What does jaded hack mean
Hermann Josef Hack is a politically committed artist who has long been concerned with the social consequences of climate change in his interventions, which often take place in public spaces. The installation "World Climate Refugee Camp" includes over a thousand miniature tents, which were made and painted by the artist to raise awareness of the issue of climate refugees. His most recent work "Sorry 2050!" has been presented in front of the ICE train station in Siegburg since July 2nd. With this flower depository set up for the purpose of public condolences, the artist enables passers-by to take on the perspective of a not too distant future, in which the catastrophic consequences of climate change are fully manifest, and thus to confront the consequences of their own actions or inaction.
On the occasion of the exhibition SHOUT HIN! - Positions of politically motivated art in the Siegburg pumping station, where Hermann Josef Hack is represented with some exhibits, the shadow view asked the Siegburg-based artist about his latest work and about his excursion to Lebanon, where he created "habitable pictures" together with refugees which he exhibited in front of Cologne Central Station, among other places.
Hermann Josef Hack
Photo: © 2015 by Dr. Andreas Pohlmann 714
Schattenblick (SB): Mr. Hack, with the "Sorry 2050!" anticipate the grief over the future victims of climate change. You have been an advocate for climate justice for many years, does this also express something like impatience or even resignation in view of the fact that not so much has been achieved to limit climate change?
Hermann Josef Hack (HJH): You can say that. After all, I've not only been working on the topic for the last two or three years, but founded the Global Brainstorming Project in 1991. At this point there was already interest in global change in the broadest sense. Climate change came a little later, the discussion at the time mainly revolved around the ozone hole. The Club of Rome's first concerns were already known, and at the time I had the perhaps naive hope that this development, if many people are doing something at the same time, might still be brought under control. Although I have not given up hope, I am realizing more and more that we are walking into the catastrophe with full sight. In principle, at least that's how I see it, one has to increase the pressure or tighten the actions a little. I don't believe that you can do anything with a harmless charge, but that you always have to offer things at the same time that people can participate in and which also raise their awareness.
Installation "Sorry 2050!" on the day of the opening in Siegburg
Photo: 2015 by Susanne Fasbender
I have already come to terms with the fact that we can no longer prevent the catastrophe, and I find it bad that we have had to watch over the last few years that all efforts are aimed at adapting to climate change, according to the motto: how can we achieve that as little as possible happens to us and that we are still doing reasonably well in the affluent regions. This is of course only at the expense of the others, but this suffix is then gladly swallowed, you don't want to mention that. It is not the case that the energy would slacken and I would give up, but on the contrary this spurs me on to say even more, now all the more, that we have to do something and cannot simply accept it. I actually experience this resignation with a lot of people. They say we can't change anything anyway, thank God that doesn't affect us anymore because we're so old. In my generation I hear that over and over again. I have just become a grandfather, and I feel the responsibility towards the following generations very clearly, so I want that to come to fruition in my work.
SB: Your installation appeals to a kind of individual sense of guilt. Is that an adequate approach to the problem, considering that the consumption society is largely determined by capital exploitation and industrial interests, about which the individual cannot change much?
HJH: You have to keep an eye on both. One must not simply leave the great power interests to themselves and withdraw into private space, but should be active in both fields. It is important to keep knocking on the political level, to demand to interfere, but at the same time not to rely on the big institutions, parties, corporations, NGOs and so on to fix everything. I am convinced that it will bring more if we are active in our own environment, if we are also involved in a small group and are exemplary, if we support small regional companies instead of falling into a romanticism in which I mean my little one Order a farm, and outside the pasture fence I'm no longer interested in the world. The point is to uphold the political demands, to put steam on the big corporations, to take to the streets, but at the same time to create alternatives.
Photo: © 2015 by Hermann Josef Hack
We don't have time to wait anymore. The last few decades have passed in the hope that the Greens, Greenpeace and all kinds of organizations will do something for us. But when you see what has become of political figures like Fischer, Schröder and so on, then this shows us wonderfully how little you can count on these people. You have to take matters into your own hands and introduce your own children and grandchildren to the problem through exemplary actions instead of waiting for someone to find a solution for society as a whole.
SB: With this installation you have chosen an artistic form of high social symbolic value, which is more about the living than the dead. Can this perhaps also be understood as a comment on this kind of public mourning that began in the 1990s with the great public flower-laying ceremonies for the death of Princess Diana? Do you also take such ritualized forms of remembrance by the horns?
