Reason and Emotion - Poetic Revolution and Social Imagination
Randi Nygård, Kunstverein Springhornhof 2013

Today institutions and networks of power, technology, communication and economy have grown so complex one loses sense of connections. The result is deep financial and environmental crisis. As we now risk destroying our own basis of existence, the natural world, it is more important than ever to try to redefine our connections.
In Romanticism we find a heightened interest in exploring the self and it’ s relationship to others and to nature. The movement was a diverse set of responses to the same situation: the accelerating modernization of western society. In a unstable world the romantics searched for new answers, through philosophy, literature, science and the arts, and their search often led to contradictory beliefs. Romanticism also emerged from a desire for freedom – not only political freedom, but also freedom of thought, of feeling, of action, of worship, of speech and of taste. A key concept in understanding the romantic notion of man`s relation to the natural world and landscape is the sublime, being that which evidences a faculty of mind transcending every standard of sense, in Kant’s words. Meeting the sublime creates a paradoxical situation where the outer world is penetrating our capacity of rational inner understanding, and in this way a deep and direct connection between the two levels appears. In the romantic landscape we meet something much greater than ourselves, and confronted with nature`s immense indifference towards the individual, we find ourselves in a complex and contradictory situation; frightened, overwhelmed, small but also empowered.

The reconciliation of opposites was a central ideal within Romanticism, the relationships and connections between subjects were more important than the subjects in themselves. The German romantic thinker Novalis famously said "I am you" and claimed that no distinction between object and subject could be upheld. The true self was seen as an infinite oscillation between absolute and relative, between external and internal worlds. Within visual arts the landscape became an expression for the human consciousness, there was a correspondence between inner and outer worlds. The romantic thinkers described the mind as a complex, layered structure with depths upon dark depths, in stark contradistinction to the Enlightenment’s understanding of the mind as essentially rational and one-dimensional.

The Romantics saw poetry as the highest form of art, but as Christoph Bode writes in Romanticism: An Oxford Guide, they also understood that: “language couldn’t express the ideal or absolute, and the relationships between language and mind, between sign and meaning, between literature and life, were by no means secure and stable but rather precarious, dynamic and evolving”. No final goals could be reached and the creative and philosophical search was “a longing for the infinite because we are finite”, in Friedrich Schlegel’s words. Still the Romantics believed in the possibility of revolutionizing the world poetically.

In 2012 in The Uprising - On Poetry and Finance, Franco “Bifo” Berardi writes that:
“every social and linguistic potency is dried up by the signs reproducing itself within the financial and technological systems. In language this means that the instinctual side of enunciation is canceled and the affective potencies are frozen.”
The current crisis seems to Berardi much more a crisis of social imagination than mere economics. The social imagination comes out of the connections between our lives and bigger structures – political situations, the natural world, science or to the climate change. Through sensing these connections we are able to imagine new social and political possibilities. But today we often fail to link our lives to larger political issues. There are inherent contradictions between our environmental values and the larger political economy, between knowledge and everyday practice, the economical growth exhausts the natural resources, and in our daily lives the political and environmental consequences of our actions are increasingly mystified. People also use a variety of methods for normalizing and minimizing disturbing information, we collectively suppress emotions as fear and uncertainty in relation to, for instance, the climate change, through complex patterns of attention, conversation and emotion. Because the connections seem frightening and ungraspable, we fail to imagine them. Thinking and feeling are closely linked to imagination, and emotions regulates relations between inner and outer worlds and make connections between the personal and the public, therefore they are said to be the defining hallmark of social imagination, and thereby an important part of political awareness.

In Romanticism imagination was celebrated as the ultimate synthesizing faculty, reconciling differences and opposites in the world. Imagination was formed by a union of reason and emotion and it was what united the mind with nature. The English romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge described it with the paradoxical phrase, "intellectual intuition". The natural world was a great living organism of which we formed an integrated part. Maybe the intellectual intuition could help us sense the links between us and the world today as well.
And, if we saw the connections and faced the fear of our current crisis, would the experience be similar to meeting the sublime? To break through illusions to awareness is an empowering and exhilarating experience as it brings a new sense of integrity between self and world. This empowerment together with imagination might lead us to new responses, emotional and political.

Novalis called for a heightened awareness through romanticizing the world; to pay attention, to bring forward the qualitative and emotional potencies, to wonder and thereby to use the intellectual intuition. We can recognize many of Novalis’ thoughts in the methods of contemporary art, to make the known strange, the low high, the finite infinite, the ordinary extraordinary and to poetically open up our fields of attention.

Berardi also sees poetry as the road to reactivating the emotional body and thereby also the social imagination and solidarity, poetry being “the sensuous birth of meaning and desire, as that which cannot be reduced to information and exchanged like currency, it creates an infinite game of interpretation.” The poetic experience opens us up to multiple interpretations and it evokes emotional responses. The meaning is constantly evolving with infinite ambiguity, as in the romantic notion of the self, oscillating between inner and outer worlds.

This exhibition is romantic in its open, poetic and contradictory relations. The artists focus on the connections rather than the subjects themselves, some of the works appear through direct contact between the materials and the environment, others evoke both reason and emotion in dialogue with the landscape, some are formed by inverting or recreating historical relations. Science is made poetic, images are deconstructed and reconstructed and the uncontrollable and strange is let loose. The works oscillate between inclusion and critical distance, between relative and absolute standpoints, and they discuss our relations to the world. And since the relations are constantly evolving there is still room for wonder and imagination.