MICROPOL, 1-13 November 2004, SKC Gallery, Belgrade
The system of art stands for a network of diverse instances taking constitutive part in the definition, formation, and production of meaning and knowledge in contemporary art. All these instances represent and relate to different institutions and institutional parameters as much as to the institutionalized roles and responsibilities in the professional field of contemporary art.
It should be made clear at the very beginning that the reference towards Contemporary Art in general is here principally bound by the idea of the System of Art, conceived of the Institution of Art, its broadest context (political, social, economic, historical, theoretical) and the very specific conditions in which these particular contexts are being intertwined and influential in producing the discourse of power.
Questions of power have always been an important issue in contemporary art debates. They somehow presuppose the inherent logic of the critique of institutions and progressing necessity to organize the forms of resistance. This protest was challenging for the defense of critical autonomy that artistic production has from institutional, economic and political forces in the period after the Second World War.
In his seminal essay from 1989 entitled ‘Conceptual Art 1962-1969: From the Aesthetics of Administration to the Critique of Institutions’, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh analyzed the shift in the art world provoked by a profound dematerialization of art from the perspective of the production process. This emphasized the fact that conceptual art forms have replaced the former experience of an (aesthetic) object into a pure linguistic definition.
This displacement of artists from their “natural”(B. H. D. Buchloh, “Conceptual Art 1962-1969: From the Aesthetics of Administration to the Critique of Institutions”, Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, A. Alberro and B. Stimson (eds.), Cambridge MA and London, 1999, 514-537.) surrounding of creative innocence pushed them into an area of the current art system and its administrative structure. It increased their awareness about the inner mechanisms which make an art edifice functional, and influenced their commitment to articulating the particular formal strategies, employed to counter the total destruction of artistic production by corporate capitalism, and an emergent cultural logic based purely on exchange and profit.
This reminds me of Walter Benjamin’s text from the early 1930s, The Author as Producer, where he, while meditating on the relationship between the tendency and quality of a contemporary art work, stresses the difference between the type of an “operating” writer and of an “informing” one.
His famous example of Sergei Tretiakov and the tasks he performed in Russian conditions of 1928, at the time of the total collectivization of agriculture, provides Benjamin with the proof of the effective ways of intervention due to the progress in technique, i.e. the tactics as performed through the effective use of all channels of expression, in view of the technical factors affecting the given situation.
Tretiakov as a model of this operating writer provides “the most tangible example of the functional interdependency that always, and under all conditions, exists between the correct political tendency and progressive literary technique. (…) His mission is not to report but to struggle; not to play the spectator but to intervene actively. He defines this mission in the account he gives of his own activity.”(W. Benjamin, “The Author as Producer”, Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation, B. Wallis (ed.), New York and Boston, 1984, pp. 297-309.) In this text Benjamin searches for an answer to the question of the technique of works, i.e. the one which directly concerns the function the work has within the literary relations of production of its time.
But what he lacks, according to Gerald Raunig (a Vienna-based philosopher, art theoretician, and a cultural activist in the fields of contemporary philosophy, art theory, political aesthetics and cultural politics), is the reflection on successful consequences of a politicizing art, positive influence of the political in art, something that Benjamin’s dialectical pattern omits while questioning where a project stands in relation to its production conditions.
Instead, according to Raunig, the question should be: how is it positioned within them?, i.e. how is it possible to apply media planned strategies from within the art system itself and transform art production more radically into concrete micro-political intervention?
As Raunig suggests, “following Tretiakov and co. it would thus be meaningful not to concentrate on the bettering of us humans, but on changing the structures that permit inequalities to exist. An update of a Brecht-Benjamin demand calling for the production apparatus to be supplied without changing it would be: let us not supply the production apparatus, let us change it.”(G. Raunig, “Grandparents of Interventionist Art, or Intervention in the Form. Rewriting Walter Benjamin’s ‘Der Autor als Produzent’”, EIPCP, European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies, http://www.eipcp.net/.)
The exhibition MICROPOL is aiming at fostering more powerful reception of new currents within the critical approaches towards contemporary art. What is really imposed on a contemporary artist is not considered in terms of content, but has to do with intervention in the form, in the structures of a micro-political field: instead of work on products (art works, art exhibitions as such), it must be work on the means of production, the very principles and operational instruments supporting the system of art. This is the only way able to provide producers an improved apparatus and incites them to produce.
This organizing function and the way it is translated into actual, contemporary art production, is even more important in an area lacking the efficient market-system and regulatory policies in the cultural domain (such is the case with Eastern Europe).
The proposed course of analysis is necessary for an adequate treatment of contemporary art primarily because of the regulatory changes that need to be introduced and implemented into the highest level of governmental priorities for the benefit of the proper understanding and support of local contemporary art.
