To whom: Dmitry Vilensky, Pablo Helguera, Bernadette Lynch
I hail from North Macedonia. I am writing on my laptop from my «bunker» - a small apartment at Franklin Ruzvelt St. in Skopje. No pen was involved in the writing of this «letter».
I address my message to a «pen-pal". Or let's say to an «unknown friend»that in Macedonian language would translate as «непознато другарче" (in my country this would be more or less an equivalent to the concept «pen-pal»). Exchanging letters with unknown friends was a frequent primary school writing assignment that I remember vividly from my own socialist childhood.
Let me clarify: in the early 1970s I acquired my undergraduate and graduate education in my home country that from 1945−1992 was one of the six republics under the umbrella of the Socialist Federal Republic Yugoslavia. The hand-written letters sent to unknown students across ex-Yugoslavia in different schools and the multi-ethnic republics was only one of the pedagogical strategies of the aspirational project «brotherhood and unity» that was the socialist master-plan of the SFRJ to bring together peoples of different nationalities, ethnicities and cultures. This «master-plan» ended tragically with the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s as the result of the nationalist wars and other conflicts and economic hierarchies between different nations and republics, as well as the class inequality and disenchanted working class.
In difference to the artificial and forced correspondence in the frame of the obligatory and politically-driven high school assignments from my past this time the communication comes as a treat. The opportunity to write this letter comes as a kind of compensation for the eight-month long isolation and many missed opportunities to travel, meet and work.
When I was initially invited to participate in this forum I was looking forward to the «prospect» (no pun intended) of my first trip ever both to Russia and St. Petersburg. My excitement was linked to various motivations. For quite some time I fantasised to see and experience city that I knew about from history, but my knowledge about it was mostly mediated by my favourite literature memories (e.g. to Alexander Pushkin's The Bronze Horseman, Andrei Bely's Petersburg, and Josef Brodsky's A Guide to the Renamed City). I wanted and planned to meet some old and new friends, to engage in some relevant and exciting discussions about participatory monuments, renamed cities and countries, etc.
And then the pandemic changed everything. The forum as many other events was postponed and eventually changed its format. One of the offered experimental formats is this letter. Because of the long-term isolation it rather feels as if I've written a «message in a bottle» from a remote deserted island, although the news about the US elections keep me up at night and sound so déjà vu (one more time our politicians offered to serve as unbiased observers of their (ir)regularity).
I have already tested the empirical pedagogical potentials of the «pen-pal» concept. In 2014 I applied a similar model of «pen-pal» in my teaching practice- it was a kind of participatory correspondence that I assigned to my art students during my professorship of Central and South-Eastern European Art Histories at the Academy of Fine Art in Vienna. I shared the email addresses of the students from the Faculty of Fine Arts Skopje where I was teaching prior to my position in Vienna. The final results of this project were presentations of the three-month correspondences by the students in Vienna (as their mid-term course-work), but also some of the «pairs» forged follow up joint projects.
Interestingly enough the group of students that participated in this project also took part at the project Face to Face with Monument that Chto Delat realised at the Schwarzenbergplatz, Vienna from 16 May to 14 Juni 2014. I was really looking forward to meet Dmitry again, to discuss the potentialities and conundrums of the participatory art exactly because of the complex paths that lead to and from participation as one of the available models that often promise to act as catalysts in order to undo the hierarchisation and disenfranchisement in the art world. Unfortunately the pandemic revealed and stressed ever more that the promise of participation doesn't happen in vacuum. The isolation, lockdowns, and closures within national borders emphasised more than ever the existing interdependence and reciprocal impact of the socio-political hierarchies on various art and culture fields. There is hardly any international funding and other support offered internationally. The Zoom meetings — often voluntary and unpaid — replaced the elaborated exhibitions and the paid labour of artists and cultural workers. In this respect I am really looking forward to participating in this more complex and hopefully back-and-forth communication.
Last but not the least important: unfortunately the changes of the Forum's format was yet another missed opportunity for me to meet in person Pablo Halguera — one of the pioneers of participatory art. I've been following his work ever since James Elkins shared (internally) his art book The Pablo Helguera Manual of Contemporary Art Style with the participants of the Stone Summer Institute at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago (back in 2007). Actually Elkins edited and produced the book Art and Globalization after the end of this international discursive project (2010) in a similar process as this correspondence, by transcribing our discussions and circulating further the transcripts for comments by other colleagues who were not present at the seminars. So at least I hope that eventually — through this project — I will be able to consider Pablo as a new pen-pal friend.
Dear Dmitry, Thank you so much for your wonderful letter, your reflection, ...
What struck me upon reading your three very ...
Sharing agency. what's wrong with participation?
Symposium* discussions have been transformed into an exchange of emails between russian and foreign researchers, curators, educators and artists. In their personal correspondence, the participants reflect on questions proposed by curators of the symposium* and talk about issues that they find important at this critical time.
Power relations in cultural institutions ...
The participants of the correspondence were invited to reflect on the problems of participatory projects. These projects are conceived by artists, curators and educators with good intentions to include participants from a non-artistic environment in the cultural process.
Carolina Rito, Laurence Rassel, Felicity Allen and Françoise Vergès have been invited to start a written correspondence on the crucial topic of power relations in cultural institutions and their consequences on processes of institutional archiving.