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.    

It started with Winnetou …

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.  

Fortunately a not quite vanished culture

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.  

It’s not about ‘Noble Savages’, it’s about ourselves

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. 

Bad News is Good News

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

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!

No. On the very next day it became clear to me that the end of his life for me marked the beginning of a new period in which we would continue to be together but in a very different way. I accepted OUBEYs death but I wouldn’t accept that his death also meant the end of his art. Only how and through whom should his art live on and continue to work its magic? To bring an artist still unknown, an artist no longer living whose work was still to be discovered, to the light of posthumous public attention, without putting his pictures up for sale – who apart from me would be prepared to embark on such a venture? I didn’t wait around hoping that someone might turn up who would do it but answered the question myself by starting to get to work. I hadn’t the faintest idea where this first step into the future would lead me. 

Through highs and lows

The first year was a rollercoaster ride of feelings. The shock sat deep. Yet the moments of great pain were followed by ever longer periods of joy as I busied myself with him and his art. And also with all those things we had done and lived through in our time together. But even when you accept the death of someone you love, you still need a great deal of time and strength of mind before you can really understand that the person you love will never again come through that door. In the time together that was given us, OUBEY was the man with whom I spent nearly every day of my life and with whom I was connected by a most intimate symbiosis.  

It also helped me a lot that I never raged against fate, never asked why he had to die so young and so tragically. Such questions only lead into a dark pathless void because there never can be an answer to them. 

An ending that also contains a beginning

Instead of this I was determined to do what OUBEY would have done if he’d been around to do it – which was to offer people the chance to encounter his art. 

I had no idea how this would work out but I was certain that I would find a way. I knew that despite everything we would still share a common future together, at least for as long as I lived. And I was prepared to do everything within my power bring his art to the world and make people all over the world thrill to his art. 

Because I was absolutely certain that an encounter with his art would be a deeply rewarding  experience for people all over the world, one that would  and give them great pleasure as well as some valuable new insights. So I began to travel, taking his pictures to people all over the world. It was an amazing voyage of discovery – both for the people who encountered OUBEYs paintings and for myself too. And it is far from over. 

I would be very happy to have you travel with me on this very special journey  in my free e-book ‘MINDKISS. Following OUBEYs Tracks’.

And the figures show that what I had seen in Paris is no longer the exception. The June issue of brandeins magazine tells us that 40% of British millennials now choose their holiday destination according to how well it will show up on Instagram – obviously always featuring the inevitable selfies.

The camera – an eye or a mirror?

The phenomenon of sightseeing-tourism and its banks of clicking cameras is nothing new. After all, the less time I have to familiarise myself with a place and really get to know it, the more important it is that I at least make a photo to prove that I was really there. Yet the exponential rise in the number of selfies posted on social media for me is a sign of new quality in the way we view reality, life and ourselves.  

It reminds me of the story of Narcissus whose vanity was punished when he saw his own reflection in a pool of water and fell so in love with it that he became completely fixated – without ever knowing that it was his own reflection in the water so that the object of his impossible desire was simply himself. That’s the punishment. Probably very few people now know that in the ancient world self-love (narcissism) was considered a punishment. It was Nemesis – some sources say Artemis – who dammed Narcissus to such unrequited love in his reflection. 

Some of the knowledge accumulated by the ancient Greeks has weathered well and at the very least is still a match for what we know now. And in this case they may even be well ahead of us since nobody nowadays would ever dream of the idea that narcissism could be the punishment for self-love. This makes the ancient story even more alluring when I think about the selfie mania we are now confronted with. 

When it comes to selfies what we are doing is using the camera to see ourselves like we do with a mirror. Yet a camera, as Wim Wenders puts it so well, should be an eye, through which a person looks out onto the world. 

I shouldn’t be seen by myself alone, I should be seen by EVERYBODY

Only we’ve gone a whole lot further now: we’re not satisfied with just gazing at ourselves lost in adulation, we want to share each and every one of our iconic selfies with the whole world. Yet when we do so, the world drops into the background, because the world is reduced to me. And the world is especially wonderful when I am seen by the maximum number of people who click me the greatest number of Likes. Or so the logic goes. 

Of course everyone is free to do just what they want. Even so, I do still wonder from what kind of a cultural reference frame this selfie cult(ure) has sprung. 

