Teenage Riot

28.09.2014 –by Devon Barthes

They may not have been called teenagers yet (this word didn’t exist until the New York Times wrote a feature on teenagers in 1945) but these youthful subcultures were still recalcitrant, anti-establishment and they dressed to their own codes. In some European cities, this resulted in the formation of youth gangs, some more violent than others:

An arrested member of the Scuttler gang

During the late 19th century, groups of young men known as the Scuttlers alleviated the tedium and smog of the industrial Manchester streets with petty crime and inter-gang battles, fighting with heavy buckled belts decorated with pictures of beasts, the names of women or hearts pierced with arrows. These buckles, swung from their arm, were not intended to kill, but to maim their opponents.

With their hair cut short at the sides but with a so-called donkey fringe (longer on the left side and plastered down over the left eye) and their hats tilted, they were a far cry from the other youths in their working class neighbourhoods. Their bell-bottomed trousers, brass-tipped pointed clogs and colourful silk scarves added to their idiosyncrasy.

Apache Gang

At the start of the 20th century, Parisian youths banded together to form the Apaches, a criminal gang known to be especially violent and ruthless.

They wandered Paris, rejecting their working class status and seduced by cars, girls, nightlife and money, preferring to spend their time at the Moulin Rouge rather than slaving away in a factory.

Apache revolver without a barrel and stabbing knife

The Apache was likewise a dandy: always well dressed in a silk scarf and cap, and with an undeniable hautain air of cool, who had a sense of honour and a taste for distinction. Part of the Apache subculture was a dance that mimicked street fighting, that at times became so violent that members were seriously hurt and even killed.

A group of Eidelweiss Pirates

Fast-forwarding to Nazi Germany, gangs of youths formed that were more politically inclined than their predecessors. The Edelweiss Pirates were a group of loosely organised youths spread all over Germany between the ages of 14 and 18 who refused to take part in the Hitler Jugend.

A group of Eidelweiss Pirates

They heavily rejected the norms of the Nazi regime through mostly small gestures: using outlawed symbols, their dress (long hair, colourful chequered shirts, bright flashy neck scarves,) camping trips (now seen as an innocent pastime that during wartime Germany could have serious consequences,) singing anti-Hitler songs; or by pestering the Hitler Youths by ambushing their patrols and beating them up or stealing their bicycles.

A group of Eidelweiss Pirates

But the Edelweiss Pirates also assisted deserters, concentration camp escapees, and helped spread Allied propaganda leaflets. Of the Ehrenfeld Group, a faction of the Pirates, twelve members were publicly hanged in 1944, including their 16 year old leader Barthel Schink, who had plans to blow up a Gestapo building in Cologne.

Whether getting caught up in bar fights or fighting fascism, these groups had one thing in common: they refused to conform to their elders and explosively resisted.

16 year old Barthel Schink

Admiring Caged Birds

21.06.2015 –by Robert Cervera

Robert Cervera, Untitled (Jelly Reservoir), 2013. Strawberry jelly, concrete dust.

There are human instances in which we get quite close to understanding the language of materials.

There’s the hoe plunging into the soil: crumbly in its first inches, then more pliable as we reach the moist underneath, then almost solid in the fresh darkness of laborious earthworms. Tchak and the worm is two.

There’s the bundle that a wood seller makes with logs or sticks; the line-like tension of the rope that seconds ago was sleeping amorphously in his pocket.

Robert Cervera, Pink Nappe, 2013. Polyvinyl, cement.

There’s the moment in which you sillily slightly slice the skin of your hand and for a second you don’t know what the physical bill will be: a momentary white line, a surge of blood, anything in between.

There is sculpture in those things. And there is a chance those things may be in a sculpture. And the sound they make – a sound in your mind – sends us back, like a sonar, an image of the world.

Materiality and human agency talk to each other. Squeeze, slice, drench, chafe, wedge, pat. Haptic marvels. How things feel, what they make us feel.

Robert Cervera, Untitled (Theatre Bundle), 2013. Concrete, adhesive tape.

