speech during the closing night event, Sof Power Palace Festival, Parlement of Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart, Germany, 2018 / curators: Paula Kohlmann and Mareen Wrobel (Akademie Schloss Solitude)
Photo © Harald Völkl
Just to make it clear I signed the collective statement and fully support it. This is a invitation push things forwards. I know this is going to be a long run to make it real and concrete, to have political feedback about what we are saying, to have new laws or regulation.
What I am about to say is really a kind of a long song to the girls I love. So let me begin.
Une Colère manifeste
I have been told recently I have some “Anger issues”. Again. I totally agree. Its sounds contemporary cool so I kind of appreciate it. I have been told the present evening was nice and I should appreciate it. Listening to music. Having a drink. I had too many drinks actually. She said: maybe you should quit swearing all the time and being such an arrogant prick (she said it with the diplomatic skills I do not have). Sweet and gentle.
No fucking way.
Being narcissist requires a necessary distance regarding myself. It is hard to keep the reflection clear on troubled water. My rage is probably something keeping my head out of it. My rage is something which makes me also an ugly and distressed person splashing around.
How do I feel about my fellow artists? Later.
About the widespread postures and attitudes I notice in the art scene, there is this one: the way people can have a similar opinion regarding a show, an artwork or an artist thanks to an article or a book they read. Looking for an argument by authoritysupported by our contemporary terror of the misstep and the bad taste. Thanks to the social media by the way. The most important trick is to make people feel you thought about it on your own. I was really impressed and hung-up by the people with this type of skill when I was younger. If it is okay for a chit chat during an opening, it is so boring to discover their interest regarding the subject is fake or superficial. Actually, I never had this impression during my two weeks residency in Stuttgart with the other participants.
Another contemporary cool word I like to use nowadays is “comfort zone”. Probably because it sounds ironic when it refers to artists. Ah ah, so much comfort. To me, Soft Power Palace was the possibility for artists or curators or producers to make a political point at a moment. A “bullet point” as Andrew suggested. For sure, it is totally okay to keep our own freedom intact and pleasure to “refaire le monde” (reshape the world metaphorically). Thanks but I am good on my own. I am doing it all the time. I don’t need a palace nor an institution or a festival for that. What strikes me is the naivety of some participants regarding the political and economical context which gave voices to our “independence” gathering. There is an awful romanticism in keeping the paranoia on and a so called defiance and circumspection against the Hard or Soft Power in charge. But accepting the opportunity to be paid and produced in a high symbolical and political institution, like the Kunstgebaude, is not about staying uncorrupted idealistic independent but the way our background is where we stand. It gives us a kind of expertise and some credit in order to interact and address directly to the people with the power we don’t want to have but would like them to exercise differently.
I don’t feel I have a comfort zone in my artistic working environment. This is a fucking war. To keep the means to go on. To keep my desire above my needs. To find a sustainable economy. Able to make room for my practice, A Room of One's Own. To make a living with art or somehow. To have this double life, this schizophrenic one. Between bitterness and ingenuity. Between excellence and insecurity. Art is not fun. Art is not friendly. Art is weak and strong. Art is soft and hard. It is not a faire-valoir, a foil or a fool for Power, at least I don’t want it to be so. It needs consideration. Politically. It needs also a voice, a non political one. Political agenda can change. Not our needs. A studio, a visibility, the freedom to show our work, to travel with it and to catch an audience. The freedom to gather with other artists. International artists sometimes. Hard to fit in the bureaucratic and political expectations most of the time.
Here is a couple of concretes measures I like to offer to the stateman and statewomen here: would you consider to deal or facilitate with the different national public or private rail trail companies so the artist could have a national or European free pass or a subsequent reduction concerning travelling for artistic purposes. Wouldn’t it be a good thing to facilitate travelling for the most implied people into the cultural exchange? This type of pass exists for babies, young children, students, soldier, old people, and people with handicaps. Artists are similar to the handicapped people in a way, it is not that they can’t adapt or fit in, it is just that they spend most of their time and energy to make room for something else. They are super adapted but exhausted with the endless lack of consideration and the consecutive waste of energy. Not for what they do but for what they need.
