© 2018 by Overwhelming Imagination 

Global Politics of Art

Panel Discussion

July 4, 2016 | 14:00-17:00 

Contemporary art today is made possible by neoliberal capital plus the Internet, the biennials, the art fairs, parallel pop-up histories, growing income inequality.

One of the consequences of globalization and the deterritorialization of financial capital has been that the decisions that affect world citizens are now made by representatives of a corporate oligarchy untethered from the direct interests of nation-states.

Simultaneously the Internet age has changed the possibilities of visibility and international art practice and communication around the world. This can have an effect on art, art practice, exhibition practice and the different cultural communities in becoming tools of politics and economic entities, but at the same time can bring an empowerment to certain under-represented communities through bigger visibility. Further is the body of content of the art system still deeply rooted in colonial, political and gender-conservative narrations that are being challenged by a new generation of researcher. 

A standard way of relating politics to art assumes that art represents political issues in one way or another. But there is also another interesting perspective: the politics of the field of art. All fives papers are examining the field from various spaces. The political space historically and today, the space of art and investment and art infrastructure, the politics of gender and how they can be reimagined and the politics portrayed in mass media and how the Internet and mass media are changing the form of knowledge production. 

The art world and art research have become mobile. Important hubs of art are no longer only located in the Western metropolis. The art world travels from the Biennales in Venice and Berlin to the Biennales in Istanbul or Gwangju. These hubs of art exhibition are of course strongly connected to creating art exchange and infrastructures, but sometimes can also create a feeling of unifying a globalized artistic style. Lisa Bensel analyzes the cultural assimilation in art from various angles. Biennales and their infrastructure and outreach are taken under serious consideration, to see if biennales foster the cultural assimilation or if there might even be a mode of defining a global aesthetic. 

Elena Korowin introduces a political dimension of the West´s interest in so-called dissident artists in the era of the Cold War, but further connects it with the way dissident artists are perceived in today’s Internet era. The almost exhaustion of information and new transparency of politics through social media have changed the attention span and made these artists become hybrids of the global political discourse. Victoria Lucas deconstructs inaccurate cultural representations of gender, and provides alternative utopias that consider the possibilities of the digital image and its existence in both virtual and real space. Putting the construction of gender and how gender is portrayed not necessarily represented in art into possibilities of reimagining them in both real and virtual space. Song Borim is challenging the roles of cultural identity in digital art practice. Artists often entail a careful investigation of his or her own cultural and societal environments, but at the same time has cultural identity has become an asset. The digital space here also seems to become the un-owned ground that can be conquered by new forms of narration. Anahita Razmi gives an insight in her research findings in her creation process of a non-existent coming to your living room soon “soap opera,” named “New Eastenders,” & some of its possible & multi-referential preconditions. It considers TV soap operas and their stereotypical content from various cultural contexts. 

The panel of politics of art is very much focusing on the practice and the political and social context of art and how the narrations of art and their makers are changing in a globalized world and the era of the Internet. What are the changes and obstacles presenting itself in our current state of the local and global, these islands of art practice that today can be connected transnationally? The rewriting of histories, social structures and cultural identity is a necessity that is meant to be reimagined and re-researched. 

- Antonie Angerer


Antonie Angerer: It is interesting to see how images are constructed. Constructed by the Western world. This is something that is also happening very much in the dissident artist scene in China. And I always ask myself, why is Germany so strongly involved in creating this dissident culture and dissident art, this almost heroism of the dissident artist? There lies a certain danger in this promotion of dissident art, because people believe that they are getting critically informed about a country and the political state of this country, but it actually stops these people from actually engaging with the other. 

