Through the Arendtian Lens: Developing Statelessness through Gregor Schneider's 'Weisse Folter'


  • Suzy K. Freake



This article seeks to examine a productive intersection between contemporary artist Gregor Schneider and political/historical thinker Hannah Arendt. The purpose of such a task is to demonstrate the benefits of thinking beyond disciplines, whereby the application of political philosophy to an artwork affords a more nuanced art historical analysis, and, in turn, the reading of the contemporary artwork allows an updating and making relevant of historically embedded political philosophies.

This article shall specifically explore Schneider’s 2007 work 'Weisse Folter', a large-scale, labyrinthine and institutional installation, by looking to Arendt’s conception of ‘statelessness’; a term indicative of certain people that were politically, legally and geographically displaced in the early 20th-century, resulting in populations unrepresented and unprotected by any governmental body. Although Arendt’s political inflection of the term is specifically rooted in historically determined data, 'Weisse Folter'’s various reference points (the practice of clean torture, the incarcerating spaces of Guantánamo Bay and the ‘ghost detainees’ held there) each contribute to the contemporising of her thinking. And yet, the term equally lends itself to art historical concerns, namely that of representation: the process of giving form or state to something. In looking at the representational, geopolitical and legal aspects of Weisse Folter, this article seeks to reinvigorate Arendt’s thoughts on ‘statelessness’ as contemporarily relevant, both for political thinking and art historical analyses.