How has been doing the curatorship of these works as the refugee crisis evolves since 2015?
For example, the first collection was released just a few days before the events of new years eve’ in Köln and in the following years we noticed the spread and growing rightwing attacks on the refugees in terms of discourse and also physical violence.
How does the evolution of the events affected your perception of the project evolution?
What would you highlight as a general perception of the particular videoartist approach to this matter, or, in other words, what would you consider specially relevant about the approaches of videoart to the crisis?
I am glad to respond, but I will not answer the individual questions individually.
Firstly, it is good to know, that I am curating since 1990, new media art since 2000 and video – art & moving images – since 2004. Curating was always understood as a networked interaction between the artist, curator and the audience, the curator as a kind of mediator between artist and audience, curating as installing a kind of social (mutual) responsibility between the three involved parties – and it is and was aimed in my case as a curator mostly related to essential questions of human existence.
The year 2015 can be understood as a year when certain essential characteristics of human existence became obvious for everybody, at least in Europe, the migration as that essential impact on the human evolution. Politicians were forced to make decisions after they had made wrong decisions for many decades based on ignorance, and the German Chancellor, Ms. Merkel, did the only proper thing according to our German constitution and international law, to receive the refugees in order to prevent an humanitarian disaster in the centre of Europe. But afterwards the actions to be taken were typically inconsequent, because it was forgotten to integrate these people seeking protection. You mention the New Year’s Eve in Cologne, what happened was typical, because the local and federal politicians were not aware of the position of young males in Arab countries, these incidents were foreseeable and – therefore no surprise.
The so-called refugee crisis currently in all its contemptuous dimensions is in fact a permanent crisis of human civilization on Earth since the colonialization and later industrialization, thus the result of the evolution of human civilization in all the positive and negative impact, and current phenomena like civil wars in Africa, Middle East, South America and Asia, thus outside of the “peaceful” Western , so-called civilized, world, or climate change as a global phenomenon are actually symptoms only for that crisis, they made the current crisis visible in its complexity, but in fact, it would be wrong to speak of a crisis, at all, because a crisis is representing actually an exceptional state of emergency, while there were always reasons for migrating during all times as long as the human species is spreading around the globe, thus the “state of emergency” in shape of crisisous circumstances have been always present – a permanent crisis is no crisis anymore, but represent the usual living circumstances – representing the usual, thus, nothing exceptional.
Migrating was additionally always also an act of human curiosity, of exploring what is hidden beyond the horizon, it is the genetic human condition which made any migration only possible and is therefore overlaying the actual various reasons for migrating, nowadays, as well…… Only the Western people living in prosperity (by the way, not all live in prosperity, there is a lot of growing poverty – wide parts of the Western society live in poverty, even if that kind of poverty cannot compared with the poverty in the developing countries in Africa, Asia and South America) – so, the Western people were losing and forgetting the awareness for these general conditions of human existence – being afraid to lose their own privileges.
Certainly, the Refugee crisis as it is experienced in the media and in Europe particularly, was the initial spark to start 2015 the Refugee Film Collection, but from the beginning it was my curatorial intention to view beyond the horizon of the current incidents und face migration as what is factually, the actual motor of the evolution of the human civilization offering chances not only for the migrants, but primarily for those people receiving migrants refreshing additionally ancient genetic structures. In historical dimensions, migrant streams were always symbolizing a big change, the end of the current era, thus, the beginning of something new to come, causing naturally fears of the Unknown, these changes were representing steps forward in this evolution even if the price was sometimes very high causing countless victims, nowadays the victims are not only human individuals, but animals, plants and planet “Earth” as a whole as a living habitat for all of them. Without the refugees, without migrating, the European, Asian, Australian, US American and South American civilizations would not exist, because no human individual would ever have left Africa, and from a curatorial point of view it was challenging to focus on the human dimension of any migrating and the reasons and motivations for the current migration and escape from persecution and expulsion or the changing living habitat, and how the current society and the individual is dealing with that.
The artist himself in all his/her creativity is a migrant between time, space, form and colour and the environment he/she is living in and reflecting. So, the open creativity of the artists is making him or her to experts in the field of migrating, in so far it was no surprise how many artists submissions arrived, after I released the 1st open call for contributing in 2015 – to be followed by further annual calls.
My curatorial point of view is and was always to demonstrate my openness and transparency, the contrary to the usual authoritarian position of a conventional curator, by presenting no restriction, but the diversity of aspects and artistical concepts, and motivate the artists, on one hand, to reflect the current world and transform the cognitions (political, social, cultural etc) into an individual language of art, and sensitize the viewer, on the other hand, by giving him the chance to become a kind of curator himself/herself through reviewing and reflecting this diversity – leading to a better understanding of art and the general circumstances and a new level of humanity.
Of course, for me as a curator the works to be selected for participating in the Refugee Film Collection had to meet certain artistic, technological and conceptual criteria, but beyond that, it is my position as a curator to activate both, the artist and the viewer to leave the consuming position and enter actively an inspirational dialogue via the art works, and moving images have generally a particular potential to start such a dialogue – so, one might even speak of a kind of pedagogical mission of mine.
