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Freepost
City, country, Europe – how the art world grows together

Portofrei #2 Runde 2
How can we act together? | Illustration: © Bernd Struckmeyer

Art may not know any boundaries, but the art world certainly does. So how can curators become better networked – and make a stand for their shared values? This will be discussed by Simona Da Pozzo, Gottfried Hattinger and Hajnalka Somogyi – and you can join the debate! Leave us your views and questions: in the comments field on this page or on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #freepost.

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July 2nd, 2019  |   Simona Da Pozzo
Simona Da Pozzo Photo (detail): Emilia Castioni This year, as usual, the European elections have not generated great debate in Italy. The discussions have remained at the local level without setting wide-ranging perspectives. Even among the artists there has not been a significant mobilization, although some artists such as Mirco Canesi have brought reflections on the field of their own practice. With his solo-show at the Recent Activity (Birmingham), titled “European Party”, Canesi makes a reflection, not so much on the upcoming elections as on the possible relevance that the European Community can have for its citizens today.
 
Looking at the results of the European elections, we can note that the pro-lega attitude, majoritanian in Italy, is still curbed for the moment by the wider European context. That gives us a relief and a limbo time.

These elections mark for me the urgency to resist the rise of the extreme right wing

This limbo, which could precede worse, calls the artist to reformulate the distance between the art practice (seen as complexity) and the communication (meant as simplification). It calls us to critically infiltrate this interstice and, from there, to operate small and large subversions of vision. Narratives are the main key. Undergoing pro-fascist pressures, the dominant narration turned to a dominating narration by creating the enemy at the expense of logic and documentation. That's the dimension to storm in a daily proximity resistance. These elections mark for me the urgency to resist the rise of the extreme right wing by engaging oneself in the exhausting exercise of discussion with passers-by (on the bus, at the post office, from the baker) as every day routine. Maybe we should restart from here – from this meeting people, from the listening the unbearable, from the practice of rebinding the sources and the witnesses as focal points of the narratives – to activate artistic and citizen actions able to generate doubt and alternative thoughts.

In the meanwhile, a positive note: Salvini's absentee past in the European Parliament makes us hope that the impact on this new parliament of the 28 Lega seats will remain absolutely insignificant. Here it is: we hope that the worst will be insignificant, at least at European level.
July 1st, 2019  |   Gottfried Hattinger
Gottfried Hattinger Photo (detail): Julia Vogt As we know, the mood before and after the elections in Austria was particularly interesting: we were pleased to see the collapse of the far-right government when the stupidly deceitful and anti-democratic sentiments of certain government members came to light.

And no, I was not involved in any concrete political projects; as an art curator I have neither the resources nor the networks to mobilize people in any particular direction. As far as the political situation having an impact on the cultural domain is concerned, this can be illustrated by two figures from my home state of Upper Austria, which is still governed by a coalition between the conservative ÖVP party and the right-wing FPÖ: while the acquisition budget for art was cut from 190,000 to 20,000 euros, the extremely right-wing fraternities saw their subsidies increased at the same time from 15,000 to a whopping 120,000 euros.

In these repressive times culture and art have an extremely important corrective role to play

This example alone reveals the importance that is attributed to culture, and the social direction in which we are drifting. It is quite clear that this trend will have disastrous effects for those working in the world of culture. After all, they are naturally perceived as the enemy by the far right. And yet it is precisely in these repressive times that culture and art have an extremely important corrective role to play.

For me personally, I do not believe that the European elections will have any impact on my work, as I currently have the privilege to be working in a positive cultural and political climate in Baden-Württemberg.

Freepost and the European Elections 2019

Our discourse so far has been concerned with how art and politics are interrelated and the extent to which artists have a local and global impact on discourses with their work, can form networks and are able to stand up for common values. Our debate acquired a topical relevance when the ninth European elections were held in May 2019 and people in 28 countries voted for the new parliament.
 
The outcome of the European elections in your countries – Hungary, Italy, Austria – was watched with great interest, also internationally. In conclusion, we would therefore like to hear from you how you as an artist perceived the mood before the election and the election campaign itself? Were you involved in any concrete projects – mobilizing people to vote, for example? What do the results of the European elections mean for you and your work in your respective countries?