HJH: I'm just trying to use this shape and turn it around a bit. I don't even want to ironic it, there is serious grief behind it. What people express is by no means as snappy or cheesy as it expresses itself in a certain way. The feelings behind it are serious and real. I find it incomprehensible that the fate of millions of people is not even noticed, but that at the same time an individual fate that receives a lot of media attention is met with great sympathy. On the one hand, we humans are probably not as jaded as it seems, and we mourn when someone is kidnapped or run over. On the other hand, there are millions of suffering that go unnoticed. When a factory in Bangladesh burns down and collapses, people say I'm sorry, but in the end I don't know the people. It is far away, maybe I donate anonymously, but there is hardly any real concern.
Photos: 2015 by Susanne Fasbender
When vacationers discover the washed up corpses of the many drowned Lampedusa refugees on the beach, they might say, I can't go on vacation anymore, that's disgusting. I am also interested in the contradiction in sticking to his sympathy and concern. I try to use that by building a memorial and see if other people join in and also drop flowers. Or am I the only one doing this now? And how do people deal with it? It is definitely a medium for drawing attention to the subject and it works very well. You don't have to wait long for the first people to stop. This actually applies to everyone who passes the installation, which is located near the station exit, where there is a lot of traffic. When young mothers with children see the baby photos, they stop; it works so that attention is generated and sympathy is shared.
SB: As part of your advocacy for refugees, you took an action to provide them with private living space. The CDU member of the Bundestag Martin Patzelt, who for his part advocated making private living space available for refugees, reported in an interview  that four fifths of the around 1000 reactions to his demand were filled with hate and amounted to death threats. Have you experienced something similar in relation to your advocacy for refugees and migrants?
HJH: It wasn't that terrible for me, I haven't been threatened yet, but here too there are very derogatory to hateful remarks, according to the motto: "What's the mess!" or "What do you think of that should be art, did we also pay for it?" Those were the first reactions from this anti-faction. But worse has not happened yet. However, I have exaggerated it a bit. For example, eight years ago I declared the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn a climate refugee camp and demanded that the affected people be accommodated in these rooms dedicated to art.
During the campaigns on the climate refugee camp, people often just stared at me blankly, because not even the issue of political refugees was particularly well represented in public. However, after the wars in the Middle East, it has moved closer. When I later explained that as an artist I couldn't do anything other than give my pictures away to refugees, because I don't have any living space, you can't maybe provide living space, people looked at me really oddly.
Presentation of the "habitable pictures" in front of Cologne Central Station
Photo: © 2015 by Hermann Josef Hack
SB: In an installation in front of the main train station in Cologne you showed tarpaulins that were painted in a refugee camp in Lebanon. What did you experience on your trip to Lebanon and which refugees did you meet there?
HJH: For that I have to go back a little further. I had the idea for the habitable pictures beforehand because I have been painting on this tarpaulin for many years. It is a material that stands outside of the noble museum and challenges this white-glove aesthetic of the museum business. The things are mostly created in the open air and have a strong relation to the street. I was not able to make my studio available to the refugees to live in, but I wanted to show that art is called to do something and not just to aestheticize and be active in a descriptive manner. Then the thought occurred to me to give this tarpaulin away to refugees. People can use it to build emergency housing; they make a shelter out of a large piece of tarpaulin and live under it. After the UNHCR couldn't do anything with my idea, I turned to the aid organization Care. They found the concept interesting there, and then I exhibited these habitable pictures in public for a year, for example in front of the Reichstag or in Cologne on Hohe Strasse and in the shopping center. At that time it was not yet clear whether they would take them to refugees in Jordan or Lebanon.
I also wanted to get to know people, wanted to know how they live, what they need, what culture means to them and how to work with them. I am convinced that in addition to eating, drinking, hygiene and so on, it is just as important that people are allowed to live their culture, be it making music or making art. It's about more than just keeping people and animals alive in the camp - they should also be able to express themselves. I wanted to convey that these people also need a cultural activity, not as a kind of trauma therapy, but as content for self-determined use.
