Date: 2004

AUTHOR: Round Table

LOCATION: Ramallah

PUBLISHER: German-French Cultural Centre Ramallah

SOURCE: German-French Cultural Centre Ramallah

Round Table I

Round Table I
Each of the individuals in the round table discussion were asked to comment on the issues put forward in the various papers.

Boris Groys:
There is this notion which I don’t like very much but applies very well to the situation we are in. It is the notion of Glocalization  between Globalization and locality. There is a theory that we are getting too global and global  and in such contexts the local gets more and more important. I am speaking about the notion of Glocalization. It is a strange combination between Globalization and locality and is a characteristic of our time. I think that if we are coming from the outside and we are speaking about Palestine and reacting to that, I think that our immediate experience about the conflict,  is the media coverage, so it is a kind of media space. It is a kind of combination of certain images, certain practices and certain reaches, because the situation here in this place has media coverage that is incomparable to any other. So what ever happens here, you get it on your TV-screens, in Germany, in the USA, everywhere. So we have here a paradigmatic example of this Glocalization. Something which happens in a very, very  small territory, in a very, very small space immediately produces huge media coverage. So I think after listening to these lectures I realized more than before the extreme tension between this locality. Between this real territory with a real people in both aspects of that: in a tragic aspect of suffering, but also in an idyllic utopistic aspect which also is connected to this type of immediate geographic reality much more than for example for somebody living in Europe and moving all the time from one city to another city, from one country to another country. Here, I think, we have a very interesting, tragic but at the same time stimulating situation, where insisting on being here produces precisely this global effect. So we have a very great tension between these two kinds of imaginary. If I look at these paintings, I hardly can combine them with the system of images that I have in my mind already, and that dominate my imagination, and I think that this is this tension Palestinian intellectuals, artists, filmmakers are living in. They are living in the middle of all of this, not only the political that we already know of, but it is a struggle and a tension between two levels of representation, between local and global, maybe more than any other. So I think that what happens here has a paradigmatic meaning, this paradigmatic tension has a paradigmatic meaning for the general state of our time. And that is how I can react to what I heard. This tension between these two sequences or two realms of images became for me much more sharp and much more obvious then it was before.

Carl Hegemann:
I am very impressed by the information you gave me. I think the situation on this place on the earth and the other place where we come from is very, very different and the problems of the arts are very different. In Germany we have had no war the last sixty years and this is a curious situation. I work at a theatre in Berlin and we tried over the past years to deal with something which sounds when you look from outside a little bit like what you spoke of which is situation where there is no ground. But this is not in the same manner as you described because our reality is too complex and we don’t know how to deal with it and we have no ground and no beliefs. So for two years we placed our whole theatre under the condition or under the motto “to live without any belief”. However you see we found that it is not possible to live without any belief. But artists are people who have no beliefs, and they have to generate their own beliefs by themselves. And so we tried to generate like artists have always done, like for example the German poet Novalis who said the only reality is the one which you create. The poetic is the absolute. We see in our society the problem that nobody knows what is real. And if nobody knows what is real, nobody knows what is illusion, because you can only realize an illusion, if you know what is real. And so we have something that we call a “performative turn”. That means everything is theatre. This is something of a luxury, but there is one essential that makes a difference: in the theatre we are doing on our stages, everything is reversible. When the performance has ended, everybody goes home and  is healthy and feels well. One can die on stage but it has no consequences for one's life. But the theatre of war has consequences for the lives of the individuals and for the situation in the society. And now I am thinking – and maybe it sounds a little bit cynical – what is better, the theatre in the theatre or the theatre of war? But I know this is not a responsible question under these conditions and in these relations. So I am sorry that I am someone who is hearing what you are saying and I think it is not adequate to tell you how you should make your art. I think there is a big difference and I have to learn from your situation. And maybe sometimes the reflection and the documentation of things that happen in the real world is much more important than the work artists are doing.

Romuald Karmakar:
For me it is my first time in Israel and Palestine. It is my first opportunity to listen, to see, and to hear. And if I can connect to what Carl Hegemann said, I can explain that in Germany, if we talk about art, there is also mainstream art conditioned by television, by popular cinema and by popular theatre. Carl Hegemann is from a very well known theatre, and everyone writes about his theatre. But I don’t know if he is representative of the German theatre scene, if you see how many theatres we have. The same situation also applies with film and filmmaking.I was born in 1965 and I belong to a generation who only knows war from the memories of others And these days many novels appear by people from my age, about their grandfathers and grandmothers who were in the war, either as fugitives or as participants in the war. So there is a big longing for destiny in my generation. This is a very interesting issue because the lack of war also lead to a  misunderstanding of war. Yet parallel to it since the reunification of Germany German society and German politicians are getting involved in global wars. There is no answer to it in our context you just can follow it up or observe it. So it is very interesting for me to see a society who is dealing with war on an every day basis.

