“Always Question the Structure” – Awareness Muscle Training Center Machine

In the Awareness Muscle Training Center at Museum Villa Stuck, visitors are invited to take part in a type of circuit training/ questionnaire that makes use of several different exercise machines. The third machine in this routine is named “Always Question the Structure”. Each machine has a different metaphorical idea attached to it and allows the visitors to ponder their relationship with different aspects of themselves and towards concepts in the world. 

“Always Question the Structure” is so called as it deals with themes of institutions, power, dominance and integrity. Its conception is related to concepts found in Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers work: the critique of the museum structure. Geoffroy is not satisfied with the extent of Broodthaers critique, as it stopped at the museum, and left other artistic venues, such as Documenta and the Venice biennale, unquestioned. Geoffroy has dedicated much of his art practice to the investigation and critiquing of such institutions: famously with his “the emergency will replace the contemporary” tent placed in front of the Fridericeanum at Documenta and in his art format Biennalist for example. For Geoffroy it is the artists place to investigate the structure of things, to identify hierarchies and question the way we do things and what we allow to be done. 

The function of this machine is to have visitors look at their own lives and analyse what power means to them, whether they are dominant or prefer to be dominated, to reveal their feelings towards their place: in the workforce, in their personal life, in the scope of the world. It is also the opportunity to play with power structures in a direct way. Each participant is hand-cuffed to the machine (with their permission) and asked a series of questions that starts with asking what they do professionally. With visitors coming from all different job positions and levels, and the instructors ranging in age too, the structure of the interview also comes into play as its own function. During the early stages of the exhibition’s creation, while testing the concepts and usages of the machine, an intern questioned the director of the museum on his place in an institution, his ideas of power and so on. The machine provided this unique opportunity to switch the power roles, removing a formal barrier and breaking the mask that usually protects structural boundaries between people. 
For Geoffroy, to create discussion on these topics is to remove a taboo, to allow people to be open and honest about how they feel they benefit or are disadvantaged by the positions they hold and their place within an institutional hierarchy. 

The responses to the line of questioning went along different lines, a lot of people said they did not like to give or receive orders and that the word “order”(in German, “Befehl”) itself was negative and that they felt that communication was better without any direct power relegated to one person, that a communal agreement could be found together. Others stated orders were necessary but that they had more to do with responsibility than power and many people found power in itself a risky concept, one that is easily misused. Some people owned up to times they had felt the misused their own power, and many times the questioning spread out further than professional power, coming to examples of unbalanced power in friendships and romantic relationships. People spoke about toxic masculinity and authoritarian dictatorships being negative functions of power, others mentioned experiences where they had neglected their own power or let themselves be influenced to do things they didn’t agree with. Many people mentioned an imbalance in power between wealthy and economically deprived nations and addressed the role money has in power, on a personal and global scale. The machine ultimately attempts to break down the walls that usually exist between different power structures, to get people to question their own dominance and how they are influenced by systems around them and the way power is present in their own lives.

Text by Elena Hansen