Inke Arns on Thu, 08 Jan 1998 16:10:13 +0100

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Syndicate: Who by Fire #1

Who by Fire #1

Report on the Who by Fire #1 Symposium at the Institute of Contemporary Art
- DunaÅ?jvâ?¡ros (ICA-D), DunaÅ?jvâ?¡ros / Hungary, 13 - 16 December 1997

by Inke Arns <>

In mid-December 1997 I had the chance to participate in a remarkable
meeting of young curators, art historians, philosophers and artists from
various countries from the middle of Europe. The informal meeting -
entitled Who by Fire? #1 - was initiated by Lâ??via Pâ?¡ldi and Jâ?¡nos
Szoboszlai, both art historians and co-directors of the recently opened
Institute of Contemporary Art in DunaÅ?jvâ?¡ros, an industrial town located on
the river Danube, about 1 1/2 hours car drive south of Budapest, Hungary.
According to their project description, the aim of the meeting was to
foster communication and to initiate substantial cooperation between young
intellectuals from various Central European countries - something felt to
be lacking painfully:

"After the collapse of the totalitarian regimes and cultural politics of
Central Europe in the field of visual arts there does not exist a real
collaboration and communication between the art communities, mainly between
the young generations of these countries. We find the intensity of the
existing communication unsatisfying. We feel very urgent to start a real
communication and collaboration with the young intellectuals and new art
initiatives of the area. We find that there are a lot of artistic, cultural
and social issues that must be discussed by our generation, the 30 - 35
years old art historians, philosophers and artists." (excerpt from the
project description)

Lâ??via Pâ?¡ldi and Jâ?¡nos Szoboszlai invited eight participants to DunaÅ?jvâ?¡ros:
Judit Angel (Arad), Dubravka Djuric (Beograd), Darko Fritz (Zagreb),
Leonida Kovac (Zagreb), Darko Simicic (Zagreb), Misko Suvakovic (Beograd),
Aneta Szylak (Gdansk), and myself. Michal Kolecek from òsti nad Labem was
invited as well but unfortunately could not join us. We spent together four
days of intense discussion, brain-storming, exchanging of ideas, and
developed ideas for future collaborative projects. Actually, what I liked
about the Who by Fire? project from the beginning, was that it was not
conceived as a 'normal' symposium or conference, where every participant
gives a lecture - thus leaving only few minutes for questions and
discussions -, but rather that it was planned as a 'workshop' in the best
sense of the word. It is also important to mention that the meeting was
meant to be just a first step in a long-term collaborative project, running
possibly until the year 2000 - and beyond, who knows.

Art, Steel and Aegyptian columns

The meeting started in a rather unusual way. After the opening of the
exhibition Who by Fire? (featuring six young artists from Croatia - Boris
Bakal, Darko Fritz, Kristina Leko Fritz, Tomo Savic-Gecan, Slaven Tolj and
Sonja Vuk) with important arts people attending also from Budapest and
Ljubljana, the next morning we set off to visit Dunaferr Ltd. - the giant
steel works - and the city of DunaÅ?jvâ?¡ros. The history of the city (which,
admittedly, I only learned about on the plane, flying from Berlin to
Budapest) is both quite amazing and normal for this part of Europe:
"Following a resolution passed by the Council of Ministers in 1949, the
Central Directorate of the Hungarian Worker's Party decided, in 1950, to
construct a massive new iron melting complex, with adjoining housing
development. The aim of this was to build up a local heavy industry, in
accordance with the spirit of the first 5-year plan. In May 1950 the
building of the new city - Sztâ?¡linvâ?¡ros (Stalin City) - started. The city,
with its 40.000 inhabitants and industrial complex, was to be the product
and the very incarnation of the industrialisation of the 50s, of the forms
of socialist-realist architecture, and of the utopian dream of a
totalitarian regime. It has been called DunaÅ?jvâ?¡ros since 1961." (excerpt
from No.1 Câ??m nŽlkul / Untitled, first publication in the ICA-D series,
DunaÅ?jvâ?¡ros: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1997, p.80).

After witnessing the impressive way of "how the steel was hardened" inside
the Dunaferr steel works, we made a tour through the city. All these
buldings and mosaics in the 'purest' socialist-realist style made me think
of DunaÅ?jvâ?¡ros as the smaller sister of Berlin's famous Karl-Marx-Allee
(formerly called Stalinallee). The same architectural elements, it's just
the dimensions that are different. The incredible eclecticism of
socialist-realist architecture can be seen best on the back side of the
local theater bulding: Aegyptian columns, neo-classical facade, and
horizontal modernist windows.

Who by Fire? #1 - Discussion topics

The 'real' meeting took place from Saturday afternoon (13 Dec 1997) until
Monday evening (15 Dec 1997) in the Institute of Contemporary Art
DunaÅ?jvâ?¡ros. Many important themes and topics have been touched upon in our
discussions, some of which I will mention here briefly: the situation of
art and art institutions in the post-socialist societies of Eastern Europe;
structure of financial support for art; fundraising: lack of sponsorship
due to unfavourable, i.e. missing non-profit tax laws in various
post-socialist countries; international collaboration; the role and the
responsability of a curator; education and theoretical background; missing
or inadequate theoretical apparatuses; how to constitute a discursive space
around the artwork; should a work of art be *interpreted* or should the
statement of the work rather be read in its specific context; the need for
- practical and theoretical - collaboration and exchange; the value of new
informal networks (such as e.g. the V2_East / Syndicate network).