Elena Korowin: The reason why Germany is so much involved in the question of the dissident art of the Soviet Union in the post-war time is because Germany was the place where the international art politics were staged. It was the place between West and East. All discussions taking place were about abstract art and new expressions of art after the war. Through Documenta abstract art became the symbol for this division between Western and Eastern countries. The West of Germany was very much oriented to the West, to America. And dissident artists were to prove the narratives of the West as right. These artists were instrumentalized by the West, by curators and art managers, who were showing their thoughts or artwork as Soviet art, but with Western values. That is the first part, the second part is something that happened in the 19th century called the “Bildungsbürger.” The Bildungsbürger means educated middle class or the bourgeois. In Germany after the enlightenment a new education system was implemented and Germany was the champion of this education. So over the century there was this educated bourgeois. Bildungsbürger today has a slight negative tone. It is someone who is educated, who is representing Western humanist thoughts by looking at the canon. The canon of literature and art and is promoting this world view. So in the Cold War this Bildungsbürger was very interested in dissident art and was consuming it and not asking what was behind it. So dissident art was created. 

Kelly Dolly: I wonder if the term dissident is also problematic, because I felt it was a lot about inside and outside throughout the presentations, but also this very global and universal. So is it possible to be a dissident basically?  And I think Pussy Riot is such a great example for that. The origin of the word is to leave Catholicism. But can you ever really be a resistance to something that we are all embedded in? I think it is one of the most driving questions of everything we have been talking about. I'd love for you to talk about that. 

Elena Korowin: I totally agree that “dissident” is a very problematic word. In my research I found out that in the Cold War there were many words used to describe the word dissident. The “unofficial” artist, the “other” artist, the “underground” artist, I think these were the main terms. Currently I am working on the question - can you be a dissident at all? In the case of the Pussy Riot, they never played as dissidents in the past, or said they were dissidents themselves. They always saw themselves simply as artists. “Dissident” is a term Germans stick to in the media. I think from an overgrown cultural field in Germany, there are so many artists, there is so much art and in contrast you have someone in an autocratic state, who is fighting for human rights, for freedom of speech etc..We seem to need artists that are martyrs. 

Audience Question: I would love to hear more about other perspectives of this so-called “Russian dissident art” and the public response.

Elena Korowin: If you want to talk about Russian conceptualism, of course you have to see every single position to find out what their standing in the system was. It was crucial for me to realize that the concept of Moscow conceptualism and its artists that were assumed to be dissident is artificial. If you take dissidents as someone who is antisocial, it gets tricky. All of these artists were in the artistic union and they were all working as illustrators for children books. So they had their day-job in the art market and in private they were making other works in their apartments. We can keep on talking about these artists as part of a canonization of art. For me it is most interesting that after the break down of the Soviet Union the interest in these artists dropped. The artists that were famous before, became unknown by 1993/4. There was a Russian art boom, but as soon as this political system was going down, no one was interested in them anymore. Even Ira Karakow, who is until today on the art market, has much lower prices than in the 80s. 

Audience Member: I have a question for Victoria, but I think it also concerns Anahita’s project. I am struck by how the projects you are working on are a sanctuary. And I was wondering in this kind of Utopian space that you are building, or this soap opera that you are imagining, to what extend do you see them as commentaries or critical gestures or how much do you see them as actual constructions, an alternative space, an alternative type of television series? And if that is the case, how to then imagine on the other side of the project the consumption, because of course the mainstream films that we are talking about is about how broadly they are being circulated. 

Victoria Lucas: To relate to what you just said, Elena, about the West and how we perceive the West, what I am interested in is who is “the West,” who is framing the narratives, these histories, these genders, and how does that have an impact and how do we unpack these traditions in order to reposition ourselves? I guess using the digital media, as John was talking earlier today, to be the anti-social activist that will allow me to renegotiate this as a woman without being controlled by the West, the frame, which we are situated in. So from these physical societal structures I am taking the idea of the woman out of that, playing around a bit through digital media and then putting it back in place in terms of exhibition context, in the hope that they will raise awareness of those societal structures that we take for granted. And I think that as a model this can be used in other kinds of formats and ideas working within that model. 

Anahita Razmi: You were mentioning a sanctuary. I think as an artist it is possible to have a Utopian ambivalent narration and not necessarily take sides. Relating to the word “dissident,” it implies that you took sides. It is the stereotypical media narrative. And me relating to this series I really like to play with popular culture formats and then try to transform them into something else, break the narrative and see what possibilities are in there.

