Fifthe day in Johannesburg

We started. The artist entered the exhibition room at 2 pm and their paintings, sculptures and videos filled up the space very fast. Everybody was excited. Only one or two of the artist have tried this exhibition format before, so for the rest of the group the procedure was new. The people working at the museum, the press and the audience were there too. They were observing and taking notes.

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Once everybody was finished with installing, they bravely started presenting each their artwork. They would explain their motivations for doing the artworks and for bringing the specific topics into the debate. Everybody could ask questions. Artworks were dealing with a range of dysfunctions in the society such as racial issues, health issues, crime, refugees, war industry, land regulations, gentrification, etc.
I was filming and listening. I felt I was learning. It was a rich exhibition.

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Aesthetic and ethic motivation

What I liked the most about today’s contribution from the artists was the fact that they all took the task of focusing on the emergencies seriously and managed to produce some important artworks. There was a great deal of concern in the way they approached the project. They seemed to worry about the topics they made artworks about.

It made me think if this authentic preoccupation could be a criterion for art? Can the artistic judgment be done based on the motivation behind the artwork? And how do an artist’s honesty and openness affect the interpretation of the artwork?
From my (curatorial) point of view, an artist’s approach to her or his work is crucial. If there is a good motivation behind the artwork, the artwork shines. It is as if it gains an additional layer of glow; a glory that, in my eyes, makes it different from other artworks, that are not made with the same amount of true motivation.

These glowing artworks have, for me, a value that goes beyond the aesthetic and conceptual one. Somehow I would consider them good because of some ethnic qualities.

Ethic, from Old French éthique, from Latin ethice, 
from Greek (hē) ēthikē (tekhnē) ‘(the science of) morals’
,based on ēthos (see ethos).

But as soon as we start bringing the ethic into a dialog with art we activate the question: What is the connection with aesthetic and ethic?
From my studies, I remember that Plato was, in Republic having some of the earliest concerns about the aesthetic values when it comes to including them in the ideal society. He considered art to be a very strong tool that might be immoral to use without censorship.
I also thought about Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment and his definition of dependent beauty as opposed to free beauty.

Kalokagathia. From Ancient Greek καλοκαγαθία (kalokagathia, 
“nobility, goodness”), from καλός (kalos, “beautiful”) 
και (kai, “and”) ἀγαθός (agathos, “good”).

I was wondering how we can juxtapose the esthetic and ethic reading of artwork that communicates social and political injustice?
Formally there should be a natural connection between the two readings because both deal with forms of value. Ethics is the form of value that tells us whether or not people’s actions are good or bad. Aesthetics is the form of value that is tied with sensory or artistic qualities. I believe that art can have an effect on our ethical character and moral life, as well as our moral affects how we view aesthetic objects.

In this logic, we could also say that an artist’s motivation grounded in ethnic values can affect the aesthetics of the final artwork, through which the moral message might be transmitted to the viewer parallelly to the aesthetic experience.

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Fourth day in Johannesburg

The group energy
Two more artists from Denmark arrived today Nadia Plesener and Tobias Oscar Lehrskov-Schmidt. Together with Nina Wengel who came yesterday there are three. Suddenly on the street we unexpectedly met Haroon Gunn-Salie a South African artist who we already worked together with in Brazil. He also showed interest in joining the emergency art exhibition. Suddenly we were a group. And tomorrow the artists who are living in Johannesburg are also joining. It might become a small community which then could become part of an art movement. We don’t know yet what will happen and how the group energy will develop, but in that moment I could feel something that maid me say to Thierry “Ça marche.”, “It looks like it is working!”
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The synergy
Some artists from the grope will even work together on creating artworks. To do cooperation between artists is very interesting process. It is often both a personal and professional encounter. It is a synergy of different motivations, forms, styles and messages.

As I see it the synergy happens in couple of steps:

In order to create space for collaboration first there would be a moment of hold back and then contributing. This moment when the artists are holding back, observing each other and preparing for each their contribution to the collaboration, is fascinating. It is a moment of beautiful void that illustrates the potential; Just like a white peace of paper.

Then the exchange starts, each artist putting his/her contribution on the paper. Suddenly we don’t know any longer which contribution is whose. There is a moment of fusion.

