They Are Not to Be Separated: Art
and the Business of Living
A Few Thoughts about Art, the Artist,
and the Public in the Context of Public Projects by Jochen Gerz
"die Menschen sind voller Potentiale
glaube einfach an die Leute" (Jochen Gerz)
Jochen Gerz is a very special,
very different artist in today's art world. And a very unassuming, neighborly,
in a way also a direct and straightforward guy. Not intrinsically shying
away from "common-sense," from that which is down-to-earth. When he talks
about that business of living (1)
which he made his own, by choice or by chance or the force of circumstance,
when he talks about art, he can compare it for instance with playing soccer.
There, he says, you make a point or you don't, you play well or you don't.
At the end, everybody sees and understands the result.(2)
No tricks can obscure it. In art, he seems to suggest, that's not as self-understood.
Hype, pretension, the phony exist. And they are not always easily recognized
Perhaps it's not very relevant in
a piece of supposed "art criticism" to dwell on "attitudes" of an artist.(3)
And yet, I'm tempted to ask, What does it mean for his art that this artist,
Gerz, shuns pretension like the devil would shun the priest's holy water?
Perhaps it means that he isn't aiming at commercial success, that he isn't
really involved in a clever strategy of marketing his wares, that what
matters to him very much is not the kind of recognition by art critics
that would assure his being coveted as a producer of highly-sought-after,
expensive merchandise. I sense that he's after something else: He tries
to produce insights. Emotional insights. Insights that spring from an awakened
(or re-awakened) memory. From that perhaps unexpected occurrence that you
might begin to be probing something deep down in yourself who confronts
his art projects. It presupposes that a chord is touched. That something
happens between the art work, the art project and her or him (at any rate,
an individual in a given society, at a given moment in history) who chooses
to turn to, and perceive, and marvel, think, dream about what he has just
encountered. Or encountered a day ago, a week ago, a year ago.
Insights are difficult to sell.
Especially if they vibrate and oscillate in a kind of phlogiston, the non-being,
the nothingness of the imaginary that is shared by the artist and her,
or him, who has been "spoken" to, and who responds.(4)
But, you see, everything depends
on the fact that she or he "reponds." They become his co-workers, co-authors.
Those not involved so much in the
visual arts as in literature have known this for long. Some at least. That
literary production by the writer, in order to be completed, must be followed
by a second (act of) production. Arbatov knew it.(5)
Tretjakov and others knew it. Brecht comprehended it.
In the visual arts (painting, drawing,
for instance), the finished work is there, a complete (or so it seems to
Thrown at your feet. Or attached to the wall. You can pick it up or let
it rot. But it is there, it seems. In a sense, static - not dynamic.(7)
seems to limit itself to seeing "what is there," the completed work, the
work complete: embodying emotions, thoughts, desires, perhaps jokes, perhaps
the mauvaise foi of the maker. But it all appears as reified.(8)
commodification process is enhanced by this way of "being there." It makes
it so much easier to sell a painting than it would be to sell a poem. What's
a poem? The paper it has been written on? No. The ink? No. If you remember
it after reading it and throw away that slip of paper, it still exists.
The painting, our superficially "materialistic," in a way quite mistaken
perception tells us, ceases to exist when we destroy it.(9)
The commodification process, I said, profits from this fact. Every painting
is (theoretically) a rare, a unique good - in German they have this nice
term for such a good, they call it a Unikat. Not a serial product of which
two or more copies exist. Just this one, this single material object, unlike
every other. Destroy a book, and other copies will exist. Destroy all the
copies of a poem, and somebody will remember it and write it down again,
or pass it on orally like they passed on long epic poems in Homer's time,
and still pass on epic poems in Mongolia, and pass on poems among the bedouins,
in the Arab world.