Art actors in the Tripoli refugee camp
Photo: © 2015 by Hermann Josef Hack
With my colleague Andreas Pohlmann, with whom I often do such projects and who documented the whole thing with photographs, I went to Lebanon with Care to visit two different refugee camps and work with two groups of refugees there. One is in the city of Tripoli, which is actually forbidden to tourists because the location in the north of the country near Syria is very dangerous. There we painted together with around 40 refugees in one day, mostly children, but their mothers and fathers also took part. The people live on a former farm, but you can't imagine it to be a farm here. These are very small stables that are perhaps as big as a car garage. Lined up in a row in an unplastered, dirty ranch, these stables are rented out by a privateer for $ 200 a month. Two families with five to six people each live in one of these crates. You have to pay the rent yourself.
We visited these families there and were able to talk to them a bit, which in the embarrassing confinement was a difficult situation for them too. But they were happy and glad that we took care of them. So they made us understand that we are the first and only who are interested in how they live and where they come from. The family we stayed with lived on farming in Syria, but originally came from Palestine. They had established a living there and owned their own land, but, as their father reported, they were blackmailed by representatives of the regime. Unable to pay, they were taken hostage and tortured. Eventually they rounded up their relatives who gave them a few thousand dollars to buy themselves out. After they were released, they immediately fled to Lebanon with their children and their families and, of course, are now rid of their possessions. They only have debts to repay their relatives and no income. You live on a tourist visa, which has to be renewed every three months, which costs around 50 US dollars per person.
Because they are not allowed to work, at best they can do illegal work. The father told us that he had to see a doctor because of a dangerous inflammation of the eyes. In order to be able to pay for the treatment, there was practically only water to drink and nothing to eat for a month. That is how existential their situation is. The children have the opportunity to go to school on site, but the mothers do not let them out because they rightly fear that the children will be kidnapped and sold as work slaves. In this respect, the last survivors of the clan cling to their children and of course demand their own schools.
But that is not possible at the moment, so they told us that if you want to help us in any way, then make sure that we get schools. The children lose their future, get no education, can neither arithmetic, read nor write. Even the oldest children are illiterate and cannot develop any further. Apart from that, of course, they suffer from the lack of prospects. They want to go back to their homeland in Syria. Since some of their friends drowned on the escape route across the Mediterranean Sea, they have absolutely no interest in moving on towards Europe.
Lots of space for public painting
Photo: © 2015 by Hermann Josef Hack
Care had organized an excursion for the refugees to a small park for one day, where there was also play equipment, swings and sandpits. The children jumped at it because they saw something like this for the first time in their lives. After they had played a little, we spread the four meter long and two meter wide tarpaulin and provided paint and painting equipment. After we started painting, the refugees quickly joined. It was almost explosive, first the children, then the mothers, who, according to their role, are shy and always have to lag behind a little. Afterwards they all went out of their way, picked up a brush and painted with us, four or five pictures side by side at the same time. I explained to them why we are here and what we did before. We also showed them photos of the tents that I had set up in Cologne, in front of the parliament in Berlin and so on. They were very interested in that and immediately noticed that the Reichstag must be an important building. I gave the photos away afterwards and they were treated like trophies.
When painting, the children mostly looked ahead. You painted schools because your greatest wish is to finally be able to go to school. Then they painted gardens, a healthy life with lots of plants and animals, everything that lies in ruins in their home country. However, they did not complain about their fate, but looked ahead. However, one of the children and their mother painted a swing on which a child was sitting. The mother explained to me that her daughter had to watch her best friend get shot on a swing.Such stories are very dramatic. Typical of the motifs were the longings to want to get out of the ghetto, to play with other children, to see a garden, animals and so on, to go to school.
A group of young men, who all had a university degree but had no prospect of employment, however, have drawn how their university was bombed. They painted burning tanks, bleeding corpses and the whole conflict situation, but also flags and symbols of their banned organization in Palestine. This group brought a political aspect to art. The generation of fathers, on the other hand, often painted keys. This is a very important symbol that they want to return to their homeland, primarily to Syria, but ultimately to Palestine. A typical figure in the region is a man who turns his arms folded behind his back towards the viewer and looks into distant homeland. They painted this icon everywhere to express, "we want to go back, we turn our backs on you because we don't want to stay here, but want to go back to our homeland". If you can read that a little, then you can see how strong the affiliation with their identity is.
Painting action in Tripoli
Photo: © 2015 by Hermann Josef Hack
A few days later we had a meeting at the Goethe-Institut, to which the participants of the campaign were invited. They explained again how important it was for them to be able to do something together for the first time in a long time. By painting, they had experienced a very strong sense of togetherness. While everyone else is vegetating and having their own worries, as they told me, for the first time they experienced the feeling of working together on something.
