— Cultural Sources of Newness

Februar 2013 Monthly archive

Mit den Installationen von Tue Greenfort hat sich die Berlinische Galerie in diesem Winter ein Thema ins Haus geholt, das auch außerhalb der Museumswände Aufsehen erregt. Drinnen, in der preisgekrönten Einzelausstellung, beschäftigt sich der Künstler mit Glas und Gaslicht und „der Frage nach der Vereinbarkeit von liebgewonnenen (Seh-)Gewohnheiten mit zeitgenössischem Umweltbewusstsein.“ Draußen in der Stadt lässt der Senat das energetisch ineffiziente und fehleranfällige Leuchtmittel gerade durch elektrische Leuchten ersetzen. Was seit 2008 beschlossene Sache ist, versuchen Freunde des Gaslichts mit großem Engagement zu verhindern. Den warmen Schein der Gaslaternen in Westberliner Straßen wollen sie nicht missen und betrachten den beachtlichen Berliner Gaslichtbestand als weltweit einzigartiges Denkmal der Industriekultur.

Die Gasbeleuchtung ist ein Relikt aus einer Zeit, mit der sich Beate Binder besonders gut auskennt. In einem ausstellungsbegleitenden Vortrag sprach die Stadtethnologin gestern in der Berlinischen Galerie über die „Konstitution der Stadt im Licht”.

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Before my day began in earnest this morning, I ran across a BBC radio 4 program called “Embracing idleness.”  Very tempting, I thought: it might offer some inspiration for my work, or—even better, given that I am tired—some legitimation for not working. However, although the program did encourage taking some “idle” time, it only gave positive examples of artists doing so, not social scientists. Somewhat disappointed, I dug into the Spanish data on artistic interventions that I urgently needed to analyse before going out to a concert this evening: The ensemble für neue musik zürich  was scheduled to perform at the Ackerstadtpalast in Berlin. It promised to be a stimulating experience with a conductor I like. The space was intimate. A beautiful collection of instruments awaited us.

Instruments for work and play (photo ABA)

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Past week, I co-organized a workshop with my colleagues Dorothea Kübler and Steffen Huck, strongly assisted by Sir Peter Jonas. The topic – Logics of Change in Economy and the Arts – was a broad bracket to gather participants from a wide variety of fields: gallerists, music managers, a writer, a painter, several economists, a banker, a lawyer, and a few others. The contributions were disparate, but the strange thing about this type of workshop – this was the fifth one of a series (three at UCL, two at WZB) – seems to be that the participants value vastly different features of the talks and the discussions.

For me, two contributions were pertinent because of their immediate relation to innovation. The first was by Günter Ortmann, a professor of administration science and a specialist for innovation in organizations. He titled his speech Dancing in Chains, after a long quote from a text by Friedrich Nietzsche. Here is part of it: “In the case of every Greek artists, poet, or writer we must ask: What is the new constraint which he imposes upon himself and makes attractive to his contemporaries, so as to find imitators? For the thing called “invention” (in metre, for example) is always a self imposed fetter of this kind. “Dancing in chains” – to make that hard for themselves and then to spread a false notion that it is easy – that is the trick that they wish to show us…” Ortmann also emphasized the role of tradition as “abutment” (Widerlager), irritation, chance and serendipity (“Serendipity is when you look for the needle in the haystack and come out with the farmer’s daughter.”)

Steffen Huck, economist and co-organizer, spoke on “Innovation cycles“. He emphasizes the role of risk under conditions when the creative actors have nothing to lose, and those who support them have deep enough pockets to pay for risky, yet potentially profitable proposals. He presented two examples: first is the introduction of junk bonds by Michael Milken in the 1980’s, an invention that sparked the success of high-yield financial products in the 1990’s, second is the invention of “The West Wing”, created by Aaron Sorkin in 1999, and the subsequent rise of  very long TV series, produced  with cinematic quality. I am not convinced that the mechanism emphasized by Huck is the only relevant configuration, but it is certainly part of the larger story.

