The Soviet experience is a unique example of how internationalism was perverted and discredited, as Stalin’s projected realization of “socialism in one country” reduced internationalism to the idea of party-loyalty. Among other things, this doctrine also formed the conception of art “national in form, socialist in content”. This lies in stark contrast to contemporary art in the age of globalization, which has developed the converse ideological recipe for the artwork, executed in a unified style but referring to the parameters of the local situation.
Is international style the only relevant possibility for addressing the local problematique? Is there any space left for creative misunderstandings, lost in translation, experiences that are both subjective and local?
Which experiences have you made in highlighting the uniqueness of a local cultural context as something of general relevance?
Internationalism was perverted, but not discredited. The Soviet experience was a unique, valuable lesson. It taught us how and what to do, and what not to do. As to for art that is “national in form and socialist in content”, I don’t see anything wrong with it: it was a good formula for that place and time. Here, language was also already being unified in painting and sculpture, combining the genre basics of early European 19th century modernism with the elements of classicism. The style itself differed depending on national aesthetic preferences. I would say that nowadays we have the same situation. Of course, there is one big difference – there is no socialist content. But then again, there is no content at all. Just as socialist politics were trying to fill the work of art with a particular content, capitalist politics drain artworks of any content. All productions of meaning are constantly aborted. The world is cluttered with individualities, whereas presence is not tolerated as an identity. Here, I don’t mean paper-controlled identity, but authentic identity, an identity which has something to say. If people could ultimately tell themselves “I am the one who…” instead of humbly occupying their places in the existing order, it would anticipate a different social climate and we could actually expect something to change.
I myself work on a particular ground – on the territory of a deterritorialized subject. The material I work with is my localized experience. I believe it is generally relevant. What I am doing can be asked anywhere, whenever the discourse of deterritorialization or adjacent discourses are brought into focus. I would say that I am committed to “highlighting” the experiences spotlighted by my identity. I guess I am not too far from the issue of “highlighting the uniqueness of a local cultural context as something of general relevance” which I think is not a wrong idea, it can work when things are done elaborately. But the question is how can any work be done elaborately on the peripheries? There are so many things missing there that unfortunately, usually, one ends up with no more than painful frustration.
Bart de Baert
Is style relevant as a concept? Is there such a thing as “What do we address?” Do we address the local problematique or our problematique, which has local as well as international as well as bodily, past and future, human and accidental dimensions? Isn’t it more interesting to think in terms of contingencies rather than in creative misunderstandings? Creative misunderstandings postulate the possibility of absolute understanding. Isn’t it more interesting to have an ambition of relative understanding? Any of my experiences did, since experience is always also localized.
Psychoanalyst, curator, critic//Petersburg
You can see misunderstanding and loss in translation not only in the context of “big events”, but even within the confines of one city’s art scene. Furthermore, the same applies within boundless bounds of the individual artist or critic. Who said that the artist or critic knows exactly what he-she is doing? In my opinion, the character of creativity explains itself through the fact that something is always lacking; something is always impossible to translate or to understand. The decisive question is how the artist or the critic approaches the question itself. Understanding is always a misconception, a narcissistic phantom, stimulated by the mass-medial instruments of de-autonomization.
In my work, I don’t “make connections”. I work with people who seem important to me, with people who touch or move me in some way. Of course, we’re also talking about a certain “job”, an exhibition or an article, “ordered” by some concrete person from the outside, maybe even by someone from another culture. It is important to consider this addressee, respecting him without feeling constrained by a leash. The addressee is actually always present. Even if I am writing an article that I don’t know whether or where to publish, I am still addressing some imaginary other. Even if this is none other than “me”, it is still important to display respect without being confined to a leash.
Intranslatability is one of communication’s prerequisites. In my opinion, the unification of language and style is little more than a big utopia. Of course, things flow together into some common language de facto, be it in art or in international communication in general. Ideally, “big events” demand a special language for their reconstruction or their translation. To put it differently, “big events” lead to a certain idiom; they also face the other, the representative of another culture, another language. Thus, their idiom will not be too difficult to understand. In any case, it is not necessary to adapt anything “for them”. There are no two languages, neither “dominant” nor “marginal”. There is, however, a field of problems. The researcher tries to think about these problems, while the artist attempts to express them. Since these problems are not particularly local – is any problem really “local”? – they will certainly be able to generate some form of interest.
