Since that fateful day, September 11, 2001, when the 21st century announced
its arrival, quite literally like a bombshell, we have been hearing the
message that nothing in the future will be as it was in the past. In fact,
the events that shocked the world last year represent one of those historical
moments that open people´s eyes. As if a curtain had suddenly been
torn apart, we find ourselves looking on a world that seems different,
although its mutation has been going on for a long time. For years there
has been talk of a paradigm shift. Now it has happened.
The dual world order has come to an end. More than ever we are becoming
aware that the world is one, and that in one way or another the many ongoing
conflicts, and major political or economic decisions, do affect mankind
across all borders. The world reveals itself to everybody as a huge network
whose rule is interdependence. Despite the war on terrorism and the menace
of a US raid on Iraq, there are strong arguments against the prophecy
of a war between cultures. The coming world order will be one of global
alliances, coalitions and partnerships.
What does this little sketch of the current world situation have in common
with the artist-in-residence movement? A great deal, in fact. Art, the
arts and the artists do not exist in a no man´s land. They live
and function in the midst of everyday life, in close relation to society
and politics. They are art and part of our global history.
Let me call upon a prominent witness, a sensitive spirit who became aware
early on of the rise of a new canon, and how intimately this is linked
with art history. 75 years ago, in 1927, Vassily Kandinsky published a
little essay under the German title und (and). The artist explains that,
while the spirit of the 19th century was eitheror, the 20th century
would be governed by and. He was wrong only in the timing of the new paradigm.
We had to wait until the end of the century to experience the collapse
of the dual world order. Today, Kandinsky´s message becomes fully
evident: it announces a world marked by openness and difference, its code
words being the coexistence of cultures and values, their diversity, and
eventually their synthesis. Uncertainty is, once again, our fate. And,
hopefully, we will see the end of hegemonic claims sooner or later, since
nobody is in possession of the exclusive truth.
This essay is divided into three parts. In part one I invite you to follow
me through a short retrospective of the history of art and ideas during
the modernist period, which will lead us up to the creation of artist-in-residence
programmes and centres as one historical consequence. In the second part,
I shall present the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, the artslab and residency
that I started together with some friends and artists some 30 years ago,
as an example. The third part will give an idea of the new phenomenon
of cultural networks and transnational networking, focussing on Res Artis,
the International Association of Residential Arts Centres.
part: A historical retrospective
Modernism in the strict sense of the word, although it presupposes
centuries of incubation begins around mid-18th century with the
events leading up to the French Revolution. We can imagine the radical
shock felt by those who experienced and survived this radical turning
point in history. God was at last declared dead, religion abolished, a
new calendar established, democratic structures installed... For the liberated
men and women of the people, the most momentous gift of that Age of Reason
was perhaps "freedom" itself liberté. In contrast
to their former transcendental security, they found themselves alone in
the face of eternity. Not least the artist was henceforth left to his
own devices when it came to inventing world, including the world beyond.
It is therefore no surprise that the clock of history was soon turned
back, and that restoration flourished throughout Europe, its keywords
being romanticism and idealism. The first decades of the 19th century
saw the birth of the modern art museum, a fusion of romanticism, idealism
and that new invention, nationalism. For audiences, the terms "art"
and "museum" have been largely synonymous ever since art was
first presented to them in those imposing buildings of the bourgeois era
Museum der Schönen Künste, Musée des Beaux Arts,
Museum of Fine Arts, Museo delle Belle Arti, National or State Gallery
etc. What is truly astonishing is that this form of spiritual intercourse
between artists and their audiences proved so fruitful that museum builders
have not been short of work at any time since.
What is art for the art museum? A most important phase in the history
of museum art took place in Berlin with the creation of the "Altes
Museum", Berlins "Old Museum", by the romantic architect
and painter Karl Friedrich Schinkel. He erected his stately museum in
the style of a large Greek temple right opposite the city´s central
royal palace. A prestigious building on a prestigious site, opened to
the public in 1830, Schinkel´s idea was to combine art and architecture
in an exalted unity. At the very heart of the museum is the "Sanktuarium"
the sanctuary a wide, dome-shaped rotunda where a phalanx
of monumental classical sculptures are bathed in diffused light from overhead
from the heavens. Indeed, the museum was to be the church of a
new religion with art as its symbol, a place that would make the visitor
receptive to an absolute spirit, where the visitor could perceive the
aura that surrounds perfect works of art sculptures and paintings
of classical beauty.
