Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 8#2/3 Peter Fend 1 Jan 1995

Newsroom Amsterdam


Newsroom Amsterdam -

A complete dossier on what we say here has been filed during a meeting with a Dutch Embassy in Paris. The meeting has been followed by meetings with authorities in Amsterdam. The documents are being considered in the criminal investigation. They tend to suggest a political background to the attack. Even if this is the case, however, as the Dutch authorities point out, there may be little that one can do about it publicly. So, in whatever is recorded now, we focus on implications, on effects, on consequences, and not on causes. For no matter how is to blame for this attack (and any individual who might be arrested will not disclose his or her backing), we of the world will need to live with the effects.

The joint venture, named Giant Algae System, or gas, was to spearhead the most rapid transition possible from a fossil fuel base for industrial economies to a solar energy base, chiefly manifest as clean-burning methane or hydrogen gas from fast-growing ocean plants, but allowing as well by its pricing structure for other forms, often more direct, of sun-derived energy. A governing paradigm came from the Fat Corner performances of Joseph Beuys, which affirmed that the material processes in society should pass through a hydrocarbon phase for thorough cycling.

Of course any attempt to effect major changes in the world energy industry will prompt concern, and possibly opposition. Everyone knows that a transition beyond the fossil fuels will occur. Everyone knows that it should occur as soon as possible: a world body of scientists had said in 1990 that this transition demands a 60% reduction (replacement) 'now, or else', and this scientific verdict, despite the Rio or other such conferences, has not changed. Almost everyone even has a sense that technical solutions are not so terribly difficult to reach: an industrial society, properly motivated, could build a non-polluting energy base. The question of Whether is solved. What remains are the questions of What (the precise choices of technology) and – more dangerous – Who. There was an episode, for example, called World War One, which decided that the Who for fossil fuels would be the us and uk, and also The Netherlands, but emphatically not Germany.

And there is an episode in March 1995 in Berlin, in which it will be asserted that the Who for the post-fossil era, the country with the best and most advanced collection of intellectual and industrial property for the next phase in human evolution on this planet, will be the country having the lead in policy beyond fossil fuels: not the us, or the uk, or The Netherlands. Anything about the uk or The Netherlands would be conflated within the centralization of intellectual and financial property intended for Europe in Munich (European Patent Office) and in Frankfurt (European Central Bank), and while they continue with the relative short-term wealth bases of fossil fuels, those in Germany will focus on the more permanent solutions. Decisions would be made more by the State, which can oversee the technological options, than by the market. For this, a new ministry is formed, a Super-Ministry, which in public has been casually described as the Zukunftministerium, or Ministry of the Future.

Really? And in what sort of society is deciding on the Future something consciously done by the State? As opposed to the free and open market, with competition between different technologies and ideas by independent parties?

In Germany as well, apparently also with subvention from the State, has emerged a Museum of the Future. Sort of a Noah's Ark. Not yet a real building with works of art, because in most cases there are no works, just ideas. Just documents. The aim is to establish an archive. An archive of that which has not proven itself to happen, or to be worthwhile, but which in being documented is judged to have value. The archive covers current artists and art groups, along with various future-scenarios think tanks. In one place (or computer file), in one dignifying institution (the 'museum'), there appears all the candidate options for future industrial and social development. (There is no entry for war – probably because wars are conducted chiefly over questions about the future, and both the Museum and Ministry of the Future presume to have obviated it.) All this may sound wonderful until we get to such questions as:
who gets included, and who not?:
is there any security of intellectual property in being archived?:
would anyone with serious plans to realize want to be so indexed?:
how much real world plans or technologies, like those for war, appear?:
by what competitive criteria are selections made?:
is it possible to archive an untested idea before it has been produced?:
who will have the right to develop the archived ideas?:
why are the authors of ideas sometimes named, and often not?:
how can the future, which is unknown, be museified?:

The answer to the last question, regrettably, indicates why there is a museum of the future, and why as well there is a proposed Ministry of the Future: in order to assert control, often hidden, from above, separate from free-market forces, to the advantage of a particular jurisdiction.

