Unexpected Encounters II: Comparative Conceptualisms

Public seminar and book launch

With presentations by Klara Kemp-Welch, Luiza Nader and Sarah Wilson

Edited by: Klara Kemp-Welch

The series of seminars Removed from the Crowd: Unexpected Encounters gathers research contributions relating to artistic and intellectual practices of the 1960s and 1970s by bringing together a variety of recent research methodologies referring to different socio-political contexts, particularly exploring ‘peripheral’ geographies. The aim is not to merely 'fill in' the existing art historical narratives with what has been left out, rather the seminar series attempts to work towards an intervention into the very order of discourses that shape the dominant histories of contemporary art.
Unexpected Encounters I seminar held in 2010 presented several on-going researches featuring practices that were themselves in search of new methodologies, exploring the interstices between the collective and individual, private and public, action and escapism, art and non-art, artist and curator, nature and urban space, the visible and the invisible.

Unexpected Encounters II edited by Klara Kemp-Welch brings together a selection of comparative methodologies for approaching international Conceptualism: mobilising affect theory to understand Hungarian and Polish artists’ responses to the Warsaw Pact Troops’ invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968; bringing to bear parallel materials to challenge Moscow Conceptualism’s exclusivity and myths of origins; ‘reassembling the social’ in East European art in the decades preceding 1989.
This open seminar is imagined as a meeting point of researchers, research notes and material, inviting the seminar contributors and the audience to participate in open reflection on and questioning of methodologies.

Luiza Nader
Affective Subjects: Art, History and the Transmission of Affects after 1945.

Luisa Nader examines selected art historical phenomena after 1945 taking as a key problem the notion of affect and the subject position of the artist understood as the observer of the political, sociological and historical events/limit experiences. Simultaniously, she aims to construct theory grounded in empirical datas such as artworks, artists’ texts, archival documents, interviews etc. serving to re-think the role, function and operations of affect in art and its socio-political frame.
She discusses works that take affect as subject and theme, as well as in the constellations of affects generated and transmitted through the artworks, constructing her study around specific affects: guilt, shame, sorrow (melancholy and mourning), rage, love, empathy, and indifference/numbness in their historical and political dimensions. Nader conducts a comparative study of various specific American, Central European and Polish artworks, which take up the challenge to respond to specific limit experiences such as a.o. the Holocaust, atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Hungarian revolution of 1956, soc-realism in Central-Eastern European countries, sociopolitical changes and cultural revolutions around 1968 in the West, the antisemitic campaign in Poland during 1968, the invasion of the army of the Warsaw Pact in Czechoslovakia in the same year, the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, the advent and repression of the Solidarity movement in Poland, the demise of Communism in 1989.
The discussion with the participants and the audience revolved around the following questions: How are affects transmitted through art works? How can art works perform affectively saturated memory/history, and what kind of memory/history is being performed? Which sort of affects can be seen as catalysts for critical inquiry and thought both for art and history?
As an example of her analysis Nader will examine a ball “Farewell to Spring” held in Zalesie, organized by the circle of Polish avantgarde artists and critics connected to Foksal gallery in Warsaw (June 1968) and a work of Hungarian artist Tamas Szentjoby Czechoslovak Radio 1968 (1969).

Dr. Luiza Nader (born 1976) - art historian, assistant professor at the Institute of Art History, University of Warsaw. Her interests are concentrated on avantgarde and neoavantgarde art (with special focus on Central European art), memory, trauma and relation between history writing and the experience of psychoanalysis. Her recent studies are touching upon the subject of artistic production in Central Europe after 1945 viewed from the perspective of theory of affects. Fulbright grantee (2005), author of a book Conceptual art in Poland (Warsaw, 2009). Lives in Warsaw.


Sarah Wilson
Moscow Romantic Exceptionalism: the suspension of disbelief.

What if we consider Robert Morris with Andrei Monastyrsky, Daniel Spoerri with Ilya Kabakov, Lucio Fanti with Eric Bulatov - or the concrete poetry of Carl André together with that of Dmitri Prigov ? `Moscow Conceptualism’ continues to be treated as ‘exceptional’: existing outside the the comparative practices of art history, outside the New York-based parameters of Art since 1900, and generally outside art-historical curricula, whether or not its artworks were created pre- or post-emigration.
The theoretical model I use as parallel, coming from France, of a ‘cultural exception’ (l’exception culturelle française) is two pronged, however. A specific cultural ‘distinction’ is autonomously declared ; yet this declaration is a symptom of self-definition as secondary with regard to the dominant discourse/political system (in the French and Soviet cases this meant America and dominant Anglo-American avant-gardes). And the ‘cultural exception’ posits exclusivity – a fear of contamination. From the inevitably weak position of ‘those who come after’ I argue that writing such as Boris Groys’ Communist Postscript, 2009 – addressed to contemporary audiences - creates a provocative philosophy which acts as a ‘sieve of history’. Groys turns the dross and the everyday of the Soviet art world in the 1970s and 1980s into a pure conceptual challenge: a delay in snow. To the classic wine versus Coca-Cola confrontation (so banal, so suggestive) we may add a third term: vodka - the burning liquid which keeps you warm in snow, induces metaphysical visions, banishes pain.
Following a term of discussion with Groys – including the philosophical frameworks behind conceptual art - the English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s term ‘the willing suspension of disbelief’ springs constantly to mind. Groys emphasised ‘Holy light’, ‘mystical experience’, and a ‘lyrical’ and ‘human’ quality in art in his founding text (`Moscow Romantic Conceptualism’, A-Ya, 1979). One must agree with him that no act of empathy, no imaginative project, could permit a spectator or scholar today to share that lost, mystical, Soviet/anti-Soviet vision; moreover we are permanently, disqualified by language. Yet now, as the pre-perestroika world recedes, and Western Communism’s constant dialogue with Moscow has been ‘disappeared’, modifed histories of `Moscow Conceptualism’ appear in German or English rather than Russian. Even Russian contemporary scholars must be subject to the challenge of lost Soviet mindsets - and I surmise that their construction of the ‘West’ erases Western Stalinist art (or the difference between the pragmatic rationalism of American Conceptual Art and European work inflected by Catholicism….) Can we believe, retrospectively in a Soviet ‘total linguistification of society’, a superpower producing cities, armies, rockets without a ‘market’ - or an art without origins? Our willing suspension of disbelief is surely shadowed by what Groys calls `the dark space of the paradox’.

