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The Museum of Conflict - Art as Political Strategy in Post-Communist Europe
Research conference - Tuesday 12 September

Matthias Pauwels
— Welcoming note

Meta Haven
— Imagination of Engagement

Mihnea Mircan
— Wild Museology
Mihnea Mircan will present the history of the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest, referring to the political and cultural debate over the necessity of a Museum, the inauguration of MNAC in wing E4 of the Palace of the Parliament and the polemic that ensued, the institutional difficulties that MNAC is confronted with today, as well as a few exhibitions that directly engaged the political significance of the building: Romanian Artists - and Not Only - Love Ceausescu's Palace, The Painting Museum and the series of projects Under Destruction.

Calin Dan
— 2nd thoughts about Power Architecture
Calin Dan worked on and off for almost two years in Tallinn-Estonia on his new film Trip a psychedelic exploration of Linna Hall, the gigantic city concert hall built by a local architect as a landmark for the Moscow Olympics of 1980. Due to the complex interplay between the exercise of political power at national and federal levels, and also to various other factors, Linna Hall survived into the post s Soviet era as a strong case about the ambiguity of Power Architecture. Calin Dan will share his story about Linna Hall, making at the same time a parallel with Casa Poporului (The Palace of Parliament), the infamous building from the 80s by which Ceausescu changed the face of Bucharest.

13:00 lunch

— Only art can save democracy now?
When tackling the hot issue of whether art can be the guardian of democracy and openness and if so, how one cannot bypass the farcical encounter of G.W. Bush with an anti-war protester during a speech in the Australian parliament. While the activist was violently being removed by the MPs, Bush retorted with an obscene smile: don't you just love free speech. This is symptomatic for the paradoxical state of democracy today. While everybody is supposed to act democratically, any direct democratic interference is met with an obscene wink by a ruling order that on the one hand praises the authenticity of dissent, while on the other hand violently depriving it from any real political relevance.
It is in this very 'transferential relationship' that art is locked today. In the case of the Museum de Arte Contemporana in Bucharest the art sector is asked to defend democracy alongside politicians who don't seem to have any scruples about legitimizing their new home in the 'ultimate' architectural icon of Ceausescu's dictatorial regime by mobilizing the same old patriotic and religious passions among the masses. So, while democracy is manipulated by the new alliance between economic pragmatism and religio-nationalist idealism, art is supposed to live out the dream of democracy and openness. This however, without ever receiving the 'aesthetic rights' to either reconfigure or question the obscure laws and values that rule socio-political life.
The fundamental question to be posed prior to any discussion on the political aspect of art as the gatekeeper of democracy is thus What democracy? What openness? and For whom, if at all, should this be guarded? In this lecture we will work through some key positions in the contemporary debate on the state of democratic politics today and the role reserved in it for art. For this purpose, we'll use Boris Groys' concept of the Struggle for equal aesthetic rights and Jacques Rancière's Politics of aesthetics.

Wouter Davidts
— Architecture for the People
In my lecture I will depart from the movie 'A century of Architecture in Belgium 1875 - 1975' ['Een eeuw architectuur in België 1875 -1975'] by Belgian film maker Jef Cornelis and architecture critic and historian Geert Bekaert of 1976. The film tells the story of a century of Belgian architecture in ten 'stages' and starts with the Palais de Justice in Brussels (1866-1883). The gargantuan courthouse by Joseph Poelaert is labelled as a 'crazy monument to a civilization and society that no longer believes in neither architecture nor justice, but simply adores progress.  Continuing with late 19th century bourgeois architecture and Art Nouveau, Bekaert - who is at the time heavily influenced by neo-marxist architecture theorists like Manfredo Tafuri a.o. - describes modern architecture's failure to become truly modern since it never succeeded to formulate an adequate answer to modernity and the real housing needs of the new working class. Since the 19th century, architecture has failed to solve 'the contradiction between the palais de justice and the slum.' The most crucial statement of the movie however is made when showing buildings of the first half of the century, and houses by seminal modernist architects Louis Herman De Coninck and Gaston Eysselinck in particular. After labelling this architecture as 'poetry in secret code' [poëzie in geheimschrift], Bekaert states that 'architecture can be no secret code in a society that calls itself democratic.' ['Architectuur kan geen geheimschrift zijn in een samenleving die zich democratisch noemt.']. Anno 2006, this statement hasn't lost any of its force nor legitimacy. At a moment when both democracy and society are ever more under continuous pressure, it remains crucial to question the potential and authority of architecture within this context. What is the language that contemporary architecture is supposed, or maybe merely able to speak in the manifold and complex sociopolitical configurations that we currently face throughout Europe and abroad. In my lecture I will demonstrate that the tension that Bekaert builds his argument upon - between housing and public programs - might no longer be productive at the beginning of the 21st century. Departing from the populist impulse in architecture that started in the 19th century - transforming it into 'a cause of the people' - I will argue that, within an era of blatant political and cultural populism, it might be precisely in the 'formation' of the various public institutions - not only the courthouse, but 'bourgeois' institutions such as the opera, the library, the theatre and the museum as well - that there's a significant role for architecture (again) to discern - from a both cultural and political perspective.

15:00 break

Florian Waldvogel
— As the word dies the eyes of god grew bigger
Florian Waldvogel will speak about Contemporary Art and Critism, Kokerei Zollverein, NIZZA TRANSFER and Manifesta 6.

Edi Muka
— The Unstable Condition of 'Peripheral'
For several years now we've witnessed the emerging of several art scenes known or labelled as 'peripheral', meaning on the far edges of the global system. It is for some time now we're engaged in discussions about the 'potentials of the periphery', but have neglected its 'failures'. To me the 'peripheral' condition is closely connected to the Unstable condition, under which 'peripheral' societies function. Instability (or better say Insecurity) remains the general condition of today's global society. However the unstable condition of the periphery is largely conditioned by the extended transitory period and its effects on all known forms of conventional institutions, which explain the lack of such structures. Nevertheless, various unstable forms of institutions appear and disappear, offering possible tackling with a 'lost in transition' situation, producing new temporary experiences and symbolical meaning.

Maria Hlavajova
— Respondant

17:30 dinner

19.30 Matthias Pauwels
— Introduction to round table
— Round table discussion with all speakers
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