Wednesday, March 5, 2014

ArtLeaking (for Truth is Concrete Handbook for Artistic Strategies in Real Politics

Just as WikiLeaks drew critical attention and spoke truth to the power of the international military industrial complex, ArtLeaks seeks to disentangle its artistic equivalent. Utilizing the power of the Internet, social medial, and group networking, ArtLeaking engenders a space to vocalize protests against the corruption and abuse in the art world, its pervasive corporatization, the accumulation of cultural capital by banks or foundations through the labor of cultural workers who are not compensated in return, and the suppression of any kind of debate around these conditions of exploitation and the politics of corporate and state sponsorship.

ArtLeaking is a necessary tool to deal with institutions and cultural managers who have acted against the interests of artists, staff, and even the public they pretend to serve. We consider it our political responsibility not to let these accounts be suppressed, but to open them to public scrutiny by publishing online testimonies from all parties involved.

Through our online active archive, cases of political censorship, homophobic or xenophobic censorship, union rights and toxic leadership are documented, saved, updated, and intensely debated. Anyone who is ready to share this or that case, either signed or anonymously is welcome to use our platform, but we do stipulate some burden of proof or collective evidence, such as firsthand reports and documentation such as e-mail correspondence, internal regulations and documents, video recordings, and so on. Related to this, and unlike WikiLeaks, we use different narrative techniques to present these cases, where individual or collective testimonies are one among several strategies, including performance, irony and camp, as well as photography, low budget film, and comics.

In 2013, we artleaked the violent censorship conflict at the Mystetskyi Arsenal art museum in Kiev, when the director Natalia Zabolotna painted over VolodymyrKuznetsov’s mural with black paint, because it criticized the church and local mafia before President Viktor Yanukovych visited the opening. Moreover another work by Vasyl Tsagolov entitled “Molotov Cocktail” was excluded from the exhibition for similar reasons. In this case, we coordinated with the artists involved in order to publish their statements, as well as with the Kiev-based activist group, the Art Workers’ Self-Defense Initiative (ISTM). ISTM staged a series of protest performances inside the museum, while we published the photo and video documentation of these actions through our site. Furthermore, we kept up the pressure on the Mystetskyi by supporting a boycott by the ISTM and other members of the artistic community, drawing attention to the unacknowledged acts of censorship and vandalism. The boycott is still in effect and has triggered strong reactions from the international community, including Boris Groys and Maria Lindt. Though critical of the protest, these curators nonetheless decided to pull out of the upcoming Kiev Biennale Discussion Platform, which they had been invited to organize at the Mysteskyi Arsenal.

Thus, ArtLeaks occupies a space across borders, grounding itself both inside the art world and outside it, in activism as well as academia. ArtLeaks has expanded the notion of art workers to refer not only to artists but also interns, assistants, curators, and critics—categories that are in various degrees subjected to conditions of inequality, precarity, and/or are threatened by censorship from more powerful players, whether working in the Balkans or in Western Europe or United States. ArtLeaks reports are in fact systemic issues that are to be found in other fields as well. By organizing open workshops and assemblies, we draw attention to how theorists, cultural workers, and artists need to organize, as they have real power to resist today’s reactionary tendencies. In these forums we talk about local issues, common troubles, and possible solutions to change the unfortunate current state of the arts and we subsequently publish reports to inspire people to make their own collaborations. Artleaking therefore not only focuses on problems and bad examples, but stresses the need for solidarity and for a “change it together” spirit in the art world, in response to atomized, agency-less subjectivity.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Parasites and Prophets (25-26 October 2013, / Bucureşti)

Parasites and Prophets
International Conference on Artistic Production, Organization and Struggle
25-26 October 2013, 5-9 pm Bucureşti, Str. Gazelei nr. 44, sector 4
Participants: Tatiana Baskakova, Simona Dumitriu, Palo Fabuš,  Joanna Figiel, Fokus Grupa (Iva Kovač, Elvis Krstulović), Vladan Jeremić, Marko Miletić, Márton Pacsika, The Presidential Candidate (Florin Flueraş, Ion Dumitrescu), Jiří Ptáček, Ştefan Tiron, Vesna Vuković
Graphic intervention: Zampa di Leone
Moderators: Corina L. Apostol, Vjera Borozan, Raluca Voinea
Artists today:
  • the State instrumentalizes them;
  • the corporations employ them to whitewash their image;
  • galleries and collectors look at them as at a hen with golden eggs;
  • the wider public expects to be entertained by them;
  • the activists wait their helping hand in saving the world;
  • the cultural institutions legitimize their very existence through them, under the more noble mission of emancipation and education;
  • their colleagues rely on their inexhaustible humour, intelligence and creativity;
  • they themselves are most often struggling for survival.

We are using the word “artist” here in a very general sense; “cultural worker” is lately replacing the much-tainted-by-Romantic-mythology “artist”. To change the word is not enough though. To change the perception upon them as a group which contributes to society, that is a task which first needs self-awareness. Then it needs organization and affirmation.
The conference “Parasites and Prophets” aims to initiate a dialogue among the cultural workers community in Bucharest and their peers from Europe, mostly in the former East, about precarious working conditions, unpaid project work, economic situation and incomes, public funding, collaboration, solidarity, labour struggles. How to fight against precarious conditions in contexts where labour struggles are more difficult to localize? Which tactics and models of organizing already exist? How can they be enacted and expanded collectively and publicly?

The public programme of the two days, Friday, 25th and Saturday, 26th of October 2013, from 5 in the afternoon till 9 in the evening comprises short presentations by the participants, discussions, references to the local context of Bucharest and to the artists’ struggle in a wider climate of social unrest and accumulated political demands, collective drawing, informal exchange and optimistic projections for the near future.
More information on the event and participants you can find on the websites: or by emailing at:, or by phone: 0728503012.