A general problem within our discussions proved to be the Western gaze on
what the 'West' calls the 'East'. We talked about recent exhibitions
projects such as "Europa, Europa", Bonn 1994, the exhibition of Russian
Actionism in Vienna 1997, and others. Most of these projects actually are
designed to be seen in the Western way: they repeat the Western image of
the 'East'. This brought us to questioning further: What is this notion of
'Central and Eastern Europe', "who constructed it and for whom?" - "what is
the ideology behind such a notion?" - "Is there something that seriously
can be called 'East (or Central) European Art'?" 

The debate on this symptomatic Western gaze on the 'East' got quite heated
when it came to the "Guide Appolonia": In 1997, the Council of Europe
published the "Guide Appolonia. Contemporary Art of Central and Eastern
Europe" (Frac Alsace, Edition du Conseil de l'Europe 1997). The authors of
this publication apparently tried to put together something like a 'Who is
who in the East European art scene' - basically, an interesting intention.
Unfortunately, this publication proves to be a fine example for the way how
Western European institutions deal with the 'East' in general; and more
specifically, how they construct and strategically employ the notion of
'East / Central European Art'. The participants of the Who by Fire? #1
symposium stated that this publication represents 'a colonial approach to
some geographical region, similar to how Europe in the late 19th century
dealt with (exotic) African art.' Furthermore, this publication seems to be
much below the level of a professional approach to contemporary art; it is
full of misinformation (wrong addresses, occupation, position, name
spelling); the selection criteria and the method employed are nebulous, and
it remains unclear to which audience this book is addressed. The biggest
problem, however, is the fact that the 'East' (again) is being represented
by a Western institution. This reminded me of a friend of mine who once
said, "If you don't speak for yourself, you will let others speak for you."

Future projects

Misko Suvakovic asked a very important question during the meeting: "How
can one produce power and control meaning?" Through controlling the
discourse one can possibly change the existing power situation. Discourse
relies on words and notions. That's why, as our first collaborative project
for 1998, we decided to produce a dictionary. Usually, dictionaries set and
define 'norms' and 'standards'. We agreed to include the fifteen following
terms and keywords in our dictionary, which will constitute our common
basic 'vocabulary of communication': 1. 'Central European Art'; 2.
Identity; 3. Place / Space; 4. Representation; 5. Ideology; 6. Politics /
Power; 7. Language / Structure; 8. Responsibility; 9. Borders /
Delimitation; 10. Colonialism; 11. Body; 12. Institutional Frames; 13. The
Other; 14. Text; 15. Avantgarde & Postmodernism. We are very well aware
that it will be virtually impossible to give a 'standard' or 'Duden-like'
definition of these problematic terms, which, due to their very nature,
will remain oscillating and in constant flux. Nevertheless we think that it
can be very productive to question these notions, and to discuss the
important aspects which they contain or reveal. The dictionary will be
published in mid 1998.

The aim of the Who by Fire? project is to initiate a continuous and
long-term collaboration between the participants. After the first meeting
which took place mid December 1997 in DunaÅ?jvâ?¡ros, we are planning to hold
our next meeting sometime in spring 1998. The goal, of course, is to
produce 'content',which can be a group or a solo exhibition of artist(s) in
the ICA-D, an Internet-event, a year book or some other kind of
publication. The medium should be carefully selected according to the aim
and the content of the respective project. For our first collaborative
project, we chose the medium of a dictionary, as we found it most
appropriate for what we are trying to do.


I think that the Who by Fire? #1 meeting, initiated by the Institute of
Contemporary Art in DunaÅ?jvâ?¡ros was an important first step towards a very
promising long term collaboration. The discussions and debates were very
stimulating; and I believe that we laid the 'foundation stone' for a very
productive and pragmatic, operational and flexible network - something
which is not very common in the 'art world' in general. Working with and
contributing to several Internet mailing lists for some years now, I am
very much aware of the benefit of exchanging experiences on an
international level and sharing views and opinions with others. The Who by
Fire? logo expresses this in a very condensed way (it is taken from a work
by Peter Nagy: I love you, 1987). It shows a hand, giving a micro-cassette
(data / information) to the hand of another person. It's so simple: it is
about giving and taking.

Lâ??via Pâ?¡ldi and Jâ?¡nos Szoboszlai
Kortars Muveszeti Intezet - Dunaujvaros
H-2400, Dunaujvaros
Vasmu ut 12
Tel/fax: ++36-25-312-220

Note: The text has been formatted in plain ASCII text. Special characters
have disappeared and thus the spelling of some of the participants' names
is simply wrong or incomplete.

Inke Arns, Berlin
Tel/Fax ++49 - (0)30 - 313 66 78