by Raino Isto (College Park, MD)
Since 1982, Marina Gržinić has collaborated with art historian Aina Šmid on over 40 video art projects, including independent video documentaries, television productions, and media installations. A new show of the duo’s work, Radical Contemporaneity (curated by Aneta Stojnić), surveys Gržinić and Šmid’s video collaborations between 1982 and 2017. The exhibition is on view at the Kunstraum Lakeside in Klagenfurt, Austria, May 11 through July 14, 2017. Marina Gržinić spoke with Raino Isto via email.
Raino Isto: First, let’s talk about the exhibition, Radical Contemporaneity. Could you say a little bit about its theme, and how the show came about?
Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid, “Radical Contemporaneity,” digital print, 2017. Image courtesy of the artists. Copyleft Gržinić and Šmid.
Marina Gržinić: Radical Contemporaneity connects two main lines of thought. One line of thought is about the 35 years of continuous work by Aina Šmid and myself in video and media art in relation to both history and the present. We started in 1982 in Ljubljana, and at that point our work was connected with the alternative or subcultural spaces and productions within socialism in the former Yugoslavia. We are products of the counter-cultural movement during socialism, though this movement was never a dissident one. On the contrary, the subculture of the 1980s was a movement that sought to overtly politicize socialism. So, the current exhibition is a re-politicization of Gržinić/Šmid’s work. Due to the hyper-neoliberal commercialization of art and culture today, our attempts are to expose contradictions by asking: “What can political art be in an era of hyper-divisions, violent racializations, and erased counter-cultural histories?”
It is really a struggle and a sign of strength to still be alive after 35 years of continuous work both internationally and in the former and post-Yugoslavia, and of clashing with different modes of reproduction, socialism, and capitalism. Slovenia, a turbo-neoliberal state, has from its inception developed a peculiar system of practicing nation-state sovereignty, and this system is erasure. Slovenia erased approximately 20,000 people from the other former Yugoslav republics, people who had been living in Slovenia after the country’s declaration of independence in 1991. These primarily non-Slovene or mixed-ethnicity people, and a significant number of Roma, had their basic rights taken away with their removal from the Permanent Residence Registry in February 1992. The erased people of Slovenia have lost all social, civil, and political rights. This action was of a purely administrative nature and thus excluded any possibility for appeal. Furthermore, after two and a half decades, these erased people still have not received any satisfactory compensation even though the European Union court ruled in their favor.
Marina Gržinić, diagram, Europe. “Turbo Capitalism. Fascism,” realized by Cilla and Kostayola, digital print, 2011. Image courtesy of the artists. Copyleft Gržinić and Šmid.
Erasure as a procedure of necropolitical sovereignty and institutional neoliberal governmentality became a “normalized” procedure in Slovenia, from the state to culture, from art to the social. It became a method for the cleansing of history and of subjectivities. Without consequences or critique, it established a standard for the way that first the nation-state, and subsequently that state’s funding institutions decide who should live and who must die (literally or symbolically). This is what I define as necropolitics, the administration of intentionally produced death in different formats: social, real, cultural, and historical. An unstoppable system of erasures without any sanctions. In Slovenia, the public institutions of art and culture are almost completely privatized; the director(s) that run the public institution(s) of contemporary art in Slovenia have been there for 20 years or more, together with their circles of friends and artists. Journalists in daily newspapers are part of the institutions of contemporary art and serve as the editors of books published by these very institutions. These same journalists then write about these same books and art projects in the newspapers by which they are employed. This is what in 2001 Achille Mbembe described, for the African context (what he refers to as the “postcolony”), as “private indirect power.” Such power presents the closure of any space of critique and reflection and the seizure of the public space of interpretation by necropower.
