A Nation is often a State, but the opposite is not always true. What distinguishes the two concepts today? How are the European States made up, how are they structured socially, culturally and economically? How are they identified? What are their common symbols? These are just a few of the questions we asked as we began to deal with the fourth edition of the public and shared art project, Going Public’05.
If until a few years ago interest in social interventions, underground practices and collective action moved in parallel with the Latin American territories, for some time now attention has moved towards the East. After a first phase in the Balkan area of Thessaly1, Going Public’05 presented its second appointment in Modena and Formigine, giving rise to research on the theme of cultural and economic exchange between East and West in the new European patterns. It was carried out with a network of partners and artists deriving prevalently from ex-USSR countries (Romania, Moldavia, Poland and Lithuania). The 2004 edition traced horizontal lines which crossed the Mediterranean from Gibraltar to Cyprus; today our research runs along the vertical axis (from the Balkans to the Baltic, in fact) which divided Europe into two blocks.
In recent years the Balkan area has experienced great changes, also from the artistic and cultural point of view: new museums and institutions have arisen and at the same time a new generation of artists has come to the fore, acquiring visibility not only inside their own countries but also on the international scene. Romania2, the central zone of that Balkan Europe situated geographically to the East, one of the states which will shortly enter the enlarged EU, is revealing interesting artistic, social and cultural aspects. Compared with 15 years ago the scenario, fortunately, has changed radically. In spite of the crisis of the democratic parties in the 2000 elections (reopening the road to certain followers of Ceausescu), Romania is attempting to clarify its past and to look to the future with serenity. The new Romanian artistic scene is a part of this important change.
Among the major representatives of the new cultural direction is Dan Perjovschi, an intellectual and a conceptual artist. Since 1992 he has been responsible for the most important periodical in Bucharest, Revista 22 (22nd December 1989 was the date of the revolt against Ceausescu), the largest organ of cultural information in the country. The author is noted for his ironic pencil drawings, which represent very well the contrasts and difficulties of the meeting between East and West, and the pressures on post-Communist societies.
Calin Dan, an artist, architect and exponent of the subREAL group (no longer active) explores through his videos the multiform urban and human realities of Bucharest. In Sample City he uses as a guide a character taken from an old Romanian tale who travels through the city carrying a door on his shoulders (a symbol of migration and mobile architecture). The soundtrack is a mixture of various sub-cultures: from the laments of the gypsy orchestras to influences of oriental folklore, hip-hop and drum-’n-bass.
Mircea Cantor, Ciprian Muresan, Gabriela Vanga, a group of young Romanian artists, are the creators of the publishing project Version Magazine, a tabloid realized by gathering together essays, interviews, articles and images on monographic subjects such as liberty and revolution, borders and territories, etc. For Going Public, the authors (in collaboration with some neo-graduates from Modena) have carried out research into newspaper articles published since 1989 in both Italy and Romania which spoke reciprocally about their respective peoples. The result is a vertical image of two societies that are attempting to meet, at times without understanding one another.
Interested in the world of photography and video, Razvan Ion was the founder (with Eugen Radescu) of the first Romanian periodical of art and photography ArtPhoto, published entirely in English and distributed internationally. In his videos he elaborates with brilliant and artificial colors, typical of propaganda, the last moments of Ceausescu’s public life, with mass demonstrations in the squares of Bucharest. Recycle Mentality, of the Critical Factor group (also founded by Ion), shows again how the East/West contrast is based prevalently on economic factors, on consumerism and, subsequently, on the “brain washing” effected on consumers.
Of great interest is the representation of artists from nearby Moldavia. Among these is Pavel Braila, who scored a notable success at the most recent edition of Documenta with his video Shoes for Europe. The works of this artist testify to the slow and laborious social revolution of the passage from East to West. The film takes place in the station of Ungheni, on the border between Moldavia and Romania, where the wheels of the trains from eastern Europe are adapted to the rails of the western countries, which have a different gauge. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the station has undergone radical changes, becoming a place of the memory and the past, a symbol of a two-speed society.
