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ArtLeaks Gazette # 6: “There is No ‘Back to Normal’ – Art Workers in Times of (Post)Pandemic Crisis” / 18th Tallinn Print Triennial

February 23, 2022

Ten years ago, international members of ArtLeaks decided to launch an open call for the ArtLeaks Gazette, a new publication, in addition to the archive of leaked cases that can be read and debated on our website. Why? Through our Gazette, we wanted to give more dimension to the urgency of transforming art workers’ relationships with institutions, networks, and economies involved in the production, reproduction, and consumption of art and culture. Since the first release “Breaking the Silence – Towards Justice, Solidarity and Mobilization” (which came out in early 2013) we have pursued this goal by testing and developing new approaches to institutional critique in this and that context and challenging certain discourses of engagement and criticality which coopt or tame creative forces. Through gazette issues such as “Demanding Justice: Social Rights and Radical Art Practices” (2017) we also sought to link art workers’ struggles with similar ones from other fields of human activity. Also a decade ago, together with The May Congress of Creative Workers, we have raised the question “What art system do we need?” during the Moscow Assembly, a question which continues to bear relevance and urgency today.

Today, compared to the existential threats societies are exposed to during the pandemic crisis, the problems of the art world seem less important. We witnessed the virulent spread of Trumpism, the reestablishment of right-wing governments in Europe, and threats of global hostilities and continual precarity of life. A wave of aggressive commercialization coupled with massive layoffs has swept the art field, driven by the process of speculative financialization during the crisis. Nevertheless, the climate of social disintegration and political confrontation also forged new forms of struggle and alliances online and off.

The authors in this special edition of the Gazette – Mike Watson, Alphabet Collection (Mohammad Salemy and Rômulo Moraes), Vida Knežević, Dmitry Vilensky, Anna Ehrenstein, ZIP Group, Federico Geller, Su Wei, Kafe-Morozhenoe, Maria Helen Känd and Dorian Batycka – have bravely managed to cope with all these dire problems of today (despite the fading of criticality in the post-pandemic context), and have reflected on the new paradigm of artistic production we live in. Vida Knežević, Dmitry Vilensky and Maria Helen Känd highlight strategies, new alliances and actions are taken to counter the new heightened problems art workers are facing related to their subsistence, new forms of censorship and repression in countries such as Serbia, Russia and Estonia respectively. In his contribution, Mike Watson takes into account that the extended online communication goes together with the increased isolation of the individual – albeit having enabled a new era of do-it-yourself publishing and the rise of the left internet. Dorian Batycka poses the question of how art can respond during moments of profound crisis and calls for a pragmatic shift in the way how art engages in social and political affairs. How do artists get involved in such an (online) counter-culture? Mohammad Salemy and Rômulo Moraes of Alphabet Collection claim that the post-pandemic world of art will be shaped by four, already visible trends. Su Wei writes about the rise of nationalism and the phenomenon of an even greater detachment of reality and bubblification of contemporary art in post-pandemic China. Artistic contributions by Anna Ehrenstein, ZIP Group, Federico Geller and visualization of the situation of art workers by Kafe-Morozhenoe from Russia tells us much more about how it is possible to communicate post-pandemic conditions of art workers at the periphery.

Thanks to curator Rona Kopeczky and her invitation to the 18th Tallinn Print Triennial entitled “Warm. Checking Temperature in Three Acts”, we were able to publish this current issue of the ArtLeaks Gazette. We invited artists and other cultural workers to contribute by tackling the multiple crises in cultural and artistic production in recent years. The consolidation of nationalist cultural politics, the pandemic-related condition to work and communicate through online platforms, localization of art events, migration to non-art related spheres, substantial changes of the meaning of art and its economy, hate speech attacks by right-wing actors on social media platforms or government media are just a few aspects of this crisis. It is a crisis much more complex and harder than one in 2008 when the ArtLeaks platform was established; it follows that the questions and answers given by our contributors are indeed more timely and distinctive from those anti-austerity and Occupy movements had in the 2010s. The shift of the art world during the pandemic and its changes have occupied our space and new critical voices have to struggle even more to make meaning of our reality. Perhaps we see digital and virtual private spaces offer new possibilities for art workers and producers, to join the flow of uncertainty as the new strains of virus and cryptocurrencies appear and become part of art production and reproduction.

