A Dialectic of Love
in Times of Hate
“Deine Gewalt ist nur ein stummer Schrei nach Liebe” (Your violence is merely a silent cry for love) sang Die Ärzte in 1993, providing a solution at the same time: caresses were lacking, and parents and friends simply had to make time more often in order to counter rightwing thinking. The commandment “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” which is transported by the New Testament and is hence part of our canon of values, also does not stop with our political adversaries. But the credo of countering even a fascist worldview with love seems not only difficult to implement but also out of place.
LOVE MOVEMENT begins here. It recognizes that fascism is the absence of love. It confronts the coldness of the right with subtleness, aesthetics, and sensitivity, and makes propaganda, not for a political position, but rather for an emotion. It openly admits: There are no simple solutions.
As an artist and the mastermind behind LOVE MOVEMENT, Sebastian Jung assembled an eight-person interdisciplinary think tank to shed light on the topics of populism and love, as a reflection of pluralistic society from the different perspectives of the authors, who are active in a spectrum ranging from the humanities to pop culture. The choice of individuals is programmatic: from the punk Wolfgang “Wölfi” Wendland, to the British theorist Nina Power, these people and their chosen topics have influenced Sebastian Jung in his life and consequently in his artistic position. The think tank as a discursive moment therefore becomes Jung’s medium as well: he designs a social space that allows people to come together with their mindsets, without them being impinged upon or moderated from the outside. Here, Jung makes use of a contemporary extension of the classic concept of art through bringing in social components as a fundamental theme in his artistic practice.
Jung juxtaposes the think tank with a manifesto staged as a sound: “All simple explanations are annulled. Love cancels them all out.” The manifesto is also a self-contradictory system, since the annulment of simple explanations is deliberately followed by simple statements. The contradictory nature results from the complexity of the issue and is difficult to endure, as, particularly with what is an ethereal emotion, two statements that are inconsistent at first glance can prove to be correct and exist side by side. The subsequent dialogue between two former lovers draws us into an intimate conversation in a voyeuristic way. It is the big “thing” that is being negotiated, as well as the diffuse emotional states of the protagonists. The juxtaposition of individual, profane emotions—“You make noises when you eat”—and grand political gesture—“We will blow up their heads, from the chest”—is barely endurable but shows the humanity of the situation and permits us to recognize ourselves in it.
The text corpus of LOVE MOVEMENT—think tank, manifesto, and dialogue—is followed by series of pictures by Sebastian Jung. Three series deal with the topic using various medial approaches. We are first thrown into a convolution of 108 drawings that were created on one day at the “Venus” erotic fair in Berlin. Sebastian Jung takes us along with him into a seemingly alien world, where we encounter various people: those who are attending the fair, those who are working there, and those for whom it is not possible to make a clear determin-ation, since they are all involved. The individuals depicted are not judged; no simple social critique opens up according to which bad men (as fair visitors) exploit poor women (as sex workers)—or vice versa. What is shown instead is a sphere that includes all elements of society: loneliness, sadness, banality, but also funny moments. Jung does not exclude us in the process, does not differentiate, but instead shows that the unquestioned, the needs-oriented, is the human. In the tradition of the painters of New Objectivity, he assumes the role of the artist in a milieu, who, as an observer, characterizes quickly and in a sketchily pithy way through reducing people and situations to their formative attributes.
“Society” as a thematic field is augmented by a series of cellphone photos. A pair of photos showing everyday observations by the artist are presented along with a short text by Jung. The sequencing of the pairs takes place dualistically and dialectically: associatively based on formal-aesthetic similarities or an overlapping of content. The topics come from all latitudes of society: from gender roles to the distribution of goods. It continues on to the Tide Pod Challenge and Putin’s Labrador. In the texts, these subjects are brought together in a pointed way, through Jung asking: “What type are you? More the Hitler type or the Stalin type?” In so doing he draws us into the social themes, takes us out of the passive role of observers, and prompts us to take a stand.
The “artificial flowers” finally bring Jung’s social gesture back to the private. He starts with the flower, as a motif and symbol in the history of art as well as a stereotypical gesture of yesteryear, but reveals these levels of meaning through making plastic flowers fashioned from broken artificial flowers the material for his work. He stages them prosaically, and consequently highlights the sensual haptic in contrast to the trashy material. In a second step, he then draws them. The impression of artificiality is lost for good; by means of the drawing, the flower as object is individualized to become a self-contained still life. Each pairing of photo and drawing is, in turn, matched with a text fragment. They are descriptions of scenes that intimate budding love relationships that, however, abruptly founder. In interplay with the flower as motif, this foundering is not brutal pain: it exemplifies the ephemerality and tenderness of love.
In LOVE MOVEMENT, Sebastian Jung draws a dialectic of love. It ranges from bringing individuals together in a think tank, to an erotic fair as a genre picture of society; and it ends with plastic flowers as a symbol of sensuality and failure. The holistic juxtaposition encompasses the subject and makes it aesthetically and emotionally comprehensible through making concept and formal-aesthetic formulations come together on an equal footing.
LOVE MOVEMENT confronts the seeming impossibility of loving political adversaries in a proactive way. It is not loving others that is put in the foreground, but rather ongoing self-interrogation, processing, and reflecting on inner conflicts. Through the internal strengthening of an enlightened society, we can develop a populism of love that positions itself against hate.
Sophia Pietryga is an art historian