The second line of thought that led to our exhibition stands in opposition to the first. For fourteen years now I have been working as a professor of post-conceptual art practices at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Working together with the curator of our exhibition, Aneta Stojnić, a Belgrade-based theoretician, writer, and artist, we made a proposal to Hemma Schmutz, the curator of Kunstraum Lakeside. Kunstraum Lakeside is a public space in Klagenfurt, in the Carinthia region of Austria, a region that has a highly politicized history because of its proximity to Slovenia. Carinthia has a long history of struggles by the Slovenian minority to fully exercise their right to use the Slovenian language in public, as guaranteed by the Austrian constitution. So, practically speaking, the trajectory of the exhibition is a step from one political space to another: from marginal spaces and erased peoples in Slovenia, towards the possibility for the possibility also for an artistic-political conceptualization of the social and political minority rights in Austria and Europe. Hemma Schmutz—who was elected as the new director of Lentos Museum in Linz during the course of the preparations for the show—embraced the project. The exhibition functions as a sequence of contingent moments that intersect with the need to re-politicize our work by establishing a relation to history. But how exactly does this happen?
This is well captured by the exhibition title Radical Contemporaneity. At the Alternative Film/Video festival in December 2016 in Belgrade I was invited to present a selection of Šmid’s and Gržinić’s video works. (We had taken part in the festival 30 years earlier.) I proposed a panel after the screening and one of the speakers, Aneta Stojnić, coined a term in her talk, a term she used to conceptualize our work: “radical contemporaneity.” I quote what Stojnić wrote about the exhibition:
“Gržinić and Šmid’s work has been and continues to be timely both in terms of its content and its mode of address. Highly performative, in the sense of producing a specific impact in the current socio-political reality, their mode of production is prompted by a sharp and accurate sense of the contemporary context. Each of the works is giving a specific account of what we will call “radical contemporaneity.” This means that they have not only been working with crucial political questions, but also that they have continued to address them as they are happening, always taking risks to analyze traumatic presents. They have stayed conscious of historical momentum, yet have retained a clear understanding of the processes of historicization.” (1)
Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid, Irwin, NSK, “Retro-avant-garde and Post Socialism,” video still, 1997. Image courtesy of the artists. Copyleft Gržinić and Šmid.
What is interesting is that some months after the title was conceived, the French theoretician Marie-José Mondzain published a book, in February 2017, entitled (in translation) The Confiscation of Words, Images, and Time, with the subtitle For Radicality. (2) She shows that the neoliberal anesthesia of political action works by delegitimizing “radicality.” Mondzain is clear about this: economic liberalism has seized our vocabulary. The word “radicalism” is now equated with terrorism, and we consequently view calls for de-radicalization in this light. Mondzain is not naïve, and clearly distances herself from those who train for terrorism. Nevertheless, she calls for a different perspective, one that will intensify radicality in order to mobilize revolts and bring forth the figure of another world. This is an unexpected but extremely accurate point regarding our exhibition as well. In fact, I had invited Mondzain at the beginning of the 2000 to come to a conference in Ljubljana. I invited her to talk about the status of the image in politics, and to reflect on an exhibition I had co-curated with Nina Pirnat Spahić, focusing on the work of the late Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki (a French radical experimental couple that developed a cinema of the body).
My point is that the topics of our work and the tangible ideas that grew out of our exchange with Aneta, Hemma, Marie José Mondzain, Maria Klonaris, and Katerina Thomadaki ultimately intersected in Radical Contemporaneity. For us, the exhibition that Aneta has curated represents a powerful convergence of lines of power and dis-assemblages that allow for a new view of our work. The show is not a retrospective presentation but rather presents a possibility for re-reading our work anew, for politicizing and reflecting on our practice and theories.
RI: The exhibition shows your works with Aina Šmid over a span of three and a half decades. I wonder if you feel the significance of some of the early works has changed over time. I suppose what I’m asking is this: do some of the earlier works function primarily as a reflection of a particular historical moment that has now transformed and changed, or—as they were first conceived—do they still speak directly to the cultural, political, and historical context we inhabit today?
