Written by Redas Diržys   
Thursday, 19 March 2009 19:51

[Comments by Vassya Vassileva (Bulgaria) included]

My thoughts were major influenced from an e-mail discussions with a Situationist Worker and particularly from the Asger Jorn’s text from 1964 “Mind and Sense - On the Principle of Ambivalence in Nordic Husdrapa and Mind Singing”  (http://www.infopool.org.uk/6403.html).

Already starting from the Art Strike Conference (which was arranged in 2008 to prepare the intellectual platform for the even this year to happen) it was evident that Eastern and Western notions on the subject disagree as well as free lance artists’ position confronted “non-free lance’ artists’. No one joint statement was done.

[V.V.] True and appreciated. I’ve also acknowledged some flickering lines of understanding, maybe conformity. Remember moments when the clustered voices carried a sense of wholeness. (Another reason to be pleased with your selection of people). 


And everybody who partake the meeting would agree that there was no necessity for that. One of the first versions what always concludes kind of meetings of easterners and westerners is juxtaposition of post-Bolshevik-communist and western European camps. Any attempt to look for the common discourse or even glossary usually ends on failure. 

[V.V.] Generally, the terms are common (do we read the same old books) yet, not their usage. Identical notions in East and West taste different. Not to mention the ‘borrowed’ and badly engraved concepts. Without considering, clarifying, thinking of the historical ‘deviations’ of the terms and concepts we make use of - no understanding would be possible. Mapping the pathogenesis of a notion (geo-graphically) is illuminating with regard to the cultural specifics (East-West, but not only) and how the different voices could be sensitively thought-out in their relations (maybe dialogue). I think we failed here, in our 2008 conference. The terminological clarity and discipline - as we gather round the table – seems important for a dialogue. Otherwise everyone speaks from their hard to find compartment. 

Exceptions could be just formal conferences what are usually empty signifiers for simulation of European intellectual exchange – but I am not going to deal with the last one. 


Different Concerns of Solidarity  

So what are the main obstacles for the dialogue and for common acting – at least in the field of culture and particularly in the visual arts?  

[V.V.] Thinking in the reverse order – what might be considered a possible condition for common acting? With no obvious relevance I recall Vernadsky and the concept of the nooshpere, the sphere of the human thought; the way mankind organizes itself through different levels of mind interactions. A rather holistic approach one might agree or disagree with. But what I find important is that the argument for mutual translatability doesn’t gravitate around some ‘universal’ characteristics of the mind but around the universe of the mind. I seem to wholeheartedly share the intuitions ‘all life-clusters are intimately bound to each other’ and ‘in the effort of consciousness lies all the beauty of historical manifestation’. Not enough. Do we need to find those, who share the same concerns/ effort of consciousness and who are ready to take further action?  

Half a century ago the same problem met probably the mostly pan European art related movement of the last century – Situationist International. The main insoluble disagreement between different ways of thinking of Nordic and French-Belgian fractions resulted theirs schism into two different internationals. In the studies afterwards Asger Jorn detected three basic types existing in European mind which mutually and absolutely exclude each other and nobody can say that one is better then another one. He detected three principles based on European geography and its cultural specifics - Roman, Scandinavian and Byzantine: 

[V.V.] I read carefully here. Not so familiar with Asger Jorn’s writings. But I follow this firm and ‘unshakable’ convictions and I think of history and historiography but also Lotman came in mind with his: there are no clear historical processes that would fit to a theoretical model - no matter how much a scholar may wish for that. Lotman spoke in the name of the cultural dynamics and complexity of a process. Culture as a ‘structure’, immersed into an outside world; dragging this world into itself only to spit it out - chewed, digested, modeled, organized according to the structure of its language. The outside world though, is also organized – according to some unknown systematic order. The Blast - when the texts of the outer world are drawn into the space of the culture. The combustion that brings along synonymic paths… various appearances of the same phenomenon. In arts, it is discernible in trends/movements and their schism ending with various derivations of the same cultural tendency i.e. your mentioning of the Nordic and French-Belgian situationists fractions. 

