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The “Unpaged. How to Revisit History from a Plural Perspective?” Seminars


IP Regional Meeting #2

Unpaged. How to Revisit History from a Plural Perspective?
Online Seminars with: Daniel Grúň, Caterina Preda, and Tomasz Załuski

8–10 October 2020, online
registration form

The second regional event organised by the Institute of the Present, Unpaged. How to Revisit History from a Plural Perspective? continues the research, analysis, and the methodological approaches initiated by the Institute since 2017, this time contemplating specific processes from the recent art history of the East-European and international context, through a plural understanding of historical facts. The event is organised in partnership with the Július Koller Society (Bratislava) and the Polish Institute (Bucharest).

The online seminars, together with a series of commissioned articles, take on an investigative itinerary dedicated to the multiple strategies of artistic research and alternative historiographies which emerged in the East-European and non-Western regions starting from the end of the 1950s and continuing until the beginning of the 1980s. On the one hand, these strategies encompass practices of self-archiving and self-historisicisation and, on the other, the management, systematisation, and documentation of local artistic events—recorded by the artist, often situated at the border of the official artistic narrative—which articulate responses to the hierarchal tendencies of art historical writings. In this way, Unpaged. How to Revisit History from a Plural Perspective? proposes an analysis of and a debate on the role that such equally artistic and historical processes take within the effort to revisit the recent art history of these “marginal” territories and which also question the latest hegemonic attempts to present a universal history of art. As art historian Zdenka Badovinac argues, self-historicisation seems to be, in certain local contexts, the sole form of historicisation or the only method of articulating an interpretative framework of the activity carried out by artists outside the State-generated, official sphere. Retrospectively, self-historicisation and self-archiving sum up the need for defining counter-narratives which respond to the singular, monolithic gaze of an art history exclusively conditioned by geopolitical factors. At the same time, these interests and artistic tools highlight the plurality of positions and interpretations, contributing to an understanding of the global discourse on the history of art in these spaces and bringing to the forefront certain marginalised artistic traditions. The histories which remained “unpaged” due to their double quality as historic documents and artistic processes/work, point out not only singular social, artistic, and aesthetic phenomena, but they also draw attention to the production mechanisms generated solely by private, subjective experiences. The diversity of solutions and approaches found in the archives of artists from the former socialist bloc or from Latin-American countries—such as KwieKulik, Július Koller, Collective Actions [KD], Artpool, Clemente Padín, Graciela Carnvale—reveal their interest in a direct involvement in the creation of interpretative contexts for their own practices, in the communication of information from the unofficial sphere, and the writing and permanent accumulation of histories ignored by the cultural flux of those years. Moreover, we detect a similar process of retrieval of several aspects that belong to the official level of art in these regions, where forgotten archives, despite their high degree of institutionalisation, await a reconsideration of their content and programmes as well as a revision of the polarised perspective imposed on the cultural landscape since the late 1950s.

The seminars will run for 2 hours and will take place via Zoom for a maximum of 20 participants. The working language is English. The registration is open at https://forms.gle/zxAGy57Dbb1BsCem8 until the all places are booked. Those interested can register for one, two or all the seminars. The participants will receive a series of readings in preparation for each seminar.


Daniel Grúň: For or Against Art and History? Self-historicisation as Artistic Practice
Thursday, 8 October, 17:00

This seminar is devoted to the artistic methods of self-historicisation, self-archiving, and the creation of alternative institutional frameworks in the context of power and ideology structures dominating art in Communist Central-East Europe and after. The main focus will be on the presentation of a collection of essays recently published under the title Subjective Histories. Self-historicisation as Artistic Practice in Central-East Europe. I will try to elucidate its theoretical frameworks and present selectively some of its case studies. A theme which comes naturally to the forefront in self-historicisation is the relation with the institution or with institutionalisation (the official or unofficial alternative gallery, cabinet, studio, active archive, mail art, networking). A variety of latent solutions lie behind these efforts, ranging from parallel autonomous associations to fictive and even anti-institutional initiatives. The key question that will be asked is whether the subjectivity of artists’ archives works “for or against” art and history. An artist’s archive can be seen as an organising structure, which is in principle non-discursive and non-narrative, and whose internal temporality is fully tied to the material and method of archiving. The circulation of commodities, a common feature of the logic of consumer culture, can today pose a significant threat to artist archives, especially in cases when, after decades spent at the margins of the (post-)socialist reality, they enter the realm of open on-line access. How can these archives maintain their independence and how can we build on their legacy? I will argue in favour of a holistic approach to artists’ archives and emphasise the importance of their site-specificity, method, and agency.

Daniel Grúň is an art historian, curator, and art critic. Currently, he teaches at the Department of Theory and History of Art, Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, and works as artistic director of The Július Koller Society. In 2010, he was a grant recipient of the Igor Zabel Award for Culture and Theory. He was also involved as a co-curator in the first international retrospective of Július Koller, organised by MSN/Warsaw, mumok/Vienna, and Museion/Bolzano. Most recently he co-curated the exhibition Poetry & Performance. Eastern European Perspective in Nová Synagóga, Žilina.  His research is mostly focused on the legacy of the neo-avant-gardes in former Eastern Europe.


