fifth year: 2001/2002 series of lectures: lectures / conversations with lecturers / lecturers

course for curators of contemporary art: course participants / study excursions / program collaborators / exhibition / course participant's texts


In Between: Independence and the Lures of Institutionalisation

As an independent curators' collective WHW acts within the sliding area negotiated between different models of non-formal institutions. It is a creative group, an organisational team and an 'institutionalised friendship'. It is based on activism and it includes different partners and initiatives in its activities. Our actions are based on a synergy that appropriates and redefines the various representation models and systems in which they coexist.
In order to explain our present situation, best described as a transitional state, between an independent position and institutionalisation, it is necessary to describe some circumstances under which WHW started to work as well as the dynamics of the cultural scene.

The independent cultural scene has been identified with alternative culture already for decades. In regard to cultural production, the term 'alternative' is usually linked to notions such as non-art, anti-art, avant-garde, neo-avant-garde, contra-culture, i.e. to what is different in form and content, progressive, radical, gets out of the mainstream and opposes the establishment (the traditional high culture that is generally bourgeois). But in today's circumstances of culturalising everything, in a situation when every 'avant-garde' or 'subversive' act is immediately absorbed as a fashion, exclusively cultural and temporary alternative, there is no alternative culture. Alternative culture existed only when there were alternative ideas on social order, ideas of alternative politics. To put it bluntly, alternative culture is to be articulated only alongside politics that articulate an alternative to the existing capitalism.
Following the heroic period of alternative cultural movements in ex-Yugoslavia during the 1970's and 80's, contemporary visual culture become significantly active once again in the late 90's. Already on the visual art scene itself there is a generally evident reaffirmation of local conceptual practice, which is connected to the simultaneous breakthrough that this particular practice achieved on the international scene during the late nineties. Generally speaking, the contemporary art scene became active within the civil scene, capitalising on the knowledge and especially on the know-how developed during this period within a very dynamic and independent civil scene. Contemporary art is gradually positioning itself as an attractive media material and a vital space for the articulation of social frustrations and antagonisms, as well as a fertile ground for social experiments.
In the current situation the cultural and artistic production can still be an alternative, not by virtue of its new, different, unusual forms or ways of expression, but exclusively in a political sense.

Obviously, our interventions in the cultural scene, although based on such belief, have no illusions about its potentials to totally articulate the political alternatives. Instead, they aim to introduce the themes we consider socially relevant (and are continuously ignored by the mainstream cultural production, academia and national intelligentsia) into the public discourse. In the present moment of time it seems as if culture is the only field that contains a political struggle. All WHW projects are based on the belief that contemporary art is capable of articulating, mediating and introducing social themes to the wider public. A realm of visual arts is conceived as a catalyst to the relevant issues and social antagonisms that can offer new models of collectivity, exchange and active participation of the audience. In these terms, WHW does not act as an isolated phenomenon on the local scene, but rather as an active part of the recent local independent cultural initiatives (Multimedia Institute mi2, Attack, Močvara, Art Workshop Lazareti, Urban Festival, Center for Drama Arts, Platforma 9.81, etc.). Since the very beginning of WHW activities, collaboration, collectivity and establishing links with different subjects was an important work model as well as a conscious strategy of working in the public sphere that became increasingly elaborate and took over a form of long-term synergies. These various models of collaboration evolved into the most important aspect of the WHW work, as well as into an important strategy of presenting specific topics and an effort of developing parallel cultural policies.


