PRIVATE NATIONALISM – KOŠICE
The dynamic social development in the countries of the former Eastern, Soviet bloc over the past quarter of century has brought to the surface many negative phenomena, which in 1989/90 appeared to have been overcome for-ever, such as the residues of communism. However, we have to admit that we were very wrong; actually the accelerated course of history confronted us with other unexpected conflicts. The same, even romantic approach has been applied in the visual arts as well; many of us advocated for apolitical, autonomous art in the belief that along with the change of regime we would forever get rid of official and engaged art, i.e. art serving the politicians and a political party or a specific political ideology. The same belief was held regarding contemporary art, which was supposed to steer clear of political themes and retreat into its immanent problems. In the 1990s, the international visual arts reviews were already indicating that contemporary visual arts was incorporating tendencies that were uncorrelated and even in conflict with our ideas. The art of the time could not distance itself from the armed conflicts, aloof from social conflicts, which more and more thematized such phenomena as nationalism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, anti-liberalism, etc.
All the ills of society which were smothered during the decades of communism, suddenly rolled over to the highest levels of politics, got into the mainstream of public discourse, which was reinforced by parallel events in other parts of Europe and other continents. In Central Europe, the war and conflicts in the first half of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia, brought about a new discourse in art, the essence of the conflict – nationalism – was also gradually thematized in other countries of the former Eastern bloc, which was often associated with other local conflicts such as political clericalism, ultra-conservatism, finding and naming an external and internal enemy, or the inability to admit the Communist past etc. Owing to the emergence of new nation states in the region and the trends of the official national artistic discourse, a new official art in public space emerged again, which has been and is marked by the traditional concept of fine art and by the artwork located in public areas. The emergence of new states and new political-ideological definitions of the future of the already existing countries created a space for art contaminated by power and nationalist intentions and expectations, which has become a means for forming a new national and political identity. Precisely these trends, which can be identified in each Central European country of the former Eastern bloc, have contributed to the outset of activities rejecting these attempts in the visual arts as well. The seriousness of the situation is also demonstrated by the interest of art history to explore national themes and nationalism in an unconventional context. In addition to large events such as Documenta in Kassel, the discussion of this issue has also become the subject of the critical exhibition Ř! The Czech national identity in contemporary art at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague (2012/13) and of the analytical-critical exhibition The Slovak Myth in the Slovak National Gallery in Bratislava (2005/06). Our Central European region, though, also held exhibitions aimed at the conscious building of national awareness controlled by a political power as it was e.g. the exhibition Heroes, Kings, Saints on the occasion of the new Hungarian Constitution in the prestigious Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest (2012). Activities of a similar nature have gained space also in contemporary art, which was proved by a magnificent exhibition with a dubious concept What is Hungarian? (2012) in Budapest Kunsthalle (Műcsarnok); however, this contamination has also marked imported exhibitions, e.g. the presentation of the offi cial Chinese art from 1978 to the present in the premises of the Museum of Fine Arts in the Hungarian capital under the name of Tradition and Renewal (Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, 2012). Sites and spaces of contemporary art, mostly galleries from the unofficial scene, generate critical thinking within a wide range of artistic expression. This vivid dialogue, addressing society in an elementary way, successfully involved public art projects (Politic-um, Transart Communication Public Dialog Komárom – Komárno organised by Ilona Németh and József R. Juhász, etc.). This intellectual and artistic position of contemporary art is represented in every country of our region.
The Private Nationalism exhibition, or its variant in Košice, examines the different positions and views on this issue accepting or emphasizing the specifics of each country. It is precisely the different development of societies, different level of the rootedness of intolerant ideologies and preconceptions, centralized formation of national identity, or the ability to confront the negative past of the state and nation or admit the extent of historical responsibility for the wrongs caused to others, which determine the specific features of the artworks selected from different countries. The selection is the result of the curators´ concept of the particular partners from abroad. The main common feature of these artworks is not only a critical reflection on the current societal topics in which their authors live, but also their stance, since not once have they pronounced a minority opinion and attack the ideas and beliefs of the majority – often with the risk tongue can be classified by such a negative designation. However, it is evident, that there are works of art, or individual images of the artists´ world, that include certain enrooted elements of prejudice, which their originators do not even realize, considering themselves as global citizens, strident defenders of human rights, activists opposing any manifestations of populism and nationalism by their own nation, or liberals without prejudice. The sources of this contradiction can be varied and individual, even intimate. However, they can be jointly evaluated as a certain form of disguised “nationalism”, while the question is whether or not this evaluation is marked or generated by a different private “nationalism”?
The Košice exhibition Private Nationalism is structured into three conceptual units: Geopolitics, Power positions in politics and in history and Private nationalism. The national selections of the curators were – according to the concept of Ilona Németh, József R. Juhász and Michael Štofa, arranged and grouped upon the nature of the particular artworks into an international context, while taking into account the genius loci of the exhibition premises of the Kunsthalle. The Visegrad format of the exhibition is extended to Romania, Ukraine and Turkey and, the insight into Germany is also historically justified, as currently in this country there is a new intense debate taking place about the Nazi past and German identity. The project presents 55 artists and artistic groups; the author of the idea is Rita Varga of the Approach Art Association, Pécs, Hungary.
The concept also includes the presentation of the exhibition, following Kunsthalle in Košice, in other cities as well: Pécs, Krakow, Prague, Dresden, Istanbul, Berlin and, finally, Debrecen, Hungary again. The exhibition provides an international platform for discussion of the relationship between politics and art, art and power, artistic activism and the impact of art on social processes.
ORGANIZERS OF THE PRIVATE NATIONALISM PROJECT
Approach Art Association, Pécs (H)
Apartment Project, Istanbul (TR) Bunker Sztuky, Krakow (PL) Divus, s.r.o., Prague (CZ) Kassak Centre for Intermedia Creativity, Nové Zámky (SK) MODEM, Gallery and Museum of Contemporary Art, Debrecen (H) Ostrale, Dresden (D) Zsolnay Heritage Management Nonprofit Ltd., Pécs (H)
THE PROJECT IS SUPPORTED BY
THE European Union Program Culture (2007-2013) Visegrad Fund Government Office of the Slovak Republic under the National Minority Culture program 2014 Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic Accompanyi