EAGLES & DOVES

What is the form of national identity today? What influence do various symbols exert upon it? Can we positively identify with a nation without nationalistic and xenophobic overlays? The exhibition Eagles & Doves presents works by contemporary Slovak and German artists who respond to these difficult questions with broad perspective, criticism and humour, in a playful and open manner. Contemporary art can be actually a medium of intercultural communication: the encounter, not the clash, of cultures. The exhibition project was developed in cooperation with the Goethe Institute in Bratislava on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of its foundation in Slovakia.
Curators: Lenka Kukurová & Omar Mirza

Visual: Ivana Šáteková

Opening:

August 16, 2018

6 p.m. - 8 p.m.

 

Duration:

August 17 – Oktober 28, 2018

 

Venue: 

1st floor, Kunsthalle Bratislava 

Exhibiting artists: 

Ulf Aminde (DE), Tomáš Džadoň (SK), Hans Haacke (DE), Monika & Bohuš Kubinskí (SK), Stano Masár (SK), Jarmila Mitríková & Dávid Demjanovič (SK), Henrike Naumann (DE), Erik Sikora (SK), Ivana Šáteková (SK), Anna Tretter (DE), Nasan Tur (DE), Uli Westphal (DE), Suse Weber (DE), Anna Witt (DE)

 

According to Homer Simpson, the cause of all life’s problems and also their solution is alcohol. We may say the same thing about communication. With its help we can solve conflicts, but when it goes wrong it produces most of our misunderstandings. A national or local culture does not come about by domination: rather, it is founded upon interactions, absorptions, selections and transmissions, hence on functioning communication. Communication between different cultures is the main idea of the exhibition Eagles & Doves, which presents works by contemporary Slovak and German artists.

 

Cultural exchange is both celebrated and condemned. Ideas of a pure national identity clash with discussions about the positives and negatives of multicultural mixing. This highly-charged debate is as much present in Germany, which has long experience of the coexistence of different cultures, as in Slovakia, where this theme is relatively new. But then, does anyone still believe in the popular illusion about the more developed West and the immature young democracies of the East? Who is influencing whom? We are all part of a discussion that is seeking answers to similar questions. Contemporary art too can be a medium of intercultural communication: the encounter, not the clash, of cultures.

 

The theme of cultural exchange brings complicated questions of national identity and patriotism in its wake. What is the form of national identity today? What influence do various symbols exert upon it? Can we positively identify with a nation without nationalistic and xenophobic overlays? Is it necessary at all, in our times of globalised economy and migration, to pigeonhole people according to their national affiliation? Contemporary visual art can respond to these difficult questions with broad perspective and humour, in a playful and open manner. What the exhibition is attempting is to provide a space where these issues can be looked at freely.

 

The title Eagles & Doves is inspired by the influence of these birds on the creation of national symbols. As a personification of the Slovak nation the conciliatoriness and humility of the dove is found convenient at some times, the majesty and predatory drive of the eagle at others. In the German setting the heraldic symbol of the eagle, which is the state symbol of the German Federal Republic to this day, has been historically important and, alas, abused. National and state symbolism always emerges at a specific time and place, and its significance is not unchanging. The same symbols may in different circumstances be perceived as positive, neutral or negative. They can unite and also divide; they may give rise to various misinterpretations.

 

On the facade of the House of Art/Kunsthalle Bratislava there are banners with the inscription “We (all) are the people”. The inscription is in twelve languages, associated with visitors to the exhibition documenta 14 (2017) in Kassel and migrants coming to Germany. With this slogan Hans Haacke touches on the theme of the nation or the people, which has been historically and remains to this day a cause of many controversies and conflicts. The people can be defined in multiple ways: by language, ethnic group, common history, affiliation to a state or a territorial whole, etc. This mutable concept has a consequence: a division into “us” and “them”. Simply by inserting the word “all” Haacke changes a declaration that divides into a declaration that unites.

