Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Resume of the first day

Resume of the first day

After yesterday's first discussion day, and in particular after the presentation by Sacha Kagan and the subsequent question posed by Bart Verschaffel, we have various approaches to sustainability as a question of culture.

While Sacha Kagan gave a most interesting insight into what 'theory' is behind artistic actions like those of Insa Winkler, David Haley or Aviva, while using the practical example of the Harrison couple who alter the cultural context around one species in a lagoon, Bart Verschaffel raised the question whether in fact a moral value like sustainability can be used by artists who follow aesthetical criteria.

Thus a key point of entry into a subsequent discussion would be how we all adapt to and deal with complexity. I used the example of Sonderborg 2017 in need of coming up with a convincing bid if it is to get the title of ECoC in competition against the city of Aarhus. Inevitable in view of the complexity in need to deal with, any cultural strategy has to come up with some simplification even though some critics would say that leads to a shunning of responsibility as a whole.

For Sacha the whole is greater than the parts but that does not mean as in the case of many holistic theories to exclude antagonism and as Oleg Koefoed would put it, also tension. For Oleg, it is crucial that complexity and tension go together. Oleg had developed a philosophical blue print for Sonderborg, in case the city and the region could adopt such principles as proposed by him and Sacha.

This is an understanding of culture as something viable and durable as long as it can connect the human and non human aspects, the build environment but also the nature at that place and location. The need to sensitivize people in such a direction would entail that artists interact with people in a way, that they do manage to alter the conventions according to which they interact.

That notion of interaction would allow cultural actors in a broader sense take up what Christian Kirsch believes is crucial if artists and cultural actors do not end up being merely professional beggars for money. In particular, Christian would continue to argue, there is a need to overcome especially the body/mind dichotomy. By including, for instance, eco-artistic expressions among one of the six categories deployed by the Delphic Games for purpose of competition not between sports people in various disciplines, but between artists including dancers, story tellers, artists become involved in another way. In short, what makes art and culture become more atuned to daily living processes which Sacha believes is more complex than any formal system of analysis, Christian believes there is a need to develop such methods by which other funds can be tapped into and obtained.

Still, in view of these interactions as initiated by European Capitals of Culture, there is missing according to Karl Eric Norrman from the Cultural Parliament the European dimension. Self referential cultures wish to show case their own achievements but this does not necessarily fulfil the vision Melina Mercouri had in mind when she initiated the concept of European Capital of Culture, in order to promote Europe through culture.

Indeed it is through people meeting to discuss the issues faced by Europeans in various cities and locations, that can make explicit how the sustainability of Europe as a whole can be guaranteed. Thus one crucial task of today's discussion shall be how to resolve this contradiction between moral values and aesthetical criteria? Here Bart Verschaffel was quite clear on that. Insofar a European Capital of Culture is primarily an expression of a cultural policy which can and does tap into 'infinite possibilities' as Oleg would put it, nevertheless some hard choices have to be made! And these choice have to be responsible ones, since you are dealing with the issue of using not only money to develop something further, but more important with how use shall be made of human energies. The latter are created once people become free and willing to unite for the purpose of making sure that their city does get the title.

Insofar as hard choices in need to be made when seeking the title as an act of balance, we shall discuss on this second day in Berlin on the basis of the understanding which has been created amongst all despite the enormous different approaches which kind of action research can be conceived to examine in future this question whether or not ECoC do contribute to a culture of sustainability.

Since Sacha spoke about the actions of eco artists like Insa Winkler, I want to refer you to the action 'imperishable water and the question of development' Haroula Hadjinicolaou has been preparing for Rhodes, May 29 - June 5th. Since the action is a possible example of linking a concern for the environment, in this case the wetlands on the island of Rhodes, with a wish to bring a diverse group of people together to pose the question of development anew, I want to refer you as well to the website where you can find a lot of materials we have gathered to help map our path through the envisioned action on Rhodes. This includes interactions with children and local communities, so that perhaps a new understanding of wetlands can be brought about and which can then lead to another way of protecting this natural phenomenon. In the past, wetlands were perceived very much as waste land and thus when constructing, for instance, the new port in Rhodes, two wetlands were destroyed in the process. But then there appears through the poem by Katerina Anghelaki Rooke another metaphor for sustainability: 'imperishable water'. A water which cannot be destroyed is as much a physical phenomenon but equally a wish and even belief by man no matter what he does to nature, nature shall survive. This endurable and resilient feature of a natural environment is something Sacha Kagan did talk about in his presentation, and he did include the interaction by the artist with people, so that they become more like mental workers which give a planner like Anna Arvanitaki quite another understanding of Insa Winkler.

Through this double example, the discussion taking place right now in Berlin and the action soon to happen on Rhodes, it can be useful to follow this path of better understanding the complexity linked to the term sustainability, including the many meanings it has to different people but also how often it can be misused not to fund interesting projects as they appear not to be by themselves sustainable, in order to find a clarification as to the policy choices cities have to make if they wish to contribute and can bring about a culture of sustainability.

The Website of the action on Rhodes is http://poieinkaiprattein.org/culture/cultural-actions-and-ecology/imperishable-waters-and-the-questioning-of-development/

For those who were present yesterday but cannot come today, there will follow another kind of report as to what shall be discussed today, and for those who are coming today, but could not be present yesterday, this might give you a sense of the spirit prevailing during our first day of discussion.

Finally, as Achilleas Kentonis put it so well, one should not forget that people are in need of one special culture, namely one which manages to massage their minds and souls so as to make lucid ideas and warm the feelings in terms of the knowledge as to how to live better together, and this despite all tensions and antagonisms.

Christina Haufe summed up beautifully the discussion of the first day that she felt perplexed a bit by the presentation of Sacha Kagan but on the other hand it would pose a good challenge to look at the link between art and sustainability in the way he does.

Hatto Fischer

Berlin 17.5.2011

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