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Confrontations: Sessions in East European Art History

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Nothing Can Stop Us!

MajaFowkes5 November 2019

I will remember the Slovak National Gallery in Bratislava as a space of stimulating intellectual exchange, punctuated by surprise and laughter. The two days of presentations and discussions at the Kornel and Nada Földvari Library on the Gallery’s first floor bear the mark of the disturbingly hilarious presence of a beautiful stuffed horse, poised next to the larger-than-life portrait of Mr. Földvari dressed as an “Indian.” Despite Földvari’s evident passion for the “Wild West,” the horse was not his idea, but was placed there as a nod to the stuffed giraffe dominating the entrance of the Natural History Museum since socialist times. This same giraffe was supposed to become an inhabitant of the Bratislava Zoo but died upon arrival, ending up as an enduring, and most popular, museum exhibit.

Things seemed to reach their logical conclusion on the second floor of the Gallery, where Nothing Can Stop Us, a retrospective exhibition of the Slovak pioneer of “new expressionism,” Laco Teren, opened with a sculpture of a laughing horse, or rather, an upside-down centaur, a creature with human legs and equine torso and head, sticking out his tongue at the visitors. Tongue-in-cheek indeed best describes this exquisitely installed exhibition, curated by Katarína Bajcurová, who gave us a tour. The blazing colors of Teren’s paintings and his humorous, cocky, end-of-history reshuffling of symbols of class struggle and socialism look like Laibach/Irwin on LSD, as if to suggest the need to not simply end, but to thoroughly launch ourselves out of history, laughing.

I guess our itinerant quest for Eastern European, socialist art in Confrontations is something of a hybrid of the two horses: one negotiating with the geocultural crossdressing and taxidermy of the socialist past, and the other exploding it in order to transform it into some as yet-unseen but exhilarating future. Nothing can stop us!

(Ivana Bago)

Introducing Syzygia

MajaFowkes5 November 2019

We were joined by two members of the Syzygia group, Rudolf Sikora and Gabriel Hošovský, for a working dinner to reflect on the intergenerational and cooperative spirit of the Bratislava art scene at the end of the 1980s. Founded in 1986 by four younger artists and Sikora, the name Syzýgia derived from the astronomical term for contradictory phenomena, which stood here for the local conflict between modernist and postmodernist outlooks. Standing up against ideological control, their shows, originally held in the older artists’ studios, offered a neo-conceptualist riposte to the neo-expressionist trend in painting. Although the group stopped exhibiting together shortly after the revolution of 1989, their collaborative achievements are documented in a bilingual catalogue, which the editor Lýdia Pribišová introduced to the Confrontations participants.

(MRF)

Slovak Lessons in Late Socialism

MajaFowkes5 November 2019

Guest lectures by Slovak art historian Ján Kralovič and curator Mira Keratová gave the group the opportunity to become immersed in the specificities of the art histories of the late 1970s and 1980s in Bratislava and the life and work of artists whose careers traversed the period from Normalisation to the Velvet Revolution.

Mira Keratová focused in her presentation on Ján Budaj, an artist whose attempts to cross closed international borders brought him into contact with the secret police, religious groups and alternative communities in Slovakia and abroad. She also shed light on his influential role in the Velvet Revolution as a leading figure in the environmental and civic protest movements of the 1980s, including as a producer of samizdat publications and initiator of the group Temporary Society of Intense Experience.

Ján Kralovič took the group on a virtual journey from the 1970s to the 1980s in the alternative scene of Bratislava, sharing with us rare images of the ephemeral exhibition spaces set up in the homes of artists. The questions raised by the Confrontations participants included how official attitudes to rebellious artist collectives and non-official spaces changed between the 1970s and 1980s, with Kralovič pointing to 1986 as the threshold year, after which there was no longer a compulsion for experimental artists to take shelter from the authorities in under-the-radar apartment galleries.

(MRF)

Before the Nineties

MajaFowkes29 April 2019

The group had a further chance to connect with the Zagreb art scene during an Open Seminar held at the Institute of Contemporary Art Zagreb. After an insightful and in depth analysis by art historian Leonida Kovač of the singular oeuvre of Edita Schubert (1947-2001), an artist whose practice still awaits international recognition, the evening carried on with an engaging conversation exploring the heterogenous streams of eighties art with curator and director of the ICA, Janka Vukmir.

The issues that were addressed included the importance of alternative art venues such as the Gallery of Extended Media in providing a platform for subcultural trends and the visual arts. Furthermore, what can be salvaged from the interrupted legacy of the time before the nineties?

Afterwards our speakers joined us for a memorable dinner. On our last night in Zagreb, everyone was full of impressions and keen to exchange notes and deepen acquaintances with fellow members of Confrontations.
(MRF)

 

 

 

Moderna galerija

MajaFowkes29 April 2019

As curator Marko Jenko explained, the permanent collection of Moderna galerija has a novel layout that gives the visitor the choice of either following the meandering path of a heterogenous local art history from the fin de siècle to the breakup of Yugoslavia, or taking a lateral short cut travelling straight from the modernist avant-garde of the 1920s through the Partisan art of the Second World War to the neo-avant-garde group OHO and Neue Slowenische Kunst in the 1980s.
The focus of Confrontations meant that the group was just as interested in engaging with the less prominent styles and more problematic artistic phenomena from the Informel and Slovenian Dark Modernism to the eclectic painterly styles of the 1980s.The participants also found instructive the social, political and art-institutional chronology of Slovenian art in the central hall that poignantly ends with Slovenian independence in 1991.
(MRF)

 

Utopian and Dystopian 1980s

MajaFowkes29 April 2019

A seminar with Marina Gržinić and Jovita Pristovšek offered a compelling interpretation of the development of the Slovenian artistic scene during the 1980s, as well as introducing the Confrontations participants to the microhistory of the Metelkova site and the complex relationship of the museum to local social movements. Gržinić shared some of her own memories and experiences of the eventful 1980s, emphasising the role of Škuc gallery in giving a platform to alternative currents and the sub-cultural challenge to the heteronormative values of both socialism and capitalism in the period, noting that, ‘if post-modernism was political anywhere, it was under socialism.’

(MRF)

IRWIN Studio

MajaFowkes29 April 2019

On our final evening we had the opportunity to meet Dušan Mandić, Miran Mohar, Borut Vogelnik and Andrej Savski from IRWIN, and to quiz them about the origins of the group, their experiences with the Slovenian and international art scene during the 1980s, as well as their current practice and perspectives on contemporary political and social challenges. It was fascinating to hear their views on the circulation of artistic movements in the Yugoslav cultural space of the early 1980s, the role of class origin and privileges in the supposedly egalitarian social structure of communist Yugoslavia, as well as their explanation of the relationship between Laibach, IRWIN and NSK as overlapping but independent entities. During our time in Ljubljana we saw IRWIN artworks prominently exhibited in the permanent collection of museums, heard curatorial and art historical presentations contextualising their practice within the cultural upheaval of the Yugoslav 1980s and even got to experience the generosity, humour and warm glow of a long-lived artist group that does not shy away from critically intervening in the construction of East European art historical narratives. 

(MRF)