Blesok no. 110, October-November, 2016
Gallery Reviews


Vladimir Jančevski


    Skopje, June 11- July 22, 2016
    Translation in English: Tatjana Radomirovikj
    * Excerpts from the text published integrally (with notes) in the publication,
    Igor Toshevski: Between
(Skopje: TP Sandinista, 2016)
    Between the status quo and the permanent change
. Today it seems that the key word defining our contemporaneity is crisis: political, economic, refugee, identity, cultural. At the same time, in terms of global capitalism, and its tendency for an uninterrupted flow of capital in the extended field of culture, this statement appears tautological. Capitalism is defined as a non-systemic phenomenon, a steady stream of conflicts and contradictions, and culture is seen more as a field of constant struggle for the recognition of identity. The plastered layers of problematics relating to current conditions show a need for urgent and immediate attention to acknowledged neuralgic hotspots. We are witnessing the unstoppable process of disintegration of the social sphere, amid a gridlock in post-history. The fall of the Berlin Wall, and the digital revolution, did not come close to fulfilling the idyllic promises of the supposed ‘end of history’. However, the expansion of the techno-sphere, in its non-teleological progression, increasingly inclined towards corporate interests, seems to generate a further fear of the future. In a situation where the balance between the linear, consequential logic of text and the historical consciousness, on one hand, and the magical character of the image on the other, is seriously disturbed by the technically generated image, that very fear is logically manifested as a fear of the anti-political dominance of the empowered image without a referent. This constantly reminds us that, in this sense, we have never been modern. (…)
    Often in search for an unencumbered space, the artist seeks his autonomous position outside the institutional framework. It is also necessary to simultaneously re-examine the capacities for allocating new modes of establishing a critical museum whose purpose as the crucial mechanism of the ideological apparatus, would be to grasp contemporaneity, projecting a future through a dialectical relationship with the past. At a time when the reoccurrence of non-critical, manipulative meta-narratives is becoming more evident, and during the rise of radical populist nationalism and religious fanaticism when the past imposes itself as the ghost of the control mechanisms, it is necessary to re-examine our own position and potential for critical thinking, aiming towards a successful struggle for a more equal distribution of the future, against the stasis veiled in the illusion of current change.(…)

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    Igor Toshevski’s project titled Between is indirectly related to the acknowledged traditions of institutional critique and meta-museological inclinations amongst artists of different generations. This is in addition to the accumulated challenging issues that generate suspicion, regarding the functioning of the museum system as part of the ideological apparatus. Without following a specific, strictly defined theoretical framework in the debate about the Critical Museum, a considerable part of the genesis of this artwork can be traced in recent works by Toshevski. These relate openly or implicitly to issues concerning positions of power, censorship, the institutional frameworks and bureaucracy, the dialectical relationship between freedom and restrictions, as well as the relations between the visible and the hidden. More importantly, instead of just another occasion for a hermeneutical endeavor or contextual analysis, this project by Toshevski reveals the opportunity for a broader rethinking of the current series of problems relating to the role of art and the museum-gallery system.