The initiation of new strategies, making possible the independent and autonomous production of contemporary art, provides the necessary background for a more serious and efficient analysis of contemporary society in the period of growing mistrust in social institutions and institutional forms of public action.
Departing from the way contemporary art is being conceived and produced in the very conditions of the post-socialist reality, exhibited works provide a visual testimony of authors’ own designing of the processes of contemporary art production.
This is a concept involving the radical shift of positions not only in art production but also in art reception: through a self-addressing reflection, the exhibition aims in this way to critically investigate the overall demands for establishing a structural way of supporting current reality of transitional market economy and the system of art itself.
MICROPOL aims at providing a visual correspondence with the aforementioned subjects. It presents a selection of works by six artists who have developed their critical ideas within the Belgrade art scene ever since the early seventies. A common framework of their production is historically related to SKC Gallery, but also to the fact that all of them, throughout their career, have explicitly examined the specificity of setting up relationships within the very mechanisms of a contemporary art system.
The show, therefore, refers to the micro-political fields of action,seen as individual strategies developed in order to transcend obstacles set by the demands of a contemporary art power edifice. The exhibition also attempts to pinpoint the significance of the relational sphere in the contemporary art world, just as much as the need to make step further in changing a production apparatus through examining these relations.
A constant awareness about the political and social contexts and institutional power structures that determine the character of a contemporary art world is indeed an urgent issue in relation to current exhibition making. I dare to refer to the system of art as to a network, in order to show how the above mentioned elements form interdependent links among each other, thus participating simultaneously in the production of certain discourses.
Some of the most important, and most evident structural elements within this network are as follow: museums, galleries, public/private collections, art magazines, culture industries, foundations, museum directors, gallery owners, art dealers, collectors, art administrators, artists, critics, theoreticians, art historians, academics (professors, lecturers), audience, etc. All these instances show, even at first sight, that the system they make part of is a highly complex and classified structure.
This is only one side of the coin and it is based on the visible hierarchy of the participants within the contemporary art machine. The less transparent one – consisting of a whole range of different, more abstract components (such as attitudes, values, meanings, forms of behavior, representational models, modes of communication, etc.) – is what makes a performative side of any ideology which equally constitute the operational dynamics of the art system.
What this second category reveals, or better to say hides under the veil of the first one, is the ideological power system constructed upon the financial and political hierarchy, the rules of which are strictly determined by the relations of different sources of influence and inter-exchange. It is important to stress the notion of these relations (professional / institutional / system relations), because it is exactly the relational sphere that makes a formative part in today’s contemporary art world and contemporary art business.
The constitutive role of financial rules for the development of a contemporary art system qualifies the necessity to put the notions of “art” and “business” on equal terms. Rasa Todosijevic’s work – Edinburgh Statement. Who Profits from Art, and Who Makes an Honest Gain from It (1975) is a starting reference point in this direction. This early example of critical awareness functions through a detailed taxonomy, as an attempt for explicit mapping of all relevant elements taking part in today’s art world.
This reflection on author’s own position in the production process is of an utmost significance for today’s comprehension of the status of art in contemporary socio-political system. It reveals the complex hierarchy of the art edifice the way it is constituted through networks of different power mechanisms. It demystifies the inner logic of power structures in the late socialist conditions, bringing together their antagonisms to the core of his personal and self-addressing critique.
It pleads for the rethinking of the system of value in contemporary art world, which must be approached not from a critical discourse about a particular artist or a work of art as a result of his or her own creativity, but from a critically engaging endeavor to understand the overall conditions out of which the notion about the artist in question or the particular work of art is being produced and canonized as valuable within the very system of art.
In comparison to Todosijevic’s all-encompassing taxonomy, Tanja Ostojic’s video ‘I’ll Be Your Angel’ (2001-2002) is focused on a very reduced and precise relationship between two significant roles, (female) Artist and (male) Curator. As part of her long-term project Strategies of Success/Curators Series (2001-2003), this video is a material documenting Ostojic’s attempt to analyze the complexity of issues dealing with class-relations within the art-system.
While radically juxtaposing power-position with sexuality, her project (according to Marina Grzinic) made visible in public precisely these libidinal relations between the artists and the curator, thus elaborating an over-identification strategy within the obscene art institution. Since curating and making exhibitions has over the last decades developed into an identifiable cultural practice (on the one hand concerned with presenting, reflecting upon and interpreting art-production and on the other with actively producing meaning).
The role of a curator is thus being defined through the creative, constructive methods of “making appropriate combinations of people” and thus positioning the dominant values within the structures of power in the world of art. The curator consequently imposes control but also designes the image of the profession as “artistic” itself.(M. Grzinic, “Tanja Ostojic: ‘Yes it’s Fucking Political”- Skunk Anansie”, Strategies of Success. Curators Series 2001-2003, T. Ostojic (ed.), Bourges and Belgrade, 2004, 11-31.)