Being a star for a moment

“In the future everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes”, said Andy Warhol prophetically back in the 1960s. He’d recognised that we’re moving into a media age when anybody can take on star allures just because they’ve made a short appearance on TV. Today, the television still has a certain role to play, but it’s the internet that enables everyone at any time across the entire globe to shout out: Hey look here, see just how cool I am and what cool things I do!

Please don’t misunderstand me. I think it’s fantastic that everyone can now share their ideas in blogs and podcasts and videos on YouTube or other platforms. It’s particularly beneficial to the great many young people whose artistic or technical gifts or skills in practical matters entertain other people or help them through the day. Earlier on, and far too often, all this knowledge and know-how was hidden away in private, ignored by publishing houses and agencies, and never saw the light of day. How good it is that things have changed!

And yet – if I’m drinking a latte macchiato somewhere in the world or eating a sushi – honestly, who on earth has really got to know this? Who’s interested? Certainly not posterity! Only those people out there just like me whose only concern is that their next selfie is better than mine and picks up more Likes.  It’s the affluent society in love with itself and brazenly flaunting its lifestyle. In love with itself without recognising that this is the only love it has. Just like Narcissus.

Digital trumps analogue?

Yet whatever motives might be feeding it, one thing for sure gets lost in this rampant selfie mania: the pleasure in the passing of a lovely moment and the confidence that the best always remains embedded in our memories.  

From time immemorial people have captured and preserved experiences, important events, and key figures in paintings and portraits – from the marvellous cave paintings of our ancestors over 30,000 years ago to the paintings, portraits and drawings of Dürer, da Vinci, Brueghel, Bosch and Goya. Then some 150 years ago the advent of photography opened up a host of new possibilities which are second nature for us today. 

Yet when people spend a large part of their lives searching for the best selfie pose and the best selfie background, and when their eyes are permanently riveted on the display of their smartphones, they lose the freedom to seize and take immense pleasure in such moments, to enjoy them fully just as they are without any ulterior purpose. In short, here the digital world trumps the analogue. 

I believe that we should use the possibilities offered us by the internet and digitalisation consciously and purposefully. But I also believe that the more we are enveloped by digital reality the more we will develop an equally strong need for experience in the analogue world. And I also have a definite hunch that our need for what’s original and what’s authentic will once more reaffirm itself. This makes me hopeful – even in times of the selfie mania. 

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?  

The fascination of the great beyond”

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. 

Living in outer space

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!

Where our dreams lead us

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?

The article in Monopol Magazin was based on the rather dispiriting experiences made by its author Oliver Koerner von Gustorf at this year’s biennale. But it could easily have been talking about the whole of the present-day’s commercialised art scene.  

Decadent and self-centred

He details and criticises the whole system, from the works on exhibit to the art-makers, managers and potential buyers. Vapid works of art that say nothing but pretend to be meaningful to justify the astronomical prices at which they change hands.  Works that even if not for sale are at least eye-catchingly sensational and thus serve as extremely effective PR for the artists and their gallery agents. And form a perfect match to the codes, conduct and attitudes of the players of the established art world.  

They meet up at all these more or less important events and swell with self-importance at each visiting card they hand out. The biennale as a mere stage for pseudo-intellectual self-presentation. The art scene as a closed society. An exclusive celebration of decadence.  

There’s a lot of truth in this but really little that’s new. It’s a trend that has been in full swing for the past thirty years now, one that’s clearly recognisable by every unblinking critical eye that’s impervious to its poisoned blandishments. And it was precisely his acute awareness of such mechanisms that made OUBEY turn his back on the system after his first and highly successful sales exhibition in 1992. It was a very wise move. 

An air of exclusivity 

The whole system in its present form is only of interest to insiders – in other words the few who live within it and profit from it. I can only agree with the author of the article when he writes, “In the established art world the same rules apply to people that apply to the commodity of art. In one way or another they have to have an air of exclusivity, otherwise the system won’t work.” 

And I also agree with Elke Buhr, editor-in-chief of Monopol Magazin when she says, “Modern art is nothing less than what the art system presents as art. Works that have no label, that aren’t on display in some gallery or other, that aren’t part of an exhibition, that don’t bear the signature of some famous artist, are not considered as art.”

It’s interesting – and also rather paradoxal – that a magazine such as Monopol also forms part of the very system it so vehemently criticises. The question begging to be asked here is, does such insight also lead to self-awareness? And if it does, what consequences should be drawn? Or is such a blast of unanimous criticism an end in itself so that after everyone’s shaken their heads in doleful agreement at just how awful the art world really is, they all return to business as usual? 

