Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

A disputed action

Shoes of the children outside the atelier


The action in Picasso's atelier was organized by Boris Tissot and his collaborators. It ended up being a highly disputed action mainly because Picasso's notion of children was not heeded. Picasso thought of children being far freer in their imagination than adults. Instead it turned out to be an action strictly under the control of adults.

The action wished to challenge what Kids' Guernica stands for, namely letting children express freely their ideas of peace and war by painting together a peace mural on a canvas which has the same size as Picasso's Guernica. It is weakness or a sign of something else that till today Kids' Guernica has failed to take up that challenge.

What is it all about? While it is commonly assumed that Kids' Guernica wishes to promote peace by children painting together such murals which remind of Picasso's Guernica, this can lead to some misunderstanding. For stipulated is only that the canvas has to be of the same size as Picasso's Guernica. There does not need to be made any reference to Picasso's Guernica itself. Rather the challenge lies elsewhere. Painting a mural of that size can easily over demand any artist, all the more it is amazing to see a group of children taking on this task without having any second thoughts. Naturally Picasso set an example with his Guernica and provokes at the same time over and again how the topic of war and peace can be handled in such a visual form.

In other words, a misunderstanding par excellance has been the action in Picasso's atelier as the children were practically forced to make sketches from the works of Picasso hanging on the walls of the atelier and following that had to deliberate upon symbols and images for a canvas designed by Boris Tissot and his collaborator. It was meant 'to scream' by following in the footsteps of Picasso. Nothing could be more disasterous than such an attempt. It explains already why this action is so highly disputable. Moreover it did not seek to express the scream understood as 'human pain', but only a reduction thereof to become just a simple 'no' against war and then to be painted in only white and black colours. The tones of these two colours were compared with what was depicted in the poster of Picasso's Guernica hanging in the atelier. Since a poster, nothing could be further from the original Guernica. At the same time, this type of action suppressed the children's love for colours, in order to be just different from other Kids' Guernica murals.

I Initial information

Some things need to be said at the outset about Picasso's atelier and the action which took place there in the name of Kids' Guernica in 2009, in order to understand the context of critical appraisal.

Hatto Fischer had already received information about the existence of the atelier in 2005. For even before Poiein kai Prattein in Athens, Greece linked up with Kids' Guernica by sending its freshly painted mural 'The war is over' to Ubud, Bali for the 10th anniversary of Kids' Guernica exhibition in Ubud, Bali, Picasso's atelier in Paris was already known to Hatto Fischer. The latter had told Frederique Chabaud about Kids' Guernica after having come across it at a youth festival. Poiein kai Prattein had organized this together with Peace Waves in Torino in January 2005. In turn, she informed him that an ideal place for such a movement would be the atelier where Picasso had painted Guernica. She had just held a meeting at this famous atelier. It has been restored and that a kind man, namely Alain Casanova was looking after it. Since she knew as well that Hatto Fischer had met Jad Salman from Palestine during that Kids' Guernica action in Torino, she mentioned that Alain Casanova was in particular interested in the Israeli-Palestine peace dialogue. Recently children had painted something lovely in the atelier, namely two flags kissing each other on the nose. Since then existed the dream to do in future a Kids' Guernica action in the atelier. Such an action would be linked to dialogue based on empathy for the other.

Done by children in Picasso's atelier                                       2005

Kids' Guernica is about children freeing adults in their imagination, so that they can develop again empathy for others. This possibility exists when they see the murals for their canvas have been touched by the souls of the children when painting, says Thomas Economacos from Poiein kai Prattein. He knows for he has a vast experience of working with children and has done together with Hatto Fischer several murals, including 'The war is over', 'The intercultural one of Greece and Turkey' and then alone the one of the Athens School 108. He also went to Belfast to help Bernard Conlon gain in confidence that such an action can be done.

There exists evidence for such a claim. It can happen that when adults pass by and see one of those huge murals, they suddenly stop in their tracks and begin to cry. This was the case with one woman returning home from work and who wanted to pass by the Kids' Guernica exhibition in Chios 2007. She was touched especially by the mural from Lebanon saying "Enough! We want to live" (painted in 2007).

After getting to know Boris Tissot, an artist working at Centre Pompidou, the dream to do something in Picasso's atelier was shared with him. At the same time, Hatto Fischer introduced him to Jad Salman and Gerold Schuman. The latter is theater producer in Ecouen, a city outside of Paris. There he organized a Kids' Guernica exhibition for the May 7th and 8th 2009 celebrations to mark the end of Second World War.

As evidence of what was thought to be the start of further collaboration between various people in Paris and France with regards to Kids' Guernica, Juliette, the daughter of Boris Tissot was invited to give a talk to the children about her experiences. She had participated in painting such Kids' Guernica murals, first in Paris, then in Nepal. After that experience she had become concerned with the educational rights of children in Nepal. Boris Tissot was most enthusiastic about this development and hoped to integrate his daughter in all future Kids' Guernica activities. She participated, therefore, in the action in Picasso's atelier.

Jad Salman, Juliette Tissot (daughter of Boris), visitor in Picasso's atelier

A second detail needs to be mentioned. In 2009 the 15th anniversary of Kids' Guernica was approaching fast. There was to take place at the beginning of 2010 an exhibition of Kids' Guernica and an art symposium in Florida State University in Tallahassee. Prof. Tom Anderson, a founding member of Kids' Guernica, was organizing everything and for this purpose he had asked Hatto Fischer for collaboration both for the exhibition and the write-up about recent Kids' Guernica experiences. The latter was to be published in an extensive catalogue.

A third factor was that Jad Salman had left in the meantime Palestine and was studying by that time art in Paris. Thus all four - Boris Tissot, Gerold Schumann, Jad Salman and Hatto Fischer - went to see Picasso's atelier and met there for the first time in person Alain Casabona. He remembered immediately Frederique Chabaud. The prospect of doing a Kids' Guernica action in the atelier was discussed. One key promise made at that time was to include Jad and to pay him for his assistance. It was thought the start of a joint collaboration but it came differently. This was in May 2009.

After this first visit no further news came from Boris Tissot even though many attempts were made to keep the original network going. Gerold Schumann had offered his theatre organization to provide some funding, but under one clear condition. Whatever the concept for the action in Picasso's atelier, it would have to include some theatrical performance to justify the involvement of his theatre. But then one angry mail from Gerold said it all: he declared that he is out because Boris wants to do this all by himself.

Boris Tissot in front of Belfast Wall mural of Picasso's Guernica                                 Sept. 2009

When Hatto Fischer met Boris Tissot in Belfast in September during the public showing of the Belfast mural, Boris declared that he was 'in charge'. Factually he claimed sole jurisdiction over anything having to do with the action in Picasso's atelier. Factually it meant, that he had withdrawn from any form of collaboration or co-operation even though he was still eager to use resources provided by Kids' Guernica.

At that time Boris Tissot revealed as well that he had lost all addresses, including that of Jad Salman and Monique Kissel, Prof. at Saint Denis University and who was preparing her students for a Kids' Guernica action. Still, Hatto Fischer gave him again all contact addresses to make possible some collaboration in the name of Kids' Guernica.

As for some practical arrangements during the phase of preparation and based on an open form of collaboration, Hatto Fischer had paid for a website to ensure information about Kids' Guernica would be available as well in the French language. Boris Tissot was free to make use of it. It was thought as one kind of support for Kids' Guernica actions in France. The website was to be maintained by Benjamin Cornu. However, due to repeated bad communication between him and Boris Tissot before, during and after the action in Picasso's atelier, the website was never used properly and therefore the money simply wasted.

Valery, a professional photographer, was to do the documentation. Her work was never used in a way that would have meant giving at least recognition to her work even if she was not going to be paid. Consequently she came only during the intitial stages into Picasso's atelier but stopped doing so as she saw her work was not appreciated enough to outweigh the giving of her extra time.

Besides Gerold Schumann and Jad Salman, Alexandra Zanne from Gezoncourt, France wanted to join as well. She was interested in doing in her community near Mets / Nancy a Kids' Guernica action. Besides she is her own film producer and would have been able to do a video documentation of the action in Picasso's atelier. Her request to come for a visit to Picasso's atelier to learn from the action was, however, turned down by Boris Tissot. It was disappointing to see how a potential collaboration for the sake of Kids' Guernica was so easily disregarded.

Something similar happened with Monique Kissel, Professor at the University of Saint Denis. She was interested in doing a workshop about Kids' Guernica with her students and brought them as a matter of fact into the atelier for a brief visit. Still, this chance to bring about further going reflections about Kids' Guernica, was not followed up by Boris Tissot.

It says a lot that all these names are missing in any documentation provided by Boris Tissot about the action.

For communication purposes, Boris Tissot and his collaborators did produce three journals and afterwards a video of the sequence of events was made available. Upon seeing this video, the international coordinator, Takuya Kaneda, stated he saw nothing wrong in what Boris Tissot did in the atelier. This alone explains why his actions were never seriously challenged, never mind discussed in terms of their implications for the self-understanding of Kids' Guernica. Leading figures in Kids' Guernica, including Prof. Tom Anderson did not want to take up this issue.

Apparently Boris Tissot did experience in the last moment financial difficulties. The source he had hoped for did not materialize. It is not known to date what funds were made available and how they were used. Also it has not been cleared as to whom belong any Rights of the mural since Kids' Guernica has no official legal status up to now (2012).

There is the famous book by Michel Foucault called in French 'les mots et les choses'. It has been translated into English as 'the order of things'. Certainly that reflects how the action in Picasso's atelier was organised.

The only paint brushes laid out for 34 children

The action started much before Jad Salman was informed. When he joined the group, then only during the final days in the atelier. It was the time when the children could do some work on the canvas but only under the strict supervision by the adults and not all children at once. When the key person, the graphic designer, was not present as was the case on a Tuesday during the final week, the canvas was covered and the children had to do something else. It meant things were not organised around the children, but the adults who shaped the concept of the mural decisively and then proceeded to do the main implementation. That ruled out that work by the children on the canvas could ever become a real collaborative learning process.

