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<nettime> IRWIN: Transnacionala last text
Miran Mohar" (by way of Pit Schultz <pit {AT} icf.de>) on Fri, 16 May 1997 16:07:51 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> IRWIN: Transnacionala last text

This is the last text on Transnationala !

Eda ╚ufer

A Journey from the East to the West 
June 28 - July 28, 1996

"Transnacionala" is an artistic event within the framework of which an
international group of artists (comprising Alexander Brener, Vadim
Fishkin, Yuri Leiderman, Goran đor­eviŠ, Michael Benson, Eda ╚ufer and
the five-member IRWIN group) set out on a one-month journey across the
United States in two recreational vehicles. The aim, quite simply, was
to discuss various issues during the course of the trip: art, theory,
politics, and existence itself -- all in the context of the
contemporary world. On their way, the group made stops in Atlanta,
Richmond, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle. In cooperation with
hosts Mary Jane Jacob, Catherine Gates, Randy Alexander, Charles
Kraft, Robin Held, and Larry Reed, a number of artistic events,
presentations, and discussions with local art communities were

How to conceptualize "post festum" an artistic event which took place
as such in  individual and collective thought, in a flow of thoughts
and emotions largely determined by the very corporeity and directness
of events, vanishing in time as the journey progressed from mile to
mile, from city to city, from meeting to meeting?    

The non-differentiated, subjective material of "Transnacionala" which
the journey's participants brought home from this experience is a kind
of amalgam of images, impressions, memories, and realizations. The
banalities of every-day life, which includes sleeping, eating, the
cleaning of the crowded living environment and self, to psychological
tensions and attempts to relax -- all intertwine with more sublime
impressions of unforgettable landscapes, wide expanses and people;
with reflections physically linked to these different banal or exhaled
states; with memories of conversations and memories of towns and the
atmospheres in which they took place, as well as with tentative
syntheses occasioned by thought-shifts between different time-space
and existential zones -- between America, Europe, and the world,
between memories of local life situations in Ljubljana, Moscow, New
York, and Chicago -- all caught up in the dull gaze and the monotonous
image that was defining, for hours and hours,  the content and basic
situation of the motor homes.    

The documents and interpretations of the "Transnacionala" project that
have so far been available to the public comprise a series of reports
that were posted on the Internet directly from the journey, as well as
visual reports presented by the IRWIN group as part of their project
at the Manifesta show in Rotterdam and poems written during the
journey by Russian poet and performance artist Alexander Brener. Among
other projects related to Transnacionala we can already announce a
documentary film interpretation by American film maker Michael Benson,
a publication produced by the IRWIN group, a visual-art homage by the
same group to be premiered this November in Hamburg, and an art book
by Vadim Fishkin. 

Although it is difficult to part from this non-differentiated image,
impression, and experience of Transnacionala, the three months that
have elapsed since the project ended in Seattle on July 28, 1996
provide a sufficient "time-distance" to produce at least a rough
reckoning of what the direct experience of the project signifies with
respect to its initial conceptual points of departure. 

One of these fundamental points, which specifically enabled the later
physical and metaphysical framework of the journey, was the positive
experience of the APT-ART project. More precisely, the NSK EMBASSY
MOSCOW project which took place in 1993. The primary motive for
"Transnacionala" was to organize an international art project to take
place outside the established international institutional networks,
without intermediaries, without a curator-formulated concept, and
without any direct responsibility toward its sponsors. In short, to
organize a project as a direct network of individuals brought together
by a common interest in particularily open aesthetic, ethical, social,
and political questions, all of whom would travel together for one
month, exchange views, opinions, and impressions, meet new people in
their local environments, and try to expand the network based on the
topicality of questions posed -- spontaneously and without any
predetermined, centralized aesthetic, ideological or political

The second methodological point of departure, also based on the
positive experience of Moscow in 1993, was to create conditions for a
kind of experimental existential situation. Like the one-month stay in
a Moscow apartment on Leninsky Prospekt 12 in 1993, the one-month
cohabitation of ten individuals in two motor homes, in barely 10
square meters of physical space, also should have enabled a
problemizing of the myth of the public and intimate aspects of artist
and art -- that is, of the split forming the basis of the system of

The next research-oriented point of departure was to analyze the
problems of the global art-system; the system of values, of
existential, linguistic and market models contained therein.

The aesthetic and ethical point of departure was the very
implementation of the project itself -- an attempt to establish a
complex personal and group experience, the creation of a time-space
module living within the multitudes of linguistically indefinable

On the surface, the "Transnacionala" project may seem yet another
attempt to establish or reaffirm the myth of communication. Its
mission could be defined as an attempt to bridge personal, cultural,
ideological, political, racial and other differences. It was in this
positive, optimistic spirit that the first letters to prospective
participants and hosts were composed, and quite frequently such an
agit-prop discourse was also used in the process of establishing
communication with the public in the five US cities we visited. It's
more difficult, however, to define how and with what complications
this communication really took place. The success of communication by
individuals largely coming from spaces and times separate as to both
culture and experience depends primarily on the skill of the
individuals and groups wishing to communicate -- their skill at
playing a role within the structure of the dialogue. In the context of
contemporary art and theory, the role of the engineers of such a
communication structure is largely played by various international
institutions, intermediaries who have successfully maintained, for the
entire century, the illusion that despite cultural, political,
economic, and individual differences the contemporary art community
speaks the same language. Since the collapse in the seventies of what
could be termed the "option of the left", an option which determined
the system of values and the consistency of language on which the
above illusion was based this institutionalized communication
framework has been showing its cracks and fissures. It has shown
itself inadequate, yet at the same time it remains the only model
linking separate individuals and groups. It protects them from sinking
back into more or less primitive national and local communities. 

By trying to circumvent the institutional framework and ignore the
potential of skillful  professionals who would inevitably try to place
the event within an established context of reception, the
"Transnacionala" project deliberately provoked what could be called a
communication noise. It placed the event in a certain margin -- a
margin that was constantly bringing up questions about the point of
the participants' own activity, about what makes the project different
from a tourist trip abusing art as an excuse for stealing national and
international funds in the interest of structuring pleasure, as well
as various self-accusatory images in which the participants saw
themselves as a bunch of demoralized, neurotic individuals in pursuit
of some abstract private utopias, nonexistent relations, and
deficiencies that cannot be compensated for. These feelings gradually
took on the status of a unique experience, of a state we had
deliberately provoked. They became the subject and theme of the

The problem of the structure and dominion of the public is
specifically that power which decides whether a particular individual
or collective art production is a "real" part of the public exchange
of values -- or merely what could be termed the hyper-production of an
alienated subject, to be stuck in the cellar or attic of a private
house, in the inventory of a bankrupt gallery, in a collection that
has lost its value overnight, or in some other of history's many
dumping grounds. 

In view of the prevailing East European provenance of the artists who
had embarked on the adventure of discovering America -- the central
myth of the West -- we repeatedly posed a basic question to the
American public present at our public events: What does the American
cultural public understand by the notions of the East -- of Eastern
art, of Eastern societies? What already exists in the minds of our
interlocutors? On the other hand, we were faced with the question of
how to present our real historical, existential and aesthetic
experience in such a way as to transcend the cultural, ideological,
and political headlines linked to the collapse of the Eastern
political systems and the wars in ex-Yugoslavia and the ex-Soviet
Union. How to define historical, cultural and existential differences
in the context of global, trans-national capitalism? And finally, how
to transcend sociological discourse and establish conditions for
aesthetic discourse? Communicating and associating with various
American art and intellectual communities revealed a certain
similarity between the psychological relation or attitude -- even
frustration -- of various American minority groups (national,
cultural, racial, sexual, religious, ideological) toward the activity
of central social institutions and the frustration of East European
cultures in relation to their economically stronger West European and
North American counterparts. In other words, the relation of the
margin to the center. When mentioning this psychological relationship
or attitude, or simply frustration, toward the constant of the world
order as a point of potential identification within the context of
difference, I have in mind primarily the semi-conscious, ambivalent
and non-structured nature of the languages used in the structure of
public dialogue in connection with this question.

Who are we, whom and what do we represent? Who am I, whom and what do
I represent? Being the file rouge of private conversations among the
participants of the trip, this question was gradually gaining in
importance, giving the project a kind of ontological stamp precisely
because of its ambivalence and insolubility, which grew with time.
None of the so-called East European artists identified herself or
himself with the East in the sense of representing its political or
even cultural, messianic role. Our common attitude to this question
could be defined as an attempt to take a different view, to formulate
a different question: "How does the East see itself from the outside,
from the point of view of another continent, and what consumed its
role and place in the structure of the global world order?" What
remains of ourselves and our conceptual and aesthetic points of
departure, once we are transposed into a foreign cultural and
historical context? Who are we by ourselves? Can art really
contextualize and interpret itself through itself? From where do form
and content derive? Does autonomy, freedom of art and the individual,
exist? If it does, on what values it is based? These seemingly clear,
even worn-out and abused questions, brought about numerous conflicts,
deadlocked discussions, retreats into silence and reflection,
depressions, exalted visions of solutions, utopian impulses, feelings
of absurdity, emptiness and exposure to the mechanisms of life, which
in the desert between Chicago and San Francisco looked wonderful, yet
totally incomprehensible and indifferent to the symbolical and value
games playing themselves out in our mental spaces. In the middle of
desert, where all points of the universe seem equally close to, and
equally distant from, man as its center, we were discovering that as
East European artists we were not defined so much by the form and
content of our mental spaces as by their symbolical exchange value.
The previously mentioned frustration of Eastern cultures and societies
vis a vis Western ones, which grew even bigger after the collapse of
socialism, is manifest in the field of art primarily as the problem of
the nonexistence of a system of contemporary art in the territory of
the East -- that is, of a system of symbolic and economic exchange
would take place in countries sharing the common historical experience
of socialism, paving the way to integration into the global
contemporary art system. But why would we regret the nonexistence of
something suppressing the individual and his artistic freedom, at
least according to the romantic, utopian definition of art? Which even
today is still formally advocated by a great number of ideologues and
users of the existing (and virtually the only) West European and North
American system of contemporary art? In fact, this is not regret but a
realization that, without a system of institutions which by definition
represent the field of contemporary art, there is no broader
intellectual and creative production; without a broader intellectual
and creative production there are no differences; without differences
there is no hierarchy of values; without a hierarchy of values there
is no critical reflection; without critical reflection there is no
theory; and without theory there is no universally-understood
referential language capable of communicating on an equal footing with
other referential languages in other places and times of the existing

Despite bringing up problems that promise no imminent solutions, and
despite a communication that lacked colloquial smoothness (and which
was in fact at times full of clashes and thorns), the "Transnacionala"
project achieved its conceptual objective precisely by objectivizing
itself in the sphere of intimacy and closeness, which in the process
of the journey took on the form of a micro volume of public space. A
public space, furthermore, in which views that are still considered
taboo in most public contexts of contemporary art could be expressed.
Among the participants of the journey, and among some other
individuals met along the way, relationships were established forming
a direct, living network. A network in which a sum of problems and
realizations constituting the germ of a referential language were
caught up and articulated, in order to be further developed.

Ljubljana, October 1996

(translated by Jasna Hrastnik)

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