Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Resume of the second day

European Capitals of Culture and Culture of Sustainability

Due to previous evening lasting quite long, it was decided to start one hour later than originally planned, instead of at 9.00 at 10.00. But since some came only the second day, they were not informed, in particular Joanna Szaflik from the Kreisau Initiative, Johanna Schall, actress and theater producer, and Volker Amrhein from the bureau of dialogue between the generations. So there was a need to bridge between the previous day and this second one best done by recapitulating what was said before.

Understanding the term sustainability and how European Capitals of Culture deal with culture

Naturally by the time the seond day was up, some of the participants may have felt like the woman described in the poem by Howard Barker and which Johanna Schall had brought with her, but which she never got around to read. Indeed, while some things could be understood better the first day, other things were understood differently the second day.

The Bite of the Night

by Howard Barker


They brought a woman from the street

And made her sit in the stalls

By threats

By bribes

By flattery

Obliging her to share a little of her life with actors

But I don't understand art

Sit still, they said. But I don't want to see sad things.

Sit still, they said

And she listened to everything

Understanding some things

But not others

Laughing rarely, and always without knowing why

Sometimes suffering disgust

Sometimes thoroughly amazed

And in the light again said

If that's art I think it is hard work

It was beyond me

So of much of it beyond my actual life

But something troubled her

Something gnawed her peace

And she came a second time, armoured with friends

Sit still, she said

And again, she listened to everything

This time understanding different things

This time untroubled that some things

Could not be understood

Laughing rarely but now without shame

Sometimes suffering disgust

Sometimes thoroughly amazed

And in the light again said

That is art, it is hard work

And one friend said, too hard for me

And the other said if you will I will come again

Because I found it hard I felt honoured.


Johanna Schall added a little note to this poem on which it says 'stole this from Howard Barker via Samya Kaleb'. Now Johanna Schall could have said a lot about theatres and sustainability for their existence depends not merely on how it is being funded, but how theatre manages to keep or not an audience. And if over time the audience grows older but stays the same, then obviously other difficulties arise for the theatre. Since then not everything can be staged and be accepted by such an audience.

Precisely here a link could be made to what Bob Palmer and Greg Richards stress in their third report about European Capitals of Culture, namely how to make visible a program to be implemented over the course of one year, if not by creating out of the general public an audience for special events taking place. Here then is the built up of a critical but receptive audience of great importance to sustain a cultural process throughout the year. This requires not only such an information flow that can activate people to step out of the general flow of people merely passing by in order to become an integral part of not a mere passive, but of an active audience. The difference between passive and active can be described as a first and second level of curiosity with only the second one being able to undertake more steps to be informed about the performing artists and the nature of the work whether now a musical composition, the draft of a play or the literature used as reference for the artistic work presented. An audience of such a kind of activization potential would also insist on staying on in order to talk with the actors or performers. They would want to give to the artists a substantial feedback and not merely an appreciative applause. For cultural identity is formed through such discussions taking place after having made an aesthetical experience and in reflecting upon the ability to forge through the experiences made and how the actors themselves felt to have interpreted the piece a new kind of understanding for an identity not yet recognized in real life, but there, on the stage, a possibility to exist.

Presentation by Volker Amrhein

Volker Amrhein does the coordination of the project 'Dialogue of the Generations'. He was asked to contribute from his perspective to a particular aspect of sustainability cited as well in the discussion paper by Oleg Koefoed in reference to Brundland report to which Karl Erik Norrman had contributed as well when still serving as diplomat of the Swedish Foreign Ministry, namely what world is left to future generations?

Volker Amrhein presented first of all Pfefferwork where the project has its office as this former brewery was occupied by all kinds of artistic groups once the wall came down. Out of this emerged slowly a social and cultural entity which employs by now more people than any other institution in the district of Berlin Mitte and which combines about 150 different projects. The difference of the project 'Dialog of generations' to the others is its modality of funding since supported by the Federal Government.

The need for such a project became increasingly obvious when it became clear demographically speaking that in future society shall have 1 young person facing 6 adults, 3 of which being older than sixty years of age. This demographic shift is dramatic and needs a response.

Common assumption by both young and old is that the other side would never understand their respective life; in German this distinction is called 'Lebenswelt' i.e. each generation having its own world to live in and which is not understood by the other generation. To overcome this, the project started to initiate certain connections e.g. children visiting homes for the elderly and vice versa retired people coming into the kindergarten. Interestingly enough, Volker observed, people think old people are boring and have nothing to say, but then again old people can surprise many and become very active once given a chance.

This kind of interaction was then extended to another project, namely to communal living but naturally again with a lot of surprises. Old people are willing to give a lot if they can live together with others. They have this need to feel protected and be taken care of when getting older. However, they cannot easily anticipate group processes which turn out to be often very different from what was expected. So here a lot of work has to be done to overcome negative surprises.

More and more this dialog between generations spread as a viable idea. In the meantime, many projects are linked to various kinds of organisations and included in their programs. According to Volker Amrhein, there are many foundations and sponsors willing to give money for such projects.

Another project extension has been to include volunteers in not only the work of kindergartens but in teaching even mathematics. This project is not yet fully developed since it does require not only special structures within the schools to include this outside help, but also the adults must be prepared very well. They go through an intensive training and qualification course. Part of that preparatory work is to come up with new teaching concepts. But it is catching on.

As a matter of fact at the core of the project 'dialogue between generations', and linked to the topic of this discussion about sustainability, is the fact that by now it is no longer a project to link the young and the older generations, but rather it encompasses all the transitions someone goes through from being a baby to a child to a teenager to a young and then to a mature adult until retirment. Each of these transitions in the life phases of every individual requires an intergenerational dialogue and understanding. Also many local communities and local mayors have caught on in the meantime that these elderly people mean a huge resource. They are in comparison to past generations not only better educated but also well situated, financially speaking, so that they have extra time. To tap into these resources through volunteer work is a way by which local communities can sustain themselves.

One response to the interesting presentation by Volker Amrhein was from Bart Verschaffel who made the observation that the entire approach to bring about dialogue between generations misses out one important thing which makes up the difference between generations and which was in past educational systems practically a confrontation with the teacher who would present in an assertive way a set of values, viewpoints and experiences on the basis of which a certain insight into knowledge became an articulated form e.g. how a historical event can be perceived, what mathematical development has led to what discoveries etc. Nowadays, Bart Verschaffel went on to say, the confrontation is reduced since the teacher is best no longer a person up front but a mere facilitator for a group learning process. Of course, it is possible to make all materials available on, let us say, Heidegger, but it is something else if someone stands there up front and develops his ideas on how he interprets the writing of Heidegger. As a saying goes, students would spin of the theory of the professor to develop and to enhance their own ideas and this especially if not in agreement with the interpretation of the professor. Nowadays a group learning process circumvents this so that there is a risk that generations no longer learn from previous ones. Although he admires the scope and richness of the project 'dialogue between generations', he would from a theoretical and conceptual point of view not neglect this need for learning as well through confrontation.

Since considerable time was taken to listen to the presentation by Volker Amrhein with everyone appreciating the location of the project at the Pfefferwerk, but also the vast networking this project has attained in the meantime, the need to move on in the discussion became a pressing matter. Consequently Johanna Schall but also Bart Verschaffel, Anna Arvanitaki, and Joanna Szaflik said they would give their comments after Oleg Koefoed had made his presentation.

Only Antonia Simon wanted to stress before moving on that this open learning and linking up of different generations was needed at global level. She does not like so much the idea of European Capitals of Culture as this reinforces a kind of Eurocentricity when openness must mean also an extension beyond the borders of Europe.

Hatto Fischer explained briefly how this discussion in Berlin came about. Originally was planned a conference in Wroclaw for May 19th and 20th around the topic 'politics of small things'. But once it was postponed, Oleg Koefoed made the alternative proposal to meet instead in Berlin, so as to take up the research question linked to sustainability.

Presentation by Oleg Koefoed

One way to characterize complexity is to compare it with an infinity of possibilities and which can be symbolised by the flower petals which Oleg uses as simplified sketch to illustrate the interconnections of everything. He developed this idea together with Insa Winkler. They called it the flowers of sustainability.

Since a base line for arrivals and departures exists in the form of such flower petals representing this interconnectivity, reflection pertains to these various possibilities of existence. And by entering and including an imaginary process, many more possibilities begin to exist than what has been realised up to now or what reality has been taken for.

(A brief comment about possibilities by HF:

Clearly this reminds of the famous novel by Robert Musil about the 'man without attributes' who has ten possible characters, including various professional ones as architect, mathematician or engineer, but whose tenth character does not take serious any of the previous nine. It might bring culture close to real possibilities to exist when there is departed from the potentiality of man or woman when growing up to take on varios identities of existence, but how someone ends up then as pilot flying aircrafts around the globe or remaining on earth as farmer or gardener depends on a variety of potentialities being developed or not, but certainly is not independent from the form of existence of such a society offering within its scope of reality only certain possibilities to exist. The latter makes up then the functioning whole and what people commonly would refer to as what may be strived for when seeking through education and other forms of qualification some form or another of existence.)

As to what Oleg Koefoed said, one reflection possibility became explicit on hand of what Bart Verschaffel had to say about Oleg Koefoed's presentation or sketch of ideas. At the same time Oleg Koefoed himself in response to a later intervention by Anna Arvanitaki corrected her impression that his approach cannot be understood as wishing to establish a new paradigma; rather he would like to be understood as questioning the old paradigma in how matters of both sustainability and culture are being approached. For this reason he has also replaced culture with the term 'aesthetics', a position reinforced by Sacha Kagan who referred to a philosopher who had already used in the 1920s the term aesthetics instead of culture.

To Oleg Koefoed, it is a matter of not difference but sensitivity as to how one enters an already existing interconnectivity and which becomes upon entry a potential of many possibilities with institutions and other factors more external than some other factors which are more immediate and mediate like tensions being felt and reacted to. That means interconnectivity can take on different forms produced by encounters. But he does not want to stay only within interconnectivity, but rather there is something more to that. This he calls sustensivity.

Of importance is that he does not believe in this divide between theory and practice. Sustensivity goes well beyond that, includes interaction and requires action to arrive at a knowledge which is sensitive to both challenges and practicalities. As he said already the previous day when Sacha Kagan argued that relating to the whole does not exclude antagonisms, so for him it includes as well tensions.

Bart Verschaffel responded with the question, if there is not a need to distinguish, conceptually speaking, between three different types of sustainability:

Bart Verschaffel added since these are very different concepts, therefore requiring quite other policy choices and decisions in order to continue existing, many mistakes would be made if not heeded. He did not see in what Oleg proposed where such a distinction would be made! But when standing in the room of organisation whenever a city undertakes the task of developing first a bid and then develops after it has received the designation to become in five years the title 'European Capital of Culture' a program to be implemented, some clear policy, equally hard choices have to be made.

Oleg responded to this remark that he would recognize the distinctiveness of these three different types of sustainabilities but in the end their interconnectivity would call for precisely the kind of sustensivity he was referring to.

Sustensivity according to Oleg Koefoed entails something 'to hold under', in order to sustain something by upholding a tension with the complexity involved and therefore being in support of an encounter with such a complexity. As this means moving up from a potential to creation, the process can best be described at this particular point as emergence. To sustain itself, the entire process will have to strive for infinity in terms of possibilities to exist.

Again he would not want to speak so much about theory and practice, but from the need to balance out actions and ideas; while are freer because concrete, ideas were free from locality but would exist merely as a possibility. That distinction would substantiate as well the freedom of choice and guide things towards such actions which retain the sustensivity of ideas.

To take up first the term challenge, he listed following items to be examined first when questioning the potential and possibility of something to exist in a way that can sustain itself. Of course, the interesting additional question here would have been if sustainability would include the ability to be creative in a continuous way even though creativity seems never to follow a continuous path but rather is one like the stepping stones to be used when crossing a pond by leaping from one stone to the next as described by Arthur Koestler in 'The Act of Creation'.

The proposal by Oleg Koefoed to look at both challenges and practicalities was made in order to get a sense of what it takes to balance out ideas and notions:



As said already in reference to the poem Johanna Schall brought along but never found the right time in the discussion to read it out aloud, many felt a bit like outsiders to what appeared to be already an internal project proposal. This impression was conveyed and reinforced by a very special way of thinking and terminology in use. Definitely not everything was understood in a way that it became clear what could be the relationship between European Capitals of Culture and a Culture of Sustainability.

An interesting remark was made by Achilleas Kentonis from Nicosia, Cyprus. He departed from what they face right now when preparing Nicosia to make the first bid insofar as they have to fulfil one specific criterion, namely to have citizens stand behind the bid. That calls in turn for a better understanding what needs to be dealt with. Achilleas would depart from fear which dominates in the life of many people. Fear can be one possibility to blend out the challenge of complexity.

Since becoming a European Capital of Culture requires entering a very special creative process, and here the method of cultural planning based on a matrix for making actions possible i.e. being funded, as developed by Hatto Fischer for the City of Volos, it would be important to remind what was said already yesterday during the dialogue between Bart Verschaffel and Sacha Kagan about complexity. To remind, Bart Verschaffel mentioned that complexity as such should not be a criterion. As a matter of fact, the simple might be more important even though that does not exclude but includes complexity. And indeed when advising Sonderborg on how to face the complexity made up by demands to be forward looking, to fulfill the criteria set out by the European Commission as stipulation for cities wishing to become European Capital of Culture, there had to be taken recourse to a simple cultural strategy which people can understand and more importantly innovate upon once they start telling this strategy to others.

For an adaptation of a successful program has to include already right form the start like a tiny computer chip containing all the programs to follow, all the criteria by which future cultural projects shall be funded. This is one important remark Tanja Brandmayr makes when speaking about the need to reverse the fake openness based on a 'culture of all' by departing from 'a culture by many'. Here Achilleas Kentonis added the opinion there will be at most 20% of the population which shall really engage itself for an ambitious program. Here Sacha Kagan drew attention to an article written by Caterina Pizanias and published in a book which he edited together with Volker Kirchberg. It describes the failure of the Manifesta in Cyprus (it really totally failed, for political & management reasons).

Interestingly enough Adam Chmielewski, director of Wroclaw 2016, had another way to link citizens with the organisation in place to bring about the formulation of a program which the city will propose in order to be selected as future ECoC : he opened up spaces for people to voice their opinions but these spaces became more what Adam calls 'chambers of anger'. By stepping inside you begin to hear all sorts of complaints while at the same time you realize that there is the danger of people expecting this one year when a city becomes European Capital of Culture to resolve all the problems they have in life, including a bad marriage, a job they do not like or a lack of opportunities due to not having completed their studies. Letting out anger is not a bad idea for beginning to understand what culture can do, what not. Already H.Schmidt, when chancellor of Germany, would say politics and the state cannot give meaning to life which citizens need in order to cope with life. Here again culture not being religion but often mistaken for such, it is crucial to mediate between what is possible and what is impossible while keeping open the infinity of possiblities culture entails.