Participant Bios
Corina L Apostol is Ph.D candidate in the Department of Art History at Rutgers University – New Brunswick. She is also a curatorial research fellow of the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum. She is the co-founder of Art Leaks and co-editor of the ArtLeaks Gazette.
Tatiana Baskakova is a London-based Russian artist working experimentally on the possibility of political critique in contemporary art practice, with emphasis on context and performance as a key but not the only media. In 2011 she performed Invigilator’s Revolt while working as a gallery assistant in a major Moscow art institution, trying to organise a trade union for gallery workers and being fired for “sabotage” as a part of it. In 2013 she made a celebratory lecture about V.I. Lenin in the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development in London. Baskakova takes part in anonymous institutional critique groups that organise and campaign against unpaid gallery labour. She received her BA in Art Practice and MA in Art and Politics from Goldsmiths College University of London.
Vjera Borozan graduated from the department of art history at the Philosophical faculty of Charles University in Prague. She has taught at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Brno and at the Academy of Arts, Design and Architecture in Prague. Until recently she collaborated with the initiative She is the director of the online platform Artyčok.TV and an independent curator active in many other areas of the contemporary art scene. Lives in Prague.
Simona Dumitriu is a curator, teacher and artist.  She also researches on Romanian contemporary art history. She is the initiator (in 2011) and member of Platforma space in Bucharest – a space used for exhibitions and workshops, but also as a meeting place for interdisciplinary, social or political initiatives. Between 2009-20013 she taught at the National University of the Arts in Bucharest. In her practice and research, she in interested in: mixing and working at the intersection between curatorial, teaching and artistic practice; archival science and theory as applied to visual arts; discourse analysis and research based performances; methodologies of art education and education as art; queer theory applied to contemporary art, to feminism and to other political issues.
Palo Fabuš received his Bc in applied informatics at the Faculty of Informatics, Masaryk University in Brno, and MA from the Department of Media Studies and Journalism FSS MU Brno, currently a PhD candidate at Sociology Dept. of Charles University in Prague. In 2004-2005 he was the editor-in-chief of IM6 magazine. Curator of Zoom festival (2005, 2006). He worked as an editor of Literární noviny (2005-2008). Co-founded Jlbjlt in 2007. He taught Social Media course at the Department of Media Studies and Journalism FSS MU Brno and gave guest lectures at FF MU Brno, FaVU Brno, FIT VUT Brno, FAMU Prague, and AVU Prague. Since 2009 Palo is an editor of Umělec magazine; since 2011 its editor-in-chief.
Joanna Figiel is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Culture Policy Management, City University London and Research Associate in the Hybrid Publishing Lab, at the Innovations-Inkubator Leuphana Universitat. Her research focuses on labour issues, precarity and policy within the creative and cultural sectors. She completed her MA at the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths. She is a member of the editorial collective of ephemera.
Fokus Grupa (Iva Kovač, Elvis Krstulović) is an artist collective based in Rijeka and Zagreb, Croatia. Their practice is collaborative and interdisciplinary, and they work across art, design and curating. Their artistic strategies take political shape, without becoming a representational form of ‘political art’. Fokus Grupa concentrate on the relations between art and its public manifestations, in terms of working culture, aesthetics, and social and economic exchange values. Their work investigates the inherent power structures of the art-system. To this effect, they explore its economic, spatial and legal implementations. The collective tries to expand the boundaries of their artwork, using printed matter, films and installations, works on paper, discussions, workshops and texts.
Rena Rädle & Vladan Jeremić are a Belgrade-based artists, cultural and political workers making interventions and installations that combine documentary video, photography and drawing. They have been collaborating together since 2002. The political economy of the city and social struggles in the context of production of urban space are in the focus of their research. Their projects “The Housing Question”, ”Under the Bridge”, “The Housing Agenda”, “On Use Value of Art”, ”Belleville” and “Gazela” support movements of Roma precarious workers and migrant workers in Europe in order to consolidate potentialities for social transformation. Their recent exhibitions include: Self Made Urbanism Rome, NGBK, Berlin; Places of memory – Fields of vision, Contemporary Art Center of Thessaloniki; O2, Red House, Sofia; Absolute Democracy, Rotor, Graz; Oktobar XXX, 15th Pančevo Biennial, Serbia; The Housing Agenda, Cable Factory Gallery, Helsinki and La mason Folie Wazemmes, Lille; Moving Forwards, Counting Backwards, MUAC, Mexico City. Jeremić & Rädle were initiators of the project Call the Witness – 2nd Roma Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennial and are co-authors of artworks within the collective Chto Delat? Their artworks are in the collection of the Thessaloniki State Museum of Contemporary Art, MUDAM, Luxemburg, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven and Museum Reina Sofia, Madrid.
Marko Miletić is a cultural worker, and a member of the Kontekst collective. He is a student at the Department of Art History of the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade. From 2007 to 2010, he worked on the  Kontekst gallery project; Since 2011 he has been part of the editorial board of the Lice Ulice magazine. In his work, he addresses the formation of space for critical and political action in the field of contemporary art and culture by discussing questions of cultural politics and production as well as researching links between cultural production and urbanism. His recent projects include among others: Encounters – Future of European Integrations, Political Economy and Culture: Left Critical Perspectives, a three-day conference, 25 – 29. September, 2012, Belgrade/Serbia; The importance of the student protests in the 1930ies in Yugoslavia, audio-visual installation in public space, upcoming, October 2012, Urbanfestival, Zagreb/Croatia; Kontekst, struggle for autonomous space, 2011 – ongoing; From Creative Work to Creative City, a two-day seminar in the frame of 52nd October Salon, November 2011.
Márton Pacsika is an emerging curator based in Budapest. He was a co-founder and curator of the Demo Gallery, Budapest (2010-2012), and is currently a board member of the Studio of Young Artist’s Association and of the Labor Gallery committee. His main fields of research include twentieth-century Hungarian Progressivism, cultural policy, and socially engaged art.
Jiří Ptáček lives in Prague and is an independent curator and art critic. Throughout his career he has collaborated with several galleries and art magazines working in the field of contemporary art. He worked as an editor-in-chief of Umelec magazine, international art magazine published in Prague (2003-2006), curator of NoD Gallery in Prague (2007-2008) and Gallery of Young Artists in Brno (2011). Between 2009 and 2011 he acted as a pedagogue of Video Studio at Faculty of Fine Arts in Brno. In summer 2012 he became a new curator of Fotograf Gallery in Prague. He is one of constituent members of Ateliér Бања Лука, an international iniciative of young artist and curators focusing on models of a collaborative practice. Last two years he also runs a flat “community gallery” Zutý Mánes in České Budějovice (together with an artist Michal Vavrečka).
The Romanian Presidential Candidacy (Florin Flueraş, Ion Dumitrescu) is based in Bucharest, the main initiators being Ion Dumitrescu and Florin Flueraș. Part of Postspectacle practice, with campaign rallies already having been held in Bucharest, Vienna, Oslo, Sao Paolo.
Ştefan Tiron  Performance/Cultural Hacking: Preliminary report on the past and present use of psychotronic weapons of mass destruction in Romania (with Alexandra Croitoru) 2007, selling of Surveillance Technology from the East to the West at Sigint 2009 in Koln, Germany, Presidential Candidacy National Day at Afi Palace Bucharest 2011, Brancusiologist at Gate of Kiss (colab with Manuel Pelmus and Brynjar Åbel Bandlien) CNDB/Bucharest, Chez Bushwick/NY, Oslo/ Dramatikkens Hus, undercover Fundraising for Romanian Presidential Candidature at dOCUMENTA 13 in 2012 (with Ion Dumitrescu). Since 2013, member of the new Comission for Public Monuments at the Romanian ministry of culture. Curatorial practice: In 2005 invites members from different peer2peer subcultures to curate several events at the Galeria Nouă Bucharest (otaku, industrial/noise/distro, dark deviant art , horror buffs, gaming/LAN party/dc++). Between 2006-2013 he co-organized a Cozzzmonautica series of sleep-over events about DIY Space Exploration, space art, Cosmology&ideology, science friction, sound art in Arad Natural History Museum, Oradea University, WestGermany/Berlin, private homes and galleries. Current 2013 edition Timișoara/Simultan/TamTam “New Jobs in Outer Space.” TW: @TironStefan
Vesna Vuković is a translator, curator and researcher, member of Zagreb-based collective [BLOK], associate and periodic lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts Zagreb. She writes and publishes here and there.Vukovic’s work is dedicated to the art in public space and its relation to the politics of public domain. Her curatorial practice explores in-between-spaces of generation, production and representation of contemporary art, as a form of expanded exhibition, as well as spatial organization of the public sphere. Projects and exhibitions, as curator: UrbanFestival, an annual series of interventions in public spaces, Zagreb, 2001–2009; If you meet them on the streets, join…, series of interventions in public spaces, Zagreb, 2008; Money etc, Gallery Miroslav Kraljević, Zagreb, 2010. Publications, as editor: Save as…city.doc, Frakcija magazine 30/31, 2004; Politics of Space, UrbanFestival catalogue, 2006; Operation:City – manual for living in neo-liberal reality, 2008, How we regret…, UrbanFestival catalogue, 2008, Removed from the Crowd. Unexpected Encounters I, 2011.
Raluca Voinea is an art critic and curator based in Bucharest. She is co-director of the Association, founded in 2012 together with Matei Bejenaru, Livia Pancu, Lia Perjovschi and Attila Tordai-S., an institution which is part of the network. She is also involved in several other curatorial or editorial collectives from Romania (, IDEA arts + society, Long April). With she has developed since 2009 a Department for Art in Public Space, a programme of discursive events and artistic productions. She was one of the four curators (with Markus Bader, Oliver Baurhenn and Kuba Szreder) of the international project The KNOT. Linking the existing with the imaginary, developed in the public space of Berlin, Warsaw and Bucharest in 2010.
The collective Zampa di Leone (founded 2000) focuses its activities and its comic narrative against right wing and liberal political practice and contemporary art production that takes a vassal’s role in the society of the crisis of the liberal capitalist culture. Mapping the art scenes all around the world and particularly in Serbia, Germany,  Croatia and Turkey, and deconstructing the controversial gentrification processes, Zampa digs its claws into the wonderland of contemporary culture. For more than 10 years Zampa di Leone provides awesome opportunity for everyone to join Zampa di Leone World Movement and to ZAMP IT UP with crazy beats from the synchronized peripheries.  A number of critical actions, interruptions and sabotages of exhibition openings at large art events (like the Istanbul Biennial 2009 for example or many artistic actions against non-transparency of the management of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade) and other museums were carried out by the collective Zampa di Leone from 2000 until today.

