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Franco "Bifo" Berardi: Gorizia, Kassel: Art in the age of brutality

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Gorizia, Kassel: Art in the age of brutality
By Franco (Bifo) Berardi

Gorice is a small town in the North-Eastern part of Italy. The name of the city is remembered because of a song of the soldiers forced to fight and to die in the infamous nationalist war 1915-1918:

“O Gorizia tu sia maledetta
per ogni cuore che sente coscienza
dolorosa ci fu la partenza
e il ritorno per molti non fu.”

Now the idiocy of nationalism and war is remerging as a consequence of impoverishment, fear and spreading ignorance. In this context, the right wing mayor of Gorizia has just cancelled an art exhibition conceived by the collective of artists named KOINE, and previously approved and funded by the institutions of the city, and by the institutions of Nova Gorica, beyond the Slovenian border. Why the Mayor decided to cancel the exhibition? The title of the (cancelled) art exhibition is (was) LIMES, and the installations are (were) aimed to expose the violence of past and present colonialism, and the ongoing absurd construction of walls against migration and human rights.

In a ludicrous document, the Ministry of Culture of the city asks the KOINE artists to cancel some of the installations, particularly an installation by Laura Cazzaniga, (comunità recintate) which was based on the reproduction of a wall in a street of the town, and an installation named The Banket (by Antonello Sala), a metaphor of the financial plundering.

The concept of border cannot be questioned, according to the center-right Junta of Gorizia, and artists are not allowed to question the concept of national identity. This is what happens in Gorice while everywhere in the world the final battle is starting between human sensibility and brutality, and while in Kassel a nationalist aggression against documenta is launched.

Kassel has been for sixty years the capital of human sensibility and the capital of the alliance between art and democracy. When the beast of nationalism and of racism was doomed, at the price of millions of victims worldwide, when democracy and equal rights were expanding, documenta was conceived as a promise: nevermore. Nevermore racist discrimination, nevermore ethnic cleansing, nevermore nationalist identification, nevermore colonial plundering. Nevermore Auschwitz, nevermore Hiroshima, nevermore Katin.

Now the beast is reemerging in the world, and in Europe.
The beast of nationalism, the beast of racism the beast of identitarianism is rising as an effect of the protracted material and spiritual impoverishment of the population. Consequently documenta is in danger.

Documenta14, that is closing on Sunday 17th 2017th has been conceived and constructed according to the original spirit of the institution, repeating the word: nevermore.

As the beast is reemerging, documenta14 has started an aesthetic and intellectual project to heal the epidemics of brutality. But the beast does react. The local authorities of Kassel, and a large part of the German press have aggressed the organisers and the artists in order to enforce the national character of a manifestation which was conceived against nationalism. Documenta14 displaced a large part of the manifestation in Athens, as a sign of international solidarity, as a critique of financial destruction of the European Union. But the German authorities resent this act of solidarity with Greece as a waste of German money. The assault against documenta is underway, for the sake of the national interests of Germany, for the sake of the touristic commodification of art.

What next? Will artists fight against censorship? They will, but I don’t care so much about this. Freedom of expression is under threat everywhere, as the tyranny of neoliberalism and the (divergent and convergent) tyranny of nationalism are silencing radical dissent, but the point is not (only) freedom of expression. The point is that only artists can lead a confrontation with the double headed beast, and win.

Art is the ubiquitous research for sensibility, and brutality is spreading as an effect of cultural and social impoverishment. Artists are no more a small elite of professionals of beauty, they are precarious workers, and their action is not aestheticising horror. Their action is to find a way out of the hell.

Suffering is everywhere in the the contemporary world, and pleasure is disappearing from the horizon of our lives. Art deals with pleasure and with suffering: documenta14 in fact has exposed the suffering of our time, but the last days of the exhibition have been devoted to the strategy of joy. Dwelling in condition of permanent precariousness, artists are going to be the vanguard of the rebellion of the precarious cognitive workers.

This is why we should defend documenta. Not (only) for the sake of freedom of expression, but because here is the beginning of the fight against brutality.

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We don’t know yet the motives behind the person leaking insider information to a regional rather small newspaper in Germany, where the whole scandal was first revealed.

If the motive is to restrict future Dokumenta exhibition in Germany or the affluent north-western world, then it might achieve just that. If the exhibition was partially in Kassel and patially in Istanbul, would it be more politically correct for the people who are angry about getting it to Athens?

If the motive more bluntly is nationalism, it will be proven by the next Dokumenta, if its also split between 2 cities or not.

Solidarity with the suffering south of Europe was not wholly evident in this Athens-Kassel Dokumenta, as many critics said that it was rather ‘‘German cultural imperialism’’. Not everyone in Greece saw Dokumenta coming to Athens as something good or innocent.