São Paulo Documents take us to the heart of the problem of the discontinued history of truth. On the basis of the “failed” exhibition prepared for the 1969 São Paulo Biennial by the MIT Centre of Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) under the leadership of the eclectic figure of György Kepes, artist, art theorist and teacher, we land in the classic scenery of the Cold War, in which the domains of art and politics are constantly cross-contaminated. As the leader of the CAVS, Kepes, the artist who systematised his Bauhaus experience at a young age into a modernist teaching methodology, prepared for the American pavilion at the São Paulo Biennial an exhibition that presented works of art anonymously in the experience of a synergic non-authorial system, akin to nature. The exhibition was largely based on the biomorphic qualities of works and Kepes himself described it gracefully as a “celebration of light, warmth, cold, air, electricity, magnetism – the forces that are so ubiquitous around us that we forget to stand in awe of their beauty”. The exhibition in fact landed in an extremely “electrified” context, yet, far from the context of bucolic beauty celebrated by Kepes. The electrified context of the international art community, whose consequence was the boycott of the 1969 São Paulo Biennial, was a result of the radicalisation of the already dire political situation in Brazil, which deepened with the severely repressive military junta in 1969. Protest actions, such as Restany’s manifesto Non à la Biennale or the publication of Contrabienal iniciative by the Museo Latinoamericano, made the cracks in the weary and compromised cultural politics of modernism even deeper.
How to think this obvious short circuit? “Error” here becomes a symptom of change in a reality discourse, which announces that we must start speaking the truth of art differently. That the modernist story of autonomous, self-centred art as resistance to the filthy world of (everyday) politics does not withstand the test of reality. In the light of modernism’s production conditions and dissemination mechanisms, the thesis about its non-ideological nature turns out to be ideology par excellence; the discourse of modern art as a space of freedom (from politics) collapses under the weight of its instrumentalisation in cultural colonialism, with which the US, using strategies of soft power, complemented their politics of power. Kepes’ predicament is precisely the subject of Pogačar’s interest: as the promoter of the universalist narrative of modernism, he found himself in a situation in which modernism turned out to be anything but a universal phenomenon. And Kepes, the benevolent believer in the emancipatory mission of art, found himself in conflict with his colleagues who were ready to accept this contamination of the discourse of modernism with political interest and turn it into an advantage, to take political responsibility and act. The international spirit of (modern) art that knows no boundaries came up against its own boundary and thus opened a field of research into the relationship between universalist discourse and colonialism which is important to Pogačar. The non-event of Kepes’ exhibition falls within the line of Pogačar’s history of discontinuities, which forces us to look for new outlets.
The cartographies of blocked paths, dead ends and short circuits are Tadej Pogačar’s characteristic gesture. Instead of systematising some positive knowledge, Pogačar’s gesture traces the missing, it explores the error. Instead of offering or indicating solutions, he keeps confronting us with examples of failure, complication and distortion. Why? To Pogačar, the power and emancipatory potential of art is not an act of normalisation striving for a certain kind of normativity, but rather a manoeuvre against such normalisation. Hence, the fascination of his practice with the phenomenon of error: namely, error is not something that could be eliminated by the sheer power of truth rising slowly from the shadow, but rather through the formation of a new mode of “recounting the truth”. For this reason, Pogačar’s studies of the history of rationality are formed around such disruptions, which reveal how successive transformations of reality discourses keep re-creating their own history. “What used to be a dead end can become a solution.” And, in fact, we are witnessing precisely such a reversal: a new generation of artists will assume full responsibility for the contamination of art with politics and redefine the field of their activity on this basis. Hence, I believe that Pogačar’s returns to this moment are ultimately an allusion to the present-day context, in which the clinch of neoliberal logic and the paradigm of contemporary art shows that we have reached the end of a mode of speaking the truth of art. It is time for a new one.
19th April, at 6 pm: Artist talk
Tadej Pogačar (born in 1960 in Ljubljana) is an artist, curator, and the artistic director of the P74 Center and Gallery. He studied ethnology and art history at the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana; before completing his studies he also enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana (1983). As a student he made short films and played in the band Srp. He is the founder and Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (1990), since 1993 operating under the name the P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. Museum of Contemporary Art. Pogačar is the founding and managing director of the P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. Institute (established in 1998), a non-profit cultural institution that operates the P74 Centre and Gallery and the KAPSULA bookshop/project space in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Pogačar has exhibited widely, most recently at the Espaivisor – Visor Gallery in Valencia (2013), the PM Gallery in Zagreb (2013), the Gallery for Contemporary Art in Leipzig (2012), the ZKM – Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe (2011?2012), the Vojvodina Museum of Contemporary Art in Novi Sad (2011), and the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova in Ljubljana (2011), as well as at biennials in Sao Paulo, Venice, Istanbul, Prague, and Tirana, and at Manifesta 1 in Rotterdam. He has also had exhibitions at the MUMOK in Vienna (2009), the San Francisco Art Institute (2007), the NGBK in Berlin (2007), the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (2004), the Central House of Artists in Moscow, and the Museo de Arte Carillo Gil in Mexico City. He has published several artist books: CODE:RED (Onestar Press, Paris, 2004), Twenty Palm Trees of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (2009), Twenty-Eight Cakes (2009), P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. Public Sculpture (2010), Various (Small) Pieces of Trash (2010), and Tito times Thirty (naked) (2010). (Reference: Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana)
The programme of Škuc Gallery is supported by Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia and Cultural Department of the City of Ljubljana.
photo © Dejan Habicht