Zu den üblichen Anwärtern auf den Posten im Zentrum der Kultur zählen Religionen, Wissenschaft, Philosophie und Kunst. Wäre ich gezwungen, zwischen diesen vier Alternativen zu wählen, entschiede ich mich für die Kunst – allerdings nur deshalb, weil der Begriff Kunst unter diesen vieren der vagste und daher am wenigsten einschränkende ist.

Richard Rorty1

This is a text as alive and lively as yourself (still), also in terms of the content. Quarrelling with one’s owns aretistic2 activities is a continuum, which is why fine tuning, and sometimes even coarse tuning, will find its way into the thoughts captured here. It can be guaranteed that you will find contradictory and not-yet-fully-formed ideas, inconsistencies and nonsense, even unbalanced and at times daring utterances – however, all this always ‘at the height of the most current discourses’ 😉

< / work in progress >

The answer to the question what art or the artistic might be – in your case the unique rendering ‘aretistic‘(sic!) – has become a clearer and more manageable endeavour for you, thanks to your recent intense contemplation on the matter. Art, to you, is an integral part of – human – practice which takes an important place in your mental household.3 Nothing more.

In this sense, art is literally ‘everything‘ you are willing to accept, regard or declare as art – be it during the creative or the receptive process. However, there are at least two preconditions:

The latter is an essential attribute of art as such in your view.

To regard something as art is consequently also a subjective act of seriously acknowledging ‘something‘ as such – a thing, a situation, an act, an idea…. The positioning of ‘something‘ as art is therefore a highly individual act that no one who wants to seriously engage oneself in art can avoid, and not an exclusively socio-collective act where the individual more or less un-critically accepts what a dominant pedagogical or cultural current prescribes as the distinction between art and non-art. But it also needs to be pointed out that, alongside the recognition of ‘something’ as art, there is the opposite, the revocation of ‘something’ as art – be it by the creator, be it by someone else (quite often by the ‘art market‘, out of easily transparent economic-capitalist interest), be it, last but not least, by yourself.

Therefore, neither a canon nor any other benchmark (not only taste related) can determine that something is art – and something else is not. It is you who actively needs to commit this declare-as-art act and cannot just let it happen by passively accepting prefabricated definitions of art. This also means that something which once was considered art needs to continuously subject itself to criticism and time and again faces a situation where it is perceived as being (having been) art only in a historical sense but not in the sense of a lively perception of art that is related to the here and now, which is how you perceive it. The formula ‘once art = forever art’ is not valid at all.

It might be striking that this list does not contain the case where a human being in itself, including yourself, and/or a different creature of our planet Earth, is considered a piece of art – this is indeed something you only with difficulty are prepared to do, or able to do.4 Art is consequently something outside the physicality of a human being even though it can by all means be part of it – charisma and aura of a person are even an essential part. Those who cannot cope with this paradox will not be able to cope with your definition of art either.

Art, in your eyes, can also emerge without a person who calls themselves artist – which I don’t (see below) – having done anything to the (artistic) object. Art can emerge ‘by itself’, just be there or happen, through the concurrence of forces. In that case, one only needs to look for it and/or find it. This always depends on being somewhere at the right time and the right place because the art did not exist as art just before and will go back again to the state of non-art and it also depends on being in the right state of mind.

Thereby it is not important

  1. whether this more or less condensed state is called art or not or even non-art; or

  2. whether there are other people who recognise or acknowledge this work of art by declaring it as such, while communicating with you or independent of you.

Your person, your thinking, your perception is the centre of your definition of art. It therefore breathes the freedom which is inherent in art – and which it is unfortunately not granted everywhere. And it is the basis for a discourse with others about their definition of art.5 This communicative exchange of ideas and thoughts is what you want to call cultural life. Therefore, basically ‘everyone‘ can take part in cultural life.

Generally, ‘everyone’ has the ability to perceive sometimes highly temporary (works of) art and it can enrich life enormously. The tendency of society to acknowledge those as artists who stand out in terms of an especially high turnout of creatively produced works (of art) of any kind – the material kind is often preferred -, needs to be overcome in your opinion. There is instead the completely private act of perception/acceptance of art in the sense described above of which only you are and should be aware… and which, at the extreme, is not even communicated with others.

Another characteristic for your conception of art is that – due to your origin and the perspective you like to take, and not least to the means and possibilities available to you – you often like to focus your attention on the everyday, simple, plain, spontaneous, unremarkable, unspectacular. You do not focus on those aspects for their own sake, let’s say out of a (exotic-post/neo-colonial) sense of superiority, but because your very own background has made you think like that. Your life is taking place, most unspectacularly, in the everyday – and that’s how it should be. The transition from life to art and back again to non-art is fluent, as to be expected if art is understood, according to Georg W. Bertram, as a human (form of) practice.

