East Art Map

East Art Map is a project by Irwin (Miran Mohar, Andrej Savski and Borut
Vogelnik

In Eastern Europe (also known as the former communist
countries, East & Central Europe, or New Europe) there are as a rule no
transparent structures in which those events, artefacts and artists that are
significant to the history of art have been organized into a referential system
accepted and respected outside the borders of a particular country. Instead, we
encounter systems that are closed within national borders, most often based on
argumentation adapted to local needs, and sometimes even doubled so that besides
the official art histories there are a whole series of stories and legends about
art and artists who were opposed to this official art world. But written records
about the latter are few and fragmented. Comparisons with contemporary Western
art and artists are extremely rare.
 
A system
fragmented
to such an extent, first of all, prevents any serious
possibility of comprehending the art created during socialist times as a whole.
Secondly, it represents a huge problem for artists who, apart from lacking any
solid support in their activities, are compelled for the same reason to steer
between the local and international art systems. And thirdly, this blocks
communication among artists, critics and theoreticians from these
countries.
 
EAM is intended to serve as an
orientation tool in the still-undefined field of the art of the East. There is
no need to emphasize how crucially important it is to have a proper orientation
in art, just as in other fields. Whenever someone looks at a work by Joseph
Beuys, for example, if he is the least bit familiar with artistic production, he
will instantly perceive it in relation to an entire network of other artworks
and artists, among whom Beuys occupies an important place. The map of the art
produced mainly in the West is present in the consciousness of almost everyone,
at least in its basic outlines. Very rarely does it happen that, when looking at
a certain work of art, one does not have at least a basic orientation about its
place in the art system.
 
Just the opposite is true
when it comes to art originating in the East; in most cases, one is at a loss to
say just where and in what way such-and-such a work belongs. A great deal of
engagement is required in order to untangle whether a given work is something of
significance for the production of a certain region or whether it is merely a
belated variation. This sort of disorientation affects not only art-lovers from
the West, but also the majority of art-lovers in the East. The nonexistence of a
transparent art system is not merely the consequence of certain conditions in
the East of Europe; it is, rather, a constitutive part of the art system in
these territories. (This we can assert unambiguously in regard to the territory
of the former Yugoslavia, which, indeed, we know quite well.)


Instead of a transparent art system that would allow
comparisons on an international level, what we have to deal with in our region
is an art-historical narration organized into local mythologies, which are not,
as it were, susceptible to translation into the international language of art.
The persistence of local mythologies relies not so much on a lack of knowledge
or expertise, but rather on the fear of a realignment in the value system. This
is precisely why, in our territories, experts from one country have, typically,
not intervened in the interpretation of the art of another country. This
principle, for example, held true even on the territory of the single state of
Yugoslavia, where experts from one constituent republic were loath to intervene
in the art system of another republic – or rather, this happened only very
rarely and then, as a rule, as something excessive.
 
The
only possible
way to overcome this tendency is by organizing a field
that will induce the intervention of foreign experts. In the desire to
transgress closed systems of interpretation and evaluation, EAM is organized as
a unified system, despite the number of countries it encompasses. Given this
imperative for intervention, the selection of artists assembled so far is merely
the basis for subsequent phases, which have been drafted so as to transgress in
concrete ways and on various levels, within the scope of our capabilities, the
borders of these art fiefdoms.
 
The aim of the
first phase of the East Art Map was to show the art of the whole space of
Eastern Europe, to take artists out of their national frameworks and present
them in a unified scheme that can serve as a clear and user-friendly map of the
art of Eastern Europe from 1945 to 2000.
 
Our initial
presumption
was that in local areas there exists the memory or
consciousness of what had actually affected the development of art in these
areas. But since we knew of no previous attempt to map this knowledge, we
invited 24 eminent art critics, curators and artists to present up to 10 crucial
art projects from their respective countries over the past 50 years. The choice
of the particular artworks, artists and events, as well as their presentation
(sometimes accompanied by a more general text about the specific circumstances
of the given country), was always left exclusively to the individual selectors.
The invited selectors were: Inke Arns, Vladimir Beskid, Iara Boubnova, Calin
Dan, Ekaterina Degot, Branko Dimitrijevic, Marina Gržinic, Sirje Helme, Marina
Koldobskaya, Suzana Milevska, Viktor Misiano, Edi Muka, Ana Peraica, Piotr
Piotrowski, Branka Stipancic, János Sugár, Jiri and Jana
Ševcik, Miško Šuvakovic, Igor Zabel, Nermina Zildžo.




  1. The results of these researches were published in September 2002 in New
    Moment Magazine no. 20, Artforum in New Moment,  done in collaboration
    between Irwin and the New Moment Magazine and co-edited by Lívia Páldi. The
    separate selections were combined into a whole to enable comparative views on
    the selected material and to present it in the form of a map that answers basic
    who-where-when questions.

  2. A CD-ROM East Art Map was produced in collaboration with RenderSpace Pristop
    Interactive from Ljubljana and Karl Ernst Osthaus Museum from Hagen. Its test
    version was first presented as part of Museutopia exhibition in KEOM Hagen in
    June 2002 and was later presented at several events and exhibitions.

In the process of organising EAM thus far, there have
emerged a number of characteristic features in the way the art system functions
on the territory of the so-called East. We would like to highlight two of these
features, which are mutually connected and which bear special relevance for the
future development of the project.
 
Although we
explicitly
asked the invited selectors to place the chosen artists and
their works, in terms of their specific contribution, in relation to both local
and international artistic production, only some of them actually did this.
Also, the criteria by which the artists were chosen were entirely heterogeneous;
we did, indeed, expect this, but we hoped, at the same time, that the criteria
for each selection would be clearly defined. The amount of discrepancy between
the various rationales for choosing specific artists is unusually wide. This is
especially evident in the reluctance to situate any given artist in relation to
the art production that was happening at the same time in the West. And here we
have the crux of the matter.
 
In only a few cases
is the art production of the East reflected in any relation to the contemporary
Western production. This holds true, though for different reasons, not only for
local, Eastern experts, but also for Western experts, who as a rule limited
themselves to comparisons with Western artists. If one can say that, in the
recent past, a great deal has been done in the area of exhibitions in which
artists from the East were also represented, this is not at all the case when it
comes to reflection on this art.


Although it is true that quite a few catalogues and books
dedicated to various segments of the contemporary art of the East have recently
appeared, one can say that rather little has been done in the way of comparisons
between East and West. Quite the contrary. There still exists a no man’s land
here separating one half of Europe from the other.


Irwin
Concept for EAM project

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