„Art doesn’t have to do anything. Art is permitted everything.“ Art may provoke. But, these days less frequently. It has become more convenient to provoke where there is no danger. There are few courageous artists; Some have already been murdered or quieted. Because of a film, a knife was rammed into the belly of the director Theo van Gogh, half the editorial staff of a magazine in Paris was gunned down, a man wanted to destroy works of art in the Louvre. „Degenerate“ works of art are taken down oder covered over.
Artists and works of art are criticized in word and in voice by professional critics and the unappreciative alike, and also praised. Often it’s about „taste“. For centuries, philosophers and art critics have been trying to define what’s art or not. And then the defined boundaries are crossed over by artists.
Artists themselves don’t have a monopoly on criticism; otherwise art could not enter into dialogue with viewers. Subjectively expressed, not every criticism is based on understanding or taste, which artworks may not express as well.
And now three buses are standing upright in front of the Marienkirche in Dresden. The ensemble is aesthetically impressive; also the artist’s provocation is courageous. The public is annoyed for various reasons, and in the media they are usually lumped together as culturally retarded right-wingers.
Let’s begin with the artist:
„The installation ‘Monument’ refers to the current situation in Syria. The image of the buses in front of the Frauenkirche is a link between the situation of people in the Middle East and Europe: the suffering and the ineffable losses, but also the hope of reconstruction and peace.”
The title ‚Monument‘ is generic and does not say much. The general reference to the „situation of the people in the Middle East“ has little content, as many people in the Middle East are doing very well; others are experiencing death and destruction. But when we look at the inspirational idea which led to the installation, we finally have a specific reference. It is a photo of barricades in Aleppo, Syria, built by jihadist militia. They fight against the Syrian ruler Assad in order to establish a state based on Shari’a law. The civilian population has no real importance to this group, the terrorist organization, ‚Ahrar al-Sham‚. „Together with other armed opposition groups (Ahrar al-Sham) was involved in massacres from August 4 – 18, (2013) in rural areas of Latakia province, killing at least 190 civilians and taking over 200 as hostages.“
„The creator of the ‘Monument’ in front of the Frauenkirche is completely surprised. ‘I have seen many photos of the barricades in Aleppo, on which I saw no flag (of Ahrar al-Sham),’ says horrified Manaf Halboun. In fact, countless shots of busses are circulating. The flag is only recognizable on a photo by (Ammar) Abdullah, on another photo a bare flag stick can be seen, on the other photos, nothing. However, there is evidence that the flag was on the busses for only a short time – and was even cropped off in a photo in the newspaper, The Guardian.“
In the Reuters presentation the caption reads: „Upended buses barricade a street in Aleppo. The vehicles serve as protection against snipers loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, in the rebel-controlled Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood.“ The alleged protection for civilians was penned in by the media.
The artist defends himself: „It’s a pity that I have to defend the work.“ Better research would have been advantageous. Evasively he continues:
„The only thing I know is that one of the contending parties had erected the buses there as a protective barricade for the civilian population to block sniper’s views.“
Barricades are often built in urban areas mainly to protect fighting soldiers. A jihadist militia is hardly concerned about civilian populations. Jihadists fight for themselves and their sick ideologies. Civilians are usually held as hostages, as is often reported in the Syrian war. Anything else is mere propaganda; therefore, the artwork „is not to be associated with any warring party.“ So much pre-emptive neutrality can only deceive in order to somehow uphold any remaining legitimacy of the art project itself.
If the artist had used a photo of barricades during the end of the Second World War in a German city as a model, he would only have to find a photo where the swastikas had been erased. Who otherwise would have built barricades in Dresden in 1945? He would certainly gain the applause of those living in the past. Now he may have unintentionally gained the approval of jihadists, also a group which derives legitimacy from the past, which can now be seen as a group which „protects“ civilians.
The situation in Syria is not easy to define. It was indeed easier in the Second World War, with the German Nazis clearly the bad guys – even the „moderates“ – and the Amis and the British were the good guys. Therefore, the „link between the situation of people in the Middle East and Europe“ is extremely weak. It is not possible to know automatically which people from Syria have gone to Europe. „One doesn’t have a complete picture,“ says the artist himself. At the latest, after the recent mass murder at the Christmas market in Berlin and other terrorist acts, we know that some are psychopathic killers; Not all who flee are the „good ones“. If the artist intends to establish a nearly impossible link between Dresden earlier and Aleppo today, he must count on incomprehension and confusion.
One commonality is nevertheless certain. The sensible civilian populations of Dresden and Aleppo were glad to be rid of the barricade builders.
William Wires, Feb. 10, 2017