The Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Leipzig (GfZK) ("Gallery for Contemporary Art") is one of the liveliest centers for international contemporary art in the new German Länder. Working closely with international curators, the gallery will be featuring an exhibition in 2003 and 2004 with a primary focus on current artwork from countries of Eastern Europe. In the following, Dr. Barbara Steiner, gallery director and project manager, explains the main emphases of the program and introduces the first series of exhibitions, "Introducing Sites 1+2."
What are "Cultural Territories?"
The idea of Cultural Territories begins at the construct of "Eastern Europe." When people refer to Eastern Europe today, they primarily mean those countries which formerly belonged to the "Eastern Bloc." This territory, however, is imaginary. It exists neither geographically - one would have to differentiate at least between central, east, and southeast Europe - nor as a distinct unit which can be defined and demarcated by boundaries. This generic term, "Eastern Europe," not only fails to express the differences - which naturally exist - within this imagi-nary territory, but also the influence of an international economy, migratory movements, and globally-circulating media images. The most widely-used term for an imaginary territory is the "nation state" - also a construct which suppresses internal differences, and whose national border demarcations occasionally result in serious consequences, as exemplified by former Yugoslavia. Territories can also be economic, social, or cultural in nature, but even then, a myriad of other spatial configurations arise. It is obvious, therefore, that the idea of a territory depends on the indicators one considers most significant for defining a space and its borders. History has shown us that these are variable and cannot be separated from political claims to power exercised over an area. Embedded within the framework of Cultural Territories is the question of what role culture and art play in connection with the transformation processes in central, east, and southeast Europe. The plural form suggests from the very beginning that there is not just one particular cultural territory, but many which overlap, examine one other, and put each other into perspective. Artists and curators from central, east, and southeast Europe are investigating a field in which both symptomatic stereotypes and new (emancipated) ideas are emerging: the field of representation. The project poses the question to what extent culture can liberate itself from national agendas. Cultural Territories hopes to open an arena for debates and discussions beyond "national" geography.
The two exhibitions, "Introducing Sites 1" and "Introducing Sites 2," are part of a two-year project titled Cultural Territories. As part of this project, an exhibition by Artur Zmijewski and two symposiums were held during the first three months of this year. These will now be followed by "Introducing Sites 1," under the curatorship of our grantholder, Ilina Koralova, and "Introducing Sites 2," under the curatorship of Dejan Grba, Leila Hodzic, Kestutis Kuizinas, Malgorzata Lisiewicz, Suzana Milevska, Gregor Podnar, Katalin Timar, the Foksal Gallery Foundation, and Barbara Steiner.
"Introducing Sites 1"
This exhibition, under the curatorship of the Bulgarian grantholder Ilina Koralova, investigates a variety of concepts and definitions of "places" and examines mental and medial images tied to particular places which give them identity. Five artists have been invited to exhibit their work: Oliver Musovik from Skopje, Daniela Kostova from Sofia, Azra Aksamija from Sarajevo/Vienna, Agnese Bule from Riga, and Pavel Braila from Chisinau. Though their methods vary, all the artists focus on the places of their origin and the concepts linked to them. They employ various medial forms such as videos, installations, and photography and refer to heroic myths, clichés, wishes, and collective memories with which they are repeatedly confronted. In his two photo series, "Neighbor 1 and 2," Oliver Musovik presents everyday life in Skopje and his neighbors' habits. However, the neighbors themselves never appear - we only see the traces of their lives, or more exactly, the results of their actions. Pavel Braila's two projects, the film "Shoes for Europe" and the installation "Music on Bones or 33 Revolutions per second," are based on Moldavia's wish to be integrated into and accepted as part of a united Western Europe despite its geographic fringe position. "Shoes for Europe" shows trains changing tracks between Romania and Moldavia which symbolizes a desire to arrive in Europe. "Music on Bones or 33 Revolutions per second" is also derived from a desire - in this case, to possess Western cult and status symbols. The T-shirts and Western music, pressed onto x-rays (for lack of vinyl), demonstrate Braila's attempt to obtain copies of unavailable goods. For her video "I see...", Daniela Kostova makes use of Bulgarian tourism materials available to foreign tourists in Sofia. She works with the superficiality of the information found in the tourist guides, yet denies the viewers the ability to see the spectacular sights by placing a black bar over the film material. Azra Aksamija's work, "The Fallen Angel," uses the idea of a monument as the embodiment of collective memory in connection with the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The artist uses the abstract image of a destroyed building which once housed the newspaper "Oslobodjenije" ("Freedom"), a symbol of freedom, and applies it to so-called "war souvenirs." In fact, the war souvenir market in Sarajevo has become one of the few flourishing small-scale business sectors. Aksamija commissioned local craftsmen to engrave the image of the destroyed newspaper building onto everyday items. This contrasts the majority of war souvenirs which generally feature engravings of national symbols on shrapnel and shell casings. Agnese Bule employs a medieval legend - which she herself invented - to represent the current situation in Latvia ten years after regaining its independence. Bule utilizes the (fictive) myth of how her country was founded - namely that the Latvians originally lived in trees and then in barrels - to criticize Latvia's societal compartmentalization.
