Monday, 15 February 2016

'Art instead of borders'

What is currently happening in the Middle East is nothing less than one of these profoundly tragic historical moments, when the abyssmal darkness of human nature opens-up again, in an orgy of violence where any notion of humanity has disappeared. Whatever reasons or labels are applied to the fighting parties, they all have discarded the foundation of being human, and sink into the pit of insanity, whereby governments restrict their reasoning and operations to the purely 'functional' considerations of interest which, like in any hell, are completely separated from any sense of civilization.

Meanwhile, the EU is crumbling, demonstrating the shocking reality that former appearances of solidarity between the European nations were merely a façade for self interest: where the EU offered advantage, it was welcomed; where it demanded a minimum of sharing a common burden, as now with the distribution of war refugees, friendship immediately dissolves in open hostility. Germany, as the leader of a Europe that would be developing into a civilized and wealthy whole, suddenly saw itself completely abandoned in its truly European gesture towards the refugees. Everywhere, walls are built and quarrels prevent the emerging of a solution to the refugee crisis which obvioulsy can only be handled constructively if all European countries arrive at a common policy. How these times will develop in the near future, will also have serious implications for culture, because if Europe breaks-down into the nationalist situation of old, economies will gravely suffer, and culture will be the first item on the list to be dropped.

The proliferation of extreme rightwing parties all over Europe, with their anti-immigration agitation, wholeheartedly helps IS and Russia with their intention to bring Europe as a whole on its knees (the rightwing parties receive money from Russia, as a recent German documentary revealed): political leaders appear powerless to agree upon some common strategy and are quarrelling over secondary matters, with their reelection in mind, thereby forfeiting their credibility with the populations. The rightwing parties merely recite completely outdated and worn-out nationalist rants, appealing to the uninformed, uneducated and primitive layers of society. We know from history to which disasters such movements can lead, but people voting for those parties are, inevitably, entirely ignorant of these implications. It is the fears of the lemmings being exploited by the cynics. How could it possibly have gotten this far with Europe? The answer is not difficult to find: because of the failure of the EU to provide anything other than a bureaucratic and economic narrative to the union's populations, and its own corruption: recently, a journalist team caught an EU MP in his immediate willingness to sell his support for some proposal to lobbyists, and the EU's own 'anti-corruption' unit refused to take it seriously. At the height of the financial crisis, some years ago, the European Commission decided to considerably increase its own salaries, really not something to inspire trust in the entire European enterprise. Everybody who has taken the trouble to study the process of decline and fall of the Roman empire will recognize the same fateful combinations of mounting interrelated problems and lack of responsibility of leaders, who fight for their own short-term interests on the expense of the whole.

Earlier this month the Austrian chanceler Werner Faymann visited the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, who put his finger on a sensitive wound: Europe needs a new narrative that unites the nations and overcomes the differences, and this narrative should be created by culture. Authors, composers, film directors, painters, represent a 'we' which transcends borders and boundaries. In the context of the actual problems raging, this may sound crazy, but the idea is, of course, perfectly legitimate. Chief editor of the Wiener Zeitung, Reinhard Göweil, dedicated an interesting comment on Renzi's proposition, 'Art instead of borders':

An interior market may be practical, but it does not warm the soul, says Göweil. What is needed, is an emotional anchor. All too true.

Renzi did not mean the available and accessible art of the past, to be found in the museums and concert halls, but art being produced today. It will be clear that where contemporary artists are still chewing on entirely empty and / or destructive / nihilist ideas of half a century ago, such new cultural narrative will not be forthcoming: it will not be possible to find such thing in the established, subsidized new art territory, with its absurd conceptualism and sonic art festivals. The only possible new narrative is a renaissance, as it happened already earlier in Renzi's own country some 500 years ago. Indeed, artists - if talented enough - can create an inspiring narrative of European humanist culture, but that would also mean looking for artistic ideas fundamentally different from established (post-)modernism, which is still celebrated in public space everywhere in Europe as something supposed to have some cultural value.

Why has the established new art world - i.e. museums of modern art, institutions dedicated to contemporary music - not evolved, away from outdated and primitive ideas, and why are they still cultivating nonsense as if the sixties have been frozen? The unfortunate reason is, that the field has been populated by people and especially, 'artists', which are by definition imune to artistic ideas, people whose talents only reach as far as the very limitations as created by postwar modernism. That is the reason why the museums of modern art don't show new figurative art, the modern music festivals don't present new traditional works, and why the world's cities are still being filled with the modernist buildings demonstrating the time capsule of a naive, utopian ideology. A renaissance of European culture cannot be expected from these quarters but has to be found elsewhere, in the 'alternative' margins of the cultural world.

Only a Europe strengthened by unity and a common, inspiring idea, by a cultural narrative rooted in its humanism, can deal with the crises threatening its very existence; the 'official' cultural institutions however, are incapable to offer such narrative.

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