    Between the prehistory of the gesture and its extended duration
. In his analysis of the work by Harun Farocki and following the logic of Aby Warburg regarding the transmission of the image, Georges Didi-Huberman refers back to Farocki’s statement, “On the surface of every gesture today, appears much of its prehistory”. This prehistory can be retraced in many of Toshevski’s works as a reconfiguration and synthesis of elements, as well as a series of direct and implicit homages, which constitute the basis for creating newer works, yet constantly in the direction and interest of the issues concerning us today. This is usually not a mere summary of diverse elements, which is particularly noticeable in the re-contextualization of the Free Territories (Supremus, The Stall, etc.). Perhaps one of the most interesting examples of the amalgamation of elements from previous works and their skillful re-contextualizing is a work that is currently in the permanent exhibition of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje, a work which, despite the usage of the specific museum location, integrates the “subjective art history” as a ‘free territory’ previously established with the Supremus project, and the basic modular form in the installation Love Undefined Every Damn Moment (2012) and, although it does not candidly deal with shrouding the visible, it can be ultimately considered as part of the genesis of the project Between.
    Between Love Undefined and the Damnation of the Moment
. The project Between presents a modification of Toshevski’s installation Yet Another Damn Moment (2012), which is based on the installation Love Undefined, Every Damn Moment shown three months earlier as part of his solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje. During the month of June 2012, as a result of the scandalous removal of the work by the art duo OPA, Toshevski immediately and simultaneously reactivated his continuing interest in the forms of censorship, which is not surprising, considering that three years earlier, his previous work Free Territory –Yellow Cross (2009) was the subject of a specific kind of censorship, cloaked under bureaucratic pretexts.
    The series of digital interventions that would attract the attention of the social networks and the printed media will announce the installation Yet Another Damn Moment, shown at the fourth group exhibition of the Kooperacija initiative, entitled Personal Politics, in June 2012 in Skopje. By re-contextualizing and exploiting a similar configuration using an industrial pallet, a fan and a black flag, this time the core of the installation constituted the symbolically shrouded works by a number of artists who agreed to be part of the installation.
    During 2013 and 2014, a similar intervention was created twice by borrowing the works of other artists: at his solo exhibition Recollections, held in September 2013in Berlin, and later as a wall installation, as part of Kooperacija’s exhibition The Horses’ Legs are Too Short, at the Remont Gallery in Belgrade in November 20 In the same period, alternately referring to the original configuration, Toshevski exhibits it as a sculptural accumulation at the Essence of Existence exhibition in Zagreb in 2015, organized by the National Gallery of Macedonia.
    At the time, concurrently with the genesis of Between, a period that coincides with his active participation in the work of the Kooperacija initiative, Toshevski produces a few other works where there is a tendency to deliberately reduce the field of view by blurring the image, as in Sonata for C.G. (2012), and especially in This is Not a Noose (2014), a gesture that entirely operates under the radar of visibility. The act of lending space, collaboration and reciprocal relations, upon which Kooperacija’s methods were founded, was reaffirmed here. This was outlined in a ‘vacantly’ mediated action/ gesture/ intervention, which remained virtually unregistered on the medium (a billboard).The emphasis was put on “the transfer of the artist’s legitimacy or its possible anullation in the domain of the ‘visible’, by reducing it to a minimal relational gesture”.
    The radical concepts of Kazimir Malevich transfer the decomposition process of objectivity and enable the transition from the aesthetics of the art work towards the aesthetics of the event, which does not necessarily in need of an object of eternal durability, nor a stationary exhibition space, so this transformative gesture is necessary to understand the relationship between tradition and the contemporary. Indeed, in several of Toshevski’s previous projects, references to Malevich’s works are noticeable, such as the specific re-contextualizing in the Free Territory, popularly known as The Yellow Cross (2009), the Supremus project (2011), The Stall (2011), and Landscape in Transition (2014). During 2011, the project Territories, beside Supremus, involved another specific sequel with the action The Stall, performed on November 11, 2011 at the market in Bitola. Employing a standard market stall and a megaphone as means of attracting attention, Toshevski offered his ‘products’, consisting of objects and paintings dedicated to Suprematism, “in exchange for food, agricultural products or a gesture”, where the artist also provided a certificate for participation within the Free Territory to anyone willing to partake in the transaction. Landscape in Transition is an installation consisting of three Free Territories based on Malevich’s forms, the cross, the circle and square, and objects of the respective forms as black MDF panels set on easels. The three shapes as objects are arranged so that each is placed in a corresponding territory without overlapping (the cross inside the square, the square in a circle, the circle inside the cross). (…)
    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 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.

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    Finally, without pretenses to nothing more than a sublimation of the identified hotspots, it is worth resuming the wider range of questions: can we definitively stop the process of disintegration of the social sphere? Can we overcome the congestion in post-history, and can we overcome the fear of anti-political dominance of the empowered image without its reference, and restore the balance between image and text and their productive complementarity? Can we dream of a Critical Museum and grasp the ‘dialectical contemporaneity’ amidst the rise of radical populist nationalism and religious fanaticism? Can we imagine a situation, contrary to Gibson's remark, in which a more equitable distribution of the future is possible? Or, perhaps, we shall be run over by the reoccurrence of the manipulative non-critical meta-narratives where critical awareness is an anomaly that should be eliminated?
    To reach the answer to these questions, we should reconsider our own position and our potential for critical thinking, which primarily requires the effort to confront the “stasis wrapped in the illusion of current change”. Assuming this position of over-identification vis-à-vis the described condition in the critical interregnum, through the complementary relationship built by Toshevski's simple paradoxical concealing-revealing gesture and the space in-between the fragmented and open structure of the text, it is necessary to try to double our outlook: to direct it towards the wider socio-political context, between the withering away of the old, where only the interdependence of the capacities of imagination and the triggering of critical potential could permit the birth of the new.

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