THE BIOTOPE OF CONTEMPORARY ART by Zdenka Badovinac
At the Moderna galerija, we have asked ourselves what it is that constituencies actually constitute. Seeing that we work within a very small community – Ljubljana only has a population of 300,000 – it is virtually impossible to think about the institution otherwise than in relation to the other agents in the community, which I here refer to as the space of contemporary art in the narrow sense of the term. We think about our community in terms of a biotope of sorts, in which every species, every agent, regardless of their status, is important for the survival of the community. For this reason it is important to think about the institution both as just one of many constituencies and as a space co-created by others. I shall focus on cases that speak of the Moderna galerija as one of the constituencies of the community of contemporary art.
In the early 1990s, just after the breakup of Yugoslavia and the declaration of the independent state of Slovenia, there was a strong desire shared by the representatives of our cultural space to see contemporary art have a central position in the new state. Official cultural strategies to help us achieve that were non-existent, so we learned from artists who had developed self-organized forms of cultural production through collective work already in the 1980s. A particularly useful example of that for the Moderna galerija was the collective Neue Slowenische Kunst. Thus we cooperated with the group IRWIN in 1994 on a project for Sarajevo: our aim was to make a contribution toward better conditions for cultural production after the end of the war, so we proposed a collection for the future Sarajevo museum of contemporary art. The absence of important collections and the general undernourishment of infrastructure for culture was a problem faced not only by Sarajevo but ourselves, too, although to a lesser extent. This led us to establish a collection of Eastern European art in Ljubljana in 2000, to thus help consolidate and empower the space of contemporary art. In spaces where contemporary art is marginalized, where there is no art market, and the social status of artists is still largely left up to the discretion of the state, the debate about the social status of artists is at least different if not more frequent than in the spaces ruled by the market. In their struggle for better conditions, artists and intellectuals often seek alliances with other socially subordinate groups or become actively involved in actions like the general popular uprising in Slovenia in 2012, which was directed against extreme right-wing politics. What is more permanent in character are the joint endeavors for a space of contemporary art, which in Eastern Europe continues to symbolize a space of free thinking and alternative alliances. The various agents on the scene of contemporary art are constantly brought together by the undernourished infrastructure and the insufficient resources, due in part to the political priorities centering on the national language and traditional culture. In Ljubljana, this common interest has united – quite remarkably, in my view – big institutions, artist-run spaces, and smaller NGO spaces. Let me illustrate this with a few specific examples.
In 2008, when Slovenia had a right-wing government with fairly extremist views, we started the renovation of Moderna galerija. The then minister of culture deliberately allotted us only funds for renovation works, but not the program. We decided to carry out a project without any money, and offered our museum premises, already empty by that time, to anyone who wished to exhibit there under their own organization and at their own expense. Not only artists responded to our invitation, but also a variety of other agents in our locality, which saw this self-organized exhibition as an opportunity to call attention to issues relevant in their fields. Another project that occurred in the period Moderna galerija was without funding for its program, was Hosting Moderna galerija!: over 20, for the most part small NGO spaces across Slovenia housed and at least partly co-financed our projects out of solidarity.
Some of the key artists we have collaborated with in building a strong platform for contemporary art over these last two and a half decades, have long been working in the framework of organizations defined as associations or institutes in Slovenia, which are financed with public funds like our museum. For the most part, these organizations have their premises, such as galleries or offices, receive three- or four-year funding, and focus their activities not just on the work of the artist or art group that started the organization, but also other artists’ and researchers’ projects, on producing publications, etc. A few examples are the spaces run by artists Tadej Pogačar (P74), Dragan Živadinov (Delak Institute), Marko Peljhan (Projekt Atol Institute), Vadim Fishkin and Mateja Bučar (DUM Association of Artists), Janez Janša (Maska), Janez Janša (Aksioma), and Mojca Marija Pungerčar (KUD Trivia). Some of these artists opted for this form of organized work because their production calls for the cooperation of a variety of agents to fulfill complex technical and organizational conditions. Our exhibition Stopover 1 : 1 aimed to highlight the fact that the nature of art changes with the conditions of work, not only that art co-creates the conditions. We did this by presenting a number of projects that are essentially durational in nature, such as Marko Peljhan’s Makrolab (since 1994), the NSK State in Time (since 1992), Salon de Fleurus (since 1993), and KSEVT by Dragan Živadinov, Dunja Župančič and Miha Turšič. These are on-going artistic projects that artists must maintain, which also means, at least in our country, secure public funding for them. If we understand these and similar projects as artworks, it is necessary to consider a more suitable relation between art and the institution, one more in keeping with their durational nature and organizational structure. In cases like these, an institution can only represent a section of the duration of such an artwork, and never its entire life, which happens in real time and in direct social interaction. Art and the institution keep bumping against the same conditions of cultural production in a similar fashion, and the institution’s place is no longer in being a protector or representative of art. Rather, something that could be defined as partnership is developing between the two. When an institution stops being a representative of art and becomes its partner, it is time to consider the continued relevancy of the question who constitutes a specific institution’s constituency. In view of the above it follows that, rather than speaking of the constituencies of an institution, it might make more sense to speak of the institution as merely one of the constituencies that co-create a specific space of contemporary art.