Latin fūsiōn- (stem of fūsiō) a pouring out, melting.

When the collaborative work has becomes one work, then the magic happens. Suddenly the artwork doubles its value and size. It grows, becomes more beautiful and greater than the sum of the efforts put in to it.

synergy (pronounced SIN-ur-jee , from Greek sunergia, 
meaning "cooperation," and also sunergos, meaning 
"working together") is the combined working together of 
two or more parts of a system so that the combined effect 
is greater than the sum of the efforts of the parts.

The stimulating platform
In order to reach the level of synergy it is also important to open up to each other. And in order to open up we need to share.  In my opinion the EMERGECY ART platform is created for sharing: sharing of space, time and state of mind. The artists work in the same time, the same space and under the same conditions of looking for dysfunctions and producing art about it daily. Sharing is crucial for this art format.

Tomorrow is the first day of the emergency art daily changing exhibition. Every day at 2 pm for 2 weeks we are going to show a new exhibition and debate about it. The exhibitions are free and open for public.

I’m looking forward to see the works, because they are going to be reflections about what is happening around us at the moment; But I’m as much looking forward to feel the group energy and synergy between the artists. This energy will hopefully also spill over onto the audience, the museum and hopefully also beyond the museum walls on to the area and the city.

I believe that curating is more then organizing artworks in the space and writing communicative texts about them; it is as much about cultivating and handling energy. I find this very important because the energy created around the artworks and exhibitions might be the key to impact.

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Third day in Johannesburg

Innovation in schools
Today we visited a school called. SPARK. “It is a low-cost private school trying to educate a new generation of global citizens.” they told us. This school showed interest in collaborating with our emergency art project. They wanted to engage their children in critical thinking.  At the school, we were received by a school principal, and he explained us the schools unique pedagogic methods and the set of core values that the children have to follow not only in order to develop as students but as people and citizens. This school’s focus is innovation. Innovation fits well to the atmosphere I have been registering in this city not only this time but also during my visit here last year; the state of mind of wanting something new to replace the old.  “we focus on innovation” said the principal “our children learn how to think about ways to make the world around them a better place.”
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It sounded ambitious and positive but still I was a bit skeptical towards this new model because education is such a strong manipulation tool, and if it is not built on good intentions it can destroy whole generation of children. We tried to ask the principal about the purpose and motivation behind this school model, and he referred to their holding company called eAdvance. We wanted to understand more, but then we were invited to walk around the school and actually see the children in action. We stepped in different classrooms, teaching English, Zulu, mathematics, online class, and physical activities. What suppressed me positively was that the children were very awake. Actually, I could see that the students were very engaged in what the teachers were telling them. They had good energy, and they seemed both motivated to learn and happy to be in the school.
At the end of the meeting, we agreed with the principal to organize a collaboration in the form of a critical run for schoolchildren age 5 to 11, and the principal suggested a question for the run debate: What role do you think you can play to change the situation of the homeless?

Innovation in creative industry
Next two meetings took place in two different gallery spaces. Hazard and Kalaznikovv. Here too we cold feel the energy of innovation and the willingness to do new and different. There was no time used on convincing, but rather finding a way to realize. You could relay feel the forward-thinking speed and spirit of entrepreneurship among these young creative industry developers. I’m not used to that, but I could feel that I could get seduced by the efficiency and energy of this way of working. We got an impression that everything was possible. And somehow, even though we later might discover that it is not possible, I  this optimistic attitude, might bring the necessary positive energy to the working process. Some kind of motivating energy that no matter what would pay off.

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Questioning innovation
In the late afternoon, we had the first public presentation where Thierry Geoffroy and I were presenting our motivation for doing the emergency art project. Many of the artists who are going to participate in the exhibition starting on Friday came to hear more about this unusual art format, with every day changing exhibition focusing on emergencies. There were questions after the presentation. First Danish artist, Nina Wengel came and fast she was connecting to some artists from Johannesburg, starting a dialog about possible collaborations for the exhibition. The artists seemed to be ready, curious and inspired.

