Exoticism described the Eurocentric view to the stranger, the other. Curiosities, different plants, animals and humans, spices, enjoyments and drugs, artifacts, exchange of goods and knowledge, by warriors, pilgrims, traders, travelers, scientists, artists. This was a view to stylize the inhabitants of distant lands as „noble savages“. The concept of exoticism promised a meeting with the „authentic“. The supposed naturalness of the „savages“ provided a perfect justification of their inferiority: being closer to nature, they must be farther from culture, and so they become infantilized. This kind of exoticism was the justification for missionary work and colonization.
Ethnologists, anthropologists, philosophers, sociologists and artists have researched the relation of glorification and oppression, most recently in the end of the 20th Century. The theme had seemed to be clear enough, but since the beginning of the 21st Century the world has changed fundamentally: large areas of the third world changed from self-sufficient agrarian societies to desolate suburban slums. Tropical paradise has almost disappeared. Indonesia has almost completely cut down its forests and sold the products, mostly in the past 10 years. While industrial production in Europe has gone down and it seems that more environmentally conscious and humane production methods have been developed, Asia, Africa and South America have emerged as huge new production areas without any of the rights that Western workers think are universal. The West hails mobility as a sign of freedom and democracy, but elsewhere that means only forced migration, poverty, hunger and persecution. From the original topos, tropical paradise retains only a few islands: indoor and outdoor tourist resorts like „Tropical Islands“ near Berlin, or protected areas for nature and ethnic minorities.
Coinciding with the end of the colonial period and the beginning of mass tourism, the musical genre „Exotica“ of the 1950’s glorified the escape from everyday life into a conveniently familiar opposite world. Exotica provided the perfect soundtrack for exotic parties, in which imitated art objects of the tropics were used for pseudo-rituals. Today artificial exotic experiences have become a powerful factor of the entertainment and culture industry in the world. Tourists fly to Singapore, Phuket and Rio, they meet in resorts, malls and clubs. The Germans sit together at a table: ‚Look at the French over there‘ – ‚Oh, and all the Russians now.‘ – ‚Home is still the best.‘ – ‚How can they live in such a hole?‘ – ‚The air conditioning is broken again.‘ – ‚Here nothing is genuine any more, it is all just for tourists.‘ Tourism becomes a ritual of cultural boundaries and reciprocal exoticism.
The attraction of the exotic is proliferating through images, while at the same time it is physically disappearing. What remains is Exotica: an artificial infinite sunset, staged celebrations which are supposed to glorify a non-defunct, golden past.
In parallel, also visual art, music, literature, etc. have changed. Contemporary art, also outside of Europe, now arises as a lively global discourse of creative impulses and border definitions of its respective participants. Vibrant regional cultures draw from the mixture and diversity of the origin of their activists. Classifications such as national or ethnic art do not work anymore, they now appear to be simply neo-colonial constructs. The artists from the third world are tired of distorting their regional culture to fit a cliché in order to participate in the global art market.
In the project Exotica 2013, we want to to explore the phenomena of exoticism in the 21 century. It is said, we are better informed than ever before. But does this information help us to understand the global phenomena better? Do our statements, ethics, and morality still work, in the face of the huge transformations in the so-called emerging economies?
How actual is the concept of the exotic today, and how is it located artistically and theoretically? Which changing values has it been subjected to in the last 100 years? And how do artists deal with it today, in a mobile, globalized world?
The invited artists are not working from a factual and objective distance, in the way that some highly mobile artists claim their „modern nomadism“ gives them distance. The invited artists are involved in the cultural and social processes in which they are living and working. Their art works are not formal-aesthetic escapism at all.