Art & Theory

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Wendy Wiertz | Adellijk en artistiek

Wendy Wiertz

Lange tijd is de kunstbeoefening van amateurkunstenaressen in de 19de eeuw enkelzijdig afgedaan als alledaags, triviaal en repetitief.


In de 19de eeuw ging een negatief imago aan de amateurkunsten kleven. Die raakten geassocieerd met de vrijetijdsbesteding van vrouwen, met huiselijkheid en met lage kwaliteit. In haar boek Adellijk en artistiek verruimt Wendy Wiertz dit enge perspectief. Ze toont hoe amateurkunsten voor vrouwen een krachtig instrument waren om de eigen identiteit vorm te geven, om een plaats in een sociaal-cultureel netwerk te verwerven en om tastbare herinneringen na te laten.

Leg in één zin uit waar het boek over gaat.
Het boek Adellijk en artistiek geeft een intieme kijk op de artistieke leefwereld van adellijke vrouwen in de 19de en het begin van de 20ste eeuw. Het toont hoe de amateurkunsten voor deze vrouwen een krachtig instrument waren om een eigen identiteit vorm te geven, om een plaats in een sociaal-cultureel netwerk te verwerven en om tastbare herinneringen na te laten.

Wat of wie heeft je geïnspireerd om voor dit onderwerp te kiezen?
Jaren geleden zocht ik voor mijn bachelorproef een onderwerp dat aan vrouwelijke kunstenaars in de 19de eeuw gerelateerd was. De nadruk in België en Nederland lag toen nog heel erg op beroepskunstenaressen, maar ik raakte geïnteresseerd in amateurkunstenaressen. Voor hen was het maken van kunst geen must, maar het hoorde wel bij hun levensstijl. Lange tijd is hun kunstbeoefening enkelzijdig afgedaan als alledaags, triviaal en repetitief. Langzamerhand werd het me steeds duidelijker dat er een andere interpretatie mogelijk was die ook door buitenlandse onderzoekers werd opgemerkt. Amateurkunstenaars konden namelijk hun kunstbeoefening inzetten voor de vorming van hun identiteit, netwerk en nalatenschap.

Heb je leestips – boeken, blogs, tijdschriften, … – voor wie meer over het onderwerp wil weten?
Sinds het begin van deze eeuw vormen amateurkunstenaars en -kunstenaressen steeds meer het onderwerp van onderzoek. Ann Bermingham toont aan hoe tekenen tussen de 16de en 19de eeuw tot een beschaafde en nuttige kunstvorm voor niet-professionele beoefenaars uitgroeide. Alexander Rosenbaum betoogt dat dilettanten een beslissende bijdrage hebben geleverd aan de geschiedenis van de kunst en kunstenaars in de 18de eeuw. Serena Dyer onderzocht hoe 18de-eeuwse Engelse vrouwen met gekochte materialen objecten vervaardigden om hun leven te documenteren en richting te geven.
Daarnaast waren ook publicaties waarin de materiële cultuur, oftewel de relatie tussen mensen en hun spullen, centraal staat, van belang voor mijn onderzoek. Drie volumes die onder de redactie van Maureen Daly Goggin en Beth Fowkes Tobin verschenen, stellen de relatie tussen vrouwen en hun vaak zelfgemaakte spullen centraal. Amanda Vickery ontsloot de leefwereld van vrouwen en later ook van mannen in de 18de en begin 19de eeuw door te analyseren welke plaatsen ze bezochten en met welke voorwerpen ze zich omringden. Recent publiceerde Freya Gowrley over de materiële cultuur van het huiselijke leven, waarin ze aantoont dat de woning tussen 1750 en 1840 tot een cruciale plek uitgroeide voor de vorming van een identiteit, sociale interactie en emotionele expressie.
Ook zijn er steeds meer tentoonstellingen over amateurkunstenaars. Zelf was ik curator van Vrouwen met stijl. Vier penseelprinsessen in Hingene (Kasteel Hingene, 2013) en Romantische landschappen. Marie de Flandre (Koninklijk Paleis Brussel, 2015). In 2000 organiseerde Kim Sloan in het British Museum een tentoonstelling over amateurtekenaars en hun tekenleraars uit de periode tussen circa 1600 en 1800, terwijl Mattie Boom in 2019 in het Rijksmuseum de focus legde op de opkomst van de amateurfotografie in Nederland.

