Art as a way of trans-cultural communication concerend with touching, moving, pleasing and affecting us

1. Artist groups of the 20th and the beginning 21st century distinguish themselves from “lone warriors“ in the art system, as expected, by a greater density of communication. Everything that moves, touches, pleases and affects a single members or parts of the group is being discussed, analysed, criticised, rejected, defended and proofed on its consequences for the art and life. These discourses are in general incorporated into programmatic statements, artist's manifestoes and artistic approaches.

Thus “The Bridge”, the artist group founded in 1905 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Erich Heckel and Fritz Bleyl in Dresden, had right from the beginning been looking for artists with supposedly similar artistic intentions and new approaches.1 “The Bridge”- artists had, with reference to a saying by Friedrich Nietzsche (“What is great in a person, is that he or she is a bridge and not an aim…“), invited everybody to cooperate with them who was able to express directly and genuinely what urges him or her to create.  “Believing in development, believing in a new generation of creative people as well as connaisseurs, we call together all young people, and as young people representing the future, we want to achieve freedom of action and latitude compared to the respected older powers. Everybody belongs to us who expresses directly and genuinely what urges him to create“2. Their alternative appearance and their exhibitions became part of their struggle “for a human culture which is the ground of (any) real art3.

“The Blue Rider”, the artist group that was formed around Wasily Kandinsky and Franz Marc became public through an exhibition of the same name in December 1911 in Munich, used beside group exhibitions various publications to extend the previous borders of the artistic expression and to grasp the “spiritual in the art“ newly and purely 4.  Thus the anthology “The Blue Rider“ and Wasily Kandinsky’s main theoretical work “Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Especially in Painting“ appeared in 1912 in the publishing company Reinhard Piper. From defending the “ >>essential<< spiritual function of art" Kandinsky developed  “the programme of an abstract painting as an index of social and spiritual progress“5.

Between 1977 and 1981 essential impulses for the development of "intense" painting came from the artist's self-help gallery at Moritzplatz on the Oranienstreet 58 in Berlin-Kreuzberg, from artists like Salomé, Helmut Middendorf, Rainer Fetting, Luciano Castelli and Bernd Zimmer working there. The Berlin “Moritzboys” were connected to a group of “Die Neuen Wilden”, Hans Peter Adamski, Peter Bömmels, Walter Dahn, Jiri Georg Dokoupil, Gerard Keever and Gerhard Naschbergerby, who formed a group which was named after their Cologne studio address “Mülheimer Freiheit“ from 1979 onwards.  Their determination for the enduring possibilities of the figurative painting and the initiation and advancement of the expressive colour vocabulary and form vocabulary connected them.

The artist group FFM, Filderbahnfreundemöhringen Michelin Kober, Daniel Sigloch and Daniel Mijic, which was formed in 1999 in the sphere of the Academy of Art and Design Stuttgart still suggest a sort of local relation in their group name like the Berlin self-help gallery and the “Mülheimer Freiheit”. But this local relation has, like the concept of art of the group, become changeable. In one of their exhibitions the group presented this mutability as a Märklin-railway model: The trains are moving between the stations and stop occasionally. One doesn’t know when they will be where, as opposed to trains that are controlled by timetables of the Deutsche Bundesbahn. Only the routes and the railway stations are fixed. Beyond that, the works of FFM with animals suggest that the group is also looking for an art concept extended to the creature: In one of their exhibitions FFM had sheep writing "mow" (also the “sound” in German that sheep make) in the lawn in front of the Akademie Schloß Solitude. In another Stuttgart action a veritable pig became the key player of an evening banquet. It jollily enjoyed itself in the gallery space specially made for it. In other exhibitions maggots ate through bacon and mice through cheese and became at the same time active like sculptors of the other kind.

 

2. As opposed to the sketched artist groups, the fathers of the artist-avatar JAK appear without any local relation and also not as a group. Despite the fact that they got to know each other like FFM studying at the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design and already agreed to cooperate there. However, Stuttgart has remained at most the starting point of the JAK projects. The locations to work, to act, to create and to play of JAK are international. So far they have used various locations for their projects, for example, the biggest one of the prince's islands in the Sea of Marmara Büyükada offshore Istanbul, the missile base Plokstine in Lithuania, the Museion in Bolzano and, finally, also the Hospitalkriche in Stuttgart. Potentially every place in the world can become the base and platform for a new project of JAK.

