In his opening address he called this museum a “ “living “house”, with doors open to the peoples of the whole world, where everyone feels represented and where the gaze of the Church leaves no one out.”
That the Catholic Church – notorious for centuries for the way it excludes people – should send such a signal is surprising. That it should do so under the present Pope Francis who ever since taking office has caused quite a few surprises is less of a cause for wonder. Coming from South America, as the first pope of non-European origin, he’s very familiar with the early and later art of non-European cultures.
The early high cultures of the Mayas, Incas and Aztecs were centuries in advance of the European culture of that time. Until their countries were first discovered by Europeans, that is, and then brutally occupied, opening the way to a wave of smug and autocratic missionaries with the sole purpose of turning the unbelieving heathens into what they termed “better people”.
For many centuries this sordid chapter of Church history which is also part of our own western European history, was portrayed in our history books as an unabashed triumph.
With this in mind, I can see a certain sensitivity in Pope Francis’s words and perhaps even something you could call humility as they attempt to correct an arrogant outdate view held not just by the Catholic Church but by the whole of the western world. They’re a sign of respect to all the peoples of the world which our western world in its drive to colonisation has ruthlessly exploited and viciously treated, aided and abetted by the Church whose self-serving dogma proclaimed them subhuman. An attempt to come together in the living house of reconciliation.
Nobody knows where the soul lives in people. It’s not a physical organ but of spiritual nature. From Aristotle to Leibniz, philosophers have believed in the existence of the soul and that it isn’t just peculiar to humans but is found in every living thing. That’s what OUBEY also believed, particularly after studying the two philosophers.
This soul of the world – which was a part of his innermost being – finds its immediate expression in his art. And since this art is free of all the barriers of language which so often divide people from one another, it can be felt by people of a huge range of cultural backgrounds. It was an uplifting experience that I had time and again on my travels with OUBEYs paintings around the globe.
Take, for instance, a Maori woman I met in New Zealand, who at her first viewing of OUBEYs pictures spontaneously exclaimed “These paintings immediately start to speak to you when you just glance at them!”
At moments like this it became clear that OUBEYs vision of the universal language spoken by his pictures could be proven true if his pictures were allowed to travel. This is why I’m glad today that in 2010 I first packed my yellow packing case, to travel with OUBEYs paintings around the world because in that way I could make the astonishing experience that his art did indeed have universal significance. It moves people deeply whether they’re live in Uganda or New Zealand, whether they’ve never been to school or are research scientists.
As strange as art might appear to us sometimes in the first moment, it does reach us – and not only our minds. This is true of all kinds of art, and particularly the arts that do without words – music and painting. And especially for all those paintings and symphonies which the public at that time ignored or rejected and which have now become indispensable treasures in our lives.
At one and the same time art is an expression of the Anima Mundi and its incarnation. It takes us further – back into the old and forward to the new worlds of knowledge and self-knowledge. It was so in the early days of human history and it remains so today. Art can enrich and illuminate our inner being as nothing else but love can. It expands our souls, opens our hearts and can overcome barriers.
And at a time when we might be celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall yet are also pondering putting up new frontier zones and wall, such a thought is more than just a Christmas wish. I hear the message in Pope Francis’s opening address and I hope that it bears fruit. Art overcomes all barriers. And perhaps this has to first and foremost with those barriers which we have errected in ourselves.
In our modern age art and culture are mainly seen as an expression of individual thought processes and in terms of the inspiration of particular artists. Yet they also were and still are expressions of the world view and values that society holds. Like the culture of most preindustrial societies outside of Europe, the culture of North American Indians was marked by an extremely close affinity to, and great respect for, nature.
At the age of twelve I eagerly devoured one Karl May novel after the other. What I met with there was less the original Indian culture or if it did appear it came draped in the clichés of a well read and highly imaginative German who had never set foot in America. But there was one strand to the stories that always struck me as authentic and which coloured my understanding of the Indian culture of North America from a very early age, and this was Karl May’s descriptions of the ignorant, unscrupulous and brutal ways in which white immigrants to the New World asserted their interests – power, land, gold, and then later oil.
So at the age of twelve I asked myself for the first time what had become of the original inhabitants of North America, where and how they were now living, what kind of role they played in American society and what now remained of their culture. Over the years I learnt a great deal more about this dark chapter in American history that at its heart also holds a piece of European history for the conquerors were European, as we know. I learnt about the demise of many tribes and their cultures but I also learnt about the survival of Indian traditions and wisdom in the reservations up to the present day.
