Text by Jochen Gerz

Jochen Gerz:

No more works for the wall, no more works for the galleries, for the growing queue of art lovers at the parties and the openings. What are you going to do for a living? Do you want to give away your work? How to give it away? No more exhibitions. “One day I shall return to the street.” All this has been said again and again and nobody listened. All of this has been swallowed and digested by forever-progressive institutions, by forever-critically-affirmative critique. How to return to the street?

Jochen Gerz:

At the end of the sixties (no stone will remain unturned), at the end of the seventies (the reflux of the hunger for pictures), at the end of the eighties (life is a quote), after the nineties (one day … is now) – what is the next day? Is he ready? Is he getting tired? Is this his moment or is this another smart quote? Another 1906? The more innocent they are, the more they deserve punishment (B. Brecht). He is sixty now and alone again. Can he start once more? This is a new century. He is getting old. His friends, his generation are getting old. By now it is about returning the gift. Fish, be a giver. Can he be a giver? Don’t write. Can he give his words to naked life? Listen to those who do not know how to say: Listen to me. Hold the hands that do not dare. Leave the ghost town of achievement. Fight good taste every day (Matisse). It has been said before, and what happened? Is it wrong to take art along? Is it absurd to speak to both, the homeless and art? Can art be a sacrifice? Can the fish be the sacrifice of the fish?

Jochen Gerz:

As long as he stays on the autostrada of cultural redundancy and consumerism he cannot get it right. Is art living in the wrong place or is art the wrong place? A sense of urgency is the result of understanding that he is running out of time, or rather, that understanding comes late. There are no timeless concepts.

Can he do art without thinking of art? Both activities are part of the same thing. Both need to be shared with others. The thinking is the doing and the doing is the thinking. Just as he cannot do art without thinking about it, he cannot do either without looking around. Look around like a newborn. Remember the others, all of them, acknowledge your place in the midst of people. As an artist, he stands in his own way. Can he leave the shadow he casts upon himself?

The Twin Towers, World Trade Centre, New York, July 2001

Art needs to be seen to exist. This means three things for most people participating professionally or financially in the art world: Art is a visible object and secondly, it is created by artists. Thirdly, it needs to be “done and dusted” before others can look at it and can get “involved as a viewer”. This defines the role of artists and also of society. For those who are not artists, the purpose of art is economic. Artists not only create art, but it is also their role to participate in the establishment of a market fuelled by the largest possible number, the elite of art owners. Although their global number is growing, the viewing, distributing, marketing, mediating, buying and selling of art does not seem to translate into added social value. The elite of art market participants is potentially the new mass and majority of the cultural society, a mass devoid of a social purpose. The consumer art market provides access to the symbols of status (e.g. art) rather than to a purpose. The elite without a purpose is a mass phenomenon in the cultural society and a paradox. Although it is growing, it does not reach out, within or beyond itself. It does not contribute to the understanding of the community. It contributes to a culture of inequality.

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Because or in spite of the above, modern and contemporary art and culture maintain a status of difference. Art continues to pretend to be a gentrifying niche of capitalism, inside but different. Even the most radical tremors, collapses and questionings of societal and cultural values do not make it change. The time of the bohemian hipster is long gone, but the mantra survived. Art claims to be different and it is basically unchanged up to this day.

Since the early 20th century, this has been the mantra: Art changes people, art makes for an improved, more civilised and more creative society. Thus, art is not only an expression of creativity but also of the reign of justice among people and the promise of a better future. This mantra is entrenched among artists and even more so in art history and cultural studies. And what is even more surprising: The further you move beyond the artist-doing-art and the art-world-promoting-art into today’s democracies, and penetrate consumerism, the more the idea seems to gather momentum that art is different from everything else and that it is good for people.

Culture in the cultural society is not a practice. Its principal participatory dimension is consumerism. The poorer the degree of creative self-experience, personal expression, involvement and even exposure to information, the more the idea is unchallenged that culture is consumption, and that the consumption of culture is the desirable way to live by the idea that art is good for all.

Euro symbol

An incredible inversion happens in this way within the same place, the same time and the same people. What is creativity? Nothing on earth is more directly, more intimately linked to humans than their creativity. Nothing defines their existence on this planet more than the desire and the ability to create. To be creative describes an act of permanent self-creation, and that is the reason why it does not go down very well with religious or other fundamentalisms. What makes this experience so defining is the implication it has for each and every one of us. Creativity is what you are. Your life. It is not only what you own, learn or acquire. It is your existence from day one. You do not decide to be creative. Whatever you do or decide to let be is creative. Because of creativity everybody is linked to others, all the ivory towers are linked; and society is linked to itself through and because of creativity. The link is the lifeline.

Creativity, which is, as most people acknowledge, at the heart of culture, undergoes a radical transformation on its way from the artist studio into society. While today most people also agree that art is what artists do, creativity as art-by-artists results in a limited, peer-selected range of objects. Only they show a creative mind. And the artists become people apart. Their creativity is transformed into an alternative to society or even its opposite: art. This is the inversion: what is part of you, creativity, is divided from you. Art stands, whatever the number of objects created by artists, for a fictitious status quo: exclusion.

