But What Matters?
Opening Speech to the Exhibition What Matters, 12.03.2022, by Arnold Dreyblatt
In 1940, three days before the evacuation of Paris at the beginning of World War II, the artist and educator Josef Albers, himself a refugee from events in Europe, gave a speech at the Museum of Modern Art in New York which began with these words;
It may seem frivolous now
when all ears and eyes, when all minds,
are occupied with the frightening events abroad,
to speak in such a situation about the arts and art education.
As artists in multiple disciplines, and even more so as individual inhabitants in this world we ask ourselves in these difficult times, again in a time of war, of death and destruction can our artistic practices, have relevance?
I personally came of age as an artist in a time when many of us truly believed that art could change the world. “What Matters” was then understood as declaration, a proclamation, a manifesto an uncompleted phrase but with a specific answer. Rather as: “What Matters is…”
Today, we understand this phrase “What Matters” to indicate an open space in which we individually and collectively pose questions often without the answers…
And as we gather here today in this time and this place we open this exhibition because “this matters”.
Our moment in history is that of multiple catastrophes. Even before the beginning of the devastating war in the Ukraine, the realization of this exhibition involving 29 international artists was not a forgone conclusion.
As Walter Benjamin wrote in 1940:
The state of emergency in which we live is not the exception but the rule.
We must attain to a conception of history which is in keeping with this insight.
Due to the pandemic, there are Academy fellows represented in this exhibition whose participation in the fellowship programs date back to 2019. There were difficulties in travelling, cancelled and delayed residencies, personal and institutional hardships.
Now I would like to change grammatically from “them” to “you Plural” – in addressing YOU he participating artists directly.
But what matters?
In spite of all the difficulties of these past two years, of course we, (and I speak here as a representative of the Academy) wish that the institutional support that has resulted in this exhibition has been a positive experience for all of you in the development of your artistic practices!
You matter – You matter because this exhibition represents an international presence which is considerably more global and perhaps interdisciplinary than that represented by the membership of the academy itself.
The continual injection and intervention of external international contemporary artistic positions and formats through on-site artistic production and exhibition by mid-career international artists is essential for the future of the Akademie. (The name “Young Academy” is perhaps a bit mistaken here)
As I visited the exhibition spaces last night, I was overwhelmed by the breath and depth of the individual artistic strategies and exhibition formats. You have responded with complexity, with humor, with extensive research, with lyricism, with resilience, even with abstraction. You have responded to the local, and to the borders, to the multidimensional contradictions of national, religious, gender and minority identities, – to the landscape, to the earth, – and to the construction and the transformation and even the destruction of the natural and man-made environment. We leave here with further questions which were never meant to be answered or even posed.
But there are 29 of you.
How can I speak about individual works within the few minutes that I have left
How can I do justice to each your artistic statements without focusing on a few highlights and ignoring the others?
Perhaps Impossible. In fact I refuse.
So as an artist myself, I decided on an inadequate artistic response. I prepared two lists of alphabetical excerpts: the first with short textual phrases which are derived from your responses to the title of the exhibition. The second list contains what I might call my so-called “Flash Responses” to the individual works:
a spark when it jumps over
amplify the voices of those unheard
analyse + play
appear in the headlights
Empathy & Commons
Here and now
historical and social layers
Make them see…
no matter how small
out of time.
people are watching
question the results of one’s own work
remain open for the Other
the things we part
We, and everything that surrounds us
what we leave behind
City of Passages
Leave while you can
The village as mountain
Transitional Voice Healing