Miško Šuvaković

Status and priorities    

A pre-cosideration for Manifesta 3

Preliminary Step
The history of transfigurations from art to culture has its ‘own’ international and its ‘own’ local history which can be depicted by characteristic stitching points (point de capiton).(1)
In his diary from mid-sixties, John Cage wrote the following remarks (anticipations):
"To know whether or not art is contemporary, we no longer use aesthetic criteria (if it's destroyed by shadows, spoiled by ambient sounds); (assuming these) we use social criteria: can include action on the part of others."(2)
Cage pointed out the uncertain divergence from Modernist essentialist autonomy of art to anarchical effects of representation of culture as 'the substance' of art. After Duchamp, Batailles, Benjamin, Wittgenstein, Lacan and Cage himself, this tour de force was entirely expectable and probable. Art has become a matter (object, situation, event) of 'culture' in the shifting between 'possible worlds'. The aura is lost, it remained merely as trace, memory, layer, and perhaps delay.(3)
Two decades later, Victor Burgin wrote about the end of art theory promoting the Postmodern condition (condition post-moderne):
"Art theory, understood as those interdependent forms of art history, aesthetics, and criticism which began during the Enlightenment and culminated in the recent period of high modernism, is now at an end. In our present so-called Postmodern era the end of art theory now is identical with the objectives of theories of representations in general: a critical understanding of the models and means of symbolic articulation of our critical forms of sociality and subjectivity."(4)
Around the same time, in mid-eighties, David Carroll, one of the less consequent followers of Derrida's teachings, tried to name the situation of border relations of theory, art, literature, philosophy and culture as paraeshetics. Paraesthetics refers to the fascination with the borders of possible worlds. In other words, paraesthetics doesn't aim at resolving the issue of 'borders' in art, theory and culture, but it aims at entering the game of shifting, representing, nearing and postponing possible inscriptions of discursive identities of art, theory and culture. This has to do with events that are being inscribed in the process or of a behaviour that is being inscribed in a wider discursive body. Once again:
"The task of paraesthetic theory is not to resolve all questions concerning the relations of theory with art and literature, but rather, to rethink these relations and, through the transformation and displacement of art and literature, to recast the philosophical, historical and political 'fields' - 'fields' with which art and literature are inextricably linked."(5)
Carroll's notion of paraesthetics as the theory of borderline syndromes of theory, art and culture is a kind of pre-text of the promise that Manifesta 3 is declaring today, pointing out the fascination with 'borders', 'borderline', 'relativity' of the relation margin-centre.
At one moment, at the end of eighties, at one very specific moment in European history, a reconstitution of the function of art took place. Art was once again 'a matter of culture' with certain mediating functions. The mediation was, this time, between Western (liberal and Social-Democratic) European societies of integration, and the post-political (pre-transitional, transitional or 'adjusted') fragmented and stratified East European societies.(6) After the fall of the Berlin Wall, art has become once again political or perhaps anthropological without being necessarily political, ideological or representational in its content. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, European art doesn't 'reflect' the social content by ways of thematics; it rather does it directly, "within the organisation of the very denominating economy, where thematics is merely its secondary consequence."(7)
Art is thus revealed not as some 'pre-human chaos', an indistinct chasm of nature but as a defined practise, which means a denominating practise within obvious social requirements, expectations and actions.
In other words, the flux of European art from 'the autonomy of Modernism'(8) and 'the disinterest of eclectic Postmodernisms'(9), towards acquiring social functions (functions of culture) of mediation between 'possible worlds' (centre, margin, transitional formation, non-transitional formation), has influenced art itself, which means the possibility of its material formulations. Formulations of paintings and sculpture are being replaced by formulations of open information work(10) which is the erased trace of culture on a site-specific place.(11) Or, it is the 'inscription' of layered traces of culture on a site-specific place. That is why the ontology of those 'contemporary' works is not aesthetical but rather social: it is 'of' culture. Ontology is not the presence of form, but the resistance (entropy) of form:
"Presence is therefore far from what is believed to be the meaning of sign, that which is indicated by the trace; presence is the trace of a trace, the trace of erasing a trace."(12)
The exhibitions Manifesta 1, Manifesta 2 and, I recklessly presume, Manifesta 3 are, first and foremost, political exhibitions (political productions) of European multiculturalism (culture-function-structure instead of aesthetics-identification-form). These exhibitions do not attain their political identification through representing an explicit political theme, attitude or the 'iconically'(13) oriented symbol (text); they do it through the very order of non-conflicting arrangement, archiving and classification of 'erased traces' of European incomparable identities or discourses, by entirely curator-oriented and comparable means. Note: while American multiculturalism sees art and artists in the production activity of binary promises of racial and gender identities within pragmatic individualism, European multiculturalism establishes a triad model of promises of 'ideal' non-conflicting comparabilities:
(i) centre (paradigmatic 'great' European cultures)
(ii) margin (closed, small, regional and peripheral European cultures) and
(iii) one's own other (East European cultures in transition /pre-, present, post-) which is in an even 'more' marginal relation with the European centre and margin)
Manifesta 3 can therefore be at once: a representation of erased traces of differing European cultures and the constitution of an ideal multi-European scheme (modality) of relations of specific investment and universal profit. There is no territory game, but the function of economy (production, exchange and consumption) which, as an erased trace, is an artistic code or a work which annuls itself as art and confirms the possibility of European identity of differences on the 'level' of cultures. Art is the function of culture.

