Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

“Looking back 13 years” introduction by Hatto Fischer

(re-written in 2007)

First of all, when looking back at the Fifth Seminar held in Athens 1994, then rewriting an introduction apparently lost to the winds offers a small opportunity to open a window of amazement about what was said at that time and how relevant these workshops have remained to date. Secondly, traces of these workshops can be found in many other ways but best is to secure the continuity through the people who were originally involved.

In July 2007 I happened to visit for the first time the ‘Kunsthochschule am Weissensee’, that is the university of arts in former East Berlin. It was a day of open doors with sculptures by students being displayed in the inner court yard and a variety of performances going on. I went there with Christian Kirsch and his wife Waltraud to meet the director of the university, Mr. Strehl, in order to discuss a possible presentation of the Delphic Games to the staff of the university. One of them I had just met outside by coincidence: Karin Danneker. She had joined in the meantime the staff. Before she had cooperated with Diane Waller in London and who was also a participant of that workshop dealing with how cultures tend to define health, and more specifically ‘mental health’. This happens as shown especially by Michel Foucault through philosophical systems ending up in definitions as to who is a health person i.e. the one who fits the category of a good soldier and who else does not fit into the system designed to use people for certain purposes i.e. going to war and therefore ready to declare those others who do not fit a cracy person, an outsider, a Flaneur or someone just needing therapy in order to re-integrated into society. The power to define as to who is healthy, who is not played over centuries till today just as important a role as the power to define what is art.

Since the 19th century many new approaches to questions of health were attempted. Most revolutionary was Freud’s concept of a healthy life based on normal sexual activities. But without getting right away into the midst of possible controversies about the so called ‘Lustprinzip’ or pleasure principle (compared to the other drives that Freud designated in accordance with the reality principle and the death drive), the motivation to review that workshop was definitely given by having this encounter with Karin Danneker in Berlin. It is a long path that someone takes out of dedication to a special field and in doing so, i.e. by not giving up, it enables future students to qualify themselves for what has become in the meantime the recognized form of ‘art therapy’.

When proposing for the Fifth Seminar to organise it in such a way that aside from four main plenary sessions to have ten workshops devoted to specific questions of culture, it met already the opposition of Kris Rogiers and Prof. Bekemans. They wished to have a more powerful tool, a more compact approach to what they viewed as major interest, and always their arguments were linked to what could be presented to the media as a concrete result. This follows the need of politicians to justify in public why they spend so much money on certain actitivities and not on others. Clearly the purpose of the Fifth Seminar was to continue the drive of the Flemish government to give to the people of Flandern an independent voice at European level, thought best at that time via the Committee of Regions just founded between the Fourth Seminar held at the College of Europe in Bruge and the Fifth Seminar held in Athens. Needless to say, the Fifth Seminar did not go exactly conform with such a political wish but tried to answer in a different way how cultural actions for Europe could be but also should be conceived if many approaches to culture can be articulated. As indicated by developments since 1994, this concept of the Fifth Seminar is fully justified.

For instance, Lutz Gelbert from workshop 3 linking culture with transportation questions, and making Thomson wonder what ‘traffic culture’ means as he heard it then for the first time, went on to develop a European project which brought together more than 100 partners all interested in having one locomotive and more specifically one driver cabin so that a train could cross all over Europe without standardization succumbing to uniformization. It meant taking heed of cultural diversity while allowing the development of such a design that was accepted by all. Lutz Gelbert would say the main cultural arguments he picked up at that workshop helped him to convince everyone to go on board with the project as it would reduce costs if locomotives need not to be changed when the train crosses over from Germany to Belgium. Since each country and region have their own pecularities and characteristics, it would be too costly to have a transportation system not able to combine the local specificities with the trans European network.

By the same token, while the linkage between health and culture is apparent to everyone, the specific field of art therapy may be more difficult when it comes to justifying why such a theme and not some other major illness as AIDS became a few years later? Since everything has a unique background, some reasons behind asking Karin Dannecker to chair this workshop on art therapy should explain how it came about.

When teaching philosophy and art history at the Free School in Berlin called ‘Etage’, students of dance, theatre, pantomime, painting suggested that one action could be to go into Psychiatry and do there something with patients in order to experience these differences between mentally balanced people and those who for one or another reason feel so much disturbed that they are no longer capable of intertwining themselves with the outside world. It was suggested that one action could be to just go shopping with the patients so that re-integration into normal life could be prepared in such a way. It was acknowledged that such patients were bewildered by the mass of articles offered in any supermarket or institutions like KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens – a specific showcase of Capitalism in West Berlin as long as the wall was standing), a state of mind described best by Solshenitzyn once he returned from a camp in Siberia and entered this bewildering world with many mirrors on the wall (see ‘Cancerward’). Indeed, it is easily forgotten that the constructed world designed specifically for the consumer is but one model and it should never be forgotten that cities should remain open for other types of people who do not wish to live like that nor fit into such a consumptive pattern. (see Michael D. Higgins, www.productivityofculture.org) . There is a need to strengthen those who falter like insects at night in front of lights in their identities when not able to cope with such a reality. It is not they who are at fault but it does take a certain strength not to succumb to such negative reality by denying the own self to have any claim of another reality.

Thanks to the students of the ETAGE contact was made to Karin Danneker who was then already engaged in art therapy related activities. She came to the school to give a lecture and helped the students work with patients. The interesting discussions which followed when evaluating the experiences made was always underlined by astonishment as to how they could draw circles and what happiness they expressed in their faces when they had accomplished a feat. The students realized that for some of the patients drawing a circle on a piece of paper amounted to a giant feat as measured by their inner belief that they could not do anything worthwhile. Lack of self esteem can be linked to this inability to do something recognizable as being good, of value and even of meaning even though many philosophers like Adorno would dispute such criterion as ‘relevance’. Art works communicate more convincingly, so the opinion of Adorno, when the form of expression is not subjugated to a specific self-understanding but lets free the expression of doubt about such self-understanding being really self-understood i.e. understood by others. As such this takes one to the core of the issues surrounding ‘identity’ and more concretely ‘cultural identities’ as something else from national, political, local or ethnical identities. West Berlin was very much a place to try out different identities, in particular those free from the guilt of the past and therefore not linked to the structures of the state. A clear recognition of West Berlin having been an experimental field for developing new identities was the warning the successful candidate for the office of Mayor of Berlin (a post once held by Willy Brandt and always until 1981 in the hands of the Social Democrats), Richard von Weizsaecker, issued, namely that ‘in Berlin the youth would grow up without having to serve in the military and therefore they would not have any feeling of loyalty to the state’.

In other words, if identity is a complex issue and therefore in need to be addressed by a Seminar dealing with the future of Europe and what cultural actions are in need to be undertaken, then a workshop dealing with culture and identity by using art therapy as a practical example has its place in crucial questions to be asked when talking about European integration and the path forward. There is a lot to be said out of a deeper understanding of history and what follows especially for the definition of a healthy person and / or healthy life.


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