|Andreas Broeckmann on Thu, 3 Dec 1998 21:13:32 +0100|
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|Syndicate: Edit Andras about exclusion and inclusion in the art world|
Date: Tue, 01 Dec 1998 13:10:12 +0200 From: shedhalle <email@example.com> Edit Andras (art historian, Budapest) Statement for the final discussion about exclusion and inclusion in the art world (held at the border economies conference, Oct. 25th 1998, Shedhalle Zurich) In 1989, at the beginning of the nineties, after the political changes in Europe, the issues raised by the former Eastern Block was a cutting edge in the so called Western World, in the Western Europe and in the USA. Enormous enthusiasm surrounded these issues. Eastern and Central Europe were famous at least for 10 minutes, not really longer. The question raised by the radical thinkers on both sides from a critical point of view, that is, "How East was represented in West"very soon lost its interest, partly because East-Europe wasn't really well represented in the West World anymore. The conception of the previous Documenta in Kassel represented a new kind of marginalization of East Europe, there were hardly any participants coming from that region. The message was that East Europe's contribution to the art of Europe is not significant, it could be neglected, and this was clearly articulated in the statements and interviews given by Katherine David, the exhibition's curator-in-chief. How is this possible? How could these drastic changes happen? What is behind the situation? Although the Cold War is over, no real dialogue is going on between the former Eastern Block and Western World. I think one of the reasons lies in the differences between the discourses on art. I would like to examine one of the consequences of the historical differences of the East and the West of Europe during the last forty years, that is, the existence of intellectual and mental walls as a consequence of discourses that developed in different ways. These mental walls are much stronger than actual ones, and dismantling them cannot happen overnight. Their strong existence makes communication difficult for both sides and can serve as an effective tool of self-isolation and discrimination. Examining the question from one side, that of the countries of the former Eastern Block, because of the existence of the Iron Curtain, the intellectual isolation, and because of the local context, the modernist paradigm (with notions as utopianism, formalist aesthetic values, the idea of artist-heroes, transcendent character of art, separation of art and life, art as opposed to theory, etc.) has long outlived itself. It has become fossilized and it helped to create well-entrenched system of institutions. At the same time, almost all of the elements of such a construction have been removed in the Western World. There might be cracks and splits in this construction even in the Eastern World, but basic notions and ideas of art have not changed at all. One of these solid categories I wish to explore is the belief in the universality of art. "Naturally"this belief considers the Western cultural model and the European values universal. Since our region had always felt the disadvantages of the differentiation between Eastern Europe and Western Europe, and we had been occupied, even obsessed with the problem of how to eliminate this differentiation, when the Berlin Wall was actually pulled down and it seemed that the long awaited opportunity arrived to "be admitted to Paradise", and to be considered equal as well naturally, we could not give up this old wish. This tendency is contrasted to the current intellectual and cultural trends of the Western world, which is globalization, post-colonialism, and multiculturalism. So, our region still pursues the politics of discriminating the world outside Europe, and still does not consider equal such regions as Africa, the Far and the Near East in the field of art. The art of these regions are still classified among ethnographic or oriental curiosities. As for the central categories in the nineties, that is the "message", the problems of identity, and representation, these notions are also considered with reserve in the region. The reason of this reservance is, that according to our notion of art, it is considered an indivisible unity, leaving no space for ethnic, gender or race differences. However, if in a work of art issues of the above differences are raised, that work of art is classified as part of an inferior subculture or "propaganda"art, and it has limited credibility as such. This way of thinking is deeply rooted in the survival strategies of the last forty years. In that time the frontiers lied between the official, state supported and the un-official, underground, dissident art, and these basic oppositions subordinated all other differences and identities for the sake of unity. There is an antipathy in the Region, or at least definetely is in Hungary, towards the message of recent works of art of the global art scene, which are theoretically strong and well-based. The reason is, that official art aimed to be commonly understood, reflect didactic and unambiguous content, while underground art worked out and passed from generation to generation a language that was complex and sophisticated, strongly encoded and could be understood only by a small, well-informed, "initiated"circle of elite. That is why the works that focus on gender representations, for examples, and build in the latest approaches and analyses of feminist studies and cultural studies produce a very strong opposition, and are stigmatized by the most discreditable mark, that of "Socialist Realism". Approaching from another point, this phenomenon can be understood from the different connotations of the word, "politics n Eastern Europe and in the Western Europe and the USA. Politics in Eastern Europe has meant the politics of the actual state, and taking up a position in opposition to it. Issues of representation within the paradigms are again subordinated to politics. So, the problems of the power relations that are parts of the everyday relations of the individuals are hardly interiorized and represented in the discourse even today. Examining the question from a Western point of view, with the end of the status quo, the differences of the discourses of