MG: You are raising a central point regarding the long time our work spans. I will say that our work was never a reflection on a particular historical moment, rather the opposite: we tried to elaborate, to politicize, and to disassemble that historical moment. We started to work at the time of socialism, or socialist communism; at a time when Europe was divided between East and West. We were on the other (invisible) side of the Iron Curtain, but I repeat that we were never dissidents. This was the power of the subculture at that time: to be for socialism. Not for some middle-class socialism with a human face, but for socialism that understands culture, rights, non-heteronormative sexuality, and minorities as truly equal. In the 1980s, we attempted to find out if we could apply our ideas about art and politics to a critical interrogation of socialism and its ideology. At the time, underground art, no less than alternative culture and politics, was under the constant surveillance of Yugoslavia’s socialist state apparatus and its repressive institutional structures. Phenomena such as body art (notably in Belgrade) and radical conceptual art (in Zagreb) had never really thrived in Slovenia. The conceptual art group OHO, working in Ljubljana in the early 1970s, was an important exception to this rule, but although the group achieved a certain amount of international recognition, no wider movement ever developed from their work in the Slovene context. The reason that radical movements failed to take hold here can be explained by Slovenia’s strong tradition of formally modernist art, as well as by the state’s support for the “official” institutions that promulgated such art. Because of this context, the key themes in our work in the 1980s and early 1990s were the highly taboo topics of sexuality, history, and politics.
The punk and rock ‘n’ roll movements were especially important as radical ways to change the ossified patriarchal structure of society and production. The homosexual community in Slovenia and Ljubljana was also incredibly important as it opened a new horizon, along with punk music and theory. The political nomenclature of socialist communism in Yugoslavia kept a tight and paranoid control over public space. Thus, in the 1980s, all possible interventions and calls for the transformation of the public were, paradoxically, only possible within art, culture, and the social, all of which are zones separated from the state. Such interventions occurred not in the form of creativity, but as political demands. If you could find a version of Fredric Jameson’s idea of postmodernism anywhere in the 1980s, then it would be certain to be found in the alternative and subcultural practices of the former socialist Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav context of anti-heteronormative sexuality—together with politics, theory, and censored cultural productions—was crucial for our video and film work, while political lesbianism served as a manifesto. With regard to politics, our goal was to define the political subject and radical political art. In the Ljubljana underground of the time, this kind of radical art was linked initially to the punk movement, and later associated with the band Laibach, which was part of the umbrella organization Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK).
Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid, “Bilocation,” video still, 1990. Image courtesy of the artists. Copyleft Gržinić and Šmid.
The 1990s were a transition in the Balkans, a postsocialism where one war followed another. Many journalists, reporters, and political analysts played an important role in contesting and opposing the madness of the time. With Aina, we shifted away from dealing with censored sexuality and culture and moved towards examining the ways war was destroying communities, as was the case during the genocide in Bosnia (Srebrenica) for which up to now no one has been directly indicted. In the 1990s, for every new war in the Balkan region, we produced a video analysis in the form of a docufiction. In our video Bilocation (1990), Aina and I predicted almost prophetically the collapse of Yugoslavia and the ensuing Balkan wars. In Bilocation (1990) we used documentary material that Slovene television had filmed during the civil unrest in Kosovo in 1989. As you can see in the video, the majority Albanian population rose up against the Yugoslav People’s Army—essentially, Milošević’s Serbian army—which responded with tanks and tear gas.
Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid, “Labyrinth,” video still, 1993. Image courtesy of the artists. Copyleft Gržinić and Šmid.
We juxtaposed this with the fictional world of our synthetic video images. The documentary material (which had not been shown on Slovene television at the time of the crisis) was encrusted to the body of a Slovenian opera and ballet prima ballerina (Mateja Rebolj): it was inserted in her eye, her intestines, and other parts of her body. In 1993, in the video Labyrinth we analyzed the realities of the refugee camps on the periphery of Ljubljana; the camps were full of Muslim refugees escaping from the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. In 1993 and 1997, respectively, we worked closely with the group IRWIN to create two video-film experimental essays with strong theoretical-political messages aiming to historicize the NSK movement.
Since 2001, we have focused our work on a critique of capital’s bloody profit and on privatization, as well as the palpable emptiness of contemporary art. Our work comments directly on global capitalism’s ferocious and violent dismissal of human rights, and on new forms of neoliberal governmentality. We criticize a “humanitarian governmentality” that uses the agenda of human rights for the even more violent expulsion of refugees from Fortress Europe. We also often work with decoloniality and with the critique of “racializing assemblages” (as formulated by Alexander G. Weheliye (3)), necropower, and capital’s violent devaluation of labor.
