Three Questions that Can Help to Create
The first edition of the Contemporary Art Review – Not Random Art aims at connecting artists that are interested in the problems of identity in changing times, identity that can, or should be constantly actualized and redefined, influenced. Emmanuel Lévinas, the Jewish-French philosopher insisted that we are defined as individuals by our attitude to the Other.
1. Who you are?
People are being confronted constantly with questions about their identity, especially in the context of current political and social situation. What it is to be European? to be non-European? What does it mean to be colonised? to be the coloniser? What it takes to have or to impose an identity?
It is tempting to say these issues have never been so important. Humans are having troubles with finding their own identity –constantly multiplicating options for becoming “whoever you want” by “getting to know your true self” have never been more present in media and pop-culture. If the journey into your own self and answering a question –who am I? became the main topic of soda adds, and the main struggle of people in XXI century, how are we all dealing with it? The industrialization and technologization of contemporary Western societies, and the improved welfare, has resulted in an cultural freedom that makes our identity choices more difficult. There are so many choices to be made because nothing is destined. In premodern societies, there was a tendency to follow one’s father’s footsteps, so to speak.
Reviewing reactions towards the migration crisis and inevitable need to confront ourselves with “the other” helps to recognise this. Every person we ‘meet along the road and across the world’ is ‘in a way twofold’. First, there is ‘a person like the rest of us’, who has ‘his joys and sorrows, does not like to be hungry or … cold, feels pain as suffering and good fortune as satisfying and fulfilling’. But there is the second person, ‘who overlaps with the first’. He is ‘a bearer of racial features and … a culture, beliefs and conviction’. These two entities co-exist and incessantly interact.
We constantly reflect on our identity to make sense of the different roles we play. In this way, we form the meaning of our identity. We know that we act differently under different circumstances, however, we still have a sense of a core self, an observing self, so to speak.
2. What do you see?
“Herein lies the attractiveness of ethnic agitation: its ease and accessibility. The Other is visible, everyone can recognize and remember his image. One doesn’t have to read books, think, discuss: it is enough just to look.”
― Ryszard Kapuściński, The Shadow of the Sun
Every day brings new stream of stimuli – to all of our senses – but primarily: to our eyes. We treat our ability to see as an innocent, transparent tool, that lets us enter into the inner world of the object and its inner identity. However, the term “identity” itself is elusive. In light of the transdisciplinary heterogeneity of the term and the great variety of identity theories, it might prove to be difficult to find a definition, which could do justice to all different approaches.
One can find a difference between personal and collective identity, which stand in tension towards each other. This is demonstrated with regard to research on medieval and early modern times especially by the controversial term of the “individual”, underlining the foundation on processes of social interaction that are marked by or are in opposition to class and rank. The social status, the confessional commitment as well as the sexual attribution in this connection are considered formative parameters. Yet, none of these parameters was unalterable. Identity affiliations were convertible and under certain circumstances arbitrary.
What if the question is changed from “What are you looking at?” to “How are you looking at it?”
Undeniably, the process of looking have lost its innocence long time ago.
3. What do you feel?
Few can deny the emotional pull of the tribe, the nation, the linguistic community, or the difference of peoples, races, languages, cuisines, traditions and histories. This has proved the great flaw in the doctrines of liberal interventionism and neoconservatism. Much of development theory clings to an economic vision of growth, underplaying the emotional. But the two beings outlined here are frequently in conflict and the second often wins. Emmanuel Lévinas, the Jewish-French philosopher who insisted that we are defined as individuals by our attitude to the Other.