“…therefore the image of the unity of Scandinavia as represented in the Middle Ages by means of the picture of interwoven strings seems to me as natural as LENIN'S LINKING TOGETHER OF THE EASTERN EUROPEAN STATES, on the Greek-Olympian principle according to which THE CHAIN IS NEVER STRONGER THAN ITS WEAKEST LINK. These two principles of union, the Scandinavian and the Byzantine, again differ fundamentally from the Roman principle, according to which the FASCES OR BUNDLE OF MUTUALLY INDEPENDENT UNITS ARE ONLY TIED TOGETHER BY ANOTHER ELEMENT WHICH FORMS A STRONG RING THAT CAN BE UNTIED AND KNOTTED AGAIN…”.



What is very catching in that passage while applying it to our topic of the possibility to find common language locally in Lithuania –

[V.V.] good question: what could guarantee the semantic translatability?  

is the fact that this particular area is the intersection place of all those three basic principles, which are excluding each other in general. The main illustration for Nordic union Jorn finds as example their oldest tradition of polyphonic singing which came from Viking warriors – that is actually still living tradition in Lithuanian folk singing what probably is inherited from the same ages as Vikings did. What is about chain’s links – Lithuania was definitely the weakest link in the chain of the Soviet Union and collapsed the first. Also there could be mentioned the same principle used by the arranging of Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 15th century. What’s due the principle of Fasces – that was also evidently apparent through the 20th century as the symptom but also could be mentioned as deeply catholic country (Catholicism could be treated as deepest influence of the roman culture in that area), what actually was the last Christianized area in the Europe. And at the same time the following set of the different constructive mind principles means that all those principles has their weakest effect: besides the collapsed link in the Soviet Union’s chain and the last Christianized area there could be mentioned also hopeless fights by Swedes and Danes vs. Curonian pirates in 12th century and many other historical facts which lead to the formation of particularly unarticulated and totally resistant and self-destructive mentality as Lithuanian. So, following the poetic words of Charlie Citron there is the right place for: “a polyphonic singing fascist who is the weak link in a mental chain”


Different Concerns on the Role of the Visuality 

But let’s come back to the basic principles of the picturesque so far we would like to deal with the art strike and the artists. The artists are the ones the appeal is addressed for. For the beginning I would refer to the European situgraphic characteristic made by Jorn in above mentioned text: 

In Nordic art the picture exists before the word. The word illustrates the picture, as in the Husdrapa of the Viking Age, which was varying poetical improvisations on the same pictures. The pictures here are the theme. The words are the variations. In the Latin tradition things are exactly the reverse. The word is the origin. The word or concept gives the clearly established motif or idea, and pictorial art then may vary this theme as it likes in the still life or in figure studies, and then orient the style according to constantly varying fashions. In the iconographical Byzantine tradition, on the other hand, the picture has a completely invariable,

[V.V.] True. As a whole I agree, but again, in favor of the complexity and to amuse ourselves -  I’d bring those numerous examples of artistic whimsicality going against the Byzantine tradition. Such examples can be found in the mural paintings, church plate and assorted objects from the Southeastern region of Europe. Eclectic compilations of orthodox Christian, oriental and catholic motives can be traced in the same piece of work. No surprise, the Canon is most often disregarded in the cultural periphery. Sometimes the inscriptions are bellow the images of the saints, which contradicts the orthodox tradition; or the number of the crucifixion nails will be creatively solved (following the Roman tradition where the nails were three, not only one)   

absolute and untouchable, independent value, which only allows changes of the pictorial world if the world-picture of the whole community is overturned. Thus, all at once the old pictures lose all their value.” 

