Cultural Barbarians – VPRO documentary – 2016

Cultural Barbarians – VPRO documentary – 2016


backlight I believe that fifty years from now
all expressions of art… …regardless of whether we call them art,
will be very different from now. We have to be prepared for everything. cultural barbarians Up until twenty years ago,
there were two wine-producing countries. France and Italy. Together they were
a kind of aristocracy… …both in terms of regions
and production methods. After World War II, the Americans
discovered wine in Italy and France… …and took it home with them. And then they started producing their own
wines in California. That was unthinkable. They started making a wine that copied
all the aristocracy’s secrets… …but gave the taste a different twist.
More simple, you could say. Now they are making wines
in Bulgaria, Australia and Chile. They are barbarians compared
to the French chateau… …or the big local producer
who has been making wine for 200 years. Compared to them
they are barbarians, of course. It was an immutable world
that was turned completely upside down. The kind of civilisation, intellectual
civilisation that we are abandoning… …is a civilisation
that we could call romantic. With all the experience and depth,
the effort we put into learning things. We never moved away
from that kind of approach. I don’t think anything happened… …between 1850 to 2000,
from a cultural point of view. As far as intelligence is concerned… …we were completely stuck
in that mind-set. The real turning point took place
fifteen years ago. 300 years from now, people will be
studying the romantic period… …and the end of the romantic period.
That’s where we’re at now. And the new period,
that will also be given a name. The new period will coincide
with the emergence of the digital world. The Internet period. When I was little, it was an insult
to call someone superficial. It meant you were simple. Stupid. Profoundness however,
was held in high esteem. One of the four, five things that the
barbarians have done, is turn that around. They have reinvented superficiality
and given it a new meaning. Saying you’re standing
on the earth’s surface… …and that your work surfs over
the surface is a compliment these days. If the sense of the world
is represented by shapes… …that we draw by connecting dots
on all four corners of the world… …then being able to travel fast
to connect those dots… …is the most important thing. You will never be able to travel past
those dots. You’d never finish. Because if we keep looking up,
everything becomes huge. Principles become something
you’d kill or die for. This new stage in human development
is born out of the shocking things… …we experienced
in the previous century. If you think about the horrors
of the 20th century… …National Socialism, Stalinism,
many dictatorships… That would have been impossible
with a superficial humanity. It could only happen in a world
where values are pillars… …that reach into the centre
of the earth. The Truth. In an ever-changing world,
Hitler would be ridiculous. Some years ago, I did research
into the workings of financial markets. I found it interesting that we have very
abstract ideas about financial markets. Complex, virtual.
I delved deeper into the subject. It makes use of our communication system
and Internet cables. Those spots are perfectly traceable. This is a map of the world
marking all cable landing points. This is Rotax.
It’s on the map because it’s planned. It’s not there yet, but I marked it
because I wanted to go there. I wanted to visit the site
and see if anything was happening yet… …or whether I could spot any activity. When I got there,
I saw a dilapidated village. Actually, this is one of the few places
in the world without cables. Because of global warming
the Arctic ice is slowly melting… …making it possible
to lay a submarine cable… …that connects Tokyo’s and London’s
financial markets. So the melting ice allows for new routes
for faster data communication… …for financial markets.
So less ice leads to more money. I find that moment interesting… …where we have to actively participate,
ask questions and imagine things… …instead of having everything
done for us like the media do. We are surrounded by phenomena
and objects that are so huge… …they transcend our perception. We never see it, come across it,
we have no control over it… …but we are constantly
connected to it… …and its effects are noticeable
in many different ways. Do you care
if people call it art or research? No. I mean, what I find interesting… …is that the work can end up
in many different contexts. It can start off a debate between people
from different disciplines. That’s what matters most to me.
It’s what these topics require. There is no wind right now. What do you do for a living? I’m a driver.
– I’m a lift operator. I work in the nickel mines. I’m from Nikel.
I teach piano at music school. I live in Zapolyarny
but I was born in Nikel. What do you do for a living?
– I’m a computer specialist. What do you think of this project?
– They are mostly interested… In sounds of nature.
– Sounds of nature, yes. And how the air moves.
They have sticks that make sounds. Like wind turbine blades. I think it’s something from way back,
when the Sami lived here. It’s a typical Sami sound. Back then,
people were a lot closer to nature. Only fifteen years ago,
we had completely different winds here. Today, there is very little wind,
but normally there’s a lot. Because of human intervention in nature,
the wind direction has changed. I believe that fifty years from now,
all expressions of art… …regardless of whether we call them art,
will be very different from now. The process has already started. It’s fantastic.
Who knows what they will be creating? But if I had to identify master pieces
of barbarian culture today… Well, there aren’t any yet. Many things come close,
they are precursors. But we still have to wait a while
for radical change. We have to be prepared for everything. One the biggest problems, maybe
the biggest one, is economic inequality. Today’s art world deals with
economic inequality by making films… …drawings or projects which
temporarily eliminate that inequality… …and show it off in fancy art galleries
in London or Venice. And that simply isn’t good enough… …because ultimately critical art leads
to economic growth… …in London, Venice and New York. This is a former Unilever plantation,
their first one ever. Established in 1911,
it’s called Leverville, in Congo. They confiscated this whole area
where many natural palm trees grew. Free trade was banned
and all the palm oil that grew here… …was shipped to Liverpool
for the production of Sunlight soap. This was the corner stone
of Unilever’s future business empire. I had artist friends in Kinshasa who got
together with people who worked here. Their job is to climb palm trees
and pick the nuts. They earn some money, but all proceeds
go to the former Unilever factory. I wanted to set up an arts centre,
so we had to work with artists. These are no official artists, they are
plantation workers. But after a while… It’s not that difficult, so they started
to make paintings and sculptures. Friends of the plantation workers
make clay sculptures… …which are scanned in 3D
and converted into digital files. The clay sculptures are then reproduced… …in cocoa from these plantations
that ends up in the port of Amsterdam. By selling these figures, they miraculously
