Fedor Blaščák: What do you think about the Berlin Biennale. Did anything about it move you?
Michal Moravčík: Well, actually, it seemed rather dry to me. Perhaps the emotion embodied in the individual pieces and works didn’t come across in the shared space. I’d expect a more radical definitionofspacefrom a political biennale – something to challenge the viewer, institutions, the city… It seemed to me that viewers just came to sleep in front of videos – as if that would give them the energy to change the world. In my opinion, the book they published for the biennale, Forget Fear, works better. There are some good interviews there, and the individual pieces work together as a whole. I think Żmijewski is a better editor than a curator, even if he himself wanted to avoid that definition(curating).
FB: Żmijewski generally understands politics as a “form of social interaction” and thinks that it is the “language of people’s shared desires”, thus acknowledging its symbolic character. At the same time he realizes that real politics as we know it (after the Wikileaks or Gorilla affairs) despises people, is insensitive to them. I don’t understand why he’s suddenly so radical about drawing art into an area where it has felt at home since the early avant-garde.
MM: Krytyka Polityczna is just excellent, I don’t think we have such a clearly formulated voice in this country. That makes it interesting and inspiring to me. Reality itself makes you either take a stand or give up on politics. There’s great disappointment, and all the illusions about any “pretty façade” covering it all have been lost. From this perspective, it would look ridiculous if we just dealt with some aesthetic, it would lose meaning. Żmijewski has turned it into something critical – a fight taking many forms, a fight about something.So when you have such a limited biennale. It’s legitimate to ask whether it could have been done better. I feel like the entire format was using old language, that it used what are today essentially conventional forms of presenting art, and that it didn’t even think about the new audience it supposedly wants to address. I felt the most absurdity in the café of the KW courtyard, where the “weakness” of politics was most visibly mixed with the “desire for indulgence” – there was an object nearby, a giant key to the conflict in the Middle East, and it was just scenery in the background, incapable of arousing any emotion.
FB: Is that naive? Like when we use big words to change a reality better expressed in everyday sentences and the mundane. A person cries out “Revolution or Death!” but in reality he is only hungry.
MM: I don’t think fancy words are necessarily out of place. That’s just one way to approach it. There are many strategies for changing the world around us, just as there are many worlds and stories in art, but in the biennale you can also find“ quieter projects”. The problem may be when great words and great gestures meet in the same space. If there had been just one project at the biennale that really got viewers involved, it would have been more powerful than the rest of the engaged art combined.
FB: It’s not easy to make political art that isn’t boring. Aesthetics in such work is ridiculous, moral appeals are banal, sociological approaches self-serving, descriptiveness is out-of-date. Which political work appeals to you the most and why?
MM: Art naturally also operates in the political realm. Does that bother you? We would have to forget about Beuys, Haacke, Irwin, or, for example, Rafał Jakubowicz, Dan Perjovschi… Just as there is no formula for how contemporary art is supposed to look, there is also no formula for how to make art that deals explicitly with a particular political topic. For example, the scandal over Jakubowicz’s Arbeitsdisziplin is also important for other areas of society; among other things, it communicates precisely where we didn’t want to be during the period of transformation and what work became for us. It doesn’t bother me that this is art that easily dates, and that when the given social issue passes, then the effect of the work itself disappears. Such a short life span and trash aesthetic also have social meaning (for example the Guma Guar Národní tým (National Team) event in 2008).
Art has become a platform where things are happening that would not happen elsewhere, for example the exhibit Meze tolerance (Boundaries of Tolerance) from Guma Guar was also an important experiment. And ultimately, most of your installations and projects as a curator are also of a political nature. The exhibits and discussions you’ve been having in Žilina are in a certain sense a political performance, focusing on political themes. But back to the question – think about what happened with the Palm Trees in Warsaw. It’s been a few years now, and what I findmostfascinating is that the city ultimately adopted them as its own, and this shows quite a change in perspective. The “left-wing” artifacts that were tolerated in the public space have now become an icon for the new Warsaw. I could also mention projects such as Minaret or Oxygenator by Joanna Rajkowska, or Harum Farocki’s Videograms of a Revolution, 1992, or Jacek Niegoda’s The Dissident, 1995/2005.
