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Beat Wyss

For Ulrike Böhme

It must seem a silly truism to a public that is open to what is new that the word Kunst (art) is derived from K÷nnen (skill). In fact when confronted with things they don't understand philistines like to say that "what those contemporary artists are doing is not art, because anyone can do that." Aside from the comfortable misuse of the saying, there is a sense of K÷nnen in the idea of art that is not just associated with the consonance it has with Kunst in German. The related Latin root is Artificium, or work of art, i.e. everything that demonstrates the skill of human beings in approximating what is natural: as a tool for enjoyment, teaching and edification. It is inherent in the origin of the word: Kunst is something made. It is most beautifully expressed in the Greek, from which our word "poesy" is derived: poetry, , literally means "construction". [In German the relation of the word poetry, "Dichtkunst", or the art of linguistic condensation, is more sensual and closer to construction, "Machwerk".[1]

But what are the artists supposed to make? Here we run up again against a widespread opinion: They should make something beautiful. If what is then meant is the usual, pleasing, harmlessly pretty, that would constitute a second such truism. But once again it pays to look beyond the superficial meaning of the word to its origin. In Greek the Beautiful is called and means: "I call." It was Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita who established this connection, when he recognized in beauty that ordering power which called everything to itself. As much as this text from late antiquity has been appropriated by Christian belief, the term beautiful goes back to Plato's theory of ideas, which is heftier than spiritual love. "Whoever wishes to go on the right path" as Socrates is instructed by DiotÝma, "must turn in his youth to beautiful bodies; and if his guide is guiding him properly, to fall in love with one such beautiful body, thereby generating beautiful thoughts to understand that what is beautiful in one body is akin to that of another body, so that concerning the Beautiful as an idea, it would be foolish not to consider the beauty in all bodies as one and the same."[2]

Therefore the Beautiful shows the path from the object of desire to its idea. The enjoyment of the Beautiful opens a floodgate from the body to the soul. Beauty is not located in precious materials, is not based on the harmony of successful proportions and is not exhausted in the purpose fulfilled by a created object. The Beautiful is not an abstract norm, but rather an energy which by means of love generates a desire for the truth. The erotological self-founding of philosophy was valid up to time of the Modern. Edmund Burke called Beauty a force of social quality, which encourages the feeling for community.

Ulrike B÷hme lends her voice to this extended choir. She is a doer who brings us together in order to call up the memories of places, where without the touch she adds we would only perceive the day to day. Her intervention transforms the ordinarily present into the poetry of publicly shared experience.

[1] Comment by the translator
[2] Plato, The Symposium, ed. steph. 210 b

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