Written by Stephanie Benzaquen   
Tuesday, 24 March 2009 19:13


When you mention “Easterners becoming more westerner than Westerners themselves”, I am tempted to add (speaking from the West): “And what about Westerners who try to become more easterner than Easterners themselves?” Isn’t it some kind of Stockholm syndrome, whatever direction we take it (East-West, West-East)? Not that we are in so violent a context as in a kidnapper-and-hostage-in-a-Swedish-bank setting, of course. Let’s admit though that there is in this donning-masks-act something connected to power and obedience. Here is the situation. There was a time when eastern artists thought they needed to do like western artists (the cream of the avant-garde, as everybody knows...) if they wanted to succeed on the western (hence international, as everybody knows) art market. There is a time when western artists, pissed off by the success – institutional and commercial – of artists coming from post-conflict and transitional societies (which used to mean everywhere on this planet but in the West, though such statement demands drastic reassessment nowadays), would like to have too a bit more of dictatorship, war, and revolution in their recent history. Think for a while about the kind of atmosphere in which western artists grew up. Shame, guilt. “We” in the West have been the lucky ones, at the expense of others, so now it’s time to pay the bill. 

Indeed,  let’s reckon that in both cases (eastern like western artists) it’s all wrong. It’s not that power is shifting in such way, one day in the West, another in the East (or in the South as it appears more and more clearly). Power is just a fluid thing that incarnates as soon as it finds the profitable shape and place. Our Stockholm syndrome thus goes far beyond East-West boundaries and relationships. Artists (hateful generalization, it’s only for the sake of the argument) want to become like those who succeed, wherever they come from. It functions more or less overtly, more or less consciously, and it's made of all the rules we comply with because survival (economical at least) depends on playing the game, getting closer (or much better: inside) the circle of happy few. Sure, it’s not very creative, it’s even mere standardization, it’s destructive, it goes against our intellectual and social (well-)being. We know it. Still, we want it. That’s typically a Swedish-bank-robbery situation, isn’t it? Our differences just underscore our very same-ness, they’re little ornaments we put here and there. But at the bottom line, they don’t matter. It’s why the Alytus biennial should be a reason to rejoice. Why ? At last we are in a situation wherein it seems (it seems? it’s clear!) that: 1) we don’t agree (on concepts, terminology, methods); 2) our respective cultural, political, historical, professional backgrounds (differences if you prefer) take on some critical role in our disagreeing; 3) our disagreements make the work process pretty uneasy to say the least, which means risky, chaotic, open-ended. “Polyphonic”... Is there any better situation indeed? 

Byzantine, Nordic, Roman: the relation between word and image. In short, let's call them: iconization, denotation, and illustration. I believe some common ground could emerge here, if you give “strike” as something to be handled (practically and metaphorically) through these three concepts. Probably will we engage (at some point during or after the biennial) in the process of narrativizing these choices and processes.

Canon. Or should we say, at least to some extent, “commodification”? Is it not what Mayakovski means about Lenin? “Strike' as illusory commodity giving the feeling all differences will be overcome and we will struggle altogether for the same thing? I think that with "Situgraphic" you stress the problem of such deceitful approach. By doing so, you create conditions that will allow us to work fully aware of this issue, and to kick the illusion away (no mercy shown) as many times as needed. Which proves a fascinating idea actually since it could well be this very effort that will produce our being (and striking)-together.