Contemporary Peace/Contemporary Art: A New Look Into The Future
This proposal focuses on Peace and explores the concept through four artists. Leonard Lehrer is an American Artist and renowned Educator with a long-standing international reputation particularly in Italy, Germany and America. Hedy Maimann, Ephraim Moskovics and Daniel Shaked are based in Vienna and have been active in art education. All have a Jewish background, however, this latter point is only part of what they are saying. Each artist is speaking to humanity as a whole. Leonard Lehrer echoed this by saying, ‘That the principals happen to be Jewish only reinforces the universality of any one group’. In turn; every artist reveals the concept of Peace in their own way either through photography and/or painting showing that there can be diversity and universality existing simultaneously. By presenting these it could be the Kunsthalle may wish to have the Peace theme repeated each year (or every other year) featuring a different cultural group.
Why have an exhibition on Peace?
In an age of postmodernism, pluralism, identity politics, feminism, post-colonialism-peace and understanding through art are the underrated component of genuine intercultural respect and consideration.
The aim of this exhibition is to enable an appreciation of diversity within different communities, so that tolerance can be maintained, understanding can be reached and information flow between communities can increase.
This year I look around at the different happenings in relation to Peace: 2008 is the year of intercultural dialogue; there is reform in education bringing together different education systems with one school; it is the 60th Anniversary of Israel-in Vienna an emerging representation of Israel will no longer be subject to negativity. Israel, like many other places, is about understanding, diversity and peace.
"Syria is not concerned with Israeli (policy) but with peace and achieving it by the shortest route," the editorial said. By changing the representation of what we see on the outside, we can change what is happening on the inside.
The Deputy Minister to Israeli Mission remarked on the constant stream of conflict from Israel. What about beauties and treasures Israel hosts, what of laughter and peace? Through art, that is where we see all these facets of society.
This was echoed by an Italian critic at a press conference prior the opening of Leonard Lehrer’s exhibition. At which time he stood up and extolled his work calling it a new and very positive option (he used the word “serene”) in contemporary art and that these were the first fresh images of American art we have seen in many years.
With these editor’s bites, I see how ‘Peace’ as a concept is the bridge of understanding and symbol of hope to take us to the other side.
This is an exhibition that is offering up a view of a cultural group and how they seem to be represented, not based on their ethnicity, but on their diversity. It cannot be that stereotypes persist. What is within a community, any community, is rich and diverse, with borders that are defined and redefined on a regular basis, as what we see here; it only needs the veil of prejudice to be lifted.
This is so that any community or cultural group is seen as being defined and redefined on a regular basis.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche said that madness is not uncertainty, but it is certainty. This maxim leads us to recognise that this exhibition is not trying to promote an absolute or essential ism of Jewish ethnicity, neither is it seeking to concretize peace and say “this is it”! Rather, this exhibition is offering us a chance for spectators to become participants and to say “what is it now and what could it be”? In that way I wish to offer a series of conversations. These conversations should be allowing a space for people to discuss peace. Who are we-as curators and artists to say this way or that? It is part of evolution to explore these concepts.
There is a need for real dialogue, and a positive option in contemporary art that is exploring harmony not dislocation.
Continuing Dialogue and reference to social issues
It might be possible to schedule a few days for speakers, a conference of two days, to discuss Peace as a concept in relation to exhibited work and furthermore, future directions. How Peace and diversity through universality can become more pervasive across society. Kunsthalle could produce a catalogue or publish the conference papers. A possible title for such a conference might be: Contemporary Peace/Contemporary Art: A New Look Into The Future. This would emphasise that the theme is not about simply being Jewish. The exhibition and conference would illustrate exactly that point. It is through the arts that we can best grasp the culture of others and this has to be seen as a major step towards overcoming our collective horrific history.
This proposal emanates from Intercultural Art Education project here in Vienna that piloted in February-June and continues in September through a series of art workshops. This is fully endorsed by EDUCULT in the Museums Quartier, Stadtshulrat and the Education ministry. Furthermore, the project won an award from the Interkulturelle Zentrum to continue in September linking with Budapest and Satu Mare.
These aims were reached through the thematic connections that run through the workshops. These are community, ritual, inclusion and exclusion, diversity, stereotypes, memory, photography, narrative/storytelling, identity and tradition and finally but no means least: Peace.
Why these artists?
All these artists have been involved in education with Leonard Lehrer guiding the light as Dean of Columbia College, Chicago and over five decades as a painter, master print maker and teacher. So all the artist’s approach has a strong mark of responsibility for a generation who is growing-up in a confusing landscape full of change. There is definite truth to what and how these artists are presenting their work. This is opposite to obscure representations of Jewish communities often seen in contemporary art, to shock, titillate or for fetish purposes. Here these artists move away from this, revealing diversity that exists within and beyond for future generations.
As a starting point, the idea that Judaism is all about suffering and negativity is a fallacy. Perhaps where misunderstanding falls is that Judaism is seen to embrace suffering, but it does so, so that it can be transformed into peace and unity, away from separation and suffering. This is evident in Leonard Lehrer’s Kaddish that is the supplication for peace. Through words, mourning is transformed into an intense feeling of joy and celebration.
Views of Paradise
Unity is further evident in Lehrer’s work revealing historically, intermingling of religions through representations of Alhambra. By bringing history to present, we can re-imagine emerging places and people-Israel stands as a flagrant example. By re-representing what we see on the inside, we can turn what is happening on the outside to a more positive future.
