The autumn of 1999 will mark ten years since the demolition of the Berlin Wall. To coincide with this Moderna Museet has over the past two years been planning a research programme entitled After the Wall. This consists of an exhibition, an extensive book/catalogue and a symposium . The purpose of this project is to map contemporary art and manifestations (visual art, photography, video and film) in the post-communist countries to shed light on the present situation in terms of the cultural changes that have taken place.
1. The Background
After the Wall focuses on the period from the mid-1980s to the present which has been marked by many dramatic political and cultural changes in Eastern and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union. Perestroika, the shattering of the “Iron Curtain”, the end of the Cold War, the foundation of new states and their ways towards democracy, the reunification of Germany, ‘ethnic c leansing’ and the Balkan and Chechen Wars have all marked this time within the post-totalitarian landscape. At first tentatively but with increasing intensity new forms of culture have begun to emerge.
This time has also been marked by a systematic restructuring of artistic and cultural life within almost every post-communist country. It has been characterised by the end of “dissidence”, the removal of monopolistic Ministries of Culture, the foundation of new arts centres (including the network of Soros Centres for Contemporary Art) the appearance of new art magazines, private galleries and art fairs, the death of state propaganda and the proliferation of the mass media, the impact of the Internet and the “westernization” of cultural life.
Faced by new freedoms and sharing a hunger for change, many artists became initially preoccupied with the deconstruction of their totalitarian past and its icons. After a time of enthusiasm, chaos and confusion, a new generation of artists has emerged which did not feel responsible for the past and had not been subjected to communist ideology. These greater freedoms have, however, been balanced by a much darker picture: widespread poverty, industrial wastelands, high levels of unemployment, toxic polution, nationalistic racism, homelessness and a cynical attitude towards new values.
After the Wall is concerned primarily but not exclusively with this younger generation of artists. As elsewhere in the world, this generation has shown an impressive energy and independence which has been largely formed by the changed political, cultural and social climate in which they have grown up.
The work in the exhibition reflects the diversity of the actual situation in the twenty two post-communist countries of Europe. Accordingly the project does not seek to draw general conclusions, nor to provide a totalizing view of a ‘phenomenon’, nor to construct new forms of ‘otherness’. In an area which stretches from eastern Germany to the Transcaucasian republics, from the Balkans to the Baltic such an ambition would be foolhardy. The aim of the project, rather, is to create a discourse in images and words which reflects the complexities and variety which may be found within individual artists’ works
2. The Exhibition
After the Wall is not an exhibition of political art but one which examines individual artistic attitudes, which may or may not, refer directly to the political and social context in which they were formed. Many of the artists included still live in their native countries, others now work abroad. The exhibition includes painting, sculpture, video, photography, film and installation work made during the last decade as well as a number of specially commissioned projects.
The exhibition consists of four sections:
I. SOCIAL SCULPTURE
This includes work which deals critically with issues of social economy, national identity, religion,race, consumerism, poverty, alienation and the impact of the mass media.
II, RE-INVENTING THE PAST
Many artists have had to confront the artistic traditions in which they grew up, both in terms of ideology and nationhood.
III. QUESTIONING SUBJECTIVITY
As in the West, many people have been questioning the nature of artistic subjectivity with private narratives of their own and different forms of self representation.
IV. GENDER SCAPES
Stereotypes of various aspects of femininity and masculinity can refer critically to previous ideologies but new forms of gender representation are developing out of this. A number of artists have also explored the actuality and metaphor of mortality.
An extensive book entitled After the Wall will be published in English to coincide with the exhibition. it will contain four sections:
I. Critical theory: an anthology of essays writen by leading theorists who have been active in the region during the past ten years.
II. Articles on artists and illustrations of their works.
III. An anthology dedicated to the history of the decade. This will comprise texts, essays and reviews which have been important for the art scene in a particular country.
IV. An extensive general chronology.
A detailed guide to the exhibition will also be published in Swedish.
4. The Symposium
15-17 October 1999
In co-operation with the Swedish Institute/Partnership for Culture, Moderna Museet will invite artists and critics from the region to participate in a symposium which considers the changes in art and visual culture which have taken place over the last ten years.
5. The Film Programme
22-31 October 1999
A festival of contemporary eastern european film will coincide with the exhibition. More than 30 films will be screened and a number of directors will be invited to present their work.