April 1st, 2019  |   Simona Da Pozzo
Simona Da Pozzo Photo (detail): Emilia Castioni As a response to the current dark situation for culture, art and citizenship (both from a political and economic point of view), in the last years we have seen the birth of a big number of independent artist-run projects, spaces and events. Some of those have a professional-trade-union vocation, some others turn into an activist activity, and some merge the two faces together as, for example, Non Riservato network does.

It seems to me that now the most interesting strategies are networking, meant as relational regeneration, and citizen participation, as is the case in the following examples:

Nesxt, an independent art network creating an intellectual and artistic exchange between independent collectives, spaces and projects.

Artists and curators are turning into city makers and cultural shakers

Altofest, a performance Festival in Naples that brings together citizens and artists from all over the world and that is structured on the concepts of “proximity” and “giving”.

A Cielo Aperto, a project held in Latronico that was founded directly by citizens. With a very small budget, they work together with local inhabitants each year to produce a work in a public space.

So artists and curators are turning into city makers and cultural shakers assuming roles that have been emptied of passion and vision, to find new perspectives. They are participating in this global rush of re-appropriation of the public arena, often filling the gaps between people.
March 28th, 2019  |   Hajnalka Somogyi
Hajnalka Somogyi Photo (detail): Csaba Aknay / Orbital Strangers When it comes to realizing art projects outside the institutional framework, commitment is as important as financial resources. OFF-Biennale started like a movement: in a general mood of frustration and bitter complaint, many people felt the need to just start doing something that carries on certain values and discourses even against official agenda.

Early on, art professionals and artists decided to work pro bono for the first OFF – besides all the financial support we gathered, this generosity was what ultimately made the project possible. Of course, such practice can easily lead to self-exploitation and so ever since, we have been doing our best to honor contributions also financially.

Our transnational network is a way to enhance our resilience to hostile local policies

As OFF started as an umbrella project for independent art initiatives in Hungary, collaboration has always been the very basis of its existence. By now, many of these groups and spaces have ceased to operate as a result of diminishing funding and the general political climate that has been chasing people away; still, we are trying to involve the remaining ones into our upcoming edition. Also, we are building collaborations with civil organizations, scientific hubs, and non-governmental institutions locally, which can help get our projects beyond the art-world discourses.

We apply to international foundations and build a transnational network. The latter seems increasingly important not only for the discourses it generates but also as a way to enhance our resilience to hostile local policies.
March 14th, 2019  |   Gottfried Hattinger
Gottfried Hattinger Photo (detail): Julia Vogt First I’d like to express my respect for Hajnalka Somogyi and her OFF-Biennale in Budapest; for the strategy of self-empowerment and resistant energy in a repressive political system that suppresses critical voices no matter what their origins. However, the “bubble” that was mentioned is something we tend not to choose for ourselves, regardless of whether it functions as a protective space or as a stomping ground for like-minded people.

We find ourselves in the bubble because we need symbiotic relationships and partnerships or because the relationships leave us no other option. The air in the art bubbles has become very thin, however, not only in Hungary and Poland. I still have a fairly comfortable existence in my curatorial filter bubble because I hardly have to search for partnerships myself – I have always been simply found. The networks are generated as if of their own accord through the project work.

To what extent do we allow ourselves to be instrumentalized?

Finally, the tense relations between art and society are extremely old even though the art community has always been and continues to be expected to show political responsibility.

“An artist begins to act politically the moment he resists the political abuse”, and: “Non-compliance means that the artist asks his questions behind the world determined by the politicians”, is what Werner Hofmann writes in his small publication “Kunst und Politik” (i.e. Art and Politics), which our Portofrei discourse has prompted me to re-read. To what extent do we allow ourselves to be instrumentalized? Is there not also such a thing as corruptible fabric in the art world?
March 12th, 2019  |   Geraldine de Bastion
Geraldine de Bastion Photo (detail): Roger von Heereman / Konnektiv The “festival of regions” that Gottfried Hattinger talks about seems to me to be a good example of the spaces that we create for ourselves in order to fill them with our thoughts. They are also a kind of bubble in which we allow ourselves the freedom to share and further develop our ideas with like-minded people. 

Our individual filter bubbles are not simply informational echo chambers. As Hajnalka Somogyi explains, they can also be safe spaces that help us to focus our thoughts and tune out the “white noise” that is the deluge of information and opinions to which we are exposed. Who do we allow to enter our filter bubbles? Where do we find our collaborators, our mentors, our partners?

