Contemporary Art in Middle Europe
Research and Education Project
The main assumption of the project is to collect existing knowledge about contemporary art (Neoavantgarde art, Postavantgarde Art, New Media, Performative Art, Object and Installation art, Experimental Textile and Ceramics) in Middle Europe not only to develop research on the art of the region as a whole, but also to take into account its local and national specificity. Thereby building on this basis a platform for the purpose of higher education on contemporary art in the region. Enhancing and strengthening the project results by further developing research, increasing knowledge and modifying the curriculum. For the consolidation of results, an international network of exchange and cooperation will be established between institutions, scholars and educators working together in this field of study.
Middle Europe – area or zone covering countries located until 1989 on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain. It stretches from the Baltic Sea to the Balkans. Despite the huge cultural diversity, these countries before the Second World War belonged to a culture oriented towards Western Europe. They maintained this affiliation in a divided postwar Europe. After 1989, the countries of the region quickly adopted the Western system of democratic values, but kept their specificity.
The word “middle” was chosen in addition to terms already existing in the discourse such as “Eastern Europe” or “Central-Eastern” because it locates more accurately the research region, while the word “eastern” extends them too much and makes the geography of the research imprecise. In turn, the word “centre” suggests searching for the essence, what is common for the art of the region, unification and concentration on one issue at a single point, while the aim of the research is to capture the dispersion of artistic issues in the countries of the region and in addition their diversity and local specifics. What is common is the world history of contemporary art, which is treated as a given.
All the existing descriptive terms, like “Eastern Europe” or “Central-Eastern”, refer directly to the geography of the post-Yalta partition of Europe. And as such are suitable to describing a post-war situation. However, the post-1989 situation, and especially after the accession of former Soviet bloc countries to the EU, created a fundamentally new situation. The post-Yalta divisions were largely overcome and their effects annihilated. Therefore, today we need a new terminology for this new reality; new language for a new discourse. We propose here the term “Middle Europe” which suggests a return and revival of some historical descriptions of the region, and thus a revisiting of some guiding values that observe its diversity, such as cosmopolitanism and regional and European dialectics.
Contemporary art – art from the 1960s to the fall of the Iron Curtain, with references to later continuations in the art of the 90s and after the year 2000. This includes post-avant garde art, conceptual art, performative art, objecthood, the ready made, and new media. All these means of artistic creation were used and developed in correspondence with the patterns of Western art, however individual solutions for these artistic issues were developed in the countries of the region. The art of such forms was perceived everywhere as a dissident art. And after 1989 it was the basis for the development of the newest art.
The role of contemporary art in Middle Europe – contemporary art in these countries was based on international patterns of Western art. In this way, it reflects the cultural continuity of the countries of the region in the entire second half of the 20th century and after the year 2000. Thus, contemporary art was a factor of unity: over the Iron Curtain with Western art, and art created in the region. On the other hand, it was the basis for individual artistic solutions inspired by local cultures.
Research field – contemporary art in the region of Middle Europe. Focusing on art in the countries of the region; artistic careers of individual artists; indication of important and groundbreaking works of art. Description and interpretation of works. Recognition and presentation of the institutional base; ways of artists’ functioning; creating their alternative ways of circulating art. Elaborating the social and political context of the functioning of art. Contextual analysis of works. Linking the art of the region and international art; its location on the international art scene.
Basic methodology – depends on the dialectics of international patterns and their regional mutations; leading trends and its local applications; what is general and what is individual; global and particular. Dialectics of the East and the West. The basic methods include comparative research (within the region and on the East-West axis); formal analysis; context analysis. The bibliography of research on the art of the region is already substantial and the number of publications is still growing. Generally, the research methodology refers to the proposal of prof. Piotr Piotrowski. In his approach, the methodology of researching the art of this region combines diachrony and synchronous cuts (sections), hence the history of the region’s art and local microhistories. The starting point for building the methodology of researching art in Middle Europe are the two seminal books by prof. Piotrowski: In the Shadow of Yalta: Art and the Avant-garde in Eastern Europe, 1945- 1989, Globalizing the Art of Eastern-Central Europe.
The goals of the project are twofold; they concern the collecting of factual knowledge and its contextual interpretation, and the creation of opportunities to teach the history of Middle European art in a coherent and unified manner throughout the region. The aim is to collect knowledge dispersed in many centers conducting own research on the issues of art in the regions of Middle Europe or on the art of particular countries. Existing archives, research centers and scholars working in various universities, they all conduct their own research and international exchange. However, we are lacking in coordination and a collection of the results of these studies at the international level. Recognition and completion of the factual database, basic description of the state of research results is the goal of the project. Systematizing knowledge would enable a comprehensive approach to the history of the art of the region, taking into account regional specificity. The research part also involves the further development of research methodologies and indicating the directions of contextual interpretation of the collected material. Obtaining a comprehensive insight into the art of the region will allow for the synthesis of the history of Middle European contemporary art. The factual elaboration allows the development of teaching methods, as the next step. Inclusion of the subject under the name “Contemporary Art in Middle Europe” to the didactic programs of higher education institutions constitutes a knowledge base for subsequent generations of researchers; enables studying in this field; developing an awareness of the history of art in the region, and capturing its continuity through the decades. This especially applies to students of the current generation, who today have no direct experience of culture from the time of the division of Europe by the Iron Curtain.
Means of implementation
Establishment of a consortium of scholars working in centers dealing with Middle European art in the countries of the region. The aim of creating a consortium is to collect knowledge and identify gaps in this knowledge, unexplored, unrecognized issues. Then, the consortium members will elaborate a synthesis of contemporary art in their countries (regions). Joint work and meetings within the framework of the project will provide a holistic picture of the art of Middle Europe. Next, an editorial committee will be established that will prepare a handbook for the subject “Contemporary Art in Middle Europe”. The handbook will be prepared in a hard copy and online version to facilitate its use and widespread dissemination. Together with the handbook a basic curriculum for this subject will be prepared. The curriculum is a sketch or a frame to be completed and used in individual didactic processes. For the consolidation of results, such a teaching subject will be piloted in institutions of higher education (selected, willing to do so). A conference will be established, which will be held periodically in the circle of the countries of the region. The aim of the conference is to constantly evaluate the results, supplementing the growing knowledge and improving teaching methods.
The implementation of the project enables the creation of a permanent institutional base that coordinates the results of research carried out in various centers upon the art of Middle Europe. It enables not only exchange and cooperation between scholars but also consolidation and dissemination of research results through an educational program. Thereby we collect not only factual knowledge, but also develop research methods. This opens up the field for interpretative research, contextual approaches that draw from various disciplines of the humanities. The art of the region of Middle Europe, presented through its most important, breakthrough achievements and interpreted in a socio-political context, shows the subversive, challenging character of art in the face of all kinds of power.
The concept was elaborated and the project is led by Łukasz Guzek, professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk, editor of Sztuka i Dokumentacja/Art and Documentation journal and Kata Balazs acb Gallery ResearchLab.
The scope of the project is open and you can complete it. Please join our discussion.