Tomasz Załuski: How to Capitalise on Artists’ Archives and Self-Historicisations
Friday, 9 October, 17:00

This seminar is concerned with the different roles that neo-avant-garde artists’ archives have played and the various kinds of capital they have generated when used by either the artists themselves, art institutions, or academic researchers. While the main focus will be on two case studies from Poland: the KwieKulik duo and the archive of their Studio of Activities, Documentation and Propagation, and the archive and multimedia collection of Józef Robakowski’s Exchange Gallery, other examples will also be featured. I will show how artists’ archives have served as  tools of self-historicisation, position-taking, and translocal and transnational networking, inventing one’s artistic traditions and predecessors, competing with younger generations of artists, integrating the artistic millieu and animating its life, and, last but not least, intervening into institutional modes of narrating art history and building art collections. A sketchy outline of how artists’ archives have been used since the 1970s in Poland will be proposed and a number of factors conditioning this history (e.g. the postsocialist/postcommunist condition, the historicisation of the neo-avant-garde as a founding tradition of contemporary art institutions, symbolic stakes and real pressures for art institutions in Eastern and Central Europe within the global field of institutional production, changing paradigms and long-lasting habits of academic research) will be discussed. Despite the considerable impact that artists’ archives have had on models of art historiography, the question remains as to how their research capital should be further developed and invested. I will therefore suggest that another—and more general—“archival turn” in art historiography is needed, beyond the more or less implicit opposition of the official vs unofficial artistic culture.

Tomasz Załuski is an art historian, philosopher, and assistant professor at the Department of Cultural Studies at the University of Lodz and at the Department of Art History and Art Theory at the Wladyslaw Strzeminski Academy of Fine Arts in Lodz, Poland. His research interests include modern and contemporary art; social, political, and economic contexts of artistic culture; artistic activism and self-organisation; documentation and artistic archives. He is the author of Modernizm artystyczny i powtórzenie. Próba reinterpretacji (2008) [Artistic Modernism and Repetition. An Attempt at Reinterpretation], and the editor of the volumes Sztuki w przestrzeni transmedialnej (2010) [Arts in Transmedial Space], Skuteczność sztuki (2014) [The Effectiveness of Art], Socrealizmy i modernizacje (with A. Sumorok, 2017) [Socialist Realisms and Modernisations], Wideo w sztukach wizualnych (with R. W. Kluszczyński, 2018) [The Video in the Visual Arts], Galeria Wschodnia. Dokumenty 1984–2017/Documents 1984–2017 (with D. Muzyczuk, 2019). He is also an editor of the journals “Art and Documentation” and “Hybris. The Online Philosophical Magazine.”


Caterina Preda: What Can 1,500 Files from the Archive of the Union of Fine Artists Tell Us about the History of State Socialist Art?
Saturday, 10 October, 11:00

Archives are neither neutral nor objective and do not truthfully reproduce the facts; they rather reflect the force that selected the documents based on the dynamics of exclusion and inclusion*. Moreover, archives are both a reflection of those who created them, and a reflection of the user**. In this seminar, I propose a discussion about the Union of Fine Artists [UAP] archives as an ethnographic site of the socialist state (Stoler). As a “container of the official memory” of the Union of Fine Artists, its archive may reconstruct, even if only partially, the complexity of the operation of the state system dedicated to supporting and controlling visual arts, precisely because it reflects the institutional intentions on the structuring of the artistic field. This seminar questions the use of the UAP archive to reconstruct the official history of visual arts before 1989, which was mostly erased after 1990. My presentation is based on the analysis of more than 1,500 files from the National Archives of Romania [ANIC archive] (1250), Romanian Union of Fine Artists (from Combinatul Fondului Plastic, 250), National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives [CNSAS] (50) and the Ministry of Culture (20). We shall discuss how this overwhelming archive can be used to reconstitute the institutional context. The presentation proposes a discussion of certain matters of methodology in the organisation of a plan for researching the archive funds of UAP and the limits of an analysis based only on archive documents, as well as possible solutions by confronting, for instance, several types of archives (institutional, private, oral, of images, etc.)

* Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook, “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory,” in Archival Science, no. 2 (2002): 2, 4, 16.
** Barbara Reed, “Records,” in Sue McKemmish, Michael Piggott, Barbara Reed et Frank Upward, eds., Archives: Recordkeeping in Society (Wagga Wagga: Charles Sturt University, 2005), 106 quoted in Eric Ketelaar, “(Dé)construire l’archive,” in La contemporaine | Matériaux pour l’histoire de notre temps, no. 82, (2006): 65.

Caterina Preda is PhD Lecturer at the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Bucharest, where she teaches courses on “Contemporary Latin America”, “Art and Politics,” and “Cultural Memory in Eastern Europe and South America.” Her research is interdisciplinary and examines the relation between art and politics under modern dictatorships, the artistic memory of the post-dictatorial contexts of South America and Eastern Europe, cultural memory and the visual representations of Roma communities (http://roma-ovt.ro/). Her most recent book Art and Politics under Modern Dictatorships was published by Palgrave in 2017 and analyses the relationship between art and politics of the Romanian and Chilean dictatorships.


The seminars are part of the project Unpaged. How to Revisit History from a Plural Perspective? organised by the Institute of the Present. Partner: Július Koller Society (Bratislava). Co-organiser: Polish Institute (Bucharest).
Visual identity: Andrei Turenici (Daniel & Andrew Studio)

Cultural project co-funded by the Administration of the National Cultural Fund. The project does not necessarily represent the standpoint of the Administration of the National Cultural Fund. AFCN cannot be held liable for the content of the project or the manner in which the outcomes of the project may be used. These shall devolve entirely on the beneficiary of the financing.

Contact: ip@institutulprezentului.ro.

Institutul Prezentului