Report of the 3rd ArtLeaks Assembly in Belgrade and Related Events
First on our list was the problematic case of the Museum of Contemporary Art, a truly amazing piece of modernist architecture. This venue has been closed since 2007, when reconstruction works started but were never finished. At the moment of our visit, an exhibition entitled “What Happened to the Museum of Contemporary Art?” (a non-exhibition of documentation, art interventions and the building interior) was on display. This exhibition represents the first public problematization of the museum’s condition after more than 5 years of silence on behalf of the management and its director, who has been in power for over 12 years. With more than 30 employees and five other venues, the main activities of this institution are conducted from a villa in a rich neighbourhood of Belgrade, serving the private interests of the management, while still funded by public money.
While visiting the “non-exhibition” inside, we discussed why the Belgrade art community did not just simply occupy this empty museum and create an alternative space where cultural workers could share their knowledge, conduct classes and workshops, construct exhibitions. This could be a great experiment in building a space for art and culture using a bottom-up approach.
After this visit we were joined by artist Vladan Jeremić and photographer Benjamin Renter. The second venue we visited that day was the Gallery of the Artists Union of Serbia (ULUS), where the solo-exhibition „I am him“ was on-going. Artist Milica Vergot gave us a tour of the exhibition.
Afterwards, we went on to observe two open air photo-exhibitions in the old fortress of Belgrade, at Kalemegdan Park. The first exhibition entitled „The New Look of Russia“ was sponsored by GAZPROM while the other, „This is Poland“ was produced by the Austrian Embassy.
Some initial conclusions: Very diverse and difficult local context to explore with many problematic points.
On the 31st of August we organized an internal meeting from 1pm-5pm at the Cultural Center REX. At this meeting participated: Corina L. Apostol, Alina Popa, Ştefan Tiron, Veda Popovici, Vladan Jeremić, Rena Raedle, Noa Treister, Nikola Radić Lucati, Alexander Nikolić and his son Vincent. Isidora Fićović contributed to the discussions via Skype.
Our discussion began with the possibility and conditions of applying for or receiving outside funding for ArtLeaks and establishing a common donation fund which would help us to organize more assemblies and workshops as well as for our forthcoming ArtLeaks Gazette.
Rena Raedle, artist and cultural worker from Belgrade suggested using the model for Wikipedia which is funded through donations by the users via the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization.
Noa Treister, artist and curator from Belgrade, gave us feedback on our project, suggesting that we should attempt to broaden the scope, focusing not only on artists but also including journalists, other workers and social groups. She also highlighted the importance of formulating positive alternatives, and not just criticizing the status-quo.
The discussion then focused on cultural workers’ rights and self-organization: namely, the question of creating international standards for compensation of cultural work; the difference between NGO-ism, which is based on competition of individuals, and Unionism, based on solidarity; the question of how to include precarious workers in a classical trade union structure and the necessity of updating the traditional form of trade unions, of finding new forms of unionism.
Isidora Fićović, an artist from Belgrade had a very active participation via Skype. She talked about the extremely subordinated and submissive position of artists in Serbian society and their very bad material conditions. She remarked that artists are not well-organised and remain fragmented as a community, therefore it is hard to achieve some level of solidarity among them.
Alexander Nikolić presented his space, BOEM (Association for Art, Culture, Science and Communication) in Vienna and introduced a useful comparison between the contemporary cultural worker and the gastarbeiter (or guest-worker).
Vladan Jeremić introduced the idea of creating a glossary within ArtLeaks to clarify key-terms (such as art worker, cultural worker, gentrification) which have different meanings and nuances according to local contexts. Crucial definitions like for example definition of labor or value in Marxist terms and standardisation of some definitions could be important. Vladan also suggested initiating an “ArtLeaks Country Report” on the local socio-economic-legal conditions of cultural production by country, as often such studies are missing. Vladan will coordinate reports on Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria and Bosnia and Herzegovina, while Corina will do the same for Romania, Hungary and Ukraine. We hope this initiative will be expanded to cover as many regions of the globe as possible.
The 3rd ArtLeaks Assembly open to the public began at 7 PM and lasted until 11 PM. The public consisted of approximately 40 people plus announced speakers at the round table.
Art historian and curator Corina Apostol, introduced the ArtLeaks project to the audience. Corina highlighted the urgency of constituting the project which was founded in September 2011, some of our goals and values, and presented 5 case studies of violations and abuses which were published this past year of activity. Corina also stressed that while the project currently works as a council of core members, it is open to receiving new members who wish to join our struggles. Corina also presented some ArtLeaks initiatives such as The No Fee Statement, summarized discussions in previous ArtLeaks Assemblies and Workshops and introduced the forthcoming ArtLeaks journal – a publication dedicated to cultural workers rights. and related struggles. She then invited the audience to offer comments, criticism and suggestions about how ArtLeaks could be improved.
Alina Popa spoke on behalf of the group that she co-founded with Irina Gheorghe in 2009, The Bureau of Melodramatic Research. She discussed their participation in the Pavilion Unicredit exhibition, “Just Do It. Biopolitical Branding” in 2010, where they brought into question this institutions’ relationship with its sponsor, UniCredit Bank, and the fact that artists were not paid for their labor in their installation – “The Soul of Sustainability” (March 2011). This intervention brought the group in collaboration with other founding members of ArtLeaks. Alina also discussed the group’s strategy of melo-critique through which they examine the way in which key elements of melodrama are currently at work on the political scene. In ArtLeaks this strategy may be extended to deal with the position of the witness and modes of production of truth through first-person reports.