That in the year 2019 an exhibition on Indian art is staged in what must be the leading art museum in the USA, is, I think, a step in the direction of historical (self) awareness that’s overdue by several decades. And that it was staged by a white curator without any involvement of tribal representatives – a move that has been rightly criticised by Indians – shows that even today there is still a distinct lack of everyday, practical, effective respect for this culture. What might the exhibition have looked like if it was the result of cooperation?
Even so, what it does show is well worth seeing. The American Wing of the museum hosts an enormous spectrum of Native American works, from superbly crafted objects for everyday use to ritual masks and cultural artefacts. The beauty and the meticulous care with which everything, particularly the everyday objects, was lovingly and skilfully crafted – baskets, quivers, shoes, jackets, clothes, slings for carrying babies – is impressive and also strangely moving as it’s an expression of a relationship not just to nature but also to time and life which we in the civilised frenzied world of the 21st century have mostly lost.
The exhibits speak for themselves. Yet I also found the explanatory texts that accompany them very revealing as they explicitly show respect for the resistance and resilience of the North American Indians in their struggle to retain their land and their culture. A culture that didn’t seek to dominate the Earth but saw itself as an integral part of it. Ruthless exploitation and depletion of its resources was inimical to the Indian culture which saw trappers shooting countless thousands of buffaloes for no other motive than their own amusement as a premonition of the demise of their own way of life.
So whilst the UN Climate Action Summit was debating, furiously squabbling and wrangling to find arguments and money, I was getting quite a different positive take on the climate issue – in the evidence of an almost lost culture which showed planet Earth great esteem and respect – two things which it now needs more than ever.
And so, in spite of the criticism it has received, I would see this exhibition as a belated but auspicious first step, as a sign of recognition and esteem. Perhaps in ten or twenty years there’ll be a jointly curated exhibition in the main building of the Metropolitan Museum of Art which will be visited and taken seriously by far greater numbers of people than now. I, for one, would love to see it.
To prevent any possible misunderstanding let me say that obviously the Indians were not some superior kind of people. The ideal of the noble savage embodied by Karl May in the figure of Winnetou is not something I would subscribe to. Yet I do believe that Indian art and culture does contain an important message for us in our dealings with the world and all its myriad forms of life. It has to do with our consciously shouldering responsibility for what we do and how we act, a responsibility based on awareness of the complex web of interdependencies that first gave birth to us on this planet.
In my view this vital climate issue of respect for our Earth and the future of coming generations is now finally receiving the attention that industrial society has increasing denied it over the course of the past hundred and fifty years. Through the simple realisation that we are not lords of the ecosystem, merely a part of it.
“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise that we cannot eat money.” (Proverb of the Cree Indians). This iconic piece of Native American wisdom is made wonderfully tangible in the art of Native Americans. Respect.
You can find some photos of this exhibition here in the Photo Gallery:
You’ve never heard of TED? The name is an acronym for ‘Technology, Entertainment, Design’. It began back in the 80s with an annual innovation conference in California. In 2002, Chris Anderson, former editor-in-chief of WIRED magazine, took over the helm and under his curatorship TED has continually developed. For many years now the best talks have been published on the ‘TED Talks’ website where they can reach millions of people all over the world – naturally completely free of charge.
I’m always turning to this site to watch and listen to talks on a staggering number of topics – the sheer diversity of what’s on offer is fascinating. Stefan Sagmeister, the man who designed the OUBEY MINDKISS book has already appeared at several TED Conferences where one of the topics he talked about was whether design is productive of happiness. And it’s about happiness in connection with TED that I’d like to talk today.
Because TED is thoroughly positive. Even though some of the stories told there might be disturbing or dramatic, they never end in hopelessness, but always point to a way or an idea through which a problem can be solved or a question answered.
This I find invigorating and really refreshing. Day in, day out, we’re confronted with so much bad news and so many problems in this world that you could be forgiven for thinking that everything’s just getting worse and worse. One of the main reasons for this is that old media maxim which says that only bad news is good news. Turn on the TV or radio to watch or listen to the news and you can easily get the impression that the whole world’s going to hell in a handcart.
Is that the truth though? Is it reality? Far from it. Even though that’s what many people believe. Focus on what’s positive, what’s encouraging and they’ll say that you’re denying reality. Because many people hold fast to the view that darkness in this world is growing.
Naturally far too many horrid things happen and we’re beset with problems on all sides. And yet at least an equal number of good things happen every day, and everyday problems are solved or at least are tackled in a bid to find a solution. This too is reality, even though it doesn’t get much – if any – media attention.