Artist, curator, critic//Kaliningrad
My experience and praxis in the field of hi-tech art calls into doubt the recipe of producing pieces executed in an international style but making reference to local contexts. I would call this “pavilion thinking”, in analogy to the many “big event” with their representation through national pavilions. This kind of thinking was already old and lame at the end of the last century. True, the experiences of a number of artistic movements – from Fluxus to International Network Culture – have developed “international styles”. But who said that technology is still at the same level it once was? Because the development of technology actually unifies local specifics; by now, it is an empty waste to accentuate these “differences”. For an example, during the early 1990s, net culture (as a developing technological principle) devoted a great deal of attention to local specificity, all in an international style. But now, 10 years later, the socialization of next-generation technologies – developing on a molecular level – simply lifts the question of local differences, rendering it useless. The specificity of a local cultural culture dissolves if technology finally becomes a part of the body on a molecular or atomic level etc. As technology becomes an inside-element of the body and the mind, the artwork can now be imagined on a hitherto unthinkable molecular level. So why should I accentuate the nuances of local difference? In my opinion, the representatives of contemporary art need to realize that we have reached a stage at which the development of technology (including bio-technology) has rendered moot many of the questions that we were asking 3-5 years ago. Today, they have not simply “lost their currency”, but have actually disappeared from the field of vision completely. I would say that the dichotomy “international style” vs. “national content” is one of these disappearing questions. In other words, the genome revolution has led to a state of affairs in which “Faust shudders in fear when he hears of Matter, around whom there is no room, only the continuing groundless of space”…
In the final analysis, global significance is constructed by concrete personalities, which interpret and re-transmit their personal taste in the regime and the rhetoric of “socially relevant events. The verdict on the acceptance of projects or programmatic texts is always pronounced on a personal basis, deciding on what to promote, what to launch, and what to leave rotting in marginality. Global significance is a projection, a phantasm of an individual who suffers under the mania of “globalism”. Context is never objective. Mass culture produces the fiction of “collectiveness”. The unification of language and style is impossible. If someone “understands” you, it is a lie, a game, a construction of meaning. It’s always nice to “agree”, just as it is also always nice to fuck. Because fucking means that you are loved. But that is a fiction.
Throughout the 1990s, translation was one of the single most important themes that our journal “Cabinet” addressed. What seemed important was not to translate literally, from one language to another, but the problematique of the shift. We have all been witnessing such “shifts” in the spheres of politics, economics, and aesthetic for the last 15 years.
…There is a further aspect of contemporary art that has currently captured my attention to an unusual degree. This is art’s capacity for re-creating a milieu through mimicry. This milieu changes constantly and is unique from place to place, depending on whether you are in New York, Baghdad or Saint-Petersburg. This creates what I hope is yet another productive illusion, namely that relations such “global vs. local” or “master vs. slave” are actually extremely instable. Art does not really need to adjust to the dominant language, not even with the best intentions for mutual understanding.
John Peter Nilson
The subject today has to map itself. We are learning to understand that we always are global – somewhere. The geography is broken and we have to start to navigate from our own experiences. The vehicle for such journey is not “Who I am”, but rather – “When am I?” The answer will always change depending on the journey. To be an artist or intellectual today is to fight not only for the freedom of expressing him/herself, but also for the context to do so. It doesn’t matter whether the context is local or global as long as you are aware of your own position.
As far as the specifics of working with context are concerned, the worldwide movement only needs clear and comprehensive information to know what exactly is going on. I don’t see any way other than speaking to one another extensively and appropriately, telling stories, asking “them” what’s going over “there”, and telling “them” what’s happening here with “us”. By probing and making mistakes, we can come to a mutual understanding that corresponds to the contemporary world’s high level of complexity.
It is extremely schematic to talk about the unification of language and style in contemporary visual art. In the international artistic context, there are at least five or six tendencies. You cannot reduce to these a single style (and if you look more closely, you can discover many more). Of course, “creative misunderstandings” are always a very valuable quality, although international communication hardly values this category at all.
As far as “making connections” is concerned: I have always seen my own praxis in a number of initiatives on the left as something inherently international. It didn’t help this position much to see that the Russian social context was being left behind on history’s roadside during the end of the 20th century. Throughout my creative activities, I have personally encountered a great deal of pressure from the liberals that have taken over many of the key positions in Russia’s cultural context. Finally, their cultural policies have led to utter bankruptcy. In Russia, religious-orthodox reaction is the order of the day.
It is decadent “to search for spaces of creative misunderstanding”. Anything in local experience that has no universal meaning automatically disappears.
Editor, curator, critic//Moscow
The opposition “global vs. local” is a dichotomy of the 1990s. Today we are facing a form of re-sovereignization, a return to the nation state, to confession. Once again, people are turning to the institutions of the nation-state or the institutionalized churches for protection from globalism’s unifying tendency. This is why the dichotomy between the global and the local disappears and is replace by the dichotomy between the national and the international (!)