POVEZAVE: Krize in novi začetki: Umetnost v Sloveniji 05-15 (2015)

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An intervention in to the exhibition Crises and New Beginnings at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ljubljana (MSUM) was made by some of the members (Kaja Kraner, Domen Ograjenšek, Tjaša Pogačar, Tomo Stanič and Andrej Škufca) of the now former self-organized collective Neteorit, which was active in the Modern Gallery (MG) and MSUM since 2013.

Neteorit was developing a self-organized program of lectures, reading seminars and discussions in MG+MSUM and was initially established as a way for us “participants” to organize our own context and conditions of working by using institutional visibility and facilities to prompt a “scene” and thus create a shared space where (mostly younger) actors in the cultural field could connect and collaborate. The invitation to “show” at the exhibition Crises and New Beginnings has therefore brought a shift in our position to the institution that organized the exhibition and prior to that hosted our activities. As Neteorit, we inhabited a position in between the “inside” and the “outside” of the institution, its producers of “content” (self-organized program of talks and seminars) and at the same time its “activated” public. Though the exhibition intended to historicize the past decade of contemporary art in Slovenia, we chose not to present the archives of our past activities, but decided to intervene into the exhibition instead. We proposed to take this double position once more and tap into the organizational level of the exhibition by co-curating the part of the exhibition focused on “constitutive practices”, where Neteorit was supposed to be presented alongside other now former collectives, namely DPU (Workers Punks University) and TEMP.

The intervention had two objectives: to examine our own position by trawling through the “formalities” of the institutional modus operandi, and to highlight possible conflicts that define the practice and role of self-organized, (non)artistic, politically engaged, activist, theory oriented and similar collectives in the exhibitions and institutions that show/host them. The intervention aimed at pointing out possible inconsistencies and “blind spots” that define these kinds of “partnerships”.

What follows is a documentation of the described intervention.


Proposal to the curators:

Some of the quandaries we will try to rethink in our contribution can be discerned even in the basic categorization that is usually required for participants at this type of exhibitions and that predetermines the treatment of the artistic practices included. Insofar as the contemporary artistic institution is a space of knowledge production, its fundamental epistemological provisions pervade even the most superficial arrangements or groupings, such as the categorization of participants and its implications for the content and forms that the participants’ activities may take.

For this reason, members of the collective will take the predetermined position of »participants« as the starting point of their participation in the exhibition. From this starting point, they will develop an investigation into the subtle mechanisms of representation, their production of knowledge, and their potential for articulating (as opposed to erasing) differences, thus addressing issues relating to our activity (as »constituents« of the institution) at the intersection of cultural producers and their audience, as well as to the activity of other difficult-to-place practices, such as the Workers and Punks’ University or the TEMP group.

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Our contribution within the exhibition included selecting and organizing archival materials of TEMP and DPU, as well as a text/statement printed on the wall that functioned as an intervention into the curatorial discourse and interfered with the narrative of the respective exhibition segment.

The text is available here:

Seemingly marginal and arbitrary yet well‑established means of classification, such as lists of participants, sections in catalogues, exhibition colophons etc., are constituted based on implicit rules and conventions. They mark the reception and production of the exhibited and exhibit contents to at least a certain degree, regardless of content contributions and intentions of institutional producers (curators, consultants and collaborators).

The principles of categorization, which are reflected by such formal means, correspond to certain values that are automatically adopted in the contemporary art institution, although they actually belong to a different context of production and to a conception of art1 that is already being abandoned in the institution’s new program directions.2

Formal means of arranging that make use of established categories (such as ‘artists and art groups’, ‘curators’, ‘collaborators’ etc.), generated based on the type of the work and the corresponding institutional position, give rise to divisions in the exhibition space that do not correspond to activities as they are produced by some of the included groups. These hold a position that is above all related to the ascribed potential for creating a ‘new’ public which will supposedly use and co‑create institutional programs and the institution itself in a more active way. That is why once they are included in the institution, their generally unevaluated practice is maintained at the uncertain boundary between the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, between institutional producers and their public.

The mentioned program directions often include some transdisciplinary collective practices, which are primarily not artistic; as political, activist, theoretical, sociocritical, collaborative, self‑organized, flexible etc., they are supposed to reflect the institution’s new aims and attempts to loosen hierarchical, instrumentalized, professionalized or in some other way rigid structures. And by doing so, to provide space for the production of alternative knowledge, one of the main endeavors of the so‑called new institutions.

As our activities under Neteorit have mostly taken place in the institution MG+MSUM, the problem of the conditions of our practice and its presentation has little relation to incompatibility and opposition between some supposedly rigid institutional structure and its external position. It is much more related to the refined and, to a large extent, obsolete mechanisms of valuation that are, among others, linked to expert conventions as internalized rules of producing, viewing and understanding. Even though in their programs, institutions display progressive tendencies, these mechanisms continue to persist at the core of their administrative and organizational sections (in the form of seemingly arbitrary forms, among other things), which produce parallel knowledge more or less behind the backs of the institutional producers and representatives.

Institutional representatives and new institutional programs, by which they wish to overcome the traditional model of a public museum and its social role, have also been introducing ‘alternative’ terms of audience, collaborators and consequentially the institution itself. These terms are largely a response to the need for a more active and committed role of the said actors and for a transformation of the relations between them.

However, such a recategorization, that is, merely generating singular new terms and categories, does not yet encroach upon the very principle of categorization—nor the concrete position of the said actors—that mainly remains unchanged. If certain actors are invited into the institution for being different from the model of operation that the institution wishes to overcome, but are then included under the very conditions that belong to the same model, the difference that is the reason behind the interest in their practice in the first place is neutralized. What follows is a discrepancy between the declarative level—the contents produced and presented by the institution in its projects—and its formal level: between the institution’s intent and its manner of organization, administration etc.