Development needs positive impulses. Positive impulses inspire us, encourage us, they spur us on. They release energy. And this is exactly what the TED Talks also do by showing us how much ingenuity, intelligence and courage goes into solving some difficult or seemingly impossible situation. We get to know perfectly ordinary – and at the same time truly extraordinary – people who can set examples for us to follow. Perhaps it’s an ex-president of the USA who inspires us. Or an artist talking about happiness. I myself was particularly impressed by a little African boy who wanted to protect the village herd of cows from frequent nightly attacks by lions but without killing the beasts. He hit on the idea of building a light installation which switched on at night when the lions approached and scared them away. He put this idea into action and it worked. And he showed the grown-ups in the village that you didn’t necessarily have to shoot and kill in order to protect yourself. This is why his story made such a deep impression on me. Because the effect of what he did was just as important as protecting the herd – as it led to a new way of thinking in the village. You don’t need to be powerful or rich in order to bring about positive change. You only have to have the idea and the ability and the courage to put it into practice – even with the simplest of means.
“Ideas Worth Spreading” is the subline of the TED Talks. In my view there can never be enough of such ideas. And you don’t necessarily need an internet platform to spread them. Yet TED itself is a marvellous example of a good innovative idea that helps to make the world a little bit better by showcasing the positive and giving it a voice. Perhaps you’re curious enough to drop by and give it a glance like I did all those years ago when I first heard about it. I’d be so pleased if you did!
At least I used to dream about flying in space when I was a kid. “Peterchens Mondfahrt – Little Peter flies to the Moon” was my favourite story. And later on like countless millions of people across the world I was fascinated and moved to tears by that legendary photo William Anders shot from Apollo 8 – of the brilliant blue globe of the Earth floating in the darkness of space. And through my meeting with OUBEY I also discovered my interest in science-fiction with its fantastic stories of manned missions to the distant depths of space and adventures of the type Perry Rhodan the hero of the sci-fi series that bears his name, used to brave. Do you also share this passion?
Even if nowadays we know a great deal about the universe, and can explain the way it’s structured and how it was created, the view of the sky at night with its moon and stars is still something breathtakingly beautiful, something mysterious whose magnitude and grandeur we can’t really understand but which still attracts us and preoccupies us like nothing else on Earth. In places like Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia where the nearest electric lights are hundreds of miles away, the night sky glows with a particularly strong intensity. People who have spent the night there say that the view of such a glorious star-studded heaven was a profound soul-stirring experience for them.
It’s in such moments that we feel our deep connection with outer space. The view alone opens us up to the unconscious knowledge we receive from the heavens and give back to them. Every astronaut who’s ever been into space says that they’re a different person when they return to Earth.
And of course there’s also the curiosity to discover unknown worlds and the hunger to conquer them, to test frontiers and push them back – in our imaginations as well as in reality. At the latest since Jules Verne, the idea of leaving the Earth to land on the moon or another planet has become so overriding that it has actually been realised by people in the short space of just one hundred years. Quite unbelievable but nonetheless true.
Just as explorers and adventurers once set out from the familiar harbours of Europe to sail to the New World, in future people might blast off from their home planet in search of a new home in space.
The colonisation of space is an exciting idea that OUBEY once touched on during his architectural studies in a project on “Creating the Design of a Prototype for a Space Colony”. Technical, architectural, biological-ecological, and social psychological issues were all examined from a scientific perspective, and answers given within the terms of the possibilities then available. Today the documentation of the project still makes for fascinating reading.
One of the driving thoughts behind the project was that “Through a happy chance we and a broad diversity of other life forms have taken root on this planet. And over the course of evolution we humans as a species on this Earth have taken a truly astonishing course of development. Especially during the past two hundred years we have multiplied at a prodigious rate, claiming ever more land. This is not good for our Earth. And this is the why we should leave it alone and seek a new home out there in space. What could or should this new home look like?”
What a daunting challenge this must have been to work on the realisation of such ideas!
Yet the step from space flights reserved exclusively for trained and selected astronauts to the possibility of space tourism is now well and truly upon us. That’s great, you might think…but is it really a cause for celebration?
Humankind has always dreamed of special places that embody our visions of an earthly paradise. And till about 70 or 80 years ago, such fantastic spots in remote corners of the world were exclusively the preserve of the wealthy with enough money to afford them. But with the advent of mass tourism, when more and more people could realise their dreams of holidaying in paradise, a reverse process kicked in which peeled the gloss from such dream destinations and destroyed them. After all, if every person dreaming of a lonely palm beach could actually go to one, then the beach can hardly be described as lonely anymore! Not to mention all the other undesirable side effects!
