Szabolcs KissPál: Detail from 'Rever (DE)'
A project with the title CULTURAL VERSUS NATIONAL BORDERS in the framework of EUROPE NOW I EUROPE NEXT is automatically a geographical mapping exercise. The different notions of Europe – be it Western, Eastern, Central, Baltic, Northern, North Eastern, Central Eastern, Balkans – and the terms of centre / periphery and inside/outside – come into ones minds – and show that the European situation is full of linguistic landmines, when it comes to terminology and the assumptions connected to certain terminologies.
The „practical“ division of Europe into West and East – has been historical for the last 17 years. The East – here used as a political term – is not East anymore – and especially for many people living in the former West this seems to present a major problem when it comes to language. Since this division, this binary system, used to be easy to handle, although of course we all know that the actual situation was never as easy as this, (thus for example the GDR seems to have been much more East than for example Poland). Still today there are some persons using the word Eastern Bloc, when they refer to any place East of Eastern Germany (while the former GDR has become West in a miraculous process).
What somehow calmed me down in this respect was a visit to the Contemporary Art Center in Vilnius, where I saw a newly established project in the hallway with a small library that was sorted geographically. When looking at the order of the books I noticed that books from Poland and Czechoslovakia were filed unter the rubric Eastern Europe, whereas Lithuanian, Estonian and Latvian books were filed under Baltic... It was a relief to see this classification, because I know that people in Poland would never consider themselves to live in Eastern Europe – and of course we all know that the geographical centre of Europe is actually in Lithuania, which is North Eastern from Poland. But this shows that also within the countries belonging to the part of Europe formerly shaped by the Yalta Agreement there is no common notion of geographical classificiations and no common language – so all these terms are terms in flux. And of course this whole situation is even more complicated with the continuous process of EU enlargement, which seems to replace the wording of West and East with the wording of inside/ outside, and the whole continent seems to be in constant motion.
So all these shifts within Europe have brought about discussions and dialogues that are taking place especially in the centre of Europe. European artists have been dealing with the topic of European Spaces, focusing on borders in geography, language, religion, and economics, or dealing with the heritage of territories that no longer exist. Other artistic positions are focusing on how we deal with our diverse and complicated, and often terrible pasts, or with the question of „identities“ that may be changing along with the political changes.
There have been many projects in the cultural field trying to link former East to former West - or presenting art from Central Eastern Europe in larger exhibitions (there have been shows like „After the Wall“, or „Europa, Europa“, or „Aspects/Positions“), still artistic production from Central and Eastern Europe has not been sufficiently presented, although it seems that artists in Lithuania, and Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in Romania and Bulgaria etc. etc. – deal with European issues on a much broader level, and with much more intensity than most artists from the „old“ EU countries, creating works that are sometimes highly political, tackling important questions of the European status quo, the issues of inclusion/exclusion and European history.
Some of these positions will be presented during the encounter CULTURAL VERSUS NATIONAL BORDERS.
Petra Stegmann, curator of the Encounter