First Person Speech
I cannot imagine Manifesta 3. There are few things I can imagine in this hot Belgrade June night. It is really hard to think about Ljubljana today, here from Belgrade; to think of a big international exhibition, of European trends of offer, demand and consumption (of pleasure /jouissance/). No, there aren't any particular emotions in my words. It is an entirely cold archiving of 'inscriptions', 'traces' and their erasing or layering. On the one hand, there is an effort to realise the effect of projected European multiculturality in a manifestative and spectacular way (Ljubljana) through a highly idealistic slogan: "Don't ask what Europe can do for you; ask what you can do for Europe!" On the other hand, there is the preservation (hibernation) of emotion, the state, or the horror of 'erased traces' of the world divided in blocks prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall (Belgrade). In the eyes of Ljubljana, Europe is depicted as a positive social value (the multiplication of social value in its promised exchange). In the eyes of Belgrade, Europe is depicted as the negative social value (reduced social value). I am talking about 'the jetty'(14) and the atmosphere(15) of this warm June night. I am talking about thoroughly conflicting European images that simultaneously co-exist in the transition situation. European faces and grimaces.
What is it all about? The post-Berlin-wall-fall époque has different meanings and values in different possible worlds of Europe. There is not one post-époque, as there is not one Europe. Europe is multiplying. Any European face is possible. I certainly remember Lyotard's words on postmodernism as pluralism. But what does pluralism mean? From the non-conflicting point of view, pluralism means: "everything goes" (everything is possible, everything is at once actual and retro); from the conflicting point of view, global pluralism confirms local totalitarianisms as a verification of its own plurality (Le différend)(16) . Did I just offer a corrected Lyotard? Is it a speech from the cage (Cage)? No, John Cage was right, art no more functions according to aesthetic principles, but according to social ones; yet the mechanisms of production, exchange and consumption of 'reality' do not function the same in every society. I recall the encounter with the art historian Charles Harrison in Ljubljana in October 1990. Back then, he was saying that every art is constituted according to the principles of society, especially Modern and Postmodern art; in fact, the autonomy of art is always and solely a political formulation.

