Art and conflicts:

I – enemy of my enemy
Mr. Fivehair in the peace labyrinth

The project

In 2004, the medical doctor and psychologist Peter Geissler, Vienna, invited me to participate in a book on mediation, in which experts from different fields (attorneys, psychologists, sociologists, and others) present new models for the resolution of complex and multi-party conflicts. Enticed by Mr. Fivehair, Peter Geissler gave me a free hand designing 60 pages with images, text, or both.

I – enemy of my enemy?

My essay is titled “I – enemy of my enemy” because it explores how we fabricate our own enemies by projecting onto them those properties and characteristics, which – although intrinsically our own – we are unaware of or cannot accept. The article pursues the thesis that personal, social, economic, religious and cultural conflicts also include the encounter of fundamental images: existential imageries of life, the world, reality and of ourselves. This often clashing encounter of soul images fuels the conflict. By consequence, the resolution of a conflict requires not only the reconciliation of the opposing parties and their ideas and positions but also – and foremost – a process of growing awareness of such deep-rooted imageries and the possible peace between them. My enemy is my enemy because I am his.

Peace labyrinth?

We often think of a conflict as a disruption and interruption of an otherwise quasi natural state of harmony and peace. Thus we focus our energies on finding “a way out”: a road toward a before or an after, which both are characterized by the absence of conflict. Figuratively speaking, we look for a way out of the labyrinth. But what is that labyrinth made of, and how precisely do we imagine it? Does this image suggest that the conflict dwells deep inside while peace awaits us outside? My essay tries to explore what might happen if we reverse this idea: what might expect us when we enter even deeper into the depths of the disquieting, contradictory and paradox? No doubt, many conflicts can be resolved in a pragmatic manner, especially when the resolution considers also the psychological factors involved. But there are also conflicts that call for a deeper search, particularly when their roots reach elemental beliefs and values already so incarnated that we are no longer conscious of them. Bringing to light archetypical images of life and man is only possible when we travel deeper into the inner parts of the labyrinth.

What does art have to do with mediation?

In all its forms, schools and applications, mediation is a trade that requires a professional training, follows specific rules and mechanisms, and needs particular qualities of the persons pursuing it. It is an art that is not taught in fine art schools. And yet, it seems to me that art can be a splendid partner for conflict resolution – in particular when a conflict touches on cultural, religious and existential human images of life. Such conflicts have in common that the parties involve not only lack a joint language but also a shared empty space that they can explore together. It is probably not so much the lack of goodwill or preparedness to understand the other, as our human difficulty to capture our own nature in ideas, thoughts and words. Art can contribute to open the access to such territories and the depths of our nature. I believe that its poetic and symbolic language does have the potency to connect, because it guides our views towards the unspeakable.