Democ(k)racy #1 is the first event of a series of travelling exhibitions in Europe. This show aims to introduce young artists whose artworks question either the validity, the limits, the exploitation or the transcending of the concept and practice of Democracy in our contemporary societies. The first exhibition brings together artistic proposals and actions by Vlad Nanca, Daniel Knorr and Mircea Nicolae, three young Romanian artists whose works take a critical stance on contemporary artistic and political issues.
curated by Istvan Szakats, President of AltArt Foundation, Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
DEMOC(K)RACY #1 is the first event of a series of travelling exhibitions in Europe. This show aims to introduce young artists whose artworks question either the validity, the limits, the exploitation or the transcending of the concept and practice of Democracy in our contemporary societies. Each exhibition will be designed by a different curator in each city. On the occasion of this first exhibition in Rennes, La Criée invites guest curator Istvan Szakats – President of Altart Foundation in Cluj-Napoca (Romania) – to generate a reflection and propose a new project around the notions of democratic practices. DEMOC(K)RACY #1 brings together artistic proposals and actions by Vlad Nanca, Daniel Knorr and Mircea Nicolae, three young Romanian artists whose works take a critical stance on contemporary artistic and political issues.
The Art of War / Small Revolutions
Among so many thinkers concerned with forms of systemic violence, Carl Schmitt noted that the ultimate aim of liberalism is to dissolve the political into the economical. Then Max Weber defined the State as the structure holding the monopoly to violence. Then Antonio Negri legitimated affirmative (violent) action against the State and the Capital during his times with the Red Brigades. All these converging and contradictory views suggest we are at war with ourselves and always have been. But the patterns of war have constantly shifted throughout history: in 1986 US military strategist John Boyd delivered his 13 hours marathon briefing for the first time about these shifts going from physical to intellectual to moral. The war of the future is moral - he claimed, and was hailed the greatest military strategist since Sun Tzu by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. In the same line of thinking we can perceive the city as a battleground, where Truth is one of the key assets the battle is going for (along with Space or Time). Truth is a political asset, and we keep entire regimes at work to produce, validate, sustain and forward it: the Law, the Church, Science, and of course Art. Colonel Boyd went on saying that future wars will less likely affect our skin and more likely affect our brain or heart, and in this kind of war an intelligent man becomes a good soldier, but it is the Moral Man -being the most self-motivated and long-term committed - who will become the best soldier. This is a double-edged sword though: the moral man can also turn into the worst enemy of its state, and people like Thoreau or Gandhi pulled enough acts of civil disobedience to prove this point. Civil disobedience emerges because there’s a difference between what you aren’t allowed to do and what you can’t do: it’s the classic gap between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Indeed, the recipes of social alchemy turn morality into ethics and ethics into law and this progression would even seem useful at a first glance... but then we’ll observe that the legal system is not particularly efficient in making things right for the individual. We solve far more problems on moral or ethical grounds than on legal ones. People aren’t especially proud of their laws, and especially not when it comes to delivering them... because the State delivers us the Law through bureaucracy - a major turnoff. We’d generally perceive justice pragmatically and not as an ideal, and let’s face it, it just does NOT work. As a consequence a moral man just HAS to venture into civil disobedience every now and then to reach the transitory state of being right - at least in the utilitarian sense - of maximizing good. Remember the last time you broke traffic law.
So why don’t we all just shake off the burden of the legal yoke and live in something like a direct democracy? A citizen thrown into a (grand scale) direct democracy could turn into a total citizen and drown all his time in state issue debates. But is State so necessary? Anthropologists came up with dozens of examples of stateless communities and also proved that some of these are post-state societies - that is, they tried and abandoned State as being unsuitable for their needs. The anarchist evergreen «build a new world in the shell of old» also proposes small, self-governing rulerless clusters of social organization in order to render the State obsolete. To note, the terms democracy (power of the people) and anarchy (without rulers) are not contradicting, and there even is an incremental trait of anarchism that warns against doing big revolutions as those turn into unmanageable beasts too easily: Boris Vian wrote that masses are never right while individuals are always right. If so, you’d prefer remaining in-between, pulling a number of small revolutions and creating sustainable little local paradises while remaining truly accountable to persons instead of masses. You’ll make happy ten people here, two people there, twenty people there. Much more efficient, much more precise, and much much more sustainable.
