The text of Ludwig Seyfarth was written for the publication
Nina Tobien „Crossroads“
The Art of Creolisation?
Unexpected encounters in the work of Nina Tobien
Nina Tobien is a traveller and a collector. For her project, The Follower, (2009), she travelled around the world to become the first person to see all thirteen full moons in one year. During a residency in Istanbul in 2013/14, she researched traditional oriental verbal storytelling techniques. In Anatolia, she learned weaving, knotting and colouring techniques, which became the structural inspiration for her material-rich, stage design-like installations.
She collected simple, everyday items in Salvador da Bahia, Brasil, and turned them into arrangements resembling still lifes. These collage sculptures, with their combinations of apparently unrelated objects reminiscent of Surrealism, are also inspired by the rituals and magic practises that have developed in north-east Brasil and neighbouring regions such as the Caribbean.
These are areas in which the most different cultural influences have become woven together in a kind of patchwork, for which the Martinique-born writer and art theorist, Édouard Glissant (1928–2011), has coined the term, ‘creolisation’ – “A movement of cultural elements from different regions of the world that in reality creolise; they melt over and into one another, and finally create something completely unforeseeable, something utterly unexpected: a creole reality.”1
The requirement for creolisation is the participation in the process of large numbers of people who have been removed from their cultural roots, as slaves were when they were deported from Africa. They ‘cobble together’ a new culture, one that is their ‘own’. Successful creolisation takes place regardless of social hierarchies, and tends to surmount them: “For creolisation means that the cultural elements that are brought into contact must stand as ‘equal’, otherwise creolisation cannot genuinely take place.”2
Glissant sees in creolisation, which creates the unforeseen from unexpected combinations as opposed to the simple mixing of cultures, an increasingly important, nascent model of living together in our globalised world. In ‘western’ Modern art, what points most to creolisation are the culminating traditions of the fantastic in Surrealism, the combination of objects that in reality do not exist together. For Susan Sontag, “The Surrealist tradition in all these arts is united by the idea of destroying conventional meanings and creating new meanings or counter-meanings through radical juxtaposition (the ‘collage principle’).”3
The Surrealist principle of collage, the pictorial or spatial conjunction of found images or objects, has transferred to the individual, to the assembly of a no longer coherent identity and life story, for which Ulrich Beck introduced the term, ‘cobbled-together biography’ (Bastelbiografie) in his book, Risikogesellschaft (Risk Society), 1986.4
With her numerous travels and the pictorial, literary, philosophical or musical references that she gathers and combines with each other, Nina Tobien presents an outwardly ‘cobbled-together biography’ of her own. It is definitely interspersed with flight lines that lead away from her culture and traditions towards new connections. Her art can be read as an attempt to creolise herself and to offer this to the viewer.
Even the collage-like combinations of different media and materials, including performative elements, could be described as creolisation, whereby the various art forms are not mixed together but rather their boundaries blur; in the 1960s, Adorno called these tendencies towards intermediality ‘Verfransung’ (fraying, erosion). Nina Tobien does not present us with a merely subjective universe or an individual mythology, but challenges us to ‘cobble together’ a ‘reading’ or perspective for ourselves, as she does with her own collected and arranged material.
1Édouard Glissant, Kultur und Identität. Ansätze zu einer Poetik der Vielheit, Heidelberg 2005, p. 10 f. (Trans. H.A.)
2Ibid., p. 13.
3Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation and Other Essays, New York, 1966, p. 269.
4For ‘cobbled-together biography’ see: Ludwig Seyfarth, “Can you see the real me? Leben und Kunst in der Mediengesellschaft”, in: Ibid., Unsichtbare Sammlungen. Kunst nach der Postmoderne, Hamburg 2008, pp. 61-88.
Der Text von Ludwig Seyfarth wurde geschrieben für die Publikation
Nina Tobien „Crossroads“
Eine Kunst der Kreolisierung?
Unerwartete Begegnungen im Werk von Nina Tobien
..deutscher Text in Bearbeitung..