Ostojic’s project reveals this hybrid face of contemporary curatorship by posing inevitable questions: what logic operates behind the very process of an exhibition design and how is the global art sphere being envisioned and designed with respect to contemporary curatorial participation in it?
Braco Dimitrijevic’s stone plaque bearing the inscription ‘This Could Be a Place of Historical Importance’ (first installed on buildings nearby St Martins School of Art, London, in 1971) is a paradigmatic work of SKC Gallery’s ‘conceptual archaeology’ (and also part of its collection). While addressing the relativity of historical truth (and consequently – of any doctrine enforced by means of ideological oppression), this ‘portable monument’ is the landmark of Dimitrijevic’s criticism and subversion of the art system.
The piece accentuates the existence of holes within the power structures. Through them an easily forgotten or omitted narrative emerges, acting in a way as to threaten the dogma and make the phantasmic scenarios burst out of the shadow and, through inversion, set up new rules.
Just as his professional debut, related to a group “Penzioner Tihomir Simcic” [The Pensioner Tihomir Simcic] and his joint work with Goran Trbuljak, this type of urban intervention plays on the edge between public and private, visibility and invisibility, inclusion and exclusion, fame and anonymity. It reveals the incapability of any self-sufficient construction to provide an eternal framework and efficient resistance-mechanism against the subversive force working from within it.
In his video One Night, Dragan Papic experiences the institution of a contemporary art museum as a traumatic field of artist’s encounter with the Real – of his own vocation and of the place where his work is supposed to be eventually displayed. He observes the world around him through eyes of a little rabbit (a toy making part of Papic’s own home-collection of cheap and rejected objects as found at flea-markets or in the streets).
While observing the hunting scene as envisioned by a Trans-avant-garde artist, the Rabbit, itself part of the suburban guerrilla, identifies the artist as a witness of an art crime. This trauma, provoked by the Rabbit’s self-reflection in the mirror of the painting, reflects on at least three points.
The first one is towards the status of Art History as it had been constructed and canonized in a manner known ever since the times of Alfred H. Barr, Jr, the founding director of one the world’s greatest museum institutions (the Museum of Modern Art in New York) and a person whose concept of the history, as postulated in the 1930s, was made in order to literally construct the history of modern art.
Papic also refers to the issues of exclusion, distance and elitism (dominant, over-powerful and capitalism-driven institutions and their respective artists), but also to the money-driven art market which rules sometimes equal the rules of a hunting-game.
The third relation is set up through the role of the Rabbit as a museum visitor and is related to a casual passer-by, the anonymous (innocent) art audience acting as inevitable element in the museum programs, but also as a scapegoat of institutional marketing. In the times of the emerging transitional state, Papic’s video gives a unique perspective and a universally accepted formula for progressing and critically self-addressing tendencies in the State of Contemporary Art.
Similarly enough, the aesthetics of Nenad Andric (Life Still, 2001) departs from the intertwining relationship between popular culture and established gallery system, an artistic line through which he positions his nomadic self in order to seduce the system. His intentional avoidance of being captured within it is a self-determining strategy opening up innumerable possibilities for an innocent floating on the edge between the two worlds.
His spectacularity of appearance in international gallery spaces is not narcissistic self-admiration, exploited by the promotional act of an artist exhibiting his own artworks in a prestigious place. It is a subtly developed act of a purifying transgression into the field of (self) presentation, which demystifies the imposed neutrality of the “white box” as an exhibiting space, thus converting it into an arena for public action.
His silent, but constant and patient intrusion into this area (reserved for institutionally verified and professionally supported fellow-artists) is but a provocative comment on the positions out of which an individual artist emerges, capable of overcoming the obstacles imposed by the system, and setting up his own rules within it.
Nenad Rackovic’s performance is his critical reconstruction of the authentic art history. His phantasm about the status of an artist in the conditions of institutional contamination refers to a possible genealogy of his own artistic development and significance within the framework of Serbian twentieth-century art. Entitled From Nadezda to Rackovic (2004) it aims at graphically reconstructing Rackovic’s self-narrative as being the final landmark in the historical line of ‘Artists in First Person’.
Starting from Nadezda Petrovic – the corner-stone of Serbian modernism and an established ‘cultural value’ – Rackovic intends to demystify his own artistic career, from a well-known rebel and Belgrade sub-cultural phenomenon, to an eternal misfit in the local art-scene. Employing the means of his ‘forerunner’ Joseph Beuys (who was hosted by SKC Gallery in 1974 and whose presence on that occasion left a significant influence on the Belgrade art scene), Rackovic is mapping the History of Art as seen through eyes of a dare-devil who must personally make visible what is publicly hidden as a collective taboo.