The Intentions of Manifesta 3
I cannot imagine Manifesta 3 but I can observe certain intentions of the exhibitions I saw in the Modern Gallery of Ljubljana as well as certain intentions (promises, manifestos)(17) of Manifesta 3. Indeed, the intentions of Manifesta 3 exhibition do exist. They are formulated in multiple register: from declared manifestative attitudes of the exhibition (the promise of the issue of border line) to unspoken target contents (re-coding of Ljubljana as 'the city of European culture') to postponed (according to Derrida, différAnce means also 'extracting', 'extricating', 'differing', 'distancing in time', 'postponing') phantasms (how to make out of East European, transitional, marginal art a 'cultural value' akin to European, international or transnational art).
I compared highly diverse exhibitions that took place in Ljubljana Modern Gallery. Those are Sense of Order (1996), Ljubljana Epicentre (1997) and U3 (1997). Although conceptually different, those exhibitions are determined (supervised) by the imperative for identifying a 'specific place' (Ljubljana) as the place of representation of contemporary art as culture in European (geography of cultures), inter-national (hegemony of the mode of expression and presentation within artistic institutions) and trans-national (passage from various formations of production relations) context. Context does not have territory, but it has economy.
This means that Manifesta 3 could be perhaps understood as a requirement for a curatorial practise that is re-constructing and re-semanticising artists' requirements to create site-specific works in literal(18), allegoric(19) and mediatic(20) sense. Two artistic approaches come to my mind: that of Tadej Pogačar ("to inhabit the institution in the form of parasite")(21) and Marjetica Potrč ("to locate and identify the actually erased traces of concrete urbanistic entropies")(22) . If transferred to curatorial strategies, do these artistic proceedings become a macro-recreation of the exhibition as 'archive'? Or do they become 'maps' of actual European culture in relation to the specific local cultural space that shows its capabilities of re-coding and de-coding the unstable European identity - yet no more in regard to relative margin-centre relations (as Manifesta 1 and 2), but in regard to multiplied and scattered possibilities of recognising centres and margin?
Elaboration of previous sentences!
What is it all about? At the moment of the disintegration of self-managed Socialism (or Real-Socialism) in the eighties, prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the artistic practise of NSK (Laibach, Irwin) has multi-facetedly displayed (materially inscribed) the theoretical construction of Slovenian theoretical psychoanalysis (Žižek & Co.) in the process of creating a cynical schism between the symbolical and the real of the Yugoslav society. Curatorial practices were merely following, recording, classifying and aestheticising NSK's advance into the real/Real of late Socialist society. Art was a privileged ideal territory where it was possible to talk cynically about society (politics, ideology). That is to say, art was the territory from which one could organise intrusions and attacks on society, politics, culture - into the territories of denominating practices.(23) In the nineties, there is no such specificity of territory and possibility for attack. Symbols became signs, signs became traces, almost denominators. In the nineties, there is production, exchange and consumption of 'cultural values' within a society that has overtaken art's aesthetisation. The society resembles art, and art has no more its territory because it is a trace, a trace of erasing art that becomes culture in order to play 'the game' in the function of society. Therefore, the phantom 'parasitic' institutions of Tadej Pogačar or the phantom 'entropic' urbanism of Marjetica Potrč become denominating paradigms or patterns through which curatorial and theoretical positions of settling Europe in Ljubljana can be built. This building is manifested through the border which is seemingly annulled and which shows itself in its annulment (invisibility) as the border between multi-faceted European faces. European faces keep on multiplying...

Concluding comment

The text you have just read is written in the manner of transfiguration in the discourse of theory of art history into obvious manifestations of theory of culture. This text is a sort of simulacrum of the Manifesta exhibition since it is made of erased traces of Slovenian social theory (Structuralist, Poststructuralist and Lacanian theoretical psychoanalysis) and of the traces of Slovenian art (the literalness of OHO, the cynical idealism of NSK and, certainly, the mobility of 'art as culture' of the nineties /Marjetica Potrč and Tadej Pogačar/). By its form, this text shows what it says: and that is that art and theory have lost their exceptionality by becoming culture and that culture is what, in this moment, has 'defeated' art.

