From January 22 until April 13, 2014, tranzit, a network of autonomous but interconnected organizations based in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia, has been occupying the New Museum’s Fifth Floor galleries with the exhibition they’ve curated “Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module.” The work in this show—all made by artists that the organization has worked with in some capacity or, alternately, documentation of events or exhibitions that tranzit has staged—constitutes an experimental archive of the organization’s work within the simulated interior of a spaceship. tranzit’s Spaceship Module is inspired by the spacecraft in the iconic Czech science-fiction film Ikarie XB-1 (1963), which melded postwar utopianism with Soviet utilitarianism. In its structure and design, it recalls future fantasies from the socialist Eastern European side of the Iron Curtain and explores the ideological role that outer space played during this time.
In Archaeologies of the Future, philosopher Fredric Jameson makes the claim that utopic visions emerge from forces such as Stalinism and capitalist hegemonies in the form of sci-fi, in which future alternative worlds and political imaginaries of the post-globalized left can be explored. The Spaceship Module at the New Museum embodies the antinomies at the heart of sci-fi, and visitors are asked to temporarily suspend their coordinates long enough to question assumptions about histories and ontological systems, in terms of both art and larger culture. Vít Havránek, Director of tranzit in Prague, applies this concept of the past and future as only versions of a perpetual present to the organization of the arts in the following story, which he wrote for the publication accompanying “Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module.”
All the museums and galleries were concentrated into two enormous complexes consisting of several blocks of buildings that, on a map, resembled small neighborhoods constructed from non-rectangular tetriminos. Although they were not far from each other, the two complexes lay outside of the center—a pleasant, half-hour ride by pneumatic cable car above the dusty, slowly decaying heart of the metropolis.
The city center itself was a strictly protected conservation area to which tourists and even hitchhikers were banned entry. The checkpoints only allowed permanent residents—a group with an odd taste, enthusiasts willing to live in a style dating back two hundred and fifty years (when the reservation had been established). Repairs were prohibited, including maintenance and repairs of technologies and infrastructures, unless using original spare parts. Thus, life in the city center had become not only uncomfortable and time-consuming, but also very expensive. If someone wanted to replace a lightbulb or a fluorescent tube, they first had to get a special permit and then get in touch with an accredited agent who ordered it from a specialist workshop according to the year of manufacture and the technology employed. For that reason, lots of equipment was out of order for prolonged periods so brought-in, present-day mobile equipment was permitted. Over the course of the last hundred years, however, former office spaces and shops in the center became weekend and holiday offices and shops, serving as leisure homes and upmarket holiday resorts. With the rise of rich social echelons, a certain purism arose in the center that rejected everything contemporary so much so that residents of the city walked around in three-hundred-year-old clothing, shoes made from real animal hide, and underwear in close proximity to the genitals.
Hrivnák dozed off by the window and was gently roused on arrival at the Museum Complex—the cable car slowed down smoothly, as though it had run into a huge sponge. Passengers gathered up their belongings and crossed under an airy cupola (that could be regarded as either modern plagiarism of or homage to Buckminster Fuller). Next to the stop was Globe Grid Corp. Business Park, which they had to pass through to reach the complex. It was a hybrid client centre—an open office park, garlanded with seductive gestures, languid music, and the smiles of hundreds of groomed male and female agents. The agents offered passersby food, massages, coaching sessions, mango juice, and fresh coconuts in exchange for only a brief examination of their advertising brochures.
Moving the museums and galleries out of the city center (through a policy of cultural centralization) was probably a successful marketing idea since it saved tourists’ time. Naturally, some independent initiatives and galleries resisted; they felt their nonexclusive location in the urban maze of shops, mini-factories, offices, and production centers was adequate for their mission statement and corresponded to the proposition of the self-administering factory of contemporary art (as well as the concept of the artist, curator, and art administrator as producer). But over the last hundred years, the galleries had become anachronistic beacons of production of proletarian art surrounded by a deluge of Centers of Scientific Fashion Excellence, Institutes of Theoretical Design, Kitchen Laboratories, Scent Temples, Hugo Boss and New Balance Churches, and others. The integration of academic science into applied science mega-centers developed by corporations had happened roughly around the same time that manufacturing had become fully automated and moved to the Arctic Circle, and when people had changed over to payment in timber. After an early hold-out period when the independent galleries refused to move, their directors actually realized, after several visits to the museum district, that the context of the leisure-time, multilayered, multimethodological, multi-thematic, and critical theory–based museum was better suited to contemporary art than the declining context in the city center of applied creativity torn between the communal and private spheres.