Hoe verliep het schrijfproces voor dit boek? Heb je iets verrassends, grappigs of vreemds meegemaakt?
Door dit onderzoek en boek heb ik ons land veel beter leren kennen, want ik heb zowat heel België doorkruist om op zoek te gaan naar objecten, documenten en verhalen van en over adellijke amateurkunstenaressen. Het overgrote deel daarvan wordt immers door de adellijke afstammelingen van de vrouwen in hun kasteel, herenhuis of stadsappartement bewaard. Daar werd ik steeds van harte verwelkomd – soms zelfs met een handkus –, waarna ik werd meegenomen van benedenverdieping tot zolderruimte en zelfs torenkamer om de werken van artistieke familieleden te zien. Ik kon ook sommige dagboeken, memoires en brieven inkijken en kreeg individuele herinneringen te horen. Daardoor ontwikkelde ik een intieme kijk op de artistieke leefwereld van adellijke vrouwen in de 19de en het begin van de 20ste eeuw.

Wat wil je dat de lezers van je boek onthouden?
Ik hoop dat de lezers onthouden hoe krachtig amateurkunsten kunnen zijn om een eigen identiteit, een plaats in een sociaal-cultureel netwerk en tastbare herinneringen te creëren.

Heb je plannen voor een volgende publicatie? Waar zal die over gaan?
Allereerst ga ik deze zomer genieten van de publicatie van Adellijk en artistiek. Vervolgens start ik als assistent-professor van toegepaste kunsten, materiële culturen en design aan de Universiteit Utrecht. Ondertussen denk ik na over mijn volgende boek. Dit zal gaan over humanitaire organisaties die tijdens de Duitse bezetting in de Eerste Wereldoorlog de Belgische kantindustrie hebben gered en tegelijkertijd de Belgische kantwerksters in België, Nederland, Frankrijk en het Verenigd Koninkrijk van werk verzekerden

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Sarah Hegenbart | From Bayreuth to Burkina Faso

Sarah Hegenbart


Schlingensief explored whether a Gesamtkunstwerk translocated to the African continent could potentially redeem Germany from its identity crisis. By opening up an iconological dialogue facilitating a contrapuntal analysis to integrate suppressed narratives into a global discourse, the Gesamtkunstwerk Opera Village shares structural features with postcolonial thinking.

 Opera Village Africa, a participatory art experiment by the late German multimedia artist Christoph Schlingensief, serves as a testing ground for a critical interrogation of Richard Wagner’s notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk. Sarah Hegenbart traces the path from Wagner’s introduction of the Gesamtkunstwerk in Bayreuth to Schlingensief’s attempt to charge the idea of the total artwork with new meaning by transposing it to the West African country Burkina Faso.

Briefly and concisely explain in plain language what the book is about.
From Bayreuth to Burkina Faso examines Opera Village as a testing ground for a critical interrogation of Richard Wagner’s notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk. Opera Village is a participatory art experiment by the late German multimedia artist Christoph Schlingensief Having staged Wagner’s Parsifal in Bayreuth in 2004, Schlingensief was disillusioned with the contemporary meaning of opera. The introduction of his Opera Village in 2008 as a transcultural platform in Burkina Faso is based on an expanded definition of opera that aims to make it accessible to everyone. Opera Village also acts as a symbol representing Schlingensief’s critical exploration of post-war German history and Germany’s failure to come to terms with its (colonial) past, and involves his diverse artistic practice as filmmaker, theatre and opera director, and performance artist. Schlingensief’s aim was to endow the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk with a new aesthetic value: the value of living together.