start making a lot more money. That seems to be a handy solution
to this problem of inequality. We don’t just want to improve local lives. We want to create a deeper awareness
of how art can relate to this inequality. Not just something nice, cute
and egalitarian for the stage… …but how it’s organised financially,
economically and structurally. To engage with that head on. This costume is based on printing plates. The printing plates contain coltan. Coltan is used in phones, computers,
camera’s, plasma-TV’s. Coltan leads to wars in Africa. Cocoa is a plant that is used
for the production of chocolate. The cocoa comes from Congo. How many kilos of cocoa do you sell?
– 550 kilos. We are not politicians,
we are artists. An artist always wants
to understand reality. This is Europe
and this is the whole of Africa. These lines show Europe’s abundance
at Africa’s expense. They are the gateways into Africa. There it’s full with stuff, toys,
buildings, houses. Completely full. Here you see an exhausted
plantation worker who fell from a tree. This is a wonderful opportunity
for me to express myself. We don’t get too many of those
because we live in such a remote area. As far as communication and transport
are concerned, we are too far away. There is no electricity here.
We really live in an underdeveloped area. Expressing myself through sculptures
and reaching a large audience… …has been a very interesting way
of denouncing that inequality. Inequality that also occurs
in other parts of the world. At the same time I draw attention
to what’s happening… …among the most vulnerable people
in globalisation. Artist Renzo sells our art… …and then comes back to us,
his fellow artists. Also, our sculptures aren’t about him. Certain sculptures, like mine,
refer to my grandfather’s past. How my grandfather managed to survive
everything that had happened in Lusanga. So although we collaborate with him… …we also put something of ourselves
in our art. He’s like our colleague. We are setting up a full-blown research
centre. Not to provoke… …but to look into the relationship
between art and economic inequality. We work with the Congolese Plantation
Workers Art League… …and Rotterdam architects OMA who are
experts at building museum spaces… …as well as buildings that attract
capital, and that’s what it’s all about. It boosts the economy,
and this place definitely needs a boost. I think it’s about to happen. These houses were once built by Unilever.
They’re on the verge of collapse. People don’t get pensions,
so they can’t fix them. OMA drew up a plan. This gentleman here, Mr Kawata,
has to move out. We want to renovate his house so he can
turn it into a B&B and make some money. He’ll live here, temporarily,
so he can rent this one out… …and commute back and forth.
Or he stays there, whatever. In any case, he has to move out now
so we can do up his house. The work is really necessary. There are so many holes,
this house is going to collapse. This is a map of the camp. That’s the river, that’s the chief’s house
and this is your house. We are going to build something here.
That will take a month or two. As soon as this is done up,
you can move back. If that’s what he says… What’s it like to tell these people
they have to move out? Not very nice, but we have to
in order to attract capital. That’s how the world works. That’s what the production of critical art
produces in Venice, London and New York. The poor have to piss off. I will also give you some money
to move out and move back in. To enjoy a nice dinner with your kids. Thank you, Papa Kawata. You have already done a lot
for the development of the Netherlands. Or for Unilever at least. I have worked very hard
for Unilever my entire life. Most of the friends I worked with,
died on the job. I meet with a lot of resistance.
People call me a fascist and a neo-colonial. So be it. I can’t help that. I am a white artist, 42 years old, male. I live in a world
where people like me call the shots. We have bought the village
including the houses. We have a plan
that is going to attract a lot of capital. I am trying to create a spot
where the associated violence… …the huge inequality because of people
like me who call the shots… …can be fully exposed. It’s visible.
I walk around in my black suit. I want to make it so obvious that we can
turn the hierarchy upside down in one go. I want it to become a fundamental project.
To name it, so we can address it. Overturning those hierarchies
so they become something else. This is your house. That’s the residential zone. And this is the zone
for artistic expression. According to OMA, this will become
the production… No, the experience. This is living and this is experience. So the house where he has lived for
such a long time, is in the wrong zone. It has to become something else,
so he has to move. That’s gentrification. If your house in Berlin or London house
is situated in the critical art zone… …that is attracting money, you have
to move. So that’s what we do too. The difference being that Mr Ibeko
is part of the analysis team… …of the research project. I don’t know of any other place
on earth… …where Mr Ibeko would be asked to share
his views on gentrification. But he still has to move?
– Yes. He’s going to live here. We’ll build him another house here,
with lights and a toilet. But he does have to leave
the designated zone for artistic critique. He has to move to the living zone,
according to this plan. We somehow have to reproduce the
status quo otherwise we can’t analyse it. And reproduce it in such a way
that it attracts money… …so we can offer him a beautiful house
with electricity and a working toilet. Which is more than palm oil
ever did for him. Let’s hope he gets more out
of producing artistic critique. This is Blue Band, a Unilever product… …produced under license by Marsavco.
– Can you open it? It’s margarine.
– Yes. So even though the plantation has
been sold, the relationship continues… …because the work the people do
on the plantation, creates this product. And part of the license goes
to Unilever Head Office in Rotterdam. Part of the proceeds of this Blue Band
goes to Unilever. Is that a question or a statement?
– It’s produced under licence. The owner of the brand gets the profit.
That’s a business principle. It’s not just the fact
that Unilever adopts a green image. What’s more important to me… …is that for twelve consecutive years
at Tate Modern in London… …Unilever sponsored
one of the most public art events. Each year, the Turbine Hall
hosted yet another spectacle… …where art could show its importance
to the public. Including politically critical works
by Ai Weiwei… …or works about changing
labour conditions by Tino Seghal. Fantastic works, sponsored by Unilever
and its poor plantation workers. So yes… To me, that is horrendous inequality. First and foremost. But it’s also a complete failure
of what art can do. The one thing an artwork can do,
is understanding its role in the world. Visual arts is the only knowledge domain
in which objects can self-reflect. A car has to drive,
shampoo has to wash your hair… …but an artwork has to
first and foremost reflect on itself. If fantastic works of art
are on display at Tate Modern… …the largest art museum in the world,
courtesy of Unilever… …and those works are unaware they’re
paid for by shocking and abject poverty… …it’s simply bad art.