The two organizations with whom Boris Tissot collaborated, they were staffed by professional cultural workers. As such they had no previous experience with Kids' Guernica. Throughout the action they gave no indication that they would be interested to learn more about Kids' Guernica. At no time did they ever express an interest to link up with the community of this movement. That is most unusual. Everytime someone does such an action with children, that person is interested to link up with Kids' Guernica. Instead they seized, so it appeared, upon the opportunity to do something in Picasso's atelier. There they wished to apply the very same methods they have been using all along and over a number of years and thus wanted to have their idea be validated not just another time, but now in this famous atelier.

As for the selection of children, this point had often been discussed during the earlier phase of preparation. There was even thought given to possible methods on how to include all the children of Kids' Guernica world wide. Internet makes nowadays many things possible. It requires just some special organization. Benjamin Cornu as web designer could have easily managed such an inflow of information and communication. However, this chance was never taken up seriously.

One important argument for taking a selection of children from a typical school in Paris was that they would represent already by themselves such a cultural diversity since all would have a multi-cultural background. Of interest was here that some children had parents who were migrants without documents. Consequently not the parents but friends had to fetch them lest to avoid possible arrest and being ousted from France. Times are hard and Paris is not an easy city to survive in. It would have been good if the background of the children had been allowed to leave an imprint on the canvas. That was, however, not the case.

II The disputed action

Prior to documenting, commenting and analyzing what took place in the atelier, and this as an eye witness, Kids' Guernica needs to challenge and be challenged. Since the task of becoming a formidable peace movement is not an easy one, it is never self-understood how this challenge is done.

Boris Tissot tried to challenge the conventional premises upheld by Kids' Guernica, but he did so by chosing not merely 'his' but as he put it 'the French way'. That then leads easily to a 'cultural form of Nationalism' and stands definitely in contradiction to peace efforts. For if given in to such an argumentation used to justify an action, then it would mean any outsider has no ability to judge what took place in Picasso's atelier. Such cultural relativism would rule out the universal Rights of the child as recognized by world organizations such as amnesty international, UNESCO, Save the child, etc. It has also been so far the self understanding within Kids' Guernica what should govern the adult-children relationship during such a painting process, and therefore it can be judged when adults go too far and rather than facilitating the process disturb the children in what should be after all their freedom of expression when it comes to painting their messages of peace.

There is a wisdom which has governed Kids' Guernica so far and which has given shape to seventeen years of successful implementation of its core idea. In view of this success as indicated best by many more actions springing up all the time all over the world, the practical question has to be posed how shall Kids' Guernica preserve its reputation. There are some who think there needs to be taken the next big step and become a structured organization. Right now the International Committee is not even a legal entity so that all accountability rests on informal agreements expressed best by a wish to uphold the basic idea of Kids' Guernica. For many it is enough to say that children should continue to make and to share this wonderful experience made possible when they can paint together a mural of peace.

As a practical organization Kids' Guernica will have to come to terms with various issues. They include the need for some leading guidelines with regards to the copy-right of the murals and how issues of peace and war are to be addressed. Many experiences have been made by now but it is still a further step to know what future task need to be faced whether it is the unresolved dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis or the ever growing doubts in world governance due to such unresolved, equally volatile and violent situations as unfolding in Syria 2012 but also what is continuing in Afghanistan or Iraq. The legacy of war is written by the countless innocent civilians who have been maimed and traumatized, thrown into refugee camps or exile while displacement at home continues to war having become a civil strife, if not war from below.

Kids' Guernica has spread out in its concern for how children and youth are forced to grow up in often unfriendly environments. Hence other issues entail why the high suicide rate amongst South Korean youth or what to do about the violence in urban hot spots such as in the northern suburbs of Paris or in some highly tense districts of Berlin. In other words, over the years Kids' Guernica has began to link the overall theme of 'war and peace' to more immediate, equally crucial matters as how to avoid bullying at school, child abuse or violence in the streets. After the nuclear disaster linked to what happened especially in Fukushima after the Tsunami wave hit the nuclear reactor located there, became known, Kids' Guernica in Japan has been especially active in the disaster areas. It may not suffice to overcome all the traumas but it is a sign of solidarity.

In short, it is an ongoing process in an attempt to come to terms with the reality in need to be faced and still not give up the dream of peace. This is something which children ask especially that the adults share this with them.

When it comes to the disputed action, then one key claim made by Boris Tissot needs to be refuted. Boris Tissot claimed it was a 'local action' and therefore that he was legitimized to put himself in charge of the action in Picasso's atelier. He used this claim to justify the exclusion of others even though they were as well active members of Kids' Guernica and had initiated together with him the action.

Picasso's atelier

Prior to documenting what took place in the atelier, and this as an eye witness, one key claim made by Boris Tissot needs to be refuted. Boris Tissot claimed it was a 'local action' and therefore that he was legitimized to put himself in charge of the action in Picasso's atelier. He used this claim to justify the exclusion of others even though they were as well active members of Kids' Guernica and had initiated together with him the action.

Generally speaking, a local action entails that anyone can undertake the painting of a mural with a bunch of kids. There are only two requirements:

1) the canvas has to have the same size as Picasso's Guernica (7,8 x 3,5 m)

2) after completion of the action, images and documentation need to be sent to Takuya Kaneda for recognition and which is done by posting the action on the international website: www.kids-guernica.org

To this has to be added something which entails the self-understanding of Kids' Guernica. Any action means children and youth enter together a collaborative learning process. That means adults or artists co-ordinating the action have no greater role than being facilitators to ensure the mural is painted by the children and not by adults. Since such a process entails as well many changes especially if the painting of the mural takes not just a few days but months, documentation of these changes is crucial. It allows an understanding of what can be called a final outcome even though no mural is ever finished. The narrative of how the mural received its title is also of importance. It reflects a surprise as to the outcome as well as the original intention of doing such a mural in the first place at that precise location and during that specific time.

Within Kids' Guernica it is self-understood that children, not adults or artists do the painting. The name 'Kids' Guernica' suggests that. Once the action by Boris Tissot became a dispute, Takuya Kaneda openly declared that he knows other cases where an adult would assemble the pieces done by children and who made out of them by himself one mural.

What is self-understood within Kids' Guernica, was violated by the action in Picasso's atelier. This shall be documented in the following page when reviewing how the mural was staged.

That murals are done by children and/or youth is a highly ethical issue. In case that these Kids' Guernica murals are shown at exhibitions, utmost care has to be taken not to deceive the public. People go to see a Kids' Guernica exhibition in the expectation that all murals have been done by children (or youth), but not by adults. And people cannot be fooled. Thus it matters where the line is drawn or what is to be tolerated, what not! Adults, in particular parents when watching their children paint, cannot resist at times and grab themselves a paint brush to add a detail or two, but this is something else if the entire composition and realization is done by adults, not by children. Practically it amounts to public fraud, if murals done by adults are shown in an exhibition in which murals done by children are meant to be shown.

Thus is a most serious case when the self-understanding of Kids' Guernica can be so easily flauted in practice as has been the case in Picasso's atelier. If that difference is not made explicit (e.g. by putting up a sign beside the mural stating explicitly here adults were involved) then such intention to deceive would amount to 'public fraud'.

One reason for the looseness when it comes to defining a local action is that Kids' Guernica can be viewed as a highly decentralized movement; anyone willing and able to undertake such an action, can do so on his or her own accord. But even if a grass root movement, Kids' Guernica exists in formal terms. This includes having an International Committee and one international co-ordinator, namely Takuya Kaneda. By embracing the overall idea in an open ended, that is process orientated manner, it is assumed that outstanding good practices shall set examples to nourish the self-understanding of Kids' Guernica further. Besides the International Committee and the international coordinator, it has attracted over the past 17 years many dedicated and interested people in sharing this idea in the hope of taking the peace process further. The cohesion of Kids' Guernica can be explained by having precisely a powerful and convincing idea shared by all. And it creates an enthusiasm as it entails so many beautiful and enhancing experiences.

Consequently it matters how a local action links up with this entire movement. Usually that is done by some who have done already such an action join the new one and pass on thereby their experiences. Most often also new initiators take courage by having seen some other action before. When Bernard Conlon visited the Kids' Guernica exhibition in Athens 2007, he saw immediately this is something he would like to do in Belfast. But it took him two years to bring about the right combination. Helped along the way was correspondence with Hatto Fischer and Thomas Economacos from Poiein kai Prattein. Thomas Economacos undertook even a special trip to Belfast to explain further the idea to Bernard Conlon and his potential collaborator. The idea is passed on through narration and by sharing the experiences made so far. Instead of opening up to practically involve old and newly interested people in Kids' Guernica, the action in Picasso's atelier became extremely exclusive, to the point of having to date no real follow-up, and as demonstrated most recently again by Boris Tissot organizing a Kids' Guernica exhibition at the Gernica museum without notification to anyone else, this bad practice shall continue until Kids' Guernica altogether realizes here it is being challenged to the very core of its self understanding.

Just for the record the claim by Boris Tissot that the action in Picasso's atelier was a local one, was never refuted by Takuya Kaneda or by any one else from Kids' Guernica when they gathered in January 2010 in Florida. Maybe the issue was not taken up due to a fear of controversy. Also Tom Anderson did not wish to exclude the mural from the exhibition, but Boris Tissot appeared in the official program in Florida as if he came from Picasso's atelier. These details matter since they amount to a distortion of the truth but also reflect the true intention behind the action, namely to have one's name linked to such a famous place like Picasso's atelier. For the record, Boris Tissot is not linked to Picasso's atelier, but works for the Centre Pompidou and is at the same time an artist.

There is another fault line within Kids' Guernica. Too often adults who had coordinated the actions would show up at exhibitions and speak about the murals as if 'their' work. Rather they should let the children do the narration but too often they are missing at these international gatherings.

Even if the children cannot travel as easily all by themselves and hence it explains why there are not present at international exhibitions, still an effort can be made. For instance, Prof. Abe has invited Stella and Maya from Athens to Nagasaki; both had painted the mural "The War is over!" or else Savina Tarsitano brought the group which had painted the Martinique mural over to Italy. Another method would be to let children convey their messages for the exhibition via a special letter written by them. That was the case with the children who did the mural from Dubai called 'Life is a delicate balance' when exhibited in Athens 2007.

