Art and Social Practice
Professor Harrel Fletcher
The Croatian collective of artists, “What, How and for Whom?” formed in 1999 after an alternative publishing house called Arkzin published the 150th anniversary edition of The Communist Manifesto. The name is aimed at a literal context, aiming to ask these three questions to economic organizations, the planing of exhibitions, and to the production and distribution of artwork on the labour market. Its members are curators Ivet Ćurlin, Ana Dević, Nataša Ilić and Sabina Sabolović, and designer and publicist Dejan Kršić. The curators organize events and exhibitions while inviting the contributions of particular social practice artists and have also directed the city-owned, non-profit gallery Nova in Zegreb, Croatia since 2003.
The collective is of particular interest as they are overtly involved with and interested in revolutionary socio-political thought. Their website contains a series of manifestos about artistic and literary styles tied together with political and social thought, including dthe manifesto of the unibomber, dadaism, futurism, a full copy of the Communist Manifesto, and many other things.
The group states a number things it would like to discuss, calling them preliminary topics. It mentions its interest in the role of political and artistic manifestos, and using activism for social and creative change as an artistic practice.
Secondly, It begins to discuss communism. It states the importance of The Communist Manifesto today, critiques of social order, and transition as a weapon within a hegemonic struggle for new social order.
Thirdly, It discusses the idea of utopia v.s. economy and the notion of economy in the arts. It mentions the ideas of “free media” (free from what?) artistic practice being against capitalist ideology or as a part of its exploitation. It asks if the artist is a [marxist] proletariat; part of alienated worker society, and about possibilities of radical/leftist artistic/cultural action practice in the modern world.
Fourthly, it heads a section called re-politicization, and using art as an idea for new political and social practices and its various uses In this manner. It also aims to discuss how to create art that will influence and affect an audience in this affect, rather than creating a passive audience.
Lastly, it lists several grievances about eastern Europe, including it’s return from communism to capitalism, sustainability of social institutions, and how to keep non-profit groups going.
Even though it states all these brooding questions, the group also insists on mentioning that the intent of the project is not to provide concrete analysis or answers, but rather to raise questions in the art community and in the general public.
One example of work by and invited artist was the “time=money=time=” project. The artist, named Darko Fritz, put an ad on the destination displays for the Zegrab Electric Tramway in june 2000 the lasted for a minute and said “time=money=time=,” as well as vocalizing it through the loudspeaker. There was only one exit and entrance for each stop. This is among many contributions by independent artists.
What, How and for Whom? most recently curated the 11th International Istanbul Biennial, which took place between september 12-november 8, 2009. The exhibition included more than 120 projects from 70 artists, from 40 different countries. The Exhibition is equally concerned with the fate of the word and the direction the powers that be are hurtling it toward.
An example of the piece at the exhibition is the work of filmmaker Mohammed Ossama. He contributed his 1979 film “Step by Step” documents the hardships of people in the Syrian countryside who are left to choose their parents hard country life or the life of migrant workers. Trapped, they elect to enlist in the military, fascinated by authority and submit to the will of the army. The film aims to expose the way society justifies violence to transform children into citizen soldiers.
The group has done many exhibitions in a similar socio-politicol realm, and no doubt will continue to do so.