Viktor Misiano Born in 1957 in Moscow. Critic and curator. MAM chief-editor. Lives in Moscow.
Interpol. The Idea
Interpol was preceded by a series of curatorial experiments run by myself at the Contemporary Art Center in Moscow, beginning in the summer of 1993. The idea and methodology of these projects were to allow the exhibition to proceed from an actual dialogue between artists, to change the role of the curator to the mediation of the disputing sides, to question the very phenomenon of exhibitions. These projects included the so-called Hamburg Project (1993-1994) – a five-month colloquium and exhibition of a work-in-progress, and the Visual Anthropology Workshop (1994-1995), which proposed that for one year, a group of artists would work intensively in cooperation with the leading Russian philosopher, Valery Podoroga and others. A less experimental or radical and more representative example of this type of project was the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennial of 1995, realized together with Evgeny Ass, Dmitry Gutov and Vadim Fishkin, and notable for the tense debate on whether it should or should go ahead. A young curator from Sweden, Jan Aman, suggested after several visits to Moscow that we might put on a similar exhibition, this time an international one.
By November 1993, the design for the Interpol exhibition appeared as follows. Both curators – I in Moscow, and Jan Aman in Stockholm – would choose several artists. Each artist would be allowed to select a co-author (or co-authors) from any region (not necessarily an artist) and they would then design a project together. The project would have to possess a quality of totality, i. e. it would need to occupy the whole exhibition area, rather than one of its separate parts (wall, room, etc.). In this manner, an element of conflict was introduced from the outset: projects designed by different artists (more precisely, by collective authorship) for one and the same area must inevitably contradict one another. To overcome this problem, two meetings for all the participants of Interpol were organized (in Moscow and Stockholm), during which the projects were to be discussed jointly and adapted: the desire of each author to avoid a general expositional cacophony was, as proposed, to act as an incentive and drive him or her to compromise with other participants. Furthermore, it seemed that having foreseen the possibility of such a cacophony, they could work from this knowledge and develop versatile and adapted ideas, i.e. pieces, which would both absorb those of other participants and, equally, combine with them harmoniously. It was suggested that the curators, the mediators of this artists' collaboration, would stimulate the artists to open their ideas to each other, making them more interactive and interwoven. Thus, the exhibition was eventually to acquire the appearance of a global collective piece where each individual work becomes inseparable from the collection as a whole without losing its individuality.
We were certain that the curatorial project we had worked out would be exceptionally effective. From a political angle, this concept allowed us to turn the issue of dialogue and communication (an inevitable problem when artists from two different countries are exhibiting) from being a theme and underlying principle in the exhibition's organization (i.e. something alien and external) into something immanent to the project itself (i.e. something more internal and personal). This concept gave a rise to a situation in which responsibility for the dialogue's success or non-success was not delegated to one individual (i.e. to a curator, read "politician – diplomat"), but was shared by all (i.e. artists, read "citizens, the community").
From an operational point of view, the concept did not appear to be abstract or utopian: the problem of dialogue and communication could be solved by means of a specific method, i.e. through the pragmatics of a joint professional effort. In other words, the verbal-processual component of Interpol - simply conversations in the name of dialogue and communication, ecumenical, idle philosophizing – was not enough by itself. No, this component inevitably needed to become an instrumental and constructive part of the collective work on the exhibition.
Artistically, this concept, which transformed the preparation of the project into its realization, allowed us to center on issues which are very much current – the problematic nature of representation, the expression of the relationship between art and life, as well as the institutional context and some broader reality.
Finally, on a purely symbolic level, the staging of Interpol had become a metaphor for the establishment of a New Europe.
The Participants. Two Sides
Soon after the first idea had been formed and a title had appeared, all the participants were chosen. I invited Alexander Brener, Dmitry Gutov, Yuri Leiderman, Anatoly Osmolovsky, Vadim Fishkin, who individually chose to join a project by Maurizio Cattelan (from Milan), IRWIN group from Ljubljana and Wenda Gu, originally from China, but now living in Brooklyn. Jan Aman Invited Carl Michael von Hausswolff, Dan Wolgers, Bigert & Bergstrom, Birgitta Muhr, who invited Mattias Wagner from Cologne, who proclaimed that he would rather work with animals than with people, and invited a Moscow artist, the dog-man Oleg Kulik.
We were inclined to regard the two groups involved in the project – the Russians and the Swedes – as working from an objective premise, their experience thus converging. Both sides, Russia and Sweden, had experienced at this time what has tended to be called "the end of socialism" (though there was a great contrast in experience between the two countries). Each was trying to overcome its own peripheral nature, reflecting on a new type of institution that could put them in the international arena.
