BETWEEN THE GREY ZONESOF CRITIQUE, ACTION AND HISTORY
Between institutional critique and its appropriation. After decades of fruitful preoccupation with the problems of institutions in the world of art, institutional critique, as a specific artistic practice, was put under critical observation by Andrea Fraser, one of the most prominent representatives of the second generation of artists active since the early 1980s,regarding the possible appropriation and the reduction of its effects within the neoliberal model.
However, in conditions where institutional critique is not even close to being the subject of appropriation by the art market because, here, it simply doesn’t exist, these artistic endeavors and their results cannot be the object of appropriation, neither from the museum-gallery system, as it is totally dependent on the government budget, and its policies aimed at strengthening the rigid attitude towards any kind of critique whatsoever. Therefore, especially if it operates on the perimeter between the poetic and the political, any form of assessment based on institutional critique can be a fertile ground for questioning the pressing social issues and their re-framing, particularly in societies like ours, which face numerous difficulties in its functioning.
Between critical art and art activism. One of the key dilemmas about critical art and art activism is also linked to the issues of whether art can change reality, and whether it can be the medium of truth? Although it is often claimed that art activism, as a recent phenomenon, can directly affect the scope of reality unlike critical art, not only does art activism not surpass the latter in its effectiveness, with rare exceptions of course, but is usually only a superficial symbolic act or an over-designed political propaganda.
During his career, especially since the mid-1990s, chronicling a number of serious socio-political and economic transformations in his milieu, Igor Toshevski is among the few artists who continually try to respond to the key present-day issues, without parasitizing over the media’s euphoria, but rather attempting to disclose a new field for rethinking the broader implications through the ruptures of conflict, thus articulating his own position – something that had not remained unnoticed.
For this to become clearer, it would be appropriate to consider some of his key projects, such as Dossier ’96 (1996/97) created in the wake of the first major wave of ruthless privatizations, then the previously mentioned Territories (2004) made amidst the debates about the new territorial reorganization of municipalities, the project Process (2004) which was a reaction to the alterations in the Law for sole proprietors which now includes artists, then the censored Free Territory outlined as a cross (2009) near the central square in Skopje, amid a fierce debate over the appropriation of public space after the plans to build a church near the main square were revealed, and certainly the work Another Damn Moment (2012), which is the starting point as a direct reference to the issue of censorship and the removal of the work Solution by the artistic duo OPA.
Between the definitions of the gray zone. In his book Bad New Days, Hal Foster defines the obsessive tendencies for re-creating and re-interpreting conditions in the past and the re-assessing of irretrievably lost events, as a gray area between the white cube and the black box.
Probably for many in the current situation, that the interventions in urban space and the activist actions or the street itself (the gray asphalt) would seem as a more relevant counterpoint to this ‘gray zone’, and despite the numerous challenging questions and concerns about their effectiveness. However, I would say that this opens yet another possibility. The paradoxical nature of the image and the re-examination of its effectiveness through the institutional framework is sufficient basis for defining a rather different ‘gray zone’, which rests aside from the spectacular space of mass media. This also does not necessarily mean that such gestures cannot grab media attention with a good reason.
As noted by Dieter Roelstraete, a group of artists from the beginning of the millennium turns to procedures and strategies that follow a historiographical sense, and develop an archaeological awareness for detecting alternative histories. Thus, although directly affecting the core of the collection, and unlike the mentioned artists who evoke this so-called ‘historiographical method’, Toshevski’s outlook of not exclusively a retrospective one, neither is it retrograde or anachronistic, nor is it procured within the ‘escapist fantasy of historiography’.
It is exactly here, at the intersection of the critique of obsessive re-enactments (Foster), the critique of the historiographical shifting in art (Roelstraete) and the dilemmas about art-activism (Groys), where Toshevski’s project Between is positioned. In doing so, he deftly avoids any firmly established didactic or propagandistic position, yet at the same time, projecting his context retrospectively by means of gesture that is a consequence of its own ‘pre-history’, reveals his interpretation founded on constructive criticism.
BETWEEN ART AS AN EPHEMERAL GESTUREAND THE RADICAL BREAKAS A POSSIBILITY
Between the ephemerality of installation and the permanence documentation. Constructing the installation with a selection of works from the national collection, at the same time Toshevski distances himself from them in order to create a space for reflection, as the main difference upon which the punctum is built: blocking his own presence, through the gesture defined by a temporary assembly in the exhibition’s constellation, he stresses the impossibility of this very gesture being incorporated into the collection. This can be achieved only by transformation through documentation and the context defined by the textual, interpretive frame in the catalogue, as an original and privileged, yet temporary proto-musealization of the ephemeral gesture.
Relying on the ultimate transiency of the art installation, Toshevski surrenders his gesture so it can be transformed through direct experience into a mental image and enclosed in the documentation, as an image that will remain only as a fragmented index sign of the event.
Between the collectors’ subject and the collected object. One of the key points relating to the museum’s narrative concept regarding the collection, as noted by Groys, is defined by the relation between the one who collects and the objects being collected. Therefore, it is important to emphasize that through the selection, and by temporarily taking on the role of a mediator, Toshevski enables us to re-examine the collectors’ presence in relation with the collected artifact. Therefore, he places his own gesture between the paintings and the gaze of the viewer, and by enveloping the works from the collection, he actually reveals the often invisible ‘presence’ of the collecting subject.
Between the radical break and the successive opportunity for the leap. The selection of covered paintings, the unavoidable reference to Malevich’s Black Cross and the actual ambience of the gallery space produced by this configuration, encourage us to view this whole through cracks in the questions related to the potential of the critical museum, the paradoxes of iconoclasm, and the possibilities to break the vicious circle of post-history and its ‘Museum of History’, where the political imagination is obstructed.
In this particular case, the gesture of concealing as a radical break welcomes the opportunity for the next step in the leap towards the universal position of the third person, mostly because of its structural predestination as an ephemeral gesture over a constellation of existing objects, setting its own limits on the route to appropriation, and instead unlocks the opportunity for an impersonal or super-personal restitution of the images’ integrity in a new Critical Museum.