 

Concerning the projects of JAK, the borders between art and life, between everyday and foreign locations have been disintegrated. Three, four decades ago one would have spoken of the fact that JAK is on the way to a world without borders, on the way to realised ecumenism. Today, one will notice that JAK works for a certain time at a specific nameable location, but thinks and acts globally. “Global” and “local” keep perpetually referring to each other and cannot exist without each other. The price of this global orientation is, which is not to be underevaluated, violent experiences of foreignness and the loss of traditional concepts of identity.

 

Artist groups of the 20th century and also still FFM say who they are. They make a point of appearing physically. The members of these groups remain medially present as single personalities and distinguishable in their group relations. The viewer can check the group concept on the single case and all together for its coherence and for divergent perceptions. Consequently, the paradigms of the artist as the prototype of the representative bound to self-imposed laws of Modernism and of the artist as the prototype of individuation and pluralisation taken to the extremes, are preserved. The fathers of JAK get out of this imaginary world. They rather stand on the other end. Concerning JAK, certain perceptions of Premodernism resonate into Modernism and melt into a new and itself paradox unity: With JAK nobody is central anymore. Everyone “takes a back seat” related to the common thing, related to the joint piece of work. One feels tempted to compare JAK to Benedictine's monks and their “ora et labora” or with the circle of the disciples of Jesus. There, everybody who believes can move mountains, according to a word of Jesus. With JAK, the monks and the disciples of Jesus no one is greedy for the media hype for the time being. The image of a religious or artistic genius to be celebrated is dismissed. None of the fathers of JAK publishes name and achievement. In general, no one shows his face. More often they constitute the group and have other protagonists to represent JAK. None of the fathers of JAK says how old he is, what he believes in, where he comes from, where he lives and who or what he loves.

JAK’s fathers have disappeared within the acronym. None of the creators is in the centre. The centre is the work. With this it remains uncertain whether JAK is an artist of flesh and blood, an avatar, a literary figure, a concept, an invention or just the name of a group or a mixture of all. Furthermore, it remains uncertain where JAK comes from and who exactly works behind the features, which are definitely generally recordable in the work of JAK.

 

3. The works, which JAK has presented up to now, distinguishe themselves formally by means of absolute precision, stupendous perfection and its transgression of art to natural beauty. The classical type of genres and the boundaries to natural sciences and humanities are blurred. In its realised works, JAK naturally uses the full spectrum of methods, media, materials and concepts compiled in the classical period and in Modernity. The skills of classic craftsmanship are presupposed. Nobody talks about them any more. The installation is equal to the action, the performance, the narration, the poem, the artist's novel, the drawing, the video, the film and the photo. An, at first sight, recognizable brand and a promotional label has not been created up to now. Rather, all works are characterized by a high complexity and their references, which are at the same time local and global. JAK believes that the tensions between local and global, between origin and future, between familiarity and foreignness can most likely be reconciled aesthetically. As a result, over the years, multiperspectively readable, well-balanced and downright great and unique pieces, which mark the mutual path, have been created. Their complexity, their impression, their radiance and their groundbreaking spirit open themselves to those who are ready to accept that ones own perspective remains, on a global scale, one besides others. Therefore, it is unnecessary for JAK’s work to demand, as done in Modernity, a special role for art. The “art-religiously” charged and emphatic concept of art has lost its splendor. The postmodern artist's ranking becomes dull. The question about the frontrunners of pieces of art of an epoch, a style and a time does not play a crucial role anymore. Nevertheless, JAK confronts itself with the comparison of the times and worlds and aims at the best work to be realised in each case. Art becomes a part of the movements of life. Imponderabilities and detours have their power. For JAK art has become a form of communication and a form of gaining self-awareness by common actions in the global field.


4. The hitherto recording suggests a comprehensive concept of art and culture. Culture is understood as the entire human action and as the “constitutional feature of human existence” generally. “There is no human being without culture. Culture is the >>conditio humana<< par excellence.”6 Culture and religion are, in this case, dialectically referring to each other. They pervade themselves mutually and are open to transcendence. Culture and religion deal with similar functions. They assist to master contingency in which they transfer “indefinite into definite”; and at the same time they mark the indefiniteness of the world in which they duplicate “the absentee” into the person present and thus reality; concerning art by >>radiance<<, concerning religion by a transcendent >>back world<<.