There is, of course, evidence of an enormous difference between these two countries. Russia's exclusion from the international arena was due to the collapse of its own institutions, whereas in Sweden, state protectionism has created such a comfortable existence for its inhabitants that there is little interest in the outside world. In Russia, where the infrastructure of the arts is weak and utterly marginalized, artists exist in spite of their common sense – they make a moral choice. In Sweden, where art has social authority, artists have kept their function with no loss of prestige. It seemed that such diametric differences could only stimulate dialogue.
The Project's Conditions
The Interpol exhibition was scheduled to first open in Stockholm, at Fargfabriken (the Center of Contemporary Art), a new exhibition space organized by Jan Aman on the premises of a paint factory. Later, the second stage of the exhibition would be held at the Moscow Contemporary Art Center. The project received much support from a number of government and private organizations in Sweden and from the Ministry of Culture in Russia.
The Beginning of the Project: The Conflict Begins
The first meeting of those chosen to participate in Interpol took place in early November 1994 in Stockholm. As had been expected, the conflict inherent in the project was apparent from the beginning. However, it was manifested in a completely unexpected manner. The problems arose from a difference in the psychological rather than conceptual understanding of the project and the ethics of its realization. The Russians would arrive with ideas worked out (which they had sent by fax in advance) and would be eager to elaborate upon in a detailed and articulate manner, while the Swedes (with the exception of the wonderful idea offered by Carl Machael von Hausswolff and Andrew McKenzie) either had no ideas ready or had difficulty describing the ideas they had, or they put forward ideas which in no way corresponded to the conceptual premises of Interpol. They rejected the notion of discussing ideas, unable to take it seriously, and it seemed to regard it as a mundane meeting. As a result some of the Swedish artists arrived extremely late for the meetings, and left at the height of discussion, while others simply did not come at all. Hence the core objective of Interpol – the theory that a confrontation between separate ideas might lead to the initiation of discussion and co-operative effort – had failed. Interpol was left hovering in space.
The first meeting was thus fraught with frustration and resulted in prejudices being formed. Exchanging impressions, the Russians decided that the Swedes suffered from bohemian insipidness, intellectual inertia and an inability to apply themselves to conceptual thinking. The Swedes, in turn, regarded the Russians as complex-laden and constrained, having a totalitarian way of thinking, and being aggressive. Taking me to the airport, Jan Aman admitted that the encounter allowed some margin of error, and pointed out that the main objective now was to repair the damage during the second meeting.
Continuation of the Project: The Conflict Continues
After the second meeting, we were still unable to initiate the confrontational working logic that the project required: within six months, the concepts of the Swedish artists had still not evolved towards or acquired the articulation and identity of the Interpol idea. Their suggestions (when there were any, and when the authors were ready and able to discuss them) were of a rather conventional and individual nature, and were not obviously interactive. The Russians invited the Swedes to modify their suggestions, so that they would be less stiff and more open. This was to enable contact between the various individual ideas, which was, in fact, the object of Interpol. The Swedes did not like the idea of their work being publicly discussed, while they were put off by what they saw as the conceptual rigidity, theoretical well-foundedness and interactive provocation of the Russian output, including work by the IRWIN group. Left dangling, the association between the groups began unwittingly to develop precisely in the way we had been trying to avoid – celebrated abstract discussions about dialogue, communication and so on, which were generally sluggish and banal.
Frustration and prejudice set in. The Russians deeply believed that the Swedes simply did not understand the goal of the project they had offered to take part in, that they were only able of handling traditional gallery exhibitions, and their trip to Moscow was nothing but cultural tourism. The Swedes were equally adamant that the Russians wanted to work with the discipline of a hard labor camp and that the only thing they were capable of was "verbal vomit ". As far as the Russians could see, the Swedes were rich idlers who were no more than mediocre designers where art was concerned; the Russians were in turn, aggressive talkers. The Russian camp began to think that the Swedes wanted to use them in the Interpol project to gain access to funding and also because Russia has more international clout than peripheral Sweden. The Swedish camp declared that the Interpol project was being used by the Russians to get Swedish money. Finally, prejudices played their part in preordaining the curators. Charming, but perhaps a little flippant, Jan Aman lacked organizational skills and was unprofessional. This was the Russian opinion. I, Viktor Misiano, was authoritarian and too much in control of affairs, while the Russian Interpol participants in general were like a Mafia gang in which the curator played the part of the stern "godfather". This was the Swedish opinion.
The convulsive and labored attempts to introduce dialogue at the two meetings were witnessed by its international participants. Maurizio Cattelan generally sat in the corner with a knitted brow, observing the scene attentively. Wenda Gu remained artlessly tranquil: his interest in Interpol was limited to the possibility of using it as a platform for his global project United Nations. The IRWIN group appeared to be extraordinary active, acting as mediator between East and West. Their efforts ensured that the confrontation remained within the boundaries of correctness.
