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07 May 2009

'Very Simple Actions without Any Particular Purpose' at galleria ARTRA

© 'Very Simple Actions without Any Particular Purpose', 2009. Partial view of the exhibition at ARTRA gallery, Milan. Photo by Laura Fantacuzzi.

'Very Simple Actions without Any Particular Purpose'


Through May 24th, 2009

Tuesday to Saturday
from 10.30 to 12.30
from 15.00 to 19.00



Via Burlamacchi 1
20135 MILAN

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'Very Simple Actions without Any Particular Purpose' is the title of an exhibition on view at the ARTRA gallery in Milan. The show presents a wide cross section of artists who live and work in the geographical area that extends from North-East Europe to Slovenia. The exhibition, curated by Viktor Misiano, reflects on the problem of human action, presenting its analytical aspect more than its narrative one.

'This exhibition was brought to life by a desire to show the art of the former USSR and so called Eastern Block countries in the context of a general project. It issues from the assumption that despite the twenty years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Eastern Block despite the differences in social development that have arisen in the countries that were a part of its territories, it seems reasonable that their cultural and artistic consciousness be examined in a combined context. Additionally, this combined examination is further justified in the case of this decade we are going through rather than the previous one.

The previous decade – the first post-communist period – is often called a 'transitional period'. After turning their back on the former state of things, all post-soviet countries have taken their own way towards the 'new brave world'. Their past felt like burden – while some reasons were common, each country had its individual motives for this feeling. And while they all gazed at a future with the vivid colors, each country formed its own notion about it and that notion was extremely abstract and had literally nothing to do with the present. Real life was unfolding in the present – in the dimension of 'here and now'.

In 'here and now' lay the lives of all those who had been affected by social misfortune: to survive under such extreme circumstances would be feasible only if someone took advantage of the last possibilities the present entailed. In those years there were also the people who responded to the challenge of that era and devoted their lives to their personal success: their life, too, was in a transition into the dimension of 'here and now' since it was not only survival but also personal success that depended on the ability to take advantage of circumstances.

The new decade in the entire post-communist area self-proclaimed an era of stabilization. This holds true for all post- communist countries (in one's own way), but at the same time stabilization in each one of them is rather hypothetical and virtual, for similar reasons everywhere. Nonetheless, today consciousness in post-soviet countries does not recognize itself in the 'here-and-now' dimension. The future lost its unforeseeable quality and in order for one to find his way in reality he needed not only intuition but a far more elaborate system of analysis. Currently, the projects' practice, as well as common reality, assumes that we put ourselves along the temporal dimension, the dimension of history, in other words. Thus, throughout the once single country the period of amnesia has come to an end while retrieval of memory has occurred.

All these historic misfortunes, social and socio-psychological developments gave rise to the exhibition of works of artists who live in Bishkek and Riga, Yerevan and Kiev, Moscow or Alma-Ata, Ljubljana and Prague. Returned past has caused these countries to face a clustered mosaic of unsolved problems the solution of which is justly and rightly to be achieved through dialogue – because the past is common. The congestion of this past and the extent of the problems that have drawn it out of oblivion are so far-reaching that the post-soviet exhibition project called 'Progressive Nostalgia' was developed in 2007 in four exhibitions in four separate exhibition venues: 'Return of the Memory' in the KUMU Art Museum in Tallinn, 'Progressive Nostalgia' in Centro d' arte contemporanea in Prato (Italy), 'Time of the Storytellers' in KIASMA museum in Helsinki and 'On Geekdom' in Benaki Museum in Athens. So all of these exhibitions bringing together artists of the same geographical area concentrate on different subjects and solve different problems, yet all subjects and problems seem similar and are jointly understood by the various artists.

It is precisely such shared misfortunes and collective experience that hide behind this exhibition under the name 'Very Simple Actions without Any Particular Purpose'. The defense of the eccentricity that inspires the participating artists constitutes a clear-cut reaction to the ideology of stabilization prevalent in post-communist countries today. Essentially, central power, following its establishment, has appropriated control over social dynamics: not only the political development, but also the communication market. Mass media, in combination with the industry of entertainment form the foundation of the new ideology and cultural policies.