So let’s suppose now you are a moral man up to pulling a small-scale revolution and ready to step up against the State - for whatever State means: you’ll notice the State is not a monolith but a battlefield itself, encompassing several self-contradicting processes. This will make picking your weapons a bit complicated, but you’ll generally recognize you should be cautious in going to war with your enemy’s gear. The State delivers us the Regime of Law through Bureaucracy - the common denominator of the everyday disciplinary techniques we are subjects to - and remember the last time you won against Bureaucracy. It’s not the way to go. On the other side of the trench you’ll observe civil society delivers its ethical regime through Culture. This is not culture in the humanist sense (eg. painting), it is the WAY we play the social game (e.g. ritualized hospitality, trust, work ethics) - culture in the anthropological sense. You are by large socialized with such a culture, so it could be your natural choice. And if it is, when you go to war, you are a socially engaged cultural contributor intervening directly on the social canvas. Now the posture of the artist as a social mediator is a textbook example of such a contributor. Being capable of assumed and precisely articulated hits artists make up for the sharp-shooters of the (socially engaged) cultural contributor unit. They would work alone or form small, mobile, self-determined action cells performing a series of hits - and these all are features of what we know as guerrilla warfare. And this is where we get back to John Boyd.
Analzying battles from ancient Greece to modern Germany, Boyd appreciated that the future belongs to guerrilla warfare - harnessing key advantages of efficient contemporary war (local moral support, superior Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action speed, decisional autonomy, etc.). Continuing Boyd’s logic cultural contributors (artists included) would seem to be in the privileged position of being the top (guerrilla) unit bringing social change today, as all the above listed tactical advantages sum up on their side. The bad news, as pointed out by Boyd himself, is: it is hard to build grand strategy using local, tactical actions. Thus it will be hard to replace a State with another State by building only on culturally coded social guerrilla. You may think of a Revolution, big and perhaps romantic (remember, Boris Vian warns you against this) or you may try to replace all wheels of the State one by one - until you unnoticeably changed it entirely without ever uttering the word Revolution. Now this is totally unromantic... but the real issue is if it is feasible. This depends on how much myth you believe you can strip away from the State. If you perceive it purely technically (like the Weberian ideal bureaucracy), it seems doable. But even so you will have the problem of the critical mass: you may be able to gather enough people to pull One Big Revolution but not to pull hundreds of small ones. The good news is -quoting Boyd - that as a State, in order to stop guerrilla warfare your only real chance is to eradicate the actual causes that generated the unrest - and hearing this all social activists should feel they’ve hit jackpot... but the cherry on top is still Boyd’s final recommendation on anti-guerrilla warfare: if as the State you cannot eradicate the causes of unrest, you should consider changing sides and join the guerrilla. Too bad this don’t happen.
But you still have to engage. Cultural Contributor Vlad Nanca does this by switching the background colors of the Communist and the EU Flag and questioning the Truth behind the Symbol. Then Cultural Contributor Daniel Knorr does this by taking on bureaucracy around democratic elections in Brazil to unveil the way Bureaucracy translates but also masks Power from us. Then Cultural Contributor Mircea Nicolae does this by creating his local interventions - one hundred Small Revolutions rooted in the archimedean point of his Morality. It’s your call.