It became evident that the Russian and Swedish participants in the Interpol project represented two entirely different types of artist. Russian artists are the result of their own moral self-identification. In art, they are first and foremost concerned with the intellectual quest, with the solution of global ontological and existential problems. With regard to the Weltanschauung aspect of their work they are very much concerned with principle, but are more flexible in matters of material embodiment. Swedish artists, for their part, acquire their identity through social and institutional mechanisms. For them, art represents an autonomous realm, a language of its own. This is why the material side of an artwork, its representative function is inseparable from the artwork's meaning. Russian artists are inclined to global exaltation, to breakthroughs in their practical existence, while their Swedish counterparts are more occupied with how to preserve their privacy. Finally, for Russian artists, art is the experience of living. For Swedish artists, it is the positioning of oneself within the boundaries of the art world system.
The experience of the Interpol meetings was a disappointing one, and I put it to my Swedish colleague that we should drop the project. Jan Aman, however, insisted that we continue as money had already been spent on it. This again illustrates the two mentalities just described: I was worried about the intellectual and moral integrity of one's personality, whereas Jan Aman was more concerned with our obligations to institutions.
I understood that my refusal to make an exhibition would cause a lot of problems to my Swedish colleague (in October 1995-he came to Moscow especially to persuade me to hold the exhibition). Also, many interesting projects, having been worked out by the artists for two years would not be realized). The compromise was made as follows: I would not sign a curatorial contract with the Ministry of Culture, and give to the Swedish part the initiative to make the exhibition, retaining the autonomy of authorship during its Moscow version (in case its Stockholm version would let me continue the project).
The Final Stage
The Swedish organizers took complete control of the preparation for the exhibition at Fargfabriken. Exchange of information became more sporadic. I didn't receive any information about the final drafts of the Swedish projects, nor a plan of the exhibition, and was not invited to Stockholm where we were to come to a final agreement about the exhibition plan (as had been agreed). I wrote an article for a catalogue which began "Interpol took a long time to get ready, all too long", in which I discussed of the dramatism of dialogue and set out my interpretation of the, sometimes negative, experience of the project.
After arriving in Stockholm and visiting Fargfabriken, I immediately came to face with three facts. Interpol, unyielding to discussion, now seemed to me trivial and incompatible with the idea of the project; in the midst of the empty space of the exhibition hall, the contours of a huge installation – Wenda Gu's – were already being drawn (though I was promised that this project would be only partially realized); I learned that Jan Aman had agreed with the change of the two Russian artists projects, Oleg Kulik and Alexander Brener (without my knowledge). These three things later became key factors in the developments that followed. As did the fact that, day after day, while Wenda Gu's piece was being constructed, the Russian artists were left temporarily unemployed in Fargfabriken: the materials and assistance they needed were not available.
As part of Dmitry Gutov's project, a dinner for all the Interpol participants was held on the eve of show's opening in the exhibition area at Fargfabriken. Their experience regarding their artistic cooperation were discussed, during which Alexander Brener, fervently supported by Yuri Leiderman, announced that the exhibition, in the manner it had proceeded to date, had no foundation and was a thoroughly spurious and hypocritical affair.
The opening of the exhibition looked like a spontaneous, but absolutely dramatic and spectacular mise-en-scene.
Entourage: the renovation of Fargfabriken was not completed in time for the opening, despite all promises. In the exhibition-area, the cold of January was all-pervading; the walls had not been touched by paint; the floor was uneven, professional lighting had not been installed, and the table lamps provided failed to illuminate the huge area.
Exhibition: in the center of the room, occupying two thirds of the area, hung Wenda Gu's installation, consisting of trellis woven of human hair. The rest of the pieces jostled with one another on the surrounding walls. The pieces by Russian artists, and they were not alone in this, remained unexhibited. A montage of work by Carl Michael von Hausswolff, the IRWIN group, and similarly a video installation by Worgers, Birgitta Muhr and Wagner were still being put together as the visitors entered.
Vernissage: the opening of the exhibition began with a performance by Brener who, seated behind a drum kit opposite the entrance to the exhibition area, proceeded to beat the drums for a long time (approximately one and a half hours), emitting absurd guttural sounds in time to the beat, after which he rushed towards Wenda Gu's rough-hewn trellis and began to tear it down. Satisfied he had caused enough destruction, Brener ran out of the hall. After that, Oleg Kulik climbed out of a kennel where he had been sitting naked and chained, posing as a watchdog, and began to behave aggressively, attacking the visitors. In a trance, Jan Aman rushed towards Kulik and kicked him in the face, forcing him back into the kennel as though he were a mad dog. The police were called to Fargfabriken and Kulik was taken away. The final act of the opening, in accordance with Maurizio Cattelan's project, was the awarding of prize money to the Paris magazine Purple Prose in the person of its chief editor Olivier Zahmm. During his speech of thanks Zahmm commented on the episode, shouting loudly "These Russian artists are fascists!"
