| Culture I Nature: Art and Philosophy in the Context of Urban Development|
featuring: Ala Plastica – Sybille Bauriedl – Joseph Beuys – Gerd de Bruyn – Gernot Böhme – Critical Art Ensemble – Mike Davis – Fährstraßenfest – Lili Fischer – Adrienne Goehler – Anke Haarmann – Nadine Hanemann – Lisa Heldke – Uli Hellweg – Thomas Heyd – Manuel Humburg – Interkultureller Garten – Harald Köpke – Harald Lemke – Ton Matton – Kathrin Milan – Dirck Möllmann – Anna Müller – Dan Peterman – Nana Petzet – Andrea Pfeiffer – Elisabeth Richnow – Volker Sokollek – Susan Leibovitz Steinman – Simona Weisleder – Malte Willms – Gesa Woltjen – Jürgen WüpperFrom August 16th to September 14th 2008 the "Elbinsel Sommer" (Summer on the Isle of River Elbe) took place as an artistic and contextual forum called „Culture | Nature“ in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg. It was the first time the "Elbinsel Sommer" was be curated by an independent team of curators: Anke Haarmann und Harald Lemke [AHL]. It was composed of four fields of action: the Strip-Billboard Course, the Archive of the Arts , Art Projects and Excursions of Reflection.
An Artistic and Contextual Platform for the City
in Times of Climate Change
Is the cultural history of modern industrial societies not clear evidence that the capitalist economy exists at the cost of an ecological relationship with nature? But what is "nature" actually and what relationship does it have with "culture?" Do the Elbe river and the Elbe Grass, the polar icecaps and the oceans - as examples of "prime nature" - really stand in contradiction to "urban culture"?
As part of the art and culture program of the International Building Exposition in Hamburg (IBA), the artistic and contextual platform Culture | Nature queried our concept of nature, or to put it more precisely, the socially dominant concepts of nature and their various metamorphoses. The goal was to reflect "the city in times of climate change," using the critical tools of art and philosophy. In order to be able to react to the challenge of climate change, it seems sensible to investigate the culturally molded concepts of nature and to research the social correlations governing the global culture-nature relationship. French anthropologist and agent-network theoretician Bruno Latour speaks of "collectives" to point out that we are never dealing with "nature," but always with very opaque relationships that combine nature and culture into a nature-culture collective. Such collectives, where natural and cultural agents are blended together, form networks specific for particular things or locations. The agents, however, who are interlaced in these networks, can be found anywhere.
In Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg, where the exhibition platform Culture | Nature took place, the history of the city district, its proximity to the Port of Hamburg, its location between various waterways and in a delta, the structure of its population, the political balance of power, economic dynamics, among other things, blend into such a collective. Contained in this collective is the risk that the moor frog in the so-called "Wettern" (the drainage ditches and canals of the marshland) is going to become extinct, as a dam is separating the Elbe river from the hinterland, as transport containers are piled up to metal mountains, as gardens are turned into massive industrial buildings and gardening product centers, as canals and wastelands are contaminated with inherited old pollutants, as plans for superhighways are proliferating, and as bicycle paths are being called for to the benefit of people's nerves and of the ailing climate. Bicycle paths, in this context, are they exclusively "culture," and moor frogs, are they "nature" only?
In the course of history, the occidental relationship between nature and culture has formed a dualism. Whatever was wild nature was supposed to be civilized by culture. Whatever was culturally molded could not be considered natural. It is by this antagonism in the basic concept that, to this day, we perceive our natural environment. We differentiate between culture and nature, urban and rural areas, artificial and natural, even though the respective values have traded places: it is no longer human culture that seems desirable, but it is nature, in its destruction by man, that seems to be in need of saving. However, the antinomy of man and environment continues to exist without being questioned. Flowers are nature - buildings are culture. Chimeras such as port basins or nature reserves are "laundered" terminologically. Wilhelmsburg is full of chimeras, not pure.