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I don’t know if what we are doing can be connected to innovation at all. I would not like our project to be neither innovative educational model or innovative cultural industry model. The spirit of emergency art, as I see it, should not be institutionalized or industrialized. It does present new ways of doing, exhibiting and understanding art but it should keep being an open format, not part of innovation industry. I have a feeling that as soon as something gets stamped as an innovation, it becomes a product that has a customer who is influencing its criteria and goals. I ended the day thinking about innovation. What kind of energy is innovation based on and what kind of energy is it cultivating? Normally I would be against innovation because I would be afraid that it is about replacing old with new, without consideration; because the innovation is based on efficiency without reflect on the side effects in the process such as exploitation; because the ambition behind the innovation is often commercial and can easily turn into greed, where the benefits of the outcome only reach few people. But even though I’m skeptical I could not help feeling this innovation spirit around the city of Johannesburg was bringing motivation, and motivation is a very important type of energy in the initiating phase, like we are in now, only a few days before starting a new emergency art project for the first time in South Africa.

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Second day in Johannesburg

We spent most of the day walking around the Maboneng area visiting different kind of shops.  There are maybe 4 or 5 streets that are safe to walk on, they told us. Some streets should be safe until 3pm, other streets until 6pm.

Religious posters showing that the world is good but the people in it are bad
We went to a shop for frames and posters (mostly christen religious posters and landscapes). The owner of the shop was there alone. We bought some posters. When we asked him about crime in the neighborhood he told us to take care. He is closing he shop already at 3 pm because after that hour it gets risky. “but, you just have to take care all the time” he said “the criminals are working all the time”.  When we asked him if he could point at the main problems in the world, he said almost religiously. “The world we live is good, it is the people within it that make it bad.”

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We went on passing many shops for shoos, domestic products and small shops for food. We also saw a market where you could buy some vegetables.

Gold digging tools
Than we stepped in a hardware shop. Here Thierry asked what kind of equipment is used for digging gold. The people from the shop laughed but soon there were demonstrating the gold digging process with a pick and a shovel. Thierry ended up buying a big pick and the men working in the shop told him, laughing, that he should come back and let them know if he finds the gold. We understood that there was not much gold left in this country. You find it only if you are extremely lucky. But at lest, as the men from the shop told us, we could feel safe on the streets now that Thierry was carrying a pick over his shoulder. “No one will assault you now that you are walking around with the pick”, they said laughing.

Fake leopard jacket
Next shop we visted on our way was a boutique for clothes. Here Thierry found a fake leopard jacket. He tried it and asked both vendors and some other costumers what they thought about his new look. “What would you think about me if you saw me like this on the street? What do I express with this clothes?” One of them said “It looks good on you”, the other one “You look like a nice men. Someone I would like to talk to” and the last ones said “When you wear this you show respect for the tradition”. With tradition he meant the zulu tradition that uses leopard pattern as symbol for pride. “Even white people were leopard patterns”, they explained to us.

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Some streets further down and very close to the Museum of African Design, were we are organizing an exhibition, we saw a shop for real skin. We walked in and got quite overwhelmed with the amount of different animal skins hanging around and different types of skin being cut and prepared for becoming products.  We did not find a leopard skin but the big zebra skin was very impressive. “Imagine that they kill this animals for their skin” said Thierry. Especially a smaller skin with an alarming orange color caught our attention. We went out and continued walking down the street.

Real working uniforms
Almost next block there was a shop with similar alarming orange color. This time it was not skin but cotton and polyester clothes. This shop was a place where they made and sold uniforms for kitchen, hospitals and construction workers. Thierry tried and bought an emergency orange uniform.Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 07.28.47


In the evening everything started being interconnected: The religion, the hope of finding gold, the African animals pride and the workers labor and significance of the colors.
Symbolically speaking we are all looking for gold. We do it with great deal of belief (almost a religiously) and with great deal of hard work (hands on work like construction workers). It can also be animal instinctive drive, driven by the power embodied in leopard skin.
Thierry and I are in Johannesburg with an art project; A project that wants to activate the critical thinking through artistic expression. It is a project that involves many artists and wishes to be a formula for changing the world to a place with more reflections, where people are more alert and wiling to take an action. Looking for this formula is like looking for gold. Maybe not in the concrete sense of digging for gold but more in an alchemist sense of looking for philosopher’s stone.

