In the Mirror of Others

No espelho de Outros

Schawelka, K.

Bauhaus - Bauhaus-Universität Weimar

Retirado de:

RESUMO: Este estudo de caso que aqui se apresentam é o resultado de dois grupos de arte e design que trabalharam em conjunto, nomeadamente de Castelo Branco (Portugal) e Weimar (Alemanha). Estes grupos reuniram-se para conduzir pesquisa conjunta e produzir um corpo de trabalho, que foi apresentado em conjunto em uma exposição.


PALAVRAS-CHAVE: Espelho; Identidade; Intercâmbio; Universidade Bauhaus-Weimar; Escola Superior de Artes Aplicadas do Instituto Politécnico de Castelo Branco.

ABSTRACT: This case study introduced here is the result of two art and design groups working together, namely from Castelo Branco (Portugal) and Weimar (Germany). These groups came together to conduct joint research and produce a body of work, which was presented jointly in an exhibition.


KEYWORDS: Mirror; Identity; Exchange; Bauhaus-Weimar University; Escola Superior de Artes Aplicadas do Instituto Politécnico de Castelo Branco.

George Bernard Shaw once described that the difference between a countess and her handmaid cannot be seen in how they behave, but how others treat them. We do not decide by ourselves who we are; we decide in taking account of the relationship to others. More exactly, we are reflected in the reactions of others. In recent years, the so-called „theory of mind“ has come to the forefront of research. „Theory of mind“ manifests attempts to understand others and their intents and to adjust our own future behaviour respectively. Each of us knows our self from our own inner perspective. As we can only perceive others from their outside persona(s), we can’t be sure about what they really think and feel. However, we accept in them personal awareness and try to interact wit them as positively as possible. The “mirror state”, as it is analysed by Lacan, the awareness that our mirror image belongs to us and accords to what others know about us from their outside perspective, is connected to this ability. Recently discovered “mirror neurones” in the brain seem to be of vital importance for the „theory of mind“. Such neurones are active, no matter whether we perform an activity by ourselves or watch others performing them. Obviously, these “mirror neurones” assist us with empathizing - putting ourselves into the position of the others – the fact of which is of vital importance for social beings. People who are clinically diagnosed as autistic are thought to be incapable of looking at themselve from the outside, and tend to have serious problems with normative social behaviour. What is valid for us as individuals – that we recognise ourselves from the reactions from the others and who we are – is valid for other social entities, groups, tribes, cultures or nations as well.
Travelling is one of the most important means to recognise oneself in the mirror of the others. We don’t only see a lot that is strange and are forced to question a lot of our implicitly assumed beliefs, we are also seen differently and judged as usual by the reaction of others what leads to gain new insight on us. Here, we can even reinvent ourselves. Artists are innate travellers. Whether Kandinsky, Duchamp, Max Ernst or Picasso – they all left the culture of their origin and preferred to live in a liminal area - an area of transition or new beginning. In the middle ages, one made allowance for the artists’ mobility by saying they had a mercuric temperament and lumped them together with traders, thieves, cheaters, sailors and other transient individuals. However, human cultures are settled and traditional. They have a culturally reenforced duty to guarantee the reproduction of their particular society. Therefore, their attitudes toward artists as agents of change are mostly affected by ambivalence. Of course, this fact has been known for a long time.