And still, as Sartre pointed out,
even the painting, as far as its aesthetic presence is concerned, "isn't
there" in its materiality, it "exists" more truly, more fully in the space
of the imagination, that is to say, in the mind of him who opens himself
towards it, who perceives and explores and dives into and marvels about
what he has seen. Consciously, but of course pre-consciously, as well.(10)
The discovery that a reception process
is in no way to be reduced to an onslaught, to "suffering" (passively)
on onslaught of colors, forms, tensions (or of words, contexts, significations
in literature) was in the air in the 1930s and 40s. Marxist writers in
Soviet Russia like Arbatov, who were not unaware of the productive contribution
of Shklovsky and other "formalists," discovered the active side of
the reception process.(11)
And they owed to Shklovsky and his friends at least the insight that art,
productive, innovative, that is real rather than epigonic art is about
Shklovsky's formalist interpretation of "de-automatization," they
concluded that the "new art" that was necessary challenges (or at least
has the potential to challenge) engrained world-views (thus, stereotypes,
clichés, auto- and hetero-images) in the "reader." (They were after
all concerned with written art, but mind you, it is possible and necessary
to "read" visual art, as well).
Bert Brecht followed in the footsteps
of these thinkers, incorporating their basic insight into the desirable,
required, necessary increase of the active component of reception (as a
"second", complementary aspect of the aesthetic production accomplished
by the creative artist) into his theory and practice as a dramatist.(13)
Brecht wrote in 1948, "art can only orientate itself if it moves on. And
it must do so together with the progressive part of the population, and
not away from them. Together with them, it must leave behind a state of
waiting for treatment [i.e. an attitude or a condition where art and where
the people are waiting "to be dealt with" by others], and turn active."(14)
Of course, his most relevant teacher,
Karl Korsch, in refuting the mechanically determinist interpretions of
Marxist thought by "orthodox" ideologues, had emphasized the criterion
of human praxis as the source of all insight, development, and real emancipation.(15)
If Brecht wanted to activate the individuals in the audience, hoping to
reawaken their potential to think on their own accord, in order to move
on to autonomous, self-determined action (rather than letting others think
for them, and then letting these "masters" lead them into action), it was
in line with the discoveries made in the field of aesthetic theory in Russia,
and with the social-philosophical position developed by Karl Korsch.(16)
It boiled down, as far as art and
literature is concerned, to the demand that artists and writers should
presuppose (and therefore, also, seek to address) the active "recipient."
And it confronted the typical "recipient" (reader, viewer) with the demand
that he stop asking what a literary or a visual work of art "was all about,"
that he would begin to question his reliance on third-rate art critics
and literary critics who were telling him this and that in the newspapers.
That he stop asking the author questions like, "What do you intend to say
in your work?" when he could after all access it himself and make up his
own mind. Or rather, question his own preconceptions, and admit to being
puzzled, even amazed, if this was the more honest reponse. The task to
perceive, to wonder, to grope, to pose questions lay on his shoulders.
Not on anybody else's. Even when it was admissable to read and think about
what others had to say.
It would be the mediocre ones who'd
be cocksure to have the "simple and correct interpretation." The ones ready
to wipe out the multi-layeredness of a work of art. Or of any human act,
any human situation for that matter. How did Erich Fried write in one of
his poems? "He says he can read you like an open book. And he thinks
that every book he reads, he can also understand." (--)
like this, I think.
And Chuang-tzu, the Chinese sage?
He talked of the depth where the roc plays, that mythical animal whose
wings are spread over entire provinces.(17)
An allusive statement that was to provoke the notion of the fathomless
individual, and even more, of the fathomless "human universe." You decipher
one layer, and you chance upon another. And the more you know, owing to
philosophical AND empirical exploration, thanks to reason AND intuition,
the more you recognize that the realm, the space of that which you don't
know gets ever vaster.
Today, "after Einstein," modern
physics is not in disagreement with this theoretically relevant insight
that seems to exclude all dogmatic ways of enshrining "the truth," an untranscendable
and unchangeable "scientific (or social-scientific) knowledge," and certainly
also all cocksure presciptions for a human paradise, a prefabricated utopia.
Democracy has become a permanent, unfinished project, unfinishable, in
a sense, yet demanding to be worked on.(18)
The "revolution" in that sense has indeed become permanent: a revolution
in our understanding of our tasks, our duties, our responsibilities as
individuals, as subjects who see scarcity, hunger, deforestation, poisoned
yet vast (or should I say, vast yet poisoned?) oceans.
Am I moving away from a discussion
about art and, more specifically, the work of Jochen Gerz? No. It's linked.