Organizational team: Corina L. Apostol, Raluca Voinea, Edi Constantin, Angelica Iacob
Special thanks to: Adriana & Silviu Apostol, Simion Constantin & team, Misa Janeckova, Cristian Voinea, Biroul MelodramaticVlad Morariu,Dmitry VilenskySociété Réaliste

Conference organized by Bucureşti & ArtLeaks in the frame of the project “Close-up: creative tools for new criticism.”
With the support of the Culture programme of the European Union
Partners: Academy of Fine Arts in Prague,, Czech Centre Bucharest
Main partner of ERSTE Foundation

Vă invităm la conferința internațională
Producție culturală, organizare şi luptă
25-26 Octombrie 2013, orele 17:00-21:00 Bucureşti, Str. Gazelei nr. 44, sector 4
Participanți: Tatiana Baskakova, Simona Dumitriu, Palo Fabuš, Joanna Figiel, Fokus Grupa (Iva Kovač, Elvis Krstulović), Vladan Jeremić, Marko Miletić, Márton Pacsika, Candidatul la Preşedinție (Florin Flueraş, Ion Dumitrescu), Jiří Ptáček, Ştefan Tiron, Vesna Vuković
Intervenții grafice: Zampa di Leone
Moderatoare: Corina L. Apostol, Vjera Borozan, Raluca Voinea
Situația artiştilor astăzi:
- statul îi instrumentalizează;
- corporațiile se folosesc de ei ca să-şi spele imaginea publică;
- galeriile şi colecționarii se uită la ei ca la găina cu ouăle de aur;
- publicul asteaptă să fie delectați de ei;
- activiştii aşteaptă ajutorul lor pentru a salva lumea;
- instituțiile culturale îşi legitimeaza existența prin ei sub pretextul nobilei misiuni de emancipare şi educare;
- colegii lor se bazează pe umorul, inteligența şi creativitatea lor;
- în cele mai multe cazuri ei înşişi se luptă pentru supraviețuire.
Cuvântul „artist” este folosit aici într-un sens foarte general; termenul de „muncitor cultural” a început în ultimul timp să-l înlocuiască pe cel de „artist”, mult prea alienat de mitologia romantică. Însă nu este suficient să schimbam terminologia. Ceea ce trebuie să schimbăm este percepția publică asupra lor, ca un grup care contribuie la dezvoltarea societății – o sarcină care necesită conștiință de sine, organizare şi afirmare.
Conferința “Paraziți și profeți” are ca scop inițierea unui dialog între muncitorii culturali din Bucureşti şi colegii lor din Europa, în special din Europa de Est, despre condiții de lucru precare, muncă artistică neplătită, condiții economice şi venituri, fonduri publice, colaborare, solidaritate, luptă. Cum putem lupta împotriva condițiilor de viață precare în contexte în care aceste eforturi sunt greu de localizat? Ce tactici şi modele de organizare există deja? Cum pot fi ele reactivate şi dezvoltate atât colectiv cât şi public?
Programul public al celor două zile, vineri, 25 şi sâmbătă 26 octombrie de la 17:00 la 21:00 va cuprinde prezentări ale participanților, dezbateri, trimiteri la contextul local din Bucuresti şi la luptele artistice în contextul mai larg al mişcărilor sociale şi al cerințelor politice acumulate, desen colectiv, discuții informale şi predicții optimiste pentru viitorul apropriat.
Pentru mai multe informații despre eveniment şi participanți puteți consulta site-urile şi sau prin email: sau, sau la telefon 0728503012.
Organizare: Corina L. Apostol, Raluca Voinea, Edi Constantin, Angelica Iacob
Mulțumiri: Adriana & Silviu Apostol, Simion Constantin & team, Misa Janeckova, Cristian Voinea, Bureau for Melodramatic Research, Vlad Morariu, Dmitry Vilensky, Société Réaliste
Conferință organizată de Bucureşti şi ArtLeaks în cadrul proiectului
“Close-up: creative tools for new criticism.”
Cu sprijinul programului Cultura al Uniunii Europene
Parteneri: Academia de Arte Frumoase din Praga,, Centrul Ceh Bucureşti
Partener principal al ERSTE Foundation

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Launching the ArtLeaks Gazette (Call for Papers)

