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Oliver Ressler What Is Democracy Essay

A film by Oliver Ressler, 18 min., 2013

In recent years, countless extreme weather events have clearly indicated that climate change is not only a future phenomenon but is already taking place. Some of the effects of global warming—desertification, more frequent droughts, less frequent but more intense precipitation, lower crop yields— are inflaming existing social conflicts. In the Global South, climate change aggravates the crises of poverty, violence, and unrest that result from the legacies of colonialism and neoliberal capitalism. This vicious circle fuels humanitarian crises and civil wars that amplify political, economic and environmental disasters.

Despite clear warnings, the ruling powers do not have a political agenda with a serious strategy to reduce use of fossil fuels, the main cause of global warming. Fossil-fuel fundamentalism seems to dominate throughout the globe.

Recently, some of Norway’s politicians have advocated extracting petroleum in one of the largest fish and aquatic life spawning grounds on the planet, the sea encircling the Lofoten archipelago. The deepwater drilling would have unpredictable effects on the fish populations and some of the world’s cleanest waters. With the idyllic landscapes of the Lofoten archipelago as its background, Leave It in the Ground describes the climate crisis not as a technical and scientific problem, but as a political problem. The film discusses how ecological and humanitarian disasters caused through global warming might topple old orders and open up possibilities that could lead to long-term social and political transformations, both positive and negative.

Director and producer: Oliver Ressler

Narration text: Oliver Ressler & John Barker

The text is partly inspired by Christian Parenti, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (2011); Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell (2009); Naomi Klein, Capitalism vs. the Climate (2011).

Narrator: Andrew Golder

Camera, film editing: Oliver Ressler

Sound design, mix and color correction: Rudolf Gottsberger

Music from the album: Kate Carr, Songs from a Cold Place (2013)

Footage: Mosireen; Anonymous video makers

Special thanks to: Bassam el Baroni, Dorian Batycka, Derek Jarman, Tadzio Müller, Maren Richter, Odd Arne Sandberg, Berte Tungodden Ynnesdal

The film was commissioned by LIAF – Lofoten International Art Festival 2013, supported by BMUKK.

Ressler will be showing his film Occupy, Resist, Produce at the exhibitionREPAIR:RESSURSat galleri ROM in Oslo 23rd February – 26th March 2017.


Oliver Ressler, born 1970, lives and works in Vienna and produces installations, projects in public space, and films on issues such as economics, democracy, global warming, forms of resistance and social alternatives. Ressler has had more than 60 solo exhibitions, among them in Berkeley Art Museum, USA; Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade; Centro Cultural Conde Duque, Madrid; Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum, Egypt; Wyspa Institute of Art, Gdansk; Lentos Kunstmuseum, Linz; Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo – CAAC, Seville; Foundation Fabbrica Del Cioccolato, Torre-Blenio (CH); MNAC – National Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest; and SALT Galata, Istanbul.

Ressler has participated in more than 300 group exhibitions, including Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid; Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven; MASSMoCA, North Adams, USA; Centre Pompidou, Paris and at the biennials in Seville (2006), Moscow (2007), Taipei (2008), Lyon (2009), Gyumri (2012), Venice (2013), Athens (2013, 2015), and Quebec (2014). He is the director of 27 films. A retrospective of his films took place at Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève in 2013.

He is the co-curator of an exhibition cycle on the financial crisis, It’s the Political Economy, Stupid, and project leader of the research project Utopian Pulse – Flares in the Darkroom at Secession in Vienna in 2014.

Ressler is the first price winner of the newly established Prix Thun for Art and Ethics Award in 2016. www.ressler.at

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Ines Doujak and Oliver Ressler present their research project ‘Political Artist-Curators’ and then discuss their own practice as a part of the 'Artist as Curator: Collaborative Practices' symposium at the Whitechapel Gallery, 19 April 2013.

lnes Doujak and Oliver Ressler will present and discuss their artistic research project ‘DARK ROOM- Critical Artist-Curators’(working title), which examines the practice and possibilities of self-critical curatorial practice by artists as a way to develop alternatives collectively and disrupt the traditional sequence of production, presentation and reception. The project, which will result in a participatory public forum in Secession in Vienna from September to November 2014, includes as co-researchers, ten international artists or groups of artists who are involved in the curating of exhibitions as a component of their artistic activities. They will contribute a series of ten process-related presentations or exhibitions, reflecting on the topic by curating other artists in an ongoing series of weekly presentations.

– Ines Doujak and Oliver Ressler, abstract,‘Political Artist-Curators’

lnes Doujak is an artist based in Vienna and London. She is currently working on the long term project, ‘Loomshuttles/Warpaths’, which has recently been shown in her solo exhibition ‘Not Dressed for Conquering’ at the Royal College of Art, London (13-21 March, 2013). She has participated in a number of group exhibitions including the Busan Biennale 2012 and ‘The Potosí Principle’ (Museo Nacional Centra de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, 2010 and touring). Doujak is working with Oliver Ressler as researchers and project leaders on the ‘DARK ROOM - Critical Artist-Curators’ research project, funded by the Austrian Science Fund.

Oliver Ressler lives and works as an artist and filmmaker in Vienna, and produces exhibitions, projects in public space, and films on issues such as economics, democracy, global warming, forms of resistance and social alternatives. His projects have been included in solo exhibitions at the Berkeley Art Museum, USA; Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center, Istanbul; and The Cube Project Space, Taipei. Ressler has participated in the biennials in Prague, Seville, Moscow, Taipei, Lyon and Gyumri. For the Taipei Biennale 2008, Ressler curated the exhibition ‘A World Where Many Worlds Fit’. A travelling show on the financial crisis, ‘it's the Political Economy, Stupid’, co-curated with Gregory Sholette, is currently on display at Pori Art Museum in Finland.