IHA Opening Seminar
June 11, 2012
My name is Botalatala. I’m an artist; I’m a painter in Kinshasa. I was born on the plantation and life was difficult. My father did not earn enough to send us to school, and my mother was not allowed any palm oil. So my mother and some other mothers got together to steal the palm nuts and hide them outside the plantation. The mothers then collected the palm nuts in order to extract the palm oil. That’s how I could attend primary school. It is there where my art originated. And that is how it all began. I never went to art school, but thirty years ago I became the artist I am today. I did not get any logistical support or benefit from an artistic environment at the time, and if today such an institution establishes itself here, I would hope that we can have a training center for young people, a center for visual arts but also for theatre, music, cinema. That would be most welcome. And at this point, I publicly commit myself to share my experience with others and to investigate how to set up strategies for the creation of artwork. Not only for sale but to contribute to all the domains of development.
IHA Opening Seminar
June 11, 2012
Conversation between Richard Florida and IHA Artistic Director Renzo Martens
Renzo Martens: Hi Richard! How are you? We’re in the middle of the rainforest here, in a place called Boteka in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We’re here with about 200 people who work on a former Unilever plantation. They, too, have to make a transition from the Fordist to something beyond that.
Richard Florida: Well, thank you. I wish that we could be with you today. As you may know I just finished the 10th-anniversary edition of The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited, so it’s really fresh in my mind. And what’s interesting is that in that book, I began to think that when people talk about economic development, they talk about hardware, they talk about companies, they talk about technology, they talk about tax breaks to bring a company to a city or a country. And I began to see that that wasn’t the whole equation. When you think about human beings, what is innate in every one of us—in every one little boy and little girl, infants, toddlers—is that we’re all creative beings. We share that creativity; we use that creativity together.
And I was able to look at the rise of a group of people who are principally artists, designers, culturally creative people, entertainers, musicians, writers, entrepreneurs, technologists, innovators, researchers, and professional people. I came up with a very simple model of what it takes to make a creative community, a creative city, a creative country. And I called it the three T’s: Technology, Talent, and Tolerance. Technology is a necessary but insufficient condition for growth. You have to have talent. Talent is the people, the people who are contributing ideas. And the communities most open to the widest range of people, race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, that were tolerant—the third T—they got an edge. And when you put the three T’s together in a community, this is the spur to a creative model of development.
Could this be transposed into deliberate policies? Would it be useful for a city to invest in a museum of an art biennial in order to attract capital, rather than in building a road or a tax break for companies? When studying development, artistic creation comes before roads, before schools, before hospitals. Investing in artistic and creative infrastructure is important to an overarching strategy to achieve higher levels of development and higher standards of living.
RM: We are building an art center, a museum, a residency program. We hope that people will make more money in a new affective economy than in low paid work in the fields. Do you have data on whether, even in these rural areas, the economy may grow and salaries may rise?
RF: I think so. A group of people has been looking at more rural areas, and what they have found is that artistic investment and building up the quality of place becomes a way of creating excitement and energy.
RM: We call this program a Gentrification Program. On the one hand, there is much new art that deals with all kinds of economic issues and wants to be very critical of them, which is good because there are many things wrong with the world and this can be addressed through art. But on the other hand, the economic return of such art is hardly in the same places as what is critiqued. You could make a video showing how poor people are in Congo, but when this video is then shown in in London, it generates an economy in London rather than in Congo. This is something we would like to reverse. Is that something you can comment on?
RF: It’s a very interesting intellectual, conceptual, pragmatic issue that you raise. Those contradictions that you mentioned are part of the development of capitalism in the creative age. I think it’s up to us artists and creative people to lead in those struggles. And not simply—I am saying this with all humility—complain. We need new models of development in this moment of crisis. What we need is experiments that engage human creativity and spirit and purpose. And that’s what you can achieve with your project. You can be an experiment! The world is very hungry. The world wants a new model that isn’t driving wages down, that isn’t a race to the bottom. And in the Congo, you have the opportunity to show that in a place that isn’t the wealthiest place on the planet, a place that has struggle: You can place a new model.
RM: Thanks a lot, Richard; it’s really fantastic that you give us this advice.
RF: Keep us posted on how you’re doing.
IHA Opening Seminar
June 12, 2012
I would like to present you with a quotation from a German poet I admire. His name is Heiner Müller. The German version is: “Kein Mensch ist integer.” “There is no integrity for a human being.” This simply means there is no innocence. And to believe in the innocence of artistic production, to believe in the innocence of any one of us, simply means to believe in something that does not exist. This belief is called, by the German philosopher Hegel, the belief of the beautiful soul. The beautiful soul is someone who tries to detach himself from reality as it is.
To come back to the definition of art, the most universal definition of art that I would like to present to you is that art has to do with a confrontation with the established reality order, by building up a resistance against this established reality order. The question is not to assimilate yourself into the world as it is, but to confront it. You need courage for this. You need courage to confront the world as it is, with all the incommensurable, unsupportable parts of the reality order.