aKabi (2005) by Aydin Teker / Something Great Collection. Image © Elio Montanari
The Something Great Collection is an ever-growing contemporary art collection dedicated to preserving, investigating, and exhibiting international performing arts.

Its seeds were sown in 2020 with the first acquisitions of the collection: artistic creations by international artists, from the 2000s to the present that are significant, striking, and meaningful for what they represent historically and artistically.  

By reflecting on the history of international performing arts and its recent developments, the collection proposes recontextualising that history from a more inclusive and transcultural perspective.

Every two years, different collection facets are on public display in exhibitions co-organised with various partners. Year-round, public access  to the works in the collection is also made possible through an active loan program open to any interested institution.

More information about our collection and a complete list of collected works will be online soon.  Until then, please scroll down and get introduced  by reading an opening essay by Dr Gurur Ertem.


aKabi (2005) by Turkish choreographer Aydin Teker, one of the first acquisitions of the Something Great Collection. Image: © Levent Öget


Something Great Collection


by Dr Gurur Ertem, April 2021

"The "doing of great deeds and the speaking of great words" will leave no trace, no product that might endure after the moment of action and the spoken word has passed. If the animal laborans needs the help of homo faber to ease his labor and remove his pain, and if mortals need his help to erect a home on earth, acting and speaking men need the help of homo faber in his highest capacity, that is, the help of the artist, of poets and historiographers, of monument-builders or writers, because without them the only product of their activity, the story they enact and tell, would not survive at all". 

Hannah Arendt - The Human Condition

Something Great's initiative of creating a performing arts collection for further reflection and inquiry is a promising endeavour with much potential to reinvigorate debates on the politics of curating and its public significance and the practices of judgment and decision-making in the performing arts.

I was asked to write about the collection, and I could not help but think about what it means to remain for cultural creations today, why they stay or not, and how they could establish and nourish a world-in-common.

Over the last decade, there has been considerable interest in curating live arts and performance practices (and predicaments). Scholarly publications, which had only been a few between the mid-1990s till the 2010s, have reached several hundred as of date. Numerous university and non-university institutes, graduate programs, symposia, and specialized journals have been dedicated to the subject. As some heavy-weight art institutions began to present, re-enact, preserve, recreate, stage, and even “collect” performances, much debate ensued regarding the phenomenon’s implications about the experience economy, festivalization of culture, and the creative industries.

Some artists have embraced affinities with the museum culture because of its upgrading functions, while others took a critical stance amid endless territorial discussions and legacy claims. However, none of these developments has facilitated a substantial change or rethinking of the logic of the production and dissemination of live arts/performing arts and visual arts. Also, what I observe that is missing in most of the debate is a resistance to the fact that curatorial practice is ultimately a practice of judgment and responsibility as it lays claim to public-ness.

In “The Human Condition”, Hannah Arendt writes about how culture helps create a “world.” In Arendt’s thinking, a world is a humanly created, fabricated world, made of durable, lasting things, including our judgments about things that we deem worthy of lasting and enduring in time. The permanence of both material and immaterial artefacts helps us hold the world in common and connect us across time and space.  Arendt specifies this view with the famous image of the table: “To live in the world means essentially that a world of things is between those who have it in common, as a table is located between those who sit around it; the world, like every in-between, relates and separates men at the same time.

The quintessential example of things worthy of lasting is that those who do not get consumed and used up are artworks for Arendt. Artworks are of particular significance because they make our humanly created world meaningful and lasting against decay and consumption. 

As early as 1961, Arendt identified a crisis in culture, which I find still relevant and resonant with our times. Arendt discusses this crisis concerning its social and political significance. The social relevance concerns the loss of the lasting and enduring quality of artworks due to the rise of consumerism and mass society. With the rise of mass society, culture has come to be pursued for entertainment purposes or for attaining social distinction, turning culture into something consumable and valuable. 

I discussed elsewhere the implications of the crisis in the art world regarding its response (or the lack thereof) to the overwhelming assault on factual truth. The practices of fabricating untruth have been competing with the imaginary power and the aesthetics of the arts field. I had asked what could be a response to untruth where reality has already been rendered wobbly, and the relatively autonomous islands of truth such as the media, academia, and the judiciary have already been eroded (more so in some contexts than in others). ⁠More importantly, how could this truth be taken note of, heard, seen, and talked about in ways that matter in the absence of the polis, the space of appearance?

Also, I had discussed that it is important to note that problem is not only that the relatively autonomous fields have been eradicated by neoliberalism and authoritarian regimes and spaces of appearance have shrunk—and the digitalization of culture and on-demand art during the times of Covid-19 are not very promising regarding the invigoration of publicness— but the art world, in general, has become so self-celebratory and withdrawn from reality that it has risked becoming an echo chamber of insignificance, trapped in its niche, failing to create a common world beyond peer groups and a coterie of friends and professionals.

Yet, I would like to point out that it is not the artists or the artworks that are the main culprit for the isolation or self-isolation of the art world, hindering the cultural realm from building a shared world. In performing arts, this crisis is also due to the enduring logic of the production and distribution of live arts, be it contemporary dance or more hybrid forms.

As Something Great observes, which constitutes the intention for creating this collection of performances from the 21st century, there is an intense pressure in the performing arts realm to overproduce, resulting in the devaluation of works that are no longer “new.” The shelf life of performances is short, and venues prefer to present premieres. Therefore, after a premier and a short period of touring, most works retreat to oblivion.

Arendt writes that the crisis in culture has to do with the crisis in judgment in its political significance. Arts and politics have a strong affinity, for they are both phenomena of the public realm. Also, political judgments are similar to aesthetic judgments, for they are not declarations of truth but decisions. As decisions, they cannot but be subjective. In the cultural and political spheres, which, for Arendt, constitute the entire sphere of public life, it is not absolute knowledge and truth but judging and deciding that are crucial. That is, the evaluation and discussion of the shared world and the decision concerning what the world is supposed to look like and what sort of actions, performances, events, moments should appear and/or be remembered in it.

Curatorial practice is an exercise of the faculty of judgment. It is not necessarily the discovery of the new, the foreseeing of the next big fad and fashion, but a practice of “pearl diving,” bringing to our current attention moments from the past that have much potential to help us to think about our present.

Dr Gurur Ertem is a sociologist and dance/performance studies scholar. She is currently a research fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Freie Universität. She teaches at the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts (Department of Dance) and Boğaziçi University (Department of Sociology). Ertem’s trans-disciplinary work combines the arts, social, and political theory. She was Humanities Fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude(Stuttgart, 2018) and a Fellow for the Hannah Arendt Seminar at The Institute for Critical Social Inquiry (2018, New School for Social Research, New York). Ertem curated the iDANS Festival for Contemporary Dance and Performance (Istanbul 2006-2014). Her recent publications include Bodies of Evidence: Ethics, Aesthetics and Politics of Movement, co-edited with Sandra Noeth.



DNA of DAN (2003) by Maikon K. One of the first acquisitions of the Something Great Collection. Image © Vitor Nomoto


Information


For queries and further information about our collection, please don’t hesitate to reach: 

Julia Asperska - Something Great
Associate Co-Director & Collection Manager
+49 (0) 30 58 846 312  
E-mail

Mark