After the opening: on the fourth day after the departure of the Moscow artists, a meeting was called at which all the Western participants (excluding Maurizio Cattelan and Carl Michael von Hausswolff) signed Open Letter to the Art World, composed by Zahmm and Aman. This letter accused Viktor Misiano, Oleg Kulik and Alexander Brener of being "enemies of democracy", as totalitarian revanchists, neo-imperialists, anti-feminists, etc.
An Essay in Symbolist Reconstruction
After Interpol had concluded and had become a conclusion in itself, an extraordinarily rich array of symbolist ideas seemed to open up within the structure of the event. Let us examine the actions of Brener and Kulik from this point of view: in terms of the situation, with the framework of Interpol's setting, both of these actions demonstrate frustration being created through the impossibility of dialogue.
Oleg Kulik came to Stockholm to cooperate with Ernst Billgrin. However, a few days before the exhibition opening he was convinced that his partner had not been counting on his cooperation and that he had already made his own work. A rather dismayed Kulik, who from the beginning had been open to the widest variations, was asked to do something he had recently been working on alone- depicting a chained up dog.
Originally Brener had planned to work with Maurizio Cattelan (who came to Interpol at his invitation). Cattelan however, wanted to create his own project and declined to work with Brener. Then, Brener proposed a series of actions addressed personally to each individual involved in Interpol. His final decision to concentrate his gesture at Wenda Gu's installation came about because this work had become a global symbol of autism, of a principal rejection of dialogue, a symbol of the program of dialogue's bankruptcy during the entire exhibition as a whole.
In other words, if the realization of Interpol had responded to the ideas it had proclaimed, then there would had been no context for these two radical actions. The logic of cooperative effort would have meant that Billgren would have been able to prevent and correct Kulik, while Cattelan could have contained Brener. Metaphorically speaking, a chaotic and aggressive Russia would not have been left to its own devices, but would have been tamed by a benevolent West and kept within the bounds of already articulated norms. The Russian artists provoked a spectacular catastrophe with a specific intention: to sum up what Interpol was about in truth – a dialogic catastrophe.
An Essay in Symbolic Reconstruction (Continued)
After the appearance of the Open Letter, the projects by Russian artists began to acquire a totally different symbolic meaning, and more precisely, the symbolic meaning of their non-realization.
Thus, Dmitry Gutov's work proposed the exhibition of a video documentation that depicted the dinner on the eve of the exhibition's opening, the confrontation between the project's participants, Brener's agitated denunciatory speech, the reactions and comments from other artists, etc. But the tape had not been edited, and turned out to have been lost. The dinner table, which was supposed to be a part of the exhibition, had been dismounted and whisked away before our very eyes. Hence, the Interpol archive had been destroyed, its memory wiped clean.
Vadim Fishkin's project proposed to give each member of the Interpol project a mobile telephone for the duration of the exhibition: visitors would be able to call from specifically provided telephone cells within the exhibition area and receive immediate live commentary relating to the work shown and the Interpol experience in general. But Fishkin's idea remained unexecuted: the Interpol participants, in particular the Russian ones, were cut off from any direct link with the public. The Open Letter remains the only authentic commentary on Interpol.
Anatoly Osmolovsky's project also remained unrealized. He had proposed to hold a democratic referendum on the third day of the exhibition for visitors, questioning the justifiability of Interpol as an exhibition. On the third day, visitors crammed into the exhibition halls hurrying to see the exhibition that had created such a scandal; in the same area, an international theoretical discussion was taking place on the dialogue between East and West. It was obviously necessary to have a public debate on the catastrophic culmination of Interpol. But for Interpol, the period for discussion was over: the tactics of battle had begun. Osmolovsky's project remained unexecuted.
The Slovenian artists from the IRWIN group had conceived of the witty idea of a running commentary of all the Interpol exhibits. This idea remained unaccomplished. The aloofness of the artists from Ljubljana, a region situated on the border between the two parts of Europe, could possibly have relieved the absurd opposition between artists from East and West that was the crowning glory of Interpol. But there was no room here for such an opinion: logic prevailed – if you are not with us, you must be against us.