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First day in Johannesburg

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“So, can you tell us what is the emergency in Johannesburg at the moment in your opinion?” – I heard Thierry Geoffroy saying to the taxi driver even before we left the parking area at the airport.

It is not the first time I hear this question being posed. Especially when we com to a new country, Thierry would ask local people about the emergencies. That would be part of his artistic research. But no matter how often and in how many different occasions I have heard the question, the answers can still astonish me. It somehow always opens up to new discoveries and interesting information.

Lack of stability

This time, the Johannesburg taxi driver said: “The emergency is instability”…” we have some very unstable politicians here in South Africa, but I guess the politics is collapsing all around the world” he said “Just look at what is happening with Trump and Hillary in USA.” “Here in South Africa, there are the politicians doing the old politics and there are those who are trying to start new political platforms.”

New-old politics

The steering wheel is on the right side in South Africa, so from where I was siting, I could not see the taxi driver’s profile or his full facial expression, only his eyes in the back mirror “We can not wait anymore” he said. He explained that there are too many problems that only can be solved politically and that there is no time to wait for the old politicians to die in order to start changing the development of the country. The methods from “old politics” are not working anymore, because the surrounding world is changing, so the “new politics” has to find new ways. “We are not a banana republic yet, and I think we can develop a lot.” said proudly the taxi driver.

I tried to understand the different main political parties’ profiles. The ANC (African National Congress ) was representing what our taxi driver calls the old politics. They are politically correct with both white, colored, indian and black race represented as well as 50/50 gender balance between men and women. But they don’t deliver solutions to the new situations of the country. Then there are couple alternatives such as DA (Democratic Alliance) which is a second biggest party and EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) that is trying to bring the economy back to the black people.

Unemployment and chicken feeds

“Another big problem is unemployment. People don’t have money. A typical diet for many South Africans would be chicken feeds and many people can only afford to have one meal a day.” This is, what they call surviving class.
We asked more about the job situation. He explained that the companies were more willing to hire workers from Zimbabwe, Nigeria or Congo than South African because the foreign workers are not complaining about the working conditions. At the same time, they are very good workers with good working discipline maybe connected to their cultures. “Even myself, I have a small business, and I have hired foreigners to take my business to another level.“

Xenophobia

The unemployment is one of the main reasons for xenophobia he explained “He looked at me through back mirror” and said, “You know, when we talk about white – black conflict we say apartheid, but when we talk about black – black conflict we say xenophobia.” I nodded my head as to confirm that I understood. I could see in his eyes that this was an important problem for him, I guess because it is not only destabilizing the economy but also the way people live together. Xenophobia is inevitably linked with fear and fear is very fast representing itself in crime.

Both Thierry and I were listening carefully to our taxi driver from the backseat of the car. “you have a lot of opinions” Thierry said to the taxi driver “ did you ever consider being more active in politics.” “No..” he answered “..because it is too dangerous and you need protection.”..”in theory we do have freedom of speech, but in practice, you can not speak without protection. Many politicians have been victims of complots too. This is why our politics is lacking stability”

Safety as a currency

We were slowly entering the part of downtown which I new from my last visit to Johannesburg when Thierry and I came for the research. That is less than a year ago, but the neighborhood did not seem to have changed much. We are going to stay in the same building like last time. They used to tell us that this is one of the very few areas in Johannesburg where one can walk without fear. It is safe here they would tell us many times. Safety here is almost like a product. Safety has become the new currency. Especially when you look at the prices in this hipster like area comparing them to other more dangers parts of town, you discover that someone is earning big money on safety, and I don’t think that the people living in the streets are benefiting much from this business.
I’m going to spend at least 20 days here, working with artists who are going to express about dysfunctions. In the process, I hope to find out more about the transformation of this area.

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Sugar cubes and seduction

I spent some time in the countryside during this month and on one of the nearby fields, where I kept coming back for a walk with a friend, I saw a beautiful brown horse. I have almost no experience with horses, but I easily feel attracted to them. Instinctively, next time I came I brought a sugar cube in my pocket that I wanted to give to the horse. I wanted to do that probably because it is something I remember my grandfather used to tell me to do to when wanting to make friends with horses. But then I hesitated because my friend started asking me if my goal was to seduce the horse. Suddenly I felt very corrupt and even guilty. As if it was a crime to feed a horse with a little bit of sugar.