I would add an element to the description of Byzantine tradition – the cannon is what always accompany political decision. And the artist is someone who is obedient to it. It is not the word neither picture what is the first – that are instructions. In this area visuality was always bureaucratized. And even the forms of resistance to the established representative forms were tending towards that – the behavior, the clearly declared appearance, role and social mission.  If to talk to soviet system which probably links mostly to the Byzantine heritage – that is very important to note that the society was not based on the will-to-power relations (which are imprinted into the world minds by the writings of soviet political refugees and emigrants), but rather on the well organized system of total protectionism and different levels of privileges. Artists (official and unofficial as well) were integral part of the system – just played sometimes different roles which by free will implemented on themselves. The more sophisticated and mystified ones became more successfull. That was not important what they were doing, but what role they were playing.  Being an Eastern European There is even a famous soviet anecdote based on famous stanza from Mayakovsky’s poem on Lenin:

“…We say "Lenin", and we mean the Party,
We say "The Party", and we mean Lenin…”

And the conclusion is that all the time happens so: we say one thing, but mean another one… 

[V.V.] Eeeh, the active presence of past experiences. I am also laughing because it’s a medieval behavior. The (re)presentation of one thing is a (re)presentation of another. Appealing and glamorous ‘falseness’ for some, a terror for many.  And the ‘never ending chain of signification’ has always a discernible end – a particular political interest where the meaning is inevitably frozen - to serve.  

That is to say the same about visuality in so called Eastern Europe – never trust it! It is only the mistaken reflection of reality and usually either represents, or predicts, or concludes [borrowed] ideology – there I totally agree with Jorn. 

[V.V.] Yes, but in a way it’s the same with any image and representation. They would always be an expression of certain ideology; conditioned by it. In the best case –a personal ideology    

Another interesting phenomenon in that area (relatively titled as Byzantine) could be observed in the [cultural] influences from abroad and their interrelation with traditional milieu. Mostly that is connected with the particular role to play in society and arranging particular behavior. For example the trend of French cultural elements imposed on Russian aristocracy of 19th century what resulted that Russian aristocrats became more French then French themselves. Or the history with Russian futurism – their took the idea from Italians and developed it so fast, that Marrinetti while visiting his adherents in Russia did not recognized his invention at all – even more - he looked reactionary facing everything was happening in Russia then. Something very similar happens with Russian revolution as well… the same with Russian [and Soviet] dissidents. If to come back to the visuality – there could be mentioned one very interesting line in the late Soviet and early Post Soviet culture – conceptualism. Everybody who was investigated that particular phenomenon would easily notice that the late Soviet conceptualism was not a conceptualism (as compared with Western meaning) at all, but the first decade after the shift in 90-ies – it was many times overplayed conceptualism – therefore non conceptualism any more. But there appeared specially trained in western glossary bureaucrats who installed all that “production” into the acceptable to the westerners frame. And that it is just now that the artists start to recognize a big gap between they did in reality and how it was represented – even more – how they themselves were thinking they were doing in fact. Good illustration for that could be funny story from Macedonia what happen 8-9 years ago during my stay there (with an international team of artists from India, Europe and USA): an American artist noticed a local guy, who was talking in a very demonstratively exaggerated English accent of particular state from USA. “He is much more American then Americans are” – that was he said…to rephrase him – the Eastern Europeans immediately after the shift in 90-ies became more westerners in behavior then westerners are…and the societies – more capitalist the capitalism itself.  

[V.V.] At times quite ghastly imitation 

The biggest trouble of the “eastern” artists for the last decade was to get into the global art history (i.e. market) – they are doing everything so well – even better then westerners – but nobody is accepting them for the glory. There were many attempts even to collect the alternative art histories (one can add also the official Soviet art history what collapsed together with the regime; the one which was absolutely different from the western version). But there is one common thing what unites them all – total boringness. They are many times much boring even then the western version. 



To say true – the area of Byzantine cultural inheritance is originally based on militant plagiarism, and resistant thing to it is iconoclasm – all the progressive avant-gardes there were based on refusing from picturesque. Another element was the very thin border between acting (as playing the role) and action (as living). In that area creative people instead of implementing their creativity on their life usually took some roles of pretending that what they are playing is their true life.  

