Introducing Mr. Honetschläger
Edgar Honetschläger is a visual artist and filmmaker, one that is deeply passionate about his work; work that is in direct correlation with his life, his enquiries and outside events. From art he expects to constantly learn something, either in a knowledgeable or emotional way; an aspiration that he has for his own art, too.
His ultimate goal is to motivate people to change something, to trigger and expand their perception about life and its essence. Inspired by a friend, he lives by the mantra ‘It is not about 5 million people watching my movies, it is about 5 people being inspired to change something in their lives, something that puts them and the world in a better place’. This drastically relieves his stress and pressure as he is not trying to chase Social Media numbers, likes or other forms of appraisal.
The natural world has always been present in his work. Starting in the 90ies with an artwork that symbolized the fragile human-nature relationship, to a movie that discussed possibilities to prevent the destruction of nature by humankind (AUN-The Beginning And The End Of All Things) to his current project GoBugsGo. GoBugsGo is a non-profit organisation which fights against the extinction of insects by leaving nature to itself, out of human control, without interference – a so-called ‘non-human zone’.
His concern about the natural world increased alongside with his frustration about the ignorance of humanity and the misery and devastating consequences our actions have on our planet and its ecosystem. His despair peaked when he experienced the meltdown of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima in Japan in 2011, where he used to live for more than a decade with his partner and a child. This catastrophe remained a very critical experience which made him question his life as an artist completely. It was a turning point so to speak that had driven his conviction to contribute the way he can do it best: by making art.
I cannot save the world but I can do my share.
Italy and the insects
The trauma of the experience in Japan brought Edgar to Italy. While researching the concepts of self-sufficiency and self-sustainability through gardening, he came to notice that the common background noise of birds, insects and cicadas was declining. Even if you have never lived in Southern Europe, Italy or France, you still DO know this particular sound that accompanies a hot Tuscan summer day turning into night. You see endless vineyards, the sun going down painting everything in an orange reddish layer of silk…you hear the soundtrack of this kind of scenery, don’t you? Imagine it to be ‘switched off’, turned into a silent movie. This happens when the cicadas are gone.
The insect population being in dramatic decline, a fact known amongst farmers and people that live in the countryside for long was picked up by the mainstream media only in 2018. In Germany, the famous Krefeld study published in 2017 showed that within 27 years the total amount of insects had diminished by 76%. This makes many insects join the red list of endangered animal species!
Besides the common disgust that we townsmen and cosmopolites have towards insects, little we know about them being responsible for the pollination, actually more than the bees that cover only 6% of total pollination ‘service’. The major share is taken care of by all other insects. According to Edgar, if we humans were to replace this service, it would translate into a total cost of 700 billion Euro only in Europe. Thus, saving insects including the bees does also have a strong economic factor to it. But what counts most:
No insects = no pollination = no vegetables and fruit = no food!
This increasingly worried Edgar; GoBugsGo was born.
Doing his share: GoBugsGo
GoBugsGo is one of a few projects in the art world that actively tries to do something about the current environmental situation.
How can you make people care about something against the odds of old conditioning? How can you turn disgust into appreciation? The answer is: ‘the harder the topic, the more cute you have to present it.’ That is what he did. Instead of using real pictures he draw the insects and made them look funny and cute. And it works! See for yourself:
GoBugsGo is an attempt to do something against the downwards trend and deterioration of our natural environment by means of art. For the artist Edgar Honetschläger who founded the institution, it is also another attempt to break free from the very tight corset of the definition of art. And here is how it works: The NGO gathers members that buy or lease a patch of land together. Once acquired it is transformed into a ‘non-human zone’ which, as already mentioned, means left to itself without any further human intervention. Due to the absence of human interaction, flowers, plants, herbs and trees will grow in abundance.
Why not have the land bought and protected by a single person? Because governments are able to expropriate private land owners for ‘relevant projects’ such as new freeways, new shopping malls or parking lots (you name it). This, unfortunately, happens everywhere all the time! But when many people buy and own land together – as a collective – they become a ‘political factor’. Politicians and governments will think twice if they run the risk to upset many people and likely loose many votes.