All these messages are a part of a still more comprehensive documentation about the children who were involved when the mural was painted. It includes photo materials and even in many cases by now videos. Social media allows for many forms of cultural expressions. The youth festival in Tuebingen produced an excellent film along with one Rapper having composed a Guernica song. That is cultural enrichment along the way. The documentary film made by Ghent to remember the children which were evacuated from Guernica in 1937 and brought to Ghent is an invaluable memory piece.

Naturally any exhibition can include as well a mural specially done for the occasion at a local school, so that the children themselves can come to the opening. This was the case with the 2007 exhibition in Athens. At that time 200 school children turned up in support of their mural of the Athens 108 school and which they had painted with the help of Thomas Economacos.

Thomas Economacos (tall adult in the middle) amidst the children from Athens 108 school in front of their mural

In all cases, it matters how the children and youth stay involved after the action has been completed, for the friendship, openness and trust created through this experience made when painting together a mural of peace is the basis for future international understanding. It amounts to a diplomacy from below with the key aim being to do away with enemy pictures and to go deeper in the analysis of violence.

All these issues amount to a dispute not only about the action in Picasso's atelier, but also it goes to the core of the self-understanding of Kids' Guernica. Since this has not been taken up as a body which can govern its own movement, it raises some serious questions. Although it is plain to anyone that an action in Picasso's atelier is quite different from being just a local action, no one refuted Boris Tissot when he made that claim. That 'silence' can be frightening especially if the practice within a world wide movement claiming to be for peace. If things are not named clearly although doing an action in Picasso's atelier would have had a tremendous meaning for the entire Kids' Guernica community, then there is something wrong with this desire for peace if it leads to avoidance of controversies at all costs.

If the action in Picasso's atelier had been done well, it could have served as a crucial reference point for further campaigns. Alone the opportunity to link concretely Kids' Guernica with Picasso by doing an action in the atelier where he created Guernica could have given the entire movement a decisive impetus to take up challenges of the 21st century. By one man appropriating everything, things were sadly reduced to a level of insignificance.

Since the dispute about what took place in Picasso's atelier has not been resolved to date, all references to Picasso and his Guernica mural have to be redefined. Only once a new consensus has emerged to give shape to the self understanding of Kids' Guernica, and efforts have been made in this direction by attempting to formulate a 'Memorandum of Understanding', then both can serve as references for Kids' Guernica in future.

To resolve this and other disputes, there has to be realized within Kids' Guernica, and especially within the International Committee that something has gone astray with this action in Picasso's atelier and even worse Picasso and Guernica have been put into a wrong context. The way Boris Tissot went about it negated not only many potentialities. It has diminished as well the self-understanding within Kids' Guernica.

Just one example may underline the point in need to be made. Jad Salman left this action deeply hurt not only by what he witnessed while in the atelier and when helping the children to face this imposition, but by what Boris Tissot wrote to him in the aftermath. He was ready to leave Kids' Guernica altogether. Only when he saw the mural done by the children of Gezoncourt thanks to the initiative by Alexandra Zanne, he shouted as an artist only can: "wow! They have understood Kids' Guernica!"

Since the action took place in full knowledge that this mural was going to be exhibited at the International Kids' Guernica exhibition in 2010, something more has to be said here. The exhibition was prepared by Tom Anderson with museum director Allys Palladino-Craig at the Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida USA ensuring everything had a base. Thanks to her members of Kids' Guernica received some travel grants and this was in turn handled by Poiein kai Prattein. Boris Tissot had no hesitation to ask for himself and his daughter a similar grant but once he received it there was no word of thanks as to how this was handled. It needs to be mentioned that resources made available through Kids' Guernica should altogether not be taken for granted. The policy is to make things possible, but it would add another quality if this would be appreciated and recognized as such by those who take advantage of the resources made available. This includes the many murals painted already by children and youth all over the world.

The exhibition in Florida was organized to observe the 15th anniversary of Kids' Guernica. Hence a mural painted in Picasso's atelier would have been 'the' chance to bring together all the previous 15 years of Kids' Guernica. In his report, Boris Tissot does state the children studied the other murals but presumably this was done solely with the purpose to obtain some 'symbols and signs' to be included in the Paris mural. It is not known, if the children were asked how other Kids' Guernica children could participate in what they were planning to do when in Picasso's atelier. At the very least a peace message to all could have been made available very easily via the international website: "we children in Picasso's atelier think of you all!" A small gesture can sometimes go very far in reaching out to others and it would have amount to kids around the world joining hands as they do in the small mural the children painted in secret in Picasso's atelier out of protest that they were not allowed to use colours for the official one or what Boris Tissot intended to be the mural which 'wants to scream!'

By appropriating the action, Boris Tissot pushed aside the entire community of Kids' Guernica and subsequently violated its core idea by not letting the children enter a collaborative learning process. The latter would have allowed the final outcome to be a surprise for all.

III The action in Picasso's atelier

The image below shows how Boris Tissot and his collaborator super-imposed one image onto the canvas. After scanning the sketches of the children and then abstracting them to single design items, a lay-out thereof was printed onto sheets of paper. They were then used to cover the whole canvas. While this action was done by the adults, the children were just passive onlookers. And this happened not only during this precise moment when the canvas was opened for the first time, but throughout the subsequent actions amounting to only three days when work on the canvas was done. The rest of the many other days were spend on doing endlessly sketches.

Boris Tissot arranging the paper for the lay-out

After the lay-out covered the entire canvas, the next step was to make a cut out along the predetermined lines. Along these lines some (not all) children were permitted not to paint but to follow these lines with paint brushes dipped in only the colour 'black'. The super-imposed image of the whole lay-out meant the whole was known even before the children had done one paint stroke on the canvas.

Boy amongst adults doing the cutting out

Once a collaborative process is ruled out and everything planned from the outset, most serious is that the children cannot develop and paint according to their own rhythm and feelings for colours. There was even a controversy in Picasso's atelier about the music being played.

Instead of being a surprise for all in the end, the mural became a product of graphic design. When looking at it, the uniformity of lines becomes apparent. Although child like, it is an imitation thereof. They were never allowed to work together and by themselves on the canvas. Instead the children were kept on the sidelines and constantly asked to make sketches from Picasso's works on display in the atelier. It was a way of keeping them busy while the adults were under way of going ahead with their own concept.

Thus the very concept and methodologiy used did not let the children discover what peace means to them within such a huge space. At no time where the children all at once on the canvas. So they never made the experience of what it means to discover a wide open space which they could fill. The beauty of that experience they missed out completely. Instead they were forced to articulate an adult-artist version of 'no' to war. This intention is certainly reflected in the Final Report.

For Kids' Guernica the message of a mural is important but only insofar as it reflects a process of how the children got there. Thus crucial is what accompanies the actions on the canvas. It includes discussions among themselves and what inputs they received along the way e.g. in Picasso's atelier the presence of Jad Salman made a difference and the visit by Manuel Gonzales was most decisive for their intuitive understanding as to what Guernica means to children like themselves. For the story by Manuel Gonzales is about his father having been evacuated when a child from Guernica after the bombardment. When children in San Sebastian heard this story from Manuel Gonzales, they posed themselves immediately the question what they would do in case they had lost everything: home, family, friends, dog, etc. and that started to paint a mural in 2011 with that in mind.

Important is also the extension of all Kids' Guernica actions to include brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends of friends etc. For the action has the potential to become a community wide one involving almost everyone. That says as well what qualifies really as a local action, namely one which becomes in the end a mural of the whole community. Once the process of painting the mural has started, it entails children telling when back home in the evening something what they had experienced during the day. In turn, their account can provoke suddenly the grandfather remember things when he was at war. A lot can come through this informal process of communication to the surface. These things otherwise never listened to or valued as a piece of memory, where it not for such an action, are invaluable in terms of an active 'memory work' about war and peace. If done in the right way, it can become a wonderful accumulative process. Needless to say, the action in Picasso's atelier never qualified in this way to be really a local action.

Kids' Guernica means entering 'informal' aspects of learning. It is comparable to what children experience when they play by themselves in the streets. Too often there is the danger that artists and teachers approach the project as if it is just another extension of how art ought to taught at school. If so it would lead to a complete disenfranchisement of the childen. That should never be the case in a Kids' Guernica action.

When children return the following day, they are full of such feed-backs from their parents and friends. That needs to be taken up. It expresses a deepening of the desire to search for a good answer to the question about war and peace. Sophia, the coordinator of the youth group which painted a mural in dialogue with the police of Ghent said after the action was completed, and they took four months, that there was not sufficient time to go really deep. That time scale says something about what it takes to become a real process. It has to be based on further going interactions as well on changes within the group itself. As they open spaces to each other, the relationships amongst themselves alters for the better. This the group attested at the Kids' Guernica conference held in Ghent, Feb. 19th 2011.

Youth group of Ghent                                                                      Feb.19, 2011

By entering this process deeper, it will help them decide what else to paint onto the canvas. In doing so they are free to paint over what they had done the previous day. It does not matter. This is said because there should not rule the fear as if children could do something wrong. They do not make a mistake by not drawing the line as it was preconceived on a computer screen. Clean lines are anyhow poor in quality. They lack the handwriting of a child.

All changes are a part of the process and indicate how the children are learning to work together on their message of peace. Changes are evidence of an ongoing learning process. Like any good painting, its quality shows immediately if really worked on. There is no certain outcome until all have gone through various stages and altered in the process the composition of the mural.

That never took place in the case of the mural done in Picasso's atelier. The canvas was completed in three days and everything was executed according to a preconceived plan. There was nothing spontaneous or joyful about it but then Boris Tissot did intend to make the dominant colour be 'black'.

When looking at a process the final result can be understood much better. For example, when Greek and Turkish children and youth were painting together a mural in Izmir, they had after the first day too many national symbols. Everywhere on the canvas they had painted Turkish and Greek flags. During evening dinner, they began to wonder themselves about such a strong sign of Nationalism. So they decided the following day to do away with these national symbols and painted instead together a tree of life. While doing so, they discovered that even if they could not speak either Greek or Turkish, they had one common language, namely painting. It underlines that no one has to fear that something is not painted correctly or even that a mistake has been made. It is always possible for the children to correct anything. It all evolves around what is an expression of peace while relating to the existence of war. Therefore, to understand what created the mural in the final end, it is important to listen to the children telling their story as to how they got there.

