Kenny McBride. October 2009
Eastern European Time-Based Art Practices Contextualised Within the Communist Project of Emergence and Post-Communist Disintegration and Transition.
Artist: Ceslovas Lukenskas (Lithuania).
Any attempt to reach a conclusion to the thesis, as association APSOLUTNO ably demonstrate, is an impossible task since “the region is still in flux” (association APSOLUTNO, 1999).
However, what we can say is that, while the Communist project was made knowable within its own historical process of emergence through its spectacular “promotion campaign” (Groys, 2004) and was thus an entirely visual manifestation of an ideology, even if that ideology failed to realise its project aims, we can only analyse the process of transition and disintegration as being exactly the opposite in appearance.
That is, that there is no overarching visible discourse to look to and from which we can analyse a clear set of aims. Rather, it is a political and ideological free-for-all directed on the whole by individuals and groups many of who have their roots in former systems (1) (Marada, 2007).
This introduces a new wave of politics within the European sphere, a transgressive politics that is, essentially, unaccountable and uncontrolled. As a way to demonstrate the transgressive nature of a politically visible, or visual, discourse into its “underside, unwritten obscene code” (Žižek, cited in, (eds.) Hoptman & Pospiszyl, 2002, p. 286) we can analyse the character of discourse as that which, on the one hand, captures the imagination and interests of its citizens in one way or another and, on the other, as the “dark side of the idyllic Volksgemeinschaft [people’s community]... all that everybody knew, yet did not want to speak about” (Žižek, cited in (eds.) Hoptman & Pospiszyl, 2002, p. 286).
The point that Žižek is making is that there is always a dark and unsettling underbelly to the public side of political discourse and it is that, every bit as much as and possibly even more so, that unites a society.
Thus, when this thesis talks about the Communist project it has, overall, framed its analysis around a binary of official and non-official cultures. Conversely, with transition and disintegration, any analysis of the emerging nation states is even more complex since the process of liberation from a monologic discourse was bound to awaken deeply held cultural references and loyalties that had been suppressed for four decades.
And further, when we reconsider the observation in the introduction, that one might be forgiven for thinking the fall of the Berlin Wall returned Europe to a natural state of things, we can see that this ‘normality’ has, in fact, hastened a return to old wounds, and spaces for new transgressions of State violence.
"There emerged freedom and possibility for us [from 1989] to fight for our freedom in all levels and in all fields of human activity. And in that time people naively believed that the times of social violence had ended. The symptoms of identity crises started to manifest themselves in 1992-93" (Lukensas, 2009).
The histories that remain to be written are, in the many ways that we have come to understand them, ones of impossibility. A lack of coherence in archival practice at the time created a chaotic situation from which only some of the past will ever be knowable. An apparent rush by the new governments of Eastern Europe to erase the past meant that works were consigned to a cultural basement that only a few dedicated researchers seem willing to explore. Likewise, Western European cultural institutions seized on the opportunity of a newly emerging art arena, even if there was not an art market.
In 1989 the Lithuanian artist, Česlovas Lukenskas, began a series of works variously titled Thrown into a Monument, Thrown Out Man, Thrown Out Children, and Thrown Out Students. [Fig. 41]. The use of the word ‘thrown’ itself is telling of a state of mind at the time when Europe was supposedly embracing reunification.
It signifies a trajectory that is radically at odds with the popular myth. Images of the artist and participants lying half-naked and abandoned in rubbish heaps, by riverbanks, railway tracks, and urban streets, are disturbing because they clash violently with the media images that were beamed around the world from Berlin.
Lukensas, seeking to demonstrate how “national awakening was being mythologized” (Lukensas, 2009) in the heady rush, shows that, when it arrived, the political trajectory had been so acute that the carefully crafted non-official narrative of the Communist system was now viewed as an unwelcome intruder in a new European sphere where the past was simply no longer talked about.
[Fig. 41] Česlovas Lukenskas. (1998)
Thrown Out Students. [Railway line near
Kaunas, Lithuania]. Photo: The artist.