Wouldn’t be a good thing if they could have a proper part time job. Not working in a restaurant, on building construction, cleaning, and on and on. This is Fight Club, and we are everywhere among you.
If there was a law regarding wage costs for all cultural non-benefit organization to employ an artist part time so he could keep on practicing without sacrificing a family life, its health, its security, its future also. It is not asking for money but for a specific status. Consideration basically.
And finally, wouldn’t be a good thing if the state or the local authorities could make the territory attractive for the artists so they would stay or move in. As one of the first motor and victim of gentrification, the artist should benefit from the vouch of the state or of the local authorities when he applies to rent a studio or a home. A specific dispositive to make sure we are not kicked away once the area we spend so much energy to make attractive is gentrified.
My father-in-law, who is much more hardcore than me, uses to say “any dumb people could play nice”. He definitely is the most “hard powerful” person I know in my entourage. I am the soft one to him, the weak. How relative the power is. I am a white occidental middle class well educated privileged petit bourgeois or the trash of it. A lost piece in the machine. At least I know where I stand. The fact that 20 years after, the four motors of Europe, birthday pretext to our little European “reservoir dogs” gathering, are still the same ones tells a lot about the conservative forces at stake in our occidental territories and the force ratio. And Art is not a glass tower above it. I would like to play Bruce Willis in Die Hard. The Rightful one without shoes and with bloody feet. This is hard power. The brutality. Soft is too slow. Has cozy slippers. Surrealism was mostly bourgeois but not softy left wing. I miss artist like the tyrannical André Breton fighting against the consensus, splashing poetry and political commitment. Soft and Hard. Iron fist fucking with Tito’s glove. José Marti Superstar. To live hard. To work hard. To love hard. To die hard or killing me softly without sound.
I would have liked to be the arrogant french “ambassador” to fight for some concrete measures and participate to keep the European dream on permanent cultural exchange and improving collectively our ways. So arrogantly, I tried and failed. Instead I felt like in an Erasmus program ten years after, which is also fine by the way. But it only confirms most of the art students do not gain power with time. Soft euphemism.
Paula wanted the festival to host no conventional exhibitions. She wanted it to be about new ways of producing forms and contexts. To Debate. Considering a possible course of action in one's mind before reaching a decision, as far as I checked and copy/paste from the internet. The soft power she and Mareen used for this was brilliant and beautiful. If soft power is related to diplomacy, the fact that no one left the table during this exhausting two weeks together is a true success. But to me, the real thing I would remember is the “conventional” artworks, sculpture, drawings, paintings, photographs installations and performances we produced and exhibited in the Kunstegebaude. I don’t feel this event will have any type of impact at a political level. It is a work in progress where the progress needs to happen. Fast. I hope I am wrong, sincerely. Desperately. Independent artists are so distracted, so versatile, so narcissist or contradictory. Too many voices in one gorgon head which could petrify itself. Don’t stare too long. Chitchat for ever with intellectual bullshit. If it is about the long run “contamination” or “infusing”, I am not sick and I don’t like green tea. Fuck the comfort zone. “Manifesto is such a patriarchal Blahblahblah”. It was not even about a piece of paper with shitty rules, a nice FB post with plenty of likes. To grab fancy and cool followers. It was to make a point or a difference. This did not happen. Yet. Or perhaps around a table, during a collective art performance, a talk show, with me posturing as a clown. An war dog with sunglasses.
Blank shot. My bad.
In his one-act play No Exit, Jean-Paul Sartre says “Hell is other people” but without the other people it is Hell too. It is so hard to justify the objective usefulness of the artists. It is stupid to ask for graphics or statistics about it. But it is easy for everyone to picture the disaster of their absence or disappearance. A society without artist is a fascist one. As artist, our one responsibility is to keep doing art, not politics. The artist does not represent anything but himself.
My last bullet.
I give it you.
Make it count.
To Paula and Mareen,
my independent voice, my third party, my soft power ladies,
with all my love.