In the case of the mural 'the War is over', the title sprang out of the children's own wish to make happy a sad figure which had been painted by an older child in the left hand corner. They send a messenger down to this sad figure. He holds in his hand a letter containing the news that the war is over. That gave the title to the mural. When something like this happens, then a narrative is immediately there to be told to others. It makes simply sense.

Left corner of mural "War is over"                             Athens 2005

Sadly enough what took place in Picasso's atelier is a disputed action. It is not a local action but could have been an expression of the community of Kids' Guernica around the globe. Since that was not the case, its narrative is weak and shall never be really convincing, especially if certain things are left out. For instance the Final Report does not mention the existence of that second mural which the children created by themselves. Such suppression of truth says a lot about the quality of that report.

Boris Tissot admits that the children did not even see in the final end what had been created with their 'help'. He maintains they would get another impression, if they would have seen it hanging vertically. Instead they left the atelier while the canvas was still lying on that famous floor.

IV The concept

To explain the concept behind the action in Picasso's atelier, Boris Tissot quotes Robert Caron who gave in Paris a lecture about war, Picasso and children. It starts with a statement as to when words no longer suffice, do not come and in times of disaster do not serve anything.

« Quand la vie est trop dure, les mots ne viennent pas.

Quand l’injustice est trop grande, les mots s’étranglent.

Quand le malheur arrive, les mots ne servent à rien."

Source: Boris Tissot, Concept

Now this is an interesting linguistic thesis with many implications, especially if used as departure point for an action with children in Picasso's atelier. What is true about child and language development can be the following: all children stand at the beginning of learning a language. They do not know many words and what it means when the meanings of words like peace get perverted. An example for that exists in Heidelberg, Germany where after First World War two parallel streets were named just that: 'war' and 'peace'. The interesting question follows: which street joined Hitler when he assumed power i.e. in which streets were hung out the flag with the Swastika? It was the street named 'peace'.

Before refuting this departure point, some things need to be said about language and politics. It includes the reproduction of silence.

First of all, the learning to speak in a specific language does not need to be taken on a national orientation. Chomsky stated, if children learn one language really well, they develop a universal structure in the process. It shall enable them to learn easily other languages.

Secondly, the philosopher Tugendhat stated words by themselves are not sufficient to be understood; only when included in whole sentences can they be understood. That implies words fail when taken out of context whereas a language linked to humanity will not fail giving support.

Language formed by poets take things further because they give back to the common people a self understanding of how they speak daily. Thanks to Puskin the Russian language has that quality, the German language formed by Martin Luther not. While the former made language into a fountain from which everyone could refresh their soul, the latter looked down or even worse resorted to such advice as to take the whip with you when going to your wife in bed. Gorki marvelled at the Russian language for when a peasant would swear, it would not be thrown out of the curve. It meant he stayed inside a common self-understanding.

That affinity between the individual to other human beings through language says also something about the inherent libido in language. Freud used the term to designate a love which goes beyond any concrete love and which encompasses the potential affinity of every invidual to all human beings. The European Union refers always to the need to uphold 'social and economic cohesion' but in a cultural sense it would be even more important that this affinity prevails right across Europe and the world.

A common understanding can be already 'problem/no problem' as described by the Polish journalist Kapuscinski ("My travels with Herodot"). Each culture has a special art to communicate with other cultures. If the dialogue between them is to be upheld, there is needed a stream which feeds human self-consciousness i.e. the basic awareness that the other is primarly a human being like myself! Therefore, it is crucial that the tributes flowing into the stream of humanity are continued to be fed. Otherwise that great river of human language risks to dry out and then entire civilizations and their cultures shall collapse.

Thus when it comes to explaining possible failures of words in moments of crisis, one has to be careful how this is meant and used as a way to describe the problem of war. It can amount to the difficulty to say 'no' to someone ready to use a gun or to drive a tank into a crowd of people standing in the streets. Yet a closer look at these kinds of situations being played out right now in Syria are linked not to a situation where words only fail, but equally to the international community being unable to use a clear language to challenge what needs to be challenged. Besides over and again poets like Pablo Neruda and Ritsos have proven as well even in crisis words do not need to fail. It depends what goes with them. An artist under death threat by the extreme Religious Right simply stretched out the hand to shake it with the leader of the group. When that man was astonished and asked why, the artist replied but we are both human beings and not just artist or religious follower. Use of language depends upon being accompanied by human gestures and by not letting the situation become totalized i.e. an outcome of circumstances beyond human control and responsibility.

Marx stated in the introduction to his dissertation the condition, that if language is to uphold 'human self consciousness' categories of both creativity and productivity have to be included. Therefore, no purpose is served by cementing the idea that words would fail in case of war. Rather the world needs that artists and people come together to explore together ways of expressing their desire to end the war and to start the peace process in earnest. In Belfast this has become a matter of telling truthfully stories and which depends in turn how things are remembered.

It appears as if Boris Tissot needs this factual claim of words failing, in order to justify an artistic expression will manage to say 'no'. Yet the difficulty of saying 'no' lies precisely in its discursive element. That becomes explicit when going beyond mere symbols and images, in order to let people and children speak with each other while making real experiences of the other.

Something needs to be pointed out here. By working with a split between the world of language and the world of artistic expressions, Boris Tissot comes close to reproducing a schizophrenic perception of the world. If perpetuated endlessly by not overcoming the split, it may even explain how extra energy released in one sphere can become full aggression in the other.

Of interest is what Adorno and Horkheimer observed in 'Dialectic of Enlightenment' as to when the first split happened. They recall that Odyssey was tied to the mast while his oarsman had wax in their ears so that they could not hear the beautiful songs of the sirens. To the two philosophers this was the first split between those who have work hard without any pleasure e.g. the men rowing the boat and those who enjoy only pleasure e.g. Odyssey ever more enchanted by listening to the sirens but not rowing and unable to follow since tied to the mast.

A similar split determined Freud's theories based on the reality (morality) and pleasure principles being two different drives. As a child he would witness how the father left the house to go to the prostitutes for pleasure while the mother kept the family together and upheld the reality of their existence. Mixing these two drives can be at times very difficult. Often the split is reproduced in keeping a public face which deviates and contradicts completely what is done privately. In philosophy, such a split would mean body and mind do not go together, or as Thomas Mann would say when shaking the hands of a politician one can tell if a democrat or not since a good hand shake signifies these two things go together, are not separated and the person means what he says. It is akin to being consistent in both theory and practice while moral or practical judgments are not thwarted by false interests or 'false consciousness'.

Such reflections can further an understanding as to why a split world with here the artists, there the workers or soldiers is a false one. It does help to polarize the world more so then what is already the case. Such a split cannot be even justified by wishing to drive home some moralistic point about war and peace in an artistic way.

The action in Picasso's atelier shows to where this leads to, namely to an over exaggerated to make the point but in so doing, the action ends reproducing on over simplistic viewpoint. The mural which wants to scream does so in an uninteresting way because the world is perceived merely in black and white terms. By the children not being allowed to paint with colour, the nuances needed to understand the situation are not brought out. Instead the mural falls flat on its face.

More and realistic judgments go together and are much more differentiated, nuanced, as has done Picasso in Guernica by use of the colour 'grey'. By not listening to criticism or even just friendly suggestions, and above all by not collaborating with the others, the action became a trap for Boris Tissot and his collaborators. Till today they seem not to have realized that by wishing to drive home an oversimplified world view, they dragged the children into their world. They did so by different means but includes above all seduction. The tool used for that purpose were the studies Picasso made himself as part of the preparation for Guernica. Most amazing is that they were not even conscious, never mind ashamed that they were misusing Picasso vis a vis the children.

What the children showed by painting a second mural is that good words can go underground like Camus did during the French resistance against German occupation, for they have the confidence that they will resurface and be even stronger, more convincing than ever before. Camus showed here a way of surviving war through resistance by never forgetting that these momentary enemies were and shall be his German friends.

Once words have dipped into human silence, they gather there unbelievable strength in meaning. Silence has many meanings but above all if not due to repression and oppression can create an economy of words. Anything said will have then a strong sense of meaning and shall give direction as to where to look and to go, in order to survive even if in a most difficult situation.

On the other hand, Peter Weiss in 'Aesthetics of Resistance' describes a process of silencing people as outcome of spreading the command language throughout society. Fictitious hierarchies count then more than human relationships. The authorities are dressed in uniforms, the slaves and the Jewish child beaten down and left bleeding in the gutter while those going home from work will look the other way. That was already Germany even prior to the Holocaust taking its full course.

And still someone like Jean Amery could uphold words of the German language even though he was declared to be not German, but a Jew. He survived Auschwitz where he was for three years. The amazing part of this man is that he sought redemption and not revenge by putting the Jew and the German soldier on equal footing, for both had to obey the command to survive, if only the one passively by not touching the electric wire while the soldier had to learn to shoot faster than the other.

For Kids' Guernica this context of silence is of great importance. Takuya Kaneda and Hatto Fischer share for instance the appreciation of the book by George Steiner, 'language and silence', and agree the most pertinent question for Kids' Guernica as for any art is whether or not cultural and artistic expressions can help prevent people from becoming violent towards others, and this even to the point of killing. George Steiner goes on to describe this paradox in culture, for he asks how is it possible that the evening before someone can play Schubert songs on the piano and the next day go into the concentration camp where he shall kill many more people, including innocent children? How is that possible?

Another example is Solidarnosc in Poland. It was silenced by martial law. Practically it meant the regime tried to remove over night all signs on the walls which could remind of the times prior to the crack down. For those were times in which a creative burst of energy made many people, and not only the dock workers in Gdansk, question besides the system and the Communist rule as well their own passivity. By becoming active, they had suddenly not a vocabulary of only 150 words, but developed a language using 1 500 words or more to articulate their demands and their relationships to each other. Mothers and other women entered kindergartens to alter the teaching conditions. When workers at Ursus, the tractor factory outside Warszawa described in an one and half page letter their conditions to workers and their trade union at Massey-Furgeson in the UK, they suddenly grasped very precisely what economy can also be about, namely the sharing and wise use of resources.