Corina L. Apostol, Rena Rädle & Vladan Jeremić

Letter from Afghan Artists To World Leaders

February 9, 2022

A letter from the suffering artists of Afghanistan to President Biden, Prime Minister Johnson, President Macron, Federal Chancellor Scholz, President von der Leyen, Secretary General Stoltenberg, Secretary General Guterres, and to all governments and people in the free world

Our warm regards to you!

We, a group of dedicated Afghan artists and cultural workers, are writing this letter at a time when our arts and cultural activities have been brutally halted and we pass our days and nights secretly inside our homes in poverty.

Jobless, futureless, in constant fear of arrest and death at the hands of the Taliban, we do not live but merely exist. A profound darkness has befallen Afghanistan.

Over the last two decades, and despite myriad challenges, our generation eagerly grasped the freedom and opportunities that the international community so generously helped open up in Afghanistan to study, educate, and develop ourselves, to fight for freedom, and to defend human rights. We worked passionately for the regrowth of our arts and culture so grievously wounded by decades of war. We succeeded in gaining ground in free expression and the right to vote. We opened cinemas, painted our subjects freely, played music and sang. We made movies, held art exhibitions and music concerts.

Now, due to Taliban bigotry, this rich legacy of two decades is at extreme risk and our work and way of life have come to an abrupt end.

Over the years, sadly, numerous innocent artists and cultural workers have fallen victim to horrifying Taliban suicide attacks and other inhuman atrocities. Yet we have continued to fight against their dark mentality. Our colleagues have faced the many accompanying dangers bravely. Artists of our generation have become the bloodied symbols of artistic integrity, abjuring extremism, upholding freedom, democracy, and human rights.

The Taliban consider creative artists anti-Islamic. These are lies. Knowing them, however, during the recent peace negotiations we raised our concerns about the likely fate of Afghanistan’s cultural community if the country fell to the Taliban. Tragically, these warnings went unheeded. Now our country is in the grip of a barbarous and destructive sect and a dark future awaits millions of innocent Afghans.

Our fervent hope, like those of our many friends throughout the international community, was that Afghanistan would have peace under their protection and that no power would undo the gains Afghanistan has achieved over the last two decades. Tragically that was not to be and the reality is that freedom of speech, international human rights, the rights of women, artists, cultural workers, filmmakers, democracy itself – the bases of civilized life enjoyed by our friends and shared with us – have been extinguished in Afghanistan.

It is beyond belief that the Taliban, one of the largest and most deadly of terrorist organisations, has subjugated Afghanistan. A group that murdered thousands of innocent people, destroyed our cultural heritage, exterminated artists and obliterated cultural centres with their ceaseless, brutal suicide and other terror attacks, are now in control and seen in the comfort of the most luxurious hotels in Kabul and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan the Taliban impose their reign of terror, destroy the futures of Afghan women, close down education for Afghan girls, and preside over the collapse of the national economy and a fast approaching famine that risks the lives of millions of innocent Afghans.

We shall never accept the monstrous misery and darkness they have brought and will continue to vstruggle against it by every means possible. We urge the world to rise up and join us in condemning the horror and cruelty growing daily in our country.

Many artists, cultural workers and journalists are in the gravest danger at Taliban hands and are stranded in Afghanistan. These people need urgent help to leave. There is no future for them in a Taliban controlled Afghanistan. Instant death will be the inevitable result of defiance and to remain is to be forced to forswear our working vocations, an agonizing form of slow death.

