confessions about culture

Leaving the house at 13: 30 pm – too late, but wanted to finish my email invitation for all friends from abroad! Took a taxi to go to Marina Bay Sands. The door to my apartment is still open. I took all important stuff with me.

A huge amount of people waiting in a queue at the entrance of the Art Science Museum. I feel privileged that I can just go though. The talk will  happen at 3 pm on 4th floor. There are four projection surfaces installed. A bit overdone for the size of the room. Jenny is already there. I get to know Lise, one of the curators. We fix all technical stuff. Lonce arrives too. We chat in between and meanwhile a technician arrange the set-up of the talk.

Lonce starts by introducing the whole program. I continue speaking about the micro-sculpture in collaboration with Max-Planck-Institute CBG Dresden. Than the postcard-project together with IDEE 01239 in Dresden-Prohlis and the Folgelandschaft – my artistic research on the ex.uranium mining area in Thueringia – my aim was to outline fields, media and issues, that I work with. Mainly I should speak about my residency at CQT. Which I find hard – I am in the middle of the process – therefore it is hard to visualisea nd organise. I am just about to explore, what this whole project is about. Not a good time to defend myself. And I had to. There were some sceptic questions concerning the project. One was concerning the democratic process, that I mentioned. Frank, the director of the Museum wondered, if it is a good idea to create an artwork via majority decision – intending, that he doesn’t think so – that it rather will become an unintelligent, average selection of stereo-types. Momo, Luo Yan, Debashis, Isabelle, Johannes, Julian, Madhura, Linda and friends were present. Phyo took photos. Debashis stepped into the breach for me –  he had some fancy explanation, why it is a good idea to entrust a group with collective decisions. Than there is a question from a guy, originally from Swiss – he wants to know how to evaluate the artworks at the program. Lonce answers first. I can not really listen, because I am so angry about this question, that I have to sort myself. I supplement Lonce’s comment by saying, that if one takes the art-part serious in this program: forget about looking an objective value of art – it would be like catching your own shadow! It becomes a bit silent in the space. Next question is: what my work is worth for CQT. I feel destroyed! My firewall is not activated enough – somehow I didn’t consider it to be necessary to switch it on before. Now these questions hit me, without much protection. And all go beyond a reasonable argumentation from my point of view – because they questions preconditions: such as relevance of art without implementation, simple need of conceptual stringency and the subjectivity of interpretation. Also they still regard it maybe as representation – of what? That’s not meant to be like this. Luckily Isabelle defends me. Also Johannes makes a remarkable point: he says, that before he took part in that project he went to galleries and wondered, who would pay these artists for the crap that they do. Now, that he joined the project – he has the feeling, that he understands much more about it and can approach. Also Julian said something positive, about that he got the occasion to socially interact with people.

So board-members set-up a firewall for me! They saved me from more damage and balanced the situation to the positive side. Only, that I was already hurt. I didn’t wanted to talk to one of the ‘critics’ afterwards – I was fed-up. I wonder why. Probably it was the wrong time – in the middle of a process – I felt vulnerable like a snake right after skinning. But also I get sick of the same critique again and again – that art has to be useful. What means use? For whom? By what? How can artist solve, were everyone else struggles? I am not a magician, even if art and magic arose from the same origins. How can you invite someone for one month to, expecting him/her to outline a whole new approach resembling a whole scientific institution? I didn’t say that. Also I think it wasn’t Lonce intention! My suspicion is, that my projects do not fit in any drawer – you can not label it without being mistaken. That irritates some people. And it is on purpose, from my side! I think it is easy to do something, that looks like art – which doesn’t mean, that is interesting at all. If you than promote yourself as a brand, it is a much better selling strategy than mine (but I am into art, research and life – not to sales). I tell this the others afterwards, when we are having coffee at courtyard. I meet Sallie – what a relief to speak to her! I can see, that she is open to new approaches – since she is rather asking questions, than deliver a judgement. She is responsible for a program at the University of Arizona, researching Art Science collaborations. She knows a lot of projects! I start to de-stress  … the others want to speak with me about details of the installation. We spent another hour there, together. When we left – some people in strange costumes dance sort of a square dance. It is 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic – the museum hosts a show about it. Also one about Andy Warhol. Maybe I ask a critical question: What is scientific about Andy Warhol or Titanic, at all?