Sarah Wilson is Professor of modern and contemporary art at the Courtauld Institute of Art , University of London. In spring, 2011, she taught her new ‘Global Conceptualism’ MA with Visiting Mellon Professor Boris Groys, and co-organised the ‘Expanded Conceptualism’ conference at Tate Modern. She has published on Lucio Fanti, Oleg Kulik, and Alexander Ponomarev in Russian, and hopes to complete Picasso/Marx in 2012 for Liverpool University Press - a project inspired by recent exchanges with Russian artists and critics. The Visual World of French Theory: Figurations was published by Yale University Press in 2010. In discussing French philosophers’ engagements with the politicised artworld of their times, ‘theory’ was at last contextualised, seen as intention, motivation and in terms of form – (the critical essai); volume II, Interventions will continue the project in the arenas of ‘Supports-Surfaces’, photography and performance. Sarah Wilson worked on the exhibition ‘Paris-Paris, 1937-1957’ at Centre Georges Pompidou, (1981), and ‘Aftermath: France 1945–54, New Images of Man’ at Barbican Art Gallery in London (1982). She was principal curator of ‘Paris, Capital of the Arts, 1900- 1968’ at the Royal Academy of Arts, London and Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (2001-2) and of ‘Pierre Klossowski and the Vicious Circle’ for Whitechapel Art Gallery (2006. Cologne and Paris, 2007), an exhibition which framed Klossowski’s art and writing in the context of Sadean and Nietzschean discourses in Paris from 1930s to the present. She studied English Literature at Oxford and received her PhD from the Courtauld in 1992 on the topic of `Art and Politics of the Left in France, 1935-1955’; she has published extensively with the Centre Georges Pompidou and been a visiting professor at the Universities of the Sorbonne (Paris-IV) and the Ecole Normale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris. In 2012 and 2013 she will hold a chaire d’excellence at the Université de Versailles–Saint Quentin.

Klara Kemp-Welch
Reassembling the Social: East / East Relations in a Global Field

My talk considers a series of encounters among East European artists in the decades preceding 1989 in relation to the methodological challenges of ‘reassembling the social’ (Bruno Latour). International exchange among unofficial artists from different counties of the former Eastern ‘bloc’ has been neglected to two main reasons. Firstly because in the wake of post-1989 independence, art historians from the former-East understandably often turned to the important task of writing nationally-framed art histories. Secondly, they frequently sought to ‘catch up’ with hegemonic Western history and theory and over-identified with a ‘peripheral’ position in their desire to re-link, after a period of supposed separation, to the ‘centre’. The side-effect of these processes has been the obfuscation of regional dialogues. Building on the pioneering work of IRWIN (East Art Map) and Piotr Piotrowski (Avant-Garde in the Shadow of Jalta), my own project – ‘Networking the Bloc. Repositioning East European Experimental Art in the Global Field’ - contends that we now need a more complex and nuanced approach to art history than national and regional frameworks allow. In his landmark book Antipolitics. An Essay, George Konrád argued that only a united Europe could bring ‘some sort of spiritual order between East and West’ and replace the binary with polycentrism'. The core question that he thought should be addressed was this: ‘How can we strengthen the horizontal human relationship of civil society against the vertical human relationship of military society?’. My paper considers the viability of appropriating this horizontal approach for the history of experimental art in the former-East and beyond.

Dr. Klara Kemp-Welch is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and has a PhD in the History of Art from University College London (2008). She has lectured in the Art History departments of University College London, the University of the Arts London, the University of York, and Birkbeck. She regularly publishes essays and criticism, among others in Art Monthly, and Third Text. Her monograph Antipolitics in Action. Art and Theory in Late Socialist Central Europe, will be published by I.B. Tauris & Co. in 2013. She is also working on a second book project, entitled Networking the Bloc: Repositioning East European Art in the Global Field.

19 November 2011
, 12.00 – 15.30
Galerija Miroslav Kraljevic, Subiceva 29, Zagreb