RI: How would you characterize the situation in Europe (and the world) today, and in what ways is it significantly different from the situation in Europe twenty years ago?
MG: The situation in Europe changed radically after global capitalism fully entered the world arena in 2001. The East/West division of Europe is gone; it was already buried in 2009 with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. So the line of division is today a racial/colonial division of the European Union and Europe from Africa and the Middle East. We see that nationalism as a “retro-ideology” is reserved for the former East of Europe and “pure” racism is for the West. (The Black Lives Matter movement is taking this up as the central point of their struggle.) Globally, power is in the hands of sovereign countries that are today all “war-states”, while the “nation-state” is reserved for all “other” countries that are not sovereign). War-states are manufacturing necropolitical and proxy wars and are in control of “sovereign debt.” Some debts are sovereign, and others just serve as punishment, such as the Greek one.
The war-states (Germany, Britain, France, USA, Russia, China and so forth) were all colonial imperial powers in the past, and also anti-Semitic. At the same time, the former Eastern Europe is a jumble of nation-states that are hyper-homophobic and nationalistic. However, they lack sovereignty as they play the game established by the “former” West. These newly established nation-states are allowed, within their borders, to exercise a violent and pure hatred against minorities, Roma people, people of color, LGBTQI people. As Adla Isanović, a theoretician and artist from Sarajevo, argues, Bosnia and Herzegovina has a specific status in this geopolitical context. Isanović conceives of Sarajevo as the rotten heart of Europe: on the one hand, it is a past colony of the Austro-Hungarian imperium, while on the other hand it is a despised territory with a Muslim population at the center of Europe. These topics are of course central to our works in the new millennium.
RI: Have changes in the political situation led you to find new meanings in the works you chose? Are there any works in particular that you find yourself thinking differently about in the context of this exhibition?
MG: Not really, but to put this differently, some of the works have taken on a new meaning due to the passage of time. Such is the case with the feature- length documentary Relations (80 minutes, made in 2012 in collaboration with Ljubljana-based Zvonka Simčič). Relations is about the 25th anniversary of the lesbian group ŠKUC-LL (1987—2012), and generally about the lesbian movement in the former Yugoslavia. It is a project that shows the context for the movement and the LGBTQ community in relation to politics, economics, culture, the arts, and legal institutional structures. This contextualization works on two levels: first the transition from decaying socialism to neoliberal capitalism, and then (in the 1990s) the transition to the current, bloody form of neoliberal global capitalism. The film includes an analysis of the continuation of the lesbian movement into the 2000s, when Slovenia became a member of the EU (in 2004), and it features an analysis of the “climate” that followed the discussions and rejection of a new family law in Slovenia in 2012. The Pride Parades in the territory of the former Yugoslavia are given a special place. The film contains interviews, documents, art projects, scenes of nightlife, political appearances, and critical discourse. It also talks about Europe, global world capitalism, the status of lesbians today and their relations and alliances with feminism, gay, transgender and queer identities, and AIDS. The video film presents a strong plea in favor of homosexuality. It aims to show the LGBTQ community’s struggle for visibility and testifies to the incredible power of the lesbian movement, its artistic and cultural potential, critical discourses, and emancipatory politics.
Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid, with Zvonka Simčič, “Relations. 25 years of the Lesbian Group SKUC-LL Ljubljana,” video still, 2012. Image courtesy of the artists. Copyleft Gržinić and Šmid.
Paradoxically, Relations was a no-budget film as it was made without a single cent of investment by the government or NGOs. The film is an oral history that cannot be erased any more. However in numerous presentations of experimental art in Ljubljana between 2010 to 2015 this work has never been shown. Why? The reasons vary, but the most evident is pure sloppiness on the part of the curators, a kind of “anything goes” attitude typical of our institutions of contemporary art. That such a situation is possible is because we lack journalists and critical writers who could function as the public’s critical eye and expose such a situation.