Culture | Nature has not carried out the cultural questioning of man's relationship with nature without regard to the locality, but has taken the specific situation in Wilhelmsburg as an example. In this city district of Hamburg located on the southern side of the Elbe, harbor industry borders directly on residential areas, the percentages of migrants and jobless are particularly high. Furthermore, nature reserves are part of the landscape, existing next to vegetable farms, quarters with Wilhelminian-style apartment buildings and more recently built high-rise apartment complexes, as well as single-family home neighborhoods. For decades, a highly involved citizens' initiative has been active here. There has also been the image of a neglected city district to contend with, fears of the area being gentrified, demands for more urban development, a high noise level by all the port and industry traffic, but also rare marsh birds on wet meadowland. This is the place where theHamburg city administration has decided to intervene by organizing an International Building Exposition (IBA) from 2007 until 2013 to "develop the city." Just as controversial as the entire undertaking, but also critically useful, is its art and culture program, the "Elbe Island Summers," which is under an independent curatorship for the first time in 2008. The "Elbe Island Summer" is part of city development and refers to the topics of this Building Exposition. The question is, however, what can art and culture achieve in urban development and to whose benefit?
Using the tools of a cooperative and interventionist concept of art as well as the reflective practices of theoretical work, Culture|Nature has dealt with the question: to what extent are art and culture being exploited for the goals of a hierarchically structured city planning? In contrast to aesthetically upgrading by featuring "beautiful art," the strategies of artistic investigation and reflection focused on the locality were applied. Understanding the phenomenon of climate change as a collective experience and in its cultural context means - in terms of urban development - to analyze concrete problem areas and options of action. For that, four fields of action were developed:
"The Archive of the Arts" recycles art works from the past on such topics as ecology, nature conservancy, urban development, and climate change. Six art projects were interventions in the urban space of Wilhelmsburg. The "Strip - Billboard Course," attracted public attention to the issue of traffic policy. In the course of five "Excursions of Reflection," the participants were enlightened onsite about five different fields of social conflicts.
The Archive of the Arts was located in the TONNE, an empty building abandoned in 1994. This first-time use critically questioned a purely economically oriented utilization of the hall. By using it as an exhibition space for works of art that had been produced in the Hamburg metropolitan area in the past on such topics as climate, ecology, nature and sustainability, the Archive of the Arts confronted the paradigm of productivity in the arts with a different, deliberate praxis of art exhibition; deliberate by the way the existing pieces of art were treated in a reflective and conserving manner. There are plans to continue using the space for art purposes in Wilhelmsburg in the future.
The six art projects with the locality of Wilhelmsburg and with the topics relevant to the city in terms of climate change, culture or nature, ecology, as well as industry. Culture | Nature wanted to point out that the working methods of contemporary artists are very similar to the activities of local initiatives and of the critical parts of the general public - in other words, that there is no clear difference between art praxis and urban praxis - and so our platform made it a point to involve locally and internationally active groups and individuals as artistic performers. All of them related to the existing context and its complex set of problems by way of an interventionist or cooperative form of work.
The Strip - the Billboard Course was a collective sculpture in public space and acted as a signal on traffic and transportation policy. The "natural habitat" of the Wilhelmsburg residents consists of docklands, parking sites for transport containers, industrial buildings, and heavy truck traffic. Since 2002, there has been the demand to build a bicycle path through this area to create a safe and sustainable traffic connection to northern Hamburg. Upon an open invitation by Culture|Nature, more than one hundred poster designs were submitted and were displayed as billboards along the route leading from northern Wilhelmsburg to the center of Hamburg.
Participating in the Excursions of Reflection meant to set out by bus, barge, or bicycle in order to reflect upon such problem areas as the port, energy, nature, gardening culture, or city development in their local as well as global relevance. Knowledge of local details was combined and complemented with more general theoretical reflection. In this way, Culture | Nature placed philosophical reflection on an equal footing with art praxis. All three elements, local knowledge, philosophical reflection, and artistic work, exert their influence as powers of urban culture.
The working methods of art, philosophy, and the sciences can be used as combined tools to take the socially relevant topics of our times, translate them into various languages and, thus, make them perceivable for all. By combining art praxis and theory, the platform has reacted to the changes in the self-concepts of the different fields of art and theory in order to reflect complex contexts such as the relationship between culture and nature from the viewpoint of urban development. The division of the present work into an illustrated volume and a text volume accommodates these differing forms of expression.
Anke Haarmann and Harald Lemke [AHL]