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On the theory and practice of critical geography of art


Discussion participants:


Natalia Smolianskaia — Ph.D., Associate Researcher Paris-8, head of the

“Place of Art” workshop (Moscow)

Anna Markowska — professor, University of Wrocław (Poland)

Natalia Prikhodko — Ph.D student, School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (Paris)

Esther Shalev-Gerz — artist (Paris)

Diana Machulina — artist, curator; author and curator of the research and exhibition project

“Tragedy in the corner” (Moscow)

Tatiana Mironova — Ph.D student, HSE; “Place of Art” project (Moscow)

Ilmira Bolotyan — artist, curator; “Garage” museum Research Department (Moscow)

Amalia Avezdzhanova — independent researcher, “Place of Art” project (Moscow)

Anna Markowska (A. M.): I would like to start with a criticism of Piotrowski: he proceeds from two universal myths: modernism as a strategy of the West and social realism as a strategy of the USSR. This confrontation is not so straightforward. He suggests that modernism is something “good” because it is a product of the West, but he forgets that opposing the authoritarian side of modernism was extremely important in Western countries. At the same time, Piotrowski does not call an imitation of Western canons in Polish art a self-colonization, because in a different historical and geographical context the meaning of the work becomes different.


Natalia Smolianskaia (N. S.): Deconstruction of modernism in Europe was connected with migration from Eastern Europe, Latin America, and other countries. Among these artists were, for example, Isidor Izu from Romania and Kowalski from Czechoslovakia.


Esther Shalev-Gerz (E. S-G.): Today it is necessary to find a different terminology between “yes” and “no”, outside this binary opposition. For me, this “between” position is the very place where art exists.


Diana Machulina: We can transfer this model of worship of the West to the geography of our country, where there is Moscow and everything else. We here in Moscow are still trying to catch up with the West. Regions, on the contrary, have their own agenda. In my project, I ignored Moscow as a center and invited artists who decided to stay in their  places. The artists, as Piotrowski said, cannot be understood outside of their context, so I asked art historians from every city to write about their situation in contemporary art. The same “localization of the speaker” is taking place — we stop talking from Moscow. We found, for example, that in Vladikavkaz art starts very late, when people driven by Islamic leaders into the mountains had the opportunity to free themselves from survival and had time for creativity. There we can say that art starts over from one particular painting.


Ilmira Bolotyan: We don’t ask the question about why people love Apple and use it: it is well made, enjoyable, and technologically advanced. Why in the field of art we don’t need to focus on the “best” art of the West, but need to produce something on our own? As a curator, I think that in Russian regions there is fatigue caused by the fact that people need to do something by themselves. They would love to do something if someone came from Moscow and organized something for them. When I tried to communicate with artists in my region, in Chuvashia, they said that they had nothing to work with, they naturally orientated towards the West.


(E. S-G.): Today we are faced with an urgent need to reverse our ideas about established categories. This need frees art, it is no longer regulated and gets the opportunity to be included in the overall story. In this regard, the periphery for me is not so much about geography as about what is allowed to be called art.


Tatiana Mironova (T. M.): We are not talking about how not to focus on the West, but about different ways of how you can look at it, how to build alternatives today.


А. М.: It seems to me that instead of joining existing canons, we should do something that undermines the hierarchy, offer something new. Because in the existing canon there is little free space.


Natalia Prikhodko: It is also a matter of the fact that art is inscribed in different areas of life and carries different functions in it. For example, if in Chuvashia artists say that there is no art, but there may be some practices that have an aesthetic function, but they are not recognized as such by the tools that we are used to applying in institutions.



N. S.: It’s one thing when we compare tools — everyone wants to have modern tools. But there are human relationships, the nature in which we live, the environment. Having tools is one thing, and what we do with them and how is another.


T. М.: When Piotrowski proposes to change hierarchies and make avant-garde the base of art history, does he want to replace one language with another?


N. S.: Obviously, other concepts can be proposed. But for Piotrowski, the main thing is the contextualization of the artist as an avant-garde artist.


А. М.: It seems to me that we are talking about one certain type of avant-garde — that is supported by the state. For example, the exhibition “Cubism” (Pompidou Center, 2018-19) demonstrated not only the avant-garde, but also French imperialism. Cubism significantly influenced the artistic scene of Europe but the connection between Cubism and French cultural policy was not obvious to anyone.


N. S.: Avant-garde and modernism are Western concepts, they are not universal. They were invented to explain the history of one part of the world and cannot be projected on, for example, Chinese or Japanese art.