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 <>

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,
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.