Editorial #three

by Mira Hirtz and Johanna Ziebritzki
Mai 2016

BARBARIANS WANTED: Civilisation creates barbarians and projects desire and fear on them. Hold on – what is a barbarian? Are the violent extremists of Paris and Brussels, Raqqa and Palmyra ‹barbarians› that want to destroy the ‹universal values›, as various politicians and journalists suggest? Trying to answer this question generates more questions: Who named the extremists ‹barbarians›? Most importantly we have to identify, what ‹barbarians› in this contemporary context of the public media are and how art comes into play. In popular culture the figure of the barbarian usually refers to the Vikings and Germanic peoples. Obama and Hollande certainly didn’t mean to establish a connection between these historical figures and the terrorists. Who is barbaric? What is a barbarian? rt#three: BARBARIANS WANTED assembles propositions, thoughts and images dealing with the iridescent figure of the barbarian.

In his poem Waiting for the Barbarians (1904) the greek poet Constantine P. Cafavy tells a story about a walled city, which prepares itself for the coming of the barbarians by bedizening its soldiers and senators. Dawn falls, but the barbarians are not yet seen on the horizons. Night falls, not even one barbarian has come. ‹And some people arrived from the borders, and said that there are no longer any barbarians. And now what shall become of us without any barbarians? Those people were some kind of solution.› The people on the borders obviously are not the barbarians themselves. And they don’t know where they might be. Apparently the city has a problem which it cannot solve on its own. The city needs to impress, dazzle and subdue the raw other as an outlet for its own supremacy. Without the so-called barbarians the own supremacy cannot be affirmed. This serves as a first hint for the question why several presidents name the extremists ‹barbarians› that threaten ‹civilisation›.

Inherent to the figure of the barbarian is the notion that it is insurmountably different from myself. The barbarian speaks a language I don’t understand, it just sounds like babar barba blabla. (Look up the etymological origin of the word!) I speak with reasonable words. No common language renders communication impossible. I am – at least have been for the course of the last 2500 years and for the majority still am – part of a male, white, heterosexual, civilised, rational elite of a society that wants to bestow on the not-civilised rest of the world its own order. Civilisation invented barbarism in order to do – what? In oder to find its own identity in contrast to the wild? In order to legitimise its exploitation of land and humans? Is the act of calling somebody barbarian not itself so far removed from a human culture that it itself is barbaric? The crux, dear civilisers, is: barbarism cannot be extinguished if civilisation is not extinguished respectively.

Culture differs from civilisation insofar, as culture at its best is a value-free term.  Cultural relations in difference to civilising relations are not based on vertical hierarchy, thus not excluding those who don’t share the values of the civilisers. This notion of culture embraces the concepts of civilisation and barbarism. Naming the other ‹barbarian› is grounded in non-communication, clear dichotomies and a clear vertical hierarchy of values. Cultural production and artistic practices on the other hand move along and dance around the fringe of the not-yet communicated; of realities that are not yet articulated and therefore do not yet exist. These artistic practices play with differences without neither eliminating them nor carving them into stone. Appropriating the ambivalent motive of the barbarian has the potential to skip normative values.

The articles and artworks of rt#three: BARBARIANS WANTED are highly aware of the kaleidoscopic motif of the barbarian. The artistic and theoretical contributions – and those in between – deal playfully, analytically, angrily and inquiringly with the act of naming oneself or someone else a ‹barbarian›.


The contributions:

The cloaks of barbarism, by reciprocal turn’s columnist Daniel Neumann, depicts this act as inherently violent. Can it nevertheless be reasonable? If barbarians are those without reason, can barbarians be artists? 

They can, following one possible reading that Tyler Sage unfolds in his investigation on barbarism as a recurring cultural narrative. Les Invasions barbares and the Fall of Rome: Old Stories and New Empires combines historical and current adaptations of this narrative by focusing on the film The Barbarian Invasions by Denys Arcand. Thereby Sage draws attention to the different forms of re-/producing the motif of barbarism. 

Johanna Ziebritzki reviews the exhibition Nel Mezzo del Mezzo (In the Middle of the Mediterranean) which took place in Palermo fall 2015. Ziebritzki focuses her review on the moment of the re-/production of the motif of barbarism: The exhibition was dedicated to the influential areologist of Palmyra, Khaled Al-Asaad, who was “barbarically murderd” by ISIS. If exhibitions are a socio-political language, Ziebritzki aks, what timbre does the dedication evoke?

When asking her to contribute and hence starting the conversation with Dana Michel, the ways of communicating and working became essential. ‹I sent you something by email last night…› includes  the whole correspondence between her and Mira Hirtz. Does the conversation reveal a barbaric stance on explanation and elaboration within an artistic context?

Barbarism may be seen as a means to break down conventions. In his review Barbarianism: a catharsis to the new? Remco de Vries draws a positive picture of barbarians. He comments on the performance If you wanna make the world a better place by Geo Wyeth which explores the border between play and threat. 

How does one search for language on a somatic level? How soft can perversion be, when material, costumes and skin mingle? Why do I not perceive that upon which my hand or my gaze lies, the source of the sound that enters my ear, as a part of myself? Mira Hirtz develops with her performative Chapters On The Barbaric Body a sensorial practice, in order to negotiate what a barbaric body might be.

In There Is No Outside Out There Jonas Marx shows how the media presentation of conflict disconnects people: We Germans are not connected to the crises on the fringes of Europe and in the Arab world. Vehemently contradicting this grand narrative of distance and disconnection, Jonas Marx’ pleas for taking responsibility by acknowledging one’s own connectedness.

Responsibility includes, according to Thomas Maier, to protect historical richness. He comments on the complexity of symbolic connotations by referring to the long history of the swastika symbol. He shows how the current post-WWII censorship harms its responsible handling. In The Swastika - a symbol beyond barbarism Thomas Maier calls this censorship a barbaric act.

By the way: Not only symbols and barbarians are censored. Women also have served as the radical other. Johanna Ziebritzki asks Können Frauen Barbaren sein?

With her job advertisements Annika Gutsche is working on the realization of her project Speed/Dating/Refugees, which will take place in the frame of the exhibition Wir Flüchtlinge – von dem Recht, Rechte zu haben at Badischer Kunstverein Karlsruhe. Believing in the potentiality of encounter, Annika Gutsche’s approach is characterised by an experimental lightness, even though – after the events of Cologne on New Years Eve 16’ – her project raises moral conflicts.

Can artistic practices be a barbaric strategy? Can they subvert colonial and canonical mechanisms and the still occurring act of naming others barbarians? Eva Barois De Caevel is alongside with Noelle Collins the assistant curator of Ireland’s Biennale entitled Still (the) Barbarians, which opened in April 2016 at Limerick. In the Interview, Barois De Caevel reflects on various challenges that come up when dealing with geo-political narrations of art and culture.