 

The exhibition gives visitors an opportunity to address the question of symbols playfully and creatively, instead of uncritically adopting the preserved meanings. This is the approach offered in Erik Sikora’s video installation, which seeks to define the image of Slovakia. The artist’s distinctive absurd humour is a parody on marketing strategies which try to sell abstract cultural values, whether in the form of kitsch souvenirs or artificially constructed national myths. At the same time, this work opens up the very important question of positive national or regional self-identification.

 

Anna Witt and Nasan Tur work with the theme of flags as state symbols. Witt examines the relationship with flags among holidaymakers, whom she draws into an innocent game of tug-of-war with this object – for some a piece of fabric, for others the untouchable symbol of statehood. Tur, in a seemingly abstract monumental installation comprising flags of no longer existing states, poses the question of what happens after the disappearance of state formations and how this situation bears upon the creation of a new symbolism.

 

Uli Westphal works with the historically loaded symbol of the eagle. The outlines of heraldic eagles appear in very quick succession in his video. Westphal strips this complicated symbol of its ideological deposits and directs our attention to the liquidity of shapes and meanings and their incessant transmutation. Suse Weber thematises the unification of East and West Germany. Her eagle made out of ribbons, chains and sporting medals from the former German Democratic Republic has its head turned to the left, in other words to the east: this is the opposite to the present-day state symbol of the German Federal Republic, where the eagle is “gazing” westwards.

 

In a monumental work by Monika and Bohuš Kubinskí entitled The Slovak Space Programme, created specially for the exhibition, a dove is the bearer of meanings. Here, however, the bird is linked not, as expected, with the proclaimed peace-loving nature of the Slovaks, but rather with a pigeon-loft as a symbol of chaos. Simultaneously the multimedia installation points ironically at the Slovaks’ desire to compete with countries that are more technically developed, even though, because of underfinanced schooling and research, they must often be satisfied with achievements such as the amateur handyman produces.

 

Folk culture is the theme of a work by Tomáš Džadoň. He has turned a caravan into the perfect illusion of a traditional folk-style wooden house which visitors may enter. The work adverts to the deception of cultural identification based on a reality which has long ago ceased to exist; but it seeks at the same time to find new significance and use for historical references. Folk elements also appear in a newly-created large-format artwork by Jarmila Mitríková and Dávid Demjanovič. Here we see an allegorical procession celebrating the German car firm Volkswagen, which is one of the largest employers in Slovakia. The motif, which is both comical and strangely disquieting, contains questions which touch upon national themes in a global capitalist society.

 

Works by Stano Masár and Henrike Naumann respond to the transformation of society in the 1990s, which to a notable extent determine the contemporary form of political reality in Slovakia and Germany. Stano Masár exhibits a kiosk for the Postal Newspaper Service, a well-known feature of Slovak public space. The stand, offering the contemporary press from the pre- and post-revolutionary periods, is a metaphor of the transition between two social orders and the consequent chaos of values. Henrike Naumann’s video installation is a reconstruction of home videos from the 1990s, which visitors may watch in an original contemporary interior. Two videos show the lives of teenagers in former eastern and western part of Germany. While one group devotes itself to drugs and technopartying, in the second group youthful rebellion issues in right-wing extremism. The work makes reference to the terrorist cell Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund, which committed a number of racist murders in Germany. The author warns about a crisis of values which sets in where there is an absence of positive visions.

 

Ulf Aminde’s video, where we see a tourist ship called Europe turning round on the spot, is also concerned with visions and direction. The work may be interpreted as a metaphor of the complicated situation in the European Union, which is made up of states with ever more varying ideas about common values and the future. Ivana Šáteková produces a dystopian vision of Europe, taking up the question of what would have happened if World War II had ended with the victory of Nazi Germany.

 

A work by the German artist Anna Tretter, who worked for many years in Slovakia as a university lecturer, links both countries in the form of a travel record. On various routes in Germany and Slovakia she photographs bus stops as symbols of mobility. These “little houses”, identical in purpose but differently made, in a humorous sense become national specificities.

