Culture Shut Down

During the winter of 2011/2 several of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s cultural institutions closed their doors to the public with many more soon to follow.  According to their website, the cause was “the failure of the country’s complex administrative apparatus to ensure operations through the design of adequate funding mechanisms”.  The result has caused cultural artifacts, important to the past and present of Bosnia-Herzegovina to remain unseen by locals and visitors.  Museums such as the Regional Museum and the Art Gallery have already closed in addition to the National and University Library.

Found in January 2012, Dr. Azra Aksamija, Assistant Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dr. Maximilian Hartmuth, Historian/Art Historian at the Netherlands Institute in Istanbul, Turkey, along with academics,  artists, librarians and other cultural activists living around the world came together to create a plan to respond to the shut downs, respectfully naming the organization ‘CULTURESHUTDOWN.NET’. The organization has no ties to government or political parties but instead has the purpose to help create a debate on the importance of cultural institutions in the life of the country, both in theory and practice.  Through the use of multi-media and art projects, the organization hopes to bring world-awareness in drafting cultural policy recommendations for officials around the world, starting with Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The organization states that they “are a global volunteer, non-profit network of scientists and cultural producers, not connected to any governmental institutions, or a political party.  As an open civic platform, we are welcoming contributions from authors of any ethnic, national, religious background or professional affiliation.  Our ultimate aim is to unite on the global level to help prevent destruction of cultural heritage that belongs to all people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and enriches World heritage” (their website).

The organization has numbered six objectives to their overall mission.  They are as followed:

“1.TO MAP STATUS QUO/PROVIDE INFORMATION to both local and global audience about the critical condition of cultural institutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina

2.TO RAISE AWARENESS about the structural, political, and economic problems behind the problem of cultural shutdown, showing how the ethnic conflict continues to take place in post-Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina within the cultural sphere

3.To EXPRESS PROTEST against the retardation caused by stubborn ethnopolitics

4.To provide RESOURCES/TOOLS that can be useful for cultural producers by learning/from relevant case studies in different places

5.To CONNECT PEOPLE (cultural producers, policy makers, activists, etc) respecting their diverse religious/ethnic/national affiliations and based on their common aspiration for a peaceful and constructive coexistence, and thus encourage creation of a healthier civil society in the region

6.To INSPIRE NEW VISIONS for the future of coexistence in Bosnia-Herzegovina though pro-active visionary proposals and projects”

 *Day of Museum Solidarity – March 4, 2012*Sydney_MuseumofContemporaryArt_RosemaryLaing_1

(All photographs are from their website)

The past event for CULTURESHUTDOWN.NET’s mission is to create a Day of Museum Solidarity as an international cultural awareness campaign.  Dr. Aksamija and his colleges developed the campaign in order to bring awareness to all museums and individuals that if one museum can close, so can any other.  He is calling for museum officials, museum visitors and activists to join together by “symbolically ‘erasing’ one precious artwork or artifact, rending it inaccessible for the Day of Museum Solidarity”, as he states on the official website.  The website states that the directions to follow as followed: place yellow barricade tape in front of the chosen object.  The tape features the CULTURESHUTDOWN logo.  Once the tape is up, take a picture of the object being barricade from the public and then send the picture to the organization.

Ljubljana_Museum-of-contemporary-art-Metelkova_Clock-Tower-by-Konstantin-Zvezdochiotov_3Hohenems_JewishMuseumHohenems_Machsor_1-e1362237187227

Their website is: Cultural Shut Down  

Museums meet Memorials

“The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”  William Faulkner writes this quote in his classic novel Requiem for a Nun, while exploring how the process of memorialization keeps the past alive in the present and shapes the way we imagine our possible futures.  In today’s world, there are many different kinds of institutions that house famous works of all departments of enquiry, both of the ‘past’ and the ‘present’.  These range from museums, universities, cultural centers, galleries, memorials, etc.  One very special things that all these institutions ought to do and probably do not do enough is to bring together people from across the community around a common theme and issue.  Too often, our disciplines and departments are the things that define us.  In fact, they structure us in ways that narrow some of our thinking and opportunities.  And yet, to be alive and to be well means to be more organic in the ability to come together around a theme for while, to really explore it to meaningful depths, and then let our curiosities take us in other directions afterwards.  While this can happen at any of the institutions listed above, more than anything, memorials are created to do just that.