Practically involvement, a purpose for doing something both creatively and productively, lets people alter their disposition towards language. It is called involving people not only physically but above all with their imagination. They can go then further than what many of them dreamt would be possible. Interesting is as well what a mathematician said upon arriving from Warszawa where had been at a congress of mathematicians and witnessed when martial law was declared, by train in West Berlin in an interview to the BBC: "this martial law (evoked by Jaruselki in Dec. 1980) is unjust and eventually resistance will come." How beautiful alone this word 'eventually'. His prediction became true the latest by 1989 when the Berlin Wall and all Communist regimes in Eastern Europe came tumbling down.

When explaing his concept, Boris Tissot advances the 'heroic' thesis that if language fails, it is up to the artist to say 'no'. As this assumes painting is outside the human sphere of language, it asserts as well this is something which cannot be talked about. Or rather the final outcome, the mural, speaks for itself. He cites Picasso's Guernica as evidence for his thesis as to what an artist can do and not anybody else when it comes to articulate 'no' against war.

Boris Tissot wants to drive home this specific point but in so doing fails to recognize that when it comes to children, they are not artists but are artistically inclined to express themselves freely. Picasso marvelled how much better they were in doing something and that he had to learn all over again as an adult to be like a child. Likewise children and language is learning how far can they go in their imagination before they risk falling off the edge of the world. That lets them discover the meanings of such words as earth, nature, world, house and not necessarily in that order. They have to test the words how far they can go with them. It is like children slipping into the shoes of the adults and pretending to move like giants through the universe. There are fairy stories to back them up in this assumption all they need are a good pair of boots and like the Tom Cat they can step even over mountains to be anywhere within a flash of a second. Children want to create miracles when wishing to overcome simple obstacles like climbing stairs for the first time. Having wings would definitely make that easier. They do learn fast when it comes to know which words count, which ones have only a limited effect especially when talking with their parents and not with their friends.

Naturally Picasso did place one special sphere of articulation within the sphere of his painting: the human cry out of anguish over so much pain. He realized that this pain is nearly incomprehensible because rarely, if ever articulated in public. The human soul reveals itself only to itself. Yet words and language can touch upon it, provided something is avoided and what is stated explciitly in the German Constitution as a basic human right: the human substance must never be forced to externalize itself for it is 'untouchable'.

Detail from Picasso's Guernica


The times have it that all kinds of 'terrorisms' dominate politics and has become after 911 a prime cause of war. The phenomenon is, however, not new. Robert Musil, in 'Man without Attributes' predicted already before the start of Second World War that a society having lost all truth shall be governed by decisions based on probabilities, at the end of which will be 'terrorism'. When Rumsfeld under President Bush spoke about the probabilities of a pending new attack, he did so to prepare for the 'permanent war' - in contrast to Kant's search for the 'permanent peace'.

Terrorism enacted by children upon their parents can be interpreted as a desire to know the truth. That desire can became so absolute that an expression has it that parents feel to be terrorized by their own children. However, they often fail to recognize that they did not level with them. Maybe they did not wish out of shame to reveal that the father is not really the father but children can sense something is wrong. They become extreme in order to bring out a hidden truth. Often they end up denying themselves any access to a liveable truth.

Any form of terrorism denies the truth about the vulnerability of the human being. By looking down at human weakness with disgust, it means they are preparing themselves to go beyond human limits or rather some kind of heroism is added to prepare the individual to go to the extreme i.e. become a suicide bomber. There is no more place for any consideration for the others.

Any act of terrorism is extremely arbitrary as it just wants to send a message. In not knowing really who is the enemy, bombs are set off in midst of crowded streets. Consequently innocent by-standers are killed. Brendan Kennelly expresses it in his Cromwell poems. It relates to an incidence caused by the IRA setting off a bomb hidden in a truck just as school children come around the corner.

Terrorism and more so the false responses to it transform democracy (Johannes Agnoli). The false answer of President Bush to 911 was to go to war first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq.

There is another problem incurred when confronted by terrorists. When the Minister of Interior in Sweden had to negotiate with terrorists who had knidnapped people in Stockholm and threatened to blow everyone up, he came away from the negotiations completely shocked. For he experienced for the first time people who would not respond to him even when he tried to talk to them in a conciliatory tone. It was as if they could not be touched by words and had been cut off completely from any human language.

For sure, the root of terrorism can be a complete cut-off from any human, equally liveable truth. Everything is then driven to the extreme and transformed into something heroic even though basically it amounts to making sacrifices upon sacrifices. It amounts to a complete failure to communicate any other kind of human reality.

About children wishing to know the truth, there is the story about an eleven year old girl who discovers suddenly in the cupboards a file which reveals that in a court case took place in the past. She looks more closely at these strange files and suddenly realizes that her real father was condemned to pay for her existence a token monthly fee. Till then she had thought the man in the house was her father but always she had some strange feeling of belonging to some other family. She never could make sense of her inner feelings till then. Her mother had never revealed to her the truth of the matter. What made it worse in her case was once she found out where her real father lived, he refused to see her even after she had asked the local priest to mediate. It was to no avail. She was denied the simple recognition of her existence. Consequently she had to live with a phantom of a father whom she could never see physically speaking, in real life. Thus her pain of being denied a real recognition as his daughter made her at times crazy as if terrorised by this human denial.

In some cases such a denial can drive someone to the very edge by taking revenge for not having a real chance in society. That anguish can go indeed very deep and explains a lot of failures. Abused children are here another category insofar as they are driven to conspire against themselves. They do so practically very often out of shame. They remain silent about what the perpetrators did to them and thus by not talking with anyone about it imprison themselves in this terrible silence. It cuts them off from the others, so that they become like autistic children who have no feeling for the real world of the others. That predetermines their attempts to form human relationships based on emotions and empathy for others as a complete failure. Consequently they end up in an existential crisis. Without a language by which they could build a bridge to the others, they cannot really exist in society depending so much on communication, but at a level where the others can understand what one tries to say. The despair of not succeeding in this sense is therefore written all over the face but no one seems to recognize someone living under the impression of being only a failure until it is too late.

That is why a thesis by Enzensberger is very interesting. He characterizes those who go on a sudden shooting spree as 'radical losers'. Cut off from society, they are driven by more than merely fear - it borders on panic! They become extreme when they beliebe that the future holds nothing more in store for them. They shall be only failures. That can drive them into such an absolute freency that they are willing to attack anything in order to prove to the others that they can do at least one thing, namely prove that they are a failure and in so doing take many others down with them. After the shooting in Colorado, USA in July 2012, Michael Moore was asked his opinion since he had shot that film about "Bowling for Columbine", a film related to two boys who did something similar, namely gun down class mates at school. Michael Moore said much more important than forbidding or not guns would be to offer health services in order to treat those who need it in time and before they could endanger others due to becoming so extreme in their loneliness.

It would be wise to look at terrorism in such a way rather than go to war and remain helpless against bombs going off in buses. For very often the isolated individual is not perceived as such by a society remaining aloof and indifferent to the real plights of others. Rather that society is bent on reproducing the same mistake by pursueing merely those fake models of success and which rely on installing 'cutting edges' for success and failure. To that cruel system belong primarily the school and justice system. They make sure the system for its failure to show any human compassion and solidarity with the weak shall never be challenged successfully. The absurd thing is that while hedge funds holders count on the situation getting even worse to make more profits, they never imagine or respond socially to what pain and harm all these negative developments - collapse of the economy and increased costs when it comes to lending money -  do to people once they have lost their jobs and therefore chances to integrate themselves into the economy and society. The ethics of the system is to have success regardless of the costs for others and that success is measured solely in terms of quantity of money. It means the failure of having not prevented the killing of so many innocent lives is simply silenced, but the soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq are highly traumatized and thereafter usually unable to re-adapt to 'normal' life.

These aspects are in need to be taken into consideration when someone describes the current situation as if words no longer suffice. For it would be quite irrational to totalize the situation as if simple spoken words would ever be enough to stop this hatred from stalking into society still further. There are examples to the contrary that sober words suffice to prevent a man hitting a child or a woman. Always a true human presence behind words makes a difference. This is where the crucial thesis of Klaus Heinrich has to be taken up.

Klaus Heinrich (he taught at the Institute Science of Religion of the Free University of Berlin) speaks about the difficulty to say 'no' in a special sense. Departing from experiences made during Fascism in Germany, he sees such a totalitarian logic at work that it makes a person willing not only to destroy the lives of others, but is also willing to destroy himself. The difficulty lies in how then to say 'no' to this destructive drive without saying 'no' to the human being? It requires a lot of depth and insights to see beyond the uniform of a SS man and still make him stop his actions. Klaus Heinrich believes this is only possible when striking a partnership with the human core in that person and after having joined forces to say together 'no' to that drive wishing to destroy everything. It could not get more difficult than that but it is a challenge not to totalize the perception of a person by what he does alone. Only when an effort is made to respond as a human being in an effort to find the human being in the other, then it is only possible to articulate such a 'no' that implies already a 'yes' to the other as a human being.

Consequently an artistic 'no' to war is too general. There is an added risk if meant to be completely one sided and in its tendency to taint the other as a potential enemy for ever. That is implied when Boris Tissot speaks about the Germans who bombed Guernica as he did in his press releade. That would leave out the one important aspect which really counts, namely how to make even friends with the enemy. If an artistic 'no' would fail to bring about a human understanding of the conflict, something which Kevin Cooper advocates after he made this experience in Belfast, then the action will not bring about a convincing 'no'. And in a way Boris Tissot indicates already the reductionist approach he takes by declaring the mural to be which wants simply to scream!

Moreover he will not deal with the inherent contradiction, if this approach departs from and wishes in the end to uphold a definition of the supposed enemy. Here Germans and war are brought into a dangerous correlation, especially if done in way which can be used to justify a denial of any communication. Indeed, love withdrawal is often matched by a complete refusal to speak with the other as if now the worst criminal on earth. The usage of such negation of language is made far worse, if it is combined with a withdrawal of any kind of empathy. The outcome thereof is a 'silence' against which Bart Verschaffel protested when writing his essay about 'Public Truth and Public Space'. For such a silence means a complete denial of life as working through all contradictions while not forgetting that culture is a 'search for truth' (Michael D. Higgins).

No wonder when the kind of 'no' Boris Tissot seems to advocate ends up being entangled and confused with what only symbols and images stand for. Taken out of their intricate context of a painting saying more than just what symbols and images stand for, such a task would not suffice to articulate a 'no' to war. Rather it would only be based on a misunderstanding of Picasso's Guernica. This then underlines what will not work: when a 'no' is articulated but without a readiness to speak with the enemy!

