Last Autumn, I visited a group of postgraduate students in Nida, a beach resort on the Lithuanian side of the Curonian Spit, just two kilometers from the Russian border. The one-week seminar took place in a modern conference center that was all wood and glass, and our meals were a healthy adaptation of regional dishes. The students covered the cultural field in the widest sense, from product design to anthropology. They came from the European Union, North and South America, but not from Europe’s bordering countries Russia, Turkey or Arabia.
In my writing workshop I asked the students to develop enthralling scenarios of their personal future — a first step to an auto science fiction. After an automatic writing session and mutual interrogations these scenarios turned out to be: to offer lunchboxes with food sorted by color; to found an art school named Vibrant Matter on the volcanic island of Stromboli; to hold cybernetic high masses in which participants are mentally synchronized like bees and overcome their bodily limitations; to be an ergotherapist in a retirement home; to start a cannabis plantation, get imprisoned and write a novel; to survive a technological clash by becoming a vibration, a flow; to establish a rural collective to design a perfect life of farming and fishing; to life a nomadic life with one’s own body as home; to work on an inner synergetic landscape.
The following day, Lithuanian artist Julijonas Urbonas made a playful effort to investigate the practical implications of speculative realism’s take on contingency: What else could a table look like? How else could we move from A to B? And finally, what could be different ways to dance? One student put on her own mix on SoundCloud, we turned off the lights, and soon, everyone had found their own mode: the fast weasel, the steady clock, the leaping frog, the smooth cat, the gliding snake, the sudden explosion… Occasionally two of us would meet and exchange a brief smile or an insinuated gesture. But our pre-stabilized monadic harmony didn’t need much to go off the rails. A woman seriously upset another by casually touching her twerking butt.
At midnight the rules of the house forced us to end the party. What to do next? It was off season and no bar in town would be open at this time. So we grabbed more beer and cheap wine from the storage and walked up to the big dunes from where you can look over to Russia. Now we could see absolutely nothing, only darkness, but we shouted and put on our iPhone torches to be noticed by some invisible military observation post. Which was silly, as we could whisper and they would understand.
The Lithuanian men started to parody Russian men by inflating their breasts and bleating cooingly. A sluggish accumulation of mass. Then they parodied Lithuanian men and their voices went up, sweet and insecure. Their feigned laughter was nervous, if not hysterical, their movements spry and spring-loaded. Alpha versus beta males.
It was cold, almost freezing, and a student had forgotten her jacket. No one was generous enough to offer their own jacket, but we encircled her, rubbed her, sang and jumped up and down together. Our tribal defiance of the grim cold felt so much more meaningful than the posthistoire that we had been exploring the previous two days. And I realized: It was not enough to give food and shelter to the poor; we had to embrace them and celebrate them. Tents and barracks were not enough; we had to welcome the refugees with gigantic statues, palaces and festivals.
The metropolitan heydays were over, this was a well-known fact, but we could do even more than move to the hinterland and set up communes. The hinterland didn’t just offer new affordable opportunities to produce art, it offered opportunities to exhibit and perceive it in glorious new ways. While land art had used vast landscapes as an enormous canvas to draw and paint, hinterland art would explore art’s whole apparatus: sculpture, media art, body art, social art… The dimensions of the works could vary from small to large and short to long, if only they would stand out against nature’s richness and agriculture’s monotony.
A few years ago, in the course of my interview series “The Future of Art,” I had the idea of Pyramid Mountain: The biggest pyramid ever would first be carved out of a mountain and turned into the tomb of its owner, to then be covered again under the reconstructed mountain. I had given artist Erik Niedling the idea as a gift to enable him to store his art independently from collectors and conservators. The biggest museum ever wouldn’t need any maintenance.
Now I saw the disappearance of Erik and his art in Pyramid Mountain as an outrageous counterbalance to the thousands of dead refugees who had died in the sea without any trace: We Europeans disappear too, though it’s not the same. However much we care about refugees, it’s never as much as we care about ourselves. And still, as long as we remain human, all of us will die. Different from a memorial for the unknown refugee, which would sooth or nurture feelings of guilt, Pyramid Mountain could become a place to mourn and to celebrate the coming end of the Europeans, if not humans as such.
Ingo Niermann (b. 1969, Germany) is a writer and artist who lives in Berlin. He is the author of Minusvisionen (Suhrkamp Verlag, 2003); Umbauland (Suhrkamp Verlag, 2006); Metan (with Christian Kracht; Rogner & Bernhard, 2007); China ruft dich (Rogner & Bernhard, 2008); and The Future of Art: A Diary (with Erik Niedling and Tom McCarthy; Sternberg Press, 2012), among other publications. He is the editor of the series “Solutions” (Sternberg Press).