One of the biggest differences between a memorial and other institutions is the collection.  In recent years, the argument between whether or not a memorial institute can add “museum” to their title has been raging. Ten years after the events of September 11, 2011, the examination of museums and memorials in the United States, in addition to around the world, memorials are becoming more and more determined that not only should they be allowed to be called a “memorial museum” but also have the same rights and grant-funding availability that museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago (which ironically does not have the word ‘museum’ in their title), the Field Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Science and Technology.

While commemorative statues and monuments have been around for a long time, memorial museums seem to have come into their own during the 20th century.  But while this has happen, when looking at collections, it is important first to see the differences between that of a ‘museum’ and a ‘memorial’.  If there is a distinction between a ‘museum’ and a ‘memorial.’ it seems fairly blurry.  Collections might be one difference.  We might also say that a museum should be more objective than a memorial, which usually has a very pronounced point of view about its subject, but we know that all museums come at their collections and stories from specific viewpoints and perspectives.   Memorials on the other hand, tend to show the alternative form of storytelling.

Museums perhaps cover all bases of human life.   Even when looking at a museum with a focal theme, they still have a wide variety of objects and exhibitions that tell the intended story.    Memorials on the other happen appear to document almost exclusively the darker side of life, human suffering and the violation of human rights.  The concept of human rights is relatively recent in world history, coming to fruition in the 20th century.  This may be one reason why museums with this theme have proliferated in our time.  And of course the 20th century is without parallel (so far) in providing multiple examples of “man’s inhumanity to man” (Jennings, p.1).  The role of survivors, family, and descendants is crucial both for the creation and the sustenance of a vibrant memorial site. The significance goes in both directions: it enriches the site and appears to bring a measure of comfort and healing to those most touched by the event.  When looking at memorials that have been around for a number of years, it is clear that the most powerful continue to reinvent themselves, as new evidence about old events come to light, and as new examples of what was supposed to be “never again” appear.

The material reality of the event causing the memorial is extremely important.  When artifacts from such an event, such as the holocaust in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, come into an exhibition, not only does the visitor get a real sense of what the object was, but also a graphic material presence of the reality of the event as well.  Artifacts automatically make the story around the object more realistic due to the very knowledge that another human being once used that same object. In addition, important artifacts can often change the terms of an exhibition in addition to the story that is being told.

Childrens Drawings from US HOLO

(Children’s drawings in The Holocaust, the US Holocaust

Memorial Museum’s permanent exhibition.

Other photographs of this exhibition can be found in their photo archive.)

In addition to physical artifacts that can be placed within an exhibition, the physical space of the memorial is in fact, part of the collection as well.  The USS Arizona Memorial at Peal Harbor is not only a historic site but also a part of the overall collection of the Pearl Harbor Memorial.

USS-Arizona

(Image provided by Google)

It is a preservation challenge for the Park Service because there are thousands of gallons of oil still in it leaking to the surface.  You can’t go in to shore it up because you’re guilty of defiling a grave, an active gravesite.  But while these complications exist, there is still a strong sense that this artifact is a part of the collection because it shows a piece of the history that is needed to be told.  Not only is this boat part of historical facts and an artifact, but also completely in relation to the exhibitions going on in the museum.

While having some physical remains, the most important (and controversial) items within a memorials collection are the memory.  The problem with this concept is that they are not physical.  While memories can be written down or achieved through different means of devices, the factor still remains whether or not a museum can be created off of stories.  The tension between commemorative voices, voices of survivors, voices of family members, voices of veterans, voices of people who have been involved in these extreme situations and speak out of the voice of experience is that: “I was there; I know what happened.”  Each voice is one that has to be interrogated and placed in a larger context.

To combat this issue, memorials often choose what side of the story that they will side with, depending on the most realistic and truthful compared to the artifacts already in their collection and history books.  The District Six Museum, located in Cape Town, South Africa, on the other hand, chooses to tell all stories.  While each voice may not be heard within every exhibition, they have created an extensive oral history collection.  In this part of the collection, they have taken all of the stories and personal histories that have been told and recorded since the opening of the museum in order to make sure all voices and stories are heard, whether it is in a physical exhibition or waiting for a researcher to come into the collection.

