Saturday, 11 May 2013

Wagnerian Delirium...

Mortality: Death and the Imagination
8th July – 16th August 2013 * * * * DETAILS COMING SOON

Wagnerian Delirium
Some very interesting reports coming in from Germany around the Düsseldorf opera house's production of Wagner's Tannhäuser directed by Burkhard Kosinski. The romantic opera was written in the 1840’s and set (in the mind of Wagner) in the middle ages. Kosinski chose to transpose it to 1940’s Germany under Nazi rule with depictions of mass murder, the gas chambers and SS executions.

There have been reports of people storming out of the theatre, booing and slamming doors - so much so in fact, that the staging has been pulled and it is now being performed purely as a concert. 

The furore on the internet has been prolific, with Oxford University historian, James Kennaway telling the Guardian:
"Wagner's operas have often produced extreme reactions and the list of singers, conductors and patrons who have keeled over dead after attending one and suffered a 'Wagnerian delirium' is amazing."

Debate over Wagner’s place in German culture has escalated coinciding with what would have been his 200th birthday on May 22nd. For many, Wagner has come to symbolise the seeds of anti-Semitic sentiment in German culture that would grow into the Nazi terror. A recent article in Der Spiegel commented, “Richard Wagner’s legacy prompts the question: Can Germans enjoy any part of their history in a carefree way?”

In the Guardian this weekend, Will Self suggested that, “Hitler was indeed a great music lover – get over it! He could be one, and still prosecute the deaths of untold millions by word and deed. Hitler loved music because many humans – including evil ones – love music. He loved Wagner's music both despite and because Wagner was an antisemite – it all just fed into the semiotic mix.”

The timing of the doomed opera has coincided with the high-profile trial of neo-Nazi’s which began in Munich last week, with Beate Zschaepe being charged with a series of anti-immigrant murders, and where we can witness a bizarre and superficial media frenzy focused as much on Zschaepe's looks, as for the crimes she’s allegedly committed.

I can’t help being a little curious about what Self describes as “an assumed sharp dichotomy between high and low art, and a privileging of the discourse of the former.” Cinema goers have largely relished the excuse to cathartically grind their teeth to Schindler’s List, been remorselessly subsumed in In the Fog, or else heartily relish the extremes of Inglourious Basterds. There’s no shortage of literature that would provoke a similar range of responses and the response to Jake and Dino’s Chapman’s, Hell from some quarters, at least - was profound, with Jonathan Jones describing it as a ‘true masterpiece.’

Inequalities and denial spring to mind here and something about the gated community of an elite cultural psyche. Perhaps this version of Tannhäuser was tasteless and badly conceived? Kosminski, declined to make changes to soften the impact of the violence saying that he had been completely transparent with the opera house about his intent for the production and that he was not a “scandal director.” “It would be good if the debate continued,” Mr. Kosminski said, “and we learned what the underlying reasons were for this great emotionality.” Not perhaps art and health on an individual level, but a deeply fascinating issue.

So a question: is the portrayal of Nazi Germany permitted in popular culture and other art forms, but somehow best avoided in more genteel cultural circles?

Food production systems in Britain today are very much dictated by laws, regulations and other policies, all of which are geared toward supporting 'Big Dairy' ie the dairy farmers that milk hundreds and thousands of cows every day. Sadly, the modern approach or corporate take over of milk production and distribution is very much to the detriment of smaller producers and farmers here in Britain and around the world. The decline of the British dairy farmer in recent years has accelerated at a significant and worrying rate. 

In the past ten years, the number of dairy farms in England and Wales has fallen by 46.3%. from approximately 20,000 in 2002 to just over 10,000 in 2012. (Dairy Statistics: An insider Guide Pg 10, published by DairyCo, 2012)

The truth is, that the farming crisis in Britain is a direct result of the global restructuring of food markets and industries which has been ongoing since the early 80's. As a result of these new global food systems, agricultural produce, over the years, has become cheaper and primary commodities such as milk, even though demand has increased, the return to the farmer has not. British dairy farmers receive less today per litre of milk, than they did 17 years ago; and they continue to receive less per litre, than it actually costs them to produce. Further afield and also unable to break even, increasing numbers of frustrated and desperate small scale farmers across the globe watch demand for fresh produce increase, but without reaping any rewards. With the British dairy industry there appears to be a blockage; profits from sales are not trickling back down to the producers but pooling somewhere between (larger) processors and vendors.

A deeply worrying statement came from Tim Fortesque, Secretary General of the UK Food and Drinks Industries Council, quoted as saying:

“It is not the role of manufacturing industry to improve the health of the general public or to shoulder the responsibility of ensuring that people live longer, or lead healthier lives”

It is time that we, the modern consumer started to consciously understand methods of food production and question what role we actually play regards the shift towards industrialised farming and globalised food systems; and what exactly will the future landscape of the British countryside look like as the small farmers disappear and the factory farms take over?   

Dawn Prescott’s exhibition 'Farmgate' is at BLANKSPACE between 24 - 26 May explores the plight of the British dairy farmer. The work investigates modern methods of milk production and distribution as we witness an ongoing shift towards the industrialisation of dairy farming and the rise of the 'Mega Farm'.

What on earth does this little film have to do with arts and health? Find out very soon in Mortality: Death and the Imagination

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