The intent of the Future Ministry, as described in the German press, is to establish a clear Energiepolitik and Technologiepolitik for Germany. Not the European Community, but Germany. Given that State intrigues will decide, of course vested interests will dominate. Of course most decisions are removed from the free market, including any free-ranging art-based efforts. In March, in Berlin, there will be an authoritative declaration on the State policies regarding solar energy in relation of course to established Environment (and nuclear) Ministry approval of nuclear energy. This declaration will be made to the world, for adoption hopefully by the world, in a world conference meant, by the hosts at least, to be the first big follow-up to Eco 92, in Berlin. If some artists happen to have different ideas, and if – worse – they happen to try to build on their ideas in the real world, efforts will be made to exclude them from the Future. When you are deciding on the Future, and holding up a model for all the world to adopt, you cannot afford to be contradicted by allegedly artistic voices which present competing, variant scenarios. So, in spite of the constitutional rule in Germany that 'art is free' (a rule continually undermined by the State practice of curating, choosing and subventioning most art), there have been several, shall we say, chilling events.

An artist exhibiting at the Munich Kunst/Okologie/Kultur -show, which was subventioned chiefly by the Ministry of the Environment, which is also the Ministry for Nuclear Safety, (thus foreclosing certain discussions) happened to make a comparison of solar-energy research and development, including levels of state funding, in Germany, Japan and the United States, revealing that Japan was the leader. The work, credited to Betty Beaumont, was exhibited but – in an action unheard of in Art – it was removed, along with her name, from the catalog. Whatever she showed was to be erased from any archive for the Future.

Those artists invited in 1991 to take part in an apparently low-key exhibition in Rio, at the Eco 92, sponsored by the local (Brasilia) branch of the Goethe Institute, could find themselves in 1992 in an elaborate catalog with the preface, regarding global ecology policy, by the Foreign Minister of Germany, and could learn by 1994 that just as their Rio show had been transferred to a prestige museum in Berlin, so the Rio Conference – courtesy of the same Foreign Ministry of Germany - was being transferred also to... Berlin.

State ambitions have become global and comprehensive. One could even say totalistic. So, if an artist should happen to take an initiative which is seen as competitive with or embarrassing to the agenda of the environmental ministry and foreign ministry in Germany, then that artist faces a threat of marginalization, at least, as what they do – in their free imaginative life – does not conform with wherever – be that Rio, or Berlin, or Sydney, or even the ps 1 Museum in New York – those particular ministries work to shape not just German culture, nor European culture, but global culture. This aligns with the slogan of the German environment ministry, Globaler Umweltschutz (Global Environmental Protection), and public statements by the foreign ministry, calling for a Zukunftsicherung (Future Assurance) that grants one the power to stop 'every civil war'. Out of Germany would come not just a certain territorial unification within Europe, but also a single global policy on environment, development and high culture. Wanna join? It remains to be seen if those who do not or cannot join, who would maintain an independent position in the art world, at least, will be able to pursue their plans for the future, even if at variance with those of a single nation-state's foreign ministry, environmental (and nuclear energy) ministry, and, as some call it, Future ministry...

These persons, recognized to be artists, are allegedly free under the German Constitution to do as they desire, providing no violation of law. Would that freedom remain if, time and again, artistic actions and exhibitions are tightly co-ordinated within the timetables and policies of that one state's, as one calls them, 'interlocked' ministries? With, of course, harm for those who act otherwise.

And worse, given the global ecological mess, harm to the many, many people – such as the prominent German solar-power activist and Bundestag member Hermann Scheer – who seek an open, competitive field, a sort of eco-industry Silicon Valley, in order to see the world they want achieved.

LESSON. If creative, enterprising persons are confined to curated culture, and to archiving their innovations in idea-bins of the future, all within the framework of policies decided by ministries of a certain State, then the historical necessity of today – for an environment which works – will not be met. Attempts to block, contain, control or officially curate the initiatives of artists must be broken. Leave such pioneers free to address the urgent questions of today as they will, and some of them – in the course of competition – will survive and succeed.

All we advocate, in our relative impotence, is a mere return to the basic principles of free and democratic (as opposed to State-directed) societies: Separation of Church (including Art) and State; Freedom of Enterprise and attendant Sanctity of Contracts and Private Property; Restriction of Government to Regulatory rather than Decision-Making Roles, to avoid Tyranny. This was said, and achieved, in the 18th Century, more than 200 years ago. Have we progressed.