ESR 1 Blog June/July 2022: Gabor Erlich

Time-constraint is a major issue with every PhD, I reckon. In the case of a training programme such as FEINART though, we get to experience it on multiple levels. On the one hand, the three-year period already seems rather squishy to meet all requirements, on the top of which, there is another limitation regarding the time one gets to spend on secondment, as a guest researcher. That is to say that, despite rigorous planning of the schedule, I had to realise that there is simply no such thing as enough time for fieldwork.


Thanks to the hospitality of the Biennale Warszawa Team and especially that of Kuba Szreder, I was already somewhat familiar with the scene and its members in Warsaw by the time of moving there in April, which meant that, when meeting the first and most important actors, communication and scheduling was easy and smooth, given our previous meetings in December 2021. And that is of utmost importance, since these were (and still are) the people who kept helping me throughout the months of my secondment; they were the ones continuously inviting me for events and meetings, as well as introducing me to more and more members of the scene/community.


Given the focus of my research, I ended up spending the majority of my time with, and around, the ‘pata-institution’ that is called Consortium for Postartistic Practices (KPP). Sebastian Cichocki, chief curator of the Museum of Modern Art Warsaw (MSN), as well as founding member of the KPP, describes[1] the group as follows:


a broad but informal collective of art workers established during the 2016 Culture Congress in Warsaw also brings together diverse experiences from the world of art and non-art. The majority of activities that are agreed upon during the group’s meetings is anonymous and connected with women’s rights, ecology and anti-fascism.


The word postartistic was introduced to the Polish art scene back in the 1970s by the theorist Jerzy Ludwiński, who argued that art and other disciplines have become intertwined, and posed that:


It is very possible that we no longer deal with art. We missed the moment when it transformed into something totally different, something we do not know how to call any more. However, we can be sure that what we engage in nowadays has greater potential.


I believe, together with many from the scene in Warsaw, that Ludwiński’s words are more relevant than ever, and, even more importantly, his term is an indicator of the diverse practices via which a slice of the Polish art scene has been thriving to challenge the dominant narratives coming from the Law and Justice Party (PiS), putting to use a plethora of tactics, attitudes, and mediums along the way that is all but easy.


I am seriously considering using ‘postart’ in my dissertation as opposed to socially engaged art (SEA), for it comes from a region where the phrase SEA bears rather troubled connotations. This is due to the time when, and the context where, it emerged – the years of transition in Eastern Europe in the 1990s. Many in Eastern Europe consider that it was due to the policies of the art sector’s international donors (such as the Soros Foundation amongst others), which through their extensive investment in a deprived artistic sector lacking the necessary attention as well as financial contribution from the state, were able to impose their financial and cultural- capital interests alike. To link this region-wide phenomena in the arts with the role foreign capital has played in the field of business, I call these activities ‘Foreign Direct Investment in the Arts (FDIA)’. On the one hand, it is hard to imagine the region without those FDIAs, the newly formed local scenes were grossly underfunded, therefore such capital injections played a vital role. But, as a growing number of scholars argue, due to the power of the donors, the ‘evolution’ of the scenes was put on a track that was designed in the interests of a handful of individuals who occupied decision-making positions within the donating institutions. This design, then, was carried out by another small group of local actors, mostly those already in an established position with a good international network or networking skills. All this paved the way for the professionalisation of the field of art. The question we must ask then, is: did this transition through a new professionalisation provide enough space and time for the scene and its actors to choose their own positions in the field, or was it, rather, a predetermined track that offered no flexibility and self-reflexivity? Some say that this rushed development fuelled by FDIAs is partially responsible for the cultural import of the managerial/project-based modes of the production of art, where trending themes and tropes of the global (that is, the Western scene) dominate the local ones via the freshly formed coalitions of western and local elites. And, since money is only available through these coalitions, these processes turn practitioners towards certain forms and modes of artistic expression rather than their own practices. There is a double dynamic at work in here: cultural import for the sake of future cultural exportability


Back to the KPP and postart, which, again Cichocki describes as:


A long-term artistic practice that does not lead (or only occasionally so) to the creation of a material work of art capable of a clear-cut allocation of authorship and also inaccessible to the viewer by the means of the conventional apparatus of distribution: the work of art – workshop – exhibition – museum. Usually, such practices are characterised by the employment of competencies from beyond the realm of art, incorporating various, also para-artistic subjects and, also by going through phases of dormancy and increased activity. Post-art is most often devoid of features (or they remain hidden) that enable us to identify the activities that it comprises, or objects from the non-artistic backdrop (title, author, originality, exhibition architecture, durability, etcetera). At the same time, post-art can be part of other para-artistic systems such as economics, political activism or horticulture. (…)


Over the weeks in Warsaw, I had the privilege of meeting with with numerous members of this group and spent a significant amount of time with folks that are engaged in a subsidiary of KPP, the Office for Postartistic Practices, which seeks to find the necessary financial resources for KPP’s manifold activities. Bogna Stepańska and Jakub Depczyński invited me to join the second Postartistic Plainair in Oplono-Zdrój, a small village on the borders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany. I am forever grateful for this invitation, for participating in this retreat meant that I spent days together with artists, organisers/facilitators, scholars, activists – who all are invested in challenging not only the current far-right illiberal (radical populist, fascist, etc.) ideologies, but also working interdependently on establishing an alternative to the so-called liberal canons, which, in my understanding fulfils Ludwiński’s prediction: it has greater potential.



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