RADICAL EDUCATION by Bojana Piškur
Radical Education (RE) was initiated as a project within a public art institution – Moderna galerija Ljubljana – in 2006 in order for it, through analysis of its own work, to direct itself towards a different level of relation with this institution and others like it. One of the first actions, when the idea of RE was actually conceived, was the occupation of Rog bicycle factory in Ljubljana, in 2006. Rog opened up important questions of common space in the city, access and usage of these spaces, politicization of public space, and the question of how to connect with other, not necessarily “similar” institutions. In RE, from the very beginning, the ways of opening the museum for various “agents” were deliberated, bringing different practices from the “outside” into the very context of an art institution as well as creating common micro-political situations through different alliances and collective actions. However, RE was at the same time also a rather heterogeneous group of people (anthropologists, sociologists, anarchists, artists, pedagogues, migrant workers, curators) with different experiences of working in communities (of migrant workers, asylum seekers, the erased of Slovenia, with the Zapatistas in Chiapas, the Piqueteros in Argentina, with the HIJOS in Guatemala, etc.), and institutions (university, art museum), so as a consequence of this, very different and sometimes rather conflictual ideas arose on what kind of space a museum actually was.
RE was formed in a time when the alter-globalist movements (post-Seattle, post-Geneva) was already exhausted to a certain degree and when intensive deliberations on how to proceed began. For example, the questions that arose were: Is it possible to be in some kind of alliance with the institutions, as, for example, universities and museums? What are the products of such encounters? How do we build institutions of counter-power? What are the new “monster- institutions” like, politically speaking? Is there a possibility for a common struggle against capitalism and exploitation, and if so in which ways?
RE tried from the very beginning to connect two institutions: the museum – Moderna galerija and the movement - Social Center Rog. The aim was to overcome the dichotomy between institutions and movements and to reflect on the openings that this conflictual relation provides. The starting point was the idea that RE was not and did not want to be “just another” participative project within the museum, because temporary solidarities of this kind (for example, limited work with different “marginal” groups, namely, the so-called “projections of politics as something else and outside”) only divert from the politics here and now. We were, in fact, dealing with a process that was primarily based on trust, having in mind that rather “fragile” political subjectivities were most often involved.
It is important to emphasize that RE position was not only to formulate a meaningful and relevant set of questions but, above all, to confront these questions in collective situations, to democratize expert knowledge and produce common knowledge instead. Here common knowledge was understood as theoretical thinking accompanied by politically active attitudes; something that joins different positions in a new anti-hegemonic cultural front. As it is generally known a series of problems always arise in such contexts, like the one with “translation”, the problem of highly abstract language usage and so on. Subsequently, there is also a danger of falling into a trap of intellectual arrogance.
With all these considerations in mind, a series of seminars were organized jointly with the SC Rog and Moderna galerija. One of the themes was “Resistance as Creation”, which was organized with the invisible workers of the world, asylum seekers, activists, cultural workers, artists, militant researchers and in which there were discussions about relationship between social centers, artist and political collectives, ways of communication and cooperation with the local community, questions of usage of public and common spaces in the city, and so on. The idea was not only to “learn from” institutions but to pass on the knowledge to movements and collectives; to invent new conceptual, expressive and organizational tools in order to empower the “we will not be governed this way.”
One of the aims of RE was also to define common investigations between the two fields i.e. art and politics, and to ascertain, through defining concepts such as labour, aesthetic experience, affects, precarious work, cognitive work, common good, class antagonism, emancipation, artistic autonomy etc., what it is that art forms and forms of political resistance have in common. In this way, some new institutional forms of resistance could be found, in which resistance would be considered a common space of encounter, or even some kind of new “aesthetics” as Paulo Virno said. For example, a question that we found very important was: What is creation? Not only from the perspective of artwork but also from the point of production process being an aesthetic experience itself. Is manual labor as such an aesthetic experience? What about art which repeats labour? Is this experience limited only to art space or can it spread everywhere? Is it a collective creation by an artist becoming a collective worker or a representation made by an individual? How does art function as a tool of political emancipation?