On the urgency of launching the ArtLeaks Gazette

Artleaks was founded in 2011 as an international platform for cultural workers where instances of abuse, corruption and exploitation are exposed and submitted for public inquiry. After over a year of activity, we, members of the collective ArtLeaks felt an urgent need to establish a regular on-line publication as a tool for empowerment in the face of the systemic abuse of cultural workers’ basic labor rights, repression or even blatant censorship and growing corporatization of culture that we encounter  today.
Namely: radical (political) projects are co-opted under the umbrella of corporate promotion and gentrification; artistic research is performed on research hand-outs, creating only an illusion of depth while in fact adding to the reserve army of creative capital; the secondary market thrives as auction houses speculate on blue chip artists for enormous amounts of laundered money, following finance capitalism from boom to bust, meanwhile, most artists can’t even make a living and depend on miserly fees, restrictive residencies, and research handouts to survive; galleries and dealers more and more heavily copyright cultural values; approximately 5% of authors, producers and dealers control 80% of all cultural resources (and indeed, in reality, the situation may be even worse than these numbers suggest) ; certain cultural managers and institutions do not shy away from using repressive maneuvers against those who bring into question their mission, politics or dubious engagements with corporate or state benefactors; and last but not least, restrictive national(ist) laws and governments suppress cultural workers through very drastic politics, not to mention the national state functions as a factor of neoliberal expression in the field of culture.
Do you recognize yourself in the scenarios above? Do you accept them as immutable conditions of your labor? We strongly believe that this dire state of affairs can be changed. We do not have to carry on complying to politics that cultivate harsh principles of pseudo-natural selection (or social-Darwinism) – instead we should fight against them and imagine different scenarios based on collective values, fairness and dignity. We strongly believe that issues of exploitation, repression or cooptation cannot be divorced from their specific politico-economic contexts and historical conditions, and need to be raised in connection with a new concept of culture as an invaluable reservoir of the common, as well as new forms of class consciousness in the artistic field in particular, and the cultural field more generally.
Recently, this spectrum of urgencies and the necessity to address them has also become the focus of fundamental discussions and reflection on the part of communities involved in cultural production and certain leftist social and political activists. Among these, we share the concerns of pioneering groups such as the Radical Education Collective (Ljubljana), Precarious Workers’ Brigade (PWB) (London), W.A.G.E. (NYC), Arts &Labor (NYC), the May Congress of Creative Workers (Moscow) and others (see the Related Causes section on our website). The condition of cultural workers has also recently been theorized within the framework of bio-politics – in which cognitive labor is implicitly described as a new hegemonic type of production in the context of the global industrialization of creative work.
The question then emerges, what is creative work today? To structure this undifferentiated categorizations, we will begin by addressing in our journal all those “occupied” with art who are striving towards emancipatory knowledge in the process of their activity. As the contemporary art world more and more envelops different areas of knowledge as well as the production of events, we considered it a priority to focus on this particular field. However, we remain open to discussing urgencies related to other forms of creative activity beyond the art world.
Through our journal, we want to stresses the urgent need to seriously transform these workers’ relationship with institutions, networks and economies involved in the production, reproduction and consumption of art and culture.  We will pursue these goals through developing  a new approach to the tradition of institutional critique and fostering new forms of artistic production, that may challenge dominant discourses of criticality and social engagement which tame creative forces. We also feel the urgency to link cultural workers’ struggles with similar ones from other fields of human activity – at the same time, we strongly believe that any such sustainable alliances could hardly be built unless we begin with the struggles in our own factories.

Announced Theme for the first issue: Breaking the Silence – Towards Justice, Solidarity and Mobilization

The main theme of the first issue of our journal is establishing a politics of truth by breaking the silence on the art world. What do we actually mean by this? We suggest that breaking the silence on the art world is similar to breaking the silence of family violence and other forms of domestic abuse. Similarly as when coming out with stories of endemic exploitation form inside the household, talking about violence and exploitation in the art world commonly brings shame, ambivalence and fear. But while each case of abuse may be different, we believe these are not singular instances but part of a larger system of repression, abuse and arrogance that have been normalized through the practices of certain cultural managers and institutions. Our task is to find voices, narratives, hybrid forms that raise consciousness about the profound effects of these forms of maltreatments: to break through the normalizing rhetoric that relegate cultural workers’ labor to an activity performed out of instinct, for the survival of culture at large, like sex or child rearing which, too are zones of intense exploitation today.
Implicit in this gesture is a radical form of protest – one that does not simply join the concert of affirmative institutional critique which confirms the system by criticizing it. Rather, breaking the silence implies bringing into question the ways in which the current art system constructs positions for its speakers, and looking for strategies in which to counteract naturalized exploitation and repression today.
At the same time, we recognize that the moment of exposure does not fully address self-organization or, what comes after breaking the silence? We suggest that it is therefore important to link this to solidarity, mobilization and an appeal for justice, as political tools. As it is the understanding of the dynamic interaction between the mobilization of resources, political opportunities in contexts and emancipatory cultural frames that we can use to analyze and construct strategies for cultural workers movements.  With summoning the urgency of “potentia agendi” (or the power to act) collectively we also call for the necessity to forge coalitions within the art world and beyond it – alliances that have the concrete ability of exerting a certain political pressure towards achieving the promise of a more just and emancipatory cultural field.

Structure of publication

The journal would be divided into 6 major sections.
A. Critique of cultural dominance apparatuses
Here we will address methodological issues in analyzing the condition of cultural production and the system that allows for the facile exploitation of the cultural labor-force. Ideally, though not necessarily, these theoretical elaborations would be related to concrete case studies of conflicts, exploitation, dissent  across various regions of the world, drawing comparisons and providing local context for understanding them.
B. Forms of organization and history of struggles
Cultural workers have been demanding just working conditions, struggling over agency and subjectivity in myriad ways and through various ideas about what this entails. In this section we will analyze historical case-studies of self-organization of cultural workers. Our goal is not to produce a synthetic model out of all of these struggles, rather to examine how problems have been articulated at various levels of (political) organization, with attention to the genealogy of the issues and the interaction between hegemonic discourses (of the institution, corporation, the state) and those employed by cultural workers in their respective communities.

C. The struggle of narrations
In this section we will invite our contributors to develop and practice artistic forms of narration which cannot be fully articulated through direct “leaking”. It should be focused on finding new languages for narration of systemic dysfunctions . We expect these elaborations can take different form of artistic contributions, including comics, poems, films, plays, short stories, librettos etc.
D. Glossary of terms
What do we mean by the concept of “cultural workers”? What does “gentrification” or “systemic abuse” mean in certain contexts?  Whose “art world”? This section addresses the necessity of developing a terminology to make theoretical articulations more clear and accessible to our readers. Members of ArtLeaks as well as our contributors to our gazette will be invited to define key terms used in the material presented in the publication. These definitions should be no more that 3-4 sentences long and they should be formulated as a result of a dialogue between all the contributors.
E. Education and its discontents
The conflicts and struggles in the field of creative education are at the core of determining what kind of subjectivities will shape the culture(s) of future generations. It is very important to carefully analyze what is currently at the stake in these specific fields of educational processes and how they are linked with what is happening outside academies and universities.  In this section we will discuss possible emancipatory approaches to education that are possible today, which resist pressing commercial demands for flexible and “creative” subjectivities. Can we imagine an alternative system of values based of a different meaning of progress?
F. Best practices and useful resources
In this section we would like to invite people to play out their fantasies of new, just forms of organization of creative life. Developing the tradition of different visionaries of the past we hope that this section will trigger many speculations which might help us collect modest proposals for the future and thus counter the shabby reality of the present. This section is also dedicated  to the practices which demonstrate  alternative ethical guidelines, and stimulate the creation of a common cultural sphere. This would allow cultural workers to unleash their full potential in creating values based on principles of emancipatory politics, critical reflections and affirmative inspiration of a different world where these values should form the basis of a dignified life.