Achim Lengerer
I am also from Germany and the first thing I would like to say is something behind the definition given to one as “artist”. I come from a certain social context, where I am defined as an artist and I am doing things in a certain context – and it is also a very secure context so to speak – so, I go to the university then afterwards I have this definition and if I am lucky I can exhibit and maybe live from my art or maybe not. I thought in the way that  the video works you presented, is how much it is about a certain topic and how important are the formal aspects. On the one hand this context where I come from there is discussion about form, it is about very small distinctions, where does one use what where  film works and how short are the sequences how big is the projection is, all these kinds of questions which is not necessarily important or my feeling was that it was less important here in regards to how you present things and what it is about. So more or less is similar to what my two colleagues said, it is a big shift, it is a long distance. So the criteria, I normally I work with does not work very well for me in this location.

Vera Tamari:
I just have a small comment about the difference in looking at art made here in Palestine and what we expect from modern art and avant-garde art. In the early 1970s – just before the period that Tina Sherwell was talking about – a lot of the art produced in Palestine represented  a nationalistic spirit through the use of symbolism. It was termed “committed art”, political art which was committed to the struggle of Palestine and the liberation of the people and the nation. It was a very popular kind of art. The audience of the exhibitions that were held in schools and public spaces affiliated with that kind of art because it represented their aspirations in the national struggle. Now if we are looking at what is happening now and the experiences of artists in Palestine who are trying to use a more conceptual approach to art I find that this alienates the popular interpretation and understanding of art. It becomes like an intellectual exercise. And in all of our debate today we in fact do not touch on the popular development of art and the understanding of art because there is a gap between the different kind of approaches and the exposure and experience of  art people have. So I am just mentioning the differences between the two approaches. And this is where it makes the differences when you were talking about more prominent societies between art produced here and the art produced in Europe and the 'West'.

Norman Ohler:
I first came to Ramallah in September. I was invited by the Goethe-Institut Ramallah to be the town chronicler of Ramallah. It was part of a project called “Midad” which invited five German writers to five Arab cities and five Arab writers went to German cities, so I stayed here for one month. When I received this invitation I was really happy because I thought this will be great, it will be fantastic to write about Ramallah, so many things happen here, it will be very exciting. And in the back of my mind I was also especially coming here because I am researching my next novel which is actually true, which will be set in Israel and Palestine. My first intuition, that it would be great to be the town chronicler of Ramallah and write every day an online diary which was published on the internet was actually correct. There were so many things to write about, I saw so many pictures, events that I immediately could transfer into words, into short paragraphs that I wrote on the website that was read immediately in Germany. It was also translated into Arabic so many people in Palestine also read it. It was in a way an easy task, but the second thing I wanted to do, work on my novel, proved much more difficult. In that respect, in a way I feel sorry for Palestinian as well as Israeli artists who are having to create art in this very tense environment. Since the Middle East conflict is so strong that it attracts so much attention and the media presence is so heavy here that it indeed is very, very difficult to create a piece of art which moves away from the discourse which tries to create something new and something different. I found myself struggling since I got here to work on this novel. I have so many approaches, so many ways the characters could be articulated and immediately they are caught in this Middle East conflict. During this conference actually I am constantly thinking that the work is constantly evolving without me ever sitting down in peace and actually attempting to write this three hundred page thing. So far I found it impossible but I already have notes for six hundred pages. Just the notes, the fragments grow but the unity of the work that I am trying to produce is always slipping away.

When I was in High School in Germany the reason why I started writing was a book by Heinrich Böll, “Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum”, “The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum”. In this book Böll describes a situation in Germany in the 1970s where terrorism was the ruling discourse and the German state’s fight ws against leftist terrorism. The author was talking about the media in this book, about the “Bild-Zeitung” a yellow press paper which was producing this label “terrorist” and was then putting this label on a woman named Katharina Blum. Böll wrote about this effect and he wrote a different story of this conflict. The book influenced me in school and it had actually quite an impact on a lot of us then who discussed this book. It was then that  I thought literature can actually produce a different picture. That is why I started writing. And now I am finding myself in this Middle East conflict which is even more heavy than I think the conflict in Germany was in the 1970s and I am actually curious as to whether a novel could set some things right or could have some power against the very heavy  TV media presence governing this conflict. So it is a great challenge and also a great pleasure for me to be here.