There is another point, though, that has to be mentioned in response to your question: the reconstruction of our video history in Radical Contemporaneity also shows the conditions for the production of our videos in a historical perspective. Television Slovenia (or Television Ljubljana, as it was called in the 1980s) was the producer of the majority of these videos during the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. Especially in the ’80s, if you were interested in serious video production, you had no choice but to work with national television. Slovene national television was always obliged to show a certain percentage of original cultural and artistic productions in its annual reports, and video artists provided a cheap way to satisfy this requirement and show support for local culture. The fact that television under socialism was state-run and noncommercial and that it had its own mandated artistic production, is something almost incomprehensible in the capitalist world. The editor of the cultural program of TV Ljubljana, the late Toni Tršar, played an especially important role here.
Production constraints also had an essential influence on our aesthetic concept. Our way of working could not be one of timeless artistic creation; instead, it was a time-bound process that required conceptually well-developed scripts and storyboards. Of course, the technology and conditions of video production have changed. If video art was once an exclusive practice because of its technology; and if its technological visual effects were once understood to be the medium’s aesthetic dimension, then today (in the capitalist first world), video technology is available to almost everyone. This explains why video works from the 1970s have been canonized in response to contemporary accessibility of the medium, also as way of preserving the authority of galleries.
But technology is more than a tool; it is a social relationship, an institution of power and a lever in the constitution of thought. Over the years we have also created video works purely from scratch. This happened when there was no way to have access to resources and support for the creation of video works at all, and when as a result we had to film from scratch. These films kept us surviving in times of ultimate austerity. They are shown sporadically, but we insist on an elaborate context for their presentation (in terms of showing them only when there is a well conceived concept for the show, and when there may be a chance to publish a text, or give a lecture about the work).
RI: Do you feel that there is a recognizable or unified object or topic of these films? If so, how would you characterize that object, and describe its historical being?
MG: The central topic would be the relation of art and politics, using the medium of video as a central platform for the politicization of subjectivities, militancy, emancipation, and for rethinking the relation between community and labor. In a word, our videos from the present moment demand the decolonization of the medium of contemporary video. We want to change video from a boutique gallery tool into a “deployment of subversion.” That also means that that while reflecting on political topics, video as a technology has to construct its own new conceptual genealogy, reflecting a different experimental history. This has become necessary today because of changes in video’s (digital) production and its critical art-historical vocabularies. We ask questions such as what it means to perform class struggle, or to expose processes of racialization under conditions of ultimate emptiness. Our interest is in visualizing and conceptualizing the social antagonism that cuts through video and connects the medium to the wider social and political implications of contemporary capitalism. In the last instance, it is also possible to withdraw, to take one’s distance. Finally, we want to document the poverty of the medium in relation to contemporary conditions of production. The theoretical, critical, and political text is of exceptional importance in these works, performed and spoken directly into the camera. The text spoken in the video films demands an emancipatory politics by producing knowledge that opposes the West’s persistently hidden history of coloniality. The text is also a ready-made that functions as a disjunctive platform for practicing different readings. It proposes the critical interpellation of the viewer through the practice of performative reading, and it offers the possibility of an analysis of pertinent theoretical-political positions.
Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid, “Moments of Decision,” video still, 1985. Image courtesy of the artists. Copyleft Gržinić and Šmid.
Of course, this is a disturbing moment for experimental moving-image work, as spectators are not really capable of focusing or listening any more. However, the theory in the work is intended as an alternative vehicle for intervention, and also as a call to civil disobedience. Most of the spoken theory in the works comes from the wider political theoretical context. What is significant is not that we want, through video, to turn politics into a domain of video art, but just the opposite: we want to use the medium of video to analyze the conceptual foundations of contemporary politics and its processes of neoliberal governmentality and necropolitical sovereignty. Today’s neoliberal politics seeks to foster an unwillingness to speak publicly about social contradictions. To do this, it uses a complex of economic, legislative, judicial, and discursive practices—the procedures of governmentality—to stifle all debate and normalize every situation of power, appropriation, and enslavement. We try to use the medium as a site to denaturalize this normality by generating and problematizing the context for the production of meaning and its reception. The crisis of representation in contemporary art (not only in video) is connected, therefore, to our ability to relocate conflict and social contradiction back into the work. Precisely because the politics of representation is still an open question, we must ask: how can we undertake the creation of video as an explicitly political practice?
