Manners are an instrument of assimilation and convention.
Manners are an instrument of socialization.
Manners are an instrument of war.
In War (&) Etiquette Rachel Libeskind invites the viewer to investigate and question societies manner of functioning by exploring its codes of behaviour. The work itself begins with an object that Libeskind finds in some corner of the world. An object that might be totally forgotten about, an object that has a story, an object that wants to be discovered and reintegrated into society. Borrowing from the former Prussian general and military theorists Carl von Clausewitz’s essay Principles of War (1812), Libeskind interprets and re-contextualizes his writings by weaving it into our current societal and political climate. A climate imbedded in codes and rules that often mask reality – seemingly accepted, rarely questioned. Libeskind’s works on paper highlight this ambiguity by linking images taken from a West German post-war etiquette book called das Einmaleins des guten Tons (1955) with quotes from Clausewitz’s essay. The viewer is asked to explore the unexpected connections that Libeskind creates between aesthetic, culture, society and history in these humorous and yet extremely direct and political works.
The powerful message and importance of questioning and challenging the society we live in is visualized in Libeskind’s security blanket. At first glance a colourful quilted coverlet that invites the viewer to get comfortable, however, at closer look it depicts the way in which etiquette obscures cruelties in today’s world. Images depicting white supremacists, Steve Bannon and the ‘America for Whites’ are mixed in with pictures of fine décor from Tiffany’s The New American Interior (1986) transforming an object of personal safe heaven into an object of shocking discomfort; highlighting the proximity of war and etiquette in every day life and in the political discourse. The object also shows the aesthetic connection between the American aspirational class status and the gaudy cult of Donald Trump – and perhaps the archetypal gilded interiors of all authoritarians. Libeskind is interested in the way in which society can be blinded and distracted from the harsh reality of fascist rule by the manipulations of bourgeois behaviours and rituals. Alongside the quilt, which was sewn in a traditional Americana style, there are two books that constitute a visual archive of the images used in the security blanket. The books How the West was won and National Security make reference to the current US administration featuring seals from the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the Federal Reserve, The former Confederacy and the official seal of the President of the United States. Rules and codes have not only shaped Western societies, but were an integral part of Eastern Germany’s machinery of power (1949–90). In accordance with Clausewitz that ‘codes are invisible architecture that keep people housed in place’, Libeskind reuses and reconstructs images from six small novelty East German books in her work Sports (&) Customs. The images that are collaged out of pages from miniature souvenir books show the seemingly high-functioning society kept in place by an obsession with systems of rule and order. The entirety of the work is a visual and textual deconstruction of landscapes of social behaviours, past and present.