“Art is a left-wing hobby.”
These have been months, years of unbelievably fast change all over the world. Uprisings in the Arabic world. Revolutions and counter-revolutionary attempts. Islamistic threats and the fetishisation of Islamistic threats. Demonstrations and repercussions in Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia … Persecution of artists – sometimes under a bright spotlight as in the cases of Pussy Riot or Ai Wei Wei, but more often unnoticed by a broader public. The nuclear disaster in Japan. The appearance (and disappearance?) of Occupy all over the world. The rise of the right wing in many countries – often as a side-effect of the financial devastations that threaten the whole European project. The fundamental destruction of social, educational and cultural structures … Where to start, where to end?
On our travels during the last one and a half years – be it to Zuccotti or Tahrir Square, to Japan after Fukushima or to Moscow during the wave of demonstrations, to London, Budapest, Athens, Istanbul, Ramallah, Tel Aviv, Tunis, Rio or Buenos Aires – everywhere artists were among the first to get involved, among the first to join the political and social movements. But how did art, how did artistic strategies and tactics play a role? At a time when art, theory and practice seem to be constantly lagging behind reality? When art is seen more and more as a mere leftist hobby rather than a foundation of humanity?
We have learned that there are no easy answers any more. We don’t trust ideologies, even though we follow the ideology of capitalism. We know everything is contingent and relative. We replace critique with criticality, the political with the post-political, and neoliberal capitalism with cultural capitalism. But where the answers get too complicated, the desire for simple solutions is growing. And we – perhaps indeed leftist hobbyists – seem to have lost contact with a larger base. The constant awareness of the complexity of the notions of truth, reality or even politics seem to have manoeuvred us into a dead-end road: either we are too simple, or we are too complex, too populist or too stuck in hermetic eremitism. Either we include too much or we exclude too many.
On the common ground of art and activism
So what is to be done? Can art help solve problems that politics and society themselves have ignored for so long? Should art be a social or political tool, can it be useful? And why should artists know what to do when nobody else does?
“Truth is concrete” is what was written in big letters over Bertolt Brecht’s desk in his Danish exile – quoting Lenin quoting Hegel quoting Augustine. And in another corner there was – as Walter Benjamin writes in his notes – a little wooden donkey standing with a sign around his neck: “Even I must understand it.”
We take the possibility of concrete truth as a working hypothesis and look for direct action, for concrete change and knowledge. For an art that not only represents and documents, but that engages in specific political and social situations – and for an activism that not only acts for the sake of acting but searches for intelligent, creative means of self-empowerment: artistic strategies and tactics in politics, political strategies and tactics in art.
Art and politics always have been in strange love/hate relationships. “Truth is concrete” purposely ignores many of the borders, conflicts and resentments. Art is not activism, and activism is not art. But the common ground, the shared space is large and important. It offers a chance for art to be engaged, connected and relevant. And it offers activism a chance not to get stuck in ideology, routine and functionarism, a chance to stay unpredictable and sharp. “Truth is concrete” takes a close look at what happens where the differences between art and activism lose importance.
170 hours non-stop
“Truth is concrete” is a 24-hour, 7-day marathon camp: for 170 hours more than 200 artists, activists and theorists lecture, perform, play, produce, discuss and collect useful strategies and tactics in art and politics. A full grant program additionally invited 100 students and young professionals from all over the world. The marathon is a platform, a toolbox as well as a performative statement. It is a machine that runs non-stop – often too fast, sometimes too slow. All day, all night. It produces thought, argument and knowledge, but it also creates frustration and exhaustion. Having to miss out is part of having to make choices.
The marathon is the centre, surrounded by a camp-like living and working environment, a social space with its own needs and timings. “Truth is concrete” creates a one-week community, mixing day and night, developing its own jet lag towards the outside world – at the same time being open and free for everybody to join.
The programme of the marathon is accompanied by one-day-workshops, several durational projects and an exhibition. And – most important – by a parallel “Open marathon” that is based on self-organisation: its content is produced entirely by the participants – everybody is welcome to fill the slots, spontaneously or a couple of days in advance.
So is this all just too much? Maybe. But maybe we have no time to lose. The world keeps changing at a fast pace and the marathon is a work meeting – an extreme effort at a time that seems to need extreme efforts.