Art Matters Seminar: Kulturelles Erbe und zeigenössische Kunst

Are Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Art strictly to be opposed? Surely it seems a tradition to consider cultural heritage and contemporary art are opposites. The one would refer to ancient buildings and artworks, old past treasures covered with dust and cobwebs, while the other would imply new ideas and matters, experimentation, creativity, sometimes political positions taking. As if cultural heritage was to be the past and contemporary art the present.
Staying on a linear temporal perspective of understanding tends indeed to freeze the debate.
Some latest neurologic research tends to show the aesthetic emotion as a primary cerebral function that doesn’t depend on the object itself but on the symbolic dimension that we perceive in it¹ . So, a roman church or a 21th century installation could theoretically arouse an analogous emotion in the brain of a spectator.

Instead of finding out what distinguish them, it seems to me more interesting to consider what cultural heritage and contemporary art may have in common. In matter of arts, time is not just linear but diachronic. Cultural heritage and contemporary art also both refer to time. If “contemporary” is also to be understood as an ephemeral transitory state, or what is happening in a more or less actual present time, then every artwork has been once a contemporary one. Cultural heritage artworks have been in the past just what contemporary artworks just now are: disturbing, emotions raising objects that question our perception. To give a proof of that, it just needs to remind the medieval debate about roman and gothic architecture, which both referred to diverse understandings of God and spirituality, or during the Modern, the literary argument between the Ancient and the Modern. Time past and it became evident that both were artistic expression forms with their own artistic value.

One of the main difference between cultural heritage and contemporary art may be that cultural heritage artworks have been legitimated through museums and institutions. Being exhibited in a museum asserted that artworks are of interest for a culture or the entire humanity² . Most of contemporary pieces of work haven’t been really acknowledged as “artworks” yet. Because of their individual qualities, they may appear harder to define and haven’t gone through this legitimation process. That is part of the reason why contemporary artworks seem to be transitory, ephemeral, and sometimes judged as not understandable, “strange”, “disconcerting”.
Finally, cultural heritage and contemporary art raise the same questions: what has this to do with me? To appreciate cultural heritage, questioning its actual means is essential: what does it signify of our modern lives? how does this operate on me? Which effect does it product? Aesthetic emotion establishes a silent dialog between the artwork and the spectator. Through aesthetic emotion, we reach the real universality of artworks.

Cultural Heritage: between inspiration and actualisation

Creation and creativity don’t come from nothing. Even the most creative contemporary creation comes after decades of artistic research that are likely to influence it. Cultural heritage is a source of inspiration for lots of contemporary artists. For example, the French architect of the 20th century Fernand Pouillon studied the 12th century Cistercian architecture to create most of his famous façades³ .
During the EVI-Lichtungen is also given to the artists the possibility of establishing a dialog between their actual work and patrimonial artworks of Hildesheim. Some of the presented works have been especially designed for the festival and for buildings, for example Casa Magica’s projection on the Volksbank’s frontage⁴ . Through these works, the artists build bridges between past and modern times, cultures and world representations. They put into question modern technologies and elder technic, giving the spectators the opportunity of their city under a new viewpoint: not just as a superposition of sedimented time layers but as a network where buildings, times and artworks invent a three-dimensional reception, as a kind of artistic epiphany.

Light is also a metaphor for this network: light is a flux without age, in perpetual motion, that make the human vision possible. Light enables us to see: to see, as one of our 5 senses, but also to see under some specific perspective. Enlighten can considerably influence the information that the eyes receive. During a festival like the EVI-Lichtungen, contemporary art plays a role similar to light for vision. Making our cultural heritage glowing in the dark, contemporary art pursue the same goal. It makes it appear to our eyes at a daytime where it usually remains unseen. Contemporary artworks change our understanding of cultural heritage. By enlightening and by giving it a new link with present, they re-actualize it. Churches are not just simply buildings anymore, they become on the contrary artworks again. Their intrinsic artistic qualities come to the light: colour of stones, transparency of windows, paintings, dimensions recall the first meaning of these buildings, not just as temples of God but also as complex and symbolic structures.
In return, churches, cloisters as well as carparks, woods become the reliquary of present treasures, conferring to most modern pieces of art a status of prestige.

During the EVI-Lichtungen, cultural heritage and contemporary art enter into a symbiotic relationship, where they both enlighten each other, appearing in a different light.

Laura Vadot

¹Changeux, Jean-Pierre : La Beauté dans le cerveau, Odile Jacob, 2016.
²See UNESCO’s 2005 Convention Text. Available at: (consulted on 01.13.18).
³On that topic, see: Pouillon, Fernand : Mémoires d’un architecte, Paris, éditions du Seuil, 1968.
⁴EVI-Lichtigungen: Casa Magica in: (consulted on 01.13.18)