Artist and curator Ştefan Tiron presented his own case of being blacklisted from the MNAC (National Museum for Contemporary Art) in Bucharest. He recounted how in 2004, when the museum began to function, he was appointed in the initial curatorial team and was accused of stealing a bag of invitations to the opening. After this incident he completely left the institution. Ştefan also highlighted that people may be afraid to speak out about their cases publicly on ArtLeaks, which doesn’t have a witness protection program. But, what he and others did in Bucharest was to be a step ahead of the people that tried to blackmail and blacklist them: they started a small inquisition jury, inviting witnesses in these cases to retract what they had said publicly, thus forcing the institutions into a public retraction of all the accusation that they had made.
Vesna Milosavljević, journalist from the biggest cultural portal in South-East Europe, SEEcult.org declared that she is ready to re-publish or to support ArtLeaks content; her criticism on ArtLeaks was that the project needs a better PR strategy and to establish stronger communication with the media field.
Selman Trtovac, artist and founder of the artist cooperative Third Belgrade, highlighted the need to talk about positive examples and positive alternatives cultural communities could provide, and not only focus on the negative cases which ArtLeaks exposes. He added that he thinks it is very important to include projects like ArtLeaks in artists’ strategies, to organize artists cooperatives and communities and not only to rely on NGO and official institutions.
Professor emeritus Marica Radojčić, mathematician, artist and president of the Association UMNA-Art&Science, brought up specific cases – the annual exhibition of the Expanded Media department of the ULUS-Association of the Visual Artists of Serbia – when artists are usually forced to finance the event from their own resources, while the funds for exhibitions go to the salaries of the ULUS Administration. She also expressed serious doubts that in Serbia it would be possible to develop serious criticism of the art world, as it seemed to her that the whole population, artists included, are tired and depressed from the war, poverty and struggling for everyday survival.
Curator Maja Ćirić underlined problem of exoticism of the particular cases from the Balkans if they were to be included in ArtLeaks and raised problems of the global and local in art and cultural production. She also highlighted ArtLeaks as a bottom-up project that could be used as a positive model for self-organization.
Rena Raedle highlighted the potential of ArtLeaks to back up local struggles of cultural workers through its international dimension. She discussed public research as a possible methodology to unveil relations of exploitation and mutual blackmailing that are otherwise covered under an alliance of silence. She proposed to develop supportive structures of solidarity on local and international level and introduced the model of a common fond members and users of ArtLeaks would donate to, thus using money as a medium of coherence and solidarity rather than dependence (of project-oriented funding).
Photographer Nikola Radić Lucati discussed the very specific context of Serbia and the Balkans, while mapping big players such as Emir Kusturica or the Serbian Orthodox Church as the most problematic in organizing reactionary hegemony and misuse of public cultural funds. Nikola warned us about post-war situation of the Balkans and all extremely complex difficulties that such societies are facing with. Vladan Jeremić added that the specificity of the region includes the proliferation of the NGO industry and professionalization in the field of NGO and cultural industry. In his view, this constitutes a sizable obstacle for the emancipation of the cultural workers in the Balkans. Until now, it has been the case that NGOs were gathering in networks in order to gain control over funds and political power – thus, control of public and art production space is still maintained by NGOs and not by cultural and art workers unions.
On the 2nd of September we had another ArtLeaks internal meeting at BLOK 70, attended by Corina Apostol, Rena Raedle Vladan Jeremić and Ştefan Tiron. We continued our discussion of the economic organization of ArtLeaks, re-edited the structure and the open call for the forthcoming ArtLeaks Gazette. Ştefan and Vladan coined the term “Cognitive Googlag” (referring to brain drain, mental sweatshops, neuropolitics, general intellect oil fields, necro-productivity, forced immaterial labor camps and self-exploitation) and introduced the idea of an Cultural Workers Pride Parade (similar to LGBT Pride Parades) in order to mobilize cultural workers and raise their class consciousness sense of dignity.
After this internal meeting we payed a visit to “Third Belgrade”, a “mini-utopia” as described by our host Selman Trtovac, who talked about the platform’s’ idea of leaving behind art institutions and building up new, autonomous paradigms. Here, we also heard the disturbing confession of Aleksandra Saška Miljković, a young art historian from Belgrade, about her uncompensated work for the Kinoteka in Belgrade. Her case is a paradigm for an entire generation of European young and highly educated cognitive workers without any optimist future to obtain a decent level of working conditions in their life. We discussed how these cases of eternal interns and volunteers are normalized in Europe and especially on the European economic periphery of the East and South.
The same day we met with journalist and artist Milica Lapčević, who proposed that ArtLeaks include a short summary on every case, as well as an ArtLeaks Asks section on the main page. Her idea was to introduce a form public audit, inspection, and monitoring in the practice of ArtLeaks. She also suggested that ArtLeaks should present its cases globally, similarly to Wikileaks, and highlight more the geopolitical dimension of power and economic relations which she felt was still not clear in our project.
Photos from the ArtLeaks Assembly at the Cultural Center REX taken by Benjamin Renter, Rena Raedle and Vladan Jeremić.
We invite others who participated in our Assembly that would like to add any information that may be missing from this report to contribute by leaving us comments below. We will incorporate these into our report in a timely manner.
Many thanks go out to the Cultural Center REX for hosting us in Belgrade and to all those who participated in the discussions!