The Republic of Georgia is honored with a wide ranging program in Brussels in the series of countries presented as part of the”Europalia” events and exhibitions. The exhibition at Bozar in the center of Brussels has a focus on the years between 1900-1936. It is astonishing to look at the creative examples of adaptations from western modern art with cubism and expressionist resemblance. Many artists had travelled to western parts of Europe or trained at well-known art schools there. Own adaptations to paintings, theatre and cinema yielded a unique style of Georgian modernism before Stalinism put an end to independent artists and their creative work.
During the short spells of political independence Georgia managed to re-establish each time a remarkable will to its own culture. Unity with artistic pluralism is a core value of the European unity and union as well. We are many and happy to have a chance with Georgian people to celebrate their artistic past and future.
The 20th century has told us many lessons. History does not repeat itself, but it appears that new variants of old themes keep coming back. Slowly passing the century like a movie in decades instead of episodes, we witness socio-emotional tides. The first decade, the 00s intensify the beginning of urban planning and social revolutions. The 10s show the arousal and subsequent extinction of masses of people in trenches. The 20s were described as the Carefree Twenties. In the 30s we observed the rising tides of fascist organisations followed shortly afterwards by the disastrous 40s. After the Shoah and the World War the 50s were fabulous viewed from the U.S. and Western Europe. The 60s propagated sex, drugs and rock n’ roll spreading across continents. The wild 70s became almost inescapable through the continued rise of mass media. The 80s were depicted as the colourful 80s as the 2 previous decades had set the scene for psychedelic colours. The 1990s have been coined as the gay 90s by some. Coming out as a gay person became easier and Western societies more sensitive and open to diversity. The back cover of the recent publication by Aurélien Bellanger “Le vingtième siècle” (The 20th century) speaks of the book as “roman polyphonique virtuose”. I look back on the 20th century as “polyphone” in many respects. It would be an illusion to believe we can only keep the nice sounding harmonies without the tensions or dissonances.
1900 marks the year of the 5th world exhibition in Paris. The Eiffel tower, built for the 4th exhibition in Paris remains the iconic attraction despite the new architecture that is added to Paris as the Petit and Grand Palais as well as the 1st Metro line. Art Nouveau style adds to already impressive architecture in and around Paris. With the planning horizons of several years in advance of events, urban planning with all its facets of urban infrastructure and architecture becomes much of a defining scientific discipline for decades and for most of the time of the century. Grand urban architecture and design constitute just another form of competition between nation states. Most of them want to show off their imperialist acquisitions and, what they define as “curiosities” at the time.
Habib (2005, pp.502) singles out Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche as “heterological thinkers” who coin major thoughts in the late 19th century that shall influence the beginning of the 20th century right from the year 1900 onwards. “The world should be formed in your image by your reason, your will, and your love! And truly, it will be to your happiness you enlightened men!” (Nietzsche. Thus spoke Zarathustra 1978, p.110). In retrospect from the 21st century we shall doubt this overly positive approach to human intentions and their will to form the world according to their abstracting ideas only. Tensions between technology and society became visible and it took many decades before society became conscious that it is up to society to choose technologies they preferred.
The planning for the Brussel Expo 1910 started right after the previous Expo 1905 in Liège. Protests in Brussels accompanied already the choice of terrain for the Expo, but the governors and shareholders of the enterprise decided 1906 for a site near the “forêt de Soignes”, where trees had to be cut for access to the construction site and for future visitors under local protest. Women workers were present to exhibit the low pay of women in industries. Child labour was documented with shocking images. Around the globe labour movements started to raise attention. In the U.S. the National Women’s Trade Union League (1903) was founded as well as the National Child Labor Committee (1904). “Bloody Sunday” in St. Petersburg (1905) saw the killing of peaceful protestors in front of the Zsar’s palace, which ignited the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the creation of the Russian Parliament. Some of these issues (child labor) keep returning to our social agenda well into the 21st century.
Einstein’s publication of the theory of special relativity (1905) as well as challenges from social philosophy reflects the huge discrepancy between advancement of the sciences and the living conditions of the masses. Social theories and science advances foreshadow the violent turbulence throughout the 20th century. (Sources: (1) Max Welch Guerra et al. (2023). European Planning History in the 20th Century: A Continent of Urban Planning. Routledge. (2) St. James Encyclopedia of Labor History Worldwide: Major Events in Labor History and Their Impact, Neil Schlager (2004). (3) Images from I. Van Hasselt(1980) Bruxelles Expo 1910: l’incendie / de brand. J Stevens.