"Introducing Sites 2"
After introducing their work and various working conditions at the GfZK last January, the nine curators were invited to first examine the question of "cultural" territories and then express their individual interests as curators. At this meeting, an array of various opinions and definitions of territoriality were critically examined and investigated.
Kestutis Kuizinas (Vilnius) will be presenting an American artist, Paul Ramirez Jonas (New York). His work opens the theme of "territory" which uses three monitors showing the remaining time until sunrise in locations on every fourth longitudinal meridian - more or less encompassing the earth.
Katalin Timar (Budapest) has chosen to hold an interview. She will be discussing various ideas of geography and territory with the British cultural research scientist, Irit Rogoff (London).
The directors of the Foksal Gallery Foundation (Warsaw) have decided to exhibit the work of Robert Kusmirowski (Rennes, Lubin). His artwork generally focuses on crossing territorial borders. At one time, he even created a visible forgery of a passport which he then traveled with. For his exhibition in Leipzig, he pedaled his way from Paris via Luxembourg to Leipzig on a bicycle originating from the 1920s. The documentation of his journey contains a mixture of real and fictitious moments, contemporary elements, and historical references.
Dejan Grba (Belgrade) has put together a video series titled "Row." In this project, he exam-ines the artistic territory on location - in Belgrade. Because of his particular interest in how such a territory is organized, he selected young artists, who in his opinion, hadn't yet submit-ted or refused to submit to the written and unwritten laws of the art business.
Suzana Milevska (Skopje) will center her talk show around political-economic and political-social changes in the system. Anne König (Leipzig) and Tanja Ostojic (Belgrade), both artists,will talk with Suzana Milevska about societal changes and their repercussions on their personal lives.
Gregor Podnar (Ljubljana) will be presenting two artists: Juri Leiderman (Moscow) and Alexander Gutke (Malmö). Both are interested in transformative, alchemistic-like processes. Leiderman "translates" letters (display case 1) and the names of mountains (display case 2) using acoustic signals and a process of precipitation in clumps of copper which convey the condensed information to a certain extent, but do not allow the sounds to be translated back into letter form. Gutke transforms a digitally-formatted picture into its analogue form, causing the data to become "fuzzy." With his choices, Podnar focuses on artistic territories - interpreting geography as a poetic term for memory, absence, and incomprehensibility.
Malgorzata Lisiewicz (Gdansk) criticizes the territory in her white exhibition room, which, appearing universal and pure, is primarily dominated by male sexuality. A wall spattered with blood, the photo of an exhibition room depicting another photo of a fragment of a female body, and the interior photo of a church with a bright green, imitation grass carpet, questions the purity of the sacred-looking exhibition room.
Barbara Steiner (Leipzig) focuses on crossing national borders. The film "WARS" by Josef Dabernig (Vienna) takes place in a Polish dining car. The train, however, never stops and the view outside remains unfocused. Nothing happens inside the train, and when it does, the actions are ritualistic. The film catapults both the protagonists and the viewers out of a concrete spatial and temporal frame, resulting in the abstraction of time and space.