RI: Generally speaking, I wonder if you could talk about your collaboration with Aina. Has it changed over time?
MG: The collaboration was always—and continues to be—politically motivated, arising out of the relation of politically shared places and spaces of possible intervention. Both Aina and myself come from a working-class family background. Therefore, the task of our work was always to examine Western democracy’s relation to imperialism and colonialism. Being formed in the socialist context of former-Yugoslavia, for us the work was never just about the opposition between Western democracy and totalitarian dictatorship, but rather about the opposition between Western democracy and imperialism/colonialism. To be even more precise, it was about coloniality. Coloniality, which is not the same as colonialism, is the hidden logic that makes possible imperial transformations and colonial management in the name of progress, civilization, development, and democracy. Early on, we came to the conclusion that no revolutionary movement is possible without a revolutionary theory, for it is necessary to understand social and political practices in order to intervene in them. Of course, doing this was also closely connected with possibilities for living and working. It was not easy to be feminists and work with media under socialism, because in the 1980s, the people with access to technology were mostly men with elite communist family backgrounds. So the translation of the social conflict, the pressure of life, was always detoured, within the political field, into a specific and irreducible form of video.
Technology changes, but we have always repudiated the incessant aesthetization of details and sought a militant aesthetics in our work. The strictly analytical working method I have described above did not change much. We initially worked in the bedroom, and there is still a desk there. We sit and talk and come back, we write and carry out our research always with one question in mind: why do something, anyway? What matters is revolution at the historical moment of radical contemporaneity.
RI: Has the changing art historical context allowed for these works to change their meanings, from your perspective at least? Are there paradigms in art history that have come into being in recent years that weren’t fully developed in the late ’90s, and do these paradigms change how we might see these works?
MG: Aina Šmid is an art historian with a counter-cultural position. I myself come from a post-Althusserian, Fanonian, Lacanian, feminist, and subcultural setting. To understand our work, I think it is really important to list those who form what we call our political genealogy: Cherrie Moraga, Bell Hooks, Achille Mbembe, Araba Evelyn Johnston Arthur, Hiroshi Yoshioka, Ivan Segre, Hortense Spillers, Maria Lugones, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Nelson Maldonado-Torres. Our work is also influenced by Ann Laura Stoler and Marie-Jose Mondzain. Among the artists that had an impact on us are the late Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki, and some Austrian artists such as Marika Schmiedt.
RI: How would you characterize contemporary art’s relations with fascism today? What avenues of resistance remain open to contemporary art against fascism and racist political structures, and which avenues seem closed (either by contemporary art’s complicity, or simply by their fading credibility)?
Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid, “Seizure – Rewriting Counter Histories,” digital print, 2015. Image courtesy of the artists. Copyleft Gržinić and Šmid.
MG: Of course the question of contemporary fascism is central to several of the works in the show. Actually, the poster for Radical Contemporaneity includes a diagram that is a theoretical elaboration of fascism, neoliberalism, the State, and both former Eastern and “former” Western Europe. This diagram features prominently in one of the most recent video works we produced, in 2015, entitled Seizure—Rewriting Counter-Histories. The diagram is a place of counter-knowledge and a positioning apparatus. This particular diagram was created by two brilliant students in reaction to my lectures on the topic of contemporary Europe. Hemma Schmutz proposed to have it as part of the poster for the exhibition, as a unique gesture showing theory and art and politics coming together.
