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Futures of Eastern Europe Conference – Part 1

Cover Image:

Zbyněk Baladrán, Untitled, 2013. Mixed media collage with work by Stano Filko, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and tranzit

Student tickets are free with valid ID.

“Futures of Eastern Europe” is a two-day conference that coincides with the opening of “Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module,” organized by tranzit for the New Museum. The conference will consider key issues in contemporary art from Central and Eastern Europe, and explore the widespread ongoing obsession with science fiction. The first day, Saturday January 25, will feature two panel discussions with a luminary group of curators, critics, art historians, and artists. The second day, Sunday January 26, will feature an Eastern European sci-fi movie marathon.

SESSION 1: EASTERN EUROPEAN SCI-FI
12–2:30 PM
The conference will open with a series of critical discussions exploring the ideological role that outer space played in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. Clips of feature-length films as well as readings of key sci-fi texts will supplement the discussion comparing techno-utopias on either side of the Iron Curtain and assessing the current nostalgic hunger for this material. Participants: Éva Forgács, Deimantas Narkevicius, Tomáš Pospiszyl, and Anton Vidokle. Discussion moderated by Lauren Cornell.

SESSION 2: EASTERN EUROPEAN FUTURES
3–6 PM
Through a series of lectures and debates by a young generation of curators and intellectuals, this session will pose key questions related to art emerging from Central and Eastern Europe today. Questions that will be explored include: Is art in this region currently offering visions that go beyond the repetition of modernism? How can the symbolic potential of art in the region of the former Eastern Bloc and its connections to many international systems be used productively? What are potent artistic strategies that counter the inherent rules and codes of the global art world? Participants: Cosmin Costinas, Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, Ivana Bago, Ana Janevski, and Jelena Vesić. Discussion moderated by Taraneh Fazeli.

PARTICIPATING SPEAKER BIOGRAPHIES & DISCUSSION ABSTRACTS:

SESSION 1: EASTERN EUROPEAN SCI-FI
12–2:30pm

Tomáš Pospiszyl is a critic, curator, and art historian. He studied at Charles University in Prague and Bard College in New York. Since 2003, he has taught at the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and, since 2012, at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. The focus of Pospiszyl’s writings have ranged from the period of early modernism to mid-twentieth-century avant-garde and contemporary art. He has a special focus on art and popular culture during the Cold War on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Pospiszyl will present a lecture entitled “The Future That Never Arrived.”

Abstract from Pospiszyl’s “The Future That Never Arrived”:

This lecture examines the image of the future formulated in Eastern European popular culture during the Cold War era. One of the central doctrines of the communist ideology was the conviction that there could be only one future—that of communism—and that the only alternative was no future at all. The future was a done deal and the achievement of a communist Utopia was only a matter of time. If writers and artists wanted to depict a sufficiently distant future, they had to pay lip-service to the official view of social evolution. A significant influence on both high art and popular culture at the time was the early success of the Soviet space program. Sputnik, Earth’s first artificial satellite, lent its name to cinemas, restaurants, and rock bands, and its impact can be found in local avant-garde culture as well. Echoes of these communist and cosmic Utopias can still be found in the works of contemporary artists, bearing evidence of their struggle to understand the world in which their generation grew up. These artistic gestures represent the recycling material from the better tomorrow they had all been promised, but never arrived.

Éva Forgács is an art historian, curator, and art critic. She relocated from her native Hungary to Los Angeles in 1993. Presently, she teaches at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. While in Hungary, she was close to the neo-avant-garde and the nascent conceptual art of the 1970s, particularly Miklós Erdély. One of her main interests was the interconnection between art and politics, and the comparison/contrast between the classic avant-garde and the then present. She was curator of “Creating Freedom: From Post-Revolutionary to Post-Communist Art in Hungary” at Sherman Gallery, Boston University (November 3–December 11, 2009). Forgács will present a lecture entitled “Miklós Erdély, Science Fiction, and Freedom.”

