Dichtung und Wahrheit
Our contradictory approach to truth is one of the most visible paradoxes of today’s world. On the one hand, we insist that there is no room for subjectivity when searching for truth, and we reject anything other than presumably rational arguments. On the other hand, however, we have neither the strength nor the desire to verify the arguments, and easily accept instant solutions skilfully wrapped in quasi-objective language. We live in a post-factual period, so we do not seek the truth, but merely confirmation of our own prejudices.
What can this mean for art as an ambiguous form of testimony, plunging, for the past two hundred years, down the list of truth-related human activities? Like faith or religion, it has fallen into a defensive position at the moment when the general tendency of human thinking has dedicated itself to confidence in the scientific method and precise, rational concepts. Not fitting into a closed framework of scientific thought, it does not offer unambiguous answers, and although it was believed in the past to have the ability to touch the truth, today it is instead subject to distrust and general scepticism.
This year’s sixth edition of the festival Sculptures in the Streets – Brno Art Open employs thirteen artists’ perspectives to reflect on the question of so-called artistic truth and to point to its possible connection with the present-day phenomenon of post-truth. For example, if American critic Roger Cohen sees the sense of contemporary art in the search for truth, to which the facts sometimes have to adapt, it is impossible not to see the similarity with post-factual approach to information. Facts do not matter, emotions are more important. Let’s recall one more possible connection. Both art and post-truth are self-referential. For several decades, art has been in a vicious circle of references and tautologies, and has built around itself a respectable barrier, dividing the world into insiders and those who are still unwilling to accept the fact that the questions of truth and good were separated from questions of beauty. Is artistic truth therefore a prefiguration for the present phenomenon of post-truth? And, sarcastically, can it mean that life has finally caught up with art (in the spirit of Wilde’s observation, “Life is the mirror, and Art the reality”), though in a somewhat different manner than the avant-garde might once have imagined?
Besides this perhaps somewhat ironic question, the show also focuses on related topics, especially on the relationship between art and science, or generally speaking on the clash of poetic and exact (mechanical) thinking. Hence also Goethe’s expression “Dichtung und Wahrheit” (Poetry and Truth) in the motto of the festival, providing a framework for grasping the contradictory position of art in the contemporary world. A position burdened with the past, which results in a number of misunderstandings in terms of different claims and expectations of the artist on the one hand, and the audience on the other.
To what extent is contemporary art capable of fulfilling its traditionally asserted role of the bearer of human knowledge? Can it provide a regular alternative to science in that field? And if so, by what means? Should it retain the ambiguity of its testimony, or seek ways to strengthen its exactitude? According to Werner Heisenberg, over centuries science and art have created a human language that we can use to talk about the outermost realms of reality, with coherent conceptual systems being, as are various artistic styles, merely different words of the same language. Although he was a physicist, he viewed art as an equal partner of science, which is obviously no longer the case. Our attitude towards knowledge has evolved from contemplative to pragmatic over the past two hundred years. We are no longer motivated by the desire to find out what the world really is, rather we are interested in how to deal with it. In the meantime, natural sciences have turned to “technology”, and every discovery, every new finding seems to be evaluated in terms of its potential practical use. The balance weighs heavily in favour of the so-called outcome fetishism. And since we deal with the information provided by science like Flusser’s automata – i.e. black boxes, in which only the input and output data are checked – we tend to overlook the fact that current scientific concepts only fit a very limited part of reality, while the rest, so far neither understood nor understandable, remains infinite.
The sixth edition of the festival Sculptures in the Streets (BAO 2017), with the motto “Poetry and Truth”, logically follows up on the intention of the previous years to develop on the theme of “visual art and its function in public space”. The BAO 2017 artistic concept comes from Marek Pokorný, former director of the Moravian Gallery in Brno and present artistic manager of Plato Gallery in Ostrava. He has decided to invite for collaboration curators Tomáš Knoflíček and Libor Novotný, founders and authors of a similar event named Kukačka (Cuckoo) and held since 2010 in Ostrava, albeit without stable institutional background.