Dependency Culture as a State of Mind

  • A Visual Statement for the 7th Berlin Biennale Call

    Interior DAsein/Kolonie Wedding, Berlin
    April 27-May 20, 2012

    Curators: Susanna Gyulamiryan (Armenia), Archi Galentz (Germany and Armenia)

    With works and statements by artists:
    Avdey Ter-Oganian (Ru-Che), Marina Shuklina (Ukr-Ge), Dmitry Gutov (Ru), Silvina Der-Meguerditchian (Ge), Laboratorio Berlin (Concha Argüeso, Chus Lopez Vidal, and S. Der-Meguerditchian), Sona Abgaryan (Am), Karine Matsakyan (Am), Mascha Danzis (Ru-Ge), Joanna Rajkowska (Pl-Ge), Dmitry Bulnygin (Ru), Archi Galentz (Ge)

Contemporary art is considered to be emancipatory in its essence. Its content demands the artistic statement to be properly reflected. Works of art related to ‘tekhne’ (with good or bad artistic skills) or manifestation of the artists’ subjectivity have become secondary, giving place to reflection, critical reexamination, cognitivity, political and strategic gestures in the global communicative space,  i.e. rational rethinking inside artistic practices. Nowadays, the ongoing discussions around the notion of ‘contemporary art’ bring serious charges against this cultural paradigm: contemporary art no longer bears an emancipatory charge, the schemes produced by contemporary art are being appropriated by the social and political systems, and its innovatory images are, in turn, being appropriated by the mass culture and the mainstream. In developed countries with advanced art markets, big corporations use art spaces, museums, and galleries for introducing their marketing and advertising campaigns into the expositional context, where branding, advertising stands, and promotional techniques go hand in hand with art works. Independent artistic practices ‘hang up’, subsequently engaging in cultural dependence, where corporate interests have the highest priority. The notion of ‘dependency culture’ is defined through the interest in the activities of power institutions, combined with non-resistance and submission to them.

In the context of developing and post-Soviet countries, contemporary art, at least at the very beginning of its development, was viewed as an opportunity to follow the ‘European’ or ‘Western’ road of development. In many post-Soviet countries, contemporary art is in a marginalized position in relation to the dominant discourse of socio-cultural structure (in this case, the word ‘margin’ might have both a negative and a positive sense). The main or the ‘common’ discourses within the contemporary art, as well as the prospects and opportunities for institutional development mostly come from the ‘outside’.

However, both ideological influences and processes of worldwide redistribution of resources and representation bring up the problem of ‘centrism’ for the above-mentioned ‘Third World’ countries. On the one hand, the universalization of  ‘non-Western’ contemporary art institutions is apparent and inevitable. On the other hand, ‘orientalized’ institutions lose their specific geographical definition and turn into a generalized social marker, thus, contributing to the establishment of the ‘Western’ (with a specific orientation and dictating specific ‘guidelines’), in contrast with the ‘orientalized’ other.

Can we speak about real freedom inside the system of today’s contemporary art, when this system, one way or another, depends on power institutions regulating media, economic, and political flows in the globalized world? On the other hand and as a result, the system of art cannot be permanently independent of funds, sponsors, museum spaces, and galleries.

This exhibition consists of works by international artists with a time span of almost a decade and reflects on the phenomenon of ‘dependency culture’. Some works, in particular, explicitly document examples of such dependency.Different modes of representation are used: video works, objects, photos, and paintings. Many of the works are part of private collections, while others are individual pieces of art and project series. Each of the works has its own contextual history, which will be presented to the audience as well.

The notion of dependency culture is closely related to the subject of female subjectivity. In this context, it is important to refer to relevant researches, vocabularies, and narratives while representing the woman as an object, i.e. in the position of dispossession. Through the works represented by such artists as Karine Matsakyan, Sona Abgaryan, Archi Galentz, Mascha Danzis, and Joanna Rajkowska, the issue of the body has turned into objects of examination threatening and playing with the gender discourse on the line of body and social order.

Some works portray the whole marginalized-by-the-dominant-discourse-of-pleasure bodies. ‘Woman as image,’ the famous expression from the contemporary feminist critical discourse, dictated the traditional codes of constructing the feminine: everlasting femininity, angelic beauty, purity, ‘angel of the home,’ passive and obedient, ‘self-abnegation’ for the sake of a number of commonly accepted (masculine) ideals.  This idealization had its reverse side as well.  Behind this sublime purity there stood the old witch, conceited temptress, or prostitute.

