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lutz
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« am: April 09, 2009, 12:15:25 pm »

Lutz Dammbeck: THE HERCULES-CONCEPT
Conference German/American Artistic Exchange During the Cold War
Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, March 21th 2009


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to express my gratitude to the Getty-Institute for this invitation and the opportunity
to offer you a brief introduction to my creative work.
First of all I would like to try and explain, as briefly as I can, what the HERCULES CONCEPT is all about.

Since the beginning of the 1980s I have been putting together an work of art – let’s call it a GESAMTKUNSTWERK – entitled the “HERCULES-CONCEPT”. In this context, I see myself as an “assembler” who collects themes, photographs, newspaper cuttings and archive material of various kinds, processes them, and assembles them into an “archaeology of memory”. However, according to the principle of collage, I not only bring together different “physical” materials, but also myths, key images and ideologies – and I am interested in the reciprocal relations of such things.

It first began with material from recent German history, but expanded rapidly, and soon I was investigating the way that these materials interlock with bigger and more comprehensive contexts of contemporary and intellectual history as well – the film THE NET and the installations PARANOIA or RE-REEDUCATION are the latest examples of this.

When I began work on the Hercules Project in 1982, two texts were decisively important to me: one was a fairy-tale
by the Brothers Grimm called “The Wilful Child” and the other was the text “Hercules 2 or the Hydra” by the GDR dramatist Heiner Müller. In the Grimm’s fairy-tale, wilfulness appears as an anarchic individual strength, a necessary ability as defence against society’s attempts to bend the individual, although here the child is punished for it by
death. In Müller’s text, the demigod and classic strong hero Hercules is both the victor and the one defeated.

While he is roaming through a thick forest “on the way into battle...” to try and kill the EVIL – the BEAST – the HYDRA,
he gradually realises that he is at the heart of this beast – that is, of evil – himself and that the FOREST is the BEAST, which is measuring him up (“...as if at the tailor’s, he thought, when the forest took hold of him once again...” ) and attempting to change him so that he gradually becomes part of the beast, i.e. of the Hydra – that is, of the evil that he is actually supposed to kill. And he also understands that the BEAST/the FOREST can exploit the energy that he employs in his struggle against the BEAST to strengthen and perfect itself. He himself, Hercules, is ONE part of the system that he wants to fight against; he is even necessary to its increasingly effective functioning. What should he do? How can one defend oneself against such a perfect and apparently intelligent system? What means and strategies are allowed or indeed possible in order to fight against it?

Since the mid 1980s, such questions that span different systems and eras have led me to produce works on paper,
large-format collages and painted-over works, staged photographs and installations, and films.
In those parts of the Hercules-Project that were produced from the mid 1990s onwards  I became increasingly interested in versions of “Hercules” that are relevant today and in the new myths, roles and key images associated with such figures. But I was also interested in the forms of protest, rebellion and opposition that were assigned to those figures and that culminated in terrorism – examples being the RAF (Red Army Faction) in Germany and the Unabomber.

In the film THE NET it is the mathematician Theodore Kaczynski who appears as a version of the Hercules figure.
While a student at Harvard University, he was a “guinea pig” in experiments carried out by scientists – gestalt psychologists, cybernetics experts, psychiatrists and sociologists – who dreamed of the utopia of a “healthy world”,
of a counter design to fascism and authoritarian structures per se that would be based on science and technology.
Initially, Theodore Kaczynski was part of this scientific establishment himself, as a professor of mathematics, but he dropped out in 1971 to create a counter world in the forests of Montana. In a cabin that he had built himself he wrote a “Manifesto” conceiving alternatives to the “scientific world order” and a “technological society”. This attempt to escape from the compulsion of such utopias, which he declared a matter of “self-defence”, ended in the construction of bombs and the proclamation of a “counter utopia”.

I was interested in the blue-prints for this utopia and other connected utopias and designs for the world: above all,
in the efficient concepts of domination, governance and control that were now available to the HYDRA, promising the domination of the “world as an open system”. So metaphors like “the wilful child”, “the forest”, “the Hydra” or “Hercules” were charged in a new way and gained new significance; they were interconnected with concepts like “cybernetics”
or “cognitive science”, “social profile”, “assessment”, “virtuality” or “mind control”.
The distinctions made between “good and evil”, “left and right”, “anti-totalitarian and totalitarian” or “justifiable violence and terror” became more difficult. When examined more closely, apparently opposing, contradictory ideas and concepts seemed closely and confusingly interlocked – and disturbingly connected as a result of their similar practices.

I continuied the research and creative work that I began in the early 1980s with the controversially discussed exhibition “PARANOIA” (Akademie der Künste, 2006) and the exhibition RE-REEDUCATION which 2007 follows on from these.
RE-REEDUCATION was both an exhibition and a room for reeducation and seminars that can be used by visitors - similar to those being set up for “precariats” of every variety today. The subject under investigation was the interfaces between art, science and the new technologies which it has been possible to observe since the 1960s.
It focuses on the past exhibition “SOFTWARE. Information technology: its new meaning for art”, which took place in the Jewish Museum New York in 1970, and played a pioneering role in a variety of ways. That exhibition may be regarded as one of the first attempts to combine efforts to investigate the creative potentials of information technology and forms of Conceptual Art. The intention was for visitors to interact with various technical objects without necessarily viewing them as artworks. The exhibition concept was influenced by cybernetics and systemic thought, which viewed the world as a hyper-system made up of many small, mutually interacting sub-systems. Thus art also appeared as an information system, and was intended as an active co-partner in the development of model-building methods and concepts for the statistical description of cultural and social behaviour on the visual plane.
Additional keywords were: interactivity, dematerialisation, simulation, statistics and delimitation.
The participants, besides artists such as David Antin, Nam June Paik, Hans Haacke, Vito Accioni and Allen Kaprow,
also included scientists like Jack Nolan, Nicholas Negroponte and  Computer-Hippies likeTed Nelson.
Although the exhibition was not an overall success (due to many technical mishaps and announcements which were therefore left unfulfilled), it did have far-reaching consequences.
Ultimately, as part of an “art & technology movement”, it benefited – among other things – the implementation
of a Pax Americana Technocratia, in the current manifestations of which the best results of Software are also included.
 
After completing work on the film THE NET or RE-REEDUCATION, I noticed that there was a traceable path, and not only
a diagrammatic one, from Norbert Wiener’s »AA-predictor« and »cybernetics« to concepts for »worldwide mental health«, the politics of »containment«, “The National Security State” or the »electronic battlefield« in the Vietnam War – a path which was synchronized with the experiments in Multimedia-Art, Conceptual- or Minimal art in the Cold war;  a path that could be extended to the notion of the »ownership society« in the era of George W. Bush, with a financial sector separated from the real economy by a virtual, “second reality”, comprised only of streams of numbers no longer connected to concrete, sensual and physical production – please see here actually the “record $ 3 Komma 55 Trillion federal budget of the US also.
Here, in an observable tendency towards “individualising”, in the abolition, displacement and systematic destruction
of any ideas of solidarity or the institutions and achievements of the workers’ movement, for example, one can also see a reflection of that anti-collective (and anti-communist) coloured »atomism« that was at the heart of a utopia like the world as an open system from the start. An art and artists were assisting to realize this utopia: in the name of INTERACTIVITY, DEMATERIALISATION, SIMULATION and DELIMITATION.

And here we are very near by some issues of the conference.
I would like to add at this point that I am very willing to discuss this if you wish.
Thank you very much for your attention

Los Angeles, March 21th

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