About authority and uniqueness
Naturally, GoBugsGo does meet resistance by politicians and citizens alike. Therefore it involves a multitude of interdisciplinary professionals to make the plan work. Each and every one of the biologists, ecologists, attorneys, economists, art historians and notaries plays an important role. Each and every of them enhances the project and protects its goal and common endeavour.
On top, this diversity of professionals enables Edgar to have another ace up his sleeve: authority! The criticism of ‘some crazy artist engaging in environmental conservation’ is turned numb if a biologist or other professionals verify the statements the artist Edgar Honetschläger makes. This kind of teamwork is convincing and represents the required authority needed to have a long-term effect.
We are a really good team in the media. Facing ignorance I get upset sometimes but a biologist on my side stays composed and proves my point with empiric numbers.
Biologists and Ecologists enjoy the benefits of this win-win situation, too. The project works and receives the attention and participation it needs precisely because it is not situated within the classical environmentalist sector addressing their audience, but rather within the arts.
GoBugsGo aims to form a bond between the arts and ‘nature’. GoBugsGo is not just about establishing more awareness within the art community for nature preservation issues but beyond its political aspect as a communal effort, also one that defines itself as an art project of an individual artist in its best tradition – an aim for evolution, a next, a new step within the arts.
GoBugsGo’s Non-Human-Zones are living pieces of art who steadily grow and progress.
Edgar explains: ‘Our society has a consensus when it comes to protecting art. If the Taliban in Afghanistan blow up ancient Buddha statues we are in shock, if tourists paint on Italian Renaissance statutes likewise… What if an artist, in Marcel Duchamp’s Objet Trouvé sense declares a piece of land to be art? Our society has no consensus in protecting the natural world. Nature is anti-civilization. If an artist declares a patch of the natural world to be art – into an ever changing alive sculpture? It should be enjoying the same protection that all cultural goods enjoy.’
GoBugsGo protects by means of a collective, the artist Edgar Honetschläger by declaring nature to be culture.
It does not stop there
So far, GoBugsGo has acquired about a 1000 members in Austria. But it does not stop there. At the moment, the NGO is expanding to Italy where they inaugurated the project at the at the end of September 2020 at the cultural center Quartiere Intelligente in Napoli. The aim is the same: to buy a piece of land, this time at the Capodimonte, right in the heart of Napoli and withdraw all human control. As of October 2020 the city of Naples has leased out a patch of land on the Capodimonte for very little money and the perished of 100 years.
We cannot only keep building museums to store works of art there. We have to preserve the biggest work of art, namely our planet Earth, too.Maria Cristina di Stasio; founder Quartiere Intelligente
Coming back to his principles, caring for the environment makes Edgar take conscious decisions about the materials he uses for his work, as well as the choice of medium for traveling or transporting himself as a person and his artwork. According to him, we cannot continue the contradiction ‘on the scene vs. behind the scene’. Thus, alternatives are chosen and exhibitions planned and prepared by the use of 3D models and the trust that his instructions are followed. He says that so far, his sustainable choices have never been denied.
Art cannot just create awareness, it has to question its own process of production, in terms of materials we are using, in terms of presumed mobility we claim to need in order to express ourselves.
The hypocrisy of the art industry?
When it comes to the art industry, Edgar still sees a huge gap between the growing criticism about the arts sector’s sustainability, its self-proclaimed concern about CO2 emissions and plastic waste vs. concrete action taking. He disapproves of the tight structures and definition of art, the lavish culture of working methods and mobility, the ‘serving awareness’ argument that creates more pollution rather than avoid it. The focus on money, rankings and prestige needs to be loosened up. And the myth about the artistic genius should be eradicated, too as:
We have to let go of the myth of the genius – there is no genius! The concept of genius is an illusion!
This reminds me of the hypocrisy that the German art critic Hanno Rauterberg accused the art industry of in his article in August 2019 in the paper die ZEIT. Edgar adds:
Humans perceive themselves as the crown of creation and the arts consider themselves being the icing on the cake. Within the last 2 to 3 decades we have not only become a supporting pillar of the capitalist system but rather its spearhead.
What art should be about
For Edgar, an artist is at service to society. His goal is to inform and win people that do not have the time to confront themselves with it, for a certain matter. It should always be about the matter, he says, not about the artist. He urges the arts to understand that it serves as a role model.