There is consequently a personal, intimate relationship to the everyday, simple, plain, spontaneous, unremarkable, unspectacular which make direct communication and direct access possible. However, this principle of simplicity which might be distilled from your work so far does not pose a restriction with regard to the complexity of the use of (artistic) means. It describes the space in which you, a poor have-not with no possessions, inevitably roam around and which you analyse with the whole richness of perspective options, discovering their unbelievable multitude and expressiveness in particularly condensed states or situations. You call this ‘unpretentious art’.

This is probably also the reason why your preferred ways of getting around / forms of transport in geographical and urban spaces tend to be those also used by the non-privileged in this world full of injustice and serious inequality (who usually do not have a choice, they simply need to use them). They usually are – walking and, for bigger distances, the use of local or long-distance public (mass) transport in its regionally varying forms; in exceptional cases, this includes airplanes but so far, and with great regret, it does not include ships (a still unfulfilled childhood dream). With regard to the view of the world, this has crucial consequences – this means most works are created with a down-to-earth perspective which is primarily linked to public spaces; private and/or closed spaces are mostly ‘left out‘.

This ‘personal‘ definition of art – to come back to what was said two paragraphs above – has developed over the years since your first stay in Georgia in 2008; first unconsciously but gradually becoming more and more part of your consciousness. As a guest of Proyecto ‘ace in Buenos Aires in 2012, you finally applied it for the first time explicitly and consistently to your daily artistic work. Starting with an intimate form of artistic activity, incorporating the urban space, you experienced a completely new way of perceiving urbanity. Space-time constellation, the way it is multidisciplinary investigated in current space research in a highly exciting and stimulating way, became especially apparent to you due to the fact that some of the ‘works‘ you declared as art – often even very fleeting situations – are only perceivable at the right time and at the right place and often in only one particular position or in a particular body position, and not least in just a fleeting moment.

Two examples from Buenos Aires shall be used to illustrate this change of perspective in view of what happens in urban spaces. There is the physical encounter with three young muggers which painfully robbed you of your artistic tool of all things – a digital camera. This is not primarily contemplated as a criminal act here, which shall be left to the police and the media, but as an act of incorporation of ‘particular haptic quality’, which means, in the sense of the artistic action, as part of the artistic work with a comparatively happy ending, luckily. And then there is something similar with a stream of office workers commuting between the station of Retiro and the office towers in Microcentro in the mornings and late afternoons. Walking towards them (‘facing the stream’) demands both, strong mental and physical will power as the masses aim at their target with a ruthlessness which not infrequently causes more or less forceful physical clashes.

The artistic here lies in the experienced event itself, not in its photographic or videographic observation or capturing for the purpose of creating a photo series or a film which then would be considered the artwork (this shall not be completely ruled out though). Hence, from this point of view, some of the products considered ‘works of art‘ by the ‘art world‘ are merely regarded as documents of the preceding actual artistic event. There is no doubt that these documents can meet high artistic demands but their nature as stand-alone works of art is at least to be challenged.

The transition from a work of art that comes about in such a way, ‘as if by itself‘, – quite often through interaction of contributors who do not know each other to one that was made in a more or less conscious creative act is fluent. Since 2000, you have observed a deep mistrust emerging in you towards closed spaces of the standard cultural sphere (concert halls, museums, opera houses) in favour of a review of the aptitude of open spaces for artistic practice, also with regards to your musical compositions. Without the intention of simply rejecting or even “blowing up” closed spaces, as some big mouthed and later found to be deeply bourgeois ‘attention seekers’ allegedly demanded in the middle of the last century, obviously still under the shock of the insane war of the time – to you, it is more about overcoming the division of all living spaces as they are characteristic for the post feudal, bourgeois age. The dominant principle of that era is segregation, separation and hierarchical order which seems to need the exclusivity and the privilege of connoted features, also of the art scene.

