Strijdom van der Merwe, REVIVE – also nature needs magic liquid @ Kantonsspital Graubünden, 2022
Humanity – a word which etymologically derives from the Latin humanitas for «human nature, kindness». Where has humanity gone?
Are WE, the humans, still human at all? Talking about humanity comprises all of us: individuals, peoples, countries. Everybody in our endless growing world population of more than eight billion people right now, which makes our space to live and nourish ourselves ever scarcer. We experience more and more density stress on our «planet world». The longer the less people seem to be able to cope with the growing chaotic and complex surrounding, also caused by the constantly dense packing of the human species.
An artist friend once mentioned that people in the eyes of certain dictators are no longer seen as humans but simply as flesh. The one who has more «flesh» to send into the «wargames, nasty big boys» love to play, has more power. This horrible imagination immediately catapults us back into times from the medieval age until the First World War, where battles were decided on the battlefields, eye to eye with the enemy. There is no longer much difference between animals being driven to the slaughterhouse, as in the movie «The Silence of the Lambs», and people being chased off to war.
The progressive «dehumanization» in our societies is a trend that can be observed in all areas of life around the world. Even in the most human discipline of all, the healing. Healing no longer corresponds to the original meaning as it was in Greek mythology, where Apollon (Ἀπόλλων) was both: deity of the arts and of the «healing arts». In this historical context healing was not only a purely physical treatment, but through art an influence on our general wellbeing, our social integration and if I may say so, on our souls. This understanding prevailed until the Romantic period. Only thereafter did a dichotomy between the art of healing and the science of healing begin, which today is increasingly complemented by medical technology. Healing nowadays presents itself with an increasingly dominant scientific and technological consideration of human beings and their «problems». And this approach of a growing scientification and mechanization cuts across all areas of our lives. The art-part got lost and alienated people from each other and from nature – art is the only human expression, free from rules and limitations.
Healing was 2023 topic at Fondation WhiteSpaceBlackBox. Our considerations moved beyond those of human health and curing in a medical way but included a view of the planet and universe. It seemed just evident to reflect on Healing, having «managed» and survived Covid to a certain extent, dealing with a «quite near war» (besides many other wars far away) and increasing environmental, social, and human disasters happening all over the planet. And now whilst writing, another war just restarted with enormous brutality – unimaginable out of the point of view of a human being. All the mediation attempts and projects (Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Uri Buri’s Restaurants and Hotels crossing frontiers, etc.) are being questioned because of the brutality with which religious, ethnic or other divergences clash.
Frederic Vester, well known for his cybernetic research, once said, that planet and universe will survive, but mankind? Will art help us to stop the ongoing dehumanization and finding a new way forward again to a more human world? Where are the artists to come up with works that shock and make us pause and reflect for a moment, like Picasso’s Guernica, painted in 1937 in response to the bombing and destruction of the Basque town of Guernica by the German Luftwaffe? A tapestry of the work, hanging at the United Nations had to be veiled in 2003 when Colin Powell and the chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix explained their positions on a possible war against Iraq to the international press in New York. The work was too strong to be confronted to another human disaster like Guernica.
Oscar Wilde was once asked in an interview: “Why is America such a violent country, Mr. Wilde?” “Because the wallpaper is so ugly.”
For sure it’s not the art market to have any impact on the ongoing dehumanization but may be the works of artists who keep some distance and elude the market? Works which touch our souls again and less our wallets. That makes all the difference.