It still underestimates its impact on society and on social developments. The impact takes a long time to show but it does happen. Artists have great responsibility and Edgar demands it to be taken more seriously; not by acting as the moral agent (that it clearly is not) but by leading by example. This is, assessing own processes and taking ‘new’ decisions based on a new set of values and priorities.
As an artist I consider myself a servant of society.
Closing the gap
So, action needs to match the discourse. But how do we do that? We need substantial change in our behaviour and a shift in paradigms, not only in the arts but macro socially. Evolution always comes with fear of the unknown, thus we need persistence and the strong belief in the right-doing of our actions. And lastly, we need to relate to and revaluate our natural world and more so man’s place within the ecosystem.
How have we come to believe that we are better than the natural world, that it only exists to serve us which authorizes us to utilize it in order to fulfill our needs? It does not need us to survive; but we DO need it to survive.
Nature…we just leave some tiny part to make a park out of it.Donald Trump
We need to have consensus on which turns we have to take. There needs to be a common understanding that a) we have a problem and b) the world community is not really aiming at solving it (quite the contrary!). Opposing narratives spread diverging messages and the false conclusion that ‘things are being taken care of’. One finds oneself in the dilemma of whom to believe.
Edgar claims a narrative that is easy to be understood, explicit and consistent and carried by a large group of people. As in the case of GoBugsGo, where togetherness translates into a larger scope of power, where individuals turn into a ‘political factor’ and therefore diminish the possibility of being disowned – the keywords being: ideals, beliefs and persistence.
Ideally, a steadily increasing number of people focus their interests on the preservation of the natural world by integrating the issue into their daily lives.
Closing the circle: About curiosity, freedom and acorns
Right at the beginning of our conversation, Edgar told me that he would describe himself as an ‘extraordinarily curious person’, a person whose inner drive keeps him going, pushing him to realise his ideas…and he has got many of those. He always follows his calling.
Far more exciting than the success on the outside and the halo is the everlasting curiosity that keeps you going from one project to the next while you continue to learn as everything you do enriches yourself and the others.
And I do believe him. He complies to my original picture of a true artist: bubbling of ideas, emotional and passionate, trying out different things at the same time, getting caught up in details, and a little in-sane. It also became clear to me that he dedicates his art to disseminate his principles. The ambiguity of human nature discrepancy has become his life’s work, an intrinsic motivation based on his experiences and enquiries in life. Living what drives him he cannot understand and strongly disapproves of artists that go with the current trends in order to chase attention and glory. He rephrases a quote of his professor who used to say:
Artists that turn their neck towards the current trend, won’t get anywhere!
Furthermore, Edgar lives by the definition of freedom by the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel. Hegel said: ‘Only if you recognize yourself as part of the whole, you can be truly free’. Based on Hegel, Edgar relates to the reverse concept of freedom when he calls out that ‘if my freedom means that it restrict yours, it simply should not be.’
That is why his dedication to what is ‘right’: Amend human needs to the capacities of our natural world. That is also why, if he had been given a super power, it would be something like the magic acorns that we know from Asterix’s friend Miraculix. These magic acorns that are thrown into the ground and, within seconds, make a huge and old oak tree appear in its full splendor. This could be a tool to reverse the 150 years of human destruction of our natural world, says artist Edgar Honetschläger.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
Edgar Honetschläger website
AUN – the beginning and the end of all things – movie
‘AUN – the beginning and the end of all things’ tells the story of mankind’s quest for the future, his desire to create the tomorrow, his fear of and loathing for the apocalypse.
Midas’ Ants Or How To Turn a Faun Into a Plant – 70 min film essay
MIDAS’ ANTS will be a cinematic inquiry pinning down those moments of crystallisation in Occidental history, at which our ancestors no longer felt part, but in opposition to nature – an investigation on where and when our concept of nature mutated.
FERONIA – 90′ feature film
A little girl named FERONIA (Roman goddess of wild nature) does not want to be human anymore. She runs off into the woods in order to immerse herself in nature and stay there forever…
Foto credits: if not indicated differently, Edgar Honetschläger