I got confused and started reflecting on seduction. The word seduction itself is as acutely, as far as I know, rooted in the word to lead, so it somehow does make sense to say that seduction is connected to power or to winning over someone. It has obviously also to do with leading someone away from the established, or what is considered to be a correct, path.

In the end, I did not give any sugar cubes to the horse, and while walking back to Holbæk Art School where I was staying as a teacher, I started wondering how much seduction is connected to teaching. My goal at the school was together with my colleague Thierry Geoffroy to introduce a new way of working with art, by leading students to look at emergencies in the world and teach them to express about these important issues in artworks, often produced fast in order to keep the pertinence. Since emergency art is based on a different way and speed of doing and presenting art, it definitely needed some seduction. In the very start, with reasonable arguments, we had to persuade the students that everything in the world is not going well, that their critical artistic reflections are needed and that it is important to act. Once they realize the alarming situations surrounding them, they started working passionately, led by the energy of necessity. They were seduced. In the process, many of the students got sentimental and insecure. They were going down a new difficult path, and both feelings of victory and crises appeared along the way. We needed to seduce them to continue; we gave them different artistic methods and tools just like giving them sugar cubes to keep their energy, will and hope alive. And it worked. They continued, and they did great artworks bravely engaging their thoughts and feelings in their artistic productions in an authentic way that I have not seen for a long time, not even among professional artists.

By walking in front of the students, leading the way and calling for them, we could show that we cared and that we wanted them to succeed. I think the seduction has a lot to do with this feeling of attention and desire. So maybe the students got seduced because they could feel we, as teachers, were seduced by them. Rather then a power game, I think seduction is a two-way communication; a tension that appears when there is an attraction from two parts. Just like with a horse: I wanted to seduce him because I felt seduced myself. To give sugar cubes to a horse should maybe not be seen as corruption, but rather an expression of desire.

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The first students from The Academy of Emergency Art

Today a very special teaching period ended. It has been an intense but also very enriching period. Artist Thierry Geoffroy/ COLONEL and I have for over a month now had an opportunity to activate some of the ideas behind The Academy of Emergency Art at two different host organizations, Holbæk Art School and Borup Højskole.

The Academy of Emergency Art is a new international education where artists are educated and trained to become emergency artists. It focuses on working in the now, on training of the awareness muscle and on the ability to express artistically about the emergencies in the world.

The Academy of Emergency Art vision was first time published in a national Danish newspaper Politiken in 2014.

Now the first students from the The Academy of Emergency Art are being graduated and we believe they will carry on the spirit of emergency art along their carriers in order to make a change in the world, which for every day is more and more in need of artists who care.

It is not an easy task for a student to constantly be taking the pulse of the developments in the society, to be spotting dysfunctions and to be responding immediately to them. It takes some very awake and brave students. But after seeing the final show today and digesting the experiences from the teaching period, I have a feeling that we actually did succeed in stimulating the students in becoming more aware and do art of great importance. I don’t know if we succeeded in creating the moment of clarity for the students, but when we talked to each of them in the evaluation interview earlier this week, we got a clear impression that all of them felt a certain transformation. They felt that they were part of a journey. They explained that they have moved from their starting point into a direction of pulsing reality. For most of them it was chocking to realize how unfair the world situation is. In the process some got sad, and others frustrated because they could not find an immediate solution for the problems that now stood clear in front of their eyes. But then we gave them more tools to keep going and producing important reflections. We pushed to make sure the journey would not stop. To keep turning their observations into pertinent artworks was the only way forward. They kept producing. Each in their different way they found a balance between the place and state of mind they came from and the new more turbulent reality they now were facing. They gained courage and hope. The artworks and collaborations between the students only got better by the end of the period.

The combination of intuition and sensibility on the one hand and knowledge and information on the other seamed to be a perfect setting for a valid artistic development.

Now, even though tired after an intense period, I have a feeling of an accomplishment and a feeling of have learned something about the moment of clarity. I’m still not sure if the moment of clarity can be provoked or it only happens by hazard, but it for sure has to do with energy, as Thierry said in one of our debates.

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