I sit a bit on the quay outside the museum. Writing some post-cards. Recovering, relaxing.

Lonce offered me to join a barbecue of his friends at the lake-side. We meet and also pick-up Allison – an Artist, which is travelling on Cargo-ships, collecting stories. Some confusion to find her at Raffles hotel – since there are two entrances. In the car we chat – Allison tells what she is doing – Lonce and me too. Now, I put myself on tricky ground by trying to explain the situation for you; Like in many cases, I realise that there is a way of talking, that seems to me like a theatre play, that everyone knows and plays a certain role in there. It has to do with breaks between words, the speed spoken, the issues brought up – with the emotions expressed –  all a detailed, specialized composition. Nothing to catch easily. And it has to do with communication culture. Today seems the day, where this is on the agenda. Especially if people behave ‘professional’ – these ‘cultures’ occur. I guess they are mainly unconscious and only those, that are not part of the play realised it. Accordingly, when Allison found out, that I am Eastern German, she asks me if there is something like a cultural border or transition to Polish culture. I say, that Czech is much closer – not only in spatial dimensions (one can go by bike to there – around 35 km on a nice cycle path at the river Elbe, that is called Labe in Czech). To her it doesn’t make much difference, I guess. We arrive at the barbecue-site and I didn’t finish my explanations. But they will become a topic at the party again.

When we arrived, I immediately get to know Mirjana and someone else (whose name I can’t remember). Mirjana is a chemical engineer, originally from Slovenia – the other one has to do with PR and organisation, originally from Serbia. (So, both of them originally original from Yugoslavia) We get into a conversion about Singapore, education strategies, university-experiences, mercury-mining, freedom, future of society, beer and many more. We chat quite some time. Also Mirjana explains the reasons to give up her job at the NUS, where she worked before. When someone left the talk by this issue, she was wondering, if she said something wrong – or if it wasn’t ‘smart’ to speak about this topic (unsuccessful job experience) at all. From my point of view it is absolutely fine – I would have done the same like her.

I take this occasion to explain why I think, it was not only a personal issue (although I am not sure, whether the escaper run away, because of her topic). Why do I do this? Because, I spent evenings with people, that I actually like, but felt sad afterwards – since I thought it would have been less lonely, if I would have been just on my own. That has maybe to do with different concepts of privacy and the perception of personal contact. A book by Olaf Georg Klein ‘Ihr könnt uns einfach nicht verstehen’ (You just won’t understand us) about misunderstanding between East- and West-Germans brought me on this interpretation: He points out, that East-Germans (and the other states from the Warsaw-pact) lived under the the primacy of Russian-Slavic culture for 40 years, while West-Germans happen to be mainly influenced by the leading US-American culture. Since East and West-Germans share the same language (mostly) it is interesting to research these differences more purely. In every-day-life it makes communication more tricky, since it is less obvious, that one may have different conventions and approaches. That is more obvious if you have people from different countries. But of course the difference between individuals is more relevant than any other.

Exaggerated spoken it is harder to get to know people from an eastern culture – they are less open to public approaches. But once you are introduced to each other – a personal relationship would belong to a healthy communication, even within a professional relation. The interest of the group is rather important than the individual – people take action to stabilise the it. You show trust in a group if you report mistakes and failures. If you don’t show ‘weak sides’ and offer some personal details – people will get suspicious, that you have something to hide, are show-off and dishonest or just look after your career (which would be negative). Understatement is also part of the convention. Bragging leads to loss of face. If someone makes mistakes, it is the responsibility of the group to sort it out. The border between self and society is permeable. Relationships are rather stable and do not depend so much on ‘content’ or ‘use’.

