I do have a problem, or let’s better call it project, I could need help with. Mainly I fear that this idea is too big for me alone to do it justice, but also too persistent in my head to let go. And as I explain further down it is in its nature to be tackled in as many ways as possible.
This year will be the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI. The aspect I am most interested in in this connection is not the war itself. It was one of the most inhuman wars ever fought by humankind – soldiers laying in trenches and shooting at each other for months just to die under horrible circumstances of mustard gas or simple exposure without ever moving an inch during that time. The sad thing is, they all ran into this with songs on their lips and romantic ideas of comradeship, heroism, and patriotism fluffing up their minds. Yet, due to human achievements and developments in the field of science and technology warfare had changed dramatically. Under the dead were a lot of coming artist and poets e.g. Franz Marc, who painted camouflage in pointillist style with influences from Manet to Kandinsky just to be shot in the head in the Battle of Verdun (Marc painted The Large Blue Horses that became the symbol of The Blue Rider, an expressionistic art group, of which he was a founding member. He also participated in the North Africa trip with Klee.), that let themselves be infected by the classicistic ideals of a just war.
There are few political incidences that had more influence on the art world than WWI had. The reality of modern warfare was a shock and cured even the most romantic minded of his fantasies. The bottom line for people like Duchamp (his ready-made Fountain, a standard issue urinal signed with a pseudonym, was voted the most important piece of art of the 20th century) was that a humankind that could allow something like this to happen has failed in all aspects including and especially the arts. A radically new approach was needed that would change thinking processes and ideals, and with it the reigning idea of man. The focus turned from the group, the nation, and organized style to the individual, its brain, and rule breaking.
It is this aspect of WWI – its impact on art, the aimed for impact of art on humankind, the strive for a new idea of man – that caught my interest in connection with the anniversary. What is the idea of man the arts communicate today? (e.g after an era dominated by vampires and superheroes in TV/movies/books we are now heading into an era of witches. So, preternatural and supernatural powers aren’t enough anymore to succeed. We need magical abilities to be good enough.) We went from Michelangelo via urinals and bottle rags to an event culture where it’s called art to allow the audience to decide which sheep will be killed by a guillotine. For what? How did the complete new approach taken after everything was declared a failure change the idea of man? What have we become?
In my head this idea runs under the headline ‘Nothing New in the West’. It is the straight translation of the title of Erich Maria Remarque’s WWI novel All Quiet on the Western Front. Though I know that the English title has become a colloquial phrase as well, a description for stagnation, Nothing New in the West seems even more provocative and hence fitting.
What I am aiming for is an examination, an artistic debate of the questions raised, mainly about our idea of man with a backdrop on WWI. I fear that just I with my limited means of expression can never do this idea justice. After all, the main notion of the new start was: Everything goes. It’s not about the means of expression but the act of expression and its impact. Hence, I am searching for others from whatever field of the arts, who want to contribute their ideas in their chosen way of expression. All I can offer so far is a compilation of all the snippets on the internet. I’m a thinker and artist and a scaredy-cat by nature, not the greatest communicator, who can find more opportunities. But maybe that person can be found too for this project. So far it is just an idea born out of my passion for art and my fascination and fear of humans.
If you are interested or have ideas, who might be willing to add their ideas in their way of expression – spread the word, let me know. Everything goes (when I say the arts it’s broad from words, photos & pictures via music to video & performances) except perhaps the Dadaists beloved manifestos.