Report by Lorelinde Verhees

The MFA out in the sun before the symposium got underway.

Thomas I'Anson giving his introduction to the symposium

Jonas Staal presenting images from past projects as part of his introduction

Discussion between Jonas, Thomas and the audience.

Symposium Propaganda Warning, 20/04/11 with ‘Slimtarra’ print installation by Thomas I’Anson

Hosted by Extrapool Nijmegen

With  special guest Jonas Staal

On a sunny afternoon we all travelled to Nijmegen to take part in the 4th symposium of this year, dedicated to the exploration of ideology in art. There was nice food and ambiance. The ‘Slimtarra’ print installation by Thomas I’Anson looked dazzling, especially when you stand close. It was a nice artistic contribution to the theme.

Thomas gave his introduction to the theme; he mentioned that the actuality around artist Ai Wei Wei and others shows that political engagement is an ongoing clash between politics/ideology and governments.

Jonas Staal stated that political disengagement is impossible as an artist. This engagement or disengagement is put under question in Thomas’ work. For Thomas, art is educating and informing; can that be without ideology?

Jonas Staal explained his ideas and work by starting with explaining or clarifying a few things, such as the word democratism, the artist as inevitably political, and what is ideology and what is freedom?

To Staal, we are in the system as artists, because we have a democratic society. Politicians, governments or those in power need Art to prove this system of democracy, or power in the peoples hands. If the system allows art, or the subversive, or the mirror that art can be, it offers a false notion of freedom.

In other words; if politicians allow artists to make their art, in a free position, they will face some criticism on themselves or the system. The strength (or symbolic act of freedom) from those who resist criticism and even support it, proves the evidence of the democratic system being a true division of power in the peoples’ hands.

For example; writer Arnon Grunberg and theatre company Orkater went to Afghanistan to be embedded in the Dutch army. It is impossible to expect non-critical responses. To Staal, they helped our politicians to legitimize this war; it was criticized and could now enter the democratic sphere trough this criticism.

Again the subject of artist Ai Wei Wei comes to the table, but now as an example of how art is used for ideology; Western politicians and human rights activists take the case of Wei Wei to show how bad the political climate is in China. So democracy is put forward as the good system, because Wei Wei’s critical art would be appreciated here.

To Staal, democracy is not the system, but rather a system, one of the many to be explored.

We had to improvise a little due to technical failure of the beamer, but we talked on about Jonas Staal’s artworks and he showed some pictures and works in progress on a laptop. At this moment, there is a collaboration going on between Sörensen from local political party Leefbaar Rotterdam and Jonas Staal; he offered to make a monument for the autochthon worker after their idea about it in the near future, which will be opposed to a monument for the immigrant worker. Nobody but the two artists who made the statues is aware that the statues might face each other.

Providing context is of major concern here; the statue is the embodiment of populist ideas, which are not supported by Staal. Therefore, the best situation would be not to make the statue, but have the discussion instead.

Can art be without ideology? I think that we should have had more time to talk about this question, to really come to more points of view on the topic.

After some Q&A we rounded up the discussion and went home. In the car we talked about the symposium. About Jonas Staal, who speaks so driven about the system being different than we think it is, or how problematic the position of art in the democratic system really is.

Is there a way out?

Speaking for myself, making good art despite the problems of any system is the real challenge. What exactly ‘good art’ is, makes another discussion. We have to overcome this general feeling of resentment without losing criticality, and just do it.

Lorelinde Verhees

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