 

Can culture be a mediator of solidarity and tolerance? Can contemporary art replace nationalist kitsch with positive self-identification? Is art in a position to offer a polarised society a space for communication? Seeking and finding traditions, cliches and parodies, this exhibition is a place for everyone who cares about what kind of society we live in.

 

 

Lenka Kukurová & Omar Mirza

 

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Exhibiting artists:

 

ULF AMINDE (*1969, Stuttgart, Germany). The work of the Berlin based artist takes place in a border area of performance, video and post dramatic theater. He describes his practice as performative film and so he is constantly mixing up film documentary techniques with fiction based claims, critique of representation with strategies of self empowerment or staged with spontaneous scenes. Film is for him a way to refresh relationships between individuals and to produce a foundation for a new understanding of realism. His works are sensitive towards consideration of power mechanism especially within his own productions, the politics of the image becomes a reflection as well as the circulation of it in the society of the spectacle. His projects bring together people with totally different social backgrounds, in which not only social divisions and hierarchies are exposed, but these also prove unstable. Transformation of repressed behavior and a shout out for social change are therefore central to his work and meanwhile the role and potential of art itself is questioned. 

 

HANS HAACKE (*1936, Cologne, Germany), a German-born artist, has lived in New York since 1965. He has produced physically and biologically interactive works as well as works that critically address issues in the social and political arena. With sculpture, painting, installations, photography, and other media, he has tackled the influence of corporate and political interests on public discourse and contemporary art. Haacke often uses institutions both as subject matter and as a venue, which has, at times, caused controversy. On being considered a political artist, Haacke says: "it is uncomfortable for me to be called a political artist.... the work of an artist with such a label is in danger of being understood one-dimensionally. Without exception.... all artworks have a political component, whether it is intended or not." Since 1972 he has exhibited in 5 Documentas, and his works were represented in several Venice Biennials, and the Biennials of São Paulo, Sydney, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Gwangju, Sharjah, Mercosul, and the Whitney Biennial, New York. With Nam June Paik he shared a Golden Lion for the best pavilion (German) at the Venice Biennial in 1993. Beginning in 2015, his Gift Horse occupied the 4th plinth of London’s Trafalgar Square for 18 months.

 

TOMÁŠ DŽADOŇ (*1981, Poprad, Slovak Republic) studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (AVU) and at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava (VŠVU), where he also completed his doctoral studies under the tutorship of Prof. Dezider Tóth. Džadoň´s art focuses mainly on sculptural objects and installations that often react to a particular site and situation. In 2013, he created for Košice the legendary artwork called Monument of Folk Architecture, which consisted of wooden folk houses installed on the roof of a panel block of flats. In 2017, he designed for the villa of architect Dušan Jurkovič in Brno an extensive solo exhibition, in which he reacted to modernism with elements of folk architecture. Tomáš Džadoň often elaborates on themes related to national identity. References to Slovak folklore and traditions frequently appear in his art. The artist presents the motifs related to national past and history in a contemporary artistic language, while also reconsidering them. In 2009, he was the finalist of the Jindřich Chalupecký Award and in 2012 of the Oskár Čepan Award. He works as an assistant in the Studio of Visiting Artist of the Prague AVU. 

 

BOHUŠ KUBINSKÝ (*1966, Žiar nad Hronom, Slovak Republic) and MONIKA KUBINSKÁ (*1966, Námestovo, Slovak Republic) are visual artists representing the middle generation active on the Slovak art scene since the early 1990s. Since their early artistic work, they have worked together on monumental site-specific installations involving non-classic media and multimedia. Through their monumental projects they elaborate on their personal commentaries on impersonalised, generally valid ethical frameworks, while using the suggestiveness and emotional experience of the artwork as a means of mediation. They often respond to the context of space they have stepped into through their works highlighting its authentic poetic elements. Since the time of their studies, they have, in addition to their common creative line, also been simultaneously engaged in the development of their own artistic programs as well: Monika Kubinská is an emotionally thoughtful, often autobiographically captivating painter using the conventional painter´s medium while, Bohuš Kubinský is a sculptor searching for the primary purpose of the profession with a special focus on the virtuosity of craft in using traditional sculptural materials (marble, granite and bronze). In 1997, they received a scholarship from the Jackson Pollock Foundation in New York.

