FIDENA – Freedom to do what? The Tension between Cultural Education and Artistic Freedom

Freedom to do what? The Tension between Cultural Education and Artistic Freedom

Gabi dan Droste and Jonas Klinkenberg

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During the symposium the speakers often took up opposite positions, and put forward extremely different ideas and thoughts. The following article is the result of a discussion between Jonas Klinkenberg and Gabi dan Droste on the talks and discussions given on “Artistic Freedom and Cultural Education”. Here we hope to be able to make connections be- tween the different contributions, throw up questions and finally provide an outline for further thoughts from our own perspective.

I. What and who is free? … and from what?

Anurupa Roy, a director and event manager from New Delhi took up the theme of crisis, gave it a clearly economic focus context and set it in the context of current global changes. She spoke of the Kathputli Colony in New Delhi, a slum area inhabited by traditional puppeteers and (street) musicians, and simultaneously a place where people can train, rehearse and be creative. Due to gentrification the inhabitants of the well-known Colony are threatened with evacuation. This fact shows that the term “artistic freedom” has to be defined utterly differently from the way it is understood by most of us. Here freedom means being able to work as an artist and have the space in which to do so. A long-established island of culture is being forced to make way for new modern buildings and a traditional art form is experiencing its right to exist only in the context of tourism.

By contrast, in the discussion between Maarten Seghers, Oliver Kontny and Annette Dabs, Seghers represented a decidedly Western European idea of art. The young Dutch performer, musician and all-rounder skilfully used rockstar attitudes and an artistic soul to plead for unlimited artistic freedom. When Annette Dabs suggested discussing whether curatorial practice and (thematic) guidelines might put limitations on artistic de- velopment, he preferred to ignore this completely and concentrate on his own artistic habitus: art is like an uncontrolled growth created from within.
In the shadow of the talk given by Anurupa Roy and the ideas put for- ward by Oliver Kontny it became patently clear which socially privileged situations give rise to such a concept of freedom.

Oliver Kontny’s work is committed to a post-migrant transgender dis- course. He revealed the mechanisms which lead to artists being excluded from the production apparatus of art. His point of view corresponded with Roy’s descriptions. He too took up the theme of the results of globalisation and gentrification and pointed to the lower status of immi- grants in German theatrical culture and the hurdles facing them in the German arts scene. In addition he pointed to the generally precarious situation of artists in Germany and the prevalent pressure on production. It was no accident that he demanded a return to an attitude appropriated by artists e.g. from the Fluxus movement, in which art was about taking up a specific position and not simply about products and efficiency.

“Life is a work of art and a work of art is life”. (Emmett Williams)

II. Who mediates to whom? … and to what end?

The three contributions given by Louise Lapointe, Airan Berg and Darren O’Donnell all took direct work with project-specific target groups as their theme, but their focus and approaches were fundamentally different. Lapointe spoke about measures that may be defined as belonging to clas- sical audience development strategies: measures that put a project more powerfully in the focus of public perception and simultaneously enable the general public to participate. In the final analysis such work generates new audiences, new sponsors and supporters and is a part of publicity work. Such an approach helps to smooth the way towards “actual art”. By contrast the projects of Airan Berg and Darren O Donnell moved work with non-professionals into the focus. The possibility of including a broad spectrum of people – whether they be school students, local inhabitants or specific groups – in an artistic process is central to Berg’s work: at the same time he aims to cut across the borders of artistic work and social life. Collective work aims at creating a joint experience that leaves its mark on society, something he connects with the term utopia.

By contrast O’Donnell, the head of Mammalian Diving Reflex, talked about projects that could be described as provocative, not only within the symposium. As a rule these are projects that break with social customs. Children become hairdressers or members of a theatre jury; young people become town guides, and older women speak about their sexuality. Such projects not only aim at creating an artistic value in the form of a product but are also process orientated, whereby participation plays a central role. Both O’Donnell’ projects and his talk were intended as provocations.
The core of his work is, however, to be understood as a form of empow- erment. Spaces are created in which children and senior citizens, young people and local inhabitants are given the chance to find their own voice and be heard. The projects question the norms and hierarchies existing in the worlds of art and culture and throw up a huge amount of other ques- tions of more general interest.

The projects discussed in the symposium showed clearly different ap- proaches. Creating new audiences, collective experiences and breaking away from cultural norms are the three essential bywords: they not only cover an enormous spectrum but also highlight the dichotomies existing in cultural education. At the same time the question remains as to wheth- er this is an (unwelcome?) accessory to a person’s own artistic work, or whether an artistic vision is intrinsically interwoven with an outreach char- acter. Is it about teaching and producing, smoothing out paths or about celebrating artistic vision and freedom together?

III. Who is the spectator – and why?

The term “Cultural Education” is generally linked to the idea of art for chil- dren and acquainting them more closely with it. The two directors Cathe- rine Poher and Barbara Kölling dedicate their work to theatre for the very young. Both have a decidedly artistically motivated approach to a very young people whom they naturally address as spectators. Both also repre- sent a development that was unthinkable in Europe and Germany fifteen years ago. Until now such young children were not recognised as being an audience and were not an obvious part of the open space called theatre. Artists working in children’s theatre mostly aimed their work at audiences between the age of four and five, and tended to focus on telling stories. Poher and Kölling have liberated themselves from this convention. They neither try to educate their young audiences by means of theatre, nor do they use particular formats to introduce children to art. Nor do they speak about the necessity of using their art as a means of education. It is more the case that the presence of very small children and babies in the audi- ence inspires them to think more about their own artistic expressions and develop a specific artistic language with which to include children. Children are valued as a challenge to and source of inspiration for their own artistic work. Thus in the concept of the symposium Poher and Kölling threw up a quite different perspective on how to understand artistic freedom.

IV: Our concluding theses:

  • ·  What we should understand as artistic freedom is wilfully independent, related to a specific context and individual.
  • ·  Artists create artistic projects within the topography of artistic education.
  • ·  Artistic freedom and cultural education are not necessarily contradictions.
  • ·  Wilful independence is a basic parameter both of cultural education and artistic freedom.What remains is wilful independence.

Published by gabidandroste