The Museum Complex was promoted as a symphony of sounds, tones, melodies, and imposing works of four millennia of architecture. It was, to a certain degree, an over-inflated bubble, but before the introduction of the Cultural Integrity Charter, the then national states had succeeded in buying, dismantling, and reassembling a few minor pyramids. In addition, Roman baths, a Romanesque Chapel, several modern villas, and the Battleship Potemkin had been imported and integrated into the complex. The complex had always been dominated by the Museum of Modern Art building, designed in the unique, original architectonic spirit of the epoch. Initially, it wasn’t a problem that over the course of three decades, three monumental sanctuaries of modern, postmodern, and multi-modern art had been erected. Growing global competition had resulted in the appearance each year of five, ten, fifteen ever more similar museums on the face of the planet. Therefore, in order for the Museum to maintain its uniqueness, it was decided that there would only ever be one Museum of Modern Art on the enormous site, which would be dismantled and re-erected according to the plans of a new architect each year. This caused certain logistical complications, but even so, the Museum would continue into the future with a forever guaranteed aura of newness and contemporaneity.
For the architects, this was obviously a welcome condition. One architect, for example, decided to recycle all the material from the previous building for his project. In the Museum, the traditional division of the exhibits into collections was honored, including collections of tangible art and objects, conceptual art, archaeology of predigital media, artistic software for mobile telephones, artworks programmed on Apple computers, a video collection, and a collection of works by important female and male artists. The collections were cared for by their curators—famous actors and singers. They were not only the curators of the collections, but also their mascots. In addition, they always had several specialists on hand who, for the most part, dressed in black like priests, were given to droning, and were morose sometimes, but had phenomenal knowledge of their subjects.
The Museum Complex also included more than three hundred museums, galleries, a Pop-Art supermarket, a Surrealist autopsy hall, several cinemas, a judo gym, a Rosicrucian shrine, a large coyote pen, an S&M lounge, a light chapel, several completely empty galleries, and one completely full one. One of the popular visitor attractions was a completely faithful reconstruction of the Spanish Inn of Valladolid, which Pablo Picasso never entered. The latest addition was the Media Room of Otto Piene and Aldo Tambellini in which the first television performance was conducted. It was nicknamed The Black Gate to Heaven because it had the most effective marijuana blow-vents in the world. The Museum of Active Resistance was also located in the complex, housing banners, posters, ratchets, instructions for the production of bats and Molotov cocktails, straw bales, barricades of wood, bricks, railway sleepers, crates, potatoes, beets, fish, corn, and musical instruments from thousands of demonstrations across the planet. Leading political activists acted as curators for the Museum and officers from the emergency services were guards. This created the appearance of a genuine antagonism and it must be said that, especially coming up to Christmas, the watchmen, whom the Museum management took revenge on by denying them a bonus salary, became truly aggressive. The complex also included the Museum of Feudalism, the Museum of Communism, and the Museum of Capitalism.
Educational institutions for artists and curators, who could study jointly or in separate institutes according to their preference, were also a part of the complex. Specialization came at a relatively early age; there were Specialist Kindergartens focused on medieval studies, the art of the Middle Kingdom, and the history of modern art. The teaching of these ended, however, in preschool with Alois Riegl and the Viennese School. The most frequently used languages in the education campus were Latin, Cantonese, and Esperanto, dear to all. Three museums were dedicated to the history of naturism throughout the millennia. Also housed in the complex was the Institute for Applied Cultural Management, Administration, and Marketing, the HQ, and several dozen offices that were located in the Theory of Administrative Systems quarter.