A Symbolist Reconstruction (Continued)
As mentioned above, the confrontation between the Russian and Swedish artists during the break-up of the project led to a discussion of the significance of the material and non-material aspects of the work of the artist, of the understanding of art as autonomous or rooted in reality. The Swedes were playing a crafty game, and when the discussion became intellectually too tense, they hoped that the exhibition would bring revenge. Through the professional quality and technological complexity of their pieces, they intended to show that original art is an artifact with a value of its own and not "verbal vomit". It is therefore symptomatic that the Swedish organizers favored the work of Wenda Gu and Bigert & Bergstrom, whose physical, manual, and technological aspects were evident in a programmatic, hypertrophied form. It was also symptomatic that, purely subconsciously, so little care was given to the material display of the Russian projects.
However, the complete failure of the Russian projects (and others) did introduce a paradoxical situation: the Swedish team's bankruptcy came about precisely because it had considered its great strength to lie in organization and production. Thus, the actions of Brener and Kulik became the only completed works by Russian artists exhibited at Fargfabriken. Consequently, one could regard these actions as a symbolic revenge on the part of the Russians for the disastrous way in which the display of their work was handled. Disappointed with the autonomous measuring of art, they realized the only sphere left for them to operate in was that of action within reality. Their actions turned the situation around completely: unsuccessful as a conventional, professional art exhibition, Interpol passed as a scandalous affair, i.e. it went beyond the bounds of autonomy and constituted itself advantageously as a fact of reality.
At a press conference called (by Wenda Gu) the day after the scandalous opening at Fargfabriken, I suggested we interrupt the scandal and confrontation and return to articulate discussion, which again could be seen as a paradox. If this suggestion had been obeyed, and the artists had returned to the discussion table, Interpol would once again be on a normal course for an art project. However, my opponents' response gave the Open Letter - and this time initiated by the Swedes – an even firmer basis in reality.
Another paradox lay in the attitude towards violence and destruction (however one evaluates it) which introduced Interpol into the sphere of currency: in fact, this violence was deeply founded on the inner logic and conceptual essence of the project, which had addressed communication as its central issue. Surely, violence and destruction represent just one of the many forms of communication, and one of the most widespread at that.
One final observation: in its opening, Interpol demonstrated the insolvency of its original intention, which was to interiorize dialogue in an expositional arena. In contrast to what had been proposed earlier on, we were presented with an array of separate works of art, none of which bore any relation to the next. In destroying Wenda Gu's piece, Alexander Brener declared that his aim was to "break the bone, the structure of the exhibition". In fact, by doing this, he had decreed its validity and brought it into balance with its own agenda. A ruin, the exhibition successfully achieved its idea of interactivity, of an interpretation of works by different artists.
Consequently, Fargfabriken was again faced with a paradoxical dilemma: reinstating Wenda Gu's piece would mean destroying Brener. It is symptomatic that in the final score Fargfabriken became a symbol of ruination i.e. documentary evidence of the scandal, according to the Swedish way of thinking and, on the other hand, a form of artistic license for Brener's behavior.
Communication Block. A Reconstruction.
In reconstructing the recent communicative disaster of Interpol, it becomes clear that what was designed to be the theme of the project, i.e. national identities, the specifics of the Other, in fact hindered the project's effective realization. Reality and art, word, and artifact – categories located in the sphere of continued discussion – did indeed predetermine the different ways in which Interpol's participants regarded the collisions both in its artistic hypostasis and in reality.
Thus, the degree to which Swedes celebrate art over the artifact and regard the verbal ideological plan as something secondary meant that they attached little significance to words. They simply could not believe that Brener would actually carry out any destructive acts. He was open about it, and while the Russians had a fair idea of what was coming, the Swedes simply interpreted it as a metaphor.
Watching the video tape of Kulik's performance in Zurich, accompanied by aggressive behavior and his arrest by the Swiss police, Jan Aman regarded this as an artifact without taking into account the documentary faithfulness of the event. When he subsequently invited Kulik to Stockholm and persuaded him to enact an aggressive performance, he overlooked a small practicality of reality: it had not occurred to him to measure the chain he had bought and have someone stand near the kennel and warn the public to keep a safe distance. Lastly, when the performance was over, directly mimicking the Swiss burghers seen on the video tape, he called the police in to intervene.
The Russians come from a national tradition of mass terror on the one hand and spiritual conciliarism on the other; they have no heightened feeling of their body as something individual and inviolable. Consequently, the idea of radical interactivity – an interpenetration of different individual worlds – is a completely natural state of existence for them, while for Swedes this amounts to a personal affront. The Kulik and Brener exercise does not leave Russians in a state gaping astonishment. Violence and transgression used in the quest for a higher idea is not something strange or unusual. Swedes, on the other hand, coming from a tradition where neutrality and the apologia of privacy are paramount, were shocked by the exercise.