Banksy undercover

I rather suspect that that’s exactly what they do.  

The art scene operates for financial benefit. Now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this. Yet one of the side effects is that it is the instance that decides what is true significant art and what is not. Works that can’t be sold for astronomical prices are uninteresting and fade into insignificance.  

Such a system would have to self-destruct before it could recognise that living art has long been thriving outside of the “sacred halls” of the established art world. Sometimes it even crops up directly next door to them – as was the case at this year’s biennale.  

Banksy, the greatest street artist of our times, took the biennale as an opportunity for his latest action. He set up his own stall with pictures on the side of one of the canals and not one of the art experts realised that Banksy was there. This says more than a thousand words and shows just how startlingly blind they are to living art that takes place outside of the closed world of the art business. How dearly they would all love to assimilate this intractable artist and make him a player in their own game – the man whose works are auctioned for fantastic prices. Yet Banksy does his utmost to ensure that they never will. He won’t let them put a price tag on his success. Shunning the system, yet at the same time brilliantly exploiting its treacherous mechanisms, he’s forged his own way to celebrity. 

There are many people who make or have made art just as fascinating as Banksy’s. Yet none of them are as world-famous as he is. But that’s not the point. The point is to bring art into people’s lives in the places where they actually live, to inspire them, to make them think or to move them to action, or simply to give them great pleasure. It’s this unfiltered joy in art that is so special and we must never allow anything to get in the way of it – certainly not a biennale in Venice. That’s what I think. What about you? 

The social net in the internet is a permanent invitation to spontaneous reactions. And spontaneous means trust your gut instinct, don’t hesitate, no time for thought or reflection, shoot from the hip, a direct immediate reaction is best. Is this really authentic? And can’t it be that authenticity understood in this way is really being misunderstood? Or might even be problematic? 

Emotional = seducible

Whoever controls the keyboard of emotions can control the game. This is true of advertising and politics just as it is for our everyday interpersonal relations. Awakening desire and making promises is one side of the keyboard; fuelling envy, fear and anger is the other. Whether it’s selling diapers or making a political statement, emotions are the key means of seducing people and getting them on board. But especially when it comes to politics, one thing is very clear – and our German history is full of nightmarish examples that bear this out: if you place too much trust in your emotions you become open to seduction and quickly run the danger of being manipulated. If  you take your emotions as the mainstay by which to judge all things, you can easily turn into a kind of puppet whose emotional strings are controlled by hands not your own. 

For me it’s a misunderstanding to cloak pure emotion in an aura of authenticity. Because what we feel today can be quite different tomorrow. And if you look back at the history of your own emotional life, perhaps you’ll find that a lot of what you held to be the absolute emotional truth ten or twenty years ago, appears in a quite different light today. The contrary also applies: the cultivation of feeling so dominant in our present age, hides an awful lot of authenticity.  

True authenticity

If feelings bubble and boil up in people, the language clearly says they are beside themselves – beside themselves with anger, beside themselves with joy, beside themselves with grief. In other words, they are out of control, no longer a coherent whole. They are not authentic. 

To me being authentic means that I am capable of comparing my own thoughts and feelings with those of others who might agree or disagree with me and by doing so can develop a certain distance to them – before trumpeting them to the whole world. I call this self-leadership. And to me this is a central element in authenticity. A little flag flapping in a gale of emotions is not authentic.  

And this also means that I must continually strive to put my own state of feelings to a rational examination. Emotions are important, of course they are, but they can also be deceptive. Blindly trusting them and following them might sometimes seem the obvious thing to do, but in no way is it a recommendable course of action. 

“Shall I be authentic or shall I hide myself behind my emotions?” To me this is the key question which you, me and everyone else should ask themselves in order to put a soothing distance between ourselves and the emotional velocity that dominates our times. “There is strength in serenity” might be an old-fashioned saying, but it’s perhaps one that we can simply find cool.

It’s about one hundred years old and is attributed to Vladimir Iljitsch Lenin, the man who as an erstwhile revolutionary in Russia laid the groundwork for the totalitarian control system of Stalinism that followed him, a paranoid system that mistrusted everything and everybody and cost the lives of countless numbers of people.

Every control system is built on mistrust. Every good human community is built on trust. Sometimes mistrust is founded and necessary, sometimes it’s just plain wrong – so where do we draw the line? 

