04 08 06

Can There Be Revolt Without Representation

Branka Ćurčić

In the description of the “On Difference” project says: “On Difference” is the title of the project initiated by Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart and developed in close co-operation with numerous international curators and artists. In two exhibitions, the project sets out in search of the local contexts, critical practices and networked places of action of contemporary art – specifically in “non-Western” cultures. So far, the project involved around hundred practitioners from Egypt, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Iran, India, Lebanon, Morocco, the Netherlands, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, South Korea, USA, Hungary, etc. “On Difference” #1 and #2 presented this content through exhibitions, discussions and screenings. The whole project is funded by Kulturstiftung des Bundes and the European Union, Culture 2000.

One of the project's participants was InterSpace, New Media Art Center from Sofia, Bulgaria, which presentation within this project named “Satellite 003” is curated by Galia Dimitrova. As it says in the project description, curator “explores the ways in which artists respond to socio-political processes of a country in transition.“ Also, in Dimitrova's curatorial statement, there is an accent on difficulties in managing artistic practice in contemporary Bulgaria, having in mind that it “tends features a kind of engaged distance of the artist to reality” missing “a radical” approach to artistic practice and due to lasting “political crisis, still difficult economic situation, the high percentage of unemployment, etc.” and to the communist past, when art was “controlled by the politics of powerful socialistic party.” At the event “VIE-SOF - SE.Exit” by Michael Aschauer held in Vienna, in May 2006, Galia Dimitrova presented activities of InterSpace Center and she predominantly talked about their curatorial concept within the “On Difference #2” project and she screened some of the art works. One part of this concept was open competition for young Bulgarian artists who are invited to make short, “how to” instructional movies. Several interesting movies came out of this production. The most interesting and the most debatebal was the movie “Crossover” made by group of young Bulgarian artists and activists, some of them coming from the “Badbug Studio/UFO TV” collective. What they did is the movie documenting campaign organized by themselves, with the aim to protest and to raise debate about environmental issues in Sofia such is air pollution or about non-regulated traffic which causes a lots of problem to the others then standard vehicles (pedestrians, cyclists, rollers, skate board drivers, etc). Shortly described, the movie follows the whole action of young people getting organized and creating campaign: coming up with visual identity (which is a dog wearing gas mask), patterns for graphiti, drawing graphiti at the public spaces, distributing flayers with suitable content and at the end, organizing walk on the Sofia streets which slowed down and, at some point, blocked the traffic. At the end, it was confirmed by curator that those youngsters organized the whole action and the campaign in order to document it, make a movie out of it and to submit it to InterSpace's competition, which was commissioned by German institution Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart and, if you want to follow the chain of events, funded by program of EU Commission. So, this chain of events/parties looks actually like this: West European official cultural institution is inviting East European independent organization, which commissions artists from its country to produce specific contemporary art, tending to activism and political engagement, followed by the statement that “there is no political art in this East European country”. Mean person would make unjust shortcut by saying that this specific piece could be named “commissioned activism”, but the context is much more complex then that.

Keeping in mind strong belief that those young people have felt “butterfly in their bellies” while organizing such a campaign, it is also important to understand the whole context in which such production is being created and the constellation of different parties in this process. Maybe it also has something to do with, what Dimitrova would say, “the lack of well-established art market”, which makes difficult conditions for art production in Bulgaria and which inevitably inflict consideration of East-West relationship in this art production. Or, as Groys says partly confirming this statement, but pointing out potential misunderstandings in it: “In the communist east the marketplace had long ago been eliminated and the primacy of politics was pervasive. Thus for the east the marketplace represented utopia. As a result eastern intellectuals and artists placed their faith in a marketplace of a Western character – even, and especially, if their discourse and works of art shared the same emancipatory impulses as those of their western counterparts.” Elaborating how the main characteristic of post-communist state is “privatisation” - process the oposit of nationalization of all private property – Groys says that “re-introduction of private property thus represents an equally crucial prerequisite for putting an end to the communist experiment.” Together with economic and political trans-passes in former communist countries, the art also moved “from real socialism to post-modern capitalism”, here struggle for distribution, appropriation and property rights is taking part together with production of new “capitalist soul”. Thing is that “every artist in any area once under communism still finds him- or herself under the shadow of former state art. It is not easy for an artist today to compete with Stalin, Ceausescu, or Tito...” And here, I would add: with Todor Zhivkov as well. Maybe this could serve as an explanation why there was/is no “radical” political art in those countries.

Maybe it would also be interesting to try to define “What is political art (at all?)”. Talking about “golden time” of it during 1960s and 1970s in socialistic countries, Miško Šuvaković said that every art is political, or at least might be political, not because it talks about politics – that is a mistake of those national dissidents who believed that painting figuratively (about poverty, but our own poverty!) or writing novels about unhappy and unfulfilled but great history of their country, that they are changing political paradigm. Contrary, they just exchanged “one realism” with “another” and that is the reason that we have examples of national realism. Political art is the one that acts in certain micro-social environments and makes difference in patterns of behavior, perception and understanding of art and reality.

Concerning mentioned movie from the contemporary art production which deals with certain form of rebellion (or tries to appropriate it), it would be interesting, and I hope not too pretentious, to quote Julia Kristeva and her attitude towards revolt in “Revolt, She Said” interviews. She understands that revolt – “psychic revolt, analytic revolt, artistic revolt – refers to a permanent state of questioning, of transformations, an endless probing of appearances.” She's continuing by saying that revolt means return, returning, discovering, uncovering, and renovating. Rebellion is a condition necessary for the life of the mind and society... It's about re-rooting, self-questioning and questioning the tradition as well that takes us closer to revolt... “When one says that the solution is found in social protest, it demonstrates a limited understanding of things. Social protest should not be a purpose itself. It should be part of a larger process of general anxiety which is simultaneously psychic, cultural, religious anxiety, etc. ... On the other hand, what I am trying to say is that the meaning of revolt, which could be taken as revolution, would reduce the concept to sociopolitical protests. This constitutes a betrayal of revolt.” And what is here of the greatest importance is that “we agree: to think is to revolt, to be in the movement of meaning and not the movement on the streets...” Although Kristeva is giving unique analysis of revolt based on her personal experience of May '68 in Paris, this observation doesn't exclude or discredit “movement on the streets”. Rather, it gives an explanation what “revolt should be” and why it is often part of, “in the best of cases, art”. In addition, She said that “Revolt is indispensable, both to psychic life, and to the bonds that make society hang together, as long as it remains a live force and resists accommodations....” Exactly like art should.

Kristeva also has one idea about act of representation in art: She says that artist performs “right” kind of violence, by appropriating what lies outside him or her. She continues that artist's role is not to make a faithful copy of reality, but to shape our attitude towards reality – therefore, act of representation is included. In the case of young Bulgarian artists, by conducting the campaign and the protest, they actually appropriated the idea of revolt from the reality and not reality itself, especially if we continue to think about Kristeva's observations on revolt. What is “shaped” in this specific case is our attitude towards possibilities and limitations in contemporary art production, especially when such complex constellation of different parties is involved.

Branka Ćurčić