Who are the heroes of our heroes?

Heroes (Issue II/2018)


Morsels of wisdom and a big heart

Stefan Sagmeister: TIBOR KALMAN is my one and only design hero. Some 25 years ago, as a student in NYC, I called him every week for half a year and when I finally started working there five years later I discovered it was, more than anything else, his incredible salesmanship that set his studio apart from all the others. There were probably a number of people around who were as smart as Tibor (and there were certainly a lot who were better at designing), but nobody else could sell these concepts, nobody else was as passionate. As a boss he had no qualms about upsetting his clients or his employees (I remember his reaction to a logo I had worked on for weeks and was very proud of: “Stefan, this is TERRIBLE, just terrible, I am so disappointed”). His big heart was shining through nevertheless. He had the guts to risk everything and had an uncanny knack for giving advice, for dispersing morsels of wisdom, packaged in rough language later known as Tiborisms: "The most difficult thing when running a design company is not to grow” he told me when I opened my own little studio.

Equally Heroic

Candice Breitz: I don't admire an individual, but rather a team: more precisely, my heroes are the members of a great NGO. Working under the name, SWEAT - SEX WORKERS EDUCATION AND ADVOCACY TASKFORCE, the organisation is committed to decriminalising sex workers in South Africa. Last year I was fortunate enough to work with members of SWEAT. This cooperation resulted in a video installation, which reveals the motivation of those involved. Some of them are putting their lives at risk in the global struggle for the fundamental rights.

I still learn an incredible amount from them, from their tenacity and sensitivity. In an environment still full of inequalities, their political and social commitment can only be described as heroic!

Heroine of my Heart

Sibs Shongwe-La Mer: I always try to be around people that inspire and push me. Also, I am an artist born out of the counter culture. The only reason I do what I do is because I have felt moved or represented by the works of others.

To name a few: ALLEN GINSBERG is probably the writer whose spirit has influenced me the most. Of course also GODARD, TRUFFAUT, CHINO from the metal band Deftones, CAMUS, KAFKA, IAN CURTIS and HOWLING WOLF. All together they form an inexhaustible source of inspiration. There's a huge well there that has made me who I am. It's impossible to even know how deep that goes myself. 

Jenna Hiscock, is the woman of my heart. Truly. We have a "Phantom Thread" type thing that keeps me together, pulls me apart and builds me up again. She is the first and the last person I see every day.

Moral giants

Liao Yiwu: My tragic hero is my long-time friend LIU XIAOBO, the system-critical writer and human rights activist. In 1989 we all witnessed the Tiananmen massacre. In 2010 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Shortly after his release from the Chinese prison, after his third detention in 2000, he wrote me in a letter about heroes: "After so many years of great tragedies, we still have no moral giant like Václav Havel, or Gandhi. For all people to have their selfish rights, there must be a moral giant who sacrifices himself selflessly. To fight for freedom, one needs the active will to resist. You can't hold out hope for the collective conscience of the masses. The fact that no moral giants have arisen in our country is an important reason for the silence and forgetting following the Tiananmen massacre. A population like ours needs the inspiring power of such an example, a single individual can awaken extensive moral resources."

In 2017 Liu Xiaobo was murdered in prison. To me he is a moral giant and a martyr of present-day China. He will always be my role model.

Honest and Revolutionary:

Erika Lust: I love JILL SOLOWAY! As an author and director, she is a consistent advocate of the "female gaze" in filmmaking for a long time and is always striving to represent more sexualities and genders in their work.

Soloway's production process is incredibly inspiring to me and she worked for a long time with an almost exclusively female production team and cast many roles with trans people in her film "Transparent". Soloway ensures that marginalised voices are heard, that they can tell their own stories and thus have the power to engage in debates. Her work is courageous, honest and revolutionary. There should be more Jill Soloways.

Transcribed by Dilay Avci and Gundula Haage



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