Workshop by Arseny Zhilyaev, photo Matija Pavlovec

New perspectives on Eastern European avant-gardes - Report from a summer school

Issue no4
aug - sept 2019
Ziektebeelden

The political turbulence in Eastern Europe left its mark on the art scene. Annosh Urbanke discusses three highlights from a recent summer school in Ljubljana that put Eastern European avant-gardes at the heart of its program.

For the second year in a row the international summer school The Big Shift: The 1990s. Avant-gardes in Eastern Europe and Their Legacy takes place in Moderna galerija and Museum Metelkova (+MSUM) in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The discussed topics relate to the legacy of Eastern European avant-gardes and how it has been affected by the collapse of socialism, the end of the Cold War, and the restoration of capitalism in the late 1980s to early 1990s. The school was instigated by theorist Boris Groys and Zdenka Badovinac, director of both host institutions. A report of the week’s highlights.

About forty international participants gather on a cloudy afternoon for the opening of the summer school. There is time for a little chat and drink. Among the participants (artists, curators and researches) I am the only Dutch person. All of us are connected to the East European art discourse in some way. The Eastern European art discourse is not just one story but consists of various representations and interpretations. I am particularly interested in the story of art collectives and the art scene that developed in former Yugoslavia between 1960 and 1978, and the political transition to 'post-Yugoslavia'.

Anton Vidokle on cosmism

Film screening of film by Anton Vidokle, photo Dejan Habicht

Lecture by Anton Vidokle, photo Dejan Habicht

The first evening starts with a film screening of Immortality for All: A Film Trilogy on Russian Cosmism (2014-2017) by Anton Vidokle, artist and editor of e-flux. Vidokle introduces cosmism as a utopian beliefs that has been largely forgotten. As he explains, it emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth century as a combination of Western Enlightenment, Eastern philosophy, Russian Orthodox traditions, and Marxism. Cosmism is based on the awareness of the inseparability of the cosmos and humankind and advocates the use of space travel to populate the universe and develop various new technologies. The philosophy was very influential and inspired thinkers and artists such as Kazimir Malevich in the early days of the Communist Revolution until the belief was banned in the Soviet Union of the late 1930s.

Russian Cosmism has gained new attention since the 1990s. Vidokle’s film revives the philosophy by visiting the places where cosmism may have been constructed. The trilogy is not merely a documentary but a timeless narrative. We follow Vidokle’s journey across beautiful landscapes, while hearing the words of Nikolai Fedorov (1829-1903), a leading cosmism philosopher. After an hour and a half, I find myself thinking about the future of this planet and the fact that I am not yet ready to be immortal or resurrected.

Zdenka Badovinac on artists’ archives

Workshop by Zdenka Badovinac, photo Dejan Habicht

The second day opens with Zdenka Badovinac’ lecture Artists’ archives – War, Self-histories and Piracy on artistic archiving and historicizing. The central focus is on the 1990s and ‘resurrection’ – a theme that keeps returning this summer school. Badovinac discusses the exhibition Interrupted Histories (2006) which, questioned on the one hand, the consequences of the absence of systematized historicizingin the context of spaces outside the Western world or on its margins. On the other hand, it debated the kinds of methods that are needed to accelerate the processes of such historicizing . Badovinac explains how Eastern European artists, who created their own archives in the 1990s, helped in reconstructing the reality of this period.

The 1990s was also a period in which new institution(al) policies arose in Eastern Europe. During the workshop we speak with Zdenka Badovinac about the two different museum venues (MG +MSUM) at which the program takes place. Moderna galerija’s originally opened in 1948. Throughout the late nineties they worked on the first collection of Eastern-European art, which eventually became the central collection of the new museum of contemporary art (+MSUM) that opened in 2011. Moderna galerija is located near the embassy quarter and the historical and natural museum. In contrasts, +MSUM resides in the other part of the city where former Yugoslav’s army barracks have been converted into a museum. At the two venues the notion of time is being questioned; Moderna galerija breaks with the linearity of time by placing twentieth-century avant-garde and Partisan art at an equal footing with more contemporary trends. +MSUM focusses on the idea of contemporaneity, a particular condition of art, its institutions and social circumstances.

Arseny Zhilyaev’s Institute for Mastering Time

After a series of lectures, guided tours, workshops, and other formal and informal gatherings the following days, we receive an unexpected message from the artist Arseny Zhilyaev:

Greetings Temporal,

We welcome you on behalf of The Institute for Mastering of Time. Your application to participate in the "Optimization of the Directive and the Dollar Nailed to the Cross. IMT's Ljubljana Training" has been approved. We recommend that you begin your preparation one day in advance, and that you fulfill the following conditions:

Before going to bed, set the intention to arise at precisely 6:10 AM.

Upon arisal in the morning, roll up the bed linens and smooth out any creases your body may have created.

Refrain from drinking any alcoholic beverages.

Do not pick up any objects, should they fall to the floor.

Refrain from eating legumes: specifically, beans.

Do not stir a fire with iron.

Try to remain silent for the hour directly preceding "Optimization of the Directive and the Dollar Nailed to the Cross. IMT's Ljubljana Training".

No one in my group manages to get up at 6:10 am, but we all attempt to actively participate in this challenging role-play. As we enter the lecture room, Arseny Zhilyaev awaits us mysteriously. All chairs have been removed and we, his ‘temporals’, split up into two groups of ten and sit on pillows on the floor. Everyone receives the same instructions: first, we get 377 seconds to think and prepare a new model of reality using Guy Debord’s concept of ‘directive’ that is painted on a work by Giuseppe Pinot Gallizio. Zhilyaev asks us to ‘enter’ the new reality using a few objects at our disposal. Within our group we decide to give the painting a funeral by laying it down in front of Moderna Galerija’s garden.

Workshop by Arseny Zhilyaev, photo Matija Pavlovec

Workshop by Arseny Zhilyaev, photo Matija Pavlovec

In the next 377 seconds we are asked to prepare an analytical report on the model of reality that is presented by the ‘rival’ group. We develop another performance, a new model of reality with Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematism (1927), which was sprayed over with a dollar sign by Alexander Brener in 1997 at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. During 1597 seconds – the amount of time a human brain is able to maintain intense activity without additional stimulation or interruption – we were Arseny’s temporaries experiencing interruptions in time and history.

It was actually an experience that brought us closer to the concept of Russian Cosmism. This participatory performance by Arseny explores the legacy of Soviet museology and Russian cosmism. The group ‘enhances historical continuity’ in order to get closer to immortal life by mastering the technology of time management – learning how to move time backwards, speed it up, slow it down, and optimize it in all possible ways. It was one of the moments in which it was meaningful to be with a group and work collectively as differently gifted voices collided.

The summer school offered a new frame on different levels. In showing a framework to reflect on the chaos of the nineties, underexposed avant-gardes and theoretical frames. It also showed methods of interpretation and representation in approaching histories and dealing with underexposed, interrupted, marginalised and oppressed histories.

The Big Shift: The 1990s. Avant-gardes in Eastern Europe and Their Legacy took place from
23.8.2019 – 30.8.2019 in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Lectures and workshops were given by Inke Arns, Zdenka Badovinac, Sezgin Boynik, Boris
Buden, Keti Chukhrov, Eda Čufer, Branislav Dimitrijević, Charles Esche, Viktor Misiano,
Marko Peljhan, Walid Raad, Anton Vidokle, Arseny Zhilyaev.

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