Adila Laïdi:
I would like to clarify for the guests what Mahmoud Abu Hashhash was referring to as “ the Sakakini exhibit”: This is the “100 Shaheed – 100 Lives” exhibit which I worked on at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre in 2001. The idea was to honor some of the people who were killed by the Israelis at the beginning of the Intifada and to honor them through honoring their lives, their individuality, and their ordinariness and this was done in two ways. One was in the book where I focused on telling the individual stories of the lives of the Shuhada without a heroic or victimizing narrative and then the exhibit itself which was designed by the artist Samir Salami, and which displayed the personal objects which we received from the families. We asked each family to give us a personal object without blood, without any bullets holes,  an intimate object. My idea was to have the visitor identified with the Sghaheed.
To follow up on some of the comments. I thought that it was interesting that we heard about the luxury that Carl mentioned that you have in Germany or in the West, that you have solved all your political problems, military problems, economic problems, most of the big problems and so you have the luxury to separate life, from the stage, whereas we have this heaviness that weighs us down, not only the heaviness and urgency of the conflict that imposes itself upon us but also social constraints.
The best example of our predicament  is Norman Ohler who is German and he comes here and cannot even finish his novel. What about everybody else who is here, who grows up here, who lives here, who cannot get out of town who cannot get a permit, what kind of work are they expected to produce? So about the question of the heroicism, Palestinian artists are heroes despite themselves and regardless whether the work they do is fine or not, because they have to deal with the weight of the conflict.
And here I would like to comment on Boris Groys's point that you made at the beginning of your talk which is the issue of how the production of images now is different from the production of images in the past, as artists have lost the monopoly of producing images and now the role of the artist would best be a role of critic or of deconstructor of the tensions in society. This is a concern I share, as I mentioned it in my paper in a favorable way,  and this is a concern that I deal with in my work as a director of an art center where I would like artists to produce more of this kind of work. But then if we forget about what is happening in the world, if we just go back to our local specificity it is very difficult to ask people to produce works that are critical and detached and deconstructive of images when the representations and the images first have not even been produced. So it is a very difficult thing to ask from artists and of the public, and this is what Vera was alluding to that there is a discrepancy between public’s expectations and what artists produce. I am not saying that this is right or wrong, but that is a tension that we are living with. And there is also another level which is how do you ask or expect artists to produce works that are deconstructive and critical of reality in a genuine sense, not in a way that merely follows a fashion, for example an artist may think that  everybody is doing video, so I am going to do video and that will get me into an international Biennale.

Tina Sherwell:
I think your point Adila raises a question around audience, because who is the audience of art in the local context and  who is thane audience in  international context. Infact  how do the art works and media images  work in different places. What a number of people suggested is that the images that have been produced both relate to us here in Palestine and also relate to outside at the same time. What are the differences in the way Palestinian art is seen at home and abroad? What is the difference in how Palestinians in the territories relate to the media coverage of events on the ground and how the international audience reads these images, this is something I think that can be explored in order to understand the workings of representation. Because as Mahmoud Abu Hashhash suggested it raises an important question of how do you represent yourself, what are the different ways of representing yourself to people who experience the events daily and those constantly see the same news in the West repeated on their TV screens.

Alia Arasoughly:
I think that most of the discussion has revolved around images and what they mean rather than the structures and infrastructures that make the production of images possible. I think that any discussion of art which ignores that art is produced in a real space, in an economic space as well as an artistic space doesn’t do justice to the subject.  For example, in relation to what Boris said at the beginning of his presentation, if we are talking about the international level, there is a sense of a loss of control of images, that all of us feel that the media is producing images at such a fast pace. Then some of us have to respond to these images, some of us have to animate those images by giving them another voice, use them and abuse them in order to destroy them and deconstruct them. If we are thinking on that level, then  we also need to think that this needs time space. For example the lack of artist’s residencies, the lack of funding in Palestine and so forth these are crucial issues. So we talk about the urgency and the momentum of creating under conditions of destruction, creating under conditions of extreme stress and yet there is no relief in this process. And I am actually very, very uncomfortable by what I heard from our guests, all of  our guests from Germany about, “how do you work in these conditions” and that our concerns must be different in art. I would stop there, since there is a voyeurism in this attitude, and it is a voyeurism of someone who so to speak, has the privilege of looking at somebody who does not have privilege and says, “how do you live without the privilege I have privileges and cannot conceive of that”. And I think this is a process of dehumanization and I would like to say that  since I have lived in Europe and I have lived in the States that if you are engaged socially  there is an urgency of social engagement – and there is also a war, different wars take place, wars on the streets with immigrants or imperial wars the consequences of which return to home countries.   When artists are concerned with creating really fundamental art, they share the same issues of how do we make images that express division about  what the is world ,  and they express these kinds of stories that live inside of each one of us as artists. What I understand from the Goethe-Institut and why they are holding this forum is for us to talk to each other, to actually see within our differences and because of our differences to see how we can all move with the same impulse.  We all need the same impulse in spite of the specificities of the different contexts. So in some way I don’t think that there is a Palestinian matter and   as a Palestinian artist with the weight of telling the Palestinian story with all due respect to Mahmud Darwish I don’t want to tell the Palestinian story. I know my story as an artist. I want to tell many different stories that are part of the Palestinian story, I want to weave it with all different kinds of light and different colors and different perspectives in order to give an inkling of what my journey has been like as an Palestinian artist.

