Joseph Beuys: “If I take care of you, others will take care of me.”
Stanislav Menshikov: “If I take less, others have more.”
These two quotations still resonate in my mind since I attended “La chaîne est belle”; the New Conversations 1, a two and a half day workshop, held at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp last June, on the initiative of artist Nico Dockx, in collaboration with Louwrien Wijers.
The front side of the invitation for the workshop showed these two quotations, printed as if written in white chalk on blackboard, just like Joseph Beuys used to make his statements. Beuys’s statement was written down by Louwrien Wijers, while she was attending one of his sessions at the end of 1970s. The second quote is by someone less known in the art world: Russian economist Stanislav Menshikov. While preparing the workshop Nico Dockx and Louwrien Wijers combined both quotations, as guidelines for this workshop on art and economy.
The phrase of Beuys speaks of chain-reciprocity. This is not a dualistic interplay between isolated subjected. It is not “if I take care of you, you will take care of me”, but: “others will take care of me”. The self is not isolated, it is a connected self. This self forms part of a community. The person who cares may reckon on some sort of chain effect, a transposition of care, a solidarity which goes over from one person to the other, as if from one bead in a chain or necklace, to the other. So in the end you may trust that you, being part of this chain, will be cared for too. Here, at first, I started to feel a little bit uneasy with the saying of Beuys. This chain reaction, if I’m right, seems to work as a boomerang. A positive boomerang, a caring boomerang, for sure, but still a boomerang. This reciprocity is about returning to the self. It starts with the self (“If I…”) and it ends with the self (“…of me”). Menshikov’s phrase seemed to me more extreme, more radical: generous. By taking less, he says, others have more. That’s it. No return of favors, no reciprocal expectations, no chain reaction, no boomerang, no possibility of counting on others to be helpful in return. Just stepping back, so there’s more space for somebody else.
Later on, my thoughts were changing. In Menshikov’s statement, one can still discern the language of ranking and banking. Taking less. Having more. As in a debet-credit balance. This doesn’t erase the generosity, but the terms remain within the framework of the stockmarket. On the other hand, underlying Menshikov’s phrase is his concept of compassionate economy. Menshikov advocates an economy based on compassion, enhancing generosity. Compassion goes beyond the stockmarket. Compassion can’t be counted, can’t be balanced, can’t be returned, it goes beyond reciprocity.
Care, used in Beuys’s phrase, also goes beyond reciprocity. A person who cares, doesn’t ‘care’ about reciprocity at all. Care doesn’t limit itself to a chain reaction. Care can’t be calculated. Care doesn’t come back. Care is about love, comfort, friendship. By using a word such as care in his lectures on the Erweiterte Kunstbegriff (=Expanded Art Concept) Beuys lets his own way of thinking, which according to his quote seems to be still bound by the reciprocal ‘returning a favor’, expand beyond reciprocity.
Both Beuys and Menshikov use strong words, even catching phrases, which help them to go beyond their (and our?) own way of thinking.
This post: by invitation of Nico Dockx.
More about Compassionate Economy by Stanislav Menshikov: http://www.louwrienwijers.nl/compassionateeconomy.html