Michael Haerdter


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 either–or, 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.


First 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", Berlin’s "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 history.
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 our world.

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.


Second 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 into practice:

an international artists´ residency and project workshop for the arts.

nstlerhaus – 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.

3 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.

4 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.

5 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.

Naturally, 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.


Third 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 War II.
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 first time.
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 to come.
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.

You will find detailed information on Res Artis and the Künstlerhaus Bethanien under