It seems that one has to stand between two or more cultures in order to be creative. The exchange of ideas, techniques and products calls for real and mental mobility. Those who work in the cultural field, like artists, who consider culture as a creatively changeable material, should have a look between the cultures. Travelling is seen as a remedy for cut and dried thinking, as the traveller among strangers is strange himself and sees that not everything is how he expects it to be. Travelling educates. It is not only because one sees new things but also because one can better recognise and reflect the strengths and weaknesses when looking back at his or her home culture from outside.
Contact with foreign cultures endangers one’s own culture, apart from the fact that this contact is not always wanted and that it doesn’t always go on without risk. But cultural exchange is also a driving force behind progress. Somebody who is not ready for it will be pushed away and one day he will disappear completely. Creolisation and hybridisation are living signs of this development. But how much of it is beneficial for us? Distrust, xenophobia and the arrogance to be culturally ahead accompanies every meeting of cultures; they are deep-rooted in our biological disposition and they can’t be abolished simply by good will.
What does that mean today in context of the upcoming „clash of civilizations“ and the triumphal procession of new communication media, globalisation and radicalised fundamentalist denial of influences that are regarded to be dangerous and to threaten our own culture? The inner dynamic of capitalism and industrialisation forces more innovation than most of us would like to have to deal with, and artists more and more undertake the task of acting as compensatory forces that heal wounds made by progress. Since romanticism, initiated by the Weimarian Johann Gottfried Herder, artists have advanced the views of particular cultures towards the universalistic enlightenment. They undertook the task of providing cultural identity that we all need and that threatens to get out of our control. They found their inspiration in the protection of traces of rural life forms, the conservation of archaic production methods as well as in the pointing of the ethnocide to which Amazonian aboriginals are exposed. But even there, it is remarkable that artists don’t speak for themselves, but help others to express themselves by lending them their voice.
Meanwhile, industrial nations have cultivated entire commercial sectors around identity that even artists can’t elude. This identity industry stimulates tourism - industries which may combine to form the largest sector of the global economy. But even here, disillusion comes up. The so-called Coca-colonisation that comes with tourism is neither non-violent nor entirely benevolent. Tourism destroys that which the tourist seeks and the events and spectacles that make tourism viable stand more for globalisation and omnipresent cultural industrialization than for cultural diversity. Especially in the industrial nations, we observe an inexorable erosion of particular cultures that is, and even has to be aided by government. It is hard to imagine that a united Europe could succeed when the different national traumas, memorial cultures or maintenance of cultural identities is articulated exclusively in contrast/relation to immediate neighbours. Therefore, the “Internationale of artists” is gladly supported by official quarters as pioneering intercultural convergence. 
The intention of this writing is ultimately to outline the world of ideas that forms a context for the works of artists who participated in a particular project dealing with tourism, identity and inter-subjective culture. The project was coached by the Escola Superior de Artes Aplicadas (ESART) in Castelo Branco, Portugal, together with the Faculty of Art and Design of the Bauhaus University-Weimar. The partnership between the mentioned institutions can be understood within the equalisation of cultures of a united Europe It is a political subject, as unity within the EU raises the problem of how we can grow together to a joint culture while conserving the regional cultures of each constituent and without fearing violent conflicts because of these differences.



