MUNDUS VADIT RETRO opens, remaps and re-contextualizes memory and history, upon which the present and the future are substantiated. Through a selection of thoughtfully committed and often subversive artworks scattered over a wide range of mediums, it delves into the cultural-political conglomeration of contemporaneity and the past. It focuses on the incessant exploration of identity, on the perpetuum mobile of political and cultural changes in Europe, especially Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe – regions that share a common history, a lively dialogue with the Western societies and increasingly also the confrontation with the phenomena of modern-day migrations. The artworks between representation and research, between invention and repetition, are in search of a way amidst the individual, collective and social tensions that kindle around us.
When we speak about the past, it is like speaking of a reservoir of memory. When we speak about people, we are not only referring to memory in the sense of information, but to the living memory; the everyday know-how; the everyday code; the memory inscribed in our bodies. Selective cultural memory is coded inside objects of cultural history. The non-selective memory is embodied inside living beings; inside man, a walking museum of information and fleeting impressions, in the manner expressed by Brazilian artist Lygia Clark. The past is encoded in our bodies and it is changing all the time, and even after we die, our memory is transferred onwards; on the genetic level, by accepting the immaterial and material cultural heritage, and by subconsciously internalizing collective memory.
Visiting the Mauthausen Museum in Linz, Austria, one of the first models of a Nazi concentration camp (1938 – 1945), and the monuments and demolished villages left behind by the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992 – 1995), we are faced with concepts of war and hatred, which remind us of Thomas Hobbes describing a natural state of humanity, in which people prefer to carelessly fight for their own interests, much rather than taking care of a common well-being. Rena Rädle and Vladan Jeremić clearly point out that the delusions typically associated with Nazi Germany, are far from over – their documentary analyzes the housing situation of the Roma living in Rome, inside ghettoized container settlements and monitored by security guards. Especially from the position of ex-Yugoslavian citizens, as we were (in)directly involved in the war, we are facing aspects of recent history; feeling the need to understand this cruel beast that strikes collectively every half century in Europe. Katarina Šević and Tehnica Schweiz, in Stummer Dienner, expose the (small-town) middle class fear of change; the hypocrisy and short-sightedness blocking the voice of reason and creating a fatal passivity. Artists Lana Čmajčanin, Adela Jušić and Andreja Dugandžić use different, yet in their brutal straightforwardness complementary ways of detecting machismo and the deeply rooted patriarchal system of values, which have been a part of the Balkan (and wider) identity for centuries and are tightly linked to nationalistic outbursts. Iceland-born photographer María Elínardóttir is concerned with the issue of the position of women through a 1950’s “good wife” manual that reflects many of the rationally outgrown, but still silently present perceptions about the man-woman relation. A clear, factual narration characterizes Visualizing Palestine, a group that uses the complex documentation relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to create comprehensive and informative graphics. Slightly more sheltered is the visual narrative of Bulgarian artist Boris Pramatarov, who employs his surrealist images to build a story of the animalistic, hidden and terrifying side of human nature.
The cultural-geopolitical conglomerate of contemporary Europe is very heterogeneous and not easy to understand in its complexity. This complexity, often even incompatibility, was clearly visible with the newly formed “stitch up” of Europe after the fall of socialist regimes. The work of Marcel Mališ stands out in this respect, as he notices a great similarity between the borders of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and the geographical area covered by Erste Bank offices today. The political and social orientation of ex-socialist countries based on Hegelian and Marxist philosophy leads to a rather different understanding of society, solidarity and poverty as compared to the politically corporative, capitalist-driven and goal-oriented Western society. The increasing rate at which we accept Western-based models results in the formation of new tensions and stratifications and at the same time an almost deliberate rejection of our socialist past. Maja Hodošček with a group of students explores the heritage of the Non-Aligned Movement and reflects a possible contemporary “third politics”, using the process itself to demonstrate the difficulty of coordinating individual voices with the prevailing interest of the group. A super-national gesture is expressed also in the performance of Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan, who unravel the fabric of their national flags, turning them into a material that symbolically enables a fresh beginning. Eszter Szabó’s animated images reflect the total banality of contemporaneity and confront the transition and Western influences with the superstitions and habits, which are still part of Hungarian society. Martina Grlić and Dino Zrnec apply their sophisticated painting processes to explore and depict the almost forgotten proletariat. Virtually opposite to them is the work of Jure Cvitan, whose typical media painting expression genuinely exhibits the excess nature of contemporaneity. Siniša Ilić and Bojan Djordjev’s installation and performance focus around the images and scenes of reading – an unspectacular moment of meaning being created and the world being constantly re-made. Border Musical by Chto delat? – an international artistic collective, considers the cultural differences between Norway and Russia in a humorous, eccentric manner, but without covering up the gap between the East and the West. A kindred eccentricity is displayed in the work of Budapest-based painter drMáriás, whose unique practice combines icons of socialism, classical art and digital contemporaneity.