1 Slavoj Žižek, "From Stitching Point to Super-ego" ("Od prošivenog boda do nad-ja"), from Bureaucracy and Pleasure (Birokratija i uživanje), SIC, Belgrade, 1984, p. 39.
2 John Cage, "Diary: How to Improve the World (You will Only Make Matters Worse) 1965-67", from Eliot Weinberger (ed), American Poetry since 1950 - Innovators and Outsiders, Marsilio Publishers, New York, p. 140.
3 Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Time of its Mechanical Reproduction", from Essays, Nolit, Belgrade, 1974, p. 119.
4 Victor Burgin, The End of Art Theory. Criticism and Postmodernity, Humanities Press International, INC, Atlantic Highlands NJ, 1986, p. 204.
5 David Carroll, Paraesthetics: Foucault, Lyotard Derrida, Methuen, New York, 1987, p. 189.
6 Compare: Frederic Jameson, "Cultural Logics of Late Capitalism", Postmodernism, Analecta, Ljubljana, 1992; Mikhail N. Epstein, After the Future, The Paradoxes of Postmodernism and Contemporary Russian Culture, The University of Massachusets Press, Amherst, 1995; and Aleš Erjavec, Towards the Image (K podobi), Zveza kulturnih organizacij Slovenije, Ljubljana, 1996.
7 "Art, society/text" ("Umetnost, družba/tekst"), Razprave-Problemi No. 3-5 (147-149), Ljubljana, 1975, pp. 1-10. The Serbo-Croatian translation of the text was published in Polja No. 230, Novi Sad, 1978, p. 10.
8 Tomaž Brejc, The Dark Modernism. Images, Theories, Interpretations (Temni modernizem. Slike, teorije, interpretacije), Cankarjeva založba, Ljubljana, 1991.
9 Andrej Medved, Poetics of the Eighties in Painting and Sculpture (Poetike osemdesetih let v slikarstvu in kiparstvu), Obalne galerije, Piran, 1991.
10 In the nineties, it is characteristic that the ontology of the work of art is being redefined according to the idea of the work of art as information in the conceptual art of the sixties and seventies. The difference is in that the 'work' of the nineties is being realised according to the media mass infrastructure of the late Ljubljana.
11 The work is created or, to be more precise, produced in a concrete specific space that consists of material and semantic 'traces' of the space itself. Such a work cannot be realised in another place. Compare: Thomas Crow, "Site-Specific Art: The Strong and the Weak", from Modern Art in the Common Culture, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1996.
12 The words of Jacques Derrida as quoted by Nenad Miščević in White Noise. Studies in Philosophy of Language (Beli Šum. Studije iz filozofije jezika), Dometi, Rijeka, 1978, p. 20.
13 Braco Rotar, "The Logics of transformation of signifiance is the logic of the materialistic conception of representational systems" ("Logika transformacije signifiance je logika materialističnega koncipiranja sistemov reprezentacije") , Razprave-Problemi No. 128-132, Ljubljana, 1973, pp. 68-7.
14 Jacques Derrida, "Some Statements and Truisms about neologisms, Newisms, Postisms, Parasitisms, and Other Small Seismisms", from David Carroll, The States of 'Theory'. History, Art and Critical Discourse, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 1990, pp. 63-94.
15 Atmosphere is that which is epistemologically depicted; in other words, culture is the atmosphere indicated by the work as an index sign. This has to do with the functions of an index.
16 This is Lyotard's term: "the fact that one argumentation is legitimate doesn't mean that the other one is not". Compare: Jean-François Lyotard, Le Différend (Raskol), IK Zorana Stojanovića, Novi Sad, 1991, p. 5.
17 Manifesta 3 - Newsletter 1, Cankarjev dom, Ljubljana, 2000
18 Manifesta literally takes over the city.
19 Manifesta alegorically represents the new Europe.
20 Manifesta is one family of information distributed to the media.
21 Tadej Pogačar, Home Stories, The P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. Museum of Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, 1999.
22 Marjetica Potrč, Two Essays on Built Disasters, Project Space, Washington D.C, 1998.
23 "Neue Sloweniche Kunst" (thematic issue), Problemi No. 254, Ljubljana, 1985.