There are different strategies for generating encounters

Whether to create one’s own spaces or fill public ones: there are different strategies for generating encounters. The decentralized approach of the OFF Biennale is a good example of how to include wider society and bring art to the observer. Such formats need sponsors. I presume that projects like Simona’s, in which subtly concealed messages transform pavements into a kind of secret letter that is decrypted by the rain, are only possible thanks to cooperation with the towns in question.

This time I would like to know whether and how you seek out partnerships that will make possible and amplify your work. From Hungary to Brazil, artists and those who think differently are oppressed by authoritarian regimes and have their funding cut. When cooperating with governments is not an option, which other forms of support and which networks are available for artists that allow them to have an impact on a national level?
February 12th, 2019  |   Hajnalka Somogyi
Hajnalka Somogyi Photo (detail): Csaba Aknay / Orbital Strangers OFF-Biennale Budapest boycotts the Hungarian state-run art infrastructure, thus the project steers clear of public art spaces. This already places it outside a certain professional/art bubble; instead, our projects appear in public space, shops, cafés, industrial spaces, community centers etc., often also engaging with their context of presentation. The audience and the general media loves the adventure of exploring some hidden faces of the city, and this way the projects appear obviously less detached from everyday reality. 

Taking the notion of the filter bubble politically, I have two answers. 
  1. The near-full governmental control over the media puts us in a difficult situation when trying to reach wider audiences. In such media, the coverage is heavily one-sided: critical voices are mostly ignored, or they get aggressively denigrated as ‘communist’ or ‘gay propaganda’ (see Frida Kahlo!), which creates less than optimal conditions for interacting with those beyond one’s political comfort zone. Our projects have been mostly ignored so far by the official media-machine; we produce our own content to spread on social media. At the same time, we can’t rule out the possibility of some attack in the future, with the government and its media going on ever-wilder ideological rampage over an assumed international conspiracy against the country. 

    Voicing ideas in one’s own echo chamber is not to be undervalued

  2. In our view, voicing ideas in one’s own echo chamber is not to be undervalued. In a context of educated, independent-minded people leaving in flocks, and a depressingly powerful propaganda roaring up and down the land, one can feel somewhat discouraged and isolated with certain thoughts and sentiments. As long as a filter bubble can protect from despair and support one to carry on (which seems a prerequisite for seeing beyond), OFF is happy to help strengthening it.
February 7th, 2019  |   Simona Da Pozzo
Simona Da Pozzo Photo (detail): Emilia Castioni I process the “public space” so as defined by the network “Non Riservato”: places where individuals’ routines are at the mercy of the case and unpredictable encounters can generate dialogues between heterogeneous subjects. In the public space, relational artworks and collaborative approaches can disclose the thin margin between the individual and the “us”, as mentioned by Bernard Stiegler.

That’s why, in a political perspective, I look at “passers-by” as a target and an object of study, and at the “dialogue” as a tool and a goal. Via one to one relationship, I deal with the concept of belonging through some topics on which everyone can express their own point of view (despite any cultural background) and to contribute to a new collective vision. Intricate structures (as labyrinth, catalogues, and Chinese boxes) allow multilayer access to the artwork playing with people’s curiosity

In a political perspective, I look at the dialogue as a tool and a goal


For example, within my project Luminescenze (research realized in the frame of the Borderlight Collective collaboration), I map the places in which inhabitants would like to bring a different light in the nocturnal landscape of Milan. The project portraits citizens as activators of places, relations and resilience and at the same time it collects information outlining an alternative vision of the city by night. In this case, the involvement of the people has been overlaying a quantitative work, made using an online platform and social media, and a quality investigation, creating a series of collaborative mapping in the frame of convivial meetings in peripheral areas.  
February 5th, 2019  |   Gottfried Hattinger
Gottfried Hattinger Photo (detail): Julia Vogt About ten years ago I took up my work as artistic director of Festival der Regionen in Upper Austria. For the first time I faced the challenge to put up artistic festivals in small towns where nobody seemed to take an interest in contemporary art. I had to get out of the comfort zone, say goodbye to those cultural institutions that had functioned as a protective area and step out into the public space to expose myself and my artistic work to the comments of the general public.