So for the foreseeable future a trip to the ISS will be reserved for the superrich who can afford the astronomical price tag without it making too much of a dent in their wallets. This and the fact that the ISS can only receive a very small number of visitors means that the numbers of tourists will be strictly limited. And whether this barrier to mass tourism will be removed – if ever! – is not as yet predictable. So the issue of what might happen if space tourism becomes affordable for people of average incomes is best left to science-fiction for the time being.
Our imaginations can dream up various scenarios. Would space tourism be a real advance for humankind, sharpening our awareness of the connections between the cosmos and Earth and ourselves as a species and enabling us to reposition ourselves in this cosmic order? Or would we as tourists continue to treat space just as we’ve treated all the dream destinations and tourist attractions on Earth so far?
The race for unscrupulous expansion in the terrestrial tourist sector continues unimpeded and in recent years has reached a new high water mark with the gigantic cruise liners that dominate the Laguna in Venice on a daily basis. Thousands of people are disgorged who swarm over the city for half a day and in the evening, when they’re all back on board, the floating monster moves on to its next destination. If you’ve seen the pictures, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
I’ve always been enthusiastic about space exploration done by astronauts who are also experts in a range of scientific disciplines. And I still find the idea of colonising another planet in man-made space colonies truly fascinating. The great strides now being made in the development of artificial intelligence are now opening up new opportunities which just ten or twenty years ago would have been consigned to the realm of science fiction but which now present themselves as distinct possibilities. Even so, I still remain sceptical when I think of the possible side effects and consequences such a development might have, given the dismal track record of behaviour and attitudes our species has shown so far in such matters. Are we really capable of tackling these challenges we set ourselves in a way that doesn’t only take account of their technological and physical aspects but also pays heed to their ethical dimensions?
What do you think?
As I myself use the various platforms of social media for my OUBEY MINDKISS project, I know the ways other users react, and the challenges associated with them, from my own experience. Here are a few of my personal thoughts on the subject.
Digital networking has made it incredibly easy for us to spread our own personal views. This is great because it gives a voice to people who otherwise wouldn’t be heard in public. And it also gives us all access to information and opinion which helps us to broaden our own understanding and gain new knowledge. Yet it can also have quite a different effect by reinforcing one particular human trait in us – our tendency to become assertively arrogant and self-opinionated.
How often do we only approve and pass on that which corresponds to what we already think – without ever stopping to check whether our opinion really is well-founded in each particular case. And conversely, how often do we simply ignore information and opinions that don’t fit into our own view of the world or even worse, troll and abuse views different from our own in firestorm attacks.
Probably people have always found it difficult not merely to tolerate different opinions but wherever possible to consider them as incentives to start fresh trains of thought. And we have always found it even more difficult to admit our own failures and errors in viewing or assessing a particular issue. Admitting to errors or mistakes is seen as a sign of weakness.
Both the speed and the structure of communication on the Social Web seem to actively encourage this human propensity to a righteous belief in the correctness of our opinions by affording us permanent endorsement of our own way of thinking – at the cost of a differentiated view of other ways of thinking that differ from our own.
True dialogue is thin on the ground. Because far too often we take too little trouble to question and probe the different opinions other people have. The ideological aspect of opinion-formation is playing an increasingly significant role in this because the less I’m prepared to critically examine the information that reaches me and debate it, the more I’m swimming on the cusp of a wave formed by the opinion-makers – and the more I am liable to be seduced by the seeming correctness of the opinion of the multitude.
In dialogue reality always has three sides: one that I see, one that you see and one that neither of us sees. In this sense reality can be compared to a dice cube all of whose sides I can never see from whatever standpoint I adopt. To see all its sides I must either turn it or ask other people who see the sides I can’t. This is poignant and highly telling, and it means that we should be able to admit that our own standpoint must not (necessarily) be the only correct one.
Being able to admit your own limitations and weaknesses to yourself – and others – is, I believe, a sign of strength. Nobody is infallible. Only if you can admit your own errors and mistakes can you be really strong and at the same time fully human. Personally, in this sense I believe that we could use the marvellous opportunities offered by social media in a completely different and much better way. Because social media offer us the possibility of constructive dialogue. Whether this possibility will be seized and used depends solely on the mindset of each and every one of its millions of users.
It was a revolutionary enterprise that embraced the principle of “form follows function” as a clarion call of liberation from the ideals of beauty of a bourgeois society rooted in the 19th century, one that sought to create better living conditions for all people.