As the two groups mixed with each other and discussed, the Russians accelerated the conflict: they regarded a relaxed, comfortable feeling in reality as something particularly vulgar and amoral. In contrast, the Swedes continually strove to avoid facing the difficulties of association head on, quelling conflict, and never allowing it to become too evident: the dramatic hypostasis of reality is for them something irrational, a sign of personal weakness. This brought a dynamic of conflict into play: the Russians were continually criticizing the project's progress and were provoking conflict supposedly to achieve dialogue, while the Swedes were exercising strict tolerance and trying to act as though nothing was happening, thus leaving the dialogue altogether. As the conflict reached its apogee, and its drama was so apparent as to be impossible to ignore, the reaction was indeed irrational, taking the form of phobia and paranoia.
The catastrophe that occurred at the opening of Interpol and the appearance of the Open Letter brought the discussion between the Russian and Swedish artists to a new level, making it possible to draw conclusions of a more general nature.
First: Interpol's experience represents two interpretations of communication – a purely liberal interpretation of communication, as one limited to the correct exchange of ideas and information (a speech situation, in the spirit of J. Habermas) and the interpretation of communication as an unavoidable form of a battle for power (in the spirit of Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari). The drama of Interpol lies in the fact that in developing a project along the lines of the first model, the second was very much left out of consideration. Interpol demonstrated very clearly that some words written on a piece of paper and decorous speech at a ceremony could, in fact, be just as deconstructive as forceful physical action.
Second: Interpol put forward the issue of institutionalism and values with no less clarity. How should an intellectual or an artist react when the norms laid down by modern institutions go against his/her own values? This time, two possible answers were suggested. The first, born out in the tradition of European humanism, says that the artist should, from within the bounds of the institutions, create works of art whose perfection will offer resistance to false values. The second marks the end of the humanist tradition and supposes that the higher the degree of perfection a work of art achieves, the more it sanctions the established state of affairs in its falsity. Thus, it follows that the only correct strategy is the destruction of all institutions. The Open Letter demonstrated the polarity and indecisiveness of these positions. More symptomatic than the text of the letter, which is utterly devoid of polemic analyses and written an a wholly denunciatory spirit, was the campaign that accompanied it – a methodical distribution of the text to all the art institutions in the Western world (surely publication in one of the journals or newspapers would have been sufficient for the purposes of conveying their point of view). The authors of the letter were signaling the appearance of its uncompromising enemies to the entire institutional world, demanding their expulsion from the art world.
Third: Interpol revealed the borders and status of radicalism in the modern art world. Kulik and Brener's demonstration violated the established convention on radicalism, where a radical action is not an exacting of original essence, but only a positioning of oneself in the context of the system (which, incidentally, is quite natural for Russian artists who lack a developed art system). It is therefore symptomatic that the Open Letter was not prompted by old-fashioned conservatives but by those active in the current art scenes who were claiming control of the radical wing on the international scene. Thus, the radicalism demonstrated by the Russian artists, who went far beyond the norms of the art world, prompted such protest that it cost them their established identity and their place in the system.
West-East. New Conclusions
The experience of Interpol has revealed Russia's place and function in the modern Western world. The West is prepared to conserve Russia's status as a great power: understanding this, Jan Aman, responsible for presenting the idea to the new art institution, saw the value of Fargfabriken's project in that it included Russia. In addition, for the Swedish participants, the consolidation of relations with Russia was more a question of tactics than strategy: surely the real aim was not identification with a periphery, but a breakthrough to the West. Therefore, the more Russia revealed itself during the course of the project as being indeed Other, the more their feeling of connection to the West increased. Thus, it is no coincidence that Oleg Kulik was asked at the last minute to perform his individual role, that of a dog, instead of the planned cooperation with Billgren. In Stockholm, he was in the context of Interpol, no longer simply a dog, but a Russian dog.
However, it soon became apparent that the West would only recognize Russia as a great power on one condition: that she would not behave as such. So Kulik was chained up at the Fargfabriken on condition that he did not bite. When he did bite, he was accused of "imperialism and directly attacking democracy". Western political correctness presupposes that the Other may receive an equal status and count on dialogue only when it shows itself to be humble, weak, ill-starred. If it departs from the victim's role, it is immediately seen as a fundamentalist and imperialist.
Interpol's logic led the Swedish participants to final self-determination. It is symptomatic that the man behind the Open Letter and the author of propaganda campaign which accompanied it was not a Swede, but a Frenchman, Olivier Zahmm. It is further interesting to note that arriving in Stockholm one day before the opening, unacquainted with the work of the participating artists, with no notion of the two year collision of the project, and without making the slightest effort to confront what had happened, he immediately indicted the Russians as the guilty party. This act of protest by the only unmistakable envoy from the West, in the context of Interpol left the Swedish participants facing a tough choice: they could either side with the Russians and then be labeled or qualified as fascist stooges and be denied entry into the Western art system, or they could seek acceptance and side against the Russians. Typically, after several days of indecision (we read some confusion in the faces of our Swedish colleagues), the first variant was decided the day after the Russian artists departed. It is also symptomatic that this occurred several months after Sweden's admission to the European Union.
