Double Readings-Commentary


Only if documentary forms translate the incongruities, the inegalities, the rapid change of speed, the disarticulation and dizzying rhythms, the dislocation and the arythmic pulsations of time, if they mortify the vital drives of matter and deaden them by inexpressiveness, will they engage with the contemporary community of matter. Only if this form of translation is being achieved, will the documentary articulation reflect and thus amplify the language of those things, which are dragged across the globe on road to commodification at neck breaking speed or again tossed away and discarded as useless junk. And by reflecting on the conditions of production in which this documentary translation is being achieved, new forms of a-national public spheres and postcapitalist production circuits might emerge.
Hito Steyerl: The language of things

The End of 90's and the first few years of this century were accompanied by unusual overproduction of blockbuster art exhibitions from the East, South East and Central Europe, that actually took place in art institutions in various Western cities. (...) After the Wall, the first and the most significant with regard to its impact, was organized at the occasion of the 10th anniversary of dismantling of the Wall, and it took place in Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1999. The mechanism of involvement of Soros foundations in the public representation of art from East Europe can be compared to the involvement of private galleries in International Contemporary Art Biennials. On one hand, this role is exemplified in selective mediation and governing of the art production. On the other, along with exhibited artists and artworks, a part of the display was a system of cooperation of Soros Centers, its networking and successful leading through the transition process, epitomized by the second part of the title of the show: Art from Post-Communist Europe. It is interesting that the organization of massive Eastern art exhibitions was more or less synchronized with the fading out of Soros fund donations and with the first mentioning of cultural industry as a primary goal for the local ministries of culture. Those processes in culture and politics were emphasized by the use of the term “normalization”, frequently mentioned in the catalogue of this exhibition, as the umbrella-term for the other key-words of the transition to Capitalism. The Idea of "Open Society" that George Soros adopted from Karl Popper's philosophy and used as a programmatic concept for the activities of his foundation network became the catchphrase of his anti-Communist struggle. Support for all different kinds of dissident activities, from culture to politics, was developed together with the support of American economical colonization of many countries of the East. All the texts in the catalogue of After the Wall-exhibition reflect post-colonialism in the context of de-Sovietization of East European countries, but neglect the new forms of colonization accompanied by new ideologies and new hegemonies.
Jelena Vesic: Mirroring the Critique of Representation

In Eastern Europe the phrase “decade of transition” refers to the 1990s, when the countries of the former Soviet bloc went through a series of radical transformations that touched upon almost every aspect of social life. In visual art this transition was manifested in the shift from a socialist cultural model, with socialist realism as the official doctrine and non-conformism as the un-official, to the new Western paradigm of contemporary art. The idea of “contemporary art” was popularized and implemented by a number of Western NGOs, in particular by the Soros Foundation whose autonomous regional program “Soros Centers for Contemporary Art” (henceforth SCCA) was one of the main mechanisms of this transition. (...) The models that transitology implemented in economy and politics have been discussed frequently. Authors have written about the rise of neo-liberalism, its history, and its influential political and economic theories.  The cultural model of contemporary art, however, in the name of which the SCCAs carried on the neo-liberal cultural transition, is more obscure. (...) In art the term "contemporary" came to define not only the recent art (and those artists who were alive)  but also a new way of managing this field, and one of the main signs of this re-organization was the advent of the figure of the art manager.
Octavian Esanu: The Transition of the Soros Centers to Contemporary Art, 2008

In fact, there are a number of cases of artists in the West deliberately dropping out of the game. Especially if you look at certain historical periods when the art field was transforming itself, becoming politicized, with artistic roles changing and evolving, there is a good chance you will discover certain actors in the field who took their curiosity, their skepticism, or their critique to the point where it led them to drastic conclusions, one of which was the option of going so far into their critical stance, tremendous ambition, or awareness of art’s limited social or political impact, that they did not come back to art. (...) What is important here is that these cases introduce us to the actual existence of the figure I call the "Kunstaussteiger" – the "art dropout" – who deliberately drops out from art by actively leaving the art field. (...) But dropping out, as I describe it here, is not only a practice in the art field – that is to say, an artistic practice, albeit of a very particular sort – it is also a statement, an artistic articulation.
Alexander Koch: Why Would You Give Up Art in Postwar Eastern Europe (and How Would We Know)? – Adding Some New Blind Spots to the East Art Map

