We find ourselves in an age of global emergencies. War, pandemic, and climate catastrophe—when not directly fatal—have universal consequences in the form of physical psychic, social, cultural, and economic damage. The current, most significant threats call for emergency plans as well as immediate, sustained changes in our behavior.
An emergency situation can seem to occur suddenly, plunge a system into chaos, alter old, familiar patterns, and exacerbate existing imbalances—and always at unpredictable times. Action is immediately demanded, an active answer. Fast, improvised, operating with unknown dimensions. Previous plans and measures must be adjusted. Because it’s about one thing, and one thing only: survival.
When an emergency occurs in a way that endangers the system, a threshold has been crossed, a tipping point reached when it is necessary to do something, usually in order to restore a state similar to the one before the emergency happened. But what would such an action look like, and what kinds of small- and large-scale experiments might be able to test and initiate this kind of rethinking and reevaluation? It would be an art to deal with an emergency concretely and farsightedly. That would be the “art of emergency.”
At the same time, it can also be said that an emergency is an expected crisis or collapse of a system when all precautions and delaying mechanisms have been insufficient. Thus, an emergency is also expected, an emergency is planned for. Permanently. The trouble is that it is always uncertain whether preparations made to restabilize a system or even strengthen it will be effective.
Emergency specialists—all of the management of crisis-related rescue and control— have put this gap between predicted emergencies and their actual occurrence, between the planned and the real success of their measures at the center of their activities. Each “art of emergency” juggles with probabilities and feasibilities. Dreams, simulates, tests, trains.
Again and again, it is only in retrospect that signs of coming emergencies and their timing can be interpreted with certainty—things that might have been able to predict in advance what would happen and when. Again and again, there are those who would have given warnings in each case—this is also an “art of emergency,” which that does not want to accept not knowing.
What happens, however, when emergencies become the normal state of affairs, with so many incoming and recurring disasters? What happens when fear of increasing trouble generally subordinates all action in favor of managing disasters, so that, consequently, constant warnings, constant disputes about the correct predictions and the right remedies leads to desensitization? In an overly strained state of shock, paralysis is to be expected under the barrage of threats and warnings, regulations and punishments, to the point where people simply shrug their shoulders, apparently jadedly parrying incomprehensible threats. In this way, a tipping point is reached and any measuring, forecasting, or simulation of upcoming, inevitable emergencies is answered en masse: “We don’t want to hear about it anymore.” This, too, is an “art of emergency.”
The Art of Emergency project and exhibition will experiment with the sort of rethinking that occurs in a flash during moments of danger and leads to a different kind of action, as well as with the analysis of every sort of good or bad attempt at managing emergencies. We are convinced that this Art of Emergency also involves an “emergency of art,” namely, an urgent task for art.