At the heart of Eastern Europe, lush with a mixture of Germanic, Slavic, Hungarian and Romani cultures and traditions, under the dictates of rapidly changing ideologies, amidst the string of economic rises and falls and disasters both natural and political, in a constant stream of people with different origins – the present-day inhabitants of Europe have been searching for their identity for the last hundred years. Tina Gverović reflects on the question of identity in the “here-and-now” moment: “Can we use our lifestyle, which has become moored inside us through the course of our upbringing, to free ourselves from our heritage, arriving to a place where we would no longer depend on culturally specific categories/groups that we were born into?”
Alongside the authors with a distinct outward-oriented expression, the exhibition also features a line of poetics, which are much more individual, but still clearly reflect their milieu of creation. Through a personally connotated documentary photographic narrative, Libuše Jarcovjáková describes a gay club in Prague, home to a marginal but very cheerful community in the middle of the “hardboiled communism” period. The photography of Tadej Vindiš is marked by escapism in the sense of the deeply human need to search for new ways and new worlds. A humorous twist of the desire to conquer new worlds can be observed in the shadow projection of Max Sudhues: from a monkey-shaped figurine attached to a polystyrene globule, he creates the impression of an angry primate that rules the world. In an installation of two videos, Tanja Lažetić skillfully and with a typical, subtly expressed humor, captures the contrasts between modern-day migrants in an uninterrupted circle of migrations. Mariusz Waras uses his drawings and graffiti to reflect upon the urban oversaturation and feeling of entrapment. The exact opposite tendency is expressed in the works of authors who turn to nature, the past and the increasingly obscure myths. Ana Pečar delves into forgotten mythologies and our ancestral roots, searching through them for a possibility to create a better collective future. A similar archetypal, shamanic impulse characterizes the paintings of Marko Jakše, Mitja Ficko and Matija Bobičić, and the statues of Gábor Fülöp, expressing alienation through the cultural-historical filter of mythologies and science fiction.
The recession and economic policies that have plunged a large part of Europe into perpetual debt and deeply shaken our trust in established political elites are a fertile ground for the far-right to flourish, and at the same time they have caused an immense increase of social inequality. In a sharp contrast to the reflections of past times, Nika Autor’s documentary In the Land of Bears discusses the position of the contemporary exploited and unpaid working man. Magda Tóthová, collaborating with the youths from Silesia, re-questions the future of abandoned industrial landscapes and their inhabitants. A similar, “heavy atmosphere” note characterizes the work of Stojan Kneževič, an almost monochromatic painting that subtly reflects the suburban reality. Mykola Ridnyi juxtaposes the Ukranian uprisings during the winter of 2013-14, Yanukovych’s residences and the texts on the European Middle Ages, to establish a shocking parallel between Eastern-European neoliberalism and the feudal system. In the photographic series Uniforms and Vestments Bogdan Girbovan explores the hierarchies of the church and the police, two rigorously systematized institutions with vast social differences between the members.
Art was always a storage of time, such that it could be equated with physical memory, with the biological and the cultural, the individual and the collective. We would venture to say that physical memory in relation to itself, is an act of artistic expression. It is a transfer of the overall perception of time and the environment where we reside, into a medium – whether a painting, statue, photograph, video, performance or installation. The domain of art often seems as one of the last standing fortresses of freedom of expression, of creation, of protest.
Aleksandra Kostič and Žiga Dobnikar