Lejla Hodzic (Sarajevo) and the artist she has invited, Sejla Kameric (Sarajevo) have chosen to exhibit their project in front of the gallery. On the pavement outside the gallery, Kameric has painted an arrow pointing toward Sarajevo. The artist places such arrows wherever she happens to be to symbolize her homeland in a foreign country.
The selection process:
This year, the artists and curators were selected on the basis of existing contacts. And the range of contacts is continually expanding. However, this also explains why certain countries are not represented. The resulting map is one of internal relationships which lies superimposed over a national geography.
Cultural Territories projects which have already taken place:
Jan. 10, 2003: Symposium with Dejan Grba (Belgrade), Lejla Hodzic (Sarajevo), Ilina Koralova (Sofia), Kestutis Kuizinas (Vilnius), Malgorzata Lisiewicz (Gdansk), Suzana Milevska (Skopje), Joanna Mytkowska (Warsaw), Gregor Podnar (Ljubljana), Barbara Steiner (Leipzig), Adam Szymcyk (Warsaw), Katalin Timar (Budapest). These curators from central, east, and southeast Europe presented their work in lectures, slideshows, and films. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce the topic of "Cultural Territories" and to get to know the members and their individual opinions. The event was open to the public.
Existing networks were able to be intensified while a series of new contacts were made. For several curators (from Grba, Milevska, Hodzic), the event offered a welcome chance to travel to Germany. Under normal circumstances, they would have had difficulties entering the country as they would have required written invitations, entry visas, and proof of health insurance.
Jan. 26 - Mar. 23, 2003: Exclusive exhibition by Artur Zmijewski in cooperation with the Foksal Gallery Foundation in Warsaw.
In addition to the exhibition, a film was shown in the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, which was produced exclusively with German hearing-impaired and deaf students from the Samuel Heinicke School. The children sang Bach cantatas and were accompanied by the Leipzig Col-lege of Music's baroque ensemble. Both the film team and the choir director are residents of Warsaw. Meanwhile, at the Foksal Gallery Foundation in Warsaw, an exhibition was opened featuring the film shown in Leipzig.
Since then, the film has also been run at the Samuel Heinicke School. It will also be included as one of the events at the Bach Festival 2003 in Leipzig. In addition, the film is slated to run at art institutions in Lisbon and Salzburg. A CD was produced with film, titled "Tauber Bach" ("Deaf Bach"). A brochure will be appearing soon. The exhibition was Artur Zmijewski's first exclusive exhibition in Germany.
Mar. 14 - 15, 2003: Symposium on Cultural Translation
This event was divided into three parts. The first was a podium discussion led by Joanna Mytkowska (Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw) and Aline Porten (sign language interpreter, Cologne) who referred specifically to Artur Zmijewski's two films, "Singing Lesson 1" and "Singing Lesson 2," featuring deaf and hearing-impaired children singing music by Jan Malakiewicz and Johann Sebastian Bach. The discussion was moderated by the curator of the exhibition, Julia Schäfer. The second part focused on theoretical questions concerning translating and translatability. Fiona Elliott (translator, Edinburgh), Andreas Spiegl (theorist, Institute of Humanities, Sciences and Technologies in Art, Vienna) Barbara Steiner (theorist, curator, GfZK) and Adam Szymzyk (theorist, curator, Foksal Gallery Foundation in Warsaw/Kunsthalle Basel) addressed the possibilities and limits of translating. The last part of the symposium featured artworks, for example, by Santiago Sierra or Susanna Niesterowicz, which addressed the same theme.
Project team 2003: Barbara Steiner, Ilina Koralova in cooperation with Adam Budak,
Lejla Hodzic, Kostutis Kuizinas, Suzana Milevska, Gregor Podnar, Adam Szymcyk/Andzej
Pryzwara/ Joanna Mytkowska, Katalin Timár
Board of Advisors: Azra Aksamija, Pavel Braïla, Oliver Musovik, Roman Ondak