FB: It’s not whether art is operating in the political realm, but whether it gets buried there. I like your work in New York, where you stuffed cracks in buildings with plastic bags. That piece has everything that I appreciate about political art. A certain decency and imagination – Sancho Panza and Don Quixote, an ephemeral element and a clear emphasis. The political connotation here is pretty vague. What are you working on now?
MM: It’s a literary statement. Art doesn’t hurt anything if it’s not consciously serving evil. For me, art is also a public discussion, a workshop with children, or a radio broadcast. The Suspect Reconstruction project in 2004 was during my stay at ISCP. There was a campaign in New York at the time called If you see something, say something. It was mass-produced paranoia with Bush spin. At the time I wanted to give back all of the plastic bags that had been forced on me with nearly every product, and had taken over a sizeable chunk of my small room. This “strange” nighttime event was a response to the public call for paranoia. In the Alexander the Hero show, which we are currently showing in the Make Up Gallery in Košice, I look at the concept of hero, its public presentation, and also whether the names listed on the memorial could mean something else. It’s questionable whether this participation in the past has any meaning and whether in many cases it does not ultimately become a tool for current power structures to project their importance. I also examine the structure of power in the project malé a (small “a”). Rozin’s enormous window, where the office window of the “contemporary hero” provides the impetus for examining the current use of Dedeček’s Incheba building in Bratislava. The demolished window looking right out at Bratislava Castle is a vulgar gesture in space (while the remodeling of the iconic modern structure was publicly popularized on the Super Star 3 talent show as the background for the judges during auditions).
FB: In my opinion, the name son the list of the memorial are really secondary to the fact that there are millions of other heroes and victims who don’t even have a memorial. That means something, at least for me. And there’s also a difference between commemorating a time far in the past and relatively recent local events (for example a memorial to November 17th). Aside from this, what else did you think about it?
MM: I’ve been working on a separate project about November 17th, 1989, which will involve a current poll (anti-monument) of people who had a hand in the change of regime. I’m curious as to whether they will be interested in participating in this exercise of collective memory – we are sending out the same public appeal in the Czech and Slovak Czech and Slovak Republics. In Alexander the Hero, I examined a particular monument to heroes in Tbilisi who fell fighting for Georgian independence in 1921. The names of the fallen are printed on strips of perspex, like when you put books on a bookshelf and you can only see the name of the author on the binding. The flashing monument is unfortunately located in the middle of a roundabout. Some of the white strips are “waiting for a name”. The Georgians joke that they are still waiting for the heroes. President Saakashvili, who has designed other public spaces in Georgia in a similar style, publicly declared himself to be the designer of this cheap style of monument. During my stay, a storm blew through Tbilisi and some of the plaques fell off. I found them lying on the ground. Another thing I noticed when I was there was that right across the road there is another monument, to the Abkhazian War, where the regime has again used a list of names of the fallen, and this site has become a place of demonstrations and hunger strikes by veterans. So as you say, there is a living memory, which can record both conflictand the fact thatifa few names of the heroes of the past fall off the obelisk it’s no big deal. Since evidently nobody was missing them, I picked them up and reworked them into light boxes at home. So now, these resuscitated names are honored in a new context.
Michal Moravčík (*1974) is an artist and a teacher. He is a graduate of the department of sculpture at VŠVU Bratislava (1998), in 2004 he was awarded the Oskár Čepan prize. In 2010, he co-founded the Public Pedestal Association, which focuses on alternative design of art for public spaces.
Fedor Blaščák (*1975) is a philosopher and critic. In 2008 he founded the memory-kontrol.org initiative. He was the co-editor of the TRANSIT 68/89 publication (Metropol Verlag, Berlin). He collaborated with photographer Lucia Nimcová on a project titled Unofficial.In2011and2012 he was a member of the judges’ panel for the Oskár Čepan Prize.
MICHAL MORAVČÍK, Suspect Reconstruction, 2004, site-specific intervention in Fashion District, NYC, photo: Igor Eškinja.
MICHAL MORAVČÍK, Der Zeit ihre Kunst, der Kunst ihre Freiheit, 2010, site-specific intervention/ sculpture performance, Labour Exchange in Komárno, Slovakia, photo: author’s archive.
Suspicious Reconstruction, happening in Fashion District, NYC, 2004, photo: Igor Eškinja;
Alexander the Hero (part of the Memorial to the Heroes of Tbilisi), 2012, installation, photo: Vlado Eliáš.