17 thoughts on “Cultural Barbarians – VPRO documentary – 2016

  1. The people in this doc are WAAAYYyyy too Hoidy-Toidy.

    They're almost not people. They're too frail and sissy to be considered people.

  2. The European art world is bankrupt. Existentialism is artsy, but vacuous. Postmodernism is a disaster of incoherence and social/epistemological meaninglessness. Now, they are resurrecting Marx. Again. French philosophy has deluded the capacity for reason; it consciously merged proof and argumentation to the point where they are, in this video, "realising" politics, art, and philosophy are the same thing. They did that to themselves with their guilt and self-loathing; their desperate attempt to define unsettling realities as pleasant hyperrealities to cope with their guilt. The proper mode of thinking should be that of selfpreservation, but they are looking to hard at Schopenhauer's conclusion.

  3. That place Nikel in Russia. . with all the Nickel mines. ..is very similar to Sudbury in Ontario Canada. . . or at least how Sudbury used to be before they cleaned up the environment. It was a kind of wasteland due to sulphuric acid rain from the mining activity.

  4. What does any of this have to do with art? That one ridiculously snooty guy said "the definition of the word art is incredibly maleable" (or something to that effect) – so does that mean art has no definition? If not, then why have prizes and biennials for something that doesn't exist? The only "artwork" with any validity in this is that Renzo guy making a parody of the hypocrisy of the current art world.

  5. Rewind 50,000 years to Lascaux, et. al., etc, the cave paintings by the first human artists, Paleolithic hunters/ gatherers. These "primitive: mythologies spirituality embraced intellectualism, highly conceptual, abstract concepts and complexity. This first practice of art was an elite experience practiced by the few for the many and definitively not “working class". It was laissez-faire sub-conscious mysticism in ocher and dye on rock. If Reading "Das Kapital" at The Venice Bianalli, etc is pretense the Marxist/Leninist policy of wealth redistribution-by-murder certainly kept it real and achieved a significant down-leveling of all classes, especially the artists. If ideology is dead. Good.

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