Around seven years ago I started to work intensively on the processes of fascism and nationalism, trying to connect them with the idea of necropolitics and necropower. At that point, these connections were not so palpably visible, as crisis had immobilized the Left, and fear had started to be the only way that people reacted to misery and death on a massive scale. Today the normalization of fascism is all around us. In necrocapitalism, where death is managed for profit, violence toward minorities and people of color is normalized; we live in sick communities that are racially and colonially divided. We live in perverse majority communities that are completely individualized, without any agenda for dealing with social questions, and surrounded by violence and fear. To understand this situation I was encouraged by the work of the Spanish theoretician and political analyst Santiago López Petit who identifies a new situation, the transformation of the nation-state into what he calls the “war-State.” (4) The war-state today presents the ultimate example of sovereignty in relation to a proliferation of nation-states, especially after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. This war-State uses the military machine to clear away all geopolitical obstacles to benefit the profit and privatization of capital. However, in the neoliberal global world, this “authoritarian” seizure has to be smoothed over (especially in the West), and this is accomplished through what López Petit calls “postmodern fascism.” López Petit argues that postmodern fascism serves as the dissolution of the democratic state into a fragmented reality of social technologies. Postmodern fascism posits for each individual a cynical autonomy based on the self-management of one’s proper autonomy. In other words, the war-state definitely has elements of classical fascism (a sovereign leader, a people, death as the management of life, and so on). All the same, postmodern fascism is informal and non-coherent precisely because it is based on the autonomy of differences.
Already before the arrival of postmodern fascism and the war-state, the prominent Serbian feminist theoretician Žarana Papić had identified a form of postwar fascism that she named turbo-fascism. Papić proposed turbo-fascism in order to conceptualize certain phenomena endemic to the Balkans, and specifically to Serbia, in the 1990s and early 2000s: hegemonic nationalisms (that is, national separatisms); the chauvinist and racist exclusion or marginalization of (old and new) minority groups; and finally processes that are closely connected with patriarchal, discriminatory, and violent politics against women and their civil and social rights. (5)
I think that the main characteristics of turbo-fascism are present in postsocialist transitional states that are currently heading toward fully developed turbo-neoliberal global capitalism (which has its own, postmodern fascism). The term can be reasonably used to describe many former Eastern European states such as Armenia, Russia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Greece as well. On the other hand, France, Germany, Britain, etc. are war-states with a repulsive postmodern fascist social structure.
RI: How do you perceive the changing role of the body in connection with video over the last several decades? I am thinking about the broader perspective of society and the proliferation of videos, screens, and so forth.
MG: Financial capital has transformed us into beggars, and deprived us of any future. For decades—for centuries—and in the bloodiest way, it has exploited and expropriated all those outside of the capitalist first world. It has deprived millions of their lives! Therefore, I propose that the only possible method of aesthetic and political intervention is a direct exposure of the processes of racialization, and the only possible form for our videos is situated in the “now” of radical contemporaneity.
Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid, “Naked Freedom,” video still, 2010. Image courtesy of the artists. Copyleft Gržinić and Šmid.
One of the works in the exhibition is entitled Naked Freedom (2010), and it refers directly to this topic. It presents a relation between the body, film, digital technologies, and labor and capital. What do I mean? In the mid-2000s Jonathan Beller developed the notion of a cinematic mode of production. He argued “that cinema brought the industrial revolution to the eye.”(6) Thinking about this, I asked myself, what is the next step, and I called it the digital mode of production. This digital mode codes, reproduces, and forms the grammar and logic of exploitation and expropriation characteristic of the present system of financial capitalism. It is not limited to the realms of art and culture. The digital mode of production is analogous to the cinematic mode of production, but also different from it. It is different because it takes as its primary logic the calculation of the computer, which is a form of social programming, a mode of constructing society, and a mode of making profit that is inseparable from the logic of financial capital. It functions as a new formation of the techno-capitalist-labor condition vis-à-vis the body, where we see an overlap of exploitation, digitalization, and the transformation of the body into an object of economic exchange. One aspect of this is the entanglement that conceals the global post-Fordist division of labor, which can be best described as an international division of racialized labor between the first, second, and third worlds. The other aspect of this process occurs at the local level, where racialized labor is captured in a matrix of capitalized trajectories. The digital mode is not a symptom but is co-substantive, which means that it works hand in hand with a process of calculation. This process of calculation is also at the base of financial capital. Science and technology are being implemented for the figuration, representation, mediation, and rationalization of the Crisis. They are being used to produce new forms of coloniality, deep processes of racism, discrimination, and exploitation. All of these processes converge in the body, around the body, and on the body. There is, however, another figure of disjunction and of paradoxical empowerment to be envisioned in opposition to the “biopolitical” body in necropolitical global capitalism, and that is the political flesh (to follow Suvendrini Perera’s adaptation of Allen Feldman’s notion). These ideas show the relation between body, screen, and technology that is essential for our work.