art have become a tool to exclude East European countries from the art world. It does not mean that these differences were new, but the region was judged from a different point of view before the political changes. Its art was considered separately and as a means of the Cold War. The Western World supported and encouraged this encoded language, that developed along the political opposition, and the West even helped to make this language more sophisticated. By doing so, the West itself contributed to its fossilization. The collapse of the Eastern Block was a rather difficult trauma for the West to get over as well. The West had to deal with the loss of its own image of Eastern Europe. This is one of the reasons why those works of art after the political that offered representational clichÃ?s, almost in a therapeutic way, were so popular in the West. These works might not have valid meaning and content anymore but could well fit in the expectations of the Western viewer and could fit in his/her image of the East. Those artists who did not follow this route, all of a sudden, could find themselves in a situation where their works were not considered competitive in the market. Their works were not compatible because of the differences in the discourses and the languages. I have had the opportunity to participate in a one-semester course in the USA at Rutgers University entitled, Arts in Transition. During the seminar I collected experiences that called my attention to the fact how improper it is to underestimate the mental consequences of the past forty years or attribute them to the economic situation. Although the seminar claimed to focus on the special problems of the transition, actually it strengthened and deepened the existing differences, and fixed the existing clichÃ?s. A lack of comprehension and a kind of hostility characterized the reception of the performance of those who came from our region. No intentions were shown to understand the different context, and not even a need seemed to appear simply to learn new information of the facts or the situation. The "disarming", humiliating arguments aroused feelings of inferiority. To give just a few examples of what kind of arguments were used: Bosnian literature or contemporary Czech poetry do not blend well in the global discourse (since they are too heroic or elitist, etc.); there are too many local and specific elements in them (such as the complex and for the outsiders hardly comprehensible situation of the Balkan), too much estheticism, sophistication, etc. These are all the modernist elements, which are really surpassed, old fashioned and, as such, not given any credit by the West. Another phenomenon of the seminar was, that Western participants did not want to give up their old notion of the Region developed during the last forty years, that East is homogenous, monolithic, the differences are just "tribal"differences, and are not relevant. It was quite embarrassing for them to encounter with the differences or even to encounter with intentions to express these differences, and the attempts to do so were strongly opposed by Western participants. Another characteristic example is the difference of the views in gender issues. The first generation of Western feminists, since they have been surpassed by the next two generations that strongly criticize their essentialist views, consider the region a virgin soil waiting to be colonized and they are offering us their own principles that are qualified already "historic" by others. On the other hand, the second generation of feminists marks the region as underdeveloped because of the existence of debate around the gender-issue in the discourse. They suggest quickly translating the Western studies on the topic, so that we can reach and keep up with them. They cannot understand that teaching, learning and adapting their principles in intensive courses are impossible and aimless because of the basic differences of the contexts. The Eastern specialist of gender-issues is between wind and water. She is disapproved by her own context that considers gender-issues yet alien, on the one hand. She is infantilized, patronized and humiliated on the global scene that claims to have surpassed the issues raised by her, on the other. There is only one thing to do this is the advice of West for East - to take over and study the answers they have given to these questions. The possibility of other answers does not even emerge. Also, some Janus faced missionaries want to spread a new religion, and they consider the region a barbaric virgin soil to be colonized. They completely ignore the local context. This is why a Western curator, a former championing pioneer of the avant-garde, dealing with the most recent theories and organizing exhibitions reflecting the latest phenomena of the West exclusively, when this same curator is organizing an exhibition in the Eastern region on a recent, up-to-date trend, he does not take the trouble to show the most recent phenomena of Eastern Europe that might be different from those of the West. He left gathering the material of the exhibition for his former fellow avant-gardists, and he left out exactly those artists who considered deconstructing the old paradigm. The differences coming from the disadvantages of the past situation are further widening the gap between the discourses. These are differences in language, terminology phraseology and also, and naturally, in the financial and economic situation. While a Western curator naturally participates in large international exhibitions, his East European counterpart may just hear of the same event. He can participate in one or maximum two of such an event on the continent. Participating in an event beyond the continent is out of the question. If a Western institution or state sponsors the region to reach the West, there is the danger that it tries to channel that development, and define what is acceptable and what is not, what is "lacking good taste", waht is not that is, it claims the right for censorship. To sum up my statement, I would not like to underestimate the role of money in the construction of the World, my intention was only to call your attention to an invisible power relation between former Eastern Block and former Western World, based on the differences of the discourse on art.