The large Interpol crystal reflects the drama of modern Europe, whose established identity was lost after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Only a new "enemy" could re-establish it in its energy. And if Brener had not destroyed Wenda Gu's installation and Kulik had not bitten the Fargfabriken's visitors, this would have to be invented. The words shouted at the opening of Interpol, "Fascists", therefore have a special significance. Fascism is surely a Western word, born of the West. Of all the evil perpetrated during the 20th century, the East bears the least responsibility of anyone for fascism. The New United Europe wants to free itself from the tormenting nightmares of the past and pin the blame on the Other.
East-West. New Conclusions
It is symptomatic that is the Swedish artists – guardians of individualistic values – found consolidation in the Open Letter after Interpol, then the Russians – guardians of a tradition of conciliary collectivism – were unable to give a collective reply (there were only two answers to the Open Letter – mine and Oleg Kulik's). If the New Europe, struck by a vacuum of values, is built on marasmus and obscurantism, then it is also true to say that the Russian context, which is chaotic and in a gestational stage of vitalism, does not represent a suitable one for collective identification.
After Interpol, the artists – who up until now had been bound together by the experience of the dialogic projects – split up. They realized that the tense inner dialogue they had taken part in the seclusion of Moscow had had a common horizon – namely Europe, the West. The West, covered in myths and highly idealized, was understood through a higher criterion, a universal equivalent of meaning. The experience of Interpol shows most clearly that the place of Russian identity in the international arena is more than problematic. Each participant drew his own individual conclusion; each found his own personal destiny through Interpol. Concluding that a dialogue with the West was impossible, some began to investigate autochthonous existence, while others held on to the idea of Russia as a place of damnation with no hope for the future. One person decided that using the Russian dog to intimidate the West offered the shortest route to a successful career here; another, having progressed to moralism and megalomania had come to the route of self-destruction. In other words, if the Western system needs to feel stronger through Russia's defeat, then Russia has lost the united vision she had of the West and is now oscillating between the idealized myth and efforts to speak out from a position of strength, between utter indifference towards it and pragmatic instrumentalism.
East-West/West-East. Conclusions Not Drawn
At this point in time, Russia occupies a unique position: though a fact of European civilization, she has not yet been fully absorbed into the Western infrastructure. Russia today represents a West that cannot yet be recognized as such, or to put it another way, a West to be called such only because it cannot be identified as something other than the West. It is precisely for this reason that Russia represents a place that accepts the West in its entirety, in its undisturbed order, which is why the Russian criticism of Western institutions and the Western order of things has its own sagacity and prophetic resources. Such are the conclusions that the West has not drawn.
But the East's view of the West as an integral whole makes it difficult for it to see the diversity of the West: the West appears integral only in the eyes of the East, but in truth, its main quality is the fact that it is very much the sum of many parts. It is therefore incorrect to regard the West as either an idealized myth or a world evil, because the West is living reality, a world of individuals and multifarious ideas. Hence, dialogue with the West should not take place in a language of radical acts, where the impracticability of dialogue is bolstered: it should be a dialogue between real people. This is why no conclusions drawn from Interpol can ever be conclusive. Such are the conclusions that the East has not drawn.
Post Scriptum. Scandal. Positive
It became obvious that the scandal, as a form of a conflict settlement, imputes a strong and meaningful identity to its participants. The scandal means that all positions which were hidden or vague, become absolutely clear. After the opening, all Interpol participants divided into two opposing parties: one thought that Alexander Brener's action was the core one, while the other group saw Maurizio Cattelan's as the most important gesture, who gave a big amount of money to the French magazine Purple Prose. In other words, during this exhibition the East constituted itself around the understanding of communication as destruction and protest, while the West took shape around the circulation of money. Any representation of identity is more positive than its hypocritical hiding. The scandalous end of Interpol meant more than an accurate and lazy exhibition with a nice buffet for the sponsors. Meanings today are born not through victories but through catastrophes.
The scandal is positive since it has proved the possibility to make an art scandal at the dawn of the 20th century. Before, a scandal was a strategy of early 20th century vanguard – it destroyed all settled norms and constituted new values. Though the beginning of the century was the golden age of ideologies, the avantgarde was its artistic realization; even more, it represented an artistic ideology itself. At the present, as we live in the epoch of pluralism, tolerance, and relaxation, so that is no place for confrontation and struggle. Interpol is positive in that it has dethroned contemporary culture's myth of de-ideologization; furthermore, it has shown the nature of modern ideologies by pointing at hidden resources of prejudice, phobias, and obsession. Interpol showed that the idea of "unmasking of false consciousness" in spite of all foretelling still keeps its actual character.
