Die Kunst in Zeiten der Cholera

Voices Offstage: Art in the Time of Cholera

by Raul Walch

If you make a pledge to eternity you must hope that the pledge won’t turn into a curse. Thus Florentino Ariza, protagonist in Gabriel García Márquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera, swears his love to Fermina Daza and until his dying days learns to live with thehope that one day his feelings might finally be reciprocated. The decision to live as an artist poses similar challenges. In spite of one’s many personal privileges in these parts, the current conditions make one aware of the fragility of our cultural setting and one’s precarious existence as a freelance artist. All of a sudden I am back at the beginning and have to start searching again. No longer am I rushing from project to project, from one exhibition to another, but need to pause for a moment and ask myself, what actually still has relevance in the face of global crises?

Like many other travellers I was relieved to get back to Berlin on time before the lockdown, but only then to see how refugees were still being left to their own devices. In fast motion we are witnessing a return to national borders. From our homes we can observe how worldwide socio-economic inequalities determine people’s chances of survival during the pandemic. I start searching for new formats that could bring together a new world of ideas and my own work. Together with students from the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, a Mail Art project about the online summer semester is underway. Zines and a range of different printed matter are being sent out by mail.

Seeking one’s way out of isolation is also about finding new places for art. From their balconies throughout the city people seem open to public life, but in private they live in isolation. The project Die Balkone. Life, art, pandemic and proximity in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district created a microcosm of artistic freedom. This was presented in a two-day livestream event produced by the campaign alliance Die Vielen (The Many). Nonetheless, most art projects have been cancelled or postponed. While at the start of the year it still seemed unthinkable that machines and production might come to a standstill; now the danger lies in what is familiar. People are looking for a new normality; meanwhile wild animals are reclaiming the roads now empty of traffic. Has nature come back thanks to corona? Not so, says the philosopher Bruno Latour who sees the continuing corona crisis as a dress rehearsal for the next, by far worse crisis which will be unleashed by climate change. He asks questions such as: what kinds of activities have been momentarily interrupted that you wish would not be resumedagain? Which activities do you hope could be further developed or even recreated completely from scratch? Can we, in a time of pandemic, revive social utopias? What would it be like if our predominant experience of this were not the poison of loneliness but regaining a condition of utter devotion to and concentration on a certain purpose in life?

Having lived through an eternity of yearning and solitude, at least the novel’s hero Florentino Atiza fulfils his aim in his twilight years: on the ship journey at the close of Marquéz’s novel the yellow flag of cholera is hoisted, but only in pretence so as to protect the ageing lovers Florentino and Fermina from society.

Irrlichter tour in Steele

On a Saturday morning, under the heatwave called El Niño, I went on a walk in Essen-Steele with seven people and visited public artworks created specifically for places you wouldn't normally enter ...

Beyond the imaginable

Eva Koťátková in conversation with Britta Peters about the exhibition My Body Is Not An Island

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