This book maps the trajectory from Wagner’s introduction of the Gesamtkunstwerk in Bayreuth to Schlingensief’s attempt to charge the notion of the total artwork with new meaning by transposing it to the West African country Burkina Faso. Schlingensief developed the participatory art experiment Opera Village in collaboration with the world-renowned architect Francis Kéré. This final project is inspired by and illuminates the diverse themes that informed Schlingensief’s artistic practice, from coming to terms with the German past, anti-Semitism, and critical race theory to questions of postcolonial (self-)criticism.

While most of the artists who influenced Schlingensief (e.g. surrealists such as Luis Buñuel, filmmakers such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Hermann Nitsch and the Viennese Actionists, Martin Kippenberger, Dieter Roth, Allan Kaprow, Paul McCarthy, Paul Thek, and especially Joseph Beuys) also wrestled with the problematic of identity, for Schlingensief the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk suggested a way out. Opera Village epitomises Schlingensief’s oscillation between the romantic quest for redemption and the pragmatic realisation that this desire will necessarily result in failure.

My initial hypothesis is that Opera Village Africa attempts to realise the ideas of the young, left-wing revolutionary Wagner of the Gesamtkunstwerk, namely audience empowerment and the transformation of everyday reality and political circumstances in particular, through the arts. It is interesting to observe how the Wagnerian idea of a pro-democracy revolution through the arts resonates in the 2014 Burkina Faso uprising aiming to remove the long-term president Blaise Compaoré who was in office for 27 years. Music featured centrally in the 2014 Burkina Faso uprising, as the rapper Serge Bambara—one of the patrons of Opera Village, and better known under his stage name ‘Smockey’—played a crucial role in removing the corrupt president. Smockey was co-founder of the grassroots movement Le Balai Citoyen, which was very active throughout the Burkinabe uprisings.

My suggestion is to view the ‘postcolonial Gesamtkunstwerk’ as an artistic strategy, which frees concepts of identity from national appropriation and points towards what Michael Rothberg calls ‘a multidirectional revision of remembrance beyond residual Eurocentrism’. This ties in with current debates about Germany’s culture of remembrance, which have been loosely labelled as Historikerstreit 2.0 (historians’ quarrel).

What or who inspired you to choose this topic?
In May 2012, I curated Schlingensief’s first solo exhibition in the UK, at the German Embassy in London, which centred on Opera Village. The exhibition brought home to me how much research is needed to facilitate a better understanding of his final project. My motivation was to approach Opera Village against the backdrop of Schlingensief’s diverse artistic practice, which required translation to allow non-German speaking audiences to understand it within the context of its time. While Schlingensief has been as famous as a pop star in Germany since the 1990s, I was astonished to learn that he was then virtually unknown in the Anglo-American context. The fact that Schlingensief’s work was so deeply entrenched in German culture, politics, and everyday life, and often contains references and allusions to news issues broadcast in German media, might explain why there is such a gap between international recognition and reception in German-speaking countries. I quickly realised that the amount of documentary material is huge, since Schlingensief was an avid communicator. His personal blog, the Schlingenblog; the Schlingensief website, and the Operndorf Afrika website are central sources. Moreover, the Christoph Schlingensief Archive at Berlin’s Akademie der Künste and the Richard Wagner Archive in Bayreuth have extensive holdings. Since working through the rich sources of documents went far beyond the scope of this exhibition, I aspired to complete this task as part of this book.

Do you have any reading suggestions to share (books, blogs, journals, …) for anyone who wants to know more about the subject?

Schlingenblog: https://schlingenblog.wordpress.com

Schlingensief Website: https://www.schlingensief.com

Opera Village Website: https://www.operndorf-afrika.com

Kéré Architecture https://www.kerearchitecture.com/work/building/opera-village

The Art of Wagnis. Christoph Schlingensief’s Crossing of Wagner and Africa, edited by Fabian Lehman, Nadine Siegert and Ulf Vierke. Vienna: Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2017.