As a curators' collective WHW started to collaborate for the exhibition What, How & for Whom, on the occasion of 152nd anniversary of Communist Manifesto in 1999. This was the time when the Croatian version of the democratic 'revolution' had been finalised with the triumph of capital and the rediscovery of the market economy as a tool of resource distribution.
What, how and for whom, are the three basic questions of every economic organisation - which are operative in almost all segments of life. What - represents the problem how many of the possible goods and services will be produced with limited resources and social input, how - represents the choice of certain technology according to which each good, chosen by answering the question what, will be produced, and the question - for whom concerns the distribution of goods amongst the society members. These questions presented an issue in the planning, concept and realisation of What, How & for Whom, on the occasion of 152nd anniversary of Communist Manifesto exhibition, and generally they also mark all future WHW projects and activities.
The impetus for our first project was the fact that Arkzin republished Marx's Communist Manifesto with an introduction by Slavoj Žižek. The book was published on its 150th anniversary, which went by almost unnoticed thus we wanted to see how the art scene could respond to this challenge. The need to question our 'communist' past was a result of the dominant cultural politics in Croatia in the 90's, in which insufficient intellectual contextualisation disabled any serious reflection of both, the immediate communist past as well as the present 'transitional' moment. We were interested in discovering what the Manifesto as a political concept, a philosophical text, a cultural fact and a synecdoche of a social system might represent today. We also wished to discover what issues does it open following the breakdown of true Communist enterprises. Our findings were that the economic analysis and descriptions of capital in operation are currently at their most relevant.
The exhibition did not aspire to shape an image on the subject of communism as an ideology, political regime or utopian endeavour. Facing the recent production of artists who emerged on the Croatian art scene in the late 80's (a period of rapid deterioration of the socialist regime) with artists who have been forming the strong current of socially engaged art since the late 60's - the exhibition stressed continuity rather than breaks. On the other hand, the exhibition established an international context for local art production, which was lacking significantly during the last decade. The Manifesto was not the subject of the exhibition, but a strong trigger to develop an international context for local art production and revitalise the visual art scene by producing new works by Croatian artists. It also served as a trigger to initiate a public debate on the issues of recent history. The exhibition was first shown in Zagreb in June 2000 in the Home of Croatian Association of Artists, then in Vienna in 2001 in the Kunsthalle Exnergasse and we are hoping to show a modified version in Amsterdam in 2005.


Broadcasting project, dedicated to Nikola Tesla aimed to continue the discussion started by the What, How and For Whom exhibition on arts and economy, i.e. it tried to explore the issues of economical/political interests that prevent full realisation of the democratic potentials of new technologies. It was organised in co-operation with Arkzin publishing house, Multimedia Institute mi2 and the Technical Museum in Zagreb.

In the Broadcasting Project, the questions what, how and for whom related to media: what is distributed by the media, how is it done in regard to the technological conditions, tactics and strategies, and for whom, - who is the public of the mass media models of communication and what are the alternatives. In general, communication and mediation were questioned as a project background. On the practical level the presentation of the project in the mass media and public space was carefully planned in advance, in order not only to increase the audience, but to make it react more actively. By presenting art projects in electronic broadcasting media, as well as works that question the conditions of communication in general, the 'Broadcasting Project' functioned as a field of social experiments trying to offer a platform for a new definition of the public, social and political role of the media. It was conceived as a long-term series of cultural events that question the social and artistic implications of broadcast media from different perspectives. In the following months the project had been developed in collaboration with the Technical Museum, the Third program of Croatian National Radio and Radio Student as an international contemporary exhibition and series of radio broadcasts and interventions. In the same period, in collaboration with the cultural magazine Zarez, two supplements dedicated to the 'Broadcasting Project' presented project contributors and in a certain way 'documented' the project development. The project was dedicated to Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), a Serb from Croatia who died as an American citizen, an eccentric, charismatic personality who invented over 800 patents and laid the theoretical ground for the development of radio, radar, satellites, electronic microscope, microwave, fluorescent bulb, etc. Once more, our intention was not to create a closed 'illustrative' exhibition or to focus exclusively on the biographical references of this charismatic legend. Instead, we wanted to open space for interaction and exchange of information, and at the same time encourage artists to utilise in-situ installations and projects with space-visual-audio elements exploring the experience of body movement and physical action in technologically redefined conditions of post-information time.
The Broadcasting Project was aimed at negotiating the intersection between the realm of broadcast as a medium that disseminates via telecommunications, and the metaphorical surpluses spreading from visions of universal energy transmission, left over when the broadcast is translated into Croatian.


During the past several years the position of WHW gradually changed and evolved. Until summer 2003 WHW operated without a permanent exhibition space, however since then it has been running the program of Gallery Nova (in collaboration with the publishing house AGM).