It’s fun to bring people to the WZB who usually don’t stumble into this kind of institution. And the enrichment is mutual.

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Am 10.2. las ich – was selten ist – die “Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung”. Im Feuilleton fand sich eine ganze Seite, in der der FAZ-Korrespondent Jordan Mejias seine Begegnung mit Shoshana Zuboff “protokolliert”. Zuboff war bis 2009 Professor an der Harvard Business School. 1988 veröffentlichte sie In the Age of the Smart Machine, in 2002, zusammen mit ihrem Mann, dem Unternehmer Jim Maxmin (!), The Support Economy. Darin zeigt sie, wie die Ökonomie von der Produktion auf Verlangen umgestellt wurde. Ihr neues Buch Information Civilization erscheint wohl bald, denn derartige Features gehören gewöhnlich zur Markteinführungsstrategie. Darin argumentiert sie, dass das System des Massenkonsums sich im Niedergang befindet, weil es in seiner alten Logik gefangen ist. “Wird nur noch von Innovation geredet, ist das ein sicheres Zeichen für den Niedergang. Und heute redet jeder von Innovation. Warum sieht es dann so düster aus? Innnovation reicht nicht. Es muss zur Mutation kommen. .. Jetzt aber sind wir auf dem Weg in eine Welt der dezentralisierten Wertschöpfung, des distributed capitalism”.

Was sie sich darunter in etwa vorstellt, hat sie 2010 in einem Aufsatz im McKinsey Quarterly, “Creating Value in the Age of Distributed Capitalism” entwickelt.

Die kleine Zusatzrecherche auf Wikipedia ergab außerdem:

“In 2009, …  she was struck by lightning in her home in Maine, which then burned to the ground destroying her work along with the entire structure and contents of the family home. Aspects of this experience are described in her Huffington Post essay, “When Global Warming Ate My Life” . In that essay she also introduced the concept of “the error of predictability.”

Noch habe ich mir die Texte nicht besorgt – aber ich werde die Entdeckung sicherlich weiter verfolgen.

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Tonight I had the choice: to continue reviewing an interesting article a colleague has written about ethics in the Big Four accounting firms, or to listen to the man sitting next to me in Roissy airport? I am on my way to Nantes, and he is on his way back from having climbed a hotel in Havana, for which the approval of the Castro family had to be obtained. Whether or not the French Spiderman, Alain Robert, can be credited with having generated newness with his urban climbing, and if so, when did his escapades attain that attribute, will have to be analysed some day.

I push my computer aside, ask questions, listen, and wonder—what can I learn from his story?

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One of the things that have been occupying me these past days is how to explain “cultural sources of newness.” The three reviewers of our book proposal with the working title “Valorizing Dissonance: Cultural Perspectives on Newness were very encouraging because they consider the area of research we are addressing to be “lively and emerging.” However, they were concerned that the cultural angle might be outmoded and that the concept of newness appears awkward or “baggy”. The concert I went to this evening, after sending off a response to the publisher this afternoon, brought the topic into focus. At Soundscape East Asia three ensembles with musicians and instruments from Europe, East Asia, South and North America performed at the Villa Elisabeth,  a somewhat dilapidated neo-classical hall in Berlin-Mitte. Their ambition was “to explore the field of tensions between artistic innovation and musical tradition, to invite intra- and intercultural dialogues, to open ears and to tempt into aural adventures.” (program notes Carmen Gräf; translation ABA)


AsianArt Ensemble setting up in Villa Elisabeth, photo ABA

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I had no idea what to expect of the dinner invitation at the LoBe gallery in Wedding last night. What I discovered was a “a unique working framework that encourages artists to respond to each other’s art practices across a broad range of disciplines.”  Olivia Reynolds, artist and initiator of the gallery, and her team have developed a fascinating approach to curating the space for unusual interactions, including hosting beautiful and delicious dinners with the artists. About 25 guests talked animatedly, surrounded by the artwalls which David Mabb  and Henrik Schrat had just completed together during their month-long LoBe residency.


Dinner table awaiting LoBe guests, photo Brigitte Biehl-Missal

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