Boris Groys:
I would really like to come back to the question of the audience that Vera raised and Adila responded to, because I really find it very important. For whom is art made? Actually that is the question. I think it is made for everybody and for very different audiences. We are living really in a society where we are making art for our own community for our own context but also for the international art scene. It is inescapable. I believe that if an artist is not integrated into the international art scene and not recognized by it,  after a certain period of time he becomes unfortunately irrelevant in his own context and also for the wider audiences.  If we are speaking about the Biennale, of course I agree with you, there is a lot of false pretences, at the same time you are looking at movies or videos or paintings or whatever, made in China, in Spain, in India and South America and you automatically tend to take under consideration not only the content – because content is very different – but also the structure of narrative, authorial position of the subject, the narrator, all these formalistic elements you were speaking about and so on and so on – it is automatic. It is not because we don’t want to participate or that we create barriers between arts and audience – no, that is not the case. It is a kind of an automatic reaction. You can’t escape it, because if you put your work in a certain condition of comparison you are compelled to compare on these terms, you cannot change that. Of course I understand very well that it is very difficult for the Palestinian artists to get access to this international scene in very practical terms. But I must say that I spent a lot of my life living in the Soviet Union and I knew artists, my friends, who during forty years never published their works, never exhibited it, had no access to press at all, had no access to exhibition activities at all, and at the same time they had some kind of inner connection and inner criteria of thinking that related to international context. And after the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a very clear difference between the fate of the artists who were involved in this kind of international thinking and were attentive to the formal and general aspects of their works and people who were not, and the latter failed also after the collapse of the Soviet Union. So I think that taking all the practical difficulties into consideration there is a kind of level of thinking, of intention of what you want to do or to whom you want to speak to. It seems to me that the artist wins a lot when he makes his work more open, not more sophisticated but more open to the different audiences, that means taking into consideration criteria, way of thinking, way of living, way of reacting, context – not only his own but of the others. I think this kind of openness, it is not closure, it is a different kind of openness that is very important.

Romuald Karmakar:
I think we should add that it is not because the Goethe-Institut exists or because the Goethe-Institut invites artists or professors who talk about aesthetics that  it necessarily means that in Germany art has an important role in society. In my opinion art is one of the most unimportant things in German society. The most important thing in German society is economics.  In comparison to France, German society after war defined itself not by cultural values. All major artists from Germany became important artists because they were successful outside Germany. It was because they were successful in the United States or in France that we accepted them as great artists. Most of the artists did  not grown up in our society. So there is a redefinition of what is important for our society. That is something I just wanted to mention so you do not get a false idea of what role we play or of what we do. And the last thing is that deconstructing images is very important, but we are also a society that neglects a lot of social problems in our society and in our own artistic work. It doesn’t mean that because there are artists who care about social problems in our society that we really care about it. And we neglect so many facts of our own most recent history, even about what happened with the fall of the wall and what happened before the wall fell in East Germany. So it is not a homogeneous image and it is not possible with eighty million people.

Carl Hegemann:
 Maybe art is not very important for society but it is more important for the artists. There are many people who don’t function in the way the society functions and they have the possibility to make art and to create their own places and their own worlds. This is very good for the function of society because artists have their own place and can be dissident but it has no consequences for society. So they live together and it is possible, that people who are really crazy can be integrated into society because you can say “oh, they are artists and for an artist everything is permissible”. So artists are isolated from the economic and political consequences. It is clear:   theatre with a political understanding tries to make the relationship between art and society not so simple.