After this day in Tripoli we drove to a small town about half an hour's drive from Beirut. Some Palestinian Syrians who are looked after by Care live there, but they are housed in decentralized refugee shelters as well as private high-rise apartments. Among them were people of higher social standing and also former government officials. An artist who had done sculpture in Syria told us how happy she was that she could do something with us. Because she had no money for material, she worked with children's clay. There, too, participation was very intense, especially since we met at eye level. We conveyed to them that people did not come from Europe to show them how to swing the brush, but that we wanted to learn from them and also know what their everyday life is like and what we our people in Germany about their interests and wishes to report. What does culture mean for you as refugees, do you miss art, does it give you something that can help you in everyday life?
You have fully confirmed our impression that this action was very important to you and not just a pleasant activity. The representatives of the aid organization Care were amazed that the people got out of their way within five minutes. Not only did they paint their stories down in record time, but they also explained why and why they did it one way or another. We then also called the campaign Beirut Communication Camp. The refugees were more communicative than ever before, because it was about listening to one another and also finding out what happened to them. This is to continue by showing this work to others in the form of tents to update the refugee theme and create communication points.
Construction of the installation in Cologne
Photo: © 2015 by Hermann Josef Hack
SB: Does it agree with your impression that up to a third of the people in Lebanon are refugees?
HJH: That definitely applies to a quarter of the population, maybe there are more. In any case, their presence is omnipresent. However, the Palestinian Syrians there feel like second-class people, especially since they are discriminated against, as they told us. It's not that they're all welcome there. Nevertheless, it must be said that the people in Lebanon are very tolerant and accept the refugees as brothers and sisters. You can also see it in the cityscape, which is very heterogeneous. New skyscrapers are rising everywhere, while ruins are being torn down right next to them. People live in these ruins, but in between there are also accommodations made from a few tarpaulins, like the ones on which my pictures are painted. These are not big camps with thousands of tents lined up next to each other, but rather decentralized emergency camps hidden in the city architecture. Everyone builds something for himself and watches how he gets along. I found the coexistence of religions and cultures remarkable, which seems to work very well there. Since I was in Lebanon for the first time, I was surprised by the revealing clothing of the young people, which one would not have expected from a predominantly Islamic country. Therefore one is very open towards the refugee children. An estimated eight million Lebanese live abroad anyway, so the attitude there is very different from ours.
SB: The original reason for this interview is your participation in the exhibition SHOUT HIN! in the pumping station. You live in Siegburg and have previously shown various projects at this exhibition site. What do you think if politically motivated art is presented in the provinces, as one would say from a metropolitan perspective?
HJH: I've lived in Siegburg for over ten years and have my studio here. For me, the proximity to Cologne in this place of residence is interesting. In this respect, I am not necessarily an advocate of the provinces, but I still like to test out some campaigns in Siegburg, based on the motto: "Think globally and act locally". I don't have to move to Berlin now to present my work. I also want to give people who live here the opportunity to interfere, even if you can sense, of course, that art is not so hot for the people here. Siegburg is not a social hotspot, there are many people in this city who are doing well and who have taken care of things. Here there is also unemployment on the fringes, but in the suburbs of Bonn the people do not know any real poverty. In this respect, they must first be won over to deal with this problem.
Hermann Josef Hack in the Siegburg pumping station
Photo: 2015 by Schattenblick
In 2000, Andreas Pohlmann and I held an exhibition in the pumping station on the subject of world memory, which was about the durability of storage media. When it opened, it was chased through the newspaper once, and that was the end of breakfast. Not many people here are interested in art exhibitions, and hardly anyone comes to take a look at them. Anyone who has a real interest in art goes straight to Cologne. If you want to bring even some level of quality to the province, you have to compete with the people who are members of the association and see themselves as artists and, because they have paid for years, demand an exhibition for their landscape paintings as well. Then of course it will be even more difficult to present political art. The people here in Siegburg know me because I communicate my actions well, and maybe there is a certain pride behind them when they point out that our Siegburger is doing something here. In fact, only a few culturally think outside the box, while the majority prefer to eat a piece of cake in the café or buy a few plants with matching decorations in the horticultural store. There are of course such in Berlin and Hamburg.
SB: Mr. Hack, thank you very much for the interview.
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