Press Quote

If consumerism is not a proud word for people’s stake in culture, it may be even more disheartening as a metaphor for a society that prides itself on being a cultural society. If love eludes the lover, what does love mean? If I cannot be creative, who can? The wound of the Judgement of Paris: You are not creative and thus you need art, is as close as you can get to answering the question of why the cultural society does not prevent barbarian social frustrations like poverty and inequality, violence, racism and ever more greed. Why did Weimar’s cultural awareness and institutions not prevent the gas chambers? Or to put it as above: Why does the cultural society (and the mantra: art is good for all) not create added societal value? Why don’t millions of art lovers, entire avant-garde generations and blockbuster museum shows not do the trick?

Why do people feel left out, excluded, not respected by “technocrats” they say are working only for the understanding and benefit of themselves and do not look after the interests of the majority of common people? The mood of these people who threaten to use democracy as a tool to stop democracy is best pictured in the Silicon Valley term “fear of content”. Media news is the equivalent of bad news.

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Consumerism signifies creativity, as trauma signifies loss. What you don’t live yourself is lost on others. A society of viewers is the antidote to any concept of creativity. It is the death of art. All of this has been said pointedly a hundred years ago, at the beginning of the twentieth century. Every new day is a memorial day. Is the purpose of creativity to sustain a highly selective consumer market? Or is its aim to renew again and again the instable point of convergence in the human pursuit of equivalence?

To lock a society out of its most important workshop, its most intimate and public practice, to exclude it from its own abilities (and therapeutic expression) and to restrict access to its own competences and satisfactions to a gifted minority is dangerous. Limiting art to a (viewers-only) Pay-TV formula is hiding, instead of expressing, what is happening inside the human lab. It is dangerous to marginalise and to criminalise the invisible side of the moon. It marks the loss of the key to the creative potential inside society. A viewers-only art is an unreadable art, and a consumers-only democracy is an unreadable society, unreadable in the end for all, including artists.

In the cultural society dialogue, reciprocity and participation are replaced by ever more subtle forms of exclusion. Who speaks? PR speaks. In this new theocracy, art is spam. Who listens? Who answers? People disappear into the hapless plains of consumerism. Will they ever come back?

How to define terrorism? Since Weimar, the writing is on the wall. The suppressed past of modernity is an active agent. It hides and joins forces with other suppressed European pasts (e.g. colonialism: Is the terror returning to where it originated?)

It is a long way to authorship and it is easy to argue that people will never be able to move on their own towards their potential. The history of art will be written at the epicentres of civil awareness – while art will continue to drag its mantra from fair to auction. Both sides of the spectre are located in the First World, and on both sides the number of people getting involved continues to grow. On the one side of the cultural societies, expressions like participation, contribution, authorship and sharing signify protest. They become synonymous with social and also spiritual inclusion, with creativity, with the desire to challenge consumption and the old quote (art is good for all). Impeach art.

On the other side, the market of art consumers is exploding and the infrastructure for future art markets (art schools, university studies, art magazines and social media circulation) is also growing by the day. The queues in front of museums are in the news and the museums despair of finding and paying for popular shows and rely more and more on private funding and artworks that have been chosen by people other than the academics employed to choose, to curate, and to communicate art. Art is part of most wealth-management portfolios.

A museum without viewers is like a football club in the relegation zone. It is a political problem. The coach must go. But the museums are empty most of the time and if you watch school classes and teachers on their compulsory visit you are ashamed as an artist to be the reason for so much boredom and frustration. The education of people to become viewers is nonsensical; you cannot be educated to be a viewer, to count for so little, to hover on the sidelines of life.

Both sides are part of the same place. People create and people consume. People consume and people create. The people in the same place are not doing the same things. If creativity’s aim is consumption, consumption’s aim is inequality.

Inequality produces elites that act like the poor. The rich people are also growing in numbers. They buy into a world of luxury and desire. They like to quote. They like to quote “creative people” – they would like to quote themselves. They love art. The only revolutions they like are those in art. They want to buy more of it.

EU treaties

Growth is key. Growth is made possible by markets rather than by life. Cultural geography follows economic geography follows war geography. Even the notion of contemporaneity is imported from other parts of the world and from another time. The very notion of creativity is imported. Art is what happens in the First World and what can be mediated, marketed, reproduced globally. The places of packaging are not the places of production and the places of production are not the places of origin, but whatever reaches the market is fit for consumption and may use the label of origin: Made in art. This is in short the history of what is good for all (Poetry must be made by all, Lautréamont, 1906). A century later, modernity is a rumbling success of surrogates and quotes. One success is art, the other one is democracy.

Barack Obama

Democracy. There is a mechanism preventing the understanding of the most elementary information if this information threatens your past. It is called memory. On an individual level, memory can be unsettling to a degree that, in response to a threat, it mobilises most of a person’s energies. The mode is damage control and even memory itself becomes the focus and the site of its own denial. In this case, the information provided by memory is not only forgetting but also the origin, the invention of a new story. This surrogate story is the first step in two directions: towards art as a quote of creativity and towards society as a quote of democracy. None of the two is what it refers to, none says what it does or does what it says.