In the end, memorial museums are first and foremost a symbolic burial place for the people who died.  It is a sacred place for survivors. You do though, tell the real story.

*Sources:

Cobb, Daniel M. and Helen Sheumaker. Memory Matters. State University of New York Press. 2011.

Jennings, Gretchen.  “From the Editor”. Museums, Memorials, and Sites of Conscience. Exhibitionist.  2011.

Faulkner, William. Requiem for a Nun. Random House Digital, Inc. 2011.

What is Social Art Activism?

“Art cannot change the world but it can contribute to changing the consciousness and drives of the men and women who could change the world” (Marcuse, p 32-33)

Social art activism is not a new concept nor is it revolutionary.  But, in recent years, social art activism has taken a new step in the direction of becoming more common in the mass media and action.  As Herbert Marcuse stated in the above quote, no matter how much art is created, art cannot change the world.  But that is why the term is called art activism rather than simply art or social art.  It is the activism that is created through the art that is the driving force to change the consciousness as Marcuse states.  That consciousness is the driving force for men and women to change the world but without that consciousness change, the possibility for men and women to change is that much harder.

There are many different possibilities into why social art activism has become a driving force in the past few years.  One of the main reasons may be the renewal of popularity of art as both a commodity and a life-style.  As artists are moving away from the styles of the old masters, there is now a need for a new muses.  For some artists, their inspiration has become the awareness of human right violations that otherwise may have gone unnoticed in the back-page of the newspaper.  Marina Grzinic proposes to think about the “possibility of an alternative space for art, culture, activism, and politics that can be termed as radical art and political space with practices, interventional logics, and subjects that bear the same name of alternative and radical art once” (Playing by the Rules)

Art can be used for activist purposes in multiple ways.  Three of these purposes include: awareness, understanding, and prevention.  Artists who use their work for awareness are very similar to some of the projects and organizations that I have mentioned within this blog.  These artists are trying to teach the viewer by using the specific tragedies that the artist feels strong about as topics and themes within their art.  If the artist wishes to become even more active, possibly even starting a movement, then they are more likely to associate with other organizations that deal more with the political, legal or economic side while the artist is able to make the art.

Artists or artist groups that use their art in the hopes of helping the visitor understand the tragedy that has occurred are usually those of more exhibition designers and other curator-like figures.  These individuals are no more or less significant than the first group but instead of creating the art, these people choose to take the art already created (possibly by someone in the first group), put it on the wall, and explain to the overall reason for the theme.  Explaining a tragedy through art can be both difficult and overwhelming but as museums continue to struggle with the balancing act today, more professionals are starting to bend the line between what is considered the “proper” way of exhibition tragedy within a public space.  These bends are different for every individual but as more violations are coming to the surface and being talked about, instead of being shunned away in the back of textbooks, the exhibition designers are able to make the

Finally, there is prevention.  Organizations and artists choose this purpose go beyond the educational aspect.  Stacy Mann stated that “instead of asking visitors to understand victim’s experiences, we should help visitors consider what leads individuals to participate in genocide” (Mann, p. 26). By thinking about the cause rather than the result, individuals are able to start pinpointing attributes that may tie with other past events.  With this in mind, there is the hope that by finding reasons for the cause, future violations may be prevented due to noticing trends.  While this can not be said for every future violation, by learning about the violators, there is the chance for individuals to step up before something horrific happens, preventing the violation, and causing a more secure peace.

To return to the original quote, it is important to understand that despite the fact that art can help change the conscience and drive of men and women, art cannot start this transformation.  Instead, it is important to acknowledge that in order for art to help men and women, the person still needs to be taught the proper steps before being able to understand how art can assist in their thoughts and plans.

Shortly after the end of World War II, in the Northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia, a group of parents led by an educator named Loris Malaguzzi started a school for early childhood education that incorporated what would later be described by Malaguzzi as “the hundred languages of children”.  As stated through the Reggio’s school website, the hundred languages of Children are “symbolic languages, including drawing, sculpting, dramatic play, writing, painting are used to represent children’s thinking processes and theories.  As children work through problems and ideas they are encouraged to depict their understanding using many different representations.  As their thinking evolves they are encouraged to revisit their representation to determine if they are representative of their intent or if they require modification” (http://www.reggiokids.com/about/hundred_languages.php).