RI: I wonder if you could comment on the significance of Austria’s ongoing cultural connection to Southeastern Europe. In a (recent) historical perspective, how do you see the role of Austrian cultural institutions and contemporary art venues in relation to the narratives of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European contemporary art?
MG: My biggest criticism is of the way the European Union, which includes Austria, has closed the borders of Fortress Europe in order to block refugees. In late January 2017, the Slovenian Parliament endorsed a government-sponsored bill of amendments to the Aliens Act that included restrictive regulations for potential migrants and asylum seekers, a move that was criticized by international NGOs and by the Council of Europe. The new legislation enables the Slovenian state to seal the country’s borders to illegal migrants (who are in fact refugees) for a limited period.
With regard to the arts, in the past I have heavily criticized the impact of Austrian banks and insurance companies such as ERSTE and ERSTE Foundation that control not only the allocation of capital in the former East (of Europe), but at the same time art and cultural institutions and their productions.
For instance, I criticized the exhibition Gender Check: Femininity and Masculinity in the Art of Eastern Europe (2009), which was funded by ERSTE Foundation. With Gender Check, banks, insurance companies, and their foundations began to intervene in the cultural space of Southeastern Europe, the Western Balkans, etc., and they did so by linking a certain colonial epistemology to neoliberal governmentality. The outcome is what Arjun Appadurai in his essay “Number in the Colonial Imagination” calls an “enumerative community.”(7) It is a process that wants to create visibility, but at the same time just produces calculations. The division between East and West is not at stake here anymore. Rather, what is at stake is how the neoliberal capitalist logic of governmentality is being made workable. This process is always carried out in the post-colony through a measurement that allows for the enlisting of an infinity of “raw” cultural facts, but without any emancipative politics.
RI: What projects are you currently working on?
MG: Right now I’m working on several critical texts that analyze what neoliberal politics does to culture and art, to life and to the social bond, and I’m planning to write a book. But the exhibition is central at this point, including possibilities for taking it elsewhere.
Raino Isto is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland, College Park. His research addresses the relationship between history and memory in socialist-era monumental sculpture, and the ways postsocialist art engages with socialist monumentality. He blogs at http://afterart.org/.
Marina Gržinić is a philosopher, critic, curator, and video artist. She is currently a research advisor at the Institute of Philosophy at the Scientific and Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Science and Art in Ljubljana and a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.
- Aneta Stojnić, curatorial statement for Radical Contemporaneity, available from http://www.lakeside-kunstraum.at/index.php?id=268&L=1 (accessed May 19, 2017), Translation edited by the author. [back]
- See Marie-José Mondzain, Confiscation: Des mots, des images et du temps (Paris: Liens qui libèrent, 2017). [back]
- See Alexander G. Weheliye, Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2014). [back]
- See Santiago López Petit, La movilización global. Breve tratado para atacar la realidad [Global Mobilization: A Brief Treatise for Attacking Reality]. (Barcelona: Traficantes de sueños, 2009). [back]
- See Žarana Papić, “Europe after 1989: Ethnic Wars, The Fascisation of Social Life and Body Politics in Serbia,” in Filozofski vestnik, special number The Body, edited by Marina Gržinić Mauhler (Ljubljana: Institute of Philosophy ZRC SAZU, 2002), 191–205. [back]
- Jonathan Beller, The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle (Dartmouth: University Press of New England, 2006), 9. [back]
- Arjun Appadurai, “Number in the Colonial Imagination,” Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament, eds. C. A. Breckenridge and P. V. D. Veer (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), 314–339. [back]