Koss, Juliet: Modernism after Wagner, Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

Thomas Sankara Speaks. The Burkina Faso Revolution 1983-1987, edited by Samantha Anderson, New York/London, 1988.

Thiemeyer, Thomas: „Cosmopolitanizing Colonial Memories in Germany“, in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 45, Nr. 4,  https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/703964#d1251110e515

Eze, Emmanuel Chukwudi (Hrsg.): Postcolonial African Philosophy. A Critical Reader. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1997.

Dhawan, Nikita (Hrsg.): Decolonizing Enlightenment. Transnational Justice, Human Rights and Democracy in a Postcolonial World, Opladen/Berlin/Toronto: Barbara Bud – rich Publishers, 2014.

Additional audio-visual material documenting my research in Burkina Faso can be found here:

Hegenbart, Sarah (director): Total Work of Art – ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’. Filmed Doctoral Documentary, 2015-2015, https://vimeo.com/153238146

Hegenbart, ‘Schlingensiefs Traum’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 6 December 2015, http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/schlingensiefs-traum-sein-operndorf-in-afrika-wurde-schule-13948848.html

How did the writing process for this book go? Did you experience anything surprising, amusing or strange?
During my visit to Opera Village in October 2015, an approximately four-metre high pole marked the centre of the village. Wires ran outward from the pole like a spider web. They were fastened in the dry red soil. A variety of everyday objects, including shoes, buckets, tins, soap, and cloth were fixed to the wires. The installation was placed at the exact location where Schlingensief originally intended to build his festival theatre. The sculpture raised a variety of questions about the migration of artistic forms from Bayreuth to Burkina Faso, as it appeared to me a manifestation of the collaborative Gesamtkunstwerk Wagner mentioned in his letters to Theodor Uhlig. Due to its immediate similarities to the animatograph (an installation emerging from Schlingensief’s Parsifal production), I approached the sculpture as continuation of Schlingensief’s aesthetic language. I was soon to be made aware, however, that my interpretation was filtered through my own cultural bias; I was projecting my knowledge of Schlingensief’s artistic practice onto an entity which stood in no relation to either Wagner or Schlingensief. When interviewing local staff about the nature of this sculpture, I learnt that it was the result of a workshop organised by the art teacher Paulin Zongo for the students. The interviewees doubted that it was conceptually linked with Schlingensief’s animatograph, a concept they did not view as directly related to Opera Village.

What would you like readers to remember about your book?
Schlingensief’s project to recharge the notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk through his Opera Village is not merely of aesthetic nature. It also corrects a philosophical episteme by opening up Eurocentric discourses to approaches in African philosophy. While Wagner linked the Gesamtkunstwerk’s contribution to human flourishing back to the Ancient Greek concept of eudaimonia, Schlingensief explored whether a Gesamtkunstwerk translocated to the African continent could potentially redeem Germany from its identity crisis. By opening up an iconological dialogue facilitating a contrapuntal analysis to integrate suppressed narratives into a global discourse, the Gesamtkunstwerk Opera Village shares structural features with postcolonial thinking. Since Schlingensief’s death, however, the project has lacked the self-irony, critical awareness, and creativity necessary to continually generate ambiguities. It may be asked to what extent the contemporary Opera Village still counts as Schlingensief’s production, given that he would likely have taken it in a very different direction. To prevent Opera Village from suffering the fate of the Gesamtkunstwerk it wanted to critically rethink, the ownership of Opera Village needs be handed over to the local population. This process will reveal the extent to which Schlingensief’s Opera Village will eventually result in smashing or reviving the very concept of the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk in Burkina Faso.

Do you have any plans yet for another publication? What will it be about?
Yes, I am currently working on a book with the working title “Decolonising the Genres: The Role of Dialogical Images in the Black Diaspora”, which explores how African American artists and contemporary artists belonging to the African diaspora, such as Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Meleko Mokgosi, Otobong Nkanga, challenge traditional art historical genres, such as history painting and landscape. In another publication, I investigate how the arts of global contemporaneity contribute to implementing climate justice.