We implore you, Mr Biden, Mr Johnson, Monsieur Macron, Mr Scholz, Madame von der Leyen, Mr Stoltenberg, Senhor Guterres, leaders of the Free World and the international community, recognizing that Afghanistan’s present predicament belongs not only to Afghans but to all those who have bravely fought and died there, to acknowledge our agony. We ask you directly to hold out your hands to us with practical steps to help us relocate to safety where we can continue our stewardship of Afghanistan’s arts and culture and ensure that the precious national culture and spirit of the Afghan people remains alive for future generations. As Saadi, one of our greatest poets, has written:

Human beings are members of a whole, In the creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, Other members uneasy will remain.

With deep respect,
A group of Afghan artists, cultural workers and journalists

Show your solidarity for Afghan artists and creatives at risk

This campaign aims to amplify the voices of Afghanistan’s braveartists and creatives who have been forced into a life of fear andsilence by transmitting their words and images to the widestpossible public.

Call for Zero Books to Cease Attacking Authors and Respect Contracts

December 15, 2021

We are a group of Zero Books authors and ex-employees moved by the recent acquisition of Zero’s parent company John Hunt Publishing, and the ensuing communication around that takeover from the new Zero staff and their colleagues at Repeater books, to publish the following statement:

The authors of this open letter have published with Zero Books under the tenure of Doug Lain and/or worked as staff alongside Doug Lain as well as making contributions to Zero’s media channels. While we wish to avoid the exacerbation of a mud-slinging match between readers and authors of Zero Books under Doug Lain’s tenure (to be called Zero 2.0 from herein), we would like to take the opportunity to address a number of inaccuracies in the dialogue around Lain’s tenure as well as over the nature of the takeover and to raise concerns over the management of the back catalog of Zero 2.0 books and communications about Zero 2.0 staff and writers.

Firstly we wish to address the maltreatment via potential slander, libel, trolling behavior, and neglect of publishing and promotional duties, in the hope that a troubling development of negative portrayals regarding Zero 2.0 authors and staff, including Doug Lain, can be forestalled. It is then also hoped that the respective imprints (Zero and Repeater), as well as Doug Lain’s new publishing company, can continue to provide leftist material in their bid to foster an incisive culture of left critique and action. Given the differing remits of the various imprints and Zero’s successive guises, a full range of left views can be addressed, leading to a multifarious debate that includes materialist and identitarian trends. Though for this to happen the existing back catalog of Zero 2.0 needs to be well treated, in line with contractual commitments to books published under Doug Lain.

It is here that our first concerns are raised as initial communications from Repeater itself and from some of its staff and writers indicated a disdain for the back catalog they claimed they had in fact acquired as well as for the work and values of Zero 2.0’s writers. This has accompanied a narrative that casts the takeover of John Hunt Publishing by Watkins Media as the specific purchase of Zero Books by Repeater Books. Such a claim has since been toned down incrementally to now consist of the Watkins’ owner having bought Zero’s owner and that same owner having been linked to the foundation of Repeater.

We understand the realities of capitalism and in no way blame Repeater for Watkins’ takeover of John Hunt Publishing, though we do question the ensuing narrative whereby the takeover of JHP by Watkins is cast as a crusade against the wrong sort of leftists (in the form of Zero 2.0) by a morally superior imprint. We also question the narrative peddled by Zero’s new team (linked closely to Repeater, such that the new manager of Zero is the wife of Repeater’s manager), which has from the offset revolved around the notion that Zero’s acquisition marks a return to quality publishing and the closure of period of poor management, low-quality theorization, and nefarious political positions. In taking this position privately to authors, semi-publicly in the JHP author system, and publicly on Twitter and YouTube, the new team of Zero Books not only divide the left but appear to want to renege on contractual commitments to sell and publicize Zero 2.0s output.

