceeds with the alternating of interviews with eight people—scholars, intellectuals and regular people.  The filmed sequences were all shot in Barcelona, a city that became symbolic of the economic and social crisis that has hit the West in recent years, but also an emblematic European melting pot. Among those interviewed are Antonio Negri, Sandro Mezzadra and Arielle Azoulay, well-known scholars and theorists of migratory phenomena of the contemporary world. The rhythm of the video is interspersed with certain key words like polis, citizen, cosmopolitanism, world in movement, to which are linked the declarations of various people heard over the images of passports – the fil rouge of the documentary – on which also appear animated figures, human beings as well as objects, in an unexpected admixture of languages.  These characters move within the pages of the passports and deny, through their movements and escapes through imaginary holes created in the pages, the reality and the validity of the order behind the existence of those documents.
The alternating of the diverse voices impedes a single interpretation and, in the same way the animated drawings work compared to the video sequences, it expresses the ambiguity and the difficulty of the living conditions of the so-called sans papiers.  The work of Ressler and Begg thus brings together the methodological rigor of the documentary with the invention of a parallel world, endowed with a touch of irony that appears already in the title, The Right of Passage, a play on words between the “rites” of passage from one age to another, and the “right” of passage between one State and another.
The film ends with a drawing: a female figure presents a pipe. In a reference to René Magritte, the words “This is not a citizen” also appear. The famous “ceci n’est pas une pipe” (this is not a pipe) questioned the traditional relationship between representation and reality, thus underlining the ambiguity of descriptive language and at the same time the autonomy of artistic language. Ressler and Begg question the relationship between the structure of the Nation-State—the legacy of an order that has been superseded, if not by laws, then by facts—and the individual who, if deprived of bureaucratic documentation, finds his or her freedom of movement, and very identity, denied.


Oliver Ressler (1970, Austria; lives and works in Vienna) is an artist and filmmaker who produces installations, public art projects and films on issues such as economics, democracy, global warming, forms of resistance and social alternatives. Over the years, he has collaborated with the artists Zanny Begg, Ines Doujak, Martin Krenn, Gregory Sholette, David Thorne and the political scientist Dario Azzellini. Ressler has participated in more than 150 exhibitions, including the biennials in Prague, 2005; Seville, 2006; Moscow, 2007 and Taipei, 2008. For the Taipei Biennial 2008, he also curated the exhibition A World Where Many Worlds Fit on the counter-globalization movement. He has held solo exhibitions and projects recently at the Peacock Visual Arts, Aberdeen, the Galleria Artra, Milan and the Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva. Recent group exhibitions include: (2010) The Politics of Art, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens; (2011) The Tourist, the Pilgrim, the Flaneur (and the Worker), Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; The Workers, MASS MoCA, North Adams (USA); Un altro mondo è ancora possibile?, Palazzo Ducale, Genoa; (2012) Enacting Populism, Kadist Foundation, Paris; Kopf oder Zahl, Biennale Bern, Bern; Occupy Everything, GrazMuseum, Graz; (2013) Disobedience Archive (The Republic), Castello di Rivoli, Torino; Maldives Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale.

Zanny Begg (1972, Australia; lives and works in Sydney) works in an inter-disciplinary manner as an artist, writer and curator. She is currently the Director of Tin Sheds Gallery and her recent curatorial projects include: The Right to the City, Tin Sheds Gallery and There Goes the Neighborhood, Performance Space. She was invited to Hong Kong for an Australia-China Council Residency (May 2007), to Indonesia for an Asia-Link Residency (June 2008) and an Australia Indonesia Institute Residency (2011), to Chicago for a residency with Mess Hall (2010), and to Barcelona for an Australia Council Residency (2012). Her recent exhibitions include: What Keeps Mankind Alive, Istanbul Biennale; Taipei Biennial, Taiwan; Sharjah Biennal, Plot for a Biennial film program, United Arab Emirates; Have the Cake and Eat It too, Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Wien; Self Education–Self organization, National Centre for Contemporary Art, Moscow. Her film projects include: Treat (or Trick) (2009), The Focus Group (2010), Zugzwang (2011), The Bull Laid Bear (2012, with Oliver Ressler), What Would it Mean to Win? (2008, with Oliver Ressler) and Emeraldtown, Gary Indiana (2010, with Keg de Souza).

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