The insight that art is, by its very nature, essentially, projective. It
trancends itself. It protrudes, injects its fragmentary existence into
the space of the imagination; it is a form of the Not Yet, the Noch nicht
Ernst Bloch talked about.(19)
And it exists in the same continuum as the rest of our praxis; it is living
(at least, should be living art) and thus exists (or should exist) in relation
to us, to our "human universe." Not a "for itself", but "for us," "in relation
to us." (20)
And it thus corresponds with a basic
human trait, which is our situatedness,(21)
imperfection, irrationality, injustice, inadequacies.
Even if society would be perfect,
if democracy would be perfect (and they never will be, no matter how much,
and perhaps significantly, man will be able to effect improvements), we
are - every one of us - inadequate from the start. Learners. Beginners.
Groping, Growing. Developing. Like a small budding flower. Like the beginnings
of a tree starting of into his lifespan as a tree. "Men are full of potential",
Jochen Gerz said.(22)
Sure. They are like flowers, able to bloom. If you deny them water, if
you tread on them, they won't. And in contrast to flowers whose metaphorical
"urge" to bloom will always, quite naturally, exist, other men and women
can undermine an individual's self-esteem and confidence and thus the "will,"
the "desire" to "bloom."
Gerz, who is so focused on individuals
at a time of massively pushed "uniformity" and "conformism" (disguised,
however, as plurality by different "trends" in the world of political and
aesthetical fashions), speaks interestingly of "man" in the plural: "men."
Men, people can develop what is inside them, as potential, as a creative
potential to transcend that which is. That which they are. Some would add,
yes, but only jointly - only in the context of a politically conscious
effort that they join in, as disempowered ones, as wounded ones, as those
kept stupid on purpose, and as those who are marginalized and excluded.
"Being alone, remaining alone, you will be defeated. You'll give up, end
in apathy, resignation, perhaps even misanthropy or depair. Or in something
that the pychiatrists will call a psychic illness, a way of being sick."
Are they entirely wrong?
So much is clear to me: the starting
point, the beginnings, rest in you. It's a matter of your felt deficiency,
scarcity, needs. Your confrontation with your suppressed fears and anxieties
and aggressive impulses. Your felt, your perceived and embraced hopes.
It's always the individual who wakes up, or who doesn't.
There are those who, for good reason,
say, Yeah - but: Aren't the conditions, the circumstances having an effect
on your chances to "wake up" and try a "head start", try to make a change,
in your life, your way of seeing yourself, seeing the world, and relating
to the world? Isn't it that there are socio-psychological factors at work
- in the education system, in the media, in the prevalent discourses, even
in the "atmosphere" that prevailed in the home where you were brought up?
Such "factors" (or shouldn't one rather say, such "forces"?) can encourage
you, or discourage you. They can turn you into a certain direction very
early on, and then, for all your life, like an automaton almost, you keep
walking in that direction. Is that nonsense? No, not quite. It's clear,
bourgeois kids raised in a mansion have a better chance to go to university
than the kids of the trash collector. They have a better chance to "learn
music," get piano lessons, and be taken to a vernissage or a museum at
a fairly young age. They have a better chance to articulate themselves
in a way considered "proper" in those circles where people raise philosophical
questions. And yet. And yet. Isn't there the working class kid taken to
a theater performance by his teacher, the only one in a class of working-class
kids in that English factory town, who was shaken by the experience?
Who began to love and care for and explore literature? Who became, not
a mechanic, but a book-seller in London, and all the angry young poets
came and read poems in his kitchen when they were still quite unknown:
Pete Brown, Mike Horovitz, and Frances. Libby Houston, Perhaps Adrian Mitchell,
too. I'm talking of Friderun's husband, Cyril Barrow. Bad example?
An exception which proves nothing? No, it proves what could have been happening
to the others if the odds hadn't been against them; it proves and
disproves the Marxist point of view at the same time. The social situation
determined their "chance" to wake up at exactly that moment when Cyril
was "moved" by something, an urge inside him, a desire touched when he
saw the new "reality," the play, its strange intensity: a world that had
been unknown to him until then. Cyril was changing, and it happened "against
the odds," because he let it happen. It seems almost impossible to me to
separate the inward (active) force at work and the outward thrust, the
energy that reached him when viewing the performance. Yes, we are conditioned,
situated, under the "influence" of social forces, in a Capitalist class
society today. Yes, we are able to transcend that which conditions us;
it's a matter of the "creative" potential in everyone of us. "Creative"
has no other meaning than "the potential to create, to transcend that which
is, that which (but not in a philosophically 'strict' sense) 'determines'
It is this discovery which I sense
at the root of Jochen Gerz' aesthetic (and thus, social and political)
concept, at the root of his self-definition as an artist (a human being
who sets free his creative potential), at the root of his understanding
of his art works, his "projects." In a way, it is what is Brechtian in
Without doubt, I am tempted to say,
Gerz, too, aims at what Brecht must have aimed at: to startle an audience,
a public, individuals in an anonymous crowd. Yes, individuals, after all.
