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

Borderline Syndrome as a Metaphor for Present-Day Europe
Kathrin Rhomberg

A periodic major exhibition that claims to present an up-to-date representation of something as inhomogeneously abstract as the state of Europe as a whole, can only be interpreted as a socio-political statement. What this involves, of course, is a complete and conscious abandonment of objectivity. This objective representation, the fields of which are left up to professional criticism, is replaced by an assertion of subjectivity and attempted interventions in current social processes. From a curatorial perspective, we have attempted an intervention of this kind with an exhibition title borrowed from the terminology of psychology, "Borderline Syndrome – Energies of Defence", and linked with this the exaggeratedly naive exhortation, reminiscent of American political slogans (Kennedy), to ask not what Europe can do for you, but what you can do for Europe.
In search of a socio-psychological matrix of the imagined present European mood, we came across a description of the borderline personality organization. The freely associative appropriation of a term unequivocally defined in the field of psychology into a discourse on European processes of transformation following the so-called fall of the wall, programmatically refrains from any claims to scientific objectivity, thus demanding subjective reflection, remembering and personal experience from all recipients.
Why "Borderline Syndrome" as a metaphor for present-day Europe? On the one hand, the end of the bipolar European post-war categorizations has led to an ideological fragmentation, to a collapse of traditional ideologies. On the other, the simultaneous globalization of the free market has intensified social and economic dysfunctions and voluntary or forced migration. In association with the interweavings of communication, abruptly modified as multinational and decentralized due to these changes, which seems to be too much for the human mind to deal with, for the resultant characteristics this means a proclaimed absence of ideology, as well as pragmatism, a diffusion of identity and the emergence of undifferentiated fears. Beyond its disciplinary unequivocalness, we found the term "Borderline Syndrome" appropriate for reflecting on the mechanisms of these transformation processes and the manifold reactions to them.
In his book on borderline disorders (published 1975), Otto F. Kernberg describes a weak ego and diffusion of identity as being among the primary causes of borderline personality disorder, and a predominance of primitive defense mechanisms that is characteristic for borderline personality disorder as being among its "specific" aspects. For Kernberg, a regression to primary process-like forms of thinking (mystical thinking, wishful thinking, suspension of formal logic, etc.) is the most important structural criterion for a borderline personality disorder. Kernberg speaks of borderline patients in a clinical sense, if they show significant difficulties in their interpersonal relationships and also certain disruptions in their perception of reality, even though the verification of reality may not be essentially impaired. One could easily draw unscholarly simplified parallels between both individual psychological tendencies and socio-political tendencies in Europe and the following defensive mechanisms that are characteristic of borderline personality disorders.

1) Split One of the essential goals of the development and integration of the ego, according to Kernberg, consists of merging the libidinal or aggressive drive traces that are split off during the phases of early childhood development; in other words, one might speak of "good" or "bad" inner objects. Consequently, a successful integration or synthesis represents the most important source for neutralizing aggression. Kernberg describes splitting processes as the main cause of ego weakness. Perhaps the most familiar phenomenon of splitting is the categorization of external objects into "all good" and "all bad, wicked", in which case an object may change its character quite abruptly and completely from one extreme to another, if all the feelings and ideas about the relevant person turn into the opposite in a complete reversal from one moment to the next. If we relate this to Europe, new geopolitical borders and divisions may be cited (the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the former Soviet Union, Scotland, England, former Yugoslavia, etc.), as well as a virtually intensified assertion of borders that have meanwhile become symbolic, and are hardly physically perceptible within the European Union.

2) Primitive idealization Kernberg regards this as the tendency to turn certain external objects into "all good" ones, in order to be able to use them as protection against the bad objects and, at the same time, to avoid having to call them into question due to one's own aggression or the aggression projected onto other objects, to have to devalue or even destroy the "all good" objects. He describes them as the manifestation of a primitive fantasy structure, in which it is not a matter of actually respecting the idealized person, but rather only of their suitability as a protection against a world full of dangerous objects. According to Kernberg, another function of these kinds of ideal objects consists of identifying with the omnipotence attributed to them, in order to partake of the greatness of the idealized object. This, in turn, provides protection and satisfies narcissist needs at the same time. The example of Jörg Haider's rise to political power, which is characterized as an Austrian phenomenon, is regularly explained with a national community's urgent need to seek protection with an allegedly strong leader figure. Although there are variations, similar "idealizations" may also be found in other European countries.

3) Early forms of projection, particularly projective identification The main purpose of projection is thought to be found here in the externalization of the "all bad", aggressive self-images and object-images, and the most significant consequence of this process is that it results in dangerous objectives that crave revenge, against which the patient must defend himself. Thus he has to keep these objects that are perceived as threatening under control, in order to prevent them from attacking him under the influence of (projected) aggressive impulses; he must conquer the object. The sanctions of the EU partner states against Austria's government as a reaction against the first-time coalition with a right-wing populist, racist party was a strong political signal from the European Union that sees itself as upholding common values. At the same time, however, this drastic signal has also always been understood as being due to party political strategies in several EU member states, which has weakened the moral impetus of these agreed sanctions.

4) Omnipotence and Debasement The debasement of objects may also serve as a defense by preventing these objects from becoming feared and hated persecutors. Debasement is primarily a defense against the need for other people and the simultaneous fear of them. Nationalism and a return to what is traditional and provincial may be noted as a dominant tendency currently throughout Europe. In psycho-social terms, it is affiliated with an exaltation of what is one's own (nation, race, religion, gender) and an undifferentiated debasement of that which is the other. Cultural racism motivates tendencies to separate and draw borders. This hierarchization is also subconsciously manifest in the way that the European Union rigorously excludes former East European countries.

It is borderline structures that still, even a decade after the so-called fall of the wall, draw a restrictive line that cannot be compared with any other inner-European border right through the geography and mental image of Europe. And it is borderline structures that continue to use agreed assertions of difference to isolate all non-EU states economically, politically, socially and culturally. In Slovenia, Manifesta 3 is being conducted for the first time in a country that is not a member of the EU. In consideration of what may have influenced this decision, this exhibition project needs to be examined from the perspective of politically determined representation intentions. For Slovenia as a "young" state with ambitions of soon joining the EU, it may be surmised that there are representation motives involving aspects of national identity, as well as a geopolitical declaration as a culturally and economically prosperous prospective member state. Naturally, a motivation of this type focuses more on the international event character and less on addressing the contents of the project. Bringing curatorial and organizational intentions into accord, unfortunately has not always worked against this background. Of course, the board of director's decision to conduct Manifesta 3 in a former East European country may also be a matter of political motivation. It remains to hope that knowing about these differing representational motivations may have more the effect of a magnifying glass enabling a clearer view of the artistic contributions, rather than distorting and clouding it with superimpositions and preconceptions.


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