 

STANO MASÁR (*1971, Bratislava, Slovak Republic) studied at the Pedagogical Faculty of Comenius University in Bratislava and received his PhD from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava. He completed a scholarship at the Thames Valley University in London. His art programmatically disrupts the fragile form of objects of everyday reality, thus allowing their escape from the dailiness of being. A melting radiator, hanging water-pipe, a clock with fallen dials and hands... He manipulates doors, tables, chairs, radiators, electrical wiring, traffic lights, and stuffed animals. He installed a door of a Hungarian-made Ikarus bus in a synagogue. He transforms historical and contemporary, national and international artworks into the language of pictograms. Following a critical analysis of the history of art, the destruction and transformation of objects, he critically turns to institutions and the world of art as such. He exhibited an empty corner at the TATE Modern, a wall of MoMA, as well as a waiting room for artists´ ideas. He lets an unpainted painting aimlessly wander round the gallery. He empties gallery premises, builds an empty gallery within a gallery, draws attention to the end of an exhibition, encourages viewers to escape from the gallery, thus systematically preparing the ground for the approaching end of art. (text: Juraj Čarný)

 

JARMILA MITRÍKOVÁ (*1986, Trebišov, Slovak Republic) and DÁVID DEMJANOVIČ (*1985, Bardejov, Slovak Republic) have been creating together since 2009. Jarmila Mitríková studied at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava in the The Fourht Studio of Ivan Csudai and in the Studio of Ceramics of Prof. Ivica Vidrová. David Demjanovič is a graduate of the Studio of Spatial Communications + of Prof. Anton Čierny. They work with the traditional craft technique of burning into wood, which they have taken over from its original folk context and amateur art and adapted to the possibilities of contemporary art. They are interested in traditions, myths and legends, whether folk, religious or pagan. In their content-saturated collages they mystify national history and return to significant historical events.  They complement their burnt images with ceramic sculptures and spatial installations.

 

HENRIKE NAUMANN (*1984, Zwickau, Germany) growing up in Eastern Germany, she experienced extreme-right ideology as a predominant youth culture in the 90s. Her work reflects the unification process of Germany on an aesthetic level. She is interested in the mechanisms of radicalization and how they are linked to personal experience and youth culture. She likes to explore the friction of contrary political opinion through the ambivalence of personal aesthetic taste. In her immersive installations she combines video and sound with scenographic spaces. She lives and works in Berlin.

 

ERIK SIKORA (*1986, Košice, Slovak Republic) studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and currently is a PhD student at the Faculty of Arts of the Technical University in Košice. In his artwork he reflects on life roles in which he found himself or would want to find himself: an advisor, teacher, trend-setter, language-setter, expert on enjoyment, tile salesman, and life improver. He usually processes his themes in the form of videos or internet video-essays or incorporates them into live cabaret performances, where he alternates performance with his own songs. He performs under the name of Džumelec (Engl. JU-ARTIST), because he tirelessly promotes the letter “dž” as a symbol of the JUiciness of language and life.

 

IVANA ŠÁTEKOVÁ (*1984, Bratislava, Slovak Republic) graduated in painting and other media from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava. In her art she often works with drawing, characterised by irony and humour. She addresses a number of themes: folklore and the search for its contempo- rary form, internet voyeurism, social pressure. She engages in large-format and street painting in the DZIVE grouping, whose paintings incorporate references to cultural tropes of the young, pop culture, and comics.

