Syndrome of the Present

Syndrome of the Present is a research based project deriving from the fields of visual art. It aspires to establish a collaborative, cross disciplinary platform, shared between artists and experts from diverse geographies and disciplines. A platform, which enables collective thinking in order to analyse the Present’s syndrome and the present as syndrome.


The project’s starting moment is the 17th century central Europe, in which the cornerstones of present conflicts were laid. The 17th century was the moment in which the religious reformation, sovereign state, democracy, citizenship and human rights were constituted in response to decades of religious wars. This century was accompanied by outbursts of messianism and scientific development, economic and cultural progress, as signs of the expectation that the world would change for the better. Today it seems that we are heading backwards and progressing towards the state of an internal war; the sovereign state is under attack, democracy is at risk, citizenship is replaced by consumerism and human rights are fully disrespected.

Two 17th century protagonists, the ‘Messiah’ Sabbatai Zevi and the Philosopher Baruch Spinoza, constitute a ‘time tunnel’ in the project that establishes links between past and present, eschatology and politic, and create a perspective for insights into contemporary events. Both protagonists offer a revolutionary worldview and both were ahead of their time in their attempts to redefine the relations between God, man and society (state).

The 17th century has been formative for our contemporary reality in many ways: Europe’s religious wars ended with the Peace Treaty of Westphalia, which exiled religion from the supreme power. Secular sovereignty inverted the monarchical paradigm: the people appropriated the king’s power, turning the sources of political authority upside-down. Tolerance “as a government-sanctioned practice” in Europe’s Christian countries was institutionalized at this time. The sovereign ruler and the (national) territorial state became the “administrators of tolerance” in the early modern era, and promised to secure peace within their states.

Westphalian secularization meant the beginning of Europe’s institutionalization of religious tolerance and freedom. However, it also sowed the seeds for the modern grand myth of nationalism and its authoritarian suppression of heterodox movements and accounts. International law proved to be a means for the protection of sovereignty as much as a neutralized tool for the systemic oppression of the designated Other. Hence, the myth of Westphalian peace is now a challenge to overcome.

The present crisis also presents a moment of possibilities: the destruction that leads us to face the crises also opens doors to re-imagine a future where equality, dignity, wealth, justice, mobility, and education are equally shared among each one of us. In order to accomplish this, we have to know how to look back, to see what was imagined for us.

Syndrome of the Present is made possible by:

Mondriaan Fonds |Artis |The Ministry of Foreign Affairs |Foundation for Arts Initiatives