Certainty in uncertainty

It’s not always easy to do this, especially when faced with some specific situation. But it’s important that we do ask ourselves this question so that when push does come to shove and we are uncertain, we don’t automatically switch to the control mode – whether in personal relationships or in dealing with social matters. I can understand that many people now yearn for security and the type of controlling that comes with it. Yet the decisive question in this context is: when is control really appropriate and necessary for our communal life and when will it only be detrimental.

Self-control and self-confidence

I think that we need both of these elements – both trust AND control – when dealing with our lives. And for me this also includes self-control and self-confidence. After all, if you can’t even trust yourself, how can you possibly trust anyone else? And if you can’t even control yourself, how can you exercise any meaningful form of control over others? 

For many years I held an executive position in top management. Even back then I felt that there was no point in trying to control my co-workers. I knew that they all wanted to give their very best and that they could only do this by being trusted and by being provided with space for autonomous action and initiative. My job was not to control (to micro-manage???) their behaviour but to ensure that at the end of the day the right results came through. And in this way, working collectively, we were highly successful for many years. 

 People need to be trusted in order to develop their skills and abilities and act on their own initiative. This is something that parents raising kids should never forget. Yet unfortunately leadership through such oppressive, discouraging control systems in companies and organisations all too often destroys the very basis on which trust is built. These are often places where the mindset of the early 20th century still lingers on. 

Using control judiciously

The need for control goes hand-in-hand with the question of security and risk. Do I want assured quality in the food I eat? Of course I do! Do I want road and air traffic to be controlled for the well-being of the general public? Absolutely! Do I want to see that animals lead good lives and that my rubbish is properly disposed of? Naturally! Do I want assured compliance with climate protection goals? Yes indeed! 

So control in itself is nothing bad. Even so, it’s only the correct measure of control applied in the right places that makes it meaningful and useful. And this means that every single one of us – civil society as a whole but also government and commerce – still has a lot of rethinking to do. 

Especially in these times we’re confronted by a veritable chorus of demands for controls and prohibitions. What we need to do here is come together and examine them all with the greatest attention – and not immediately subscribe to the next proposal for control or prohibition. Sometimes control may be necessary. Yet sometimes it’s much better to follow the path of trust.  

Seeing the world with eyes wide open 

In my own life I’m anything but a control freak. But I’m also not a person who can blindly trust. I’m a precise observer who gathers her own impressions, examines and weighs what she thinks and then draws her own conclusions.  I’m alert and attentive in all kinds of situations and I don’t live my life along the lines of “trust once, trust always”. What I do try to do is to find the correct balance. 

And honestly – If I were to spend all my time suspiciously doubting everything around me and trying to control and do everything by myself, there’d be no more room in my life for all the great ideas and suggestions from other people which inspire me and bring me forward, and no more room for all those people I love to work with on a solid basis of trust. And that is something I would really miss. 

Is moaning really therapeutic? 

Perhaps you’re now thinking that sometimes it really does help if you’re able to speak about your thoughts and feelings with someone else and that it does do you good to have someone who listens to you. And I would completely agree with you. Only I wouldn’t call that moaning.  

Real moaning is when the thoughts in your head spin in a continuous loop. Real moaning turns in a circle and never finds a true ending because its goal is never to find an end. It’s an expression of the peculiar pleasure of being discontented or – conversely – of never wanting to be content. It’s never enough and never good enough. 

Studies have shown that on average people in affluent societies are much more dissatisfied with their lives than are people in poorer countries. Please don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to romanticize the state of poverty. What I’m talking about here is that “Jammern auf hohem Niveau“, that “high-level moaning” or whinging about problems only of concern to the affluent first world, as the German politician Lothar Späth once famously put it. 

If I badmouth everything and become obsessed with all those things others have but I haven’t, then at some point my life really will take a turn for the worse – not materially but in terms of my view of myself and my outlook on the world.  Because all such an attitude to life does is to spread negative energy; it will neither change the situation nor lead to any positive developments or solutions. Moaning is not therapeutic. The only thing to do is to try and change things, even if the first steps in this direction are ever so small. 

The vexed question of “Why”

But what if you can’t change the situation? What happens when a natural catastrophe destroys the very foundations of existence or the sudden unexpected death of a loved one tears your whole world apart? Naturally I can understand that people in such situations might moan now and then as they recognise that they can do nothing to change such blows of fate. I know the pain, the grief, the sadness but also the anger that arises from feeling completely powerless only too well from my own experience. 