 

ANNA TRETTER (*1956, Kirchzell, Odenwald, Germany) became known with her installations, investigating space including painting and sculpture, penetrating the borders of architecture and space. Increasingly her interest developed towards site-specific installations, in which she loads a site or an event and their innate meaning together with her own images, achieving a clear but multi-layered image-transformation. In the 90ies her work expands and creates ever new contexts, a symbiosis between sculptural and tonal space experience, between image and dance, colours and the powerful imagery of speech and sign. In video installations time experiences are mirrored in interchangeable perspectives and mediums. In the juncture points of her installations where colours, sounds, gestures of dance and video images are interconnected, an intense experience is possible. 
She lives and works in Amorbach. (text: Dorthée Bauerle Willert)

 

NASAN TUR (*1974, Offenbach, Germany) makes work that reflects the social conditions in which it is produced, often exploring political ideologies, subliminal messages, and the symbols of power and dissent that are present throughout the urban landscape. An exploration of the tension between public action and inaction is intrinsic to his practice, with a participatory element often implicating the subjectivity or presence of the viewer. The boundaries of communication, as well as the tentative, or fragile nature of perception, are both driving forces behind the practice of the artist, and many of the situations that that he creates.

 

SUSE WEBER (*1970, Leipzig, Germany) as working artist, she developed the concept of Emblematic Sculpture – a performative concept of sculptural materiality as an adjustable sign/behavioural system. Her emblematic sculptures are backdrop-like constructions, orchestrated objects that resemble stages and installation parades at the same time, in which the viewer simultaneously becomes an actor by being assigned a clear space of motion. Weber transforms everyday social rituals such as sporting events and parades into “choreographed” plays of physical forms, allowing her works to extend into real social space. In addition, Suse Weber teaches, gives lectures, workshops and performances and writes. She lives and works in Berlin.

 

ULI WESTPHAL (*1980, Bochum, Germany). Westphal's works deal with the way humans perceive, depict and transform the natural world. He is especially interested in how misconceptions and ideologies shape our view of nature. His work is multidisciplinary and research-based, frequently consisting out of collections, classification systems, simulations and experimental set-ups. Westphal works and lives in Berlin.    

 

ANNA WITT (*1981, Wasserburg am Inn, Germany) her performances in the form of public interventions as well as her video installations scrutinize the construction of cultural stereotypes and the positioning of the individual within social systems. Her works are situated between fictional re-enactment and documentary staging, representing the problem of subject-formation in relation to political identity, collectivity and civil rights. Sometimes it is the artist herself who is acting; another time she invites strangers, often passers-by, to participate. With impartial interest in her counterparts, Anna Witt creates playful situations and enables communal interaction. Language is often added to the physical actions. Non-verbal just as verbal articulation leads us to think about a fundamentally new definition of our communal coexistence. She lives and works in Vienna.

 

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Curators:

 

LENKA KUKUROVÁ (*1978, Košice, Slovak Republic) is a curator, art critic and activist. She is engaged in exploring political art and art activism, which was also the theme of her dissertation work (Charles University, 2012). She collaborates with non-profit organisations dealing with human rights and ecology. She has organised several international collective exhibitions focusing on current topics in society, e.g. the refugees, criticism of the practice of removing children from Roma families, the topic of national representation, bicycle transport etc. In 2017 she cooperated with the National Gallery in Prague on the program of the Ai Weiwei’s exhibition Law of the Journey. Since 2013 she has been co-curator of the Prague Artwall Gallery located in a public space and specializing in political art. She publishes in Czech and Slovak art, as well as other non-art, periodicals. She lives in Leipzig.

 

OMAR MIRZA (*1981, Námestovo, Slovak Republic) studied Art History at the University of Vienna. Since 2006, he has been working as curator in the Nitra Gallery, where he has already prepared more than forty individual and collective exhibitions of contemporary artists from Slovakia and from abroad, which are in particular engaged in taking a new look at mundane themes (such as food, clothes, sports, hunting, universe, etc.). He has been active as a curator in other galleries in Slovakia as well as abroad and is also engaged in art criticism. He has worked in various media as an editor and host of art programs (Topless on tv.sme.sk, Omar and Božena on vju.sk) and also works as an external presenter on Rádio Devín (programs Focus on Visual... and Evening on the Theme). In his spare time, he plays drums in a punk band called Kotúče DM.

 

Photo:

Press conference: Ema Lančaričová

Opening: Adam Šakový

Exhibition: Tomáš Halász

 

 

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