On Practicalities

Our open call addresses all those who feel the urgency to discuss the aforementioned-issues. We look forward to collecting contributions until the 31st of December 2012. Contributions should be delivered in English or as an exemption in any language after negotiations with the editorial council. The editorial council of Artleaks takes responsibility of communicating with all authors during the editorial process.
Please contact us with any questions, comments and submit materials to When submitting material, please also note the section under which you would like to see it published. 
The on-line gazette will be published in English under the Creative Commons attribution noncommercial-share alike and its materials will be offered for translation in any languages to any interested parts.
We will publish all contributions delivered to us in a separate section. However, our editorial council takes full responsibility in composing an issue of the journal in the way we feel it should be done.
Editorial council for the first issue will consist of: Corina L. ApostolVladan Jeremić,Vlad Morariu, David Riff and Dmitry Vilensky

Sunday, August 12, 2012

3rd ArtLeaks Working Assembly – Belgrade

3rd ArtLeaks Working Assembly – Belgrade
Friday, 31st of August, 7pm, 2012
Cultural Center REX, Jevrejska 16, Belgrade, Serbia

ArtLeaks is an international platform for cultural workers where instances of abuse, corruption and exploitation are exposed and submitted for public inquiry. ArtLeaks stresses the urgent need to seriously revise these workers’ relationship with institutions, networks and economies involved with the production and consumption of art and culture.  Our goal is to create a space where one could engage directly with actual conditions of cultural work both locally and internationally – conditions that affect those working in cultural production as well as those from traditionally creative fields. Furthermore, ArtLeaks is developing in the direction of creating transversal alliances between local activist and cultural workers groups, through which we may collectively tackle situation of repression and inequality.
Through direct exposure, educational initiatives and a forthcoming on-line publication, we seek to empower like-minded people to stand together against the intense exploitation of cultural labor, all forms of repression, the enclosure of public space and the instrumentalization of radical culture under the umbrella of corporations. We strongly believe that issues of censorship and abuse cannot be divorced from specific politico-economic contexts and further, that they should be raised in connection with new forms of class consciousness in the artistic field in particular, and the cultural field more generally.
Building on our previous experience organizing an ArtLeaks Working Assemblies in Berlin in June 2012 and Moscow in July 2012, we would like to invite you to a similar working-group format that allows direct engagement with the public at the Cultural Center REX in Belgrade.
An outcome of our previous working assemblies was the establishment of alliances with international groups such W.A.G.E.(NYC) , Occupy Museums (NYC), Arts & Labor(NYC), Haben und Brauchen(Berlin), the Precarious Workers Brigade(London), The May Congress of Creative Workers(Moscow), groups whose mission is to formulate direct actions and raise awareness in relation to the above mentioned urgencies and problems. It is our strong belief is that only such internationally coordinated alliances could not only denounce exploitation and censorship in contemporary art and culture, but also collectively imagine new types of organizational articulations which would respond to the needs and desires of political subjects constituted at the crossing points of the current economic, politic and cultural shifts.
For our Belgrade assembly, our goals for further developments are :
(1) To reach new constituencies from the cultural, social, and political milieu of Belgrade, and  invite them to join our struggles
(2)To research the local socio-political context in which cultural workers are exploited in Belgrade, Serbia in particular and the Balkans generally; to find out about local cases of abuse, coorrruption and and exploitation
(3)To receive critique regarding the manners in which ArtLeaks is currently functioning and may be improved further
(4) To collectively formulate concrete working methodologies and actions that our cultural workers’ alliances may incorporate into their development.
As for working topics for our assembly, we suggest: formulating narratives of exposure, drafting ethical guidelines, developing terminology to address abuse and exploitation, strategies of constituting alliances.

The Second ArtLeaks Working Assembly in Moscow will be facilitated by Corina Apostol, The Bureau of Melodramatic ResearchStefan TironVladan Jeremić & Rena Rädle, and other members of the cultural community in Belgrade. (to be announced soon)

Report of ArtLeaks’ Second Public Assembly, Moscow, July 15th 2012
Report of ArtLeaks’ First Public Assembly and Workshop, Berlin Jun 3-4th 2012

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Second ArtLeaks Working Assembly in Moscow // Вторая Ассамблея ArtLeaks в Москве

What art system do we need?

International representatives of the platforms ArtLeaks and The May Congress of Creative Workers (MKTR: invite you to take part in the Second ArtLeaks Assembly to be held in Moscow on July 15th, 2012 at 7 PM at Shkola, Park Isskustv “Muzeon.”
Directions: Krymsky Val 2, Metro station “Park Kultury,” “Oktyabrskaya,”; or Bus 10, “B”, station “Park Kultury”
About Shkola/ School Pavilion (in English):
We extend this call to participation to all cultural workers who are constantly confronted with the violation of their basic labor rights: those who are routinely not compensated for their work, those who have been slandered, ousted and blacklisted for raising their voice, those who have to work several jobs to make ends meet but still encounter great difficulty in paying their rent and do not have time to participate in cultural life.
Today, the production of culture is an expanding sphere of activity: on the one hand, it is the space where new meanings and forms of subjectivity are created and where the most radical forms of activity are tested – yet at the same time it is precisely at this juncture where we encounter some of the most glaring forms of exploitation and control, where the gain of profit seems unrestricted and speculation is embedded in the very logic of production.
Without exaggeration, one can claim that contemporary culture follows the general structure of the distribution of wealth in the capitalist world, where 3-5% of the participants control and dis-pose of 70-80% of resources (material and immaterial labor, production budgets, state grants etc.). As it is the case in other spheres of human activity, art and culture are dominated by principles of fierce competition, forcing the subordinated majority into a bitter struggle for its subsistence. This situation is made possible by the existence of a huge reservoir of labor, which cultural administrators manage according to politics that cultivate stringent principles of pseudo-natural selection.
At the same time we must not forget that cultural processes cannot be reduced to simply production schemes. The system of production and reproduction of hierarchies and values inevitably comes into conflict with the very nature of free creative acts. Culture must retain its amateurish, joyful approach, to freely share its values with society – it should refuse to conform directly to the banal logic of sale and speculation.
Can we imagine a different system of art and culture, which would not only guarantee decent working conditions to the majority of its participants, but also stimulate the creation of a common cultural sphere, one that would allow cultural workers to unleash their full potential in furthering our quest for happiness and freedom?
In Moscow in particular and in Russia generally, the aforementioned issues are particularly acute, since it is precisely here that cultural workers are faced with the most violent forms of exploitation of their labor, with open forms of cynicism and manipulation and, last but not least with severe forms of repression in the guise of manipulation and censorship. Yet most artists and cultural producers have no choice but to accept this situation, however absurd or abnormal it may sometimes seem, dreaming of a “normalcy” in the international scene.
Yet there too, there are problems, as well as people trying to deal with them. How can we organize ourselves internationally to oppose these abuses? Which forms can we find to talk about the absurd and breathtakingly exploitative situations we often find ourselves in? What are the potentials of a new comparative institutional critique, written by cultural workers, and which formats could it include? How can we break the silence?
This is what we propose to discuss and think through with all the participants of the assembly for cultural workers in Moscow, initiated by the platform ArtLeaks.
The Second ArtLeaks Working Assembly in Moscow will be facilitated by Corina Apostol, Jean-Baptiste Naudy (Société Réaliste), David RiffDmitry Vilensky and Nikolay Oleynikov(Chto Delat?)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