The leading mind behind this admirable remaking of a lost tradition, behind
the establishment of Schinkel´s and later museums of the modernist
period, was the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, who held his renowned lectures
on aesthetics at the university of Berlin between 1823 and 1829, the very
years when the museum was being conceived and built. Schinkel belonged
to Hegel´s Berlin circle of friends. The philosopher of transcendental
modernism interpreted history as the continuous self-realisation of the
absolute spirit. This is commonly translated into the modernist idea of
progress. Hegel taught indeed that a new Golden Age would be realized
in the here-and-now. In his universe, art was assigned a prominent role:
it was to give people a foretaste of the Garden of Eden and a world beyond.
In this way, the history of art was transformed into a variation on sacred
Modern art historians are well aware of the enormous impact that Hegel´s
philosophy together with Kant´s theory of the beautiful,
the sublime and the artist-genius has had on the metaphysical branch
of modern art up to the end of the 20th century. The influence on the
meta-languages of Euro-American abstraction or abstract expressionism,
and on the idea of art as an autonomous phenomenon, is evident. Yet the
most significant manifestation of the spiritual in art is the worldwide
spread of art museums as temples built for eternity to house artefacts
of eternal value; sanctuaries or churches, created in an attempt to heal
a broken tradition. Isn´t that a most intriguing example of myth-making?
Or less respectfully speaking a remarkably consistent lie?
Modernism was dominated by the either-or how right Kandinsky was!
It was an age torn by mental, physical and social conflicts, an age of
schisms and ruptures. This duality is also implied in the popular distinction
between centre and periphery. The international art scenes and art markets
refer to the centre by a more august term: mainstream. The periphery,
on the other hand, is perhaps better described as a vast field where a
multitude of the most diverse, heterogeneous, cosmopolitan and utopian
movements in art and life have been putting up their flags since roughly
the end of the 19th century.
I am speaking of that feature of modernism which we might call the alternative
tradition. It has manifested itself in countless variations, let us say,
for the sake of simplicity, since the famous artists´ Secession
(or Sezession) in Berlin and Vienna. One can also speak of a tradition
of artistic freedom. It was alternative to the extent that it stood in
conscious opposition to museum art. It unmasked the fictional character
of the latter and did away with national borders, whereas museum art defined
itself nationally. Painting and sculpture receded into the background
in favour of the contemporary media photography and film, thus allowing
artists to interact closely with their times and with society. Collective
creativity inspired individual creativity in movements such as Bauhaus
or the New Dance. One leading figure of oppositional modernism was Marcel
Duchamp, to whom art was not a thing, an object, let alone one of eternal
value, but a medium for conveying ideas, knowledge, feelings. Although
the alternative tradition is haunted by the vision of utopia, by this
time we are on the threshold of realism, of ideas oriented toward social
life and the future; the realm of truth as opposed to beauty, as it has
also been defined. Truly, the world had not been transformed into Hegel´s
Garden of Eden.
In the sixties and seventies of last century, the cause of this alternative
tradition defined by some as a post-modernism avant la lettre
won new élan. There is hardly anything that had not been thought
of or done before albeit under other conditions and names: Fluxus
and Performance Art, Happening and Actionism; the wide variety of media
and the mixture of disciplines; the move to make art dynamic and temporary
in situational art and in art installations; the crossing of boundaries
between art and life, art and society, art and science; the praxis of
using everyday, poor materials arte povera; the idea of the context
as artistic material contextual art; and art reduced to the idea
itself conceptual art. Experimentation and transnational cooperation
are again up-to-date. Above all, art is no longer seen as something pleasant
at a remove from our daily lives, but rather as an instrument of cognition,
of questioning, of irritation against the background of our permanently
incomprehensible existence, and not least as a means of improving or humanizing
It goes without saying that the origin and global expansion of artist-in-residence
programmes and centres form an integral part of the alternative tradition
of societal and artistic modernism. This is due, firstly, to a shift in
our perception of the world, and accordingly to a change
in our social and mental identity.