All that and more was not taken into consideration by Boris Tissot when he wanted to articulate an artistic 'no'. Instead he ended up using children in a wrong way. It explains why such a kind of provocation ends up but reproducing an ideology of a special kind of attitude towards children. It denies the freedom to imagine something good for the sake of wishing to say everything is just 'black'. There is enough said in the 'Final Report' to realize that the outcome of such one sided ideological fixation is to argue in favor of an adult version of the world. If left unchallenged, it puts at risk any possible positive relationship to children. Far worse is that it shall but reproduce still more misunderstandings and not guide Kids' Guernica into the future.

Why is the fixation upon Guernica such a mistake? The answer is that in 2010 the world had changed a lot and the human experience with regards to war had to deal with many aspects of war, above all with the Holocaust but also after 1945 with many different forms of genocide. In other words, since 1937 and Guernica a lot has happened to alter language and perception. Alone reference to 911 means nowadays a terrorist attack can happen anytime as much as the sequence of wars thereafter if not careful in use of words. For a manipulative use of language can easily justify the going to war first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq. What makes it even worse is if people still try to justify the going to war. There is no justification. Killing of other people is killing.

To give but one example of how crucial language and use of just one word is, there can be taken the term 'attack'. In the United States President Bush claimed after 911 happened that America had been 'attacked'. He insinuated with this word that it was like Pearl Harbour. Yet compared to when the Japanese Navy and Airforce had attacked the airbase in Pearl Harbour to start Second World War, nothing comparable existed after the two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers in New York. For sure, militarily speaking, to be attacked by a standing army is one thing, quite another to be the victim of a terrorist attack. Here begins the lie and use of words to deceive precisely in a momet where truthful words would make all the more a difference. A woman who had lost her husband in one of the Towers said all his life he had done things for peace, therefore his death should not be used to justify the going to war. But since the word 'attack' is embedded in the NATO agreement, insofar all other members have to come to the rescue if one member has come under 'attack', use of this word took on a greater meaning than what was there in reality.

Now words in politics can alwazs be interpreted in many ways, but a deliberate distortion is a challenge which has to be answered with prudence, especially if going to war for the false reason is to be avoided. Only few NATO countries challenged this version of 'attack'. Consequently wars against Afghanistan and Iraq were launched although they amount to an act of taking revenge for having been 'attacked'. More so, by deploying convential troops to stage a war, it meant that entire civilian populations who had nothing to do with 911 where used as replacements for the 'invisible enemy' i.e. the terrorists and who stood behind them. It is afterall in the logicistics of any war fare that there has to be a tangible enemy for an army to shoot at. Otherwise it would be impossible to mobilize so many troops and have an entire country accept the war effort even if it drives the economy in the wrong direction. That then is called 'sacrifice' and often used to silence the critics. Consequently it matters not merely if certain words are silenced, but how words are used to justify the going to war even though there is no justification ever possible.

One person who made a brilliant analysis of use of language to install a totalitarian system is Jean Pierre Faye with his book about 'Totalitarian languages'. That includes as well the capacity to silence all other languages. Still Eastern Europe has made the experience that it is possible to undo totalitarian tendencies since resistence did come eventually.

In other words, if Boris Tissot wishes to underline the need for an artistic 'no' against war because language in general fails, then this thesis without further reflection will drive things in the wrong direction. It goes hand in hand with replacing the need for dialogue with artistic means in the vain hope that symbols and images would do a better job of communication. 911 is the proof of quite the opposite. The image of the Towers has been used as if self-evident that the United States has come under attack! If not questioned, and perceived in a very differentiated way, then it leads to war out of a lack of a human compassion for truth and language. Moreover, by driving everything towards the artistic side, he risks reproducing the split between the world of creativity and of productivity.

Moreover this drive towards an artistic expression stands completely in contradiction to what Boris Tissot acknowledged himself while visiting a children exhibition at the Museum for Children in Athens. There were on display all sorts of copies children had made of Picasso's work. Boris Tissot disagreed not only with the concept of having children copy Picasso, but more so with a notion of children being already artists. He saw this entailed by having an exhibition of their works in a museum since it would elevate children to the level of artists. Thus on two accounts it would be a mistake to articulate a simplistic 'no' against war if based on an adult version of such a no and to make out of children adult like artists.

To sum up, two main reasons can be given as to why the action in Picasso's atelier ended being more than just a disappointing failure:

  1. Once an artistic answer turns into being just an ideology, there shall be taken recourse to an oversimplified black-white moral scheme because of not being really convincing especially to the children themselves. Moreover the adults, not the children fall way behind Picasso's own sophisticated way of answering the brutality of war. Picasso did so by relating first of all to human pain and therefore expresses before anything else that all things are left in a broken state, including the sword. The latter can be taken already as a promising sign of salvation.
  2. Children should not to be pushed into being artists, and especially not to copy works by Picasso as if 'the' role model. There has to be realized that this entails a shift away from collective creativity as foreseen by Kids' Guernica. By not letting the children be free to paint together according to their own wishes and decisions, the interventions made by Boris Tissot and his team of collaborators provokes in reality a regression in terms of a creativity. It makes impossible the experience to be able to free the others from the fear not to be able to do something together especially on a canvas that size. What happened in Picasso's atelier is all the more ironic, given all the debates about art and creativity in the past. For instance, there was organized already in 1927 an exhibition by the Surrealists in Paris. They contrasted Picasso's "Women from Avignon" with their mask like faces due to use of Cubinism like lines with the carved masks brought from an African village. The contrast was meant to ask the question but what is creativity. In Western Society it is always linked with the individual artist who is like Picasso known to everyone. By contrast, the masks carved by anonymous individuals means a collective upholds creative achievements. Something similar Kids' Guernica strives for, insofar as the creative potential of working together is more important than the achievements of any individual.


It is doubtful that Boris Tissot remembers his own words while visiting the Museum for Children in Athens. At least, he showed no such awareness of being in contradiction to his own perception when he implemented the action in Picasso's atelier. It may explain why the Final Report ends up being but a clever way to conceal his own inconsistency and just seeks to rationalize something which cannot be really justified.

What Kids' Guernica has achieved so far is to link local actions with communities and in so doing develop by bringing together people of all ages a new notion of what entails creating conditions for peace. This includes friendship, trust and openness, so that others are not excluded. This inclusive practice was not evident in Picasso's atelier around end of October and beginning of November 2009. If that has been the case, then there is inherent the danger that a mere 'schizophrenia of peace' is being reproduced. Once practice and theory contradict each other then it is often the case that there is a lot of talk about peace while the real issues are never really tackled. Adults end up wondering why war continues but they never seem to realize that many a times this is because bad practices went unchallenged, so that a development could get out of hand and then not even a decisive 'no' would suffice to halt the going to yet another war.

V The Final Report

After the action was completed and countless opinions exchanged, Boris Tissot did produce his Final Report after having returned from the Kids' Guernica gathering in Florida in January 2010.

There are many omissions. For instance, no recognition is given to Jad Salman although he was there every day. Nor is mentioned the visit by Manual Gonzales although his story contributed a great deal to understanding Guernica.

One crucial point in the story told by Manuel Gonzales was the fact that a journalist had managed at that time to counter the propaganda of Franco who wanted to put the entire blame for the attack on the Left and thereby incriminate them. This kind of attempt to deceive people goes on all the time. Nowadays it is very much the case in Syria. Important is in this regard the crucial difference made by a free press and by having an eye witness. Horrific is the reporter's description that the bombardment of Guernica was done by three waves of different planes. It showed a real calculation of how people move and behave when attacked and the technical plan was obviously designed in such a way as to create maximum damage to innocent civilians. It was a most sinister plan designed by Richthofen who lived in now named Wroclaw, but was then still Breslau.

Like all children they listened carefully since any true story convinces them the most. They know the difference when being lied to and when not. The same went for Jad Salman telling them about his experiences during the Intifade in Palestine. The children thanked Manuel after he had told them the story by doing what is a most precious gift. They showed him what sketches they had done to prepare for the whole canvas.

Instead of paying some tribute to these two invaluable inputs, the report mentions only the two organizations and their representatives with whom Boris Tissot collaborated.

He also did not mention the presence of Hatto Fischer and Anna Arvanitaki, both from Poiein kai Prattein in Athens, Greece. This is all the more strange since Hatto Fischer is like Boris Tissot member of the International Kids' Guernica Committee. Usually evidence of international collaboration is shown to the public in order to underline the open character of Kids' Guernica. It could have demonstrated as welll the international support forthcoming.

A further question needs to be asked as to why Boris Tissot explicitly did not wish Hatto Fischer to be present when he gave press conferences or a film team came into the atelier? Surely such exclusion contradicts the policy Kids' Guernica has been practicing all along. It includes showing respect to other members whenever present.


Marie Claude

Also the report does not mention Marie Claude. It not good when due recognition is not given. It creates the illusion as if only the makers did everyhting all by themselves, without any further help. Marie Claude was fabulous how she conducted herself. She brought the children every morning, sat with them through all the sessions and afterwards took them home again. She had full responsibility for all of them all the time. She knew every child very well and some of them already for many years. Hence she could read and sense them. Consequently she suffered the most when she saw what they were going through. She became even object of an ungrateful criticism by Boris Tissot after the action was over. He chided her for siding with the group which tried to introduce another concept so that things were done differently especially with regards to the children. It was not hard, but soft criticism. Never did the critiques interfer directly with the action but sought to talk with Boris whenever there was given an opportunity. As Monique Kissel reports, Boris Tissot appeared to move towards a consensus when talking with the group but afterwards he went ahead by sticking to the method he had obviously agreed upon with his collaborators.

Boris Tissot disputed the criticism afterwards as not understanding the 'French way of doing things', and by this he meant those who are not at home in the French language would not know what relationship between instructor and children was being shaped in the course of the action. Yet Hatto Fischer was witness when one of the collaborators rushed over to a child holding a roller and was ready to apply a single paint onto the canvas. The collaborator simply tore the roller out of the hand of  child, perhaps out of fear that the child was about to do a mistake. Here Hatto Fischer did not hold back. He went over immediately to the man and told him "never to do that again!" He was at first startled that someone would intervene on behalf of the child, but then simply retorted, "but who are you to tell me what I should do?" He was the graphic designer who wished to control the entire process. When he was not for one day in the atelier, the children were not allowed to touch the canvas. Obviously Boris Tissot had not introduced Anna Arvanitaki and Hatto Fischer to the others, but left them standing on the sideline as if unwelcomed spectators. There was a simple ignoring their presence as if it did not matter to what took place in Picasso's atelier.