Everything came back. "Us" and "them" got back, too. Them – cultural establishment and us – the underground, marginal and homeless of the modern culture. In their hands - censorship and association with power, titles and rewards. (...) The only rational way out is to build up our own territory. Modern art needs a modern infrastructure. But it can’t be created by means of cold enthusiasm of artists and activists. A lot of money is needed. It’s very unlikely we will be able to make it ourselves – our art is non-commercial in point of fact. Our new bourgeoisie is unlikely to give it to us – our art is non-bourgeois in point of fact. Charitable funds are unlikely to meet our needs either – there are few of them here, their resources are limited and the modern art of Ukraine is at the periphery of their interests. (...) We and the state are interested in each other. It’s high time to legalize our relationships. The course of the state cultural policy is to be corrected. We have to prove the necessity of such correction to the state. We have to persuade the state to shift accents to the support of independent initiatives. We have to undertake functions which can not be carried out by the state and market structures.
Alexandr Roitburd: The Art and the State, 1995

No, Ghetto is very bad, but in certain circumstances it gives the chance to survive. Ukraine did not have any museum of contemporary art. And one should not bother himself with the problems of the excessive hermiticity of the Ukrainian contemporary art, because it can’t avoid being intercontextual and if it comes out of the process of relevant international polilog – it is no more the contemporary art. Support for this process requires existence and development of the institutional networks: museums, galleries, centers, journals, etc. During almost 10 years, starting from the late 80-ies Odessa made a lot of efforts creating such institutions. (...) But this situation had to be over. Odessa "Titanic" of the contemporary art had to sink right after beginning its journey, the same way as disappeared Odessa’s merchant marine, one of the biggest in the world. (...) All three new leaders now work with a certain success out of the limits of the contemporary art. Good luck to all them… it is not their fault that Odesa of the years 2000 does not have at all that is called the contemporary art, and Ukrainian contemporary art keeps on existing faceless, not mentioning a body.
Mihailo Rashkovetsky: Contemporary Art for Ukraine and Odessa

Ukrainian contemporary artists (consisting of those who started to work at the end of the eighties in Kiev and a few artists from Odessa and Kharkiv) did not produce any alternative activity, a format such as artist-run spaces was not used. After one institution ran dry of resources artists migrated to another, supporting the monopolism. this resembles the soviet system of monopoly in which the state union of artists controlled the sphere of official art. All of these centres were connected with buisnessmen and politicians: George Soros, Marat Guelman, Victor Pinchuk. They were part of their public relations, thus including even that kind of art which was initially independent. In this migrating monocentrism ukrainian contemporary art was simply the same as the art represented in the institution of Soros (Guelman, Pinchuk). And since the rise of ‘contemporary art’ (in post-soviet space these words are often used in English to separate ‘modern’ from ‘contemporary’ as they are the same word in slavic languages) artists in ukraine avoided to make any analysis of their place in a system of social relations. They took their social autism and status of ‘parasite’ as the proper thing. The language of contemporary art did not execute its communicative function. ‘Contemporary art’ just existed.
Nikita Kadan: An Abandoned Agent

It happened in Kiev that a collector wanted to change the paintings he bought for prettier ones he recently saw in an exhibition. The artist found himself in the dilemma whether he should change the paintings or not, which is illustrating the inherent contradiction of an art gallery: Is it a shop or not? I love this story as an illustration of this contradiction.
Alevtina Kakhidze: Is it a shop or not