Besides, Interpol has dethroned one more myth – a myth that everything is allowed in the contemporary art world. Having discovered the borders of what is allowed, the Stockholm scandal has realized a positive function: it permitted art system to constitute itself – to constitute basing on its own reversal. The appearance of limits and borders is therapeutically positive as it stops entropy, unavoidable for any situation of impunity. It is no coincidence that Flash Art - a periodical, symbolizing contemporary art – was also involved into the discussion around Interpol. However, it is even more positive that while imputing strong identities and acquiring forms of a public event, the scandal does not allow to escape an answer: in this case, even abstention from a statement becomes a statement. This is why the wide-spread position of ignoring the Stockholm scandal (occupied by many magazines and mass-media) testifies to the fact that the system of contemporary art is scared and not ready to discuss the events, questioning its experience.
Post Scriptum. Scandal. Negative.
Having clarified that the ideological character of the contemporary art context is constituted either by prejudice or by obsession, Interpol has demonstrated that modern ideology (together with its criticism) does not have the same intellectual horizons that it had in the past. However, obsession, so vivid when Moscow artists are explaining their radical gestures, is a very personal experience (in comparison to prejudice, which totally is a collective experience), thus, not a dialogue. The scandal, provoked by the individual ecstatic, is very characteristic and only possible expression by a contemporary Russian artist. That is the only possible way of representation of non-structural character of this transitional period in Russian actuality. This strategy is both negative as these gestures influence the society in the period when it is still very fragrant. In reality Interpol has influenced not only "the core and the structure" of the exhibition in Fargfabriken. After demonstrating the existence of the new situation in Russian art, Interpol has become a successful exhibition for only two artists, who destroyed fragrant balance in relations inside Moscow art community. The repressive character of this private success became clear in Stockholm: Brener and Kulik are the only Russian artists who realised their works and thus, de facto, became the only Interpol participants.
Finally, the scandal has brought success to the artists because a scandal is a medial phenomenon: the scandal is salient to the mass media. However, mass media and artistic spaces do not coincide. They have different speeds, different conceptual densities, different understandings of success. For the mediam, success lacks valuable connotations; success is equal to itself. After Interpol had entered the media zone, it took on a new meaning: everything that had been clear and reasonable in the project's context now lost its significance, having gone beyond its borders. Brener and Kulik's gestures are not as scandalous (formally they are correlate with the project itself) as the Open Letter, which transformed the situation into a mediated, public event. From this moment onward, we do not have any opportunity to define the nature of each gesture, realized during the media campaign. It is senseless to speak about the values that made Giancarlo Politi, chief editor and publisher of Flash Art, defend the beleaguered Russian artists. It does not matter what made Oleg Kulik and I give public answers to the Western artists. It does not even matter what exactly made me to write this text. Consequently, it makes no sense to apply any ethical dimension to the gestures of the Moscow artists, or to guess whether their actions were prompted by artistic inspiration, true anger, or career ideas. From the moment Interpol became a media event, all dimensions of value, even they subjectively existed, cannot be taken into account objectively. Thus, it could be reasonable not to write this text at all: I could be suspected of using the Interpol scandal as a form of self-advertisement.
Strong identity, born by the scandal, is also dangerous. As it is not ensured by wide intellectual horizons, this identity becomes into a role, an image: it starts to become a burden, it deprives you of freedom. A creative personality, marked by the strong identity, finds itself forced to support a role that has already been settled: it has to be constantly repeated, becoming more radical step by step, lest it be marked as a defeat. Thus, after Interpol, Oleg Kulik could hardly rid himself of his role as a dog, while Brener was cast in the role of a destroyer. I was in the same situation and found myself in a curatorial trap, as I was forced to defend Brener and Kulik or be regarded as faint-hearted. If I decide to include one of them into some exhibition project (especially if it is personal and included in the Venice Biennial), this would only mean that I was proceeding with Interpol. But if I chose another artist, this could only mean that I am changing my strategy, that I was trying to move to a more respectable position. Consequently, if I refused to write this text, my refusal would give rise to the suspicion that I am being faint of heart and that I am trying to avoid this shameful episode in my biography.
The only thing I can do to escape this vicious circle is to make an intellectual effort, a gesture of reflection and comprehension. It is necessary to overcome a strong identity: we need to return its openness, its multidimensional character. All we can do is to write a text on Interpol, giving that experience it with some sense. The main goal of Interpol was to obtain this multidimensional identity, that is, an identity that accepts the Other as another.