The difference between both cultural forms lies in the respective modus of symbols. Art focuses on the process of symbolization (the sensuous appearance), picks out the dignity of the tentativeness of its symbolization as a central theme … and thus stronger generates traditional disruption and innovation than religion.  However, most religions reflect that their symbolization is insufficient…, still they do not put it up for discussion, to highlight the character of unconditional validity of reference structure of their symbols on the significant transcendency“7. If this wide concept of culture and the described relation of art and religion also applies to JAK, and I am convinced it does, there is an astonishing formal connection to the developing assumptions of the approaches of intercultural theology8. Intercultural theology pursues strategies of religious history, religious studies, mission studies and ecumenical Christianity, and inquires among other things how local processes of contextualization can be understood, how ciphers and symbols of our own culture can be explained in foreign cultures, how a hermeneutically adequate new treatment of the culturally strange can be found and how the tension between convivencia and difference can be maintained. Aditionally: Is a common search for the truth possible at all? And: How does one appeal to trans-cultural constants without levelling the remaining differences? “Beside interdisciplinarity intercultural theology also requires a pluralism of methods and multimediality. Narrativity and aesthetics … equally recede beside traditional academic theology. Art in all its variants is taken seriously as a theological medium“9. Therefore, it would have been surprising if JAK had not come across religion in its projects sooner or later. Since 2009 JAK has been dealing with religion, taking up its symboliziations, transferring it through creative transformation processes into art and with this process marks them as temporary.

 

5. During its investigations in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul in 2009 JAK had come across an insignificant star-shaped ornament, which is extended by four trifoliate white lilies. The former main church of the orthodox Christendom and later mosque has since 1934 been used as the Hagia Sophia Museum. The ornament stays open in its ambiguously symbolic code and for different cultural and religious contexts, despite its location in the architecture charged by its history. This openness may have been the reason for JAK to start working from here. The rays of the star do not only refer to the eight directions of the compass rose and with it to cosmic order and cosmic balance, but also to the eighth day of creation, the new creation of the human being and with it to “eight” as a symbol for the resurrected Christ10.

Accoring to Buddhist and Hinduist myths, the eight-leaved shut lotos blossom floats on the ancient waters. It is read as a symbol of the provided but not yet used opportunities before the creation of the earth. As an open blossom it becomes the allegory of creation. The white lily is an ancient and widespread symbol of light. In Christianity it represents immaculateness, innocence and virginity and is often connected to representations of the Virgin Mary. In the Bible, single stars are connected to the star of Balaam and the star of the three magi that lead them to Bethlehem. Together with sun and moon the stars mark the divine area. However, with the ornament selected by JAK, the history of the Byzantine Iconoclastic Controversy and the history of the Hagia Sophia is also dealt with. On the VII ecumenical council to Nicaea11 the Byzantine Iconoclasm is decided in favour of the Iconodules. The admiration of pictures is permitted if it is directed upon the prototype and is strictly distinguished from the adoration of God. The fact that for the proliferation of idolatry beside the incarnation of Christ and the personal unity of divine and human nature in Jesus Christ also the indication to the charismatic self reflection of the miraculous images was of fundamental importance, but that’s another story. After the conquest of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmet II Fatih the Hagia Sophia is declared a mosque in 1453. The mosaics and icons are removed or painted. As a museum, the Hagia Sophia is now accessible without any restriction. Today, some areas that have been painted over are restored again.

 

JAK has enlarged the Hagia Sophia ornament to a 200 x 200 cm format, has rebuilt it with empty water bottles and put it into a swimming pool on the island Büyükada. At night the object is illuminated in rhythmical intervals by a generator. Everyone who knows about Byzantine iconoclasm thinks of the stories of miraculous images. According to one of these stories they have traveled on own impulse and automatically over the sea and fight in battles. Whoever is reminded of religion and politics with this piece of work, is also reminded of the still not yet solved religious and social conflicts between the religious majorities and minorities in Turkey. JAK calls its work "Chandelier".