But the important thing in all these seminars, debates, exhibitions and researches by REC was that they were also based on a reexamination of one’s own position and critical analysis of one’s own work in relation to the collective and to the institution. If someone today posed the question how to understand RE in relation to MG, the answer would probably be that RE was in fact “a series of failures”. This is certainly not meant in a negative way – which is a small paradox – but quite the opposite. This process, project, methodology, a collective or a “constituency” called RE, was never realized in a way for it to become the brand of an institution. It never quite lived up to the expectations of what a project, a seminar or an exhibition should achieve and in which way, because with RE there always existed a space of unpredictable, an unknown domain of arts and politics. RE in 2014 came to the point where this kind of intervention in the space of an art institution became unnecessary. Certainly, not unnecessary in the sense that the museum became an ideal institution, but that the ideas of RE in a way had become embedded in debates on “other institutionality” within the museum itself.
We have learned from RE that what art and social movements have in common is not about content, such as art views on social resistance. It is also not the assumption that the site of artistic transformation can also be the site of political transformation. What was relevant in the particular relationship between art institution and RE was the question of how to link political and artistic imagination with the production of new institutions in a similar way as Deleuze once said (having in mind theory): “A museum is like a box of tools. It must be useful. And not for itself. If no one uses it, then museum is worthless or the moment is inappropriate.’ I’d like to think of RE as one of the tools in the museum.
CURRENT POTENTIALS by Adela Železnik
In the final part, I will briefly present more recent Moderna galerija's relationships, being conditioned also with the new venue that we opened in 2011, Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova. One of them is a new type of collaboration within the museum then called Neteorit, the other relates to the network / pool of institutions, organisations and agents in our neighbourhood.
Neteorit was a self-organized programme of lectures, talks and debates related to art, theory and politics. It was conceived by a group of artists, philosophers and activists as a response to the local context, that proved insufficient in terms of providing an adequate infrastructural support to this sort of actions. Neteorit was an attempt to connect previously dispersed and separated activities of this group and join efforts to provide spaces for work and changing ideas, as well as to gain a certain feedback, strength and visibility. Neteorit was organized informally, the programme was more or less autonomous in relation to the Moderna galerija, we supported it by offering museum spaces and some facilities free of charge. We also recognised Neteorit as our constituency group who took part in the L'Internationale mediation task force seminar in Liverpool two years ago.
Neteorit's reading seminars, the aim of which was also to intervene into the conditions of knowledge production on the structural level, lasted from 2013 until 2015. Last year Neteorit re-formed themselves into the new, ŠUM collective, concentrating on regular publishing a journal for contemporary art criticism and theory called Šum and organizing seminars and other activities also in some other spaces of contemporary art.
On the other side, our relationship to the neighbourhood of the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, residential part of Ljubljana called Tabor, is more fluid, consisting of various small scale alliances such as FORUM, the programme of the national institutions within the museums quarter (National Museum, Slovene Ethnographic Museum, Slovene Cinematheque and ourselves), or our alliance with the Home for Elderly People and local associations in cultivating the greens. In 2012, together with the non-profit organisation Bunker and other agents in the area (schools, galleries, organizations), we constituted an association called »Cultural District Tabor«, with the aim to identify our common interests, to collaborate more intensely and to react to some urgent issues. Such issue appeared last week when the state authorities accommodated a group of asylum seekers in the temporary asylum home in the area of Tabor.
Over the last year, when there has been a marked increase in the number of people opting for the Balkan route, e.g. from Syria via Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, to Slovenia, and from there onward to Austria, Germany or Sweden, many cultural institutions as well as individuals kept asking themselves how to act. One of the immediate answers would be to fight against racial prejudice and to point out the potentials to change our collective consciousness. So, in September 2015 Moderna galerija organised a panel talk in frames of the Glossary of Common Knowledge seminar on Geo-politics. In the panel at the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova the participating theorists, artists and activists presented their views of the refugee crisis in Europe primarily from the Balkan perspective, recognised the existing initiatives, and reflected on the possibilities of building a common solidarity network.
As the result of more and more restrictive EU migrant policy, the number of asylum seekers in Slovenia increased, they are accommodated now in various asylums in Slovenia, one of them, for the first time located in the Ljubljana city centre instead of periphery, is placed in our neighbourhood. This makes all the agents in the area re-think our positions and go for concrete actions.
As the Moderna galerija once joined forces with the activists when bringing children from the degraded outskirts of Ljubljana, called Rakova Jelša, inhabited mostly by migrants from Bosnia, on the boat to the city centre (Social Centre Rog), we now keep collaborating with the Frontabrezmeja / FrontWithoutBorders network of activists to find the ways how to overcome the fear and barriers in mind to open the common space for all.