– Summer 2010

The Art of Enlightenment: 'Same Same, But Different'

Maria Muhle

Tags: Michel Foucault

Christian von Borries, Alice Creischer, Andreas Siekmann, ‘Dubai — Expanded Horizons: Museums Create a New International Public Sphere’, performance. Courtesy the artists

Christian von Borries, Alice Creischer, Andreas Siekmann, ‘Dubai — Expanded Horizons: Museums Create a New International Public Sphere’, performance. Courtesy the artists

On 28 May 2008 a press conference was held at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin under the title 'Dubai Erweiterte Horizonte: Museen schaff en eine neue internationale Öff entlichkeit' ('Dubai Expanded Horizons: Museums Create a New International Public Sphere'). It brought together the directors of the three largest German museums, who referred to themselves during the press conference as the 'three generals';1 they were 'flanked' by the Head of the Directorate- General for Culture and Communication of the Federal Foreign Office and by the Cultural Director of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (DCAA), representing the Dubai government.

The aim of the event was to make public the plans for a large scale collaboration project between the three German institutions (joined under the label 'United German Museums'), the German cultural diplomacy and the Emirate of Dubai. The wholly unironic project consisted of the development of a 'Universal museum' to be located in Dubai, continuing another 'very successful' as they put it international cooperation between the three institutions and the National Museum of China in Beijing (which, once the extension work is completed, will be 'the world's biggest museum').2 This collaboration will eventually result in the exhibition 'The Art of the Enlightenment', taking place between September 2010 and February/March 2012 and which, through a selection of works and artefacts from the museum collections from Berlin, Dresden and Munich, will present the Enlightenment as a key chapter in the history of European thought and civilisation and, furthermore, will aim to 'redefine the Enlightenment and China as forming part of a universal "intellectual world-heritage site"'. After this first experiment, the 'United German Museums' will expand

  1. Peter Klaus Schuster of the National Museums of Berlin, Martin Roth of the Dresden State Art Collections and Reinhold Baumstark of the Bavarian State Painting Collections, Munich.

  2. See http://www.skd-dresden.de/en/ausstellungen/andereOrte/Die_Kunst_der_Aufklaerung.html (last accessed on 16 February 2010).

  3. Several recent German publications have addressed these issues, such as Texte zur Kunst's December 2009 issue, which was titled 'Geschichte/History', or the latest issue of Jahresring from 2009, edited by Yilmaz Dziewior, 'Wessen Geschichte: Vergangenheit in der Kunst der Gegenwart'. There have also been several exhibitions dedicated to re-enactment, including 'History Will Repeat Itself' at HMKV Dortmund and Kunst-Werke Institute of Contemporary Art, Berlin in 2007-08 and 'Life, Once More. Forms of Re-enactment in Contemporary Art', at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, in 2005. For a historical overview see Sven Lütticken: 'An Arena in Which to Reenact', in S. Lütticken (ed.), Life, Once More: Forms of Re-enactment in Contemporary Art (exh. cat.), Rotterdam: Witte de With, 2005, pp.17-60. In a recent article, Kerstin Stakemeier claims that re-enactment is 'performed historicism', and as such always assumes that mere repetition already bears a critical dimension. On the contrary, Stakemeier claims that 'artistic re-enactment transforms actualisation into a symbolic dissolution, where the past is stylised into an event and becomes indistinguishable'. Re-enactments are then 'historicist anesthetisations of the political'. Kerstin Stakemeier, 'Reenacting: aneignen und abweisen', phase 2, issue 32, 2009, available at http://phase2.nadir.org/rechts.php?artikel=691 (last accessed on 16 February 2010).

  4. Michel Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge (trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith), London: Routledge, 1972, p.8.

  5. Creischer, Siekmann and von Borries also helped initiate the critical platform 'Alexandertechnik' (ironically referring to Alexander von Humboldt), which reflects on the political changes conducted through the urban and cultural planning of the former centre of East Berlin. The new Humboldt Forum, for example, which is meant to represent the culturally and politically reunited German nation, celebrates the role of non-European art and culture artefacts in the enlightened project of cosmopolitanism set up by the 'cultural nation' Germany to peacefully colonise the world by 'exchanging' cultural goods, i.e. by exporting German Bildung (cultivation) and importing the 'primitive art' that now constitutes the ethnological collections. The bust of Nefertiti exhibited in the recently and spectacularly re-opened Neues Museum on the Museumsinsel is perhaps the most popular example. For more information, see http://www.humboldtforum.info (last accessed on 16 February 2010).

  6. See http://www.united-german-museums.de (last accessed on 16 February 2010).

  7. The Phonogram Archive, co-founded by Carl Stumpf, is a collection of fragments of non-European music recorded during colonial expeditions by Germans and Europeans to different parts of the world, with aspirations to being comprehensive. The archive and especially its historical collection, which has been classified by the UNESCO as a Memory of the World, is today part of the musical-ethnological collection in the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, and preserves over 150,000 audio documents recorded between 1883 and 1954, mainly during the colonial expeditions. An interesting view on this archive is presented by Philip Scheffner in his film Halfmoon Files (2007), which focuses on the recordings of Islamic war prisoners from the so-called 'Halfmoon Camp' near Berlin during World War I.

  8. See http://www.sophiensaele.com/archiv.php?IDstueck=682 (last accessed on 22 February 2010).

  9. Leitkultur ('leading culture') refers to the consensual agreement on the fundamental values for society, and was a key discussion point during the German political debate on the modification of the regulations for the integration of immigrants in 2000. The conservatives claimed that immigrants had to respect and adopt the German 'leading culture'. This position was criticised as replacing integration by assimilation, and therefore not respectful of the diverse cultural reality of German society.

  10. The major issue for Stumpf and his archive was how to notate non-European music, which was impossible with the classical notation system and its diatonic scale. The classification of the music was thus done through its degree of deviance from the Western notation system, which implies that the music is not classified as part of the 'history of music', but as ethnological illustrations of a certain cultural and historical moment and consequently exposed as part of the 'ethnological' collection.

  11. M. Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge, op. cit., p.7.

  12. Ibid., p.8.

  13. Ibid., p.10.

  14. Ibid., p.11.

  15. S. Lütticken, 'An Arena in Which to Reenact', in S. Lütticken (ed.), Life, Once More, op. cit., pp.29-31.

  16. See Bertolt Brecht, 'The Street Scene', Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic (trans. and ed. John Willett), New York: Hill and Wang, 1964, pp.121-29.

  17. M. Foucault, 'What Is Enlightenment?' (trans. Catherine Porter), in The Foucault Reader (ed. Paul Rabinow), New York: Pantheon Books, 1984, p.50.