An essential aspect of your (artistic) work is the intent of (artistic) intervention in political processes – locally, nationally, globally. The granted rights of freedom of opinion and artistic freedom are utilised to the extreme and if they come under threat, they are defended ‘to the bitter end’, purely with artistic/künstelerischen (sic!) means but definitely with sharp words. This political dedication does not just include cultural topics but even more so the commitment to basic rights, human rights, to freedom and equality and laicism. This does, on the other hand, not mean that each (artistic) work is primarily political – however, none of them is non-political. In order to maintain complete (artistic) freedom and independence, which to you is an existential need, this commitment can probably not happen within a political organisation such as a political party. You basically act as an un-engrossable, autonomous radical wandering into political spaces.6

What has greatly alarmed you is not least the emerging of a ‘cultural industry‘ which pretends to perform art and culture along with organisations representing the aforementioned bourgeois traits, producing and aggressively marketing (luxury) products, and pretending to promote art and culture which in turn clearly leads to an impoverishment of (artistic) variety. Therefore, your (artistic) output is meant to, as sensitively as possible, integrate into the environment where it can be (publicly) realised, even if it ‘contradicts’ the direct environment. The motto is not to attract attention at any cost but to just be there, naturally, simple, and to let it happen… Whoever sees / hears / etc. it has seen / heard / etc. something – who has not, simply has not…; it is not really important for how things proceed. Those, however, who look / listen / etc. closer may get some personal gain from it.

In your capacity as a member of a social and cultural fringe group, which might be held in a comparatively higher esteem than, for example, rubbish pickers, you still feel closer to these fringe groups (admittedly probably a one-sided sentiment of closeness) than to those groups which, thanks to their education and their possibly related open-mindedness, more likely have access to your (artistic) output – or of which you can only ‘free‘ yourself, if at all, by intense searching.

This search cannot happen in closed spaces but almost only outside of them, because the kind of freedom which art needs in order to be able to develop its (artistic) view on the world, of course ‘only‘ one of many possible views, preferably unrestricted and uninfluenced by narrowness – this kind of freedom only prevails in public spaces (and always needs to be defended). You like to do this search in combination with other forms of views on the world – journalism, science, sometimes jurisprudence as well as using all (artistic) means potentially available to you and not least with a measured amount of humour, which is, because of its seriousness, not immediately obvious to everyone. It is a(n) (artistic/künstelerische (sic!)) search on which you would like to take everyone who is interested!7

< work in progress / >

Saarbrücken, 26 August 2013 [last revised 5 December 2015]

Translation into English and editing: Susanne Haberer, Bath.

1 Richard Rorty: Kultur ohne Zentrum. Vier philosophische Essays. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1993. S. [5].

2 Let me explain at this point what is behind the term ‘Künsteler’. [Explanation for non-German speakers: ‘Künsteler’ is a misspelling of the actual word ‘Künstler’ (artist). There is an ‘e’ too many in this misspelling and it sounds slightly funny]. In 2012, after returning from Argentina, a symposium takes place in the Saarbrücker Schloss (Saarbrücken Palace). The organiser, Regionalverband Saarbrücken (regional association); Head: Dipl.-Ing. (equiv MSc) Wolfgang Selke, invites you in your capacity as an open-street-mapping ‘professional artist’. This name refers back to the initiative → [2011#15] professional artist * (q.v.). Only after some time into the event, it gets noticed (by you only!) that the following is written on your name tag: “Ulrich Ludat / professioneller Künsteler” (i.e. the word Künsteler in the title ‘professional artist’ is misspelled – something in the region of ‘aretist’…). [The original name tag does not exist anymore but is documented in a photograph, see image 2]. As the humiliation of not having been accepted by the registered artist-accommodating association Saarländisches Künstlerhaus in the first instance (second successful attempt in 2015) hasn’t been digested yet, it suddenly dawns on you why you haven’t been accepted – “You are an aretist/Künsteler, that’s why!”. Since then, your official title is Künsteler (sic!).

3 Reading Georg W. Bertram‘s book Art as Human Practice – An Aesthetics (original title in German: Kunst als menschliche Praxis. Eine Ästhetik) — Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2014. — in particular has broadened your horizon enormously and ‘revolutionised‘ your own definition of art. Bertram’s striving for an unabbreviated definition of culture is on par with yours.

4 In cases where artists tend to see themselves as works of art, you believe that there is a misconception and that it is rather the action which is the work of art and that the human body can be regarded a part of that action but not as the artwork itself. The use of the body and its parts or its physical processes as a basis for artistic creation shall be left aside here.

5 As recently done with Mirka Borchardt and Andre Mailänder; please see in: Saarbrücker Hefte 110/111 (2014) 59-68.

6 In this context, Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) shall be mentioned as an important intellectual. He created his essayistic and filmic works in an intellectual sphere shaped by a strong sense of independence.

7 The Saarländische Künstlerhaus, or the association running it, admitted you on your second attempt at the beginning of 2015 (a joke made towards a lady of the institution, asking whether this wasn’t too soon as all good things come in threes, wasn’t well received). This is like an acknowledgement as a local artist – a kind of an artistic accolade in the Saarland region – and since then, the term Künsteler (sic!) has become obsolete. However, it shall be held on to until you yourself get fed up with it and go back to ‘normal’ ;-).

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