1st ArtLeaks Working Assembly 2012

ArtLeaks invites you to a public working assembly around the issues that are at the core of the group’s mission – exposing instances of abuse, corruption and exploitation in the art world. This is the official public launch of our platform, which began to operate in September 2011, and will be followed by a series of debates and workshops in the near future. These present a unique opportunity to engage more directly with conditions of cultural work that affect not only artists but creative workers in general: those from the traditionally creative fields as well as those generally involved in cultural production.
Members of ArtLeaks will present on the problematic politics of sponsorship in contemporary culture, the intense exploitation of cultural labor, the marketization of public space dedicated to so-called independent initiatives, the appropriation of culture under the umbrella of disreputable corporation and last but not least, what possibilities we may envision for transversal alliances and activism against cases of abuse and corruption of cultural managers and institutions.
We invite to the discussion all those of you who have experienced abuses of your basic rights to be paid for your work, those who have struggled against subjugation under the dictates of galleries who cater to a wealthy minority, those who regularly take on other jobs to finance projects that may never be realized. Join us in forwarding the conversation from a critique of the status quo to formulating strategies on how to make real changes in the system – changes that would benefit the vast majority of creative workers, allowing them to unleash their full potential to bringing about a better world.
To this end, the evening will be divided between a first part dedicated to interventions by members of ArtLeaks, while in the second we would like to engage the public in a conversation and brainstorm on solutions, models and positions in response to concrete problems, concerns, urgencies.
Currently ArtLeaks is working on formulating a new regular publication entirely dedicated to issues of cultural workers’ rights and related struggles. This journal will be unique in focusing specifically on the challenges we face in the field today, related to wide-spread mistreatment, (self)exploitation and corruption and how these may be over-come through strategies of self-organization, solidarity and collective action. ArtLeaks will launch a call for papers at this public meeting.
ArtLeaks members that will facilitate this working assembly: Corina Apostol, Vlad Morariu, David Riff, Dmitry Vilensky, Raluca Voinea. We will have interventions via Skype from Vladan Jeremic and Société Réaliste.

Berlin, Sunday, June 3rd, 18:00h, Flutgraben
Am Flutgraben 3
12435 Berlin
+49 30 5321 9658

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What positions can women occupy in contemporary art and culture in Romania? A collective intervention in CriticAtac Magazine

This debate was also published in Romanian in CriticAtac Magazine:

What began as an interview between art critic and artist-duo, evolved into a debate over the condition of women cultural workers active in the Romanian art scene today. Corina L. Apostol, art historian, and The Bureau of Melodramatic Research (thereafter BMR), an institution founded in 2009 by Irina Gheorghe and Alina Popa, decided to do away with the normative format of a Q&A, in order to deconstruct the circumstances that brought their collaboration into being along the lines of feminist critique. The BMR is known for cooperating with or infiltrating cultural institutions at home and abroad in order to de-mystify the function of gendered emotional capital in the matrix of social, political and economic relations that govern these organizational bodies. Working together, we would like to address general conditions of inequality that direct the reception, interpretation and production of art and culture by women (in our local context and abroad) to make them visible and discernible – and to plant these concerns squarely at the center of cultural debates.

CLA: Let’s begin with formal introductions, to illuminate for the reader the condition that made you decide to work together, after being formally trained as individual artists at the Academy in Bucharest. I am also curious to know how you see your platform’s mission in the cultural field in Romania and outside its borders.

BMR: The figure of the individual artist, praised both by the art education system and by the art market, has been under constant question and critique in our practice at the Bureau of Melodramatic Research. The ideology of individualism, central to Western modernity and to capitalism - finds its overstated expression in the social role it conveys to the artist: a self-centered, coherent, unique subject, whose singularity is bolstered by an exceptional autobiography. These features are also linked to the emergence of central perspective and Eurocentrism in the Renaissance, not coincidentally right in the wake of colonial expansion and the reinstatement of slavery.i
An important aspect of the artist figure promoted beginning with the 15th century was the prevalence of a male subject. In this respect, the communities of witches in the late Middle Ages, described by Silvia Federici in her excellent study Caliban and the Witchii, are role models of the Bureau. She analyses the transition to capitalism from a feminist viewpoint, centering her research on the great witch-hunt of the 16th and 17th centuries. The witches were considered to be dangerous because they were healers - they had a great knowledge of plants and herbs, so they could use contraceptive methods and thus could make decisions about their own bodies and were part of the heretic movements - they obeyed neither the hierarchy nor dogmas of the official church nor the socio-political system imposed by it.

She argues that this violent taming of disobedient women was one of the key processes to enable the emergence of capitalism, which could not have been possible without their domestic and reproductive work. Before however, these women were living and working in communities, they were skillful in their knowledge about natural abortifacients and they had a monopoly over birth services (including surgery). In conclusion, they were able to control their own reproduction and it’s particularly this aspect that had to be repressed by all means. Federici thus draws an important genealogy for presenting alternative social structures based on communalism and at the same time empowering the women.

Later, with the emergence of European industrial capitalism in the 19th century, individualism was reinforced as a hegemonic economic doctrine. Parallel Romantic myths have produced the ultimate figure of male individualism endowed with genius, creativity, originality, imagination. These traits which once belonged to the artist were gradually taken over by capitalism: first in the realm of consumption during the fordist era along with the advertising boom, and later in the postfordist mode of production, based on management creativity, including its ability to dissimulate the exploitation of labour force in the third world. These myths prevail since they very well serve the present neoliberal discourse, centered on the assumption that capitalism has reached a postindustrial stage. Artistic and economic individualism are inextricably intertwined in the race for capitalist redemption. Creativity and originality are fetishized as landmarks of freedom; nevertheless individual freedom is often used as a mere pretext for market freedom and capital expansion. The so-called creative class becomes a reliable human resource to be placed where profit is needed (through the process of gentrification, very familiar to artists), while other classes, the working-class and lumpen are being displaced and, best case scenario, relocated to the peripheries. On the other hand, creativity is praised for its assumed potential to reform strategies of resistance. The question is to what extent this language, imbibed in the corporate world, can still be reclaimed.

