Nine Dragon Heads Nomadic Party#2

Pressekonferenz Istanbul 19_09_2012

Dieser Text wurde für die Pressekonferenz des Künstler-Netzwerkes Nine Dragon Heads im Museum für Moderne Kunst in Istanbul verfasst (19. September 2012).  Die PK war der Auftakt zu einer Reise von 9dh von Tashkent über Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Nukus zum Aral See einerseits, der Teilnahme von 9dh am internationalen Kunstfestival “Artisterium” in Tibilisi/Georgien andererseits (Thema: “Never ending protest”). Die PK wurde organisiert von Denizhan Özer(TY) und Gabriel Adams (US). Weitere ReferentInnen waren Park Byoung Uk, Paul Dunker Duyvis, Ali Bramwell, Elisabeth Priedl, Yoko Kajio.


Im Hintergrund liefen Fotos von 9dh-Symposien in China und Biel/Bienne.


Istanbul Conference on NineDragonHeads Nomadic Party #2 2012


Title of Presentation: Protest without Concept is like Art without Thoughts


I have been an art critique for 40 years, which means that I started as a young woman in 1972. It was the time of women’s emancipation in Switzerland. New possibilities came up for art critiques as well as for women gallerists and above all women artists.


But one thing I realized very early, was the fact that artists – and women artists above all – did not reflect sufficiently on their work. Or maybe they did but in a speechless way. If an art work is exceptional, we may feel the density, but where are the words that can translate this “stomach-feeling“ in the language of society, of politics, of protest….?


Sure, you may also have the opposite – conceptual artists who pretend to express complicated visions that are not able to be seen or to be felt in their art works.


A thousand times I have heard the sentence: Oh, I do not want to define my art, that is the task of the viewer. Very often this is a cheep excuse for not having to think. But, as the famous Swiss Artist Paul Klee said: A little bit of thinking never can do harm.


As an art critic I work with words. So, this interpretive job of the viewer can be mine. But I do not want to give interpretations that come out of my own background, I want to know the artists meaning! Maybe this is specific for me, a position influenced by my generation, my generation as a woman. A position that came out of the 60’s and the 70’s, when protest became a topic in art.


But a protest against what? The word protest seems to be the word of the year for 2011 and 2012. Wherever you look around the world you can see a mass of people in the streets who protest – against dictatorship, against oppression, for freedom, for better times and so on. In some countries the dictators have had to withdraw, some have been killed – but has this time become better?


Let’s come back to art – art is a genius way of generating consciousness. In art, our two sides of the brain work closely together. Intuition and intellect are in a dialogue. Well, they always are, but usually we do not realize it, we think it is the intellect that is speaking and ignore the intuitive, the emotional impact, which is always involved as well.


Anyway, in art this dialogue converts into a sign, into an idea, into a visual manifestation.  But it only transforms itself into consciousness if we reflect on it. Oh, I realize that I suddenly use the word “we“ (plural), which means that we are now probably very close to what I want to say.


I am not an artist. When I am part of the Nine Dragon Heads nevertheless, my job must be just here. I said before that I did not want to complete an artwork by giving it my interpretation. I want the artist to tell me what is going on during the process of developing his work and I hope of course that with my questions the artist gets further in the comprehension of his own work too. A win-win-situation! For me it brings the possibility to sit in the artist’s boat and look with him trough the art work into the world! Through this participating I hope to come to the point, where I can give transparency to his thoughts by writing and speaking about art.


I came into contact with the Nine Dragon Heads only a few years ago. susanne muller – a Swiss artist and friend of mine – came back from a Symposium in Korea and asked me whether I would be interested in writing a text on her experiences with the group of the Nine Dragon Heads. She had just returned from the border with North Korea, where – by the way – Swiss soldiers have a mission of observation since the 1950’s, which is – on a second level – one of the reasons South Korea and Switzerland have a good relationship, and – on the third level – one of the reasons why Swiss artists have always accompanied Park Byoung Uk and Nine Dragon Heads.


Well, every year since I wrote this first text for susanne muller I have heard more about the adventures of Nine Dragon Heads. In 2010 I was invited to take part in the first Nomadic Party, which led us from Seoul to Peking, up to Dunhuang, and along the Silk Road to Urumqui – the land of the tribe of the Uyghur.


During this trip I felt as a guest, I observed, and somehow I was sad that I did not have sufficient information about the history, the background, the people, the literature, the art, and the music of the land we travelled trough. Neither our guide nor the local touristic organizations were sufficiently up to date and the English language was – due to their history – not as known as I had expected. Some of the artists knew more, but there was no official platform to discuss this in substantial way. Most of the artists did not need it, because, they worked in a different way.


Of course I have been in hundreds of ateliers during my career as an art critic, and important discussions have taken place, but I seldom have had the opportunity to follow their ways when they were on a “nomadic party“, just “on the move” with their specific interests.