However, video (a technological term) as a medium in art has a completely different meaning than the mass phenomenon “video” as it can be experienced on YouTube and other Internet platforms, Television, Cinema or Advertising. For the viewer, being overwhelmed with moving images, sound and noise, and special , but vain effects, the individual image has lost its relevance completely and is therefore not recognized anymore, as such, at all, but art (using video/moving images as a medium for representing and transforming processes into an individual language of art) is standing in contrary to that. Therefore, the audience to be confronted with art videos has to learn first to see properly and recognize the relevance of the previously seen – (like young people who would like to enrol in an art school have to learn to see properly first which only allows to approach art, at all) – in order to be able to re-recognize the relevance of the individual image or, in terms of the medium (video) – the individual frame in the series of linear following frames of filmic sequences, but exactly the lack of this knowledge is causing permanently misunderstandings, also among the artists.
So, it is part of the curatorial concept to provoke the artists and the audience a like and in different ways, of course – and demonstrate, in terms of the Refugee Film Collection, for instance, the variety of different reasons for migrating focussed on the individual, and individualize the “mass” phenomenon (of the “overwhelming” refugees) – and different artistic positions, how artists deal with the creative challenge – leading consequently to a differentiated point of view of both – the artist and the audience.
The curatorial concept goes far beyond the usual main focus on aesthetics, and therefore, the Refugee Film Collection was from the beginning much more than just a compilation of art works on a certain topic, but the framework for a kind of political statement in a social responsibility – including the creator, eg. the curator/artist in my person, as well as the artists and the audience.
The evolution of the project with its meanwhile 4 editions since 2015 was, whether intentional or by coincidence, progressing simultaneously with the political, social, ecological, cultural conditions worldwide, which were changing within just a few years really dramatically. For me as a critically thinking person who is accompanying and practicing art since more than 50 years, it is and was not understandable that citizens nowadays allow Populists to manipulate them and falsity their living reality, generating an horrifying degree of violence – to be read daily in the news in all media, so in terms of the evolution of the film collection, the videos of the different editions transport already a certain change in the artistic perception and work out, and in society and politics the refugee issue became more and more a topic of rightwing Populists misusing the misery of the migrants for ideological purposes. It seems to be a similar situation when Hitler came into power 1933, when people lost their humanity for the following 12 years of the 1000 years Nazi Empire. So, mankind is currently highly endangered to do the same fatal mistakes, by following the authoritarian Populists wherever on the globe – remaining in a passive position is generally a wrong way.
And therefore it is no coincidence, that after the release of the fourth edition of the Refugee Film Collection in 2018, as a curator, artist and above all, human individual, I recognized the need to dedicate the Refugee Film Collection to higher-level objectives – by transforming the complete collection into the basis of a new “platform”, eg.“The Refugee Memorial” in which the film collection and the incorporated videos got a new purpose and relevance as a cause for commemorating.
By being transformed into a “memorial site”, the project received an advanced status of public relevance, by leaving the rather “private” area which art is representing, it becomes therefore recognizable “political” – political in terms of public presence and relevance. Commemorating can be understood as an advanced and, additionally, collective form of perception and the contrary of consuming in which the aspect of time is receiving generally a particular relevance – stimulating the “audience” permanently or at least regularly to be activated again and again and reflect and re-reflect – and, in the given case, also as a higher goal of art which goes far beyond the visual or sensual sensation.
In addition, “The Refugee Film Collection” and “The Refugee Memorial” were not standing alone in my curatorial/ artistic work, but in the context of a major curatorial/artistic complex of time based art, I was working on since 2000, and particularly since 2010 in different individual projects, which however were like The Refugee Memorial not planned for such advanced purposes.
It was that radical change of the environment we World Citizens currently are living in, which made me initiate the idea of “The 7 Memorials for Humanity”, consisting of 7 individual artistic commemorative contexts – The Refugee Memorial, The d/i/light Memorial, The Wake Up! Memorial, The Cambodia 1975-1979 Memorial, The Hiroshima//Fukushima Memorial, The iTERROR Memorial and The Sonic Memorial, each of them differently aimed and based on individual (audio-visual) time based art collections – each one with a similar message, however from another point of view: Never More! – commemorating as a motivation to initiate a change to the better – no more war, no more persecution and expulsion, no more genocide, no racism or intolerance, no more terrorism, no more nuclear threats, no more destruction of the natural habitat for human individuals, animals and plants and the entire biodiversity etc., thus, no more reasons for migrating.
This “platform for commemorating” – to be understood as a kind of multi-dimensional virtual sculpture – is working in an exchange between virtual and physical space. While the memorial sites are located online for permanent – accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days of a year, there will be temporary locations in physical space hosting a manifestation of one or more memorials to be complemented by interventions like screenings, a symposium, lectures, discussions, artists meetings, exhibitions, performances etc in order to reach a higher degree of sustainability.
While the Refugee Film Collection is incorporating currently about 120 films by 100 artists, The 7 Memorials for Humanity include in total about 500 artists and about 600 individual artworks.
Was the context of The Refugee Memorial and its incorporated film collection already a curatorial challenge, it was much bigger, of course, concerning the 7 Memorials project as a whole.
It is a plea to the contemporarily living people to keep and defend humanity as the highest human value also for future generations.
It is said, that art cannot change world as it is, but this is not completely true, art as the most human of all human expressions has that particular potential to sensitize people and change awareness, this way. However, it lies in the responsibility of the individual what he/she is doing with this awareness.
The Refugee Memorial – http://refugee.engad.org
The 7 Memorials for Humanity – http://7mfh.a-virtual-memorial.org
A Virtual Memorial Foundation – http://a-virtual-memorial.org
The New Museum of Networked Art – http://nmartproject.net
Agricola de Cologne, founder, creator and programmer – http://agricola-de.cologne