Abstract from Forgács’s “Miklós Erdély, Science Fiction, and Freedom”:

Theories of the Universe, its origin and dimensions fascinated Hungarian avant-garde artist Miklós Erdély more than anything else. He held that the “Theory of Relativity” was the greatest artwork ever, and the possible expansions of time and space fueled his imagination. Science fiction was the natural extension of his intense interest in sciences. He was taken by the mystery of the Möbius strip and one of his favorite science-fiction works was A. J. Deutsch’s 1950 short story “A Subway Named Moebius,” in which a subway train enters a different dimension. Erdély was a regular reader of popular science journals and considered it a human right to have access to the latest results of scientific research. Being informed about them was part of freethinking for him, and science fiction meant unlimited freedom in a world where every field of activity and information was limited and difficult to get. I will examine Erdély’s five-part photo composition Time travel (1975) as an autobiographical and mysterious work, the various layers of which reveal his preoccupation with time and space, the fantastic, and the science-fiction dream of reversibility.

Anton Vidokle is an artist and editor of e-flux journal. Born in Moscow, he lives in Brooklyn. His work has been included in shows such as Documenta 13, the Venice Biennale, and the Dakar Biennial. It has also been exhibited at Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana; Tate Modern, London; Haus Der Kunst, Munich; MoMA P.S.1, New York; and others. Currently, Vidokle is Resident Professor at Home Workspace Program at Ashkal Alwan, Beirut. Vidokle will present a talk entitled “Energy of Kosmos is Indestructible!”

Description of “Energy of Kosmos is Indestructible!”:

Vidokle will read from a script for an in-progress film he shot last summer in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. The script is comprised of excerpts from science fiction, poetry, philosophical texts, scientific writings, academic papers, and historical studies by and about Cosmo-Immortalists, a surge of thinkers that emerged in Russia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They linked the Enlightenment with Russian Orthodox and Eastern philosophical traditions, as well as Marxism, to create an idiosyncratically concrete metaphysics of its own. The script liberally combines these writings with recent news items and various personal details. It includes the poetry of Nikolai Zabolotsky and Maximilian Voloshin, writing by Maria Ender, and quotes from Nikolai Fedorov, Vladimir Solov’ev, and Alexander Chizhevsky. It’s very much indebted to a number of contemporary scholars, including Svetlana Semenova, Svetlana Cheloukhina, Vyacheslav Stepin, and other writers whose research contributed to the understanding of this complex and paradoxical field of thought.

Deimantas Narkevičius was originally trained as a sculptor and started using film and video in the early ’90s. His films explore the processes of memory and of comprehending history from a contemporary perspective. The disjunctions between text and image in Narkevičius’s films manifest a critique of the documentary form, making objectivity seem impossible. He eschews the close-ups that are a common feature of contemporary documentaries, used to demonstrate the veracity of an interviewee’s testimony, in favor of wider shots. The central characters of Narkevičius’s narratives are often absent from the screen, replaced by objects, drawings, and other surrogates. For the “Futures of Eastern Europe” conference, Narkevičius will exhibit his film Revisiting Solaris (2007).

Narkevičius on Revisiting Solaris:

In my short film, Revisiting Solaris, the actor Donatas Banionis appears in his role as Chris Kelvin again more than thirty years after Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris was made. Revisiting Solaris is based on the last chapter of Stanisław Lem’s book, the part that had been left out of Tarkovsky’s version. In this last chapter, Kelvin reflects on his brief visit to the “soil” of the planet Solaris shortly before his return from the space mission. As material to visualize the landscape of Solaris, I used a series of photographs made by the Lithuanian symbolist painter and composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis in 1905 in Anapa, Russia. Čiurlionis’s works are marked by an original conception of space, producing the impression of an infinite expanse and limitless time. The pictures thus take on a quality of cosmic vision and deep inner concentration. I found it very interesting that, in 1971, Andrei Tarkovsky filmed the same surface of the Black Sea in Crimea to represent the landscape of the mysterious ocean.