The most dynamic complex (only recently in development) was the Museum of Extraterrestrial Speeches, Improvisations, and Symphonies, the conception of which had been shared, irregularly but not negligibly, by extraterrestrial civilizations and cooperating extraterrestrial organizations. It was in this very section that there had been a rapid growth in recent years of smaller commercial galleries, which were the driving force for intergalactic exchanges of concepts, drawings, paintings, and sculptures. The opposite part of the complex was occupied by the natural science museums and institutes, of which the largest were the Museum of Terrestrial Life, the Museum of Animal Suffering, and the Museum of Non-Speaking Plants.
A brief look at the plan of the complex dazzled Hrivnák and his friends. In the Museum of Non-Speaking Plants alone, they spent long hours studying the gestures of the plants and trying the interactive dictionaries. Their interest quite naturally led them to the Gallery of Eastern European Performance. A queue had formed in front of the building and it was unclear whether it was for the Roman Ondák performance or an authentic formation commemorating the era of “real socialism.” In the entrance to the gallery, they were literally stunned by the photocell-controlled door that opened and closed at completely random intervals and injured Hrivnák—it gave him a bloody nose as well as a black eye, and struck his already worn-out right ankle. Inside, they enjoyed lyrical kissing through glass and the successful reconstruction of a naked man sniffing and biting unsuspecting visitors.
They also couldn’t miss the disgusting scene in the men’s room, where a half-naked, obese man plunged his hands and head into the toilet bowl as if he were trying to delve into the sewer system. The gallery display was a successful reconstruction—the exhibited papers were often stained and ripped, the black-and-white works of poor technical quality, and the gallery staff were dressed in outdated clothes and behaved rudely toward visitors. Their visit ended in the café downstairs, called “At Scheissliche Ostblocker,” where it smelled of over-fried oil, and Coca-Cola was the only drink available at this hour of the day. The visitors boarded the pneumatic cable car for the pleasant, half-hour ride back to the dusty, slowly decaying heart of the metropolis. On board, as the train was held at a station, a wealthy, upper-middle-class couple and their five children sat down next to the visitors. Hrivnák imagined that the tall blond man with a wide Amsterdam jaw and the slender mixed-race woman had probably come to spend their five days of leisure in the city center with their children, frequenting places like the borscht shop (where, to this day, they made the soups according to the original recipes of Uncle Igor from the East Village era). Upon arrival in the city center, the visitors gathered up their belongings and crossed under an airy cupola (that could be regarded as either modern plagiarism of or homage to Buckminster Fuller)…
“Chapter 3: From Reports on the Construction of a Spaceship” is republished here on Six Degrees with an accompanying photo essay by Vít Havránek; the essay, as part of the newspaper publication that accompanies the exhibition, can be found online here →
In this downloadable PDF, readers will find a series of essays that provide crucial, even opposing, perspectives, in addition to biographies of the artists and other practitioners that produced the 117 artworks in the exhibition.
In addition to Havránek’s story, other essays included are:
-Key Hungarian neo-avant-garde artist Miklós Erdély, known widely for his pedagogical work and fostering an expanded view of creativity’s role in the everyday, particularly with regard to societal problem-solving, contributes a republished lecture from 1981 addressing the trajectory of the neo-avant-garde.
-Influential Slovak artist Stano Filko, who grapples with transcendental philosophy, cosmology, and metaphysics in his work, plumbs the fourth dimension in a set of typewritten notes, published for the first time.
-Lauren Cornell, organizer of the show and Curator, 2015 Triennial, Museum as Hub, and Digital Projects, speaks about tranzit’s organizational form, their commitment to sparking new discourses and historical research via archives and curatorial practices, and the relation of this production to past futures.
-Three of tranzit’s directors—Vít Havránek, Dóra Hegyi, and Georg Schöllhammer—outline the driving forces behind the exhibition and detail the organization within the Spaceship Module.
Photos: Found images, collected by Vít Havránek