Stefan Rusu, has for some years been an activist of the Frunza Project. Mr. Frunza is a Russian revolutionary, originally from Transnistria, (historically the Romanian region of Bessarabia), which was the place in which the idea of annexing Moldavia to the USSR began. Frunza (which means “tree leaf”) is the starting point for a revisiting of the recent and more distant history of the country, from the civil wars to the collapse of the eastern block and the Balkan wars. Through the Green Brotherhood Movement project the artist has brought into being a pacifist movement which also keeps watch over the green areas to the east of Moldavia, following the itineraries suggested by Frunza. It is a new interpretation of territory, one which exorcizes wars in favor of interventions aimed at pacification.
Another eastern territory present in this research is Poland3.
Grzegorz Klaman, is a professor at the Fine Arts Academy of Gdansk and the founder of the cultural center Wyspa Progress Foundation, in those same shipyards where the Solidarnosc movement was born. Klaman has for a long time been investigating into national phobias: hymns, flags, emblems, etc… He thus became the author of a series of modified flags: a flag can be honored and defended, or an area for discussion, exchange and a redefinition of symbols. With this approach the author held a laboratory in Formigine on the subject of the multiple identities and symbols of the “New Europe”, together with young artists and students of the territory. Pawel Althamer, often unites political, social and religious mysticism in his performances or his videos. For Going Public he has realized a new performance together with a group of immigrants. Polish women – baby-sitters, nurses, domestic helps – are above all at the center of a workshop on manual labor and the local use of ceramics, with the church of St. Peter, in Modena, the center favored for their meetings, as a backdrop. Medusa Group (Przemo Lukasik e Lukasz Zagala), artists who have long been engaged in recovering and reassessing the disused coal mines of Silesia, to the south of the country, a zone of strong social-territorial interest. The post-industrial buildings and the mines, now disused, are redesigned for new uses: cultural centers, cinemas, theaters, libraries, etc… For Going Public they present CineOest project, a mobile cinema installation, set up in a public park to host artistic video projections.
Other artists have adhered to the project, adding, with their works, weight to the theme dealt with this year.
Franco Vaccari, an experimenter of trends and technologies, is noted for his journeys towards the East, “beyond the curtain”, as used to be said before the fall of the wall.
For Going Public he has realized a video on the Romanian community of Modena, on their meeting-places, such as the Orthodox Church in Via Emilia Est, and their feelings of homesickness. The other side of the coin, after the previous analysis, is represented by Via Emilia Ovest, an area of night life and prostitution. Aldo Runfola, a polyhedral and nomadic artist (Palermo, NYC, London, Milan), unites conceptually the cultures of the two islands at the extremes of Europe (Mediterranean/Anglo-Saxon) and relates the unease of a world where things have a value only if they are quoted on the Stock Exchange. For Going Public he has realized an installation not previously shown, in which the phrases of a theorical/philosophical text are placed on the walls of the hall of the Central Station by means of adhesive tape.
Ursula Biemann, with her Black Sea File project, has realized a study on the transformation of territories, on the movement of people and on human trajectories, following the construction of the largest European oil pipeline. This undertaking, recorded by the artist with videos, photographs and narrations, crosses the European borders, from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, in a sequence of social, human and cultural landscapes. Lastly, Atelier van Lieshout, a group of artists and architects active on the concept of mobility and sharing. For Going Public a new project is presented: a mobile structure/kiosk/info point, a memory of the innumerable “Kiosks” that animate the streets and squares of the cities of the East.
How do the new frontiers of coexistence appear today? What is the role of the artist in this new “trans-national” Europe, with its cultural, historical and political diversities? Taking as his starting point the reference to Norman Davis (one of the most important historians on Europe), Zygmunt Bauman4 declares that the principal question lies in the multiplicity of cultures that form Europe. This is the patrimony which should be safeguarded: “world is important, but local is more”. Opportunities beyond the single boundaries must instead be liquid and mobile, with constant openings towards the outside world. Bauman maintains that in ten or fifteen years this may arouse little economic interest in nations such as Italy, France or Spain, who find themselves overtaken by “young nations” such as Poland and Romania, which are developing strongly, growing economically, and have a considerably lower average age than those mentioned above. The New Europe has a great challenge to overcome: to learn to live with variety and with differences. And here the role of the artist comes into play, for he is the only figure able to break down the barriers really and truly. “This adventure called Europe”5 needs a soul, and it can be found principally among its own artists, and above all in the safeguarding of a social state.
