An office for working on unsolvable problems
In the year 2011, German cultural mediator, philosopher, curator and fluxus artist Bazon Brock opened the Berlin-based office “Denkerei – Amt für Arbeit an unlösbaren Problemen und Maßnahmen der hohen Hand”; unsolvable problems are his expertise. Brock is less interested in solving problems, but more to learn from them, to extend the awareness of the society through the unsolvability of their obstacles.[i]
For instance, Brock seems to have dedicated his life to the question of what the most reasonable way of dealing with nuclear waste could be. In his opinion, looking for permanent storage somewhere deep in a tunnel system on a remote Finnish island means making our atomic waste invisible and pretending to have found a solution. This invisibility is for Brock in stark contrast to the responsibility we accept when breathing life into and exploiting a man-made invention.
The strategy he offers would bring the active waste in the centres of our cities, resting in “waste cathedrals”, admitted and preserved.[ii]
Circular progress- and problem-creating society
The global society is currently situated between being used to the amenities of the linear economy and creating the vision of a comeback of the circular economy, with all the advantages of the 21st Century. Inventing new technologies means being able to create for instance materials that are endlessly recyclable and consequently consumable in a fast pace. These developments help to picture a future made of one body.
Nevertheless, inherent in every progress is a force with its own dynamics that creates problems that circularly provoke inventions to help solving the present. Some problems vanish, others remain, show up at a new location and begin to accumulate.
The sociologist Arno Bammé uses in his book “Unlösbare Probleme: Warum Gesellschaften kollabieren [Unsolvable problems: Why societies collapse]” the standard example of energy production to sketch how societies are forced to unavailingly work off their self-generated problems: after realizing that coal power plants had a huge negative environmental impact, nuclear energy was praised as the retrieval. Today, confronted with the unsolvable consequences of the nuclear energy industry, a good hand in the game of renewable energies is energy made of sun, wind and biomass. However, the limits as well as environmental consequences also of this technology start to unfold the more we rely and build on solely the newest achievements.[iii]
Expertise in humbleness, thoughtfulness, self-limitation and self-enlightenment
Bazon Brock’s Berlin-based office is conceptualised as a physical space, an accessible knowledge archive.
Brock invites anyone to ask a question (via his website or by visiting his office) about an unsolved issue, anything that is in need of further discussion. If a question turns out to be complex and crucial, Brock and a group of experts organise one or several public events around the problem and try to bring light into the darkness. Important in Brock’s manifesto is that the experts do not even start trying to solve problems, but to manage, cope with them. On the contrary, they heavily criticise authorities like politicians claiming to be equipped with a solution expertise that in Brock’s opinion mirrors the craving for omnipotence and power on all levels of the society, of human kind.
After him, it is essential to realize that the only wise discourse with reality implies the acceptation of not being able to get one’s will, ever. Accepting this means in a second step being able to develop intelligent strategies to cope with problems that are unsolvable by principle. Just as the weather as a simple example for which we developed the coping strategies of umbrella and sunscreen, Brock refers furthermore to the refugee crisis, the east-west conflict, active waste or the Eurozone crisis that are all in need of – first and foremost – the recognition of the reality: their unsolvability.
The reason why we will never just get what we want and long for, develop without consequences, reunify, integrate, dissolve or heal with cash injections is because of the existence of history.
“The human being simply does not want to understand that history is the most significant variable within every single action. Because history is something that doesn’t pass, […] history is an extreme force, vastly superior and the principle of all life.”[iv]
Bearing history in mind is one thing, another thing is the missing competence in the society of being humble, thoughtful, self-limited and self-enlightened. Always starting thinking and acting from oneself, criticising and reflecting oneself instead of the other is an important strategy in creating the present and future. The questions that then arise from this “extended self” need a free space that offers support and discussion.[v]
Mind means instead of financial means
The “Denkerei” wants to be this public free space and a provider for “mind means”. Through action teachings, visitor schools or cognitive tools the visitor gets instructed to learn recognizing what the authorities did not select and serve to him as a consumable canapé.[vi] Understanding selection processes by being confronted with the not-chosen is the main idea of Brock’s concept of the visitor school he developed in 1968 on the occasion of the art fair ‘documenta IV’. This concept as well as the extension in form of a physically accessible knowledge archive are created to professionalise the citizen. They help to become judicious to recognize differences.[vii]
In order to train the citizen in encountering differences and seeing the unfamiliar, the Berlin-based office co-works with experts from fields such as molecular biology, consumer research, stoical dietetics, occidental epistemology, techno-theology, psycho-politics, transformation rules of the law as well as waste cults and evidence criticism.[viii]
It seems that these knowledge niches just want and are able to abstractly guide and create the prerequisites for independent thinking instead of presenting familiarities, something that is already thematized in the media, in science, community colleges or other institution with an educational mandate. The more we just encounter what we already heard of, the less we understand the unfamiliar and the less we see the missing pieces.[ix]
Image via Flickr
[iii] Bammé, A., 2014. Unlösbare Probleme: Warum Gesellschaften kollabieren, Profil Verlag, München.