 

6. In 2011 JAK came across countless neon crosses walking through the streets of the port city Busan, in Korea. They indicate the locations of Christian churches. At night they compete with each other and with the neon sign of companies and brands. In a conversation with a local Methodist's priest JAK was confused about this violent competition. Due to further investigations it became clear, that at the beginning of the 21st century between 114 and 168 Protestant denominations compete in Korea13. Between 1953 and today the Prespyterial Church of Korea has split up into up to 129 denominations14. More precise figures are difficult to get, because these Protestant churches generally concentrate upon their founders and leaders and denomination-covering associations are an exception. The Christian churches attracted attention during the years after World War II, with their opposition against human rights abuses, their advocacy for democracy and their commitment to the reunion. In the 1970s, the theologically liberally oriented Korean Minjung theology has caused sensation within European academic circles due to their support of the politically suppressed, the economically exploited and socially, culturally and intellectually liberal ones. Worldwide and also in Korea, charismatic pentecostal oriented mega churches like the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul and the Somang Church, in which even the South-Korean president Lee Myong-bak is a member, have been developed. The Korean mega churches are worldwide among the biggest Christian churches15.  Depending on the perspective, the “Success Gospel” propagated and the religious syncretism cultivated there are welcomed or criticised: According to Malte Rhinow many characteristic phenomena of Christianity in South Korea are less typical of Christian influences than of external-Christian influences: “Thus, for example the morning prayer that takes place before sunrise is presumably of an old solar religion of Korea. The ecstatic prayer practise and great willingness to make sacrifices, but also the overriding importance of the blessing in theology and church as well as the understanding of the priests and priests as a mediator between God and the people are influenced by shamanism. The stric hierarchy in the churches, the relation of man and woman and the often morally admonishing sermons continue neo-confucian traditions. However, Buddhist influences appear almost exclusively in the Catholic Church. In Protestantism it can only be found in small alternative groups, … communities and in Minjungsocieties.“16 The fact that in mega churches a poor Christian appears to be a bad Christian, from a European perspective reminds us of secularized transformations of the reformed teaching of the double predestination. People believe to be able to conclude from worldly conditions to everlasting welfare.

 

Another assessment of the charismatic pentecostal churches arises if one sees them not only as a religious renewal movement, “but as a possible tool for a new political practise and theory“in Korea. Then the “mobilisation of the dispossesed in the mega towns and their liberation from the ghosts of Han“ and from the “deep wounds by the Japanese imperialism“ does not “only lead to a new Christian“, but also to new “national and cultural identity.“17

From an anthropological and sociological perspective the Pentecostal movement can then appear as a transnational movement of Postmodernism, which offers “by the paradoxical combination of premodern and modern sound alternatives to western logic, political and state-church power and the varied processes of estrangement (urbanization, industrialisation, migration, poverty, AIDS) and thus shows us a >>walk-out<< from the status quo of political corruption and powerlessness in favour of a sphere of freedom, re-orientation, participation and hope for the kingdom of God“18. Of course, the attribution through a recurring mixture of private and collective wealth and the influence of the communities on the political sphere remains controversial. Subsequently the photographs, the edition, the installation, the poem and the edition of the work "active competition" are absolutely differently perceived in exhibitions in Korea and in Germany. The exhibition’s location, the cultural sphere and the previous knowledge of the viewers decisively determine the reception ("active competition", 2011).

 

7. In its exhibition at the Hospitalhof Stuttgart JAK uses the motive of the goldfish. The goldfish is the widely spread pet of the world. In Asian cultures it symbolises luck, peace, prosperity and gold abundantly. Captivated in a glass it symbolizes limitation and narrowness. In this presentation it has become a “symbol … of no adequate animal housing.“19 In the exhibition the picture of a goldfish should seem alive. This is sucessful: During the exhibition in Stuttgart at least once it was asked who is feeding the goldfish …

The picture comes to life in an installation reminding one of a lab. The photograph of a goldfish becomes a slide artificially projected on fog. The smallest movements of the drops of water cause the illusion of life. The word fields of illusion, sound and smoke connected with the word field “fog” point at the illusionary character of prosperity, wealth, gold and money and according to Ludwig Feuerbach point at the illusionary character of religion.

 