Within a decade, a new, modern, clear style was born. Yet at the same time the Bauhaus declared its own design principles to be the absolute gold standard and the nonplusultra for everything touching on design, art, handicrafts and architecture, and many of its followers still hold this view today.
My own view is a little more nuanced. Yes, the Bauhaus was a huge step forward at the time because it pioneered new ways of thinking about and designing space. And yes, the Bauhaus was important, perhaps even essential, in helping us to gain a new understanding about major aspects and matters of life.
Yet when I look at what has happened to urban planning and housing development over the past 60 years in the name of “form follows function” and in adherence to the principles of the Bauhaus, what I see is the huge discrepancy between this erstwhile absolute aspiration and what actually has become of it in the hard light of day.
What followed was normalization and standardization driven by the imperatives of economy – quadratic, practical, good. Soulless homogeneous residential landscapes hostile to the very notion of communal living. Gigantic silos on the outskirts of cities where people live in stacked up shoe boxes.
Admittedly – compared to the dark, damp, first or second back courtyard apartments where people used to live without central heating and with no sanitary facilities, this was indeed progress. Yet even so, it was still lightyears away from the aesthetic aspiration to a beauty of form that follows function.
The beauty of the Bauhaus aesthetic in architecture which I certainly find in the original buildings that can still be seen, is nowadays limited to a handful of mostly luxurious exceptional instances. The original promise that Bauhaus held up high has failed to materialize in its mass applications. What we need today are fresh and totally different concepts of the kind now being realized – without any aspiration to universal value – in local and regional projects.
Furthermore, it’s not only how the application of Bauhaus principles changed the face of our towns and cities after the Second World War that gives grounds for critical appraisal.
There’s another quite different aspect which puts me some distance from the absolutist aspiration of the Bauhaus and its founders. Despite the fact that there were always a great many female members – in some periods even more women than men active in the movement – up to present these women remain largely unknown.
In other words, up to its dissolution by the Nazis, the Bauhaus remained a prime example of a thoroughly male-dominated organisation.
It’s mainly its 100th anniversary celebrations that we have to thank for shedding the very first light on the role played by women in the Bauhaus. For instance, arte TV recently aired a fascinating programme on “Women in the Bauhaus”. This exhaustively researched documentary shows that even the most gifted and ambitious women were deliberately excluded from management positions and kept well away from such areas of high-interest activity as attracted widespread public attention. Their usual fate was to be sent straight away to the handicrafts sections and in particular to the weaving workshop. This makes it all the more ironic to learn that these Bauhaus women in their preordained niche not only produced acclaimed design with their carpets, furniture and kids’ toys, but were also pretty successful economically too!
When it comes to the acceptance of qualified women Bauhauslers as partners of equal value, endowed with equal rights and on an equal footing, the male founders and protagonists of Bauhaus displayed a mindset that had more in common with conservative 19th century attitudes to women than with any revolutionary forward-looking leap into the future.
Today in Germany rented accommodation and living space has mainly become a question of size, price and rate of return. It’s an issue that has long been neglected, if not entirely ignored, by government. The result is, not unsurprisingly, an acute and massive lack of affordable housing. In the midst of public protest, wild demands calling for the expropriation of property companies are now emerging, yet there has never been a public debate on issues of design such as the Bauhaus movement was once vocal in articulating. I think this is a very serious shortcoming. And this is why – in spite of all the contradictions inherent in the idea of the Bauhaus – I would still dearly like to see such a radically thinking and progressive social force in action as the Bauhaus and its impulses proved to be for society one hundred years ago.
There was a time when the best thing that adults could say about comics was that they were childish and only of interest to children while strict educators dismissed them out of hand as lowbrow trash. Yet thanks to my mother who at some point took out a subscription to Mickey Mouse for me, for many years and contrary to the prevalent opinion, I had the joy of finding a new magazine in the letter box each week which I eagerly devoured with great pleasure. And even today I still remember this.
It was a time when the line between serious highbrow culture and pleasurable lowbrow entertainment was rigorously drawn. Especially when such entertainment happened to come from America. Comics together with English pop and rock music were frowned on as trivial forms of entertainment, not to be taken seriously and they found their first real home in youth culture and the subculture.
Nowadays comics are not only am integral part of the adult world but have also been accepted – quite rightly I think – as part of our culture and a valid expression of art. OUBEY always considered them as such. He always had a huge and continually growing collection of comics which included many of the wonderful publications of the Jean Giraud, who used the pseudonym Moebius and was one of a kind, or the magazines of the Japanese comic series “Akira”. They are all remarkable not only for the outstanding quality of their artwork but also for the philosophical issues they deal with in stories like “The Airtight Garage”. “Up to the Stars” is “one of the most fascinating science fiction adventures Moebius did ever create” commented the publisher. The header photo of this article shows the cover of this outstanding comic. Jack Lang, minister of culture in France at that time, awarded Moebius for his outstanding artwork with the “Great Prize of the French State for Graphical Arts” in 1984.