But even so, there is one question that I have never asked, a question that could easily have led into the realm of moaning and complaint, and that is the question of “why”. Why did OUBEY have to die so young? This question leads nowhere because it has no answer, at least not in this world. We are able to influence and shape our lives in such an infinite variety of ways and yet there are still things over which we simply have no control. It does help if we find it in ourselves to accept this. We haven’t understood the uncertainties of life if we blithely assume that we will be spared “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, because they are all destined for other people, not ourselves. This is not something to be taken for granted.  

And this is why we should be grateful for all the good experiences and great times we’ve had and can still look forward to. Grateful people do not moan. 

The perception trap

People who moan are caught in a perception trap whereby you overlook the good things to see only the bad. When you concentrate exclusively on the bad things and only talk about them, there’s a kind of amplifying washback effect that makes the bad appear even worse. In short, moaning grows strong by feeding on itself. Moaning is a letter of complaint addressed to nobody in particular. It’s a way of relinquishing responsibility. Because if you moan loudly, you’ll get attention but won’t have to change anything. And probably some people don’t want to change anything anyway.  

That’s how it is

I‘ll stick with those people who first recognise reality for what it is without moaning and complaining about it. Now this certainly doesn’t mean that they’re accommodating and comfortable with everything – quite the contrary: that’s how it is doesn’t mean that’s how it always must stay. For me it’s just a springboard, a vantage point from which I can look out and consider what I can do with this here and now, and how it can be developed and changed. This gives birth to new possibilities which put excitement in life and make it interesting. 

For as long as we live, we are always capable of changing things – even of changing our own behaviour. There are the most incredible stories of people who have found their way out of seemingly hopeless situations which can serve as shining examples of what we can accomplish when we don’t moan even though life has tested us to our utmost limits.  

That’s how I try to live. And that’s what I wish all of you – including the woman at the next table. 

In 1983 the USA and Russia were engaged in a nuclear arms race and relations between the two great powers were at breaking point. So what happened? 

Red alert

On the evening of 23rd September 198, the Soviet satellite monitoring system  reported the launch of an American nuclear intercontinental missile against the USSR. The first report was shortly followed by further reports indicating that four more missiles had been launched.  

Had these missiles exploded on Russian soil, they would have wiped out the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. A Soviet countermove to intercept them might indeed have prevented their reaching Russia yet would certainly have provoked a retaliatory nuclear strike by the USA which could have unleashed the unimaginable cataclysm of a global nuclear war. Disaster seemed unstoppable. 

What to do? The answer to this question came not from the Kremlin but directly from the command center, from the officer on duty that night, lieutenant colonel Stanislav Petrov.  

Obedience or courage?

He choose to ignore both the orders set forth in Soviet military protocol and the reports of the radar system.  

Disobeying orders at the best of times is no easy matter and even in everyday private or professional life requires inner strength and a certain degree of courage. Yet in totalitarian systems like the Soviet Union, such courage is seen as resistance and is punishable. It comes with a high level of personal risk that people who live in a functioning constitutional state fortunately don’t know.  

Yet the principle of command and obey is found in all armies no matter in which political system they are embedded. There is no military system in the world that makes provision for such an unauthorized operative-level decision as the one Stanislav Petrov made on the evening of 23rd September 1983. Accordingly, in the opposite case, an American officer would unquestionably have found himself in a similar conflict of interest. 

A lonely decision

Stanislav Petrov didn’t refer the decision to his superiors as military protocol demanded. He stayed calm, thought it over, used logic and came to the conclusion that the data he had been given was wrong. “I don’t trust this computer”, he said and did nothing.  

An extremely courageous decision that probably saved the lives of hundreds of millions of people. 

Because he was right. The alarm that he ignored was really a false alert, triggered by the software error of a Soviet spy satellite that had interpreted a sunrise and alignment of sunlight on high altitude clouds as a USA missile attack.  

An almost forgotten hero

The “error-free” system of the USSR wanted to spare itself the embarrassment of having to admit that it wasn’t that infallible after all Accordingly, Petrov wasn’t honored but reprimanded, dishonorably discharged and would have fallen into total obscurity had the totalitarian system of the Soviet Union proven more resistant. Yet with Perestroika and Glasnost his case came to public attention. Even so, he still hasn’t been rehabilitated.  