A central keyword of our time is mobility. Nothing new in that: in retrospect,
the 20th century is marked by the massive expulsions of people from their
homes and countries, by an endless stream of displaced persons and refugees,
by ethnic cleansing, by political and economic migration and by growing
tourism as an ongoing phenomenon. Kandinsky´s world of the and is
inhabited by wanderers between cultures, by transcultural migrants. Whatever
the motives or the crimes involved, humans might once again be acting
in accordance with the inveterate urge of their genes: Sedentariness,
Hans Magnus Enzensberger states, does not belong to the genetically rooted
qualities of mankind... Our primary existence is that of hunters, collectors
and shepherds ("Die Große Wanderung"). It is 100,000 years
very roughly speaking since homo sapiens began his great
migration to explore and exploit the earth. Compare that with 10,000 years
of settled life as farmers and cattle breeders. It is tempting to believe
that the genetic memory of our erstwhile nomadic existence is responsible
for a powerful new paradigm, for a fundamental shift in the world machinery.
The French author Michel Tournier considers Robinson Crusoe to be our
great modern myth. In his rewriting of the Robinson story he chose Friday,
the friendly savage, as its central figure: guide and midwife in the birth
of a new human being of global origin.
Many contemporary artists are rightly counted among these newborn beings,
whom we could call postmodern nomads. They have left behind lonely studios
and returned to the market places of the world. Amidst the here-and-now,
many are discovering the influence of social and political factors, of
human relations, in the making of art. Instead of creating eternal values
destined for the art museum, postmodern art-making is a means of communication,
often employing provocative concepts, objects and installations. No longer
spending a lifetime to perfect his or her style, the new artist may be
seen as a mediator of our complex reality, a partner in dialogue among
an audience of equals, a provider of symbolic services on a difficult
mission. The artist as a transcultural messenger should be capable of
responding to and formally mastering an existential situation anywhere
and at any moment of his or her life. That is why art today is predominantly
interventionist and temporary in character and why, indeed, it may happen
anywhere. The studio of the postmodern artist is the world.
Mobility, globality and temporality central codes of our present
time are responsible for the creation of their own cultural expressions
and forms. It is in this context that artists´ residencies arise.
They are the answer to a new global demand. Residential art institutes
or artist-in-residence centres are a response to the needs of artists
and intellectuals to experience the world and to participate temporarily
in creative communities, so as to profit from the opportunities they offer
to exchange ideas and know-how among like-minded individuals, and from
the attendant promotion and public relations.
part: Close-up of an artist-in-residence centre
Let me now draw your attention to a practical example of an artist-in-residence
centre: the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. This institution celebrated
its 25th anniversary two years ago, happy to have survived so far as one
of the world´s very first artist-in-residence centres, and proud
to have served as a model to a good number of newly founded centres and
programmes during those years.
In conceiving the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in the early seventies,
we deliberately planned to link up with and carry on the alternative tradition
which began its revival after the Nazi repression, not least in Berlin,
one of its focal points.
I shall give a condensed survey of the scheme that was subsequently put
international artists´ residency and project workshop for the arts.
Artists House is a studio and workshop complex that
provides artists from all over the world young artists in particular
with space, time, financial and technical support during the critical
development phase of a new work, a new project. In other words, it is
designed as a place of art production, not of representation.
2 In the conviction that the arts are not bound by national borders,
the Artists House serves as a transnational artslab open to creative
men and women of whatever origin, in order to stimulate transcultural
communication and exchange.
Using a term coined by the artist Renée Green, the house functions
as a contact zone between the artists and their audiences, as a place
open to dialogue, interaction, confrontation, a forum not only for the
residents, but also for projects planned by the Künstlerhaus team
or invited from outside and abroad.
The Künstlerhaus is a playground and stage for, ideally, all artistic
disciplines: the visual arts, including the new media, film/video and
photography; theatre, dance and music; performance art; architecture and
urban planning. This programme
involves the interaction of the disciplines: interdisciplinarity.
