Adrian Piper, acclaimed conceptual artist and philosopher, has long compelled audiences to productively engage the cultural status quo. In particular, Piper invites viewers to confront their own limitations surrounding race, gender, and historical experience. While Piper has exhibited her artworks and installations in prestigious museums throughout the world, her bridged American-German identity remains a prominent aspect of her work. Piper’s first trip to Germany occurred in 1977, when she took intensive German-language courses at the Goethe-Institut in Berlin as a PhD student in philosophy at Harvard University. As she toured art exhibits and explored the divided city, the Berlin Wall provided a pivotal backdrop for her trip.
In 1978, she wrote, “In West Berlin… everything is displayed, advertised, renovated, rebuilt, lined with neon and rock music. In East Berlin, all of that is absent. The people are subdued, react to me as to a stranger, and eye my Levi blue jeans.” After six months in Berlin, she moved to the University of Heidelberg to study for a year; this extended sojourn in Germany left an imprint that would profoundly shape her career path. Decades later, in 2005, she moved back to Berlin, where she currently resides, editing the Berlin Journal of Philosophy and overseeing the Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation. In a series titled Everything (2003-ongoing), she places the phrase “Everything Will Be Taken Away” on a range of shifting sites, platforms, and engaged participants’ bodies. Piper connects the project to her sense of alienation around American politics and culture: “[The] Everything series evolved from my need to cope with the loss of my illusions about the United States… Since I’ve been living in Berlin, the meaning of the work changed… I perceive a population characterized by the removal of barriers and how it has constituted itself anew: the fall of the Berlin Wall; the slow dissolution of a facade of normality.” Piper has chosen not to return to the United States until her name is removed as a suspicious traveler from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s Watch List. Her Everything #5 blurs the boundary between artwork and art venue, as the piece calls for installation within the building’s architectural frame. This requires cutting into and removing part of a wall, revealing a plexiglass window in order to both expose the unseen elements of the gallery’s inner spaces and reflect the viewer’s own image. In calling for perception through absence, Piper summons the ghosts of the historical present. In 2015, Piper received the prestigious Golden Lion Award for Best Artist at the 56th Venice Biennale.