Audience Question: My question is to Borim. Talking about the idea of cultural appropriation verses cultural inspiration. That is something I am doing with in my own work recently, trying to navigate the idea of how much can I take from a culture that I don´t belong to. How can I pay respect to that part, while still perusing my artistic ritual? 

Song Borim: I think because we are artists we have a certain kind of freedom to explore in our own way. So already by starting to think about it I think and take some actions about it, that can be a great side of your artistic making. I think it is an ongoing process. There are so many preconceptions and prejudices. It is very hard to understand other cultures

Winnie Soon: On your last slide you talked about self-reflexivity in particular. My question is do you see your work as an unsettled work or do you see your work as a finished work. Because I think it is kind of in line with your self-reflexivity approach. 

Song Borim: So with this we don´t know where we are going and with the different technologies, we are changing so fast and so radically and there are so many things unknown. So definitely we should stay open minded. 

Victoria Lucas: It is a continual process. You are responding to your environment, to this digital technology that keeps evolving and changing and you are positioning yourself within that. When I was first making art I was a sculptor, I became a filmmaker and now I am using virtual reality and such. And I think it is really important to always question yourself, whether you are being absorbed by the frameworks that are the pattern of your understanding of you. So I think questioning everything is so important, particularly in the post digital age. 

Lisa Bensel: Self-reflection is fundamental to our practice because it is moving somehow transnational in the digital or physical world: if we would finish a thought and then say “yeah that´s it,” then we could not expand it any longer. That´s why I was super impressed that you had the courage to start with endings (To Anahita Razmi). You are really trying to find an end and you have to if you do an exhibition. You have to find this moment of temporary endings.

Elena Korowin: Self-reflexivity is in my case about dissident artists very important. We are in a new time where all theories of concrete standing in our culture are slowly going to the background or disappearing, or people are trying to make them disappear. I think we are all aware of the fact that you have to be very careful with theory, especially if you work on intercultural studies. You try to swim or switch and see the things from different angles. 

Anahita Razmi: Even as an artist if you are saying a work is finished, it is never finished. As soon as an audience comes in you have shown it in a different context, in different places, it will never be the same. Thinking of the notion of global art production and people traveling from one Biennale to the other, I still think there are contextual differences and they are important. The Manifesta in St Petersburg was totally different to the Manifesta in Zurich and there are reasons for that. And sad reasons sometimes. For me it is very interesting to think exactly about these contextual shifts and what they do.  And what the audience brings to it. 

Audience Question: The series you were showing, in what ways are these “The East” and “The West” stereotypes, or examples of cultural appropriation?

Anahita Razmi: Thinking about the title that I chose “The New Eastenders” I am aware that it is problematic. What is a new East? A different East? I hope I can discuss these terms using this piece. For my artwork I am still trying to use them because I know they exist. And I cannot pretend that they are not there, but I can put them into a new context. 

Audience Question: I also went to college in the US., and I think diaspora is something very common in different cultures right now. I mean not only geographically, but also historically.  Cultures are losing their own cultural identity-maybe not losing but changing. There are artists that present themselves as signifiers of their culture to be more favorable to consumers. I really wonder what you think of presenting yourself just as other people picture you in their mind.  

Song Borim: When I moved to New York City in 1999 to study and I went to the Soho galleries, many of the Asians that were having exhibitions at the time were utilizing their cultural identity to become successful. And it was not an honest reflection on who they are and where they come from, but more a marketing of their own cultural identities. I thought to myself at the time, while I am studying here I wont use my Korean cultural identity. But starting to study contemporary art, you start to also think about yourself. Doing any artistic research you really have to look into yourself and your inner self in a very reflexive way and that’s how I got really interested in cultural identity, diaspora, and other movements going beyond stereotypes, misunderstanding and miscommunication in other cultural groups. But in the U.S. multi-culturalism has been used politically. It is a power game of certain groups. With your own projects you have to try to go beyond that.


Elena Korowin

Victoria Lucas