Werkleitz Festival 24.-26.Oktober 2008

Because nothing remains the same ...

When we organised the first Werkleitz event in 1993 we would never have imagined that it would be described by Ulrich Wickert on Tagesthemen barely ten years later as the “documenta of the east” and win the International Art Critics’ Award. We had in mind an event that would present diverse artistic disciplines on an equal footing: from film, music, performance and visual arts through to what was then beginning to emerge as net art. Motivated by an interest in art as a means to reflect or catalyse social phenomena we have since experimented with various formats and organisational models. The Werkleitz Biennial was the first Biennial in Germany, the first in the world to be held in a rural context and, at a maximum of five days duration, also the world’s shortest. 

The budget and visitor numbers increased with each Biennial. The first downturn occurred in 2006. The Biennial Happy Believers found itself in possession of only half a budget quasi, although it was impossible to speak of an actual cut in funding given that the Biennial had never received a fixed grant. Rather, it had been obliged to re-apply each year to various regional and national funding bodies. It therefore suffered a particularly hard blow when public funding for the arts was repeatedly cut across the board in recent years.
Having now to manage on a quarter of the 2004 budget, we’ve adopted a flexible response: the Werkleitz Festival rather than Biennial is now our new handle. This implies a smaller framework yet also a more compact discourse and contributions of an exceptional quality, selected by the two curators, Marcel Schwierin and Daniel Herrmann.

Besides the film programme, the festival’s perennial core, the forum is to be introduced as a new experimental format, designed to initiate public debate on the festival theme both in the run-up to and during the festival, essentially in cooperation with other cultural institutions in Halle. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the curators, the whole team, the partner institutions and our sponsors and funding bodies for assisting at this not all too easy birth!

Our curiosity has remained the same. The 8th Werkleitz Festival offers different perspectives, filtered respectively by experience of the former East or West of Germany, on the “big blood-brother” or “step-brother”, AMERICA, land of endless opportunities and inexact projections. The name in itself proves the latter: we wrongly imagine that America is the USA and thereby overlook that the continent is also home to several other nations.

The spectrum of German perspectives on the USA is equally diffuse: from its paragon role as a ‘liberating force’ in the 1950s through to Bush-bashing since the start of the new millennium. Both are opinions reflected in art and in our popular culture; and the USA influenced the latter in particular.

The curators have succeeded in adding sufficient nuances of tone and emphasis to these polarised images and in nudging back into our consciousness the fact that the USA is also home to alternative democratic movements and oppositional (sub-) cultures and as such gave significant momentum to international cultural developments, particularly during and immediately following World War II.

The USA is also a land in flux. After the elections on 4th November 2008, we will know how flexibly the Americans will be able to face that fact  “because nothing remains the same”.1

Peter Zorn
First Chairman of the Board of the Werkleitz Gesellschaft (Werkleitz Society)

1A line from the song by Hannes Wader, “Heute hier, morgen da” (“Here today, gone tomorrow”)

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