2012 In praise of Childhood
  • Curator 2012

    Curator

    FRANK KALERO

    Frank Kalero graduated in Audiovisual Communication at the Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona) and obtained a masterʼs degree in Documentary Photography at the International Center of Photography (New York). He was a resident at Benettonʼs Fabrica (Italy), was founder and director of the magazine OjodePez (Spain) and was responsible for establishing the magazine Vice Brasil from Sao Paulo. He was cofounder of the art gallery Invaliden1 and in 2009 set up the art magazine The world according to, both in Berlin. He runs Foto Meeting in Barcelona and in 2010 launched a photography journal for all the countries across the Asian continent, under the name of Punctum. Presently he is engaged in developing a new online platform for multimedia, Screen. Additionally, he has just been appointed director of the International Centre for Photography in Latin America, GLOC, located in Sao Paulo, and still undergoing construction. Frank was chosen as the director of the Photography Biennial PhotoQuai 2013, in Paris. He lives between Sao Paulo, Berlin and New Delhi. This is his last year as GETXOPHOTO curator.

     

    AN ADULT GAME

    Childhood is the vilest and the most abject state of nature after that of death
    Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle, 17th century

    Childhood does not exist for nature, only for modern man. Only recently did we start handling hot concepts such as childhood, stolen childhood or paradise lost. No-one before the Renaissance was bothered about the needs of a child. They were simply men in the making, homunculi fluctuating from a lower to a higher state, in accordance with the theories of Thomas Aquinas. For nature nothing was more usual than being a mother. They had several children in the hopes that a few of them would traverse the passage to adulthood, through accidents, diseases and abuses. Once this period was overcome, they would be productive for their parents. The time of life that took them through that journey was irrelevant, no more than an unproductive and costly transition.

    Along with the Industrial Revolution came the puer ex machina. The iron horses would free children from their secular chrysalis. There was no longer the need for so much child labour in order to produce. A legion of idle children emerged onto the scene. The advent of schooling provided a respite for parents submerged in their never-ending working day, and a place to have them shut away for part of the day. Jan Amos Comenius, who had taken on the role of trail blazer with his motto of “teach everything to everyone”, became the father of pedagogy and universal education, and the inventor of the illustrated book. At a later date Jean-Jacques Rousseau was to reinforce the same ideas among the bourgeois.

    Coupled with this was the rural exodus, swapping the countryside for tiny flats where the little ones lived together with their parents between four walls, resulting in closer contact. Modern medicine reduced infant mortality. In the old days, due to the high mortality rate, emotional bonding with children was not too advisable until it became clear that they were going to survive and grow. Now parents are able to throw themselves into the tenderness of loving, educating and investing in their children right from the start of their lives.

    Speaking in official terms, the child concept came into being through Eglantyne Jebb (founder of Save the Children) with the Geneva Declaration of 1924, followed by the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, in 1959. That was the point when childhood was defined protected and safeguarded. Society got with child and, in that sense, the school played a basic role, with the support of the institutions that would be responsible for re-educating society and explaining to parents how they should treat their children, in their new status as citizens. Childhood ceased to be an undesirable period, becoming a place that many did not wish to leave, while, in turn, it melded with adolescence in an unreal space, full of stereotypes and preconceived behaviours that mostly emanated from the consumerist market.

    We have created a whole series of institutions that have standardised the notion of childhood, protecting and overseeing minors. The effect has been that children are at a dramatic remove from the adult world, transformed into extremely fragile beings for which all society is responsible. We have constructed a psychological wall that separates children from the rest of the concepts we work with.

    Adults have projected their idea of childhood onto their children in a rush of stereotypes, fantasies and dementias, all of it standardised in the shape of the garden of childhood, the storybook and the theme park. They have made all the little ones believe that that is being a child. And, since adults live in a consumer society, they have placed their sons and daughters at the apex of the trophic pyramid. The child is sacred and untouchable, and political correction has done the rest, distancing children from their parents and thrusting them in the direction of the market.

    A full child psychiatry office is our symbol of civilisation. It is the living proof that adult angst and fear have efficiently cast their shadow over children’s minds. A mere idiosyncrasy is turned into pathology by parents’ fears and the need to control the beast. Modernity has knocked down boundaries only to create new walls. Anxiety, attention deficit, obsessive-compulsive disorder, hyperactivity, even anorexia. They are more free, they are more childish, but they are more sick than ever. But these disorders are only real for a few, for the most fortunate. The immense majority of children still fight in wars, prostitute themselves or are dying of starvation, though, of course, they do not suffer from attention deficit.

    The prestigious educationalist Mariano Narodowski talks of hyperaccomplished and non-accomplished childhood. The former refers to children with access to technology, material goods, instantaneous satisfaction of desires and nil tolerance of frustration. The second category is about street children, those who have to leave their childhood behind as soon as they possibly can if they want to survive; excluded, battered, and independent.

    Before the Renaissance, childhood was not the object of the arts’ attention, it was not represented in any way; this fact may illustrate the contempt this life stage was accorded, or it might simply be the case that no differences existed between one time of life and another.

    A sign of that might reside in those boys who had adult male bodies. Today the child’s world forms part of culture, but it is always adults who, via their own catalyst, transcribe that stage. Children will never be the ones to do it because, amongst other reasons, we would be bored as spectators, both by the formal solution offered and by the intellectual content, whatever touching appeal it might exhibit. So the obscure universe of children’s art is merely the neuronal reverberation of the actual author’s paradise lost. Some playing at being adults, others playing at being children.

     

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