From the very beginning I aimed at a light-footed balance of artistic work and social action within my work. Talking to people face to face far away from the usual experts talk, it was actually easier than I had thought to convey messages that can be grotesque and weird at times. In doing so, I always aimed at  making the locals join artistic processes without misusing them for my own needs.

We should try and be a bit less uptight and let our spirit dance instead

I soon realized that this would only be possible through personal, individual involvement rather than social media, emails or phone calls. Being an outspoken sceptic, I do not believe that art is making an impact on society as a whole. After all, in a microcosm of people who want to change the world ours are only low voices within a choir of social struggle. Still, these voices are important. Perhaps we should try and be a bit less uptight and let our spirit dance instead.

And when it comes to right-wing populist tendencies … I might give you my opinion next time. 
January 28th, 2019  |   Geraldine de Bastion
Geraldine de Bastion Photo (detail): Roger von Heereman / Konnektiv We live in the age of information overload and digitally induced short attention spans. Studies are showing correlations between fake news and viral hoaxes spread online, the deluge of new information that’s constantly pouring into social media and our short attention spans.

In addition, the filter bubble phenomenon results in opinion silos and lack of meaningful exchange of opinions between people of different interest groups on social media platforms. Creating meaningful and impactful engagement is a challenge of our digital age.

How do we reach those outside of our political comfort zone?

In the last episode of “Freepost” we debated how political artists should be in Europe today and the role of the artist in relation to political movements. In this episode, I am looking forward to learning about artistic intervention practices and strategies for socially and politically critical art to reach a wide public and create an impact. How do we reach those outside of our political comfort zone? What artistic tools exist, to pop ideological bubbles and enable contemporary art to reach of different political positions and offer opportunity for discussion and interaction? These will be the overarching topics of this debate.

You all reside in different countries in Europe, Hungary, Austria and Italy. As outlined in the previous “Freepost” debate, we are having this debate in light populist power gains across Europe, in particular in the countries you live in. I would like to begin our conversation with a focus on the local, the closest possible space for interaction in this globalized, increasingly digital and immaterial world – the cities and towns where you live and work in. What are your strategies and tools for interaction in with your local environment? Do you use the public space and how do you try and interact with those outside your filter bubble? 
 

Partner

Logo IGBK The current edition of our digital debate “Freepost” is being held in cooperation with the Internationale Gesellschaft der Bildenden Künste (IGBK). In November 2017, the IGBK organized the symposium “Fragile Affinities” together with the Akademie der Künste, Berlin. The topic of these “Freepost” is derived from the questions discussed there.

 

Discussants


Simona Da Pozzo Photo (detail): Emilia Castioni Simona Da Pozzo is a performance and video artist living in Milan. Together with other artists, she works on various projects at her Vegapunk studio. Furthermore, since 2013 Simona Da Pozzo has been making her atelier available to other artists as part of the “Artist Hosting Artists (AHA)”, “Camouflage” and “AUBatVPK” programmes.




Gottfried Hattinger Photo (detail): Julia Vogt Gottfried Hattinger is a freelance curator and book designer who lives in Ottensheim near Linz. He studied at Linz Art School and from 1987 to 1991 was artistic director of the “ars electronica” festival at the Brucknerhaus in Linz. Gottfried Hattinger creates and designs festivals and exhibitions, primarily in the areas of performance and theatre, visual art, sound art and music, and old and new media.



Hajnalka Somogyi Photo (detail): Csaba Aknay / Orbital Strangers Hajnalka Somogyi is a curator of contemporary art. Since 2014 she has worked as director and co-curator of the OFF Biennale in Budapest, Hungary’s largest independent art project that was founded on Somogyi’s initiative. Among other things, Hajnalka Somogyi was an editor at artmagazin.hu and curator of the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art in Budapest.
 




Moderator 

Geraldine de Bastion Photo (detail): Roger von Heereman / Konnektiv Geraldine de Bastion is a political scientist who advices public institutions, NGOs and business enterprises on the use of digital technologies. Her expertise is valued by internet activists and bloggers around the world. She is a member of Digitale Gesellschaft e.V., which fights for basic rights and consumer protection in the digital domain. Each year she is a sought-after curator and presenter at the international internet conference re:publica.
 
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