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Confrontations: Sessions in East European Art History

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Affective Art History

editorial4 March 2020

Dessislava Dimova

Luiza Nader, associate professor at the Institute of Art History at the University of Warsaw, talked about Wladyslaw Strzemiński’s series of works on the Holocaust, through the perspective of her methodology of “affective art history.” Strzemiński, considered the father of the Polish avant-garde, took part in revolutionary life in Russia and returned to Poland in the 1920s where he was active in many artistic fields and wrote important theoretical texts, most notably conceptualizing the system of Unism. The series of collages called “To my Jewish Friends” was produced between 1945 and 1947 and consisted of juxtapositions between newspaper cut-outs and ink drawings on paper. The two elements of the collages seem strikingly disconnected formally and the drawings could be hardly seen to represent a rational statement about the documentary images, on which they supposedly comment.

While Strzemiński was neither a participant nor a direct witness of the actual events of the Holocaust, he was an “observer” and in these works he dealt with the collective memory and response to the Shoah. Luiza Nader’s interpretation of Strzemiński indirect memory process, focused on the term “empathy” as part of her larger project of an affective reading of the history of art. In it affect is considered not simply as an emotion, but as a concept bridging intellectual, physical and emotional response. Nader develops her method of affective history of art as an “affirmative” approach, aiming to seek a way out of the impasse of negative categories such as catastrophe and trauma, which continue to dominate our political and cultural discourses.

Holocaust Memory

editorial3 March 2020

Daniel Véri

In Karol Tchorek’s studio a table is covered with material concerning the design and history of the so called Tchorek plaques. After the Second World War, people of Warsaw spontaneously started to commemorate in public spaces the various battles and executions that took place in the city during the Nazi occupation. A competition, organized in 1948, aimed to provide a standardized form for these initiatives.

The winning design was created by Karol Tchorek: on the memorial plaque a shield with a standardized inscription is placed in the middle of a Maltese cross, with an additional inscription below, explaining the specificities of each commemorated event. The general inscription translates as “This place is sanctified by the blood of Poles fighting for the freedom of their homeland.” The second inscription provides the details, including the number of victims, and also names the perpetrators, often worded as “Hitlerites”. Although according to the original concept for Jewish and Soviet victims a different type was designed, lacking the cross, in many cases the original form was used, with a shortened, standard inscription: “Honour their memory”. Many of these plaques are still scattered all around the city.

From the perspective of Holocaust-memory, they constitute an important, early initiative, even though their interpretation might be debated. On the one hand, the inscriptions separate “Poles” from “Jews”, thus creating an uneasy impression of Polish Jews being denied their “Polishness”. Yet on the on the other hand these plaques are rather straightforward, not shadowing the Jewish origin of the victims they aim to commemorate, as did for instance many Hungarian plaques at the time using the generalized expression: “victims of fascism”.

Metelkova Group Seminar

confrontations29 April 2019

After the insightful introduction to Slovenian art through the Modern galerija’s collection and a visit to the neighbouring International Centre of Graphic Art, which through its long-running biennial conveyed the intricacies of exhibition diplomacy in non-aligned Yugoslavia, the group headed to the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova (MSUM). The Confrontations seminars continued in a comparative spirit by examining the specificities of Croatian and Slovenian views of Yugoslav art history, as well as expanding the discussion further. Constanze Fritzsch spoke about Socialist Realism: A sublation of art into life as an abstract painter like Hermann Glöckner would have understood it?, complicating the established narratives of the distinctions between socialist realism and abstract art. Daniel Véri spoke about Conflicting Narratives: The Memory of the Holocaust in 1960s Hungarian Art, distinguishing between the restrictive format of official monumental commemorations and the more testing approaches to Holocaust memory in the work of experimental artists.

(MRF)