Petrov never saw himself as a hero. He always considered what he had done as pretty matter-of-fact. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize, yet never received it. Only the substantial documentation on his case has kept his reputation alive long after his death.   

Making decisions is acting in uncertainty

Petrov’s decision could well have turned out to be the wrong one. Nothing in that critical moment gave him the certainty that he was doing the right thing. He trusted his own brain more than the computer. If he had been wrong, it would have entailed exactly those drastic consequences he was seeking to prevent. There was no cast-iron guarantee. Today we know that he made the right decision and we are grateful. 

The trouble with every difficult decision is that it always entails a slight degree of uncertainty. Because whether a decision is right or wrong can first be determined when its consequences – sooner or later – are revealed and become tangible. These consequences are irreversible. 

Whoever decides by themselves, whoever trusts their own mind and their own perspectives instead of blindly following rules and regulations, is moving on very shaky ground where no rulebook can guide them. 

So should we rather stick to the safe side? 

A partial answer to a momentous question

We all must find out the answer to this question for ourselves. Yet history encourages us with its countless examples, both small and big, of courageous correct decisions – from continuing to speak truth despite  public pressure to civil disobedience, from refusing to obey military orders that contravene human rights and the Geneva Convention to the equally power-conscious and consistent decision of an American president in the 1961 Cuba crisis.  

Steps forward and steps backward in this world are based on decisions, both large and small. Every day each one of us makes decisions which have an impact on others. We all bear responsibility for what we think and do. Nothing more and nothing less. Wouldn’t you agree? 

Continually making this clear to yourself and bearing it in mind is already a partial answer to the vexed question of the previous paragraph. At least that’s what I think. 

Kids’ stuff

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?  

An age-old longing

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.  

The freedom of fantasy

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

When is a person young? When is a person old?

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. 

An invitation to curiosity

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. 

An empty canvas is a call to new discoveries

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.  

Seeing with the heart

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.  

New spheres

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:

Even an unspectacular plan like spending a quiet evening curled up on the sofa with a book can come unstuck if somebody knocks at the door or phones me demanding my attention. You can’t plan for life! So why bother making plans? 

Life time is valuable

Now perhaps you might object that it’s important not to float through the day without a single plan in mind because time is valuable and shouldn’t be wasted. And I would completely agree with you. This is why I believe it’s vital that we do turn our thoughts to how we spend our time and what we want to accomplish with it. And this sometimes includes planning ahead. Even so, we should never forget that the main characteristic of the future is that it is never predictable and thus can never be really planned. Nobody knows what the next day or even the next hour will bring. Life always holds some surprises for us in store – wonderful moments of happiness or terrible blows of fate. They can knock us off our course but as challenges they can also reveal unexpected opportunities. 

Life is stronger than any plan

In my own life from earliest childhood there’ve been a whole series of surprises, both positive and negative, which I’ve learnt to accept as part of the fabric of life. One of the most tumultuous for me was to witness as a child how the building of the Berlin Wall and the establishment of the “death strip” on the frontier between East and West Germany could drastically change the lives of millions of people from one day to the next.  

In Berlin at that time, from one minute to the next, people decided to jump from the third floor window of a building with nothing but the clothes they wore into a blanket that people down below were holding – to jump into a new and totally unknown life in the West. Others stayed behind and for decades remained separated from their friends and relations in the other part of the city and the country. For my father, who came from Berlin, this meant the loss of the family home. The house which he and his parents had built many years ago in the eastern part of the city and in which I had spent so many unforgettably wonderful summer holidays with my grandmother was now gone. 

YOLO – You only live once

To see how families and friends were violently torn apart and how a whole country was divided was a deeply shocking unsettling experience for me. Is there anything that’s certain and safe? This was precisely the question I asked myself back then. How can someone deal with, come to terms with such a drastic change? People in other countries and continents are confronted with such circumstances much more frequently than we are, again and yet again when they are caught up in wars or stricken by natural catastrophes: extreme realities created by life through no fault of their own and which no plan can possibly prevent. 

Now obviously, we can’t go around with this kind of awareness permanently at the front of our minds. Even so, I still find it important that we don’t get lulled by the supposed security of a plannable future of the kind we’ve seemingly become accustomed to over the past decades of prosperity and peace. Because, after all, insecurity is part and parcel of what we call life! This is why it’s advisable to have your own personal compass which helps you navigate the waves of unpredictability in the ocean of life. Because it’s precisely this life and no other which we can only live once.