Anna Arvanitaki besides Jad Salman with children having lunch in Picasso's Atelier

A reason for this documentation is, therefore, to provide some evidence as to why this became a disputed action. Already to claim a special i.e. French way of doing would mean cultural relativism with the dangerous implication as was the case in Australia when Aborigenees were taken to court after having raped girls and them telling the judge he cannot judge their actions because he does not know their cultural customs. A similar case is the controversy around circumcision whether it constitutes a religious habit which parents of the Muslim or Jewish religion can impose upon their children or if it constitutes in fact 'bodily harm'. In a recent court case in Cologne, Germany, it was established that it was indeed an infliction of bodily harm when done on a minor. Indeed, any child not free to decide by itself has to be protected against such encroachments by adults whether done in the name of religion or of culture. Thus the real dispute about the action in Picasso's atelier in relation to the self understanding of Kids' Guernica is about the role of adults in the process. Formulated differently, it is a matter of principle that murals should be painted by children and therefore not be used by adults to execute the adults' points of views. After all Kids' Guernica is interested in how children and youth regard the chances for peace, and not what adults think. Boris Tissot thought otherwise for doing an action in Picasso's atelier meant for him to impose upon the children what they should do if they had the chance to enter Picasso's atelier. It meant sadly misusing Picasso as a kind of authority to stifle the children's freedom of expression.

Only black and white colours available

Interestingly enough the initial concept states that the children coming into Picasso's atelier have one advantage over Picasso; they do not need to become like children for they are children. A wonderful point to make. All the more it is a puzzle why the action was not planned accordingly? Why were the children not given the freedom to express themselves? Instead they were literally forced to learn what adults think about peace and war. They became victims of how adults know only to approach this topic, namely out of the failure to have avoided war, they wish for moral clarity when still innocent like a child. The outcome of this wish is a caricature of morality or rather a tight moral scheme of merely black and white with no grey shades in between.

Boris Tissot explains in his Final Report carefully the process the children were put through. Basically he overturns the original concept by declaring it was the intention to question all the common assumptions about children e.g. their love for colours and wish to be happy.

"When we think about children's art, we tend to make a number of assumptions.
For example, we assume children automatically express themselves freely.

It is also conventional to assume that children are "naturally artistic."

Thirdly, it is customary to do away with all limitations.

And lastly, according to custom, childhood is associated with cheery, bright colors.

But perhaps these widespread assumptions are wrong, and we need to get rid of them."

Source: Boris Tissot, Final Report

A clichee concept of the child is answered by still further going clichees. What makes it far worse is that instead of intending to make possible a true experience of collaborative learning when painting together on a canvas lying on the same floor where Picasso had put his to paint Guernica, Boris Tissot wants to prove the opposite. That means also the exclude the possibility to perceive the child as being both happy and sad, realistic and yet a dreamer. Important is to put this into a general context, for the discussion about what constitutes a child comes at a time when the digital age seems to suggest because children are faster in use of this media, they are adults already at the age of not 18, but 16, if not 14 or even 12. That has serious implications when it comes to child abuse or sex tourism inclined to use children. It is no longer an offense when doing it with an adult and therefore can be claimed to be consenting sex. There was even an attempt in the Cultural Committee of the European Parliament in 1999 to lower the age as to when a child is an adult, but then all NGOs, including amnesty international protested so much that they managed to persuade a mjority of MEPs and the age of 18 was kept.

But to step out of a cliche image of a child means to learn the use the colour grey the way Picasso added shades of grey between black and white, in order to break out of an over simplified black and white scheme. He did so in a most subtle way.

Boris Tissot had something else in mind. He wanted to question assumptions about the child and even suspend the difference between child and adult:

Why should the kids necessarily be these happy, innocent creatures they are generally held to be? Why shouldn't they be thinking persons capable of reflecting a profound, individual vision of the world? What would keep them from tackling the problems of humanity with sobriety and depth? For children are /indeed/ part of humanity. They are not a separate category, looking on at adult turpitudes. They participate in and share these turpitudes.”

Source: Boris Tissot, Final Report

By erasing the concept of the child as being something separate and apart from the adult, the action in Picasso's atelier was transformed into an experiment to prove the opposite case. It wanted to drive home deliberately another message and used children to do so. Important for Boris Tissot was that children share the fears and pains of adults, and thereby meant that children have to learn from adults on how to perceive the world with its wars.

VI 'Schizophrenia of peace'

It is never good to use children for experimental purposes or to instrumentalize them to say something the adults would not want to say directly by themselves. Like children being used as war soldiers, the action in Picasso's atelier came close to such perversion of what children stand for in the first place: innocence and willingness to give above all trust. Therefore, children have a readiness to believe that the adults mean well when they are asked to do certain things, they will even go far beyond themselves to just please the adults even they do not agree and sense something is wrong. This is why children are so vulnerable and can easily become victims of abuse of all kinds.

To interpret the motives of adults Freud can be used. Children in their innocence are not as of yet 'guilty' of war crimes or crimes against humanity. As such they stand to become critics of the adults for having failed to prevent war. Even though Freud replied in a letter to Einstein's question that he has no answer why violence, still psychoanalytic interpretation of the fears of adults of children can provide a key to understanding this complicated relationship. There is a tendency amongst adults to involve children in similar things so as to blend reality and the human demand for a liveable morality. As a matter of fact there is a conspiracy against truth by attempting to silence potential critics. The trick by which this is done can be explained on hand of the practices in Sparta of Ancient Greece. For a youth to become an adult and be admitted into the circle of the elders, he had to go through a certain test. He had to live for three days amidst the slaves on the outskirts of the Polis and then before leaving kill one of the slaves. The test was to make the escape before the other slaves would kill him. Once back and taken into the circle of the elders, the deed to prove his maturity meant in reality to silence him as critic. He could not accuse the others of having killed a slave. Often adults entangle children rather than making sure they do not repeat the same mistake. It takes another greatness to wish the child to become not only better than what one has been throughout life, but also to accept this challenge by not wishing to prove that the goodness of humanity has no chance to exist. There are many kinds of fallacies which adults wish to prove over and again to their children growing up often in a most confused world, but then the most difficult thing to see through is the kind of 'corruption of the mind' which rationalizes failures and mistakes to the point of not wishing to draw any consequences.

Children are willing to go a long way to please but in this case resistance came as well. It came in the form that some children, among them the best painter at school, no longer showed up the next day. And 'aesthetics of resistance' (Peter Weiss) was fully expressed when they painted in secret, that is out of sight of Boris Tissot and his collaborators, a second, smaller mural. Compared to black and white large mural, this one is full of colours and it shows children holding hands. They form a circle as sign of friendship they were just experiencing by doing something subversive together. A greater story could not have emerged out of Picasso's atelier, as this smaller parallel action challenges the version Boris Tissot seeks to portray in his Final Report.

In short, Boris Tissot makes statements in his Final Report as if seemingly unaware that he had in the original concept embraced Picasso's concept of a child. Naturally he knew what Kids' Guernica stands for, and yet he decided to challenge everything this despite him staying on as member of the international committee. As a matter of fact, he used that official role once again when organizing with Gabriele Felder a Kids' Guernica exhibition at the Gernica museum and this without notifying anyone else from Kids' Guernica.

There is one plausible explanation for such an odd behavior. The fact that Boris Tissot aspires to be an artist e.g. his work of chairs covered with sugar means he knows how to communicate with audiences. For instance, in China he created a table out of good chocolate and then let the audience take home pieces thereof. He smiled when recollecting how many Chinese came with their paper bags to collect as much chocolate for it was a very good one he had used. But despite being an artist, he works like a civil servant for the Centre Pompidou. The latter is in the global business of art. Especially under Sarkozy's Presidency the Centre had to turn into a profit making cultural enterprise. It meant exporting exhibitions which Boris Tissot would accompany to explain them and in cases where interactions were involved, to curate them. Maybe the fault line lies in this double role he has to play in life. As an artist he is not completely free to persue his own artistic bent. As a cultural worker to earn his money he has to do things what the director tells him to do. As a matter of fact a cultural industrial complex like the Centre Pompidou is at the risk of denying any artistic freedom even though they stage fantastic exhibitions. Thus he may lose out on both, the artist in him and the curator he has to be. Since neither are really satisfactorily fulfilled, he has to look for compensation. That may explain his strange behavior towards Kids' Guernica and what he displayed in Picasso's atelier.

"With the “Centre Paris-Lecture” and “Fabrication Maison”, what was the goal of the Kids Guernica workshop in Paris? Our goal was to develop the children's freedom of observation, in order to sharpen their understanding of the world, their awareness of peace and the need to defend one's convictions while working to resolve conflicts with other people's opinions. To stimulate their imagination and desire to make things, to incite critical thought by validating the children's personal experience as expressed in talking, writing, drawing we can see in the 3 journals… and, in the end one painting "Guernica, a painting which screams." There were no right or wrong answers. The idea was to find one of the possible responses, and actually we found as many responses as there were children in the group."

Source: Boris Tissot, Final Report

Certainly by making the children focus on Picasso's Guernica, while seeking to elevate their work to that of an 'artistic no' against war, the other half reflects a loss of words in not understanding that in today's world everyone has to deal with a 'schizophrenia of peace'. Already Bunel in his film 'the obscure object of desire' had tried to illustrate the dilemma of the bourgeoisie mentality seeking pleasure in shopping malls fit for Walter Benjamin's key figure, the 'Flaneur' who does nothing but walk up and down to suit the idle times of consumption. But besides the shop window depicting the bed clothe with stains of blood to indicate a woman has lost her virginity during that wedding night, a bomb suddenly goes off. Terror in midst of a city which had till that moment not given even a remote thought to war thought to be elsewhere. 911 was already a shock for it ended the myth of the United States being a safe haven for all those refugees once they are past that Statue of Liberty at the entrance to New York harbor.