As the exhibition location is a church of course the fish as a Christian symbol has to be considered. Generally it symbolises water in its life-giving and in its fatal function20. According to the Gospels, Simon, Peter and Andreas were appointed by Jesus to be "human fishermen", when they threw their nets in the Galilean sea21. Baptised Christians are compared to fish. Together with bread, fish becomes the symbol for the Communion. From its Greek term Ichthys the fish becomes one of the oldest Christian secret symbols, the acrostic of the words Jesous Christos Theou Hyios Soter and with it a symbol for Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior. Already in the second half of the second post-Christian century baptism is represented with the picture of the fishing with fishing rod and net. “The fisherman symbolises the baptist, the fish the neophyte”22. These days the filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici has found the Jona in the whale motive and with it the earliest archaeological document for the existence of the Jewish-Christian faith on a coffin in a tomb from the time of the second temple in Jerusalem. Israelite archeologists confirm, that this finding from the time around or before 70 is without predecessor up to now23. JAK hints in its transformation of a goldfish at the context of art and its play with light, fog and projection called "mirage", with this naming it also alludes to Feuerbach’s projection thesis. Years ago a critic of this thesis has already reminded us of the fact that every projection must crash into a reality. He could have also reminded us of the visualization of electrically loaded atomic particles in the satiated vapours in cloud chambers and with it the fact that one also sees no atomic parts. And today we believe in the early iconographic document for the “resurrection faith” which lay about 2000 years in the darkness of a tomb.

However: With "mirage" the question is posed again what touches, moves, pleases and affects us. The conversation about this question goes on with every new work of JAK. With JAK art has become a form of trans-cultural communication. Art has again come close to religion.

 

Helmut A. Müller

 

 

 

1 Cf. dtv-Lexikon der Kunst vol. 1, München 1986, p. 670 f. 2 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Programm der Künstlergruppe Brücke, Holzschnitt 1906. Cited according to: Kunsttheorie im 20. Jahrhundert. Ed. Charles Harrison und Paul Wood, Band I 1895-1941, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1998, p. 91 3 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner 1913 in der „Chronik“. Cited according to: dtv-Lexikon der Kunst, Band 1, n.p., p. 670 4 Cf. dtv-Lexikon der Kunst, Band 12, n.p., p. 581 f. and Knauers Lexikon Moderner Kunst, 1973, p. 34 ff. 5 Künstlertheorie im 20. Jahrhundert vol. 1, a.a.O. p. 111

6 Peter Haigis, Kultur IV. Fundamentaltheologisch. In: RGG4, Vol. 4 I - K, Ed. Hans Dieter Betz, Don S. Browning, Bernd Jankowski, Eberhard Jüngel. Tübingen 2001, p. 1825

7 Volkhard Krech, Kultur, Kunst und Religion. In RGG4, Vol. 4 I – K, n.p., p. 1831. Krechs formulations especially refer to Niklas Luhmann.

8 Cf. Volker Küster, Interkulturelle Theologie. In: : RGG4, Vol. 4 I – K, n.p., p. 197 ff.

9 Volker Küster, n.p., p. 199

10 Cf. Herder Lexikon Symbole, Freiburg 1978,  (p. 10, the eight), p. 103 (the lotus), p. 102 (the lily)

11 Cf. Heinz Ohme, Bilderkult VI. Christentum. In: RGG4, Vol. 1 A - B, Ed. Hans Dieter Betz, Don S. Browning, Bernd Jankowsky, Eberhard Jüngel, Tübingen 1998, p. 1572 f.

12 Cf. Heinz Ohme n.p.,  p. 1572.

13 Cf. Malte Rhinow, Die Kirchen Südkoreas.

In: http://koreaverband.ahkorea.com/_file/publikationen/archive/2-98/2-98-art9.pdf

14 Malte Rhinow, n.p.

15 Cf. Megachurch. In: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megachurch and http://kwikiblok.blogspot.com/2011/10/big-bussiness-of-south-koreas-mega.html

16 Malte Rhinow, n.p.

17 Roswith Gerloff, Pfingstbewegung/Pfingstkirchen III. Asien, Afrika, Lateinamerika. In: RGG4, Vol 6 N - Q, Ed. Hans Dieter Betz, Don S. Browning, Bernd Jankowsky, Eberhard Jüngel, Tübingen 2003, p. 1240

18 Roswig Gerloff, n.p.

19 Klausbernd Vollmar, Vollmars Welt der Symbole Lexikon. Krummiwisch 2003, p. 221

20 Cf. Herders Lexikon der Symbole, n.p., p. 52 f.; Jutta Seibert, Lexikon christlicher Kunst, Freiburg 2002, p. 115 ff; Dorothea Forstner, Die Welt der christlichen Symbole, Innsbruck-Wien 1986, p. 255 ff.

21 Marcus 1, 16 f.

22 Dorothea Forstner, n.p., p. 256

23 Cf. Süddeutsche Zeitung No. 50, 29.02.2012, p. 10. Cited epd. and: Peter Lampe, Endoskopie ins erste Jahrhundert nach Christus. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung No. 52, 2.3.2012, p. 14