Speaking of language, we’d also like to comment on the word mission in your question. Its etymological roots lie in religious (the Jesuit avant-garde of the European colonial imperialism) and military (the avant-garde of the American military operations) discourse, which both claim an ethical subtext. In the wake of the neoconservative backlash which we are currently witnessing across Europe and North America, this moralizing sermon of the right needs to be challenged. Melodrama as a genre has the polarized, personified battle between good and evil at its core, a battle on which contemporary political discourse is structured, be it the war on terror or the local anticommunist crusade. It is something we have been concerned with for quite a while: hierarchies and power relationships that are formed in the course of various missions. There is an inherent dilemma in the whole idea of the Bureau, because it tries to reconcile research activity with the study of emotions. We are sometimes wary of BMR becoming a Sentimental Police. That’s why we have to constantly negotiate our position and avoid the clinical study of emotions, their quarantine in a sanitized laboratory. Instead, we are terribly attached to a melodramatic methodology: melo-critique.

CLA: I would like to continue with the following observation, which becomes more visible for someone like myself, writing from outside of the center of debates in the local art community. That is, to whom the situation appears thus: most artists in Romania are men, while women have been assigned the role of critics and curators. What informs this attitude – is it the academic training, the power structure in art institutions which are still governed by mostly male boards? Or do you see it as personal conviction on the part of theoreticians and curators? How does it affect how we look at art practices in Romania and how art in turn affects reception by the public? And finally to bring up a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, what strategies may we develop to resist gender inequalities as cultural workers? I struggle with these questions as a theoretician acting in a field that is fraught with the historical denial of gender discrimination, more prevalent in the East but still persisting in the West as well (and I am sure North and South).

BMR: It is a multi-faceted issue and one which may cause some stir. Nevertheless we are glad you brought this subject up. We are noticing more and more discomfort caused by gender imbalance in various critical groups in Romania, accompanied by unsupported efforts to set the balance. They result in a slight improvement but never bring about serene gender equilibrium. Let’s begin by considering the specific context we are in right now, that of CriticAtac, before we go on to analyze the local art scene. The Bureau calculated statistics for the two years of activity of the magazine, a kind of gender audit. We found that while in the first year the percentage of women contributing to the platform was around 10%, this year it grew to 23%. This means an average of 18%. Quite a remarkable difference. So the three of us are proudly lending a helping hand in this respect. More generally, there seems to be a paradigm of critical clusters in Romania coordinated by mostly male boards (for example, IDEA Arts+Society with a five to one score and CriticAtac with a slightly worse situation of 6 to 1).

In the case of contemporary artists however, statistical data might at first suggest a more balanced situation. We had a look at several websites, which aim to offer an overview, such as or there are 40%, respectively 36% women artists mentioned. However, if you think about the first names that come up in your mind when thinking about Romanian contemporary art, judging by the hierarchy of the international institutions where these artists have exhibited, then the balance becomes quite different from the statistical results. So maybe not only the local art institutions are fraught with gender inequalities, but also the international ones. Is it what you had in mind with the question, also thinking about your presentation at The Congress of Spectral Institutions (in June 2011) about artist branding?

CLA: My intervention at the Congress tried to deal with a form of canonization of Eastern Art in the West and the establishment of a consistent “laundry list” of artists that always appear in the shows in Western Europe and the USA. Moreover, certain works are always emphasized, that relate to the traumas of communism instead of shedding some light on contemporary concerns of artists – which have dramatically changed in the past 20 years. From my own research I can concur that 75% of these artists are male – and it should be emphasized that this is a choice on the part of the curators and the managers of these spaces, and does not rightly reflect the works produced by women artists from the region.

BMR: We totally agree. We’d also like to point out another aspect: if contemporary art is placed in a grey zone, and leaves some room for debate on the topic with gender shades worthy of the Painting School of Cluj (also male dominated), with more traditional art institutions we enter a black hole. In the National University of Arts’ painting department the teaching staff is exclusively male (13 out of 13 teachers mentioned on the website). In the same department of the Artists’ Union, there is only one woman out of 15 members of the board. That is 0%, and 6% respectively. In the photography& video department of the school the situation slightly changes (2 women out of 9) which drastically raises the percent to 22%. We also had a look at the commercial galleries: the two most internationally visible ones represent 2 Romanian women artists out of 11.

Critics and curators in turn, as you said, are mostly women, both in the Artists’ Union and on the above-mentioned websites. The percents add up to 80%, 66%, 50%, 80% - the first case of female majority.

If we think of the etymological background of the word curator we also find the Lat. “cure” meaning “care”. Care work has been traditionally assigned to women so from this perspective one can also imagine the woman-curator mothering the male-artists. On the other hand there are many examples in the Romanian art world defying expected clichés: spaces run by women, women artists who are politically and socially engaged, dealing with gender issues in their work, etc. Maybe visibility of instances of discrimination is one of the requisite strategies of resistance: that is to make the conditions of production (including gender restrictions) - public, and part of the production itself.

CLA: We began this debate bringing up feminist theory, which emerged from the 1960s and 1970s solidarity movements among women workers in the West, and is now considered a global phenomenon. But I am skeptical of the extent to which the various waves of feminist critique can be straightforwardly applied to our context. Do you consider yourselves feminists? I am particularly interested in what you see as the downfalls and opportunities associated with such a claim in Romania – which has been only recently exposed to this concept and lacks the conditions for a strong solidarity front among women to bring it to fruition – if you agree with my statement.

BMR: We are definitely taking a feminist viewpoint. However, as regards the downfalls, even if you don’t use the word feminist but simply deal with gender issues in Romania, you might be cast as a “freak” and looked down upon with suspicion and distrust. Further, we noticed that the local imaginary associated with feminism is haunted by a frightening bestiary of unshaven legs and underarm hair, bras on fire and voodoo rituals against men. In this dark scenario, feminism becomes the benevolent church of hideous femininity.

The question of the relevance of Western feminist theory in the local context should be preceded by an investigation of its visibility. The amount of international female theoreticians, whose work is being translated, referred to, quoted, even in critical groups, is minute. Rock star philosophers like Žižek, Chomsky, Negri and Groys make Silvia Federici, Donna Haraway or J. K. Gibson-Graham seem underground. All the more their perspectives seem to be rare and precious knowledge.

On the other hand it is equally important to talk about things everybody can relate to, that is to rely on examples drawn from the local situation. In this respect, we find the discussions of the Feminist Reading Group at Biblioteca Alternativă (The Alternative Library really meaningful, as they deal with urgent issues for the Romanian context. This group’s women-only policy has been under constant debate due to its exclusiveness, but on the other hand it is necessary to create a space of solidarity and peer-to-peer dialogue for women. In the public space women are still speaking in a considerably lower voice compared to their male counterparts, so in a way such a space offers a training ground for public expression.

CLA: We have just “celebrated” the fall of the dictatorship in Romania, over 20 years ago. Usually in our local context the lines become all too blurred between the philosophy of communism and the regime that betrayed its ideals. One of the unexplored ventures of communism in this country is that it paradoxically promoted women as equal to men, women actively engaged in building socialism, engaged in the economic and political orders. Of course sexist restrictions still prevailed in this so-called equality: such as women still being expected to produce babies and take care of the household - but in theory they were conceptualized as the equal half of the male proletariat. How do you see the shift between this construction of “woman” and the “liberated” woman living in free market economy today? What has changed and what inequalities still prevail? I would like to begin thinking about how to recapture the transformative potential of the claims from both eras in theory and practice. I think it’s a very difficult exercise to imagine this, but the process toward achieving it may prove important in focusing our collective efforts.