The comic genre finally established itself in the mainstream when Stan Lee brought the comic heroes of his Marvel world to the big screen, Today they’re a standard part of most movie-goers’ fare. And with the merchandising that goes with them, they bring in revenues in the billions. Stan Lee – a marketing superhero. Is it through Stan Lee’s marketing skills that once despised comics have now achieved the status of a “cultural asset” due in large part to their lavish blockbuster versions?
Sure, that’s a big part of it, but I still think that there’s another and much deeper reason. Boundaries have now become blurred, we’re now much more open-minded and our longing for fabulous fantastic tales of heroes have found a new outlet in many comics.
Such longing is nothing new. It was expressed in the old sagas about gods and heroes and today as a reflection of our times comes dressed in modern garb. The fantasy that animates these improbable tales of indestructible heroes has its roots in our need to see good eventually triumph. Comics satisfy this need, and satisfy it in a highly entertaining way. In them, the rational world of enlightenment finds its pleasurable counterpart which is not above making the occasional charged political point. This doesn’t just apply to the rather clone-like heroes of Marvel comics. It applied and still applies to a great number of other comic series which are now perhaps showing their age like Asterix & Obelix or the tiny but all-powerful Marsupilami.
“Yes, but what’s all this to do with art?” you might be asking.
This is a question to which I can give no adequate answer here. Yet I do see points of similarity between what we call art and what we call comics.
I got the idea to write this post from a conversation I had some time ago about OUBEY. The man I was talking to knew some of OUBEYs very deep and multi-layered paintings and drawings and so was completely astonished when I let drop at some point that OUBEY used to enjoy drawing comics. .
Even as a young schoolboy he drew and produced his own comic series “The Adventures of André Noir”. Back then there were no public photocopying machines so as he wanted to produce and sell as many copies as possible, he produced each single magazine by hand.
Anything is possible in art. And this applies even more to comics. They create and visualize new beings, new worlds, whole new universes. The mind takes wing and wanders in the free realm of fantasy. When I look at certain pictures and drawings by Paul Klee, who undoubtedly was a truly great artist, this kind of interrelationship becomes clear to me. As it does with part of OUBEYs work too.
In my view it’s a step forward when boundaries are no longer drawn so dogmatically. Art broadens its spectrum and what’s fun is no longer excluded just because it’s entertaining.
Rigid boundaries are a challenge to the spirit that it will seek to overcome. That the spirit continually and increasingly often succeeds is doing this is something I find excellent, highly refreshing and a most invaluable development.
Header: Moebius – Up to the Stars (Cover), Schwermetall Volume 5, 1987
Ludmilla Larusso, who by now is over 50, appeared youthful as she stood on the stage and sang. How come? It was her vibrant personality, her voice but above all else the tangible joy and passion she put into what she was doing. Compared to her many another candidate seemed truly “aged” even though several decades younger than she was. How can this be?
For me age is much more than just the sum total of the number of years you’ve been living. The question of age has a lot more to do with the question of what mental attitude you hold. And it’s this outlook compounded of curiosity and sheer zest for life and the knowledge that it’s never too late to make new discoveries that creates the energy that makes people young – whether they’re 15 or 50.
But what about the hard facts of biology, you might quite rightly object. Sure, they also play a part, and with creeping age there are many things that you can’t do as well and easily as when you were 20 or 30. Fortunately, however, we humans are also individuals and as such capable of encountering hard biology with a mental attitude which means that our lives are not necessarily over and done with when we reach 50 or 70.
Some people – even though still young in years – have already planned out their whole lives through to retirement and reject everything that doesn’t fit into their plan. Now you might think that this shows great purpose and is a perfectly sensible thing to do and shouldn’t be criticised.
To avoid any misunderstanding let me say that I am not criticising it. Everybody can and should live as they see fit in a way that makes them content as long as they do not hurt other people. And yet I think that this is a road which if followed can deprive us of a few wonderful opportunities which make life eventful and full of surprises. What otherwise remains is often enough just the surprises with which life confronts us and to which we often react helplessly when they torpedo all our carefully laid plans.