The Nova Gallery is a non-profit city owned gallery in the centre of Zagreb and we try to structure its program using the WHW project strategies, conceiving it as a platform for discussing relevant social issues through art, theory and media, as well as a model of collaboration and exchange of know-how between cultural organisations from different backgrounds. In the mid 1970's the Gallery Nova was one of the most active spots of the Zagreb visual arts scene. It was open towards radical, avant-garde, unconventional and often marginalised art practices that were characteristic of the young generation of artists, whose protagonists still have an important influence on the development of the new Croatian art scene. WHW refers to precisely this period in the Gallery Nova history, and the new program concept brings a wide array of new activities into the customary exhibition and gallery practice.

Alongside producing and presenting contemporary visual arts, the gallery also focuses on establishing links between the visual culture and other forms of cultural production with the civil, activist, and NGO scene. Besides exhibitions, the program is characterised by a series of events that are designed to turn the gallery into a vivid cultural centre, and includes concerts, performances, film screenings, lectures and public discussions. It tries to fill in the gaps in the local cultural scene acting at the intersection of popular, high and alternative culture in differentiated models that enable the investigation of representational strategies, exhibiting forms and actions within a public space.
The Gallery Nova is a vivid and active space that predominantly targets young audiences, using its non-hierarchical structure and organisational flexibility towards fostering different innovative cultural collaboration practices, promoting contemporary media and a socially conscious and educationally involved cultural production. Besides the international exhibition program, an important aspect of our work is the continuous collaboration with the youngest generation of Croatian artists, which WHW initiated with the START exhibition (City Art Musweum Ljubljana 2002; Karas Gallery, Zagreb 2003). The artist belonging to the youngest generation still work without a sufficient institutional framework, with a strong tendency of polarisation between the 'capital' and the 'provinces,' mostly very traditional educational models, non/existence of any regulated art market, lack of professional publications, critical acclaim, systems of support and financing. In this respect, a significant part of the Gallery Nova program is a series of START solo exhibitions, the goal of which is to establish professional standards of work for young artists and at the same time, through a series of accompanying events, establish a platform for a critical evaluation of their work. The program is establishing collaboration with the young generation of curators and is also trying to stress the continuity of artistic endeavours and social themes opened in the 70's, thus continuing the traditions of local conceptual and socially conscious art practices. In the end, the question is if one can radically change the basic conditions of seeing/appreciating artwork, examine the political potential of the art and its ability not only to identify new and sensitive themes in a wider social context, but also to offer new modalities of resistance and collectivism. In this respect, the Gallery Nova is perceived as a public urban space of social visibility, intensive circulation, space for showing things, passing through, spending time, interacting, exposing conflicts, etc.


One of our recent exhibitions was Side-Effects which was exhibited in the Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade. This exhibition presented works by EGOBOO.bits, Felix Gmelin, Igor Grubić, Sharon Hayes, Vlatka Horvat, Kristian Kožul, Andreja Kulunčić, Aydan Murtezaoglu, Serkan Ozkaya, Kirsten Pieroth, Bulent Sangar, Marko Tadić, and VERSION. Side-Effects took place within the context of In the Cities of the Balkans, which is the 2nd part of the Balkans Trilogy. This project was initiated by the Kassel Kunsthalle Fridericianum. Side-Effects is a good and illustrative example of the indirect links that WHW creates amongst various projects that take place outside and inside the gallery.
The exhibition presented works that deal with a broad spectrum of issues that can be read in various contexts. However, at the same time, all of them dealt with certain unavoidable conflicts within the 'transition' towards liberal capitalism, the side effects of which are class divisions, an increase in unemployment and crime, cultural and spiritual impoverishment, lack of imagination, solidarity, safety, indifference, and lethargy. Side-Effects offers a conceptual frame, a certain standpoint from which the presented works can be understood against a background of lost illusions within the solutions offered by the 'normalisation' process and its idea of a gradual approach towards the imagined ideal of liberal democracy and a free market, while at the same leaving an open dialogue between the artistic and curatorial position.