BMR: Indeed, in keeping with the gains of the October Revolution in 1917, the postwar Eastern European governments provided women with the right to vote, widespread access to education and a working place, while at the same time confining them to the traditional roles of mothers, the main care-takers in the family. In theory it meant equality, in practice a double amount of work, and this was not only the case for Romania but for the whole ex-Soviet space.
We are currently working on an archive of women’s visual representations before and after 89, and started with the main magazines which were aiming at a female audience - Femeia (The Woman) as well as the ones dealing with health and hygiene education - Sănătatea (The Health). We began the same type of research in Poland and Moldova, and in all cases we were completely outraged by the contrast in representation between the two periods. After spending a lot of time looking at pre-89 images, in which women were often represented in professions traditionally assigned to men (the chemist, the welder, the astronaut and so on), the topless pictures of the 90s (which all seemed to re-stage Manet’s Déjeuner sur l'herbe in the fashion of the time, with high heels and “big” sprayed hair) seem to be a sort of a soft porn with secretaries, played on the premises of foreign-capital companies.

So there was a sort of visual fairness in soviet communism. Visibility was not restricted to the young, slim and beautiful, at least in what regards some categories of women. However, this was not the case with Roma women, or the disabled, fully excluded from sight. The nationalist doctrine of Ceausescu’s regime was well supported by image propaganda, with eugenics-inspired hymns of population health and scientific racism, reminiscent of the past interwar period.
Another element of connection between the interwar eugenics movement and the period between 1945 and 1989 is the denial of women’s reproductive rights with the 770 Decree, aiming at population growth. This less discussed genealogy is traced by Maria Bucur in her work Eugenics and Modernization in Interwar Romaniaiii. Her research points out that the decree passed in 1966 comes in close connection to the similar one from 1936, issued by King Carol II. She carefully follows the thread of people involved in both laws, revealing a hitherto neglected historical continuity and implicitly contributing to a critical perception of the interwar period.
However it seems difficult to counter the consistent efforts of the Romanian neoconservative intellectuals to gild the 30’s as well as their fierce perseverance to dissimulate the racism specific to this period. The official anticommunist discourse builds its legitimation upon a dramatic opposition as well as a positive re-affirmation of the interwar period, that’s why it is full of technocratic fiction and backed through the goofy LARPingiv of the intellectual “elites”.

As regards the reproductive propaganda, it persists in the present public discourse, if merely implied, influenced by local Orthodox neoconservatism. Marches for the rights of the unborn have been recently organized by the Pro-Vita, the Romanian version of Pro-Life. In some of the schools in Bucharest, sexual education is being taught by Pro-Vita agents and priests, also a consequence of their lobby and easy access in the Ministry of Education. Silvia Federici rightfully identifies the body as the main battleground for feminist struggles. She insists on the centrality of the reproductive work as the work producing the work force, ignored by Marx and Foucault alike (although the latter mentions birth rate as an important biopolitical instrument). So the moral principle of fetal sanctity claimed by the right as well as the capitalist ideology of the constant production of bodies ready-to-be-exploited-for-profit lead to the same pressures on the women’s body.

CLA: And what of the theorization of gender in the East of Europe governed by Western institutions, which possess the institutional framework and capital to support exhibitions and publications? There have been many such endeavors recently, dealing with the production of gender Eastwards in a still Cold-War rhetorical dichotomy. Most striking was “Gender Check: Masculinity and Femininity in the Art of Eastern Europe,” (2010) hosted by the MUMOK in Vienna and back by the influential ERSTE Foundation. Do you think such an exhibition could take place in Romania or another post-socialist region? Why haven’t institutions supporting contemporary arts in this context initiated such manifestations – are they even relevant to our context or do they serve to perpetuate the Othering of the East under the guise of gender critique?

BMR: It’s a coincidence worthy of melodrama that you mention this particular exhibition. We were in residency at KulturKontakt at that time, and we attended the conference and opening. So we got a little bit of backstage information and also were exposed to the context in which the exhibition took place. It was organized in the anniversary year 2009, when Vienna was cheerleading the 20 fruitful years of neo-colonial expansion over territories of the former Habsburg Empire - referred to in the title of the exhibition as “Eastern Europe”. So a “1989” exhibition was on at Kunsthalle Wien, while in its close vicinity MUMOK was proudly checking the gender of Eastern artists with the kind support of the Erste Foundation (the one that owns Erste Bank). We were amazed by how many artists were on the checklist (more than 200); the exhibition rooms were suffocated with works aligned onto the walls, in endless rows, arranged according to nationality.

Nevertheless, the rather huge differences between the social and political situations of the participating countries were hardly explained, the checking was following the principles of the check-in. Marina Gržinic, although she was part of the exhibition and accompanying conference, wrote a very critical article about the whole projectv. Already at the conference she gave a well-trimmed lecture on borders and the internalization of borders (a propos check-in) instead of the innocent melo-autobiographical tale that was expected of her. Actually it has become a habit that melodramatic stories of overcoming adversity provide the background and legitimacy of artistic practice, as shown by such presentations or artist interviews in which questions about childhood hardship just cannot be helped.

After the opening, Gržinic and her class organized a public debate inside the exhibition, taking very critical positions towards the exhibition. We sat in circles in different parts of the show and commented upon the financial supporters behind it, the happy marriage of Erste funds and MUMOK visibility, neo-colonization, the absence of some key groups such as Laibach, the printed leaflet-invitation comprising a best-of selection of the participating artists, chosen according to the glitter of their CV etc. We imagined such a gathering in MNAC, questioning one of their exhibitions on their own premises!

It’s clear that such a retrospective, such an apparently comprising checking cannot take place in the respective countries. There are neither the financial means, nor the power position to allow this bird eye’s view on the whole region, nor the prestige of MUMOK to raise the symbolic capital of post-89 Austrian investments.

CLA: I agree – although such exhibitions (with all the problems that you mention) are desperately needed in our context to legitimize more engaged conversations about women artists’ working conditions and offer models from previous generations, they by and large remain the privilege of cultural capitals in West-Central Europe. Instead of a conclusion, I’d like to think about the future, the work that still needs to be done locally to counter some of the bad practices and habits that we emphasized in this exchange. I’d like to suggest that the collective platform we co-founded this fall, ArtLeaksvi can be a productive space in what concerns women artists’ struggles – making them more visible and empowering some of the demands we identified through our collaboration. At least I hope that it will develop also in the direction of gender discrimination and inequalities that we unfortunately still encounter. If we understand these as paradigmatic of historical conditions that can be overturned through collective action then that would be taking a big step for our community already.


See Hito Steyerl’s analysis on the history of the concept of horizon, closely connected to the development of linear perspective as a visual paradigm of European modernity, In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective:

Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, Autonomedia, Brooklyn, 2004

Maria Bucur, Eugenics and Modernization in Interwar Romania, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001

LARP stands for Live Action Role Playing

Gržinic, Analysis of the exhibition “Gender Check – Femininity and Masculinity in the Art of Eastern Europe”