And this surprisingly enough to shake them out of their routine. All those
thoughts, feelings, ways of behaving that have become customary. Much too
customary, too engrained, perhaps. Some will refer to all this stuff that
is buried deep inside us, and that we tend to reproduce unthinkingly, taking
it for granted, as the dominant thoughts of an era. A vision du monde,
or Weltanschauung that has us in its grip. Some will call it the esprit,
the structural make-up of a socio-culture. Some will look at it from the
point of view of social psychology, or psychoanalysis. Others yet will
question it insofar as it includes stereotypes, automatisms. It's not up
to me at this point to decide which approach is most lucidly highlighting
whatever we perpetuate in our lives, our thoughts, emotions, our practice,
all that which is "practico-inert" about it, as Sartre thought. Whatever
view of the "engrained" may be most telling, most to the point, I think
Gerz is right in emphasizing his hope and his expectation that routine,
seeming "passivity," the "inertia" inscribed in stereotyped forms of behaving,
of thinking, even of feeling, that the compulsion to repeat "mistakes"
(referred to so tellingly as Wiederholungszwang in German) are not the
only dimension of our psychic and intellectual, our active and our contemplative
life. Yes, there exists something else in us. Something that is curious,
awake, capable of empathy, of love, of questioning that which is, or which
seem to be, "too much of a certainty." And isn't it true that, at least
at the back of our minds, we sense its presence, its possibility to grow
and unfold? Not only in the "arts" but in our lives, this "other" quality,
this "other" seminal thirst to discover and make things new exists, without
any doubt. Whatever speaks to this "other" quality in us, reaches us best,
in the most intimate, honest, uncompromising way. Love, art, poetry, togetherness,
the warmth of being involved in an unbiased, disinterested act of solidarity,
the sisterly moves implied in constellations of mutual help, they all imply
the "other," that which is not "dominated" in us, not "manipulated," not
a result of education with the carrot and the stick. Moving, opening us,
so unafraid, towards others, towards the Other, Unknown, Unexperienced,
Strange, we experience our liberation and we liberate the Opposite Other
we face. Liberate the Other, from fearful anticipation of rejection. Of
being misunderstood. Of being "invisible," even. So it is a way of
discovering the Strange. The Strange in art, in foreign ways of behaving,
in foreign cultures. There are two sources that let us discover our option
to do so, and our courage to turn to it: the creative source deep
down inside us, deep inside every individual. And the open-minded encounter
with the strange and perplexing in art. Whether theater, the visual arts,
literature, or public sculptures like the ones by Jochen Gerz.
Feb. 28 - Mar. 1, 2010
(1) The "business of living" - it's Pavese's phrase, of course, which
alluded to the totality of existence, innocence and experience of the artist
or anybody else, for that matter. (Cf. Cesare Pavese, Il Mestiere di
vivere (Diario 1935-1950). Torino 1952)
(2) Jochen Gerz, talking in: Martin Stuemper and Matthias Wurm, "Eine
kurze Geschichte von Jochen Gerz und der Kunst der Strasse" (radio
feature), 2010. Broadcast by WDR 5 public radio in Cologne on Feb. 13,
(3) "Attitudes," or "positions taken" (Haltungen) embody of course a
choice; they thus point towards a project, towards an understanding of
our life, our "business of living" as a specific project. An insight owed
of course to Jean-Paul Sartre. - Even before Sartre, Bert Brecht paid much
attention to "Haltungen." As Paolo Chiarini has shown, "Brecht attains
a free space for the word by introducing the gesticulatory ['gestic'(?);
in German: 'gestisch'] element; in other words, he attains it thanks to
the elaboration of a language that 'indicates specific attitudes which
the speaker assume vis-à-vis other persons' " ([Brecht,] 'Ueber
gestische Mimik' [On gesticulatory mimikry] )." (Paolo Chiarini, "Thesen
ueber Brecht", in: Alternative, Zeitschrift fuer Literatur und Diskussion
# 72/73, June/August 1970, p. 127)
(4) Jean-Paul Sartre, L'imaginaire. Paris (Gallimard) 1940
(5) See Boris Ignat'evich Arvatov, Kunst und Produktion. Munich
(Hanser) 1972; see also Boris I. Arvatov, Boris Ignat'evich Arvatov,
poètika, Moskwa (Federaciaâ) 1928
(6) This is even true of works by painters who were continuing to change,
to "overpaint" their paintings, considering them, like Arshile Gorky, as
"uncompletable." "Uncompletable" or not, they had reached a final, commodified
state when they were sold, when they ended up in a living room or a museum.
