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Demo and Cammo

April 17th, 2010 by Clare Butcher

CLARE BUTCHER

My text is a working draft for the upcoming Your-space newspaper – I apologise for self-plagarism here but felt the content was an appropriate update for Kitchen readers!

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A lot seems to have happened between the last issue of the Your-space newspaper and this one. With the launch of Your-space’s Free Vrij Film programme with the Van Abbemuseum; a ‘Demonstration Aesthetics’ workshop and installation by the Swedish artist, Erik Krikortz with invited participants from Eindhoven, Breda and Tilburg; and volcanic irruptions in Iceland shutting down travel in and out of Europe – there’s a lot to take stock of.

While these events don’t seem to have much in common, in fact, they couldn’t be more alike. Each, in its way, stages a disruption in the regular rhythm of everyday life which we so easily become complacently complicit with. Let me explain what I mean by way of an example, an example that finds me writing this editorial note on a very long train ride from Bratislava to Eindhoven. The fact that all flights between the two locations have been cancelled is perhaps of secondary importance. But trains are good. They give you time to think and look out the window. Also to look at your neighbour. Who may or may not be a young German man in military gear on weekend sabbatical from his national service.

What does it mean when he puts on that uniform? What is his cause? Could he imagine himself fighting for the Fatherland in Afghanistan if the “need” arises? Or is this a means for him to get the education he wants and move on to doing something he really believes in? Is he looking for solidarity amongst his, possibly, equally laisser-faire colleagues crowding the train passage with their “cammo” bags and machismo? Are they all looking for something they can be in, together?

This togetherness, or shared sense of dedication to a bigger end, is what took me to Bratislava where a group of young artists and theorists began a civic action at the start of the year called, “Twenty Years After the Velvet Revolution Did Not Happen”. I won’t go into the historical, contextual details of their name, suffice it to say that revolutions, in whatever form, generally mean different things to different people, depending on where you were, when and to whom you were loyal (ideologically or even emotionally and culturally). This particular group in Bratislava, as local practitioners and a generation growing up around but not necessarily directly involved in the transition of the Czechoslovak Republic into the present day Czech Republic and Slovakia, was contesting the very nature of this transition as being something worthy of the title of Revolution (velveteen or not). In light of Slovakia’s current financial and administrative complexity the Ministry of Culture’s open call for applications to the position of Director of the National Gallery, caught the group’s attention. The group saw themselves as being a necessary part of this selection process as a new Director could mean new direction for both the arguably mismanaged and somewhat static National Gallery and  more generally, institutional approaches to contemporary art practice and display within the city.

So a new style of revolt began. The group initiated a series of public meetings between city officials, developers and the local arts community to discuss the selection criteria and urgency of a flexible, official support of Slovak art. This discussion led to a second, about the need for a plurality of spaces in which to display contemporary art in the city. Without the sophisticated funding structures of the Netherlands, small organisations are often completely dependent on the state for financial support and this is often half hearted and fleeting – making long-term programming or a five-year plan for art projects unimaginable. To bring in some fresh perspectives and possible solutions to narrow, money driven responses of the city, the group invited outsiders from interesting institutional models (the reason I found myself in Bratislava). Our seemingly “Western and Well Funded” examples were followed by a heated debate in the theatre where we presented as well as on the radio, telephone and Facebook, was heated and conflicted. Everything these discussions about art in a city, in a new nation, in a society in transition should be. This demonstrated the capacity of a group of people, all working for free while trying to hold down other jobs, to come together repeatedly for the Long Haul over a set of issues which needs addressing and action. The channels they use are contemporary as well as they are age-old. Facebook, town meeting, radio, newspaper, international guests, village artists. These are all valid means of furthering a message – a message, which at some point, I hope sooner rather than later, will take physical and visible forms as the art community in Slovakia takes the lead in staging meaningful disruptions in that context.

Discussion at A4-Zero Space, Bratislava

Discussion at A4-Zero Space, Bratislava

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