Archi Galentz (‘Their names are Faith, Hope, and Love’, 2001) is aware about the patriarchal discourse as well as about danger when one speak about female ‘light mindedness’ in the situation of the outrage upon women. The beauty of the body appearing in mass culture, which normally portrays the body not as a whole, but rather focuses on separate parts of it, is paralleled to pornography in the Marxist feminist discourse, since the wholeness of female body gets dismembered and presented as separate erotic parts. This, in turn, reinforces the ‘consumer demand’ for the female body, turning it into ordinary thingness, quite in accordance with Joanna Rajkowska’s visual and narrative statement, ‘First, you have to remove the skin and divide up the body. Puree some of the innards, leaving others fresh. Some of the organs, glands and bodily fluids must be saved. Don’t forget about the neurons and the fat. On the base of these ingredients prepare carbonated beverages of different properties, later soap, Vaseline and perfumes, finally frozen food. When you’ve gone through all this, sell it for good money.’

Mascha Danzis, with the series of photographs entitled ‘In their Father arms’ (2007), refers to her experience with one of the central persons in her private life through dummy series of ‘father-daughter’ relations based on the absolute Proximity to Trust or Desperate Distance. However, the codes of social protection and wellbeing come in the name of the Father, as a reference point of patriarchal culture.

Karine Matsakian and Sona Abgarian (‘Everyday, Everywhere’, 2006) embark on a cross-generational journey to chart the unchanging position of women in their native Armenia. In a subtle animation video they explore overarching issues of gender roles, feminism, and freedom of expression, expanding on their previous works’ critique of male dominance and consumerism in the art world and society at large. Thus, the artists interrogate the woman’s ‘role’ as subject to perpetual editing, constant negotiating, and open to reformulation. What are the parallels between edited, artificial online environments and curated artistic systems? The result is a recounting of suppressed realities, where the theatricality of gestures performed by Matsakian and Abgarian underscore the real conditions of the Armenian society and international art systems.

In the video documentation of a performance that have been presented publicly by Laboratorio Berlin (Concha Argüeso, Chus Lopez Vidal and S. Der-Meguerditchian, ‘Art Mourners’, 2005), where the death of authenticity in the art is being ‘mourned’. The staged act of mourning has been reproduced three times, particularly during the 3rd Berlin Biennale for contemporary art in 2004.

Silvina Der-Meguerditchian’s second video (‘How to do an exhibition in the Venice Biennale’, 2007) also refers to the subject of large-scale international artistic representations, the so-called big projects of contemporary art: festivals, biennials, triennials, etc. nervously and, at the same time, ironically plays on the idea of the artist’s autonomy, when an artist, avoiding the institutional politics of promotion and selective representation in the big projects, tries to autonomously integrate into the context and become equally represented and demanded inside that context, following the principle of autonomous self-organization.

The video shot by Maryna Shuklina in the Berlin subway (‘To be Honest’, 2006) resembles a discussion about paradigmatic definitions of who the artist is. Among these definitions there has been an image of a ‘mad, truth-seeker, surviving on the margins of the dominant culture. An ‘urban lunatic’ has the right to tell the truth to everyone and everywhere in profane public spaces: subways, cinemas, pubs, etc., since he/she is insane. Currently, this paradigm of the definition of the artist has undergone significant changes, being transformed into a conformist, an opportunist, and so on.

In the video by Dmitry Bulnygin entitled ‘Aj ne-ne-ne-ne’ (2009), the director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Moscow and the commissioner of the Moscow Biennale Joseph Backstein is dancing to Gipsy music during a private party at Zurab Tsereteli’s residence, who is one of the most commercial nomenklatura patriarchs of the Russian art scene. Ordered, according to eyewitnesses, this dance is a striking example of how an artist can bow and scrape in the world of big commercial artistic exchange.

Avdey Ter-Oganian gives a more naïve, and yet a more honest solution to the problem of the artist’s survival in the tough context of contemporary art economy. He puts on sale a few dozens of unsettled telephone bills of his own, calling them artistic works and trying to sell them in the expositional space, thus shifting the accent from the opportunity of acquiring the work of art to the necessity of selling it for the purpose of survival.

Dmitry Gutov’s work is more cynical in its symbolical questioning of compensation in the politics of ‘bilaterial trade’ in the art field ( ‘Kogda Mine’ (When I will be paid for a blow job), 2005). The title uses a phrase from the poetry of the leftist Moscow philosopher and poet Keti Chukhrov.

‘Divide Et Impere’ (2006), a multiply produced work by Elena Lukyanova is exposed on the frontal window of the artist-run-space. The proposed power maxim, in particular, reflects a common situation in the cultural sphere, when sowing discord and intrigue among separate structures and individuals is used to reach a higher level of power.

This project is realized with kind support of Kolonie Wedding Berlin, European Cultural Foundation (ECF), Interior Dasein Berlin, and Art and Cultural Studies Laboratory (ACSL).