1 A Greek territory on the border between Albania and Macedonia; the project was prepared at the invitation of the city for the opening of the new space for Contemporary Art in Larissa. The first section of work saw international artists, including some from the countries of ex-Yugoslavia, engaged in various laboratories and urban installations. The aim was to cast light on life in border territories, on peoples’ migrations and movement and on the activities of the small communities resident in Larissa and deriving from the extensive Balkan area and eastern Europe (Romany, Vlachos, refugees from Asia Minor, from Russia, Albania, Serbia, etc…). The event was realized in collaboration with the Larissa Contemporary Art Center and Volos University – the Faculty of Architecture and the Faculty of History and Anthropology; as well as the Department of Culture, the Center for Music, the State Prisons, the Larissa Romany Community, the Community of Farkadona, the City of Trikkala, the Deste Foundation, the Ministry of Culture, Athens and the District of Thessaly and Macedonia. The artists presented were: Maja Bajevic (Bosnia), Pablo Leon de la Barra (Mexico/London), Fabiana de Barros (Brazil/Switzerland), Raimond Chaves + Gilda Mantilla (Colombia/Spain/Peru), Nikos Charalambidis (Cyprus), Gianmaria Conti (Italy), Hariklia Hari (Greece), Maria Loizidou (Cyprus), Nomads&Residents (NYC/ Rotterdam/ Rome), Adian Paci (Albania), Maria Papadimitriou (Greece), Personal Cinema (Greece), Alexandros Psychoulis (Greece), Marietica Potrc (Slovenia), Rirkrit Tiravanija (NYC/ Bangkok), Vangelis Vlahos (Greece).
2 A land of transits, a crossroads of languages and cultures, in the 1960s, under the Ceausescu dictatorship, the Romanian people were subjected to a rigid economic program for the extinction of the public debt. The people’s standard of living worsened sharply in the 1980s, both on account of an economic policy that favored exports to the West and on account of the police state which exerted a heavy control on citizens and artists. In this scenario, also art was subjected to the power: the régime demanded homogeneity and the cancellation of differences. In the years of totalitarianism (until 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the revolt of the Romanian people against the Ceausescu dictatorship) only representatives of the monumental arts could hope for sustenance: statues, mosaics, murals and large canvases, with images praising the dictator and his wife or aimed at creating national euphoria. Censorship was rife, blocking any information which might give space to free creativity.
3 The 20th century was, for Poland, a period extremely dense in historical and political events. Art often accompanied these circumstances, standing beside them, at times silently, at times openly, especially in the case of the numerous political changes. The 1950s saw the imposition of social realism by the Communist authorities, followed by two decades of so-called “modernist” art. From the 1970s, a period of turmoil and unrest, there stand out the works of Krzysztof Wodiczko with his gigantic politically-themed projections on buildings, the photo frames of Zofia Kulik, who underlined the symbols of the totalitarian régimes with monumental grandeur and the contributions of Tadeus Kantor, a theorist, artist and playwright who revolutionized the concept of art and politics, not only in Poland. The following decade developed under the word “resistance”, with the changes linked to “Solidarnosc” and the consequent martial law imposed by the Soviet authorities. Only in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the removal of the Communist forces, would Polish art be freed towards a more democratic system. Greater democracy has developed above all in the liberalization of the art market, while the themes of the 1990 were often oriented towards research into individual identity and body forms. 4 Z. Bauman, the leading Warsaw sociologist, theorist of post-modernity and globalization. His condemnation of all the distortions of contemporary society and globalization processes without rules has been coherent and continuous (Inside Globalization. The Consequences for People; Society under Siege; Rejected Lives). His ethical reflections on the fragility of sentimental bonds, on the dramatic processes of change provoked by modernity (Liquid Modernity), on the contradictions faced by the postmodern identity, incapable of assuming long term responsibilities and commitments (Desire for Community; Liquid Love; Interview on Identity) make him one of the thinkers able to provide an original and acute key to the interpretation of what is happening on the contemporary world scene.
5 Z. Bauman, Un’Avventura chiamata Europa, Laterza 2004, in which Bauman maintains that the eastern European countries have not “entered” Europe; after their entry Europe is different from what it was before their arrival. A new adventure has begun, for old Europe, for the new arrivals, and for both together. Every future development will depend on the contribution and the wisdom of all the Europeans.
* Claudia Zanfi, founder of MAST (Social and Territorial Art Museum), art critic, curator of Going Public project.