This forms the economic basis for a new intelligentsia which, after bidding a cute farewell to the communist coyness and then to the chaos of the 90s, has adopted an attitude the philosopher Paolo Virno called cheerful resignation. In this context the artistic stage which had been downgraded during the transitional period showed a dynamic tendency – mainly with regard to its commercial and communicative essence, while the public space and the innovative function of art remained underneath the rubble of socialism. And because each tendency to increase economic means and infrastructures is regarded self-evidently and by a large majority as a commodity, another renowned philosopher called it the means without end (Giorgio Agamben).

An answer to this may be given through the programmatic and consistent imposition of means with clear and constructive intentions. Artists who follow this path restore the democratic meaning of communist transformations from the communist past, reshaping collective experience that ignored the concept of the omnipotence of money. Such artists feature in the exhibition 'Progressive Nostalgia'. Within this framework an attempt to escape the vanity of mass-media is justified, while by means of a dethronement rhetoric one attempts to enter the innermost meaning of experiences past and present, to record them, to look over them, to stare at them in meditation and intensively. Such artists feature in the exhibition 'Time of the Storytellers'.

Yet, each one of these positions has its own vulnerability: the clearer its objectives and the means for their achievement, the easier they are assimilated by the media mechanism and become part of the industry of culture. This is why today the triumphant ideology of stabilization causes an additional manifestation of opposition: indisputably straightforward means adopted in the name of objectives that are vague to the extent of utter incomprehensibility. If the prevailing situation of things insists on the communicational role of language (on a semantics level), art, in contrary, fosters an ambiguity of expression, a lack of motive for actions, an escape from unequivocal interpretation etc. Artists who tread upon this path feature in 2007 in the exhibition 'On Geekdom' and now in 'Very Simple Actions without Any Particular Purpose'.

There is nothing pioneering behind this strategy. It pre-existed in consciousness and was applied by many during the Soviet era. One of its creators in Moscow was Dmitry Prigov, and in Yerevan Hamlet Hovsepyan and in Prague Jiri Kovanda. Still in the Soviet period Yuri Albert and Yuri Leiderman followed the same practice. However this experience also proved extremely popular among new generations that did not have time to form in the old regime. This experience was consciously or subconsciously implemented in exactly the same way in which the attempt to manipulate public opinion and the taste of corruption pass from the older power to the new one.

Therefore, one of the paradoxes of the current situation of post-communist history lies in the fact that every modern definition of the present inescapably presupposes a discussion of the past, every manifestation of self-determination in the present takes the form of a historic reflection.

For this reason, and since we can say that this is an exhibition about nostalgia, it is important to make clear that this is not about clinging tightly to the past at any cost, nor is it a reactive negation of the present and progress. The nostalgia of today is a form of contemplation on modern times, a way for someone to take a stance in the present and respond to the call of the future. This is an exhibition about progressive nostalgia'. (Viktor Misiano)

With this exhibition the ARTRA gallery continues its investigation into artists operating in the ex-Communist bloc, which began in 2004 with 'Revolution Reloaded' curated by Marco Scotini and Minea Mircan, and was followed in 2007 with 'OCTOBER, Exit Desire and Memory' curated by Marco Scotini and Andris Brinkmanis.

Artists invited:

Yuri Albert, Nikita Alekseev, Mher Azatyan, Babi Badalov, Pavel Braila, Sergei Bratkov, Ulan Djaparov, Hamlet Hovsepyan, Vadim Fishkin, Vadim Flyagin (Nuovi Tonti), Eva Kotatkova, Jiri Kovanda, Dominik Lang, Juozas Laivys, Yuri Leiderman, Dmitry Prigov (in collaboration with Iraide Yusupov & Alexander Dolgiin), Koka Ramishvili, Stanislav Shuripa, Yelena&Viktor Vorobyev.

Special thanks to:

FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, Reims; Galerija Gregor Podnar, Berlin and Ljubljana; Galleria Impronte contemporary art, Milan; gb agency, Paris; Regina Gallery, Moscow; Tulips & Roses, Vilnius.