I was discussing my experience with the Consortium for Postartistic Practices (KPP) in my last entry, although, in fact, the place I spent most of my time while in Warsaw was the ‘Sunflower Solidarity Community Centre’, which is by far the best example of postartistic activities I have ever encountered.
It is organised by a core community who work at the Museum of Modern Art Warsaw (MSN), two of whom fled Ukraine after the annexation of Crimea and have been living and working in Warsaw. The centre, located in the ‘administrative’ building of MSN on Pańska street, started operating as a first-aid point, providing food, information, shelter, legal advice – the basic needs for those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
The place rapidly changed into a designated spot where people gathered to talk to each other, be with each other, and organise and debate.
It was possible due to the astounding resources the core organising group managed to allocate and distribute, that the ‘Sunflower,’ was able to build a community portal (in the words of Maria Hlavajova); this was coupled with the welcoming, accommodating, and empowering presence of Yulia Krivich and Taras Gembik (amongst many, many others, of course). The space rapidly transformed itself from a transit centre to a community hub. It operates now as the main outlet of Ukrainian art and theory with a wide range of programming in Ukrainian, Polish and English where people gather to discuss an incredibly wide range of issues from Ukrainian cinema and decolonial perspectives regarding the Russian Federation, to organising and participating in practically all current protests in Warsaw, including Warsaw Pride which turned into Kyiv-Warsaw Pride this year.
Allow me to share one of my field notes with you to illustrate the importance of this experience:
I’m at the ‘Sunflower’-for the third time, listening to a couple of people talking about a soon-to-come protest. It’s a windy yet promising early spring day in Warsaw, the glass walls of the MSN invite light in. The folks conversing show very deep levels of personal involvement – the kind that can only form through substantial events (and the traumas they cause). Their solemn commitment is extraordinary. It seems to be based not on overcoming the traumas and the personal attachments but to integrate those into the quest for planning the next plausible steps. The discussion touches upon multiple points and issues I too have a strong opinion on, but instead of jumping right in, I cannot help feeling that there are times and situations, where the best, or rather the sole legitimate deed is non-action, taking a step back, choosing to engage through listening instead of speaking, allowing space instead of claiming it.
I consider such initiative an art/commons, for it seems to be able to change the habitus formed around the bourgeois institution of modern art so that it indeed opens up culture to a post-capitalist decolonial future, even in times of war and global crisis. Further, the exceptional strength of the Ukrainian contributors of the many events at the Sunflower, both online and in person, made me realise that there is one crucial issue that needs to be addressed in relation to (semi)peripheral analyses: it seems that we have not been putting enough emphasis on the coloniality of power regarding Russia as an empire. — Although scholars such as Jozsef Böröcz and Attila Melegh discuss it while unpacking concepts like the double dependency or the east-west slope, it still requires further elaboration, especially given the fact that the alliance of the Central European nation states (the so-called Visegrad Group), and especially the millennia-old famous Polish-Hungarian friendship or brotherhood, has been shaken to its foundation by Viktor Orban’s illiberal, far-right, radical populism, which for an unknown reason (dependency…?) keeps mistreating the struggle of Ukrainians and serving Putin’s genocidal interests.
The tangibility of energy and solidarity in Warsaw made my short fieldwork in Hungary feel even more gloomy than anticipated. I spent a little over two months at home and met up with colleagues, comrades and friends in Hungary (mostly Budapest, of course). Since I have not been based there for some years, I felt it is necessary that I gain an up-to-date insight, and although it was very heavy to witness how practically everyone is struggling to get by in the ever-escalating crisis situation – following Orbán’s fourth consecutive electoral supermajority (which means that his regime is solidified to a degree where it is hard to imagine that it can be challenged within the rules – it was a very important time with regard to my research on the present state of Postartistic Practices in these two countries (coupled with a wider look at Eastern Europe). The Hungarian scene, amongst many other things, must face two new and major challenges: one is the restructuring of the tax scheme for private entrepreneurs in a way so that it does not offer any viable options for cultural workers, igniting yet another wave of emigration; the other is the cost of energy crisis which will lead to masses of artists vacating their workshops and studios and art institutions introducing shorter opening times or providing a long winter break from study- because neither small industries nor cultural institutions are eligible for state support or a price cap, experiencing, as a result, a ten-to-fifteen fold rise in their utilities. The message is loud and clear, the results are detrimental for thousands now, and for a whole society in the long run.
Despite all these obstacles though, interesting and important things continue to happen both in the artistic sphere as well as in the fields of critical social sciences. One good example is the 30th edition of the Journal for Social Theory Turn (Fordulat), entitled ‘Culture and Capitalism’. It is over 300 pages and consists of two translations from English to Hungarian, ten research articles that span from cinema and music through to mining and workers’ culture, all the way to fashion and the culture industry, topped with an excellent theoretical analysis. Although it is in Hungarian, if you’re up for more details, I have written a review article on the issue for the great online platform LeftEast (lefteast.org) which will be out once I apply my editor’s kind suggestions.