This means looking beyond what is on the surface. If disillusion is our current climate, Lehrer’s latest work, Six Views of Paradise, offer a respite from this fate. The intellect will be drawn to this oasis in the detritus, but it does not stop there. We can then go beyond the mind to recognise the energy that imbues us to fight, to fear, to love, to laugh-and to be at peace with it. Through the forces of nature, we recognise our strength, our turbulent confusion as the winds of change blow. The setting sun images our fear of fading, our fear of death and disappearing-fear of moving beyond the ego. Flying fish, blow our rigid concepts and we recognise our laughter and joy at absurdities of life. A lone shell upon a beach at the edge of a calm ocean reveals our loneliness, however Lehrer goes beyond by offering us solace that unity is always there if we need it-juxtaposing elements of life within the same image. By abstracting concepts then there is greater ability to find peace with oneself and one’s completion. Abstraction of concepts are less direct and so they are seeking to find bridges with all living things and that diversity exists in all these things.
Hedy Maimann’s art is far from brash and overt, it is subtle and deep. This is in counterbalance to brutal and shocking art because she is convinced there is enough brutality in the world that causes people to close. So instead of fixing such negativity in painting, she chooses to touch people’s heart and by speaking to their sensitivity and willingness to evolve. As in Lehrer’s work, the access point in her art, for busy and survival driven humans, is to offer a tranquil place and haven. Here, rich vibrant colours of red and orange, bust out at us. Then, there are healing colours of purple and purifying blue. It is in this place that we are invited to go deeper. The subtle symbols peek out at us. They are triggers to overcome the barriers of the mind and delve into the souls vibrations to see the essence of things: of life and conflicts. Once the viewer is open, the essence of our conflicts is revealed and solutions are proposed, negating the ego, leading us towards unity. We are able, through Hedy Maimann’s art to go beyond judgment to a place of forgiveness within ourselves and with each other that leads us eventually to peace.
Holy, Wholly and holier concepts
Ephraim Moskovics is a photographer who, by abstracting holy concepts enables us to look at them from different perspectives. Through abstraction, he enables us as viewers to become participants in the construction process of our minds. He takes familiar rituals and traditions and looks at them in abstraction. His photography challenges form and structures in a peaceful and non-threatening way. This enables a certain freedom. A freedom from constraints, an ability to look beyond ritualistic objects in their context and from this different way of looking then we are able to understand a third interpretation; an interpretation that is fresh and new and not weighed down by conformity. Perhaps, through this approach new forms of understanding can come into play. There is a freedom in this voice. Such as the ritual of baking challah for Shabbat, through photographic abstraction the puffy bits of dough on the baking tray look like beautiful free clouds suspended in the sky, in space, in heavens. In each of his photographs, the viewer can feel his desperate need to look at the world from a fresh perspective away from constrictions. This does not mean getting rid of traditions and rituals, it means keeping and respecting, but having freedom within them.
These photographs are counterpoint to obscure representations of Judaism often highlighted in contemporary art.
Daniel Shaked’s photography alludes to a story beyond the picture. We see Frau Schnarch from Serbia, choosing to represent herself surrounded by traditional Viennese furniture and dress thus showing herself to be fully integrated into Viennese society. (This and an array of portraits can be viewed at http://www.danielshaked.com) Daniel allows the spectator to speculate an array of stories that finally led to the photograph before us. Furthermore, we can see how concepts of ethnicity and nationalism that were once constricted to racism by colonial projects and totalitarian regimes are now, in contemporary urban spaces, the choice of people. The danger is that one ethnicity overrides another because of feeling pressured to assimilate. However, there is no need for this. Instead it is important to recognise the multifaceted layers of identity and therefore ethnicity not only on a micro-level in the urban spaces as people mediate between spaces we occupy with family, friends, colleagues and our communities, but also on the macro-level as we become increasingly mobile and visit an array of cultures and places across the globe.
The importance of recognising and ad hearing to cultural behaviours, timing, dress that needs an understanding of socio-cultural and socio-political, socio-economic structures is becoming ever more important. However, this does not mean that one looses one’s identity by taking on these factors, rather, it is through understanding that there is actual greater articulation of one’s previously acquired identity and ethnicity. Daniel Shaked has photographed many hip-hop, R & B and by doing so reveals what is just there. Try to break up the visual concept/imaging of Hip Hop or Rap artists, to reveal and capture their personality, this is something that you do not get in commercial rap imaging. Real, deep and spontaneous, Daniel negates any negativity towards musicians in this genre, as he reveals how these people feel dignified by their own soul’s expression. He proposes us the question-if these people are not harming the world and feel at peace with themselves and have dignity no matter what people’s preconceptions are or status they have in society, then why cannot there be acceptance? That is a calling for peace, no matter how people look.
It is important that we realize the kind of models we present to youth of the world and how that has a considerable influence on them.
This art is standing as a guiding light to a generation who desperately need a guide to say that this way is ok. It is ok to embrace diversity, peace, freedom of expression, tranquility and beauty in art, as well as embracing crafts-person-ship with new forms. By presenting a body of work that focuses on positive forms of art, we can represent places and spaces in the world that are places of harmony, peace and not destruction. Imagine, a body of work without cynicism or hostility toward the human condition. This exhibition through all these artist’s works are attempting to do just that.