Nations Dialogues Identities, Exhibition German Foreign Ministry

Exhibition in the entrance hall of the
German Ministry for Foreign Affairs,
Werderscher Markt 1, Berlin-Mitte
Nov. 16 - Dec. Nov.3, 2001   
Opening Nov.15, 2001  18 hours

"Which motto, sentence, phrase, or word symbolizes or identifies
your country?"

In May 2000, in the framework of his project NATIONS – DIALOGUES – IDENTITIES, the American artist John Powers posed this question to all embassies listed by Germany’s Foreign Ministry in Berlin. Over 95 embassies took part in the project with their answers. Between November 16 and December 3, 2001, an exhibition of this ongoing project will be hosted in the foyer of the Foreign Ministry in Berlin; following which time the project travels to other nations.

The idea for the project arose following a discussion among people from a number of different countries about a cultural, verbal misunderstanding. The core of the debate was different interpretations of words, sentences, and symbols with which NATIONS and nationalities are described and about the term “culture” in this context. The misunderstanding here led to understanding, communication, and dialogue between NATIONS and cultures. This was also the “Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations.” John Powers took the productive debate as the occasion to realize the topic of NATIONS – DIALOGUES – IDENTITIES in art.

John Powers, until now primarily known for his installations in public space, enters new terrain here. So far, he used cultural and national symbols as mediators in his installations; in the project NATIONS – DIALOGUES – IDENTITIES, words and sentences are used instead of symbols for the individual cultures. Here they are a connecting link to aesthetics and form in the sense of the visual arts. Words, sentences, and mottos appear as a universal form of expression, communication, and understanding of and respect for national and cultural differences.

“Motto” is defined as a short expression of guiding principle. In the project NATIONS – DIALOGUES – IDENTITIES, each country identifies itself with a motto it chooses itself.
One of the project’s most fascinating aspects is the explanation embassies produce along with their mottos. Hundreds of pages of accompanying communications are presented as a part of the exhibition. Many international emissaries took up the project with surprising zeal. Since May 2000, John Powers has conducted many talks with ambassadors and cultural attachés. Many embassy staff members expressed the view that the project NATIONS – DIALOGUES – IDENTITIES was a creative and positive grass-roots diplomatic effort.

For some countries, the answer to the question about a motto was very simple; a motto is often given in the constitution, on the flag, or at the beginning of the national anthem. Some embassies conducted thorough, thoughtful research. John Powers received answering letters with epigrams, DIALOGUES from nationally well-known theater plays, passages from poems and calligraphic works. In some cases, he was told that the country had once had a motto, but that changed political situations had rendered this motto invalid. Only two countries responded to the question or the project listlessly. But 95 NATIONS devoted an extraordinary amount of enthusiasm to the task of describing themselves in a epigrammatic sentence. The collection of answering letters thus developed into a fascinating, unique document of the time.

The artist John Powers is aware of the sensitivity of the topic “national identity” and “national symbols”. In the Western world, an artist tends to work on the basis of the individuality of his expression, going as far as the affront. The project NATIONS – DIALOGUES – IDENTITIES demanded from its initiator John Powers neutrality and great artistic reserve. In the context of visual art, it posed a challenge to find forms of expression and solutions for an exhibition that would do justice to the communication, documents and artifacts.

The exhibition NATIONS – DIALOGUES – IDENTITIES creates a connection between cultural resemblances and cultural differences in all their diversity. The exhibition will took place in the foyer of the Foreign Ministry in Berlin from November 16, 2001 to December 6, 2001. Exhibition elements are:

1. „Dialogues – Signs“

The mottos of the nations appear in brief sequences on three flat monitors placed in the entrance hall.

2. „Dialogues – Whispering Voices by the Water“

Sound installations near the waterfall in the entrance hall; here one hears the mottoes of the nations in three different languages.

3. „Dialogues – Illuminations of Identity“

The mottoes are projected onto the exterior façade of the Foreign Ministry.

4. Publication of the Answering Letters from the Embassies

(Catalogue and CD)

5. Performance of the Mottos by Ayo Leonhardt, Hildegard Schroether,

Sebastian Boes und Christof Düro (at the opening)

Thank you to: The 95 participating Embassies; The United Nations & Unesco; Auswärtiges Amt; Hochschule der Künste Berlin; Grundig AG; Leo’s Pickups;
Opening performance by Ayo Leonhardt, Hildegard Schroether, Sebastian Boes und Christof Düro; and especially my wife and our children.
John Powers, Berlin                                                                                     john.powers@gmx.com23

John Powers describes one of the essential guiding principles of the project as „the striving for dialogue, understanding, and communication among the nations“.
Powers: „Although the answers are based on a highly official position, expressing national identity and cultural exchange of ideas, the project leads to a fruitful exchange and understanding of values and perspectives.”
Elsa Lack, Berlin