(7) Is this why Jochen Gerz became disinterested in creating works that
"hang on a wall"? Is it because they are "too complete", "too finished,"
"not enough of a process," not "dynamic" enough? Neither undergoing changes,
nor making aware of changes? And changes, awareness of changes, does it
not imply for him awareness of our history and of the present? Clearly,
the changes killed off, thwarted today, and the changes happening in an
individual today, interest Gerz. All those changes that are happening
against the odds. But also our suppression of historical consciousness,
or our ritualization of "historical remembering." He seems to work against
that. Yes. And so it is in that context that history is something continually
referred to in some of Gerz' public projects. Not history as such, but
exactly our history that "we" tend to forget about, to "automatize." That
recent history which "we" tend to embed in "rituals of automatized remembrance,"
"rituals of routinely professed guilt." I speak, of course, of the situation
of Germans in Germany. But it could be applied to other contexts as well.
Do not most Americans also suppress historical awareness of the genocide
that decimated the Native American population? Don't they reject
any recognition of personal guilt, any recognition of a national responsibility
regarding the terrible war in Vietnam that remains tied to Agent Orange,
to defoliation and poisoining of vast landscape and their inhabitants,
to massive bombing which surpassed everything seen during WWII?Who is ready
today to face crimes like those in My Lai? Who acknowledges "we" were blind,
we were wrong, we were too manipulated, too cowardly, too passively conformist
- when we could at least face our inadequate civil courage, and unemancipated
past now, three and a half decades after the end of that war waged for
nothing that cost so many innocent lives. In fact, nothing will change
for the better, today and in the future, if we don't come to confront the
past more truthfully. And this means, much more authentically.
(8) In Lukacs et Heidegger, Lucien Goldmann writes about a "central
concept" of the philosophy of G. Lukàcs, that of reification ["celui
de réification"], stating that in "departing from the famous
analysis of fetishization of the commodity [Warenfetisch, fétichisme
de la marchande] developped by Marx in the first chapter of Das Kapital
, Lukàc, by substituting the word "reification" for the Marxian
term, has developped a general theory of false consciousness to which he
consecrated one half of his work and by which he showed how this reification,
tied to production for the market, leads finally to diverse forms of false
consciousness and to a perception of the outside world as a pure object
susceptible only to being known and modified, to that which Heidegger
called Vorhandenheit, which is found at the base of every objectivist interpretation
and above all, of every metaphysics to the extent that it is a theory of
["A partir de la célèbre analyse du fétichisme
de la marchandise développée par Marx dans le premier
chapitre du Capital, Lukàcs, en substituant le mot de 'réification'
au terme marxien, avait développée une théorie générale
de la fausse conscience à laquelle il avait consacré
la moitié de son ouvrage et dans laquelle il montrait comment
cette réification, liée à la production pour le marché,
aboutissait finalement aux differentes formes de fausse conscience et à
la perception du monde extérieur comme pur object susceptible seulement
d'e´`tre connu et modifié, à ce que Heidegger appellera
la Vorhandenheit, qui se trouve à la base de toute interprétation
objectiviste et, surtout, de toute métaphysique en tant que théorie
de l'e´`tre." (Lucien Goldmann, Lukac et Heidegger. Pour une nouvelle
philosophie, Fragments posthumes établis et présentés
par Youssef Ishaghpour. Paris (Denoel/Gonthier) 1973
(9) But juxtapose this view to that of Sartre who wrote: "Let us reflect
for a moment on what happens when I apprehend the portrait of Charles VIII
as an image of Charles VIII. All of a sudden I stop seeing the painting
as a part of the real world. [...] This painting as a real
can be lighted to a greater or lesser extent, its colors can crumble away
, it can burn. [...] Its objective nature depends on reality, taken as
a spatial-and-temporal continuum. But if, on the contrary, I apprehend
Charles VIII as image in the painting, the apprehended object can no longer
be subject to lighting. It isn't true that the cheek of Charles VIII for
instance can be more or less well-lighted.