What the mural amounts to is neither a scream as depicted in Picasso's Guernica or a convincing 'no' to war. This is because the children were not really free to explore. Their own, very soft little mural is by comparison a much more convincing acclaim that through affirming beauty, expressed especially by the tones of colour, it is possible to say 'no'. The black-white version is simply a flat composition of a graphic designer so that the canvas has not been touched by the soul of the little giants.

Conclusion: what lessons to be learned?

There are some crucial lessons to be learned from what Boris Tissot did or did not with the children in Picasso's atelier back in 2009. It includes his wish to question the predominent concept of children within Kids' Guernica e.g. their love of colours or being as talented as Picasso says children are. Prior to anything else, it puts into focus the question but what role may an adult assume vis a vis children when entering such a painting process?

Other lessons can include a more precise reference as to what happened in Guernica. Since 1937 a lot has happened, alone Kids' Guernica points to the fact that besides Guernica, there are now Hiroshima and Nagasaki to remember. How then to view this event out of a contemporary perspective? A reconstruction of the events in Guernica 1937 can point out how crucial is a free press, in order not to fall victim to simple or at times very sophisticated propraganda tricks. Franco did try to blame the Left for the burning of Guernica and nearly got away with it, had it not been for the journalist Steer who happened to be in Guernica at the time of the attack from the air.

For sure, Kids' Guernica is not just about painting a peace mural. That is but the beginning of understanding of a peace process. It takes a lot more to halt violence, for instance, in the Middle East. Practically positions have to be taken wherever injustices are inflicted and that means as well to speak up in public. Always exists the constant risk that adults abuse their power over children. The long history of child abuse underlines that. Silence is itself a problem not only for the victims but as well for the perpetrators and those who knowingly prefer to keep quiet, lest the institution risks to lose in reputation. Again when linked to war, there is as well the problem of child soldiers. However, when referring to traumatic experiences of those who lived through war, it seems adults are by far more vulnerable compared to children who can retain in their innocent interest in just play and food some distance to all the atrocities committed due to war. At least, it is of interest to read in the account of Moltke about the Kreisau initiative, that her children were more interested in getting on with their daily lives than be really distracted. Innocence is linked in that case with an open attitude towards the other on a non discriminatory basis.

Poster in Picasso's atelier

As to Picasso's Guernica, the painting stands for a special artistic position Picasso took towards war. By contrast when Kids' Guernica refers to Picasso's painting and lets children pain peace messages on a canvas of the same size, it claims with its actions it would be doing something more. It would not merely say 'no' to war, but be doing something practical for peace. At least, the core of this claim rests on what such an action allows, namely children making an experience while expressing their desire for peace. Practically this entails a much greater span of interest than what Picasso faced or had in mind. However, taking recourse to making possible 'experiences' as if enough, risks to leave much unsaid. That would be the case if Kids' Guernica is satisfied with the experiences which have been made so far and continues to claim repeatedly in public how wonderful it is when children express their desire for peace. While children can claim innocence, adults involved in the Kids' Guernica process cannot afford such political naivity.

Too often when claims are made to do something in the name of peace, naivity comes into play especially when everything exhausts itself in symbols and images as if for peace. In practice things look differently. That has been repeatedly the downfall of various kinds of peace movements e.g. the German Green Party belonged to the world wide peace movement, but once for the first time in government Joschka Fischer as first Green foreign minister embraced the bombardment of Kosovo and justified it as a 'humanitarian act' since meant to stop the genocide going on in former Yugoslavia.

The peace movement could also not prevent the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. One needs to remember only the huge demonstration in London prior to that date, but once Great Britain had joined the USA in its invasion of Iraq that protest went silent. Today the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are still raging on although they have been declared at different times to be either humanitarian assistance or else over, but never has been the military presence of Western troops in that region been really resolved.

Indeed, nowadays many countries are perhaps even further away from peace than ever before. the Middle East is still a minefield of misunderstandings while the Palestinians suffer due a wall cutting through their land and separating farmers from their land. Moreover future wars are in the making due to so many seeds for future conflicts having been sown. That may be due to corruption leaving people without any proper governance. At the same time the desire for revenge has been strengthened by many kinds of inflicted injustices, Syria but the latest example in what amounts to civil war and the ruling out of any reconciliation in near future. As Tony Blair pointed out in a recent interview with CNN (26.7.2012), the factor religion plays today a much more decisive role as underlined by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He went on to say crucial for the future would be to ensure open minds which recognize new developments and can respond to all kinds of challenges. That would include the ability to retranslate threats into challenges and to further public truth within public spaces to which everyone has access. However besides saving lives against extremists still wishing to leave a message by letting another bomb go off or who do not shy away from making death threats to their critics, as experienced by Salmun Rushdie and many other artists, there is now the ethical issue of attacks by drones. The collatoral damages they inflict may be even greater than what is their purpose. For during these attacks innocent by-standers, civilians including women and children are simply killed and all is justified in terms of security linked to an equally hard to define threat called 'terrorism'. Still, these are attacks from the air like was the case in Guernica 1937 but needless to say the conditions of 'war and peace' have dramatically changed since then.

Thus, Kids' Guernica must be careful if these pitfalls of naivity are to be avoided. While it is important to let children experience what it means to paint together a mural the size of Picasso's Guernica, that should not be taken as being already sufficient as an expression of peace, and nothing more needs to be said. Thus while a mayor of a local community may smile at the opening of a Kids' Guernica exhibition since everything looks so fine and everybody is happy, still the hard questions need to be posed. In other words, if these questions are to be posed, then the experiences made can be at best a starting base for further going steps towards peace e.g. a new kind of diplomacy from below. That means why war continues needs to be posed and the experiences made not left outside the realm of open reflections. Otherwise Kids' Guernica would risk that too much what would need to be said is kept below public articulation, and as a matter of fact in 'silence'. How crucial this has just been demonstrated in what unravelled in Japan after disaster struck on March 3, 2011. An official report about the reasons for the disaster at Fukushima calls aside from technical and political faults a 'collective obedience' as something in need to be questioned. Political accountability goes hand in hand with people willing to speak out in public the truth, even if unpleasant and therefore a challenge to the entire system. That is crucial for otherwise too much of the language can transform the demand for truth into a justification of 'public lie' because no one wishes to hear the truth.

It goes without saying that no mural painted by children should be either measured by Picasso's form of expression. Moreover, painting of a peace message cannot be simplified into a moralistic one as if that is already a solution to war. Making such a claim would lead merely to a confusion between aesthetics and ethics, and oversimplify a complex process in need to be gone through before there can be reached a reasonable degree of competence when it comes to speak about peace. Alone the failure of the United Nations in Syria in 2012 shows how difficult is world governance for the sake of peace.

Nevertheless Picasso did something remarkable with his Guernica. His way of grappling with the issue, or how he painted things by using a unique combination of language he learned from Cubinism, that allowed him to transcend the usual ideological positions of his time. Picasso's Guernica expresses therefore still today something on behalf of humanity. That is taking sides with those who have been wounded and want to cry but have not the means to express their pain. Guernica was painted in 1937. When showed for the first time in Paris, the mural was very much criticized by the Left for not being anti-Fascistic enough and by the Right for not upholding heroic deeds. It takes courage to seek an independent form of expression from all kinds of political wishes to appropriate something for the sake of gaining power, but not for standing on the side of humanity.

Naturally Kids' Guernica has developed its own aesthetical self-understanding over time. It has done so in the wake of a huge confidence that only children can have. They can and do make a difference on the world is to be regarded. They stay still optimistic despite of all the wars happening around them all the time. Children pick up important details and develop out of them the strength to articulate something beautiful. For when they express something, they do so with a touch of their soul and in all honesty to remind in the world, there is after all some liveable truth and a wonderful beauty. Not to forget the existence of beauty in the world is already a part of any resistance against all kinds of negativities, including the one claiming the world is only dominated by war.

Details of the mural painted in Picasso's atelier

Details matter such as when children hold hands despite of all the negativities surrounding them. Therefore it might not be coincidental that there can be found in the vicinity a crazy, equally lovely sort of cross-like ghost! A poet like Ritsos would attribute this sense of freedom to a kind of personally lived craziness, one which does not follow the usual logic and does not succumb to the normal order of things. It all ties together with the knowledge that only when details are taken care of, then there is a chance for break-through, some success. A smile across a tightly controlled border can begin a new bridge of communication. Kevin Cooper, photo journalist who has gone through the conflicts in Northern Ireland, emphasizes that it matters to show a human understanding of the conflict.

Thus it matters when someone tries in the name of Kids' Guernica to do something with children in the very same atelier where Picasso created Guernica. The dispute stems from the fact that Boris Tissot tried to do it alone, without any collaboration whatsoever with other members of Kids' Guernica, even though this collaboration was very different at the outset i.e. existed potentially. In attempting to exclude others, his action missed completely the point. By wishing to challenge the basic assumptions of Kids' Guernica, he empowered a graphic designer to predetermine and to control how the children should express themselves.

Literally speaking, Boris Tissot may have hoped by letting the children follow the path of Picasso, that their wish for peace could be transformed into an artistic 'no' against war. In order to do this, he made two major mistakes: children were to be artists with focus on Guernica and he discouraged them by ranking Picasso's expression higher than theirs. By elevating Guernica into a general symbol of war, any expression of war thereof would be by necessity if not abstract (Paul Klee), then a mere composition of symbols and images derived from Picasso. It was predictable that this would led to a complete lack of self-expression by the children themselves.

By comparision, concrete where the stories the children heard from Jad Salman about his experiences of the Intifada in Palestine and from Manuel Gonzales about his father who was evacuated from Guernica when a child. Why the theme of a missing dialogue in the Middle East or of migrant children - Paris was full of such stories, and amongst the children who came into the atelier, some had parents without any legal documents - was not taken up, that is a mystery. Most likely the chance of doing something in Picasso's atelier was too tempting but also very frightening if not able to leave a mark. Alone that fear made everything much tighter than what would have been a wonderful chance to do something with 34 children.

By forcing the children to focus solely on Guernica as symbol of war, and even let them make copies of the sketches hanging in the atelier, Boris Tissot and his collaborator misunderstood completely Picasso's intention and did no justice to Kids' Guernica.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 28.7.2012

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