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Jaroslav Andel

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Heroism Within Ordinary People

Posted: 02/13/2013 10:30 am

Thank you for good news, I mean HuffPost Good News. Though I am not a publisher or an editor (I am the artistic director of DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague), I had a similar idea more than a year ago when I organized an exhibition entitled The Lucifer Effect: Encountering Evil. Inspired by the eponymous book by Philip Zimbardo, the exhibition explored why good people can turn evil, and also why artists are so fascinated by evil. Not only artists, also the public and the media.

But people can go in the other direction too. As Zimbardo points out, ordinary people also become heroic. We don't know why they do, but we feel inspired by hearing stories about them or just by knowing about someone doing good things. For this reason, I realized then that the exhibition should have included a counter-narrative to the story of evil. I also wondered why the media often ignore positive stories. I tried to persuade a couple of publishers and editors to pay more attention to the other side of human nature. I argued that just one column a day would make a difference. I was not successful in making them do that.

I also started to work on another exhibition that would focus on projects fostering positive social change. It opened a couple of months ago under the title Cartographies of Hope: Change Narratives. The project is composed of an exhibition, two conferences, and a number of workshops and discussions. The goal is to map various social changes and connect their narration to a larger social story -- thus providing inspiration for the creation of platforms for positive change based on cooperation between artists, social scientists, activists, and citizens on a local and international level. The exhibition contains works by more than thirty international artists (among others Daniel García Andujar, Kader Attia, Eva Bakkeslett, Matthew Connors, Teddy Cruz, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Michael Joaquin Grey, Ingo Günther, Toril Johannessen, Fran Ilich, Kultivator, Suzanne Lacy, Steve Lambert, Lize Mogel, Naeem Mohaiemen, Nils Norman, Christian Nold, Oliver Ressler, Abu Bakr Shawky, Superflex, Terreform ONE, Krzysztof Wodiczko, and The Yes Men). It includes four thematic sections that represent specific narratives characterizing the period from 1989 until today -- changes, crises, protests, and social imagination. Their sequence and overall sum provides a wider perspective, a kind of cartography of hope, which aims to provide inspiration for the collective creation of a new common story.

The Cartographies of Hope project seeks to collect artistic projects that foster positive change. It was born of an attempt to respond to the present challenges. We are witnesses to a decline of the public sphere and corruption of democratic government, as well as to a global crisis in finance and along with it the entire market economy. As this means no less than a threat to the three pillars supporting the development of modern society, the multiplying protests and calls for change come as no surprise. However, these voices are not sufficiently unified, and do not present a sufficiently convincing alternative necessary to bring the general public on board. If this does not occur, significant positive changes are not likely to result.

The exhibition attempts to seize this situation as a theme and to challenge not only artists and experts, but also the public, to collectively ponder alternatives and solutions. It invites to look upon this situation and at its possible solutions as stories or narratives that are present at the beginning of every change, and thus become its agency. For stories of possible positive changes are born of critique and are thus not only a reflection of the current situations, but also a prerequisite and an actor in change itself.

The multiplicity of stories challenges us to try to understand their interrelationships - be it from the perspective of space, for example between local and global changes, or from the perspective of time, between quick and slow changes -- and to look upon dominant narratives more critically. But critique alone is not enough. We need to interconnect alternative stories so that they create a coherent whole -- a new, larger story, that will offer the requisite amount of social cohesion on the one hand, and openness and hope on the other.

Artists play an important role here. They have not only the ability but the obligation to co-create and provide narratives and principles of positive change, and thus to contribute to renewing the pillars of modern society -- the public sphere, democratic governance, and the market economy. These are imperiled not only through the corrosive effects of corruption, but also by disturbing their mutual equilibrium, by losing balance between competition and cooperation, top-down and bottom-up organization, vertical and horizontal decision-making, the private sector and the public sphere, corporations and citizens, the short-term and the long-term, and deregulation and regulation. By strengthening principles that were weakened by the unilateral application of market logic, we will limit growing inequality and contribute to the maintenance of equilibrium between short-term individual interests and the long-term needs of communities and society, which are rooted in common values. By nurturing this equilibrium, we shall accept the responsibility we have to our children and subsequent generations and, over a longer timescale, to all life on Earth.

 
 
 
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