(No distinction can be made between humanity and materiality, Hegel and Bordieu would say. We humans are materials which create other materials which then redefine us. The things we make, make us.)

The unbounded nature of the universe comes into the discussion. Matter flowing, going everywhere, and us chasing it, telling it to go this or that way, to stay in line, to wait in groups of four, of sixteen, of sixty-four.

We try our best to make the uncountable countable, to mark limits and give shape. We end up frustrated and beguiled at once by its unruliness, charmed by its oozing.

Robert Cervera

(Is it possible that we contain matter in the paradoxical way some cage birds, to better admire their flight?)

I am fascinated by that and also by the unexpected occurrence, the providential blunder, which I take to be one more chapter of our ongoing dialogue with materiality.

About the Real and the True

31.10.2014 –by Rozemund Uljée

In 2014 Rozemund Uljée kicks off the Studium Generale programme with a lecture on how two great thinkers have defined reality – referring to past ideas that changed the way reality is conceived.

Pierre Huyghe

Part I: Plato’s unchanging realm of the real

The starting point is situated with Plato, the father of modern western philosophy. Firstly, Rozemund will give us an idea of his vision on ‘the real’ and his legacy. Plato can be seen as the first representative of the idea that we can only access ‘the real’ through reason. Plato asked himself how we come to a universal understanding of existence, from all our sensory encounters. Plato makes a distinction between the phenomenal world- perceived with our senses – and the world of ideas.

Furthermore, the latter constitutes the underlying structure of the phenomenal world, and should be seen as the true reality. For him the phenomenal world is not reliable because it is the perception of our senses, and thus fleeting: things that come into existence, then pass away. Plato tells us that whereas with our senses we perceive elements as beautiful, justified and good, it is only through reason that we can have an idea of Beauty, Justice or the Good itself. This should be seen as the explanation of Plato’s negative attitude towards art. Since it is a mere imitation of the realm of ideas, art is a copy of a copy – and thus of secondary value.

Ribbons, Ed Atkins, 2014

Part II: Why art can’t do without Nietzsche

Since Nietzsche, the idea of the privileged place of reason in order to find ‘the real’ has been questioned most radically. Nietzsche was a pioneer, who paved the way for the end of a higher world order like Plato’s that informs our reality. Famously declaring ‘God is dead’, it is Nietzsche’s view that there is no such thing as a higher reality and that the reality we live in is the only reality that does exist. He states: ‘To recognize another world is to deny life itself’. This is the reason why Nietzsche is so interested in Nihilism – the realisation that reality doesn’t know a higher meaning and value. In this sense, in constructing a dualist worldview where objective knowledge is possible, Platonism and subsequent philosophies (including Christianity) serve as an antidote to a primal and original form of nihilism in the world – as the despair of meaninglessness of reality. This saying ‘no’ to a higher reality is an important part of what Nietzsche calls a ‘re-evaluation of all values.’

Denying a ‘higher’ reality constitutes a turn toward our physical, material, chaotic and finite world. This results in a situation in which man does not let himself be governed by a reality better than his own, but instead is granted the possibility to create it himself – to create meaning within reality itself. This liberation is regarded by Nietzsche to enable different perspectives with which we can look at the truth.

Nimbus II, 2012, Cloud in room, Berndnaut Smilde

‘’We might think of truth as of a sculpture: by looking at it from only one side, we don’t understand or appreciate the whole sculpture. Only by walking around it and looking at it from all different angles can we properly appreciate it. People like Plato, who offer an access route to reality through Reason, say: “there is only one truth and it must be looked at in this way.” Such an insistence paralyzes our understanding and makes it impossible for us to be free.’’ Nietzsche calls those who do not restrict themselves to only one specific reality perspective the ‘free spirits’ – and these are for him ‘The Artist’.

He says: ‘Art is worth more than truth. Art nothing but art! It is the great means of making life possible, the great seduction of life, the great stimulant to life. Art is the only superior counterpart to the will to life-negation.’

Transcription Afra Marciel