The light on this cheek has been decided once and for all by the painter
in the imaginary, after all. It is the unreal sun - or the unreal candle
which has been positioned by the painter in this or that distance from
the face. And it is determining the degree to which the cheek is lighted.
[...] if the painting should burn, it is not Charles VIII as a notion
[as an imagination] that burns but simply the material object
which serves as analogon for the manifestation of the imagined object.
Thus the unreal object all of a sudden appears as unattainable in relation
to reality." [My translation] (Jean-Paul Sartre, Das Imaginaere,
Reinbek (Rowohlt)1971, p.285)
( 10) Cf., again, Sartre, opus cit.
(11) Arbatov, opus cit.
(12) Viktor Sklovskij, Theorie der Prosa, Frankfurt am Main (Fischer)
(13) As Frederic Jameson saw it, it was at least useful to compare Bertolt
Brecht's theory of estrangement (Verfremdungstheorie) to Shklovky's theoretical
views about automatization and de-automatization of literary forms. Verfremdung
[estrangement] was a central category for Brecht, and the related verb
verfremden means "to make strange." What mattered to the dramatist was
not the artistic device as such but the resulting process that occured
in the active (or activated) mind of the actor and of the theater goer
who watched the performance. If the performance succeeded in "making something
[i.e. something seemingly well-known] look or appear strange" to the viewer,
it implied that he or she was beginning to actively question hitherto unquestioned
views or preconceptions. The viewer would start to think in a fresh and
new way. Jameson underlines the fact that Verfremdung "means
estrangement, like Shklovsky's Russian equivalent." (F. Jameson, The
Prison-House of Language, A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian
Formalism. Princeton, NJ 1972 p.58) But of course, Shklovsky's interest
was that of a theoretician reflecting on aesthetics: his main concern was
with the new formal, aesthetic device, or the new and different use of
an already established formal device (Kunstmittel). This renewed, different
use constituted "de-automatization" (Entautomatisierung), and it resulted
in a fresher, different aesthetic perception of the work by the viewer.
In a formal, aesthetic sense, it renewed the genre, and within the genre,
the individual art work, regardless of what it had to say. Clearly, Brecht
owed something to Shklovsky, and he in fact acknowledged the achievement
of formally advanced pioneers (he mentioned radical innovators like Joyce
and Dos Passos). But he was determined to transcend the position of those
seemingly bent on (or, sometimes wrongly, accused of) purely formal innovation
for it's own sake.
(14) "Jedoch kann die Kunst sich nur orientieren, indem sie fortschreitet,
und sie muss es tun mit den fortschrittlichen Teilen der Bevoelkerung und
nicht etwa von ihnen weg; mit ihnen muss sie aus dem Zustand des Wartens
auf Behandlung zum Handeln kommen [...]" (Bertolt Brecht, Schriften
zum Theater # 6, 1947-1956. Frankfurt am Main (Suhrkamp) 1964,
(15) Cf. Karl Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy, London (New Left
Books) 1972; Karl Korsch, Il materialismo storico. Bari (Laterza) 2nd ed.,
1972; Karl Korsch, Marxismus und Philosophie, Frankfurt (EVA)
5th ed., 1972.
(16) For Brecht as for Karl Korsch, the historicity (die Geschichtlichkeit,
historical quality, die Gewordenheit) of empirical social reality (e.g.
specific art forms, specific world views, specific social relations) was
to be recognized as well as its VERÄNDERBARKEIT or "changability":
the fact that it was changeable, that it could be changed.
(17) [Chuang-tzu], Chuang-tzu. Taoist Philosopher and Chinese
Mystic, transl. from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. London (Unwin)
2nd ed. 1926
(18) This is, incidentally, a notion that was also highlighted by the
(19) Ernst Bloch, Philosophische Grundfragen. Teil 1: Zur Ontologie
des Noch-Nicht-Seins: ein Vortrag und 2 Abhandlungen. Frankfurt am
Main (Suhrkamp) 1961
(20) Husserl asserted, convincingly, the "intentionality" of consciousness.
