23 03 06

The "TAMM TAMM - artists inform politicians" protest action

Rahel Puffert

Ever since  the discussion of  `repolitization of art´ in the ´90s, it has become increasingly difficult to use traditional evaluation categories to draw a line between artistic and political practice. While some protagonists instrumentalized art and its infrastructure without scruple, in a deliberate strategy, others argued by contrast that the `project behind the project´ was to change the notion of art. As divergent as these approaches were, they nonetheless brought about a productive chaos that made it necessary to think as connected that which had previous been separate.

An easy and approved way of deflecting this challenge was to simply deny the art-status of genre-stretching works with political implications. This went hand in hand with the nostalgic return—in an the effort to re-endow art with objecthood and distinctness—to time-tested forms which also, no surprise here, sell better. Another way of avoiding this challenge was to invoke the declamatory notion of art, backed up by Duchamp-references. Within this scheme, not only is anything an artist may come up with fit to be called  `art´,  but also anything that gives the impression of being committed or socially relevant. A third way out was the ever-recurring idea that the question of art is irrelevant (an attitude often opted for by people who, for their part, have no problem being identified with the art field).


The Hamburg "TAMM TAMM - artists inform politicians" protest action (AIP)

Background (1) :

By resolution of the Hamburg City Senate, former Axel-Springer Publishing Co. employee (and fan of all things naval) Peter Tamm is to have unrestricted use of an historic 12,000 square-meter building in the `Harbour City´ development zone. There, with an extra EUR 30 million in city financing, he is to open a `Peter Tamm International Maritime Museum´. Not only has the city been prepared to borrow money in order to provide the aforementioned sum, it has also given the `Peter Tamm Foundation´ (and thereby the collector) full and final authority to present his amassed (war)ships, models, weapons, uniforms, and painted sea landcapes and battleship scenes in the planned  museum. There is cause to worry, not only because of the scientifically unconvincing approach of museum, or the patently right-wing orientation of the collector´s politics, but also because of the questionable legislative competence of a City Senate that in 2002 awarded Tamm  the title of honorary professor.

The AIP concept was the folllowing: each city senator was "adopted" by a Hamburg artist who provided a copy of the "Tamm-Tamm" booklet (a very detailed and critical presentation of Peter Tamm, his background, and his collection) and then tried to open a dialogue about the planned museum. This personal exchange between an artist and a senator was then to be documented on the website in whatever form the artist wished.

According to the first scheme the Hamburg AIP protest action is nothing other than "just" an activistic undertaking by artists who—due to an, often alleged, inherent tendency to discontent, sometimes to the point of pathology—make a bit of a ruckus (Tamm-Tamm is a German onomatopeia with this meaning). This line of argument meshes with the judgement of some that the artists were really just interested in exposure and the money they didn´t get. According to the second scheme, AIP was indeed an art project for the simple fact that it was, with but a few exceptions, carried out by artists. Where does this get us, though? Besides the added value to the project as a temporary event and, in the best of cases, a certain status as symbolic or exemplary strategy, one could suspect it would also lead to all sorts of conflict over who gets credit for the project´s success, for its impetus, or who basically has claim to the project´s symbolic rewards.

In fact, I believe the project runs askance to these two categorizations. Instead of asking "which preconceived notion of politics or art does this project fit?" I would  turn the question inside out and formulate it so: "Which understanding of art and politics does this project open up for me and for other people?" Given the individualism that the art-system demands, as well as the related competitive pressure and desolidarization that are signs of our times, one can be astonished by the fact that over one hundred artists of different generations and quite divergent work-approaches came together in a collective action which expresses their dismay at local cultural policy. To this extent, the project bore its first unlikely fruit.

I suspect that one reason for this is the roles which were assigned, in a simple arrangement which was thereby easy to grasp for any outsider. The call for artists to meet Hamburg Senate decision-makers and express their criticism of a culture-political decision simply takes literally a state-financed "indispensible" luxury: the education of people via the production and involvement with art. These people, who have been endowed with specific knowledge and concepts are, here, considered specialists of a field of activity which logically touches upon their usually narrow frame of action: urban culture, museum policy, history, preservation and mediation of objects and collections; even more: cultural and political education, representation of the city of Hamburg abroad, culture financing concepts, etc.


A verdict—evasions, schedule problems, and collective responses

In the deliberate construction of speech as a 1:1 situation, AIP challenges politicians to prove their willingness to explain their decision to experts (at best), or at least to respond to inquiries.

Practice proved to be a corrective to this assumption: only a few talks came to be. The time-investment, giveaway books, and multiple requests could rarely draw a satisfactory response. One resorted to evasions, schedule problems, and collective responses in order to spare oneself the apparently embarrassing exposure of having had no idea of what one was deciding. Since then, the atmosphere in the Senate and Culture offfice has become a bit more jittery. The most recent public sessions were under police protection and so well attended that even the press had trouble making it into the chambers. The first queamish utterances from city senators could be heard when, in response to a question about further plans, a Tamm-Foundation representative said, "Just let yourself be surprised!"



(1) For a detailed overview of the action and the culture-political background, see Cornelia Sollfrank: SOS–Schicksale deutscher Museen, in Kulturrisse 04/05

(2)  The diverse approaches the artists took , as well as reactions from politicians and press, are presented on the website   


Rahel Puffert