Where Are We Now? And Why Are We Here Now?

Inventories in curatorial practice
February 17, 2023
(Photo: Kirsten Pieroth, Berlin Pfütze (Neukölln) (2020) | Andreas Gursky, Antarctic (2010) at Gropius Bau Berlin@Kirsten Kohlhaw)

In the whirl of inventories

Where are we? With the feet, the pelvis, the body grounded towards the earth in connection with the uninterrupted, unquestioned support that gravity offers us. A vertical anchoring in the present moment. Multiplied a thousand times in a web of ‘radikant’ (Bourriaud) processes of uprooting and unrooting.

At the same time we float, gasping for air, in the rhythm of mechanical inputs. Unable to absorb the information surrounding us into our bodies, to make it experienceable. The crises of our/current time confront us with a continuous, never diminishing topicality. They are becoming more and more urgent, but at the same time they have been going on for decades, lifting us out of our stability and leaving us more and more often disoriented. Political polarizations, dehumanization, wars, poverty and climate catastrophes, pandemics.

What perceptions can be relied upon to grasp the present? Where are we and why are we here?

Since the late sixties, the field of art and culture has also become increasingly intertwined with concerns of ecological politics, activism, and environmental awareness. Related to this, questions emerge about what brought us to this point, what is actually happening right now, and how continuing is possible, or at best, possible differently. Making an inventory. A whole series of them. Exhibitions like Radical Nature. Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet (1969-2009) at the Barbican Center London, or research series such as that of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin which since 2013 has been investigating how planetary and crisis-like transformations of the Anthropocene can be understood, experienced, and shaped. In 2017, a discourse series entitled Why are we here now? was also held there.
And, as David Bowie sings in his song “Where Are We Now?”, this was also the leitmotif of the Steirischer Herbst in Graz for the 50th anniversary year in 2017. In the same year, Falk Richter staged Verräter. Die letzten Tage at the Gorki Theater in Berlin: a bombastically loud overload of catastrophic news, Trumps and more Trumps, personal fates in the web of society. But above all: Where are we? What has brought us here? What has eluded us? Why can we neither move forward nor backward? Why are we "...at once mobilized toward the front and demobilized toward the rear," as Bruno Latour describes our in-between state in his book Down To Earth (2017). A state that is increasingly filled with the paralyzing feeling of hopelessness. Following the English title of the book Down To Earth, an exhibition ran this year as part of Immersion at the Martin Gropius Bau (2020), and hosted the Research Lab at Tanzfabrik Berlin, which I co-curated. Confronting this hopelessness and finding ways to draw a hopeful future that is neither ignorant nor naïve in the face of current crises was a main concern of the collaborative exchange. 

Questions about the status quo of our socio-political world arise on all kinds of occasions, at annual reviews, elections, political decisions, after human or natural disasters. But also in social-cultural discourse and art events, the list of events and festivals I mentioned above could of course be continued and remains incomplete in the attempt to draw an accurate picture. But it points to the deep need and necessity of evaluation. An appeal to analyze and understand the current situations, their social atmosphere and political, as well as social decisions.

What developed out of the Research Lab was above all an experience of the common. Something that also characterizes evaluating: trying to make the world a shared one again. How can we expand and promote such experiences?

Two challenges are pressing. First, the notion of the present. The contemporary person is reluctant to really unfold before us, because he/she is always already permeated by the past and the future. In that his/her places of standing and time are different. What is the feeling of a now? There is no center without thinking about a beginning and an end, or the circle that surrounds it, which is already inscribed in it. When we think of a present moment, our thinking mind has already left the present moment without the ability to detach from the past events, from the memories that each individual and also the collective body and mind carry with them.

Beyond that, we need to ask another, more important question. Who is the "we" in these sentences? The two questions presented claim a common perspective, a common starting point. But there is no collective "we" from which to answer these questions. Each individual is inscribed with his or her own experiences and histories; different groups of people share certain aspects of those histories and pasts. Belonging can occur on many levels and is essential, but always leaves us with the threat of disconnection. As Toni Morrison describes in her essay “Strangers”, the increased blurring between the public and the private entails a rapidly disintegrating sense of belonging and a discomfort with our sensations of strangeness. 

This means that, as a starting point, we must ask a different question that allows us to reconsider the position from which we are speaking, where we stand, and what different perspectives of the status quo there are. How many different stories have been written about what seem to be the same events yet carry a different perspective of the "why" of the present and also the "where" that describes a different position of many people. By answering these questions from different perspectives, we can find an approach to imagine elements of a shared future without ignoring what is not shared.

It is this belonging that we need to redefine. Belonging which can be found away from the quickly tangible categories. Which needs attention, different time periods, and places. A belonging which is aware of asymmetries. To enable such spaces, that must be the curatorial practice of now. A turning away from striving for unambiguity, security, being protected, and knowing. An endeavor that can only be formulated from the privileged perspective informed by security. But still, how can we become more involved with complexities and uncertainties, with the non-unique? Like dancing with gravity and embracing its support as steadfastness. Tying ourselves to the ground - Down To Earth - and walking with Latour, while remaining worldly. This is exactly where we need to come to the body. In the play with gravity which, on the one hand, gives security and anchors and on the other hand, allows mobility, promotes responsiveness, and signals open readiness. Our body is the perception zone from which we determine ourselves, from where we can locate ourselves. This determines the ability of an opening to the outside and our relationship to the environment. It is only through the stable anchoring by and with gravity that the body does not close itself off, allows belonging to happen. To answer Bowie's question with another musical reference: We are here and everywhere, so "don't stop moving together, keep on dancing" (by Jessi Ware).

No items found.

More Blog Posts