The projects that are introduced here are the result of two art and design groups working together, namely from Castelo Branco (Portugal) and Weimar (Germany). These groups came together to conduct joint research and produce a body of work, which is now presented jointly in an exhibition. From the Portuguese group, professors Alexandra Cruchinho, Ana Sofia Marcelo, Carlos Reis, Daniel Raposo, Isabel Marcos, João Neves, José Silva, Rui Dias and students Amadeu Alberto, Ann Kochan, Filipe Martins, Mário Tojo, Nuno Silva, Paulo Chambino, Pedro Antunes, Pedro Silva, Pedro Vicente, Raquel Costa, Sílvia Rodrigues, Vera Ferreira, Vera Romeiro were involved. From the German group, students Claudia Csato, Tobias Euler, Maxie Götze, Anja Hendel, Jakob Hoff, Rajan Malik, Tina Mämpel, Marta Matuszewski, Nele Marie Rojek, Sebastian Schichel, Franziska Schulz, Anna-Lena Thamm and Susanne Uhlmann were involved and coached by professors Hermann Stamm and Karl Schawelka. Each group visited the other for some days and was excited to cast glance on the touristic aspects of the others’ city. It was about identity, about locations and about artists using the methods of anthropologists. These investigations were mediated and made available for presentation through photography and video - the very media that play such important roles in tourists’ consumption of location and culture. Here, however, they were reflected and were used in an unusual way.
For each individual involved, questions about his or her origin and his or her home were of the greatest importance. The living places with their physical, historical and cultural singularity have an influence on what we know about somebody and how we rate them. Contemporary artists have dealt with the subject of the living place in different ways. They reacted on emotions that were triggered by the specifics of local context. They tested cultural qualities and questioned what it means to originate from a certain place. In their works, they discovered metaphorical and symbolic meaning located behind the surfaces. The cultural memory hidden in everyday experiences and the emotional relationships that make places out of non-places are the preferred subjects of their works. 
Anthropologists who are familiar with studying other cultures distinguish an emic from an etic explanation. The etic description is provided from an observer from outside, it should illuminate outsiders, whereas the emic description is based on subjective, immersed perspectives of the observed group and is accepted by insiders. The point is not that only one of the descriptions can be right. The point is to acknowledge the different frame of reference within which each description has to work. This is according to the mediation task of artists that have to move between cultures as well as emic/etic approaches.
In the works that were developed within the project, insights and information from all disciplines could have been taken into consideration. Artistic ethnographies were worked out that picked out political, social, poetical, cultural, philosophical and psychological implications of the particular places as central themes. This all took place in light of the fantasy and fantastic imagery that also help determine our attitudes.
For instance, the experience of disorientation was not prevented, but on the contrary, it was sought out. The consciously regressive techniques of the Situationists - their possibilities and hypothesises - were discussed and places where something could happen were directly subject to conceptual proceedings. The assay that operated with artistic methods covered questions such as: Who are we? Who belongs to this place? Whose place is this?
Indeed, the two project groups worked separately but they always knew about the activities of the other. Thus, something like “corresponding fields” were always thought of. The reflective view of a foreign culture becomes by degrees subtler given that there existed reciprocity between the groups. In the tourist city of Weimar, with its Goethe cult, we explain to the world what it means to be a German. We celebrate the typical German mixture of provinciality and cosmopolitanism that is harmonic conciliation of necessary change and essential identity and which is also propagated as an export model. Federalism that allows cultural variety without demanding hegemony belongs to our self-perception. Weimar is a tourist city par excellence. We don’t only show Goethe, Schiller, Herder, Wieland, Liszt or Cranach but Buchenwald, too. Meanwhile, van de Velde, the Nietzsche archive and the later Bauhaus as well as the recently deceased GDR’s past were added as touristic curiosities. Identity is the product the city generates its living from and so it provides services and conducts events to this end. However, the residents are not necessarily prepared to serve the identity industry of international tourism. In other words, the city of Weimar does precisely what others expect it to do, but the citizens want to live their own lives.
By contrast, the geographically remote Portuguese city of Castelo Branco is seldom visited by tourists. Nevertheless, it has to do with the subject identity, even in a complimentary way. Tourism in Portugal concentrates on the coast and implicates the usual problems. A certain boom connected with Portugal’s entry to the European community lead to a process that may spin out of control like a top and endanger identity. Does the relatively untouched city of Castelo Branco show the true Portugal that is worth being conserved or should it just be considered as too provincial? Which identity do the Portuguese have? Which one do they want to have and for whom? As in the city there are still no expectations from outside, people only know the emic view. An etic view – as reflected to them by tourism- is beyond their imagination. However, cultural uniqueness served as a trigger for cognitive processes and occurred quicker for the visitors than in the tourist centres like those on the coast of Portugal.
In short, the project dealt with identity and creative processes of disputation with foreign worlds. Through investigation and artistic interventions, students watched how the world looks at them, how they see themselves and how they see others. The experience that we all are more impressed by our group identity than by our individual identity was crucial. Our self-conception is defined by cultural origins, relationships with other cultures and by a number of social variables. The advantage is that it is not codified. The wish to reinvent oneself and to reinterpret the fundamental dimensions of human identity only succeeds when it is made reciprocally, using others as the mirror to self.

Reference According to APA Style, 5th edition:
Schawelka, K. ; (2008) In the Mirror of Others. Convergências - Revista de Investigação e Ensino das Artes , VOL I (1) Retrieved from journal URL: