EXILE - KunstCentret Silkeborg Bad - Art Centre Silkeborg Bad - 16 may - 30 august 2009 Retur til forside - return to frontpage

 Speech by Trevor Davies : Opening of "EXILES", Silkeborg Bad, May 2009

One distinct trend since the turn of the millennium has been a growing re-connection of art and society.
After the political agit prop art of the 60-70's followed the almost complete severing (cutting off) of art from any social and political content in the following 10-20 years, with minimalism, abstraction, mainstreaming and commercialism of the 80é and 90´s.
We are experiencing a re-connection which hopefully signals a dialogue which is not only an artistic trend but a democratic and cultural necessity which reaffirms the artist and the arts at the centre of a social discourse. One might say . there are no aesthetics without ethics in our time and indeed the concept of art itself as a "domain" is increasingly questionable with "real life" installations, artistic interventions, reality tv and so on.
It can be argued that this is perhaps linked to a series of "crises" since the turn of the millennium which has generated a growing wave - a "moral and emotional sunami" and the often quoted "clash of civilisations" theory launched by Professor Huntingdon in the late ´90's is certainly riding this moral sumani with its professes of a major "clash" between "western/Christian " and the "(middle)eastern/Islamic cultures.
The shock of this new millennium is however real : religion and ideology , democracy and the question of freedom of speech, environment and climate, social and political polarisation, terrorism, and finally finance and the global economy have all been at the headlines and the result is undoubtedly a heightened tension anda more polarised society - globally as well as locally. Some fundamental questions are being out as to our values and as to how we can respond to a world where events, media, beliefs, traditions, politics and so on cannot be kept separate and neither can local and global events . These are indeed troubled times.
Suddenly this "double confrontation" with both a layered and overlapping complexity and with the confrontation of growing cultural/ ideological/political difference uppermost - for us an individuals and for us as communities - if indeed this word is still usable.
The ability to manage difference is perhaps the challenge for our times.
Whether this difference is sexual as represented by the news this morning of the gay community being repressed in Moscow, whether the difference as represented by young disillusioned In the streets of Copenhagen last weekend partying, or whether this difference is represented by 2nd generation of immigrants in Gellerup plan.
And the term "manage difference" is naturally not simply a question of assimilation and one way integration or indeed uniformity. How do we manage "difference" and how indeed do we define people that are "different" and how do these people address their "differences" and react to their supposed "difference". This brings us to the core of EXILES.















 Part 2
The boldness of this exhibition EXILE and the concerns it reflects is therefore hugely timely and rewarding and I would like to commend Iben From and her team from Silkeborg Bad, the artist organisation PRO and Silkeborg kommune on their commitment to this ambitious exhibition which in a way is a comment and counterpoint to Silkeborg Bad's role as and asylum centre in the ´90's and also to its role as a "sanatorium" as a life reviving "refuge . or exile" from the real world. With exhibitions such as this one cannot help but commentating on the dilemma that Kunstcentret Silkeborg Bad still doe not have the status as a national art centre - this is - I think - rather embarrassing.
I also naturally thank the artists for contributing their work to an exhibition which lays out not only their intellectual and artistic interpretation of the theme but inevitably also their personal involvement.
This is a hugely positive and encouraging exhibition. It is encouraging firstly because of the commitment to present exiled artists who as immigrant artists on the whole, often face difficulties in their attempts to be recognised and to be accepted by main stream culture and by the established arts sector - perhaps particularly I Denmark which does not have a good record of public arts policy on this issue - where diversity is not necessary recognised as a quality in itself. Rather quality has historically been linked to a limited set of artistic schools/styles/standards which are very definitely West European / Western.
Secondly because the theme itself - which is both provoking and questioning and which invites the public to relate to the theme of "exile" from their individual standpoints and which addresses all individuals as we indeed are in some sense or other "all exiles".
Thirdly because an exhibition such as this also maintains the art institution as a "home" - for the marginal - and the marginalised - for a necessary intercultural dialogue and a place where difference can be and must be allowed - and indeed valued : we naturally believe that the arts can give the necessary context where diverging views and potential conflict can be addressed and processed and perhaps even resolved.





















 Part 3
As you may know Århus is a candidate for the title of European Capital of Culture 2017 and we have begun discussions with the cities of Silkeborg, Horsens, Herning, Viborg, Randers and Holstebro regarding a potential collaboration.
Our hope is to create a programme which builds on the structures of networks between arts / cultural / knowledge / creative institutions and centres as the drives - with the concept of art at the core which dares to confront and which can facilitate change and with a belief in a democratic and pluralistic cultural environment.
In my view, this project EXILES obviously fits into this scenario and for me this exhibition is both relevant - radical - and reaches out .
And with this exhibition, Kunstmuseet Silkeborg Bad brings one of the burning European - and global - issues to the forefront and so I hope this initiates a working relationship between 2017 with Silkeborg and I hope that the exhibition receives the backing, the appreciation and the audience it deserves.

 Part 4
In my view the exhibition EXILES manages to transcend the classic presentation "of" exiled artists" and has avoided the obvious trap of many such exhibitions.
EXILES is an exhibition with a wealth of styles, attitudes and themes whilst underlining the EXILE narrative as one of the central narratives of our time - and of our civilisation. The exhibition is both passionate and political as well as playful.
Yes the statistics are shocking: The United Nations have documented that there are 2,9 million stateless people in the world, 11,4 million refugees, and 1,5 million asylum seekers - as of April 2009.
In 1941, while residing in Santa Monica, Thomas Mann stated,
"What today is the meaning of foreign, the meaning of homeland? . . . When the homeland becomes foreign, the foreign becomes the homeland."
Exiled to the USA from Germany in the late 30´s Mann lived in California for fourteen years before returning to Europe in 1952, his version of the American dream crushed. by the Cold War, McCarthyism, and the Golden State's "artificial paradise." Mann's poignant question-and declarative response-is central to Exile,
In Richard Horowitz's survey of European refugee artists in America during the first half of the twentieth century, Horowitz argued that the greatness of the American culture in the first halt of the 20th.century rests primarily of the influx of exiled artists, thinkers, philosophers, writers, architects, scientists - whether Russian émigrés fleeing from the Russian Revolution, followed by persecuted Jews and minorities form the Nazi regime of the 1930s. Indeed. ´Actually he says that at least 50% of the notable creative minds of this period were actually refugees and exiles - Balanchine, Varèse, Lang, Dietrich, Brecht, Bartok come immediately to mind.
This is true but on the other hand many artists never adapted, disappeared or became completely disulusioned.













In Denmark . with an immigrant population of around 400.000 there ought to be at 4.000 professional artists, writers and heritage with non-Danish heritage. It is difficult to find documentation for more than 500. What happened to the rest?
It would be difficult to imagine a theme which is more central for an understanding of the human condition anno 2009 than "exiles". The word immediately triggers a cascade of images, situations and immediately triggers an emotional, intellectual and political response.
These are words central to our post modern vocabulary : globalisation: nationalism, diaspora, multicultural, intercultural - persecution, power, repression, freedom of speech and indeed freedom, political awareness, migration, assimilation and integration, distance, home, memory, outsider, as well as - sense of loss, homelessness, guilt, longing, hope, emptiness and loneliness and conditions of ghettos, social deprivation, dependence, poverty and so on. Words and expressions also scattered in the exhibition catalogue.
Much current thought on the state of exile made is the writings of Gilles Deleuze, Jacque Derrida, Edward Said.
They have pointed out that the post modern phrases such as diaspora, nomadisme, inner exile, and have seen that the "freedom from national ties" and "freedom from the repressive state of national identity" fit with the post modern theory of a globalised world and that "distance" would seem to be a requisite to be able to act and react - as artists and as a free individual. And there is certainly some truth in the sense of "becoming free from something", but whether this is "freedom" is another matter perhaps.
Current theories of the state of exile see two main directions as the writer Cluadio Quilles points out -
The "exiled and nostalgic" OR the "counter exiled and creative" and speaking about exiled writers he sees that whilst some "look towards the sun and embrace the world" as he puts it "other look inwards and focus on loss".
Others have called this "creative freedom" and "the trap of restrictive nostalgia".
In reality, this is a complex field and my own discussions and work with displaced and exiled artists - where emotions, memory, practical everyday life, split families, artistic vision, political awareness collide and generate a minefield of eternally shifting, often contradictory and seldom controlled situations which are both the diving force but also the physical and mental blockings for the creative process.
In may ways, this situation can be seen as a heightened scenario for all artists and indeed for all human beings and as such this exhibition is not of course just about or by "exiled artists" but as the invitation says - the state of being exiled - and being able to manage "dislocation".
Whether we perceive ourselves as being exiled in a formal sense of the word or not, our ability to connect with the artistic works in EXILE will naturally reflect on not only our compassion, our social and political understanding. Naturally they will invite us to be honest about our own "moments of exile" - "our own roles in exile" - "our own fears of exile" - perhaps even our "longing for exile".












In this way, this exhibition touches on so many interpretations of "exile" that it is indeed a view of the human condition.
I have never really thought of myself as "exiled" - but with a mother who was forced into exile after the 2nd World War, a father who made a self determined exile and was for man years "exiled" in military service to control fragments of the British Empire, and with a daughter whom we physically "exiled" from her homeland in Guatemala for a "better life" there are elements and aspects of exile I also can relate to. And if we look at our own families and lives, similar things would be true.
The emotional register of the exhibition EXILE is beautifully balanced.
From the fairytale like the travelling "Camping Women" by Marit Norheim whom I have worked with previously - - the playful Vicky Steptoe whose theme "longing" and "strangers" with the two central photographs of female bottoms - the youthful Jeanette land Schou's cartoon like figures "buddies - they always find a way" - the juxtaposition of the tourist as a temporary and often privileged exile - all be it for 8 days - the sense of being exiled in the Middle East - as xxxxxxx states "we in the middle east do not need to go abroad to be exiled - we are good at exiling ourselves at home "and he presents four photographers, among others the sensual photographs of Emman Ebraheem confronting her sexual exile, plus the documentaries of workers in the "exile of the factory" for 12 hours daily for 15 years without a holiday to Ralf Ziervogel and his beautiful drawings of the "exile of thoughts"
A central work is undoubtedly the video "A Stranger in my Native Land" reminding us of the 100.000 exiled Tibentens and who have been in a nation in limbo for 50 years.- but also making me wander whether their plight is actually worse that the plight of Tibetens "at home" but definitely not "at peace" - perhaps not even "at peace" with themselves knowing that their "better half" is actually is a state of perpetual mourning.
Personally I am pleased reconnect with artists such as Carsten Vogel, Tine Hind and Jimbut Jun Feng whose poems reflect the necessity of dialog with the other - the lost other -. the other self . I quote :
"In the origin of the twilight -. a figure comes to greet you - you see me in the darkness of the island - but it is not me - It is a poem I write to you - while I hear the window blow - on the other island"
I do hope that this exhibition will be seen as a clear documentation of the artists ability to transcend personal limitations, political and social condition.
And the ability to reflect ones own fate but not to be seduced by the attraction of self deception of even justified retribution or revenge - or self pity . But the ability to use this one might even say "unique" position of being on the edge / on being an outsider both at "home and "at home" to point out dilemmas and contradictions of our own fate - also on the periphery - unless we of course falsely imagine otherwise that we are not.
So a huge thank you to all the artists and we hope that your spirit will also be released so some extent and even strengthened by taking part in this exhibition - both for taking the title serious without being controlled by the title - EXILES. By daring to play in he the shadows one shows disdain of darkness.
And thank you for letting me make this opening speech. I am honoured.
May 2009

Trevor Davies