For me, trying something new and surprising myself has been a vital constant factor in my life. Naturally, you always have to first step back and see that what you want to do really is within your grasp, and that you really do want to do it. But when that is the case, then you should simply go ahead and do it. And if you don’t succeed, at least you can say you’ve tried. As far as possible at the end of my life I want to avoid asking myself why I never made any use of the great opportunities that came my way. This is why I’ve always given myself the liberty to tackle something new when the right opportunity arrived, and so far have never once regretted it.
And I like people who act in the same way. To some extent an artist must “begin afresh” with every new picture. Some artists might paint whole series yet again and again each empty canvas calls up something new. This is what I’ve seen personally in living together with OUBEY for over twenty one years. If OUBEY hadn’t been ready and capable of continually striking out in new directions as an artist, the body of work that he left behind would never have been as interesting and wide ranging as it is and would certainly never now fascinate and thrill such a great number of people across the whole globe. Each answer for OUBEY only called forth the next question. Nearly all people have this attitude during childhood. Only when they grow up they tend to shed it because they believe they know all the answers – at least the most important ones. This is an error because nobody ever knows all the answers. Wonder and discovery are just as important as knowledge.
And so it is that a certain Ludmilla Larusso on The Voice of Germany managed to bring the enthusiastic audience to its feet and the attentive coaches as well. Perhaps it helped her that in this show they sit with their backs to the stage and cannot see how old or young, big or little, fat or thin, pretty or less pretty a candidate is. They don’t know what this person looks like, they just hear the song. And Ludmilla touched people’s hearts with her song. It’s a wonderful example of how right Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was when he once said “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly”.
Age is not the result of adding up the years. Age is a question of vigour, openness and curiosity – in the heart and in the mind. There is always still time to learn, experience, and discover something new. Curiosity is an elixir that creates zest for life and by so doing keeps you young.
VR, AR and other new high tech (OR and the like)
The Buddha statues were reconstructed in their full size using 3D printing technology. Yet another technology makes it possible for you, me and those who come after us to see the ancient cultural sites in a totally new manner – in GIF animations! With new technologies we can view the most famous buildings in the history of the world stone by stone and pillar by pillar. The original structures have been awoken to new life even though in some cases hardly any basis for reconstruction could be found. And lo and behold many of the buildings appear quite different to what history has taught us to think.
Augmented reality (AR) really can give us the opportunity to admire the ancient ruins in their former splendour on our smartphones! I think this is an awesome development! Probably many of us are still not fully aware of what amazing new opportunities 3D printers, virtual reality (VR) and other new high tech offer us. But what is certain is that the New World doesn’t just create new things but also brings the old world back to life.
The old gasworks in Pforzheim, for instance, will be hosting the exhibition ROME 312 up to the end of the year. The world’s biggest 360 degree panorama gives you an in-depth view how the ancient world’s most splendid capital must have been in the year 312 AD.
Researchers are now equipped with 360 degree cameras which they take on their expeditions, bringing back breath-taking views and clips the like of which we’ve never seen before. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Clockwork Ocean project? The findings of the expedition around the eddies in the ocean were captured in a panoramic film experience that makes the highly complex but deeply fascinating subject matter understandable to non-experts, entertaining and utterly compelling. In this case the technology of the New World takes us on a trip through the astonishing depths and vistas of the living ocean.
Synergies for eternity
Now there are certainly people who are relatively indifferent to the monuments of the ancient world and who can get along perfectly well without a pulse-racing immersive trip through the ocean. “What’s this got to do with me?” they might well ask themselves or more pointedly “Who cares?”
Obviously the past is over and done with in the sense that it cannot be repeated. And yet I am convinced that the past isn’t over and done with in the sense that the past constantly exerts its influence over our present. Past and present are fused and blended with one another in synergies. It is this interconnection that allows us to build on the discoveries and knowledge of our ancestors, use them and continue to extend our present-day body of knowledge. It was the ancient Greeks who more than 2,000 years ago first discovered the Golden Ratio, aesthetic proportions, basic mathematical formulae and even regularity of movement among heavenly bodies – all of which is knowledge we are still using today. I think that such achievements by our ancestors deserve respect! The past deserves respect!
Still so many undiscovered worlds
The GIFs of world-famous cultural sites are just one small example which shows how much more is out there waiting to be discovered. We can and we should use these opportunities to continue to educate ourselves and to grow – because we should not stand still. I am delighted to be living in times of such progress and I hope that I yet may discover a little bit more of our world.