While the goals of the hundred languages of children continue on farther than that of social art activism, there still remains the idea that “the goal was to re-envision the child not as an empty container to be filled with facts but as an individual with rights, great potential, and diversity” (Helguera, p.4).  Pablo Helguera states that “socially engaged art can’t be produced inside a knowledge vacuum (p.7).  Instead, in order to create art that brings awareness and engages with the people around it, the artist must also understand and engage with the community, organization or situation at hand.  The object of creating socially engaged activist art is not to become an expert in sociology, education, medical, etc, but instead, understand the complexities of the fields and learn some of their tools in order to employ them within the art.  Social interaction is itself an art, with engagement necessary for anything to happen.  It is through that social interaction that ideas that may turn into movements and thus activist art projects.  Art is both at the beginning and the end of most social engagements and as stated earlier, with the teaching, children and young adults can be filled with passion, understanding and a will to create a better tomorrow through art, rather than facts.

A Chinese proverb states: “Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand”.  In order to bring awareness, action and prevention to the lives of everyone around us, it starts with involvement.  History has shown that involvement can come in multiple different forms, one being social art activism.  Seeing the art and social aspect creates the memory but by becoming a part of the art, either through creation, demonstration or any other aspect, each individual is able to not only become a part of a larger force but understand.  Understanding, both facts and ideas, allows individuals to start to see what they are fighting for and why it is important to continue to educate others.

*Sources:

Helguera, Pablo. Education for Socially Engaged Art. New York. 2011 in Public Places.  St Martin’s Press LLC. 2011.

Marcuse, Herbert.  The Aesthetic Dimension.  Boston: Beacon Press.  1978.

Mann, Stacey and Danny M. Cohen. “When a Boxcar Isn’t a Boxcar: Designing for Human Rights”. Museums, Memorials, and Sites of Conscience.  Exhibitionist. 2011.

Craftivist Collective

craft

(Photo’s are from their main website)

“To expose the scandal of global poverty, and human rights injustices through the power of craft and public art.  This will be done through provocative, non-violent creative actions.” (http://craftivist-collective.com)

This is the manifesto of Craftivist Collective.  Started in 2009 by Sarah Corbett, she dreamt about creating a group as “a reaction of feeling like a burnt-out activist” (http://craftivist-collective.com).  Originally based in the United Kingdom when Corbett was in school, the collective has now become worldwide.  As stated in their “about you” section on the website, the collective “encourages individuals and groups to deliver [their] projects wherever they are in the world” in addition to supplying kits, instructions and anything else one might need to start the collective in their area.  In addition to physically creating crafts, the collective also sells the products to help provoke and encourage conversations about global injustice issues for those who aren’t as handy with a needle.

Their aim is to not only show how activism can be available to every person but also, that it can be full and empowering.  Rosa Martyn, one of the collective’s craftivists stated that “a spoonful of craft helps the activism go down.” (http://craftivist-collective.com)  The aim of the project is “to challenge people’s views and reach out to those who may have no have previously accessed activism and groups for social change.”  While every social movement that is occurring in the world is not meant for every individual, the Collective believes that there is still something that every person is individually passionate for.  Once that person finds their passion, it is just a matter of figuring out how to become active within the cause.  For the Collective, they believe that for those not wishing to stand on the front lines, picketing and spending their nights in tents, such as the activists of the Occupy movement, the alternative might be through art.

Betsy Greer coined the term ‘Craftivism’ as: “A way at looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper and your quest for justice more infinite” through the process of art.

craftivists-jigsaw

Their current project is the “Craftivist Jigsaw project”, in motion with emerging contemporary craft movement Mr. X Stitch, Deadly Knitshade and Hilary of Craftblog.  They are asking the craft community to help create a giant jigsaw to support Save the Children’s Race Against Hunger Campaign.  Via the website imapiece.fuse.ly, the project hopes to build an installation to raise awareness to children hunger and injustice.  The hope is that enough jigsaw pieces that state “I’m a piece” will bring awareness to viewer and bring about a positive change within their mind about how each visitor reacts upon walking away from the installation.

Other ongoing and past projects the Collective has been a part of can be found at their website: http://craftivist-collective.com/project-archive/.