SESSION 2: EASTERN EUROPEAN FUTURES
3–6 PM

Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez is an independent curator, living and working in Paris. She graduated in Comparative Literature and History of Art at the University of Ljubljana, and obtained her master’s degree in Theory of Art at the EHESS in Paris. As a curator, Petrešin-Bachelez worked in Paris at the Centre Pompidou, Jeu de Paume, Le Plateau/FRAC Ile-de-France, Paris Photo, and, between 2010 and 2012, was Codirector of Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers. In 2006, she cofounded the seminar “Something You Should Know” at the EHESS in Paris, with Patricia Falguières, Élisabeth Lebovici, and Hans-Ulrich Obrist. Among other projects, she collaborated as a curator with the Lyon Biennial (2007) and curated exhibitions for Škuc Gallery, Ljubljana (2004), Living Art Museum, Reykjavik (2006), De Appel, Amsterdam (2007), Transmediale, Berlin (2008), Mala galerija, Ljubljana (2010), ICI, New York (2012), U3 – the 7th triennial of contemporary art in Slovenia at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Ljubljana (2013), and Jeu de Paume, Paris (forthcoming). Since 2011, she has been appointed as the Chief Editor of Manifesta Journal. Petrešin-Bachelez will present a talk entitled “Gravity’s Rainbow over Slovenia.”

Abstract from Petrešin-Bachelez’s “Gravity’s Rainbow over Slovenia”:

Speculating about the conditions in which art will be produced in the future has been at the heart of many practices throughout the last century and at the beginning of this one. In Slovenia, this speculation finds its resonance in the history of gravity research within the arts and science and has run through various threads. A trajectory stemming from the Slovenian space flight pioneer and visionary Herman Potočnik Noordung, who lived in the early twentieth century, to Postgravity Art represented by the theater director and cosmonaut Dragan Živadinov, to KSEVT, the venue for space culturalization in Vitanje, Slovenia, is just one thread in which gravity research has become apparent. Another is present in the film by the dance company En Knap, Dom svobode (House of Freedom), in cosmological installations by the conceptual art collective OHO, and in the form of a levitating small white cube in one of Meta Grgurevič‘s projects. Whether drawing metaphors from the postcommunist state of suspension or weightlessness in time and space, founding a transcendental conceptualist tendency, or paying homage to Nikola Tesla’s experiments, tension between the states of gravity and weightlessness is at work in several Slovenian contemporary avant-garde practices

Jelena Vesić is an independent curator, writer, editor, and lecturer. She was Coeditor of Prelom – Journal of Images and Politics in Belgrade (2001–09) and Cofounder of the independent organization Prelom Collective, Belgrade, (2005–10), active in the field of publishing, research, and exhibition practice that intertwines political theory and contemporary art. Her research is dedicated to the politics of representation in art and visual culture, focusing on discourses of Eastern European Art, Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav cultural–political space, historical avant-gardes, art of the 1960s and 1970s, and current art practices. Her recent curatorial projects include: “Oktobar XXX: Exposition – Symposium – Performance,” Cultural Centre Theatre, Pancevo 2012/Bone Festival, Bern, 2013; “Against Art: Goran Djordjevic – Copies (1979-1985),” Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, and City Gallery, Ljubljana, 2012/13. Vesić will present a talk entitled “Images on other world(s), lost in gravity.”

Abstract from Vesić’s “Images on other world(s), lost in gravity”:

As for a difference from potential dialogues between the late capitalism and post-socialism, where they can productively negotiate the existing antagonisms, I would observe the two as one and the same thing. If late capitalism can be seen as a technical term for the current stage of social development, post-socialism becomes its ideology—the ideology which determines the past and the future, the historical truth (necessity), and the historical failure. The signifier “post-” claims that socialism has gone off the historical stage and that nowadays a better future lies just in transformation of the existing state of affairs. In other words, the future did not manage to escape the field of gravity, it has been Earth-icised—placed in the museum, or maybe better to say it is being buried, being put in the mausoleum. Taking the spaceship as a metaphor of the future, I will discuss two speculative exhibition scenarios witnessing the history of humankind from or for some outer perspective. The first will be the Pioneer Plaque, an elaborate drawing meant to show that intelligent life on Earth exists to potential extraterrestrial intelligence by being sent outside the Solar System. The second will be the Kunsthistorisches Mausoleum in Belgrade, a place to speculate about the real end of art and the possibility to narrate a story about it from a kind of post-civilizational perspective.