[V.V.] Yes. I see this everywhere around the world 

Artists there are very dependent on their ideas – they are following them as it is the only way to be faithful, even if it costs their personal life, or life of their families…   

In Nordic way (as described by Jorn) it is absolutely different – their resistance is based on almost shamanic creation of non-conscious picturesque which is previous to the mind. In their case iconoclasm works as an element of repression. I think that was Protestantism and their famous educational system what emasculated their unconscious primordial picturesque. At the moment Scandinavians are famous of their ability to talk hours and hours in their endless row of meetings. And that has nothing common neither shares the same strength as wild polyphonic singing of ancient Vikings what Jorn was so proud about. But polyphonic singing is still present in Lithuanian folk singing, and gesture painting of semiconscious mind is essential for Lithuanian painting school, but neither of them leads to any verbal construction…might be could be detected few attempts to constitute national identity through some attitudes in the painting process. Mostly famous are those: the bright colorism taken from the folk market; or the colors of earth and mud as resenting true peasants’ mind; or – that is my favorite – the texture of scratched of the bullshit.  

[V.V.] Makes me wonder about the Bulgarian diaphonic chanting - the doctrine of the refracted sounds. In this segmented identity shared through tone, everyone speaks and no one listens.It’s enchanting to follow in music and quite devastating in life. 

If to talk on Roman tradition based on the word as primordial cultural element – that was destroyed enough by French school of deconstructivists and poststructuralists. The word becomes a picture, something decorative… Much of talkers and no listeners any more – kind of useless and misdirected polyphony. But the situation is opposite in the periphery – radical manifestations of clericalism in Poland, humanist mind pollutions in a search for “democracy” in post soviet states. At least one phrase from George W. Bush said in Vilnius City Hall, November 23rd, 2002: “Anyone who would choose Lithuania as an enemy has also made an enemy of the United States of America“. That is what makes laugh in the west, but it sounds promising to the major Lithuanians so they could go to kill Talibs into Afghanistan in the name of “democracy”. It is to say in all cases of influences on that particular area in different times and on different occasions – the local people were always very militantly resistant to any influences from abroad at the very beginning of it appearance, but later they are getting stuck to it and developing into the mostly radical things. Conclusions After all that psychogeographical drift based on very personal experience I am coming to the following statements:

  1. All the means of expression are understandable in Lithuania.
  2. So far there are all possible forms of power representation established – all forms of striking are applicable: primordial-unconscious-shamanist drawing, polyphonic singing, spoken word, direct action.
  3. The striking is to be applied directly to the power relationships of local society and, of course, arranged autonomous from other striking forms not to weaken their efficiency. The entity of biennial should not be respected – the main task – entity of the striking (even including the biennial itself).
  4. Acting should be dismissed and/or rearranged into action.
  5. The strike is an open fight, but it should be supported by complex guerrilla actions – what is actually sabotage.
  6. Alytus Art Strike Biennial is just a polygon to try how different strategies work – the aim is it’s development in future and application directly to another concrete situgraphic milieu.
  7. Alytus Art Strike Biennial is a try for artists’ proletarian solidarity.

  The Terms  

SituGraphy is the mapping of situlogical relationships. 

Situlogy is the transformative morphology of the unique. 

[V.V.] I like the term ‘situlogy’. And the logic of engaging in situ. This is my how.  The ‘unique’ could be mapped in no words and only sensed - as unique. Unique has no other references except the uniqueness itself. As such, it stays in self-sameness and its relation to itself relates paradigmatically to every other form of uniqueness.

But to structure the unique is a tricky enterprise. To elaborate and suggest a ‘formulae of the unique’ (one great scholar suggested it’s possible) a way to solve equation with variables – sounds to me like wanting to be director of a waterfall.  

Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as the "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals."  

[V.V.] A possible way to see the strike - as an immediate, ludic, sensitive response to the situgraphic milieu – erratic, uncontrolled, ungoverned by its own idea.


i am curious about other ways too.   In solidarity,