We take the position that speaking down the merits of Zero 2.0 is at odds with the obligations that the new staff of Zero know they have towards the Zero 2.0 catalog. As such we ask that overt and passive-aggressive criticism of Zero 2.0 is ceased by employees of Zero and on platforms dedicated to the promotion of Zero’s books. While the new Zero team are unable to control the colorful and mostly wholly inaccurate negative statements made by some Repeater authors and readers regarding Zero 2.0 and its authors, we do expect the new legal owners of our books to proceed in line with the contracts they have assumed responsibility of. This includes: obligations to sell those books; making books available so long as there are buyers or potential buyers; obligations to promote those books transparently at increments of 500 sales using the available Zero branded media channels; obligations to publish books that have been contracted and to promote and push those books adequately to potential buyers; obligations to promote those books transparently at increments of 500 sales using the available Zero branded media channels.

We would like to request that ongoing divisive attacks, which occur in tandem with personal attacks issued by at least one Repeater author (at points amounting to quite literal harassment) naming a number of Zero 2.0 authors, cease. We would like to point out that such attacks are met with increasing bemusement and exasperation from Zero 2.0 readers and from neutrals who fail to understand why the new Zero team and Repeater are behaving so aggressively to fellow leftists. While we appreciate the existence of multifarious divisions within the left, we are particularly dismayed at the branding of demonstrably left-wing Zero Books writers as ‘right wing’ or ‘right adjacent’ and point to the very real damage this does at a time when we face a genuine right-wing threat. We feel that while an alliance of trolls, writers, and staff of Repeater and Zero may see it as clever to try to disparage what they see as rival authors, history will not likely judge this moment kindly if the people responsible for the above described actions continue to divide the left against itself for their own gain. In fact, the most prominent among them are seen by all but their coterie as bullies.

As many onlookers have noted, it would have been usual to expect the incoming team of Zero Books to express a sense of enthusiasm and gratitude for the books they have acquired, many of which are among the leading leftist theoretical texts of the last 8 years. To instead disparage hundreds of authors collectively while inexplicably promoting some titles and not others and only under practical duress following the alarm caused by an initial tweet signaling disdain for the Zero 2.0 era, is an act of extreme bad faith. If it needs to be said, it is clear in any case that Watkins Media now owns not only Repeater with its socially democratic and idpol friendly output but also the catalog of Zero 2.0 with its largely socialist-leaning output and that it stands to benefit from the sales of both sets of authors it pits against one another. Whatever the intention, communication from the Zero team and Repeater have been frequently hostile towards notable writers, seeming to act potentially as a distraction from their work and livelihood.

In this light, an official statement (in the sense that it was made from the official Zero Books account) on YouTube to the effect that books deemed reactionary would be ‘pulped’ is just one in a line of troubling communications that appear aimed at sowing fear and upset among fellow leftists. Furthermore, such declarations court illegality, given Zero Books’ legal obligations to print and publish all of the back catalog so long as it is still selling. Of course, to be clear, we also don’t like ‘reactionary’ books, but who will decide which books are ‘reactionary’? Are the new Zero Books team casting themselves as judge and jury, and yet above the law? Clearly, this cannot be the case and we, therefore, ask that the aggressive and libelous communication style we have witnessed continually over the last two months will cease.

The sense of solidarity among Zero 2.0 writers is strong and we won’t be distracted. We seek as committed leftist authors to promote an awareness of leftist political values in order to realize a world run, ‘from each according to their ability to each according to their needs.’ Obstacles to this path are blocked by so many factors on an ongoing basis. We ask that our publisher does not continue to be one of these obstacles and that history can record a period of flourishing leftist publishing coming from varied imprints and not a period of internecine infighting that impedes leftist authors in the name of financial profit, self-aggrandizement, and financial gain. We do not expect Zero Books or Repeater to impede us in this vision. So far as this is now the case, it must stop.

Signed: Concerned Zero Books authors, in solidarity with all left authors and artists willing to work together.

ArtLeaks to take part in Tallinn Print Triennial 2022

November 5, 2021

18TH TALLINN PRINT TRIENNIAL “WARM. CHECKING TEMPERATURE IN THREE ACTS” TAKES PLACE IN 2022

Artists: ArtLeaks | Jasmina Cibic | Hubert Czerepok | Agnes Denes | Igor Eškinja | Oxana Gourinovitch | Ferenc Gróf | Flo Kasearu | Eva Koťátková | Volodymyr Kuznetsov | Irena Lagator | Olson Lamaj | Marko Mäetamm | Alexander Manuiloff | Dóra Maurer | Raul Meel | Katja Novitskova | Dan Perjovschi | Géza Perneczky | Nada Prlja | Kaisa Puustak | Driton Selmani | Slavs and Tatars | Société Réaliste | Bojan Stojčić | Endre Tót

Curator: Róna Kopeczky

Dates: 22 January – 27 March 2022

Venues: Kai Art Center | Temnikova & Kasela Gallery | Põhjala Tap Room | EKA Gallery | Flo Kasearu House Museum | Liszt Institute Tallinn | Kanuti Gildi SAAL

Tallinn Print Triennial is pleased to announce its 18th edition entitled Warm. Checking Temperature in Three Acts. The triennial, curated by Róna Kopeczky, primarily gives thought to the radical political, cultural political and social turns that affect Central and Eastern Europe, and  it also inscribes these changes in a global perspective through the lens of universal absurdity. The project gives voice to contemporary artists based in, or originating from, the Central and Eastern European region who reflect boldly and critically on burning issues such as the rise of right-wing phobist politics, globally misplaced priorities, the collapse of democracies, the shrinking of freedom – in both life and art – and the general sense of conditioned fear and hostility prevailing today.

The title reflects more precisely on the mechanisms through which positive notions shift and slide in our interpretation towards the negative realm and become associated with different or contradictory meaning depending on the new contexts or situations they are used in. More concretely, how the originally positive signification of “warm” – an agreeable feeling, the sense of a fairly or comfortably high temperature, and a behaviour showing enthusiasm, affection, or kindness – has become a warning sign of political turmoil, social irritation, symptoms of climate change and global pandemic, and therefore a signal of both natural and social global instability. In meeting this misleading shift of signification, Warm aims to be a contemporary reflection on the fundamentally absurd global condition and on the dissonances of the human condition.

Inviting artists from the regional contemporary art scene with existing works and new commissions, Warm comprises three intertwined cycles entitled The Nation Loves ItPickle Politics and The Science of Freedom, which reference artists and artworks included in the exhibition. The three chapters articulate around the spectacle of absurdity with the intention to dissect and appropriate it. They also playfully propose humour, derision and laughter as an antidote or an imagined alternative that builds on visionary defiance and poetic escapism.

Kirill Medvedev in prison (Moscow, Russia)

November 1, 2021

Kirill Medvedev is an international well known muscovite poet, translator, publicist, acrivtist and community organizer, co-founder of Arkadiy Kots combat-folk band, a long term Free Home learner.

Since long Kirill is engaged in the defence of peoples land and territories defence, against extractivism, real estate development and criminal waste dumps.

On October 26th, Kirill and other activists were defending a courtyard adjacent to Sretenka street from oligarch Deripaska’s development of an unlawful construction, a luxury apartment hotel rising right on the site of historic buildings from the 18th century –  despite the protests of the local residents ( https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=4433364603417228&id=100002311967659). The activists were aggressively attacked by the police and kept in the police station for 24 hours awaiting the court hearing. On October 27th, the Meshchansky court in Moscow sentenced Kirill Medvedev along with Anastasia Borisiuk and Fedor Neronov to 10 days of administrative punishment, reinforcing their detention under Article 19.3. ‘resistance to the lawful demands of police officers’.

As the excavation continues, they are imprisoned at spetspriyomnik nr-r. 1 and 2 already for 5 days.

Please, circulate this message to denounce the increasing punitive repression that activists are subjected to in Russia. You can support and share solidarity posting on your preferred channel or social media, using these hashtags to join the campaign organized by the Russian comrades #ThisLandIsYourLand, #Kirill Medvedev,  #ArkadiyKots, #Russiaprotest #ЗаЧтоСидитКирилл

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