Ivana Bago is an art historian, writer, and curator based in Zagreb. She is Cofounder (with Antonia Majača) of DeLVe | Institute for Duration, Location and Variables, dedicated to research, curating, and publishing in the field of contemporary art and theory. In collaboration with A. Majača, the Kontejner collective, and individually, she has authored a series of curatorial, research, and publishing projects (“Removed from the Crowd,” 2009; “Moving Forwards, Counting Backwards,” MUAC, Mexico City; Spaport Biennial / “Where Everything is Yet to Happen,” Banja Luka, Zagreb, 2009–11; “Stalking With Stories,” Apexart, New York, 2007). Her work engages with the politics of artistic and exhibition practices in Yugoslavia, feminist art and theory, as well as current artistic, cultural, and intellectual production invested in the history of Yugoslavia and the aftermaths of its violent break-up. Currently, she is a PhD student at the Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies at Duke University. Bago will present a talk entitled “A continued quest for autonomous politics of art, life and work.”

Abstract from Bago’s “A continued quest for autonomous politics of art, life and work”:

The invitation to contribute to the forum imagining the “Futures of Eastern Europe” is itself a gesture of cognitive estrangement, as Darko Suvin termed the political potential of science fiction. How can Eastern Europe, a concept that has become almost synonymous with the very notion of the past—a particularly imagined, communist past—be pluralized and projected into the future(s) unless that future is launched back into the past and narrated as a history of a particular, communist future? Such a maneuver is an easy way out of the proposed challenge, and I will certainly take it, hopefully not merely for the sake of historicizing but for examining a number of artistic and critical practices that draw upon a number of idiosyncratic legacies of socialist Yugoslavia in order to imagine a way out of the social, economical, and ideological quagmire overwhelming the post-Yugoslav societies today. I will take as a starting point the case of the Yugoslav “conflict on the literary left” that emerged in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the midst of ideological and geopolitical battles intensifying in the Europe of the 1930s. I am interested in how and why the conflict was reactivated and reinterpreted starting from early 1970s, informed by the idea of an autonomous and “authentic” Yugoslav path to the future. I will also try to identify what questions on the relation between art, life, and politics the story of the “conflict” can help us raise today; what “counsel” it gives us, in the face of a reality increasingly reminiscent of the twentieth-century interwar period, with the ongoing economic crisis and the growing legitimization of the politics of exclusion and persecution of alien social groups and ideological elements. Aliens being of key importance for sci-fi future narratives.

Ana Janevski is currently Associate Curator in the Department of Media and Performance Art at the Museum of Modern Art. Among many performance projects, most recently, she organized Musée de la danse: Three Collective Gestures with Boris Charmatz. From 2007 to 2011, she held the position of Curator at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Poland, where she curated, among many other projects, the large-scale exhibition “As Soon As I Open My Eyes I See a Film,” on the topic of Yugoslav experimental film and art from the 1960s and 1970s. She also edited a book with the same title. In 2010, she co-curated the first extensive show about experimental film in Yugoslavia, “This Is All Film! Experimental Film in Yugoslavia 1951–1991,” at the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana. Janevski also co-curated, with Pierre Bal-Blanc, the performance exhibition “The Living Currency.” Janevski will present a talk entitled “Forbidden questions/Illicit answers.”

Abstract from Janevski’s “Forbidden questions/Illicit answers”:

This lecture will examine the phenomena of experimental amateur cinema in former Yugoslavia. The analysis of cinema clubs as extra-systemic spaces—of culture that operates autonomously from the official one—demonstrates how the country’s institutional framework was malleable to reconfiguration, reinvention, and adjustment. These spaces enabled paradigmatic twists in filmic and artistic production that oppose the simplified and ideological representations of the Yugoslav socialist past. The most popular version of this past seems to be based on a dichotomy of the brave dissident artist struggling for the freedom of expression in a totalitarian regime. This vision assumes that the countries of the former Eastern Bloc are a homogenous entity and ignores the singularity of the Yugoslav socialist project. This research is not about a Yugo-nostalgia, but rather a critical reading of the common heritage of the socialist project and the positioning of art practices within the given socio-political constellation. The goal is not to give an encompassing historical overview, but rather, to research concrete artistic practices that can propose a new perspective on this history and how to advance contemporary art today.