Extranjero Ven a Votar ! (Stranger, come to vote!), 2006
15 framed documents - Courtesy Galleria Fonti Napoli
Invited to Mexico in 2006, Daniel Knorr proposed to install a voting booth in the Carrillo Gil Museum where foreigners could vote on the occasion of the general elections on July 2, 2006. Before it could take place, the mexican Ministry of Culture forbid the action formally, claiming that the vote of the foreigners was anticonstitutional - even though Knorr’s act was assumedly artistic. Eventually Knorr set up his voting booth in a trolley-bus to and collected around 100 valid votes - but copiously documented his correspondence with the Mexican state authorities on the topic of voting itself. Voting is a major fetish in any representative democracy, and it always involves an element of alchemy - the transformation of the power of the people into the power of the State. It is only logical that the State (holding the monopoly to violence in Max Weber’s definition) would also claim monopoly in the control of voting - the widest systemic form of anti-systemic violence. Alchemists get particularly humourless every time their gig is proven to be a charlatany, and Knorr actually does worse than that: by organizing his own elections he questions the monopoly of State to perform the ritual of voting, and by this he questions the default self-legitimation of Power itself. It is predictable that the State would use its ultimate disciplinary weapon to silence him - Bureaucracy. The documentation of this epic battle unfolds like some Bureaucratic Bayeux Carpet - a memento of the inevitable ruin of Knorr - but also a resurrection in his own terms at each opening.
I do not know what union I want to belong to anymore, 2003
2 silksreen prints on textile, 90 x 135 cm each - Courtesy Vlad Nanca and galeria SABOT
The piece sets a mark on Romania’s confusingly sinuous trail from Communism to the EU by exposing the flags of the two transnational entities - but swapping the background color of the two. The piece transcends the EU - Communism comparison and questions our capacity to tell the difference between two versions of Truth - considering the ease with which the symbols involved in producing these different Truths can be turned into each other. How stable can Truth be if it is generated, validated, sustained and forwarded using symbols so unstable and vulnerable? In this key of reading the piece follows the volatile lifecycle of symbolic resources created by power discourse.
The piece was first displayed in a one-day apartment-exhibition held in the artist’s “2020 Home Gallery”, in 2003. Reedited as billboard art in Bratislava in 2004, the piece managed to upset Pat Cox - then president if the EP. According to Cox the idea that the EU was comparable with Communist totalitarianism was offending, as "the EU was formed on the free will of free people". Today the European Union flag with a red background is used as a logo by Belgian and French leftist parties that promote Social Europe.
100, 2007- Documentation prints of interventions - Production of the intervention in Rennes: La Criée centre for contemporary arts
Mircea Nicolae generates his own affective history by gestures so small and poetic that you cannot describe them with big words. As he lets you in his deeply personal matters you are tamed by the honesty of the introspective fiction he develops. He just surrenders to you his loneliness, love and sensibility and therefore you have to set him free... and the realization of his freedom makes you also recognize his ways to produce / validate Truth and Good as autonomous and self-consistent. And then, when you connect to his morality (the archimedean point that makes Mircea Nicolae John Boyd’s future warrior) and temporarily surrender to it, the meltdown of your intellectual frame makes a truely ethical encounter possible. Mircea Nicolae’s interventions tackle the issues of public space, power structures and the revolutionary potential of art from a reflexive stance. It is the most effective way to perform small-scale changes into everyday life.
100 is a series of interventions created by the artist, mostly in Bucharest. Initially he planned to do only 100 of interventions but as he drew nearer the end he found it was not easy to stop. "Number 100 became anything, anywhere, anytime - this allowing me to end the series of interventions by continuing it" - he writes on his website. His most recent bet is "to continue to do things 10 more years from now on".
Image: Vlad Nanca, I do not know what union I want to belong to anymore, 2003
2 silksreen prints on textile, 90 x 135 cm each
Courtesy Vlad Nanca and galeria SABOT - Photo : Vlad Nanca
Press contact: Marie Lemeltier
T. +33 (0)6 81 16 02 28
Opening Friday, 24 June 2011 at 6:30 pm.
La Criée Centre for Contemporary Arts
Place Honoré Commeurec
35000 Rennes, France
Hours: from Tuesday to Friday 12noon-7pm
Saturday and Sunday 2pm-7pm