International Biennial of Contemporary Art Ljubljana,
23 June - 24 September 2000
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Cankarjev Dom
M1 & M2

Europe in the Vicinity of Art: Thoughts after Following the News
Mária Hlavajová

The idea of a European biennial of contemporary art began with the (doubtless inevitable) question of what it actually is – Europe, I mean. An obvious enough place to start. Nevertheless, the answer is tenuous – no less so than this introduction and the significance of these brief remarks. Even delving over the last couple of weeks into a Slovak newspaper1 tirelessly analysing the prospects of an applicant country on the very doorstep of the European Union (a reading which prompted these reflections), the picture I have of Europe has not become the slightest bit clearer. I don't get any sense that the European project has a clearly articulated concept. It lacks a vision and it lacks a visionary. Only, it doesn't do to come clean about it – because the ambition, so it seems, is not to analyse or understand, but at all costs to belong.
The celebrations to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Schuman Plan for the economic alliance between France and Germany, which blueprinted a union of Europe's states, wearily acknowledged – in the subtext of the magniloquent speeches – that the common currency, the Euro, way before it had actually come into being in any real sense, had taken a hefty battering from the economic assertion of the union of American states. With similar symptoms of mid-life crisis political Europe keeps pushing back the date for its expansion. It feels that it needs the energy of those for whom economic prosperity and political stability have yet to be self-evident. But for the moment it is still fearful, and so is on the defensive.
The assumption of new members is motivated by more than just economics. The initial post-war collaboration of two countries fifty years ago was intended, among other things, to make future wars impossible. You would expect, then, that security and political considerations would carry a lot of weight – particularly at a time when the continent is more committed to the momentum of integration than it was at the beginning of the 1990s, when the preferred concept was that different statuses of European citizen would co-exist.
The institutional background of the EuroAtlantic security system (NATO) also lacks the inner dynamic it originally had. With the integration of its Eastern neighbours, Germany has lost its immediate incentive; and the reorganisation of the Union's defence concept 'post Kosovo' will require both time and a substantial rethink. And so it would seem that it is only the newest members who are calling for expansion, albeit with the sour wince of those whose own acceptance was hastened by the pragmatic need to secure air-space en route to Belgrade.
The mental 're-territorialisation' of associations and bonds within the continent is attended by anxiety and uncertainty arising from the new, by doubts and by the politics of protecting one's own – all in contrast with declarations of openness and eagerness to link the two parts in a single Europe.
I also read that Austria is against the free movement of the labour force, notably from countries aspiring to EU membership, and particularly from Slovakia (where salaries are 11% of the Austrian average); thus is articulated a counter-attack whose aim is to cover up the paralysis engendered by its own fraught internal political situation. I read, too, that Poland has followed the example of France and Slovakia and has passed an equally repressive law to safeguard the purity of its language. More and more countries are imposing visa requirements on Slovakia's citizens...
And we at home are trying. We are trying with all our might – oscillating between the ultra-national and the pro-European. At intervals, and with a rhythm easily picked out, we barricade ourselves in from Europe and the next minute repair the damage done, only for the electorate once again to cast its vote in favour of political and economic isolation. In both of these extremes, however, the 'West' is a zone of importance in terms of which we articulate ourselves. One minute the mantra is: 'If you want an invitation you've got to convince the present members that you're one of them, that you acknowledge the same values as they do'2 – though not quite knowing exactly what those values are. The next minute, humiliated by the status of second-class citizen imposed from outside, in a torrent of nationalist bile we bellow to the world how we're going to make it on our own. It's not the West who is colonising us, we're colonising ourselves.3
The practice of art, spurred by the need to stay in sync with the context, has naturally played a part in European realities. It translates the problems that beset Europe into the language of the everyday. And the tactics employed in building defence mechanisms on the various levels of our immediate temporality (geopolitical, institutional, individual, on the level of disciplines, etc.) are a part of a direct reality which cannot fail to be noticed. A state of extreme apprehension of the unknown, an oscillation between diametrically different realities (bundles of received values), or an inability to take (or should I say the 'impossibility' of taking?) a stance on matters of public concern (as happened to us all during the conflict in the Balkans), and the whole thing concealed under a brilliantly accomplished surface of insouciance.
It seems to me that the organisation of the logic of art at the turn of the decade is undergoing similar processes. Projects uncritically celebrating the interchangability of works from whatever corner of the globalised world have run out of steam. The excitement, too, has also evaporated on both 'sides' of Europe – after the heuristic attempts of curators to show something new (and yet the same) from Eastern Europe had for the most part foundered on the reality of the one-off event, but also on disillusionment in the wake of anticipation or on consternation at the difficulty of the processes and practices operating in a 'different' mode. In the 'new Europe'4 the longing for integration into international art systems wilted with the length of the waiting (with, naturally, a few active exceptions), but also with a sobering-up from illusions. After the brief experience of international collaboration it was time for a questioning of the Western system, the art establishments and the organisation of power. The idea of Europe without political alternatives seems utopian which for the moment is hard to credit – and if at all, then as a new totalitarian ideology not dissimilar to that which the Eastern part of the continent keeps trying to ditch.
In its nature, however, Manifesta 3 is not trying (only) to show a collection of interesting individual positions. It opts rather for a thematic survey of Europe in an attempt to apprehend the mindset that leads to dubious events, war not excluded. The sense of the project lies in its speaking about art's participation in reality in its social and political dimensions. However, the aim is not, despite its name, to issue a manifesto on the state of things, but to make a discussion of such things possible. Not to react ad hoc with vacuous statements to the dramatic circumstances of the political organisation of life in one's immediate vicinity, but, with a continual opening of space for the exchange of ideas and the comparing of experiences, for the grammar of the order of things and for the analysis of trajectories of power, to shape the reality of the everyday.
The cluster of art positions presented in this project, notwithstanding the pressure of narrating the European present, does not borrow elements of reality, nor does it record or commentate on reality. On the contrary, it enters in all earnestness into the logic of the social and the political, so that from within it becomes a part of their organisation and operational system. The reality of the quotidian, as it exists in all its connotations, without modifications and camouflaging, becomes its valuable material. The artists here presented break the mental topography of Europe down into small snippets and by entering into the collective space make it significant for an individualised awareness on the part of each one of us of the contemporary reality.

In the uncertainty of a world suffering from 'borderline syndrome' and with many asking 'where do you draw a line?', only one answer of conceptual significance introduces into the exhibition a feeling of security. Edward Krasiński knows that the blue line is always at a height of 130 cm... Translated from Slovak by Martin Ward


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