PS: If you haven’t seen these GIFs, please take a look here: http://www.openculture.com/2018/04/watch-seven-ancient-ruins-get-restored-to-their-glorious-original-state-with-animated-gifs.html
So when I was faced with the task of bringing his hitherto unknown legacy into the light of public attention, I was faced with rather a sticky situation because on the one hand I certainly didn’t want to fall into the role of becoming the one who – because of having some privileged access to his art – awakening the impression that I held the right keys to its interpretation. Yet on the other hand, naturally, I wanted to act in a way that OUBEY would have approved of and I wanted to remain faithful to his spirit. In short, I wasn’t the slightest interested in furnishing explanations. What did keenly interest me though was how I could succeed in placing his pictures in a high-quality process of discovery from a manifold variety of alluring perspectives. Would the opinions held by an art expert or another artist be conducive to such a process?
My considered response to this question is NO! What I did do was to travel with his paintings to meet people whose professional lives were concerned with dealing with much the same themes and issues as OUBEY: astronomers, astrophysicists, biologists, mathematicians, quantum and complexity researchers, musicians, philosophers, and composers. Throughout his life OUBEY had always engaged with the findings of these disciplines on a very high level. And as these encounters progressed I came to realize how right I had been in my decision to take this particular course.
“I have to warn you. I know absolutely nothing about art” – this was often the first thing people said as they prepared themselves to encounter an unknown work of OUBEYs in front of a running camera. And in each and every case my honest answer was always the same, “That’s great. This is exactly the reason why I’m with you here today with this painting.”
“The sense of immediacy is the decisive factor for my paintings“ OUBEY once said. Immediacy springs from the direct unfiltered emotional encounter between the painting and its viewer. This is exactly the hallmark of the “Encounters“ with OUBEY, that can be seen online as a video documentary. They show an exceptionally broad and enormously variegated spectrum of insightful and spontaneous resonance – free of any of the claims and pretensions of art expertise.
When we talk about art, we mainly think of painting. However, let’s think about music, for instance, and the myriad possibilities people now have of listening to music whenever they want and as often as they want. This doesn’t work with painting. I can certainly look at paintings in my home or online or as illustrations in a book on art – yet it’s pretty difficult for me to do so whilst riding a bike or walking or taking part in some other activity, all of which are situations where it’s perfectly possible to listen to music.
Music reaches people in a much more direct and simple way than any other form of art. This doesn’t just apply to music delivered by media: live concerts have their own particular quality and emotional dynamics which are worlds apart from those of an art exhibition. Yet the music business too naturally has the filter function of expertise which is similar to the art expertise of art experts in galleries or on the art market.
Even so, ever since people have been able to post their own musical presentations online on YouTube, a type of freedom has been established, a type of democratization that was unknown just a few years back. Everybody can upload, everybody can download. Views, likes, shares and downloads are expressions of immediate reactions to things heard or seen by a broad worldwide audience.
Obviously you could now object that all this is nothing more than just “the tastes of the masses”. Yet you might do well to remind yourself that behind every single one of these reactions stands an individual who likes or doesn’t like what they hear or see. This is indeed not at all easy to transfer over to painting. Yet the experiences I have made so far in using the internet to broadcast OUBEYs art have only strengthened me in my resolve to continue using this exceptional and innovative conduit and to gradually broaden the resonance space thus created.
Sure, it’s something fine and important when art experts voice their opinion on works of art. Yet it’s equally fine and important that you first form your own opinion. This makes it all the more interesting when you subsequently listen to what the experts have to say and can compare their opinion with your own. And often enough, we shouldn’t forget, different experts can have wildly differing opinions on the same art work.
This is why I find it good that people going to museums first take the time and freedom to contemplate the exhibits and then ask themselves “What kind of thoughts and feelings does this picture trigger in me? What do I personally read and see in this picture?” Because no matter what kind of intellectual considerations may play a role in such a process, it’s first and foremost always an emotional reaction that connects us to a work of art.
The over 30,000 year old drawings on the walls of the cave at Chauvet in the south of France that were discovered about 25 years ago and thankfully revealed to us by Werner Herzog in his documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams awaken in spectators a thrilling feeling of immediacy despite the huge gulf of time that separates us from the moment of their creation. It’s as though we were pitched at a dizzying height traversing huge gorges of time on a spiritual rope bridge, as though the limits of time were abolished in the moment of viewing.
These prehistoric wall paintingss stand for themselves. In this sense they are similar to OUBEYs art and are also related to it in another sense in a highly individual way. They are hidden treasures that have remained untouched and unseen for a certain period of time. Their existence in concealment confers on them a freedom of a kind that can scarcely be found today. This freedom is implicit in them and transfers to us when we view them. We can discover them, enjoy them and let them work on us in a rare kind of pure immediacy.