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art & culture

June 30, 2008

London streets

Couple of months ago a friend asked me, what is culture?

Few days later on, he offered a cold beer and asked me again. I hesitated to reply both times. I think that he was wondering about those early humans in caves drawing hunting scenes on the walls. Of course, I thought, this was culture. All systems of ideas and practices; all different beliefs and norms are culture(s), like any school text writes… Now, however, if someone attempts to make distinctions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, as if some type of culture is not really culture, things start to look tricky. But honestly, this distinction is no more than a cultural imposition itself. Incidentally, but not surprisingly, one kind of distinction which is traditionally loved by both conservative and left speakers…

Culture is nevertheless relational. I wanted to point out this. It makes sense in relation to something else and other… thus, we may need to talk about cultures rather than culture… But then I forgot all about his question, lost – as usually – in the multiple threads starting out of another little and ‘simple’ question… I am simply not sure what culture is…

Only recently, I came across a published editorial by Ivan Mecl, which made me think about it again and which I want to share here. It was published in the latest issue of Umelec, an international art and culture magazine (English version, Vol. 12, 1-2008, published by

All photographs accompanying this article are taken during one of my recent ‘cultural’ trips to London.

“We work like old people, yet we behave like children more than ever before. We surround ourselves with mobile miracles, and therefore we have no idea what we are dealing with. We try to live in safety, and yet we do not know what it means to be safe. Many of us have lost time, but acquired “things.” We love “things” and their names sound nice to us. We love them, but they do not love us. We are impressed by their being changed, and unhappy by their loss. We are unhappy and with no time to spare from unrequited love, and always on the move.”

The moment art changed forever... But what moment exactly was that?

Tate Modern: 'The moment art changed forever'... But which moment exactly was that? Now, then, when?

“So let’s forget about culture. We don’t know what it means. The word culture is at the end of its meamimg-making history, because it has become a crutch for all that is frivolous. Why have a ministry for some abstract culture, we have beer culture, table culture, legal culture, legislative culture, and all kinds of mold and yogurt cultures too. Culture without qualification is fraud.”

Tate Modern

Tate Modern: Cafe culture. Welcome, thank you... The cafe (in both Tate Museums) was more than a state of the art establishment, competing for popularity against the exhibitions in all the other rooms

“Art is trying to become science. It deals with philosophy, sociology, and psychology, and desires to be a pedagogical resource too. It wants to be political, yet maintain the charisma of the underground (that is, by being non-political). It wants to be a commodity. It makes fun of pop culture, a society that desires property, and it exhorts humility while at the same time consuming high-profile grants and taking over entire exhibit halls for its presentation. Contemporary art wants to be everything but still remain unique. Because art itself has little meaning-there is too much of it.”

London streets: rose, tea and appricot tart in Soho

“Contemporary artists are like Switzerland. They are like a country that wishes to remain neutral in the game, while siding with the winning team no matter who that is. Artists need not know a lot, yet they wish to comment on all contemporary phenomena. There is no area where contemporary artists do not stick their noses, but should they act in error, they simply claim artistic immunity. The only concept they are afraid of is art that wishes to fulfil and not make mistakes.”

advertising slowness

London streets: advertising 'slowness' in a fast city, or simply "eating fast-food in the slow lane" G.Carlin

“A thought process without tangible results might as well be called laziness. Today, laziness is unforgivable. Activeness is the universal solution for contemporary society; it does not pay to stay in one place. True passivity requires courage.

A living man speaks. A clever man writes. A dead man is silent; a dead, lazy man.

Giving up the term culture offers hope of finding meaning.”

London streets

London streets: performance oriented modern adjustments

(Photographs by Christos Stavrou © 2008 All rights reserved)

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