Photography and shooting videos is very important for them, but it is not the way I take photographs. I try to document what I see, but the artists immediately find signs for the characteristics of the place, of the way we move, of the behaviour of the group, of the atmosphere of the landscape and the people living there. This approach could be poetic, it could even be a sound, a rhythm, or this approach could also be a speechless dialogue with people on the road, or even a discussion with ones hand and feet, somehow a dance that included the relevance of present forms, and colours, and ways of life.


When artists work at a “nomadic party” they always interpret. There is nothing like 1:1. It is an answer to the question: How can I express what I feel when I see. The feeling of seeing! Works like this are very often sketches that in the final work for exhibitions etc. go further on, become developed performances, installations, video-works and so on.


You see through my words the importance of an event like the Nine Dragon Heads Symposia or Nomadic Parties. They are not holidays – as critics and curators often ask with a sceptical undertone- they are inspiration fields.


Last year I was on the board of organization of the first Nine Dragon Heads Symposium in Switzerland. It was not a Nomadic Party, it was a Symposium, which means that travelling was not the main issue, rather it was getting familiar with a region within a country and getting into contact with people living there.


Of course the artists worked in the same way as described above, but at the same time there were many more possibilities for reflecting on the town we were in, on the society, the economics, the politics, the history, the landscape, and the institutions of the place – do not forget that Switzerland has the highest density of museums in the world! So we organized exhibitions for the artists and combined them with moderated discussions. During these discussions the artists had to explain their position, their procedure, their background, and their arguments. We organized a workshop with student, and the artists performed in the central place of town on a Saturday morning during shopping time.


It was interesting to see how some of the artists tried to bring in their national backgrounds or performed – on the contrary – in a global language.


I did not mention so far, that one of strong points of Nine Dragon Heads organization is their global aspect.  In each discussion we have to think of the fact that the background of artists coming from New Zealand, from Australia, from Switzerland, from the United States, from Japan, from the Netherlands and – of course – South Korea, is different. Even the same sentence may not mean the same thing when it is expressed by myself or by an artist from South Africa.


To understand each other is on the surface maybe easy, but not there where art has its ground. Reflecting on that point is compulsory.


Let’s look at it in the context of Artisterium, the art festival of Tbilisi, which the Nomadic Party #2 will flow into after the journey trough Uzbekistan. The topic is “Never ending protest“. Something that is in the air!! And now imagine three individuals – a man from Switzerland, a woman from Turkey, and a soldier from Syria – and you immediately realize the dimension of the difference this topic means for the three.


The man from Switzerland does not really know why he should protest because his only wish in the actual world is, that nothing changes in his country. Because he realizes immediately that his little wishes for change are insignificant compared with the two others in the group. He might go to a demonstration on the Zurich Paradeplatz against capitalism, but this is more of a pop concert than a protest, because the same man would shout if his bank account would be cut off because of the bankruptcy of the UBS or the Credit Suisse.


He can show solidarity with all oppressed people in the world – but on the level of art it can be seen clearly that the most existential expressions come from those who are affected directly. It is no surprise that at this year’s dOCUMENTA there were no Swiss artists present. But there were marvellous projects – from artists from Afghanistan and Lebanon for instance.


The woman from a rural region in Turkey who finds herself suddenly in a context of women who have the same rights as men – in the public space for instance – will be highly irritated and – maybe – begin with some sort of emancipation. I remember well, when I was at the Istanbul Biennale in 2009 – I was absolutely fascinated to find here so many works of good quality from Turkish women artists. The ironic way in which they said and did not say at the same time, the way they hid their protest behind humour and yet reached their aim, is great. Humour can be a form of protest!!!


And then the soldier from Syria – I cannot express how much his protest made me speechless, because I have never felt the point where I had lost everything and could have said: I prefer dying to living under conditions of oppression, violence and destruction. At dOCUMENTA the dimension was shown in a project of a 45 years old artist from Beirut, called Rabih Mroué. Among other works he presented short videos, cut out from Youtube that showed the last pictures from the mobile phones of rebels in Syria before they were shot. Of course we do not know how much the little strips were manipulated and of course nothing of relevance was to bee seen – streets and houses, ruins and burned cars – but the aim of the artist was not the showing of the films themselves but the fact that death itself cannot be shown. He says so in the audible comment to the videos in the room. With this in mind, he reaches a point in the feeling of the viewers where protest and hope, action and vision, life and death are suddenly the same. And this is very touching and tells us that any protest is also an expression of hope.


We will see how much this moment will surge out of the projects that the Nine Dragon Heads realize, and many more artists, in Tbilisi in the beginning of October.


It will be my task during the Nomadic Party across Uzbekistan and the Artisterium in Tbilisi, to work on the consciousness of what is going on within the artistic processes, to encourage the artists to search for words to express what exactly they are doing at this or another moment, and finally to write it down in a résumé on our trip.


Thank you for listening to me.