(Edmund Husserl, Ideen zu einer reinen Philosophie und phaenomenologischen
Philosophie; Buch 1, Allgemeine Einfuehrung in die reine Phaenomeologie.
Halle (Max Niemeyer) 1913). - Consciousness is always "consciousness of"
something, "about" something, and so is art - as a product, in part perhaps
of chance, but in part always of consciousness and/or pre-consciousness,
as well. So the "referential," in some way or other, is present in art;
it is a layer or dimension of art. Even in the case of non-figurative works
of art that renounce every "statement about" something. Here, the referential
quality of the art work is inscribed in the fact that it bears witness
to the refusal of the artist to "say something about" an interior or exterior
aspect of the world. But this refusal is precisely a part of his own interior
reality and of his 'rapport' to the social reality, insofar as he faces
it as an artist.
It is obvious that in addition to the referential aspect, other aspects
or layers can be identified in a work of art.
(21) Situatedness (in German: Situiertheit) is a notion
owed to Sartre... yet also rooted, at least vaguely, in a Marxist concept
of anchoring lofty ideas in the solid ground of historically developing
social reality (think of his famous phrase "vom Kopf auf die Fuesse stellen");
in other words, in the insight of Marx that our way of thinking about society
and ourselves, our ideas boil down, in a way, to a rapport idéologique
which reflects the given social (i.e., class) relations.
But Marx, too, by his praxis as a theoretician and as a revolutionary,
implicitly admitted that we are able to transcend "given" ways of thinking,
dominant ideas that merely reflect the status quo. Departing from a historical
situation, it is men [human beings] who by their (theoretical and physical)
praxis, can MAKE HISTORY, i.e. they can contribute to actions that attempt
to consciously change the status quo, aiming at greater justice,
equality, brotherliness, liberty, in short, aiming at a "humanization"
of (to a greater or lesser extent) inadequate if not inhuman circumstances.
(22) Jochen Gerz, in: M. Stuemper and M. Wurm, opus cit.
(23) If his public sculptures and other "works" (or "projects," as he
frequently calls them) often are changing and finally even, disappearing
works, this accentuates not only Gerz' rejection of the solidly static
art works he once produced which are much more likely to be commodified
and at the same time, to be integrated into a cultural sphere that isolates
art works from the social reality where they were meant to "intervene,"
by putting them into an ivory tower, the museum. His non-static works also
speak more urgently to us in a way that asks us to be active, activated,
both with regard to art, to ourselves, and to the social reality we exist
in. Another aspect of these works is that these same works make us sensitive
to "change" (both within the art work in question, and beyond or outside
it). These works often also "refer to" or "call to mind" or "evoke in us"
history, memories of and emotions and thoughts "about" history. But, being
activated, we do not see in them works that force a vision of history (say
of the Nazi past in Germany, or of the " TIME OF THE GDR ") on us. They
create a free space: not only for the imagination but also for OUR conscience,
our emotions, thoughts, memories. They leave us free to think, to feel,
to choose a position vis à vis the past and the present.
Interestingly, this again reminds me of Brecht's approach which was
also addressing the critical individual, leaving him free to make his choice,
inciting him to think, challenging him to face history, to discover reality
as historical, as changeable. As F. Jameson phrased it, "For Brecht, the
primary distinction is not between things and human reality, not between
nature and manufactured products, but rather between the static and dynamic,
between that which is perceived as changeless, eternal, having no history,
and that which is perceived as altering in time and being essentially historic
in character." (Frederic Jameson, The Prison-House of Language, A Critical
Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism. Princeton, NJ 1972,
p.58) It may be noted in passing here that Brecht's play often were results
of a work process that incorporated and thereby changed earlier "material."
And as Magdi Youssef has shown, in his discussion of the performances of
Brecht's plays in Egypt, they can become in turn subject to active, creative,
productive changes that refute all academic notions centered on "faithfulness
to the text." In Egypt, it was the necessity to depart from the needs and
socio-cultural specificities of the recipients in a given context at a
given time that prompted their actualization, and thus the creative use
made of them. An idea Brecht would have loved.