Nemanja Cvijanović / Ivan Moudov

Paris (F), Galerie Alberta Pane
January ― February 2011

Video courtesy of Vernissage TV. Thanks to Heinrich Schmidt.

Provocation Strategies
Daniele Capra

Even though the current financial crisis has upset many people’s certainties, those who live in the Western world and are basically well-off tend to measure their own role in the public sphere almost exclusively as a result of market dynamics; in other words as being homo oeconomicus,[1] even anthropologically. Economic and professional activities, that is, basically constitute the only area in which people can lay claim to their own role and actions, while other variables have been substantially devalued. Above all, as Slavoj Žižek has recently said in an interview, democracy doesn’t seem to be all that interesting, with the paradoxical effect that the citizens living in a democratic context do not always seem to be aware of it and anyway they are not immediately interested in it.[2] Even the many expressions of dissent that have swept European countries following the crisis, unemployment, and bankrupts, have deep economic causes at their heart but only rarely ideological motivations. The paradoxical result is that, without even being aware of it, a crude and perverse kind of economic realpolitik has taken over and has ousted democracy from the area of interaction.[3] In the same way, the great political utopias that enlivened and inflamed the past two centuries have demonstrated themselves to be inapplicable now because they are unable to bear the weight of a reality that is slowly being pulverized. All this could be a reason for admitting defeat by those who believe that one alternative or another are still possible: there is no space for a depressing white flag.

Nemanja Cvijanović ‘s Don’t seems to give an answer both to this sense of frustration and to those who think that no more battles merit being fought. This is a video that actually shows a white flag flying: the unequivocal symbol of defeat. Except that the flag is not really white because the artist has tinkered with the monitor: in fact it is a beautiful red, a colour that alludes to the revolutionary political tradition of the left but that is also the symbol of a challenge by those who have not yet laid down their arms. So defeat really becomes impossible; or, if we want to push things to the limits, every defeat hides within itself a revolutionary potential. In fact Cvijanović manhandled the television in order to make impossible the transmission of green and blue, the additive colours for constructing images on the screen. The image ambiguously recounts the subversive potential hidden within all representations, but also the limits that this imposes: the world, the context in which the flag flies, loses its own identity and leaves space for a vision that distorts its chromatic nature, perhaps by dirtying it with an ideological point of view.
In reality, Don’t reveals that Cvijanović views the world in a playful way and that he shows the subversive potential of a simple gesture of subordination to the status quo. In fact the artist warns the viewer about the interpretative ambiguity hidden within every vision of the world by conferring on art the role of creating a boundary between realistic detachment and ideological farce. An anarchic (and underhand) approach, instead, allows us to become aware that things do not add up and perhaps never will, and that it is convenient to raise our attention-span even higher. This also occurs in Scenography for Applause! (a specific installation for the gallery) in which the metal barriers are both a sculpture that ironically ridicules Constructivism and the tool used by the police for crowd control. So whoever visits the gallery is at the same time both a viewer of the art and also a protestor who is publically called to take up a position, even if it is against someone or something. Without our even being aware of it, participation means taking sides.

The creation of a museum of contemporary art is a complex activity from the point of view of management as well as being financially onerous, whatever the ways and means adopted. Even while having a great deal of backing from private sources, structures of this kind could not exist in Europe unless public institutions considered it of fundamental importance to develop and make visible the interests and work of young artists. This paradigm, however, does not function in the country where Ivan Moudov lives: not so much, or at least not only, because of economic considerations, but because the laws currently in place in Bulgaria and the obtuseness of ministerial administrators and bureaucrats (only habituated to putting paintings and sculptures with a decades-long history behind them in the museums) make it practically impossible.
Already some years ago Moudov acted in this deeply anti-contemporary context by inventing  a new museum based in an old train station in Sophia. On that occasion – in 2005 – the artist affixed posters around the city, published adverts, and invited art workers, the public, and politicians to the opening. The result was an alienating collective party: hundreds of people took part in it in the belief that they were about to see the start of a new institution which, in fact, did not yet exist and even now has still to see the light. On that occasion Moudov built up the right expectation and used to his own advantage a historical building and the mechanisms of communications. Furthermore, the people who gathered for this imaginary museum’s inauguration demonstrated that it was something to be continued.
So the Musiz project evolved into The Creation of a Museum of Contemporary Art in Bulgaria, a video interview with a Bulgarian lawyer who recounted the vicissitudes and strategies used for realizing a museum which the artist felt a need for, even though only in a legal form with all documents in order and all necessary permits. If, that is, the artist over the past years had exclusively tried to get around the institutions, to use the gaps existing in the worn fabric of Bulgarian society, for his own advantage and that of society, now he developed his need to follow the stricter path imposed by bureaucracy: his subversive and aggressive gesture has thus become the scientific and rational determination for acting on reality: not by opposing it but by directly intervening on it. In particular, Moudov has chosen to fight against the institutional elephantiasis inherited from the communist period by playing its own game, but with the fresh legs of a player with strong lungs and imagination. This position marks a new approach in the dynamics of the political involvement when compared to other artists of Moudov’s generation who, until now, have underlined the critical aspects of emergent countries almost exclusively from a social point of view. With this new work the Bulgarian artist leaps further ahead and dirties his hands with reality, not only by highlighting the contradictions inherent in the system, but by sparking off – as Beuys suggested – the processes necessary for mending it. And of course we can only hope that this happens.
What is surprising is the site-specific work that Moudov has created for the gallery and which the visitors will have firsthand experience of, a work that is part of the complex logic of interaction and emancipation which Rancière has spoken of.[4] In fact Moudov has replaced the internal handle of the work’s door with a spherical one that does not permit a direct exit. Whoever has to leave must either wait for someone to come in or attract the attention of a passerby to open the door. A sign explaining this is affixed to the gallery wall and invites visitors not to panic. There is no other solution than to accept being ridiculed and to wait, perhaps while thinking about the inclusive/exclusive dynamics that belong wholly to the world of art and where the play between the various actors – critics, the market, fairs, galleries, collectors – develops by starting from such choices as these. Or else to search for a second way out in the hope that some terrible joke might not be lying in wait here too.

[1] Homo oeconomicus is a fundamental concept for classical economics theory. It refers to a person whose principle characteristics are rationality and an exclusive interest for looking after his own individual interests. Here the word is meant in its widest sense.
[2] S. Žižek, L’effetto Berlusconi, interview by A. Gnoli, in Alfabeta2, n. 4, November 2010, p. 3.
[3] See A. Badiou, S. Žižek, Philosophy in the Present, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009, p. 75.
[4] J. Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator, London: Verso, 2009, p. 13-14.