New dictionaries of institutions of contemporary art call for a new grammar as well: they call for new forms, that is, principles of categorization or organization that define their ‘syntax’.

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DPU and TEMP

We decided to organize the presentation of DPU and TEMP around possible conflicts that underline the encounter of such practices with the field of contemporary art. The selection of archive materials did not aim at a comprehensive presentation of collectives, but focused mainly on their previous involvements with the field of contemporary art and its institutions, or to be more accurate their collaborations with the Modern Gallery and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ljubljana.

Building on the history of alternative movements of the 1980s on the one hand and the two centuries of workers’ struggles on the other, the Workers’ and Punks’ University was established in 1997 in order to lay foundations for independent critical thought. Consisting of a collective of socially engaged students, researchers and activists, it focused on radical theory and regularly participated in current progressive social movements and workers’ struggles. As the DPU’s sphere of activity increased, its initial informal framework was no longer sufficient, leading to the collective’s decision to establish the Institute for Labor Studies as a vehicle for further educational and research activities (since 2014).

Activities of the Workers’ and Punks’ University (DPU) were presented in two parts. On the right, materials provided by the Institute for Workers studies—IDŠ (successor of DPU) that delineate the genealogy of its current theoretical efforts within a quite heterogeneous history of DPU, were arranged over the timeline marking the crucial events surrounding the transformation of DPU into IDS (and concurrent formation of a political party). In addition, we also chose to show documentation of DPU’s first “participation” in an exhibition of contemporary art, which took place in 2010 as part of the exhibition U3 – 6th Triennial of Contemporary Art in Slovenia: An Idea for Living. Realism and Reality in Contemporary Art in Slovenia, curated by Charles Esche. In the context of the exhibition, DPU organized a “School of Art Theory”, a series of lectures held in the Modern Gallery’s auditorium between 17.6. – 4.7. 2010, announced by the following statement:

SCHOOL OF ART THEORY

The purpose of the school is to problematize a certain intellectual consensus that has been established in artistic and cultural circles of Eastern Europe in the last ten or fifteen years.

Theory wise, it is a mixture of Italian autonomism, Deleuzianism, and a pinch of Rancière, all unreflectively pinned on the neo‑dissident political baggage. Theories and concepts that originate from the polemics following the revolts of 1968 have been uncritically transferred to the polemics following the counterrevolutions of Eastern Europe in the 1980s. Nice‑sounding and supposedly radical concepts, such as deterritorialization or immaterial labor, therefore simultaneously conceal the persistence of the problematic dissident policy and make it possible to criticize capitalism with the same means and in the same way (only with new, more modern pseudo‑concepts) as the cultural criticism of socialism did in the 1980s. The committed ‘contemporary art’ of today takes the same innocent-critical stance towards capitalism as dissident art did towards socialism—while by celebrating its own ‘subversiveness’ of the past and the present, it simultaneously blocks any actually productive discussion on the political potential of art.

The school’s purpose will be to bring theory back to art through criticism of the artists’ spontaneous ideology (curatorial essayism, post‑conceptualism, new‑age obscurantism, politics of emotion) and add a concrete analysis of the concrete historical situation of late capitalism. By criticizing the dominant notions of art, its social role and politics, the school will strive to show that a different theory of art is possible.

The group TEMP gathered in October 2004 with the objective to actualise the problem of disappearing public space in Ljubljana. Its first action was to occupy the parking lot near the Faculty of Architecture where a temporary student gallery was established. Actions in public space continued in different forms until March 2006, but did not manage to stimulate the townspeople to use this space differently and did not create direct politics. The only intervention with long-term effects was the occupation of the Rog factory where many cultural and social groups and individuals are still active and create diverse self-organized public programs and events. Nevertheless, in the context of accelerated processes of privatization and gentrification of public space in the city, which strives to “rebuild” Rog as a “creative center” that would “clean” the terrain by evicting the current community from the premises and cancelling their cultural activities, the shutdown of the Rog factory seems imminent. As TEMP notes “the initial idea of creating a public space for townspeople quickly shifted to creating a public space for artist. Art as a neutral field of criticism and creation that did not represent a real threat to the then ruling political system had proven to be a compromising form of activity. In the very moment when the group TEMP left political for artistic activity, it ceased to exist.” Today, “there are less public spaces than when TEMP was still active, the Rog factory is constantly under threat of being abolished, and the architects that publicly advocated TEMP’s activities are now the main driving force behind ‘Ljubljana’s capitalist boom’. In this perspective, TEMP must be regarded as an experiment that did not succeed in realizing its concrete goals, or rather as a short-term adventure of some individuals.”

The presentation of the TEMP group combined various materials: their own writings about their practice with statements regarding their relation to the art system; documentation of the project Mapping/Filing/Analysing the Vanished Spaces of Art that TEMP prepared in collaboration with the Modern Gallery in Ljubljana in 2006 and which aimed at mapping the city’s vanished spaces/locations of artistic activity that, in the context of privatization and reduction of public space, disappeared from the city’s map; the first lecture by one of the TEMP’s protagonists, Emil Jurcan, held in MSUM just months before the opening of the exhibition Crises and New Beginnings, where Jurcan talked about the group’s actions and the possibility of their political potential; a part of the correspondence between one of the curators of the exhibition and TEMP, pointing out the latter’s reservations towards being exhibited within the context of artistic practices.

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