“Paradise is locked and bolted and the cherubim stands behind us; we have to go on and make the journey round the world to see if it is perhaps open somewhere at the back.” Heinrich von Kleist, On the Marionette Theatre, (1810)
In the Middle Ages, Paradise was always placed at the top of the maps, next to God, a position that guaranteed that no journey was impossible. It was generally believed at that time that a person who was not well-travelled should not talk about the world.
With the beginning of Modernity, artists stopped believing in Paradise: too long and dark were the sinister shadows being cast by the impending 20th century.
This project is undertaking a great journey with artists from Nigeria, Africa and Europe– not so much to find a hidden entrance to Paradise as to uncover the images that constitute the world of today.
Art will inevitably be competing here with other media which also claim to capture the currently prevailing zeitgeist.
For present-day hotspots are primarily determined by the news. Whether the subject is Boko Haram, the insurgents in the Niger Delta, a terrorist attack in Mali, the financial crisis, a plane crash, the suffering of refugees– it's always the journalists that lay down a certain interpretation of the world for their contemporaries with their choice of news items. The main news bulletins are strikingly similar, whatever latitude a TV channel is located in, leading to a kind of global consensus on what the world looks like and how it should be interpreted.
Disasters are the leitmotif of most reporting, and, as quickly as they emerge, they disappear again as soon as a new, even more dramatic event looms. The most recent example would be the flow of refugees to Europe, which has completely displaced the crisis in Greece even though the latter is far from settled.
This craving for sensation is not only short-sighted, it's also totalitarian because it suggests that there is no alternative to its one-sided depiction of the world.
The Iconic Hotspots project aims to correct this imbalance with esthetic means, if only as a symbolic gesture.
Entirely subjectively, and without any compulsion to seek a consensus, the artists identify their own hotspot which, in their opinion, has an iconic dimension and contains the essence of the conditio humana. It might be a distinctive neighbourhood, for example, a factory, a picture in a museum, a book shop, a monument, a highly personal memory or an artist's studio. The whole city becomes an open studio in this way and each object is literally site-specific.
These ready-mades are not altered, nor are they transported from A to B. They themselves are the exhibit and must be experienced in situ. There is no dictate from institutions, no constraints of exhibition architecture, no insurmountable transport logistics; even the budget is quite modest.
(In this context, we recall a failed project at the last Documenta, when two Argentine artists were unable to transport a huge meteorite from an indigenous territory in the Chaco region to Kassel. How delightful it would have been to encourage the visitors to visit the exhibit in situ).
The artists will be on hand as guides for the public, and each will document their respective hotspot. The focus is not, for example, on a photograph of the object (photographs seldom reflect the aura of the original), but on the personal perspective of the observer, for whom the eye of the artist has a much higher quality and authority than a travel guide. This also applies if the chosen location has itself already been discovered by tourism.
While advertising photography and coffee-table books present an object of interest either as a curiosity or as a commodity, and at best generate a vague yearning to see distant places, art shows places that everyone thinks they know in new light – and simultaneously as a mystery and a secret. In art, the world becomes a spiritual landscape that triggers sharp pangs of homesickness within us.
The venue that has been ennobled by the artist and awarded the status of iconic hotspot gains artistic, indeed cult status – with all the esthetic and cultural consequences involved with such a reception. What was previously an ordinary image now becomes an icon.
However, this icon is now no longer brought to the potential visitor in an exhibition hall – a practice dating from the 19th century that is now perhaps obsolete. Rather, the visitors themselves travel to the sublime image; in fact they become a part of it.
This radical shift in perspective has several consequences:
- The exhibition is not a mass spectacle, but an individual discovery; this has always been the starting point of every esthetic experience
- The work of art is not for sale and thus loses its character as a commodity
- There is no 'attrition warfare', no budget battles and no conflict about which space an artist gets, there is not even an art insurance
- Amid the frenzy of the art market emerges a precious moment allowing one to pause and reflect
And ultimately, art regains the prerogative of interpreting the true images of the world that had been taken from it by the mass media.
Although the material expense of the project is low, its esthetic and cultural added-value will be all the greater, since it enables new readings of the world beyond the media mainstream.
While it is true that the visitors will this time have higher hurdles to overcome than on a normal exhibition visit, true lovers of art, who can invoke the Grand Tour of the 18th and the early 19th centuries, will not be deterred by distances and costs. And, like then, some people might understand this experience as a rite of passage.
Lagos as point of departure
We propose starting with the Metropolis Lagos. With our next step, we can extend this project to the whole of Nigeria or Africa and even beyond.
The city of Lagos, with its 22 million inhabitants, is already the biggest city on the continent. With its current growth rate of 3.6% per year, it will exceed 50 million, making it the largest city in the world. Every hour, Lagos’ population grows by approximately 80 people: that is an increase of 700,000 people per year.
In Lagos, one can never be certain whether the people are building their
city or whether they themselves are the bricks; and for every problem
the people solve, Lagos creates a new one in a seemingly never-ending
succession of afflictions.
Especially in a place such as Lagos,which, despite its size, has an inadequate cultural infrastructure, the project could be a new way of introducing art reception. Neither a museum, nor a gallery, not even an artists studio are needed for this.
In a first step, ten artists will be selected. Each of them will identify a hotspot in Lagos and serve visitors as a guide. The artists will supply photos and a text in which they explain their choice of hotspot.
If there is sufficient interest after this test run, the project could even be exteded to the whole of Nigeria – or much further afield. Southeast Asia is also preparing a similar program.
- Art critics and essayists will be invited to visit all of the hotspots and to report on them.
- We shall create our own homepage and App. with the aid of social media and blogs.
- We stage key digital formats such as e-flux, Universes-in-Universe, etc.
As of 1/2017 Selection of the artists
As of 3/2017: Selection of the hotspots, guided tours, documentation, blog, App,
From 2018,it may be extended across the whole of Africa