Finally, the Artists´ House is a think-tank where art-making in
our present time and world is questioned and reflected upon: seminars,
symposia, writing and publishing are integral elements of the workshop.
we had to cope with a number of problems. For example, it was far from
easy to maintain the balance between the two aspects of the Künsterhaus
that we called the cloister and the market place. Cloister signifies the
necessary seclusion and privacy of the resident artists and their individual
studios; market place signifies the openness of the house and the continuous
presentation of exhibitions and performances in its public spaces, not
least of works by the resident artists.
part: On networks and networking
Think global, act local this somewhat banal slogan may serve as
a heading for the third part of this essay. The glocal idea has been put
into effect worldwide and in various fields. It also stands for the policy
and the activities of the many artist-in-residence programmes and centres
which have been created all over the world, mostly during the past decade.
We are indeed experiencing a global boom in newly created artist-in-residence
centres and programmes, a response, it has been said, to the need of the
artist-nomad to experience the world, to the need for transcultural communication
and exchange, and certainly to the fact that the contemporary arts have
adopted what Kobena Mercer once called diasporic aesthetics.
Networks are not a new phenomenon. On the communal, regional or national
levels they have always existed. Of newer origin are international networks
serving political or economic goals. Transnational networking among cultural
agents and institutes is a fairly new phenomenon that began post World
By early 1993, when a group of directors of artists´ residencies
launched their international network at Bethanien, many cultural organizations
had already founded networks. These even had their first umbrella organization,
the Forum of European Cultural Networks, a network of networks. Res Artis
(meaning, the cause of art) the name adopted for our own association
in 1995 or in full, International Association of Residential Arts
Centres, was created by 21 centres and programmes that were invited to
Berlin from France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands,
the United States, Poland, Spain and Switzerland, and assisted by representatives
of the Council of Europe and the Association FranVaise d´Action
Artistique (AFAA). Res Artis was a response to the need felt by our founding
members for such an organisation, and to the impulse of a constant influx
of new members. At present these account for more than 200 centres. The
network has rapidly grown into a global congregation of members that currently
represent 53 countries. Res Artis is a nodal point where artists, intellectuals
and managers in the art field can come together on a large scale for the
My experience as president of Res Artis for several years taught me that
our network is composed of as many singular characters as there are members.
Although they all follow the common principles of hosting international
artists on limited term stays, although many have set up multi- or interdisciplinary
programmes, and although many have established themselves in recycled
former industrial sites, hospitals or castles etc. no two centres
are really alike. Each has its own individual history, prestige and charm.
One obvious distinction between our member centres has to do with the
quality and mode of their funding. There are poor and wealthy ones, some
disposing of ample public or private funds, many depending on shaky public
grants, others again that have to rely on irregular sponsoring or even
on their own earned income. In any case, in contrast to mainstream cultural
institutions, public funding to say nothing of adequate public
funding is, as everywhere in the alternative field, a rare exception.
Considering their substantial contribution to the promotion of the arts
and artists and to contemporary cross-border cultural exchange, some rethinking
of the official criteria for and objectives of their funding is desirable.
Unlike conventional or mainstream cultural institutions, which are primarily
determined from the outside by tradition, representative buildings,
visitor frequencies, considerations of public or national esteem etc.
the value and authority of networks are essentially determined
from within, by the commitment and activities of their members, by their
individual abilities and persuasions, which are what generate both the
coherence and the output of a network. In other words, the virtues of
a network can best be defined as interpersonal and dynamic, horizontal
and non-hierarchic, flexible and democratic. Not least they include the
absence of hegemonic claims and an ability to learn and change. It is
precisely these qualities that will constitute civil society in the years
We do not know what surprises the future holds. The only certainty is
that everything is in motion. Discontinuity is our modern and postmodern
fate. That is to say that the arts continue to change. So too, therefore,
does the art institution. The art museum has also entered a state of mutation,
which is transforming it into a forum for communication between artists
and their audiences. Remarkably, some museums have adopted the artist-in-residence
scheme, providing studios for short-term artist guests. This shows the
validity of the residential idea, as well as being further evidence of
the fact that former oppositions are smoothing out. I am convinced that
the open, flexible, transnational structures of artist-in-residence centres
are suitable to serve the arts in whatever directions they may develop
in the future.
will find detailed information on Res Artis and the Künstlerhaus