Kate Fowle is the chief curator for Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow and director-at-large at Independent Curators International (ICI) in New York, where she was executive director from 2009-13. Prior to this she was the inaugural international curator at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. From 2002-2007 Fowle was chair of the Master’s Program in Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, which she co-founded in 2001. Before moving to the United States she was co-director of Smith + Fowle in London (1996-2001) and curator at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne (1993-6).

Abstract from Fowle’s “Post former futures: how, what, and why again?“:

We are now a quarter of a century post 1989 revolutions and the subsequent rise of globalization. We are also five years post the “post-Cold War” period, since the US financial crisis turned into “The Great Recession” in 2009. We are still in the midst of the “Eurozone Crisis” and some say it might be here to stay. At the same time, the debate on what constitutes (former) Eastern Europe is subsiding, even if it remains volatile, but finding semblances of civil society in the region is now called into question.

To add to the complexity of this landscape, currently in Russia Edward Snowden lives with temporary asylum after the US government revoked his passport, but he has been quoted as saying he eventually wants asylum in a Western country; meanwhile, less than a month after their release, Pussy Riot have traveled to Singapore because they have been nominated as best emerging Asian video/digital artist for the inaugural Prudential Eye Awards.

Amidst these contradictions and disparate contexts, how does a privately funded, publicly minded contemporary art institution in Moscow develop an infrastructure and program that has meaning, and to whom?

Cosmin Costinas is the Executive Director/Curator of Para Site, Hong Kong. He was the Curator of BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht, Netherlands (2008–11), Co-curator of the 1st Ural Industrial Biennial: “Shockworkers of the Mobile Image,” Ekaterinburg (2010), and Editor of Documenta 12 magazines, Kassel/Vienna (2005–07). At Para Site, Costinas curated the exhibitions: “Great Crescent: Art and Agitation in the 1960s—Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan” (with Doryun Chong and Lesley Ma, 2013–14); “A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, ghosts, rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong story” (with Inti Guerrero, 2013); “About Films. Deimantas Narkevicius” (2012); “Taiping Tianguo: A History of Possible Encounters: Ai Weiwei, Frog King Kwok, Tehching Hsieh, and Martin Wong in New York” (with Doryun Chong, 2012). At BAK, he curated solo exhibitions of Olga Chernysheva (2011); Rabih Mroue (2010); Boris Charmatz (2010); Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor (2009).

Abstract from Costinas’s talk:

There is a stylistic incongruence between today’s Eastern Europe and today’s future. The emerging future in those regions that are indeed emerging is negotiated at economies of scale unattainable for Eastern Europe’s fragmented and reduced parameters, and at disqualifying speeds for Eastern Europe’s consummated energy levels. Eastern Europe is tired. But in the modesty informed by this defeat might be where the “original visions” that Eastern Europe still has to offer are to be found. This non-imperial half of Europe, free from having to deal with the unraveling of its place in the world, is conversant in misunderstandings, in mistranslations and untranslatability. It knows very well the virtues of forgetting pages and chapters, and the convenience of omitting the wrong story at the wrong time. This narrative sophistication has been masterfully employed, particularly in the process of writing Eastern European histories within the exiting patterns of modern and contemporary art, offering an interesting case study and perhaps models for processes currently happening on a global scale.

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The presentation of “tranzit: Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module” is made possible through a partnership with

Additional support provided by the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic.
Artist travel is provided, in part, by the Trust for Mutual Understanding. Additional support for artist travel has been provided in part by Balassi Institute – Hungarian Cultural Center and the Ministry of Culture of Lithuania.

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