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Jo Shaw | The Art of Being Dangerous

Jo Shaw

 

A major inspiration for the project was the tendency by some in the media to describe particular women as ‘the most dangerous woman in’ Scotland, or the UK, or the world.


The Art of Being Dangerous offers many different images of women, some humorous, some challenging, some well-known, some forgotten, but all unique. In a dazzling variety of creative forms, artists and writers of diverse identities explore what it means to be a dangerous woman. “We want readers to be inspired by the idea of the ‘dangerous woman’, and to want to know how that might impact upon their lives”, explains editor Jo Shaw.

Briefly and concisely explain in plain language what the book is about.
Our book is a collection of short contributions on the broad topic of dangerous women, art and creative practice. A number of the contributions are essays and reflections by women on the topic of ‘what makes a dangerous woman’, but the majority are reflections (and images) by women artists themselves exploring the issue of ‘dangerousness’ through their creativity. We also commissioned an additional introductory essay which engages with the range of work in the collection, as a way of highlighting some general themes, illuminating – as the introduction puts it – ‘the dynamics, conflicts, identities and power relations with which women live today’.

What or who inspired you to choose this topic?
From International Women’s Day 2016 to International Women’s Day 2017, the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh ran a major project called the Dangerous Women Project. It showcased writings on the topic of ‘what makes a dangerous woman’ on a dedicated website, with one entry per day for an entire year. A major inspiration for the project was the tendency by some in the media to describe particular women as ‘the most dangerous woman in’ Scotland, or the UK, or the world, etc. This is done, we think, as a means to try and control such women. As a result, we were particularly pleased to publish a reflection by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has received this treatment quite widely in the press, on the topic of Dangerous Women. While the Dangerous Women Project was much wider in scope, this book is a collection of some of these entries on the topic of dangerous women and art.

Do you have any reading suggestions to share (books, blogs, journals, …) for anyone who wants to know more about the subject?
We invite readers to look at the Dangerous Women Project website, which provides a nicely indexed and beautifully curated selection of entries on the topic of ‘what makes a dangerous woman?’. Use the search function to find topics that interest you from politics, via suffrage, to biography and sport. We promise you that each of these entries will get you thinking and take you on new voyages of exploration.

How did the writing process for this book go? Did you experience anything surprising, amusing or strange?
We were excited by the opportunity to explore the presentation of the idea of ‘dangerous women’ in the classic book format. As this had originally been a digital project (supplemented by a number of in person events that took place in Edinburgh during the period when the website was being built, one entry at a time), it was interesting to see how well the work of our contributors ‘translated’ onto the physical page. It raised, for example, challenging questions about layout and presentation which were different to those we faced when we put the website together. We were greatly helped by the enthusiasm and investment of Leuven University Press in the design process in bridging that gap between the digital and the physical.

What would you like readers to remember about your book?
We want our readers to be inspired by the idea of the ‘dangerous woman’, and to want to know how that might impact upon their lives. We also invite them to follow up the work of the many talented contributors and to delve into the Dangerous Women Project website.

Do you have any plans yet for another publication? What will it be about?
A second volume will be published in 2022 by Unbound. Titled “Dangerous Women: Fifty reflections on women, power and identity”, the book invites poets, playwrights, artists, academics, journalists, historians, performers and opinion-formers to reflect on the danger of females. Contributors include Nicola Sturgeon MSP, broadcaster and journalist Bidisha, playwright Jo Clifford, prize-winning novelist Irenosen Okojie, acclaimed journalist Jean Rafferty, essayist and writer Laura Elizabeth Woollett, novelist and architect Yewande Omotoso, poet and performer Rachel McCrum, prize-winning novelist and poet Claire Askew, celebrated author Nada Awar Jarrar, critic and publisher Laura E. Waddell, BBC comedy writer Jasmine Tonie, writer and editor Annee Lawrence, award-winning poet and translator A.C. Clarke, poet, writer and presenter Mab Jones and feminist historian Chiara Bonfiglioli.