The trend is clear: Away with style, away with anything handmade - instead, intensive research and artistic data. The contemporary art of the West needs to be primarily conceptual but not well crafted anymore. Hence, the works have been hiding for some time behind the unattractive and the problematic concept of the documentary. Today's art travels lighter than it used to. It has rid itself from the burden of beauty from of the last centuries. Has art lost its sensuality?
No must be the answer at the sight of the works exhibited in this group exhibition entitled small is beautiful, all of which captivate with their unmistakable beauty: Here you find fine lacquer painting or silver dust carefully applied to insect wings and shiny black chitinous exoskeletons as well as resolutely executed brush strokes in acrylic paint on canvas or monumental landscape photography. Misjudging beauty as evidence of a missing conceptual foundation or political message is a serious but frequently made mistake. All participating artists share a sincere respect for nature, whose manifold existence is known to be increasingly endangered by humans. Admittedly, they do not always see this political level at first glance. But this is precisely the reason why the work escapes current fashions that cause art to try to force itself into the guise of the mass media, inevitably forfeiting its genuine qualities.With sensitivity and elegance that has become rare, these artists ask: What is the place for nature in view of the rapidly advancing technical progress? That this concern is by no means a phenomenon of the 21st century show artists such as William Morris (1834-1896) - co-founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement - or the British economist E.F. Schumacher (1911-1977), whose ideas were first published in the 1973 Small is beautiful. A full study of economics as if people mattered. In essence, both Morris and Schumacher argue for a rebalancing of economic and human needs. Schumacher's thoughts on the relevance of environmental protection as well as the problems of atomic energy and the growing scarcity of resources still have relevance today. Their approaches are reminiscent of a common Japanese proverb, which, in free translation, means "Do not forget your initial modesty." This aphorism goes to Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443), an important playwright of Nô-theater during the Muromachi period (1336-1573). The appeal to never forget one's modesty and curiosity is key to these words. Where is our modesty when it comes to the dire condition of our planet?
1968 marks a turning point in the history of Japanese photography. This year, Nakahira Takuma (1938-2015), together with a small group of young intellectuals and photographers from within the heart of Tokyo, published the first issue of the coterie magazine Provoke. Their stated goal was to create a new photography that would exist independently from common linguistic codes and in this way provoke completely new concepts of thought. Provoke eventually appeared in only four issues between 1968 and 1970. The striking imagery of predominantly grainy, blurry and out-of-focus black-and-white photography (better known under the Japanese term are-bure-boke) and the theoretical foundation of the magazine are nevertheless today more than ever inspiration for artists around the world.
The main subject of the talk will be Nakahira Takuma's photographic contribution to Provoke. It is the most radical as well as consistent attempt at putting the medium of photography to its inherent limits. At the center of the analysis is the complex and often counterintuitive relationship between theory and practice.
About the speaker:
Jan-Frederik Rust is an art historian specializing in the history and theory of photography. He studied art history, media studies and Japanese in Marburg, Tokyo and Berlin. In his master's thesis he examined the so-called are-bure-boke aesthetics, which is particularly associated with the publication of the photo magazine Provoke (1968-1970). Since 2013, he has published texts on Japanese photobooks and related topics on his website Faraway Eyes. He is currently working on his dissertation at the Bauhaus University Weimar.