Here Hatto Fischer started to ask but how to define culture independently both from the institutional process linked to a city becoming European Capital of Culture and from a culture of sustainability. In wishing to give a positive definition of culture, then he would depart from a notion of culture which entails already solutions. One of them would include a way to overcome this dilemma and difference Bart Verschaffel had mentioned during the first day of the conference, namely that sustainability as a moral value and political goal differs from aesthetical criteria which artists follow or are in need of focusing upon. If culture knows and gives means to distinguish between value and practical orientations, then it is not possible to replace culture with the term aesthetics. Culture would be more than aesthetics and even be an expression of how certain value principles are observed or worked through while adhering to certain aesthetical criteria. Michel Angelo would make this distinction between natural and cultural objects in the way the both the incomplete and not completed are never met in nature for a stone is more complete than any of his sculptures are best both incomplete and not yet completed. That leaves cultural openness to the criteria subject to certain justifications and indeed there come phases when artists chose deliberately to leave objects more in this state of utmost incomplete perfection but again not like Duchamp's bottle rack for drying wine bottles an object asking back but what is a work of art. It does, however, reveal a constant and ongoing dialogue between art works and cultural actions bringing about new forms of dissemination, something Oleg Koefoed had at the end of his consideration of practicalities.

When comparing Sonderborg 2017 with Wroclaw 2016 a lot more can be said about different priorities in need to be taken further before a program for the year can be formulated. For instance, Sonderborg emphasises it being a border region and for its cultural identity most crucial is this German-Danish mutual understanding. People are proud to show the once heavily guarded border being now free to pass through without any stopping drivers to show their passport. That was last November 2010 when crossing over from Flensburg into Denmark on the way to Sonderborg. Interesting was the stories told about the red light district which had flourished on the Danish side immediately after the border as long as the tight border control existed. Many Germans came over the border to enjoy themselves in something not allowed at that scale and in such frivolous manner as on the Danish side. Nowadays these former erotic places have wilted in sun, rain and wind with but a few remaining in business. However, in talks with people in Flensburg why there are so few ferries crossing over between Denmark and Germany, the answer given was that controls at sea are much stricter. As if the border there still existed. And borders can be drawn in different ways e.g. by means of tighter safety regulations for boats at sea. Thus it will be interesting to hear how Sonderborg 2017 responds to the newest developments with Denmark flauting even the Schengen agreement by starting to introduce new border controls?

At the same time, when speaking about the East-West and especially the German-Polish border, one says this border is more fluid nowadays but then again like water under certain circumstances can be quite tough and sharp, indeed a force not merely fluid but capable of even sharper separations. This can be felt when in Wroclaw by the politicians being deeply sceptical of networking and traveling too much to contact others and thus leaving an imprint on a type of communication which is quite poor or rather self assuming too much as if the world takes care of itself and in accordance with strictly speaking new expectations about what is professional commitment and private life. New delineations are felt all along even in the streets of Wroclaw through which those who can afford new and fast cars speed through tiny streets as if on a racing track. When one philosopher was asked about the reason for such even jerky but very risky movements due to the high speed with new and powerful cars, then he admitted to be doing it himself when driving a car as he feels the need to be efficient. It is a way of releasing frustration since everything else moves so slowly and gets stuck in all kinds of bureaucratic entanglements.

At the same time, Wroclaw does not have really a connection to its river which is not used due to a bridge which has been demolished during the bomb raids at the end of Second World War collapsed and which has never been salvaged to date. To reconnect the city with its river this bridge would need to be lifted to make free the water way for boats. Only then people could reconnect with the river by using it both for transportation but also leisure purposes. Again the river right now represents a certain border and to overcome it, might mean to include Interreg projects but which are only entered and funded if willing to communicate with partners interested in such a cooperation. Again the experience has been made by those involved in the development of Interreg projects that the Polish side does not communicate well enough to understand if they are at all interested in cultural cooperation and networking, and which is the basis for European projects.

Coming back to the European Capitals of Culture as European project there is the need to add furthermore the break up of the ECCM and therefore the loss of continuity of learning between former, current and future ECoC cities. There needs to be clarified the role of the Documentation Centre in Athens, and then the entire selection process along with the monitoring and evaluation happening so far leaves a desire for improvements but also for ensuring more substantial things are told and communicated about European Capitals of Culture. For otherwise outsiders do not really understand the importance of linking this with the complex question whether or not they are capable of contributing towards a culture of sustainability.

Hatto Fischer

Berlin 19.5.2011

^ Top

« Resume of the first day | Praktischer Rat von Christian Kirsch »