In western culture – people are much more accessible. It is easy to chat and connect with others – until a certain level. People offer their best sides always – they show their potential, skills and knowledge. Personal issues do not belong to professional relations. You are asked to keep your personality, doubts and struggles in your circle of friends and family and do not bother colleagues with it. Overstatement is part of the convention. If you report mistakes and failures you may look weak and incompetent – because people could assume, that this is only be the tip of the iceberg. You are responsible for yourself, while the group is not. The border between self and society is impermeable. Society is not allowed to touch the self of the individuals. Relationships are rather fluid and are stabilised by ‘use’ and ‘content’.

Of course as I said, this is overdone and rather a stencil than to describe actual people. But from time to time some of these differences matters. The better you know someone, the more, they may fade out. But still, next time they can occur from nothing. I got to know about this book through a movement started in the last years. It is called ‘3te Generation Ost’ (3rd Generation East) – it is a platform for people born between 1985 and 1975 in the Socialist East Germany. ‘We’ have been innocent children by the age of 5-15 years, when the German Democratic Republic fade out in October 1990. Born in December 1979, I was 10 years old when my whole life changed – and not only mine, but all lives of all people around me. What was true before, was wrong by now – moreover it had never been existing before. The German author, Jana Hensel, wrote a novel about this topic called ‘Zonenkinder’ (After the Wall). I do not share the all same opinion with her, but it is a good introduction on the topic. I agree, when she writes that memories of that whole time feel like fairy-tales – and  a childhood that is stored in a ‘nameless museum’ with no address to find it anymore. Jana Hensel describes a situation, what happened when friends in Marseilles start to chat about childhood stories at  a party and she tried to join this collective-memory – quote from ‘After the Wall‘:

‘The others looked at me with vague interest, but the euphoria was gone. Suddenly I felt sick and tired of being different than everyone else. I just wanted to tell childhood stories – like the Italien, French and Austrians did – without having to explain, without having to translate my memories into words that had not been part of my experience and scattered my recollections even more so with each attempt at clarification. I didn’t want to spoil the party and their warm, fuzzy feeling of togehterness, so I just kept my mouth shut.’

I have three groups of people in Singapore, that I feel related to: the Germans, because we share the language, I speak best – the Easterns (people grew-up in socialist countries), because we share a similar history, experience and cultural concept – and  third: all those who are interested in exchange, co-working and personal relations. I guess my whole explanations should emphasize, that I feel homely with all these Eastern Europeans. The good thing about Singapore is that is is such a mix of cultures, that it would be ridiculous to announce a leading culture – although it looks rather western to me. I like that one has to negotiate with all these different backgrounds –  it tells one something about the own cultural identity.

Later on this evening I get to know Brian, Marco, Lam Fung and Viks. Viks is based at the Philippines and is here just for a visit. She is a poet and has experience with art-science projects since she wrote PR-texts for one back home. She looks a bit sceptic about it, but actually the project sounds interesting. It was an installation with a computer (program?) – running a game by energy-production of algae. The artistic impact was too low for Viks point of view. We speak about my talk at the Art-Science Museum today and my irritation. Viks said a very nice point about it in the end: If there came up all these questions – this could also mean, that all is well – my work works out – since it provokes, questions and explore relevant topics.

With Lam Fung I have a funny German-Austrian conversation. He is wearing a strange straw hat.

One of the last persons that I get know for today is Vladimir. He was part of the committee selecting the Artists for the Residency. He remembers my application and says that he voted for my work. He does film and some time ago installations. He is Assistant Professor at NTU another Singaporean University.

Lonce wants to leave around midnight – he gives me a ride to U-town. That’s good – I join! In the car, we discuss about evaluation of art, again. My point is, that I don not believe in any ‘objective’ criteria on judging art at all. I think we as persons affected should take our responsibility to defend, that art is worth to happen – not only to enhance creativity or neither for nation-building or any other application – but just because it is human and provides an aesthetic cognition – should be worth enough. No one will do this for us – and we are responsible for it.

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