In a certain non-committed way, the exhibition is the third in a series of recent exhibitions prepared by the WHW curators' collective. It is not the same exhibition in three versions, but rather a process in which the same traumatic core is questioned in different ways. This series of exhibitions might be seen as a kind of dialectical triad in which the thesis is represented by the exhibition Looking Awry (apexart, New York, 2003), which includes works by Igor Grubić, Aydan Murtezaoglu, Adrian Paci and Maja Bajević. Starting from Žižek's interpretation of a Shakespeare's quote from Richard III, the exhibition is based on the impossibility of grasping the truth through a direct gaze. In this sense Marx's demand to 'look at the world with sober eyes' demands exactly that 'awry' look, which might also be understood as a look from the social margins. The exhibition Repetition: Pride and Prejudice (Gallery Nova, Zagreb, 2003/2004) presenting works by Sharon Hayes, Pierre Huyghe, Sanja Iveković, Aydan Murtezaoglu, Anri Sala and Andreas Siekmann, functioned as an antithesis: we cannot reach directly for the truth and that is why we keep repeating the traumatic event. That repetition is not a consequence of some 'objective necessity' independent of our desires, but it functions as a political option, as a payment of a symbolic debt, a gesture of repeated inclusion and symbolic appropriation. 'Pride and prejudice' in the title are not separate themes, a positive and negative feature, but they point towards their inter-relatedness - and just like pride emerges solely from the perspective of a certain prejudice, prejudice is a product of the gaze of arrogant pride. If we wish to spare ourselves the painful way around false recognition, we will miss the entire truth. In this dialectical triad Side-Effects is a kind of a synthesis, a negation of a negation.


Currently, the most ambitious long-term project in which WHW is involved is the Zagreb Cultural Kapital of Europe 3000. This is a collaborative platform initiated by four independent cultural organisations in Croatia - Centre for Drama Art (performing arts), Multimedia Institute mi2 (new media), Platforma 9,81 (architecture and media) and What, How and for Whom (visual culture). Throughout a three-year period (2004-2006) the project will develop a manifold of collaborative practices within the local and international cultural scene and thus draw attention to the inadequacy of the dominant cultural models to meet the challenges in a changed cultural action setting. This new setting comes as a consequence of the acceleration of globalised communication exchanges, transversality of capital and the attendant ubiquity of economic globalisation. Contrary to these dynamic processes the cultural field remains largely limited within the confines of the representative cultural models, its inefficient institutional framework, without sufficient dynamic collaboration strategies and almost without any (and increasingly smaller) social relevance. As its goal CK3000 has set to react (in the local context of cultural production) to this (primarily European) situation by offering to the broader local and international cultural public an action model which will (on the level of methodology as well as on the level of issues) deal with the dynamics of transforming the cultural field, which are significantly marked by the ambiguity of the notion of capital (as in cultural capital city, socio-cultural capital and economic capital). The initial strategic partners of the Cultural Kapital 3000 are Project Relations from Berlin (a project initiated by the German Federal Cultural Foundation with an agenda to promote cultural collaboration in Eastern Europe) and Erste Bank from Vienna which supports the creation of various cultural platforms in Central European countries in which it does business.
By choosing contemporary agendas, such as the relation between public and private, status of public spaces, capital in the physical space, intellectual property and digital technologies, copyright and alternative licensing systems, hybrid information in physical space, artist groups and collective labour, collective intelligence, labour management and immaterial labour, the Cultural Kapital 3000 project will form a complementary and coherent set of cultural issues which are of great social relevance and thus promote the importance of cultural action as a significant element in the development of the public and social capital in a neo-liberal transitional context. Cultural Kapital 3000 will promote practices and actors articulating cultural actions in terms of a social agency and a social agency in terms of a critical culture.
Over the next two years, Cultural Kapital 3000 will produce a number of local and international interdisciplinary collaborations, which will present and engage new group dynamics, new collective strategies and new forms of labour within the cultural production. These collaborations will counteract and hybridise the control of productivity through intellectual property, advocate the protection of the public domain in face of privatisation, produce policy proposals for strengthening and developing an independent cultural sector and secure its presence in the cultural capital. It will create collaborations while investigating and inducing its conditions of possibility, because cultural capital no longer means infrastructures, but rather collaborations, for collaboration is its infrastructure.


*Editor's note: Following the primary informal group of authors the WHW collective (What, How and for Whom) registered itself as a non-profit, non-government organisation for visual art in 2002. The organisation is lead by Ana Dević, Nataša Ilić, Sabina Sabolović (curators), Ivet Ćurlin (cultural management) and Dejan Kršić (theorist and graphic designer).