by Mira Hirtz and Johanna Ziebritzki
ART AS A PLACE OF MENSCHLICHKEIT
Artworks are created by and for humans. If this simple fact is taken seriously questions arise: In what sense and to what degree do works of art hold evidence of their human origins? If the notion of art being a place of Menschlichkeit is taken seriously, which perspectives on and understandings of art emerge?
What is Menschlichkeit? It is generally better. In the German language Menschlichkeit is a character trait as well as a term to describe all human beings. The term stands for a certain kind of human relations, behaviour and actions as well as for the ethics of how these are built and performed.
Just like Menschlichkeit, art distinguishes humans from their surrounding. The term emphasizes its capacity for emotional intelligence that includes imperfection. Communicating emotionally and reflectively, some artworks mainly function on a level of experience that is rationally ungraspable.
Let’s put it together : art is a place – a possibility of time and space, of solidarity and dispute – to negotiate its source for imperfection, ungraspability and reflection, to negotiate Menschlichkeit in an ongoing struggle.
The contributions to #one: Art as a Place of Menschlichkeit are characterized by this struggle. Within this topic, Menschlichkeit appears both as ideal and the evidence of human imperfection. The German term Menschlichkeit is used instead of the English terms humanness or humanity due to the words’ connotations. The word humanness is too little associated with norms and values while humanity is too much associated with the historical concept of enlightenment including Western culture’s hegemonic ideologies.
Art as a Place of Menschlichkeit understands art to be different from the Western society that is lead by economic and thus calculating principals. It opposes rational economical values and emphasizes the possibility of art to enable encounters, to share interests and to relate differently with others. We don’t want to think of art as something that can be exploited in the name of Menschlichkeit nor as a shelter for our imperfection and ideals. Rather, we to think art as a struggle towards Menschlichkeit.
Theoretical ideals are easily crimped into broken models of themselves. For instance, the ideal of humanity once applied practically implies subjugation and exploitation. In her essay No Art: What a Nightmare, Johanna Ziebritzki elaborates on the idea of lost ideals. Her writing circles questions about whether or not art serves dreams and efforts towards a better society.
But what would such a better society look like? Moral standards are declared the best possible, and then obtain general validity. What happens if individuals care more for one another than for the conventional moral? Mimi Kunz’ sense for this theme and for the connotation of categories like failure, expectation and partnership unfolds in her short story Independence Day.
The title of the journal reciprocal return hints a the possibility for artworks to reference only themselves. This idea stands in contrast to the title of #one: Art as a Place of Menschlichkeit. Daniel Neumann, referring to Heidegger within his essay Artworks are Strange interrogates the reciprocal relation between artwork and spectator within an encounter in order to finally differentiate between two types of reciprocity: one that enables Menschlichkeit through immersion and one that produces incommensurability.
Humans differ from animals and from their gods. But in the homeric world as described through the shield of Achilles, the cosmos is one whole in which humans are by far not the most mighty. Ron Sadan writes in his essay Description and Relevation about the earliest description of an artwork of Achilles Shield, by Homer, as a source for understanding the involvement of humans in the universe.
Within the history of human mythology, gods and animals were kicked out of the human cosmos – humans became the solitary source for everything, being further apart from each other while depending more than ever on one another. Synchronie shows the beauty of humans searching for togetherness and finding it for just a moment before it slips away again. Michail Rybakov touches these notions in his video showing six people singing a song about the world being one. In the video each one sings alone and is not heard by the others though all are united in time and by a melody.
Mona Altmann was enchanted by an experience of togetherness with strangers during a performance piece by the collective Interrobang. Her experience sparked the reflection CouldaWouldaShoulda that questions what freedom might be in relation to others. The Art of Destruction calls upon the notion of freedom in modern society. Destruction, as Barbara Kuon states in her essay, is a way of affirming the fragmentary self that was generated by modernism. Since destruction is inevitable, artistic destructive practices are deliberating. They prevent oneself from being destructed by foreign forces.
Pedro Reyes is an artist that tries to stand up against destruction through war by converting fire arms into musical instruments. Instrumentalization of art is dangerous and anyways, as Lotta Ortheil shows in her essay, it’s not that easy to save the world.
But where can we draw a line between social work and artwork? Johanna Ziebritzki negotiates this question on the concrete example of the installation Sun Cinema by Clemens von Wedemeyer.
Humanism praised certain values and virtues as those that lead to goodness. In her essay Caring for ›me and the other‹: artistic cannibalism Mira Hirtz shows that a particular perspective distinguishes the norm from the bastard. She does this by giving examples of how certain Brazilian artists have reclaimed the notion of absorbing other humans as positive. She argues that the enlightened version of humanism is not true Menschlichkeit.
Performing artists especially, amongst them the Brazilian artists mentioned above, have claimed that true Menschlichkeit has to consider the body as material and memory through motion. In her circular essays Johanna Gilje reflects upon these seminal dynamics in relation to three anchoring words: body process archive.
What happens if I meet an artwork that touches me deeply? George Kosmopoulos had such an experience in an exhibition of Hans Op de Beeck. In his poetic reflection Night Time many emerging questions and thoughts are given attention.
How might socio-political circumstances manifest themselves in me, and am I merely a product of these circumstances? The relation between Israel and Palestine has had a strong impact on Roni Katz who has documented these and other tensions through her writings Stilling. One is left with the questions: How, and to what extend do social and individual parameters determine one another?
Menschlichkeit is not a fixed determination or a found moral – rather, it is the negotiation of and the struggle for the notion that make us human. Art serves as a place for this struggle, as artworks are the output of humans and constitute a relation to one another and the environment. The contributions to Art as a Place of Menschlichkeit depict this struggle in various ways. You are invited to follow the different paths through essays, statements, pictures, and in between the lines.