In the case of both art and of democracy, a repressed memory of modernism has created another quote, the quote of a future that is out to repair the past. It may be possible to understand that this future is not going to happen in the “here and now”. And that it therefore is irrelevant to itself, that it defeats its own purpose of being real.

Weeding Robot, Deepfield Robotics/Bosch

Is the tainted memory of modernism the Matryoshka doll that hides the truth? Or should the truth, as a measure of protection of memory and in its name, be forgotten? Or again, should all the dolls inside the doll be brought to light so we know that the truth exists? Should we continue to taint our memory? It is easy these days to go shopping for alternatives, as everything that meets the eye is a quote of itself.

Can you say, this is art and nothing else? Can you say, this is art and only refers and can be compared to art? Not to democracy and not to people? This is art and cannot be measured against its own past, against memory? Can you say this is a “one-off” each time that only makes sense if it stands alone, if it is not counted, if it remains unconnected to the rest, even if the rest is shared by all?

Only if it is not connected can it connect? Only if it is born in solitude can it reach others? Why should solitude not be shared? Does it exclude others? Experiencing authorship is nothing special. Authorship happens and this is what counts. Why should people’s own potential, their own inspiration be packaged in a box and sold to them? Who went missing? Why should one need to buy oneself?

Fukushima nuclear disaster, 2011. IAEA Experts at Fukushima, April 2013

Ireland: The assumption that art can increase itself, enlarge its own base, multiply its manifestations is part of the oldest myths. This faculty is considered a good thing and an important quality of being together. Living life together in the end means survival. The idea of solitude exists at all times. It is associated with the intimate knowledge of a social situation, an experience common to all, even if it marks a crucial moment of passage like initiation or death. All of these transitional moments are making sense. Their intimacy and challenge are part of the social fabric. They are shared. They are repeated and experienced by everybody, they are known to all. These moments of intimacy are a knowledge that is returned, inserted, and re-appropriated every day.

7 million people live on earth in October 2011

Again: Whatever happens, there is always somebody sitting in a corner putting pearls on a string (Chinese proverb). It could be you.

The job of the sentence “Whatever happens …” is to make sense. The messages of art and of democracy are the same. Nothing can live in life’s place. Maybe this thought is dangerous. Missing one’s life is all there may be left as a choice? It is the old suicidal collective dream. Culture is the promise of a life after work and after the reign of the suicidal instincts of violence und religion, of a lifetime spent free from the fear of poverty and punishment.

Jochen Gerz:

Creativity is a method of socialisation. It is an educational tool and a change-maker. It is a declaration of independence. Experiencing creativity is experiencing fearlessness. It distributes the intimate personal experience to others and transforms public life into what personally makes sense. It provides fluidity, and allows for the exchange of intimate and public knowledge. Creativity is not one-way.

Glasgow, 2014

Ideally, the emphasis is not on the fabrication of objects, but objects are often involved. Like anything alive, objects are also caught in the vortex of resemblance. They tend to become smaller. They soon may be implants. They can disappear. They are for a time witnesses and markers of an individual or a social moment. They show what takes place and they help to share it with others, since all of them have played their part in renewing an experience in the past or will in the future renew the experience. They are all about people. If an object is involved, it needs to be redone each time or passed on to the person who is at this moment (of age, season or time) the messenger of an experience. It would be exaggerated to call the messenger a creator of the experience, which is understood to be always the same one, shared at different times. An object that has never served is useless, but an object that has been used before can also be “lost” or “given away”. It has done its job. It can “die”. It does not need to leave a trace. Change does not need to leave a trace. But it needs people to trust that it can happen, individually and socially. It needs the trust of all those in the system. That it is right. There is nothing sophisticated about resemblance. What happens happens. Creativity needs to be done again and again, in order to keep returning.

Demonstration against PRISM with Edward Snowden masks during Barack Obama's visit to Berlin, July 2013

Doing is part of experiencing the world and undoing is part of doing. Everything has to be returned. Doing is returning. The result of this circulation is not profit, as everything that happens is due to happen and is reinserted into the distributive nature of social living and is feeding this nature itself. Also, creativity is part of both individual and social experience. The experience of social creativity and diversity can take place if their distributive nature and potential are respected. Art needs to return to society, to disappear into democracy. This is what counts. The metamorphosis from people into society and from society into people is the condition for both.

Badge, Brexit-Referendum, 2016

Contemporary democracy needs a non-commercial vortex. This would be art. Art would be a good idea. People are dysfunctional in society because they themselves have become a matter of profit. They feel that their trust in the system is being abused. The most important production of the public is consumption; the passivity of people is their most important social contribution. Their intimacy, their inspiration and knowledge are sick of being commercialised.

Take a leaf from the Future Atlas: consumers have turned into authors. Is there life out there? There may be life out there. The age of life is nigh after all has been said. How is this possible? Simply, because it has been forgotten. Forgotten and not lost. Google (the mammoth of the information age) agrees: There is a right to be forgotten.

My name is Jochen Gerz