The Museum of Conflict – Art as Political Strategy in Post-Communist Europe

Calin Dan, BAVO, Wouter Davidts, Metahaven, Maria Hlavajova, Mihnea Mircan, Edi Muka and Florian Waldvogel will present short lectures, followed by a debate. This research conference is organized to investigate the use of the art event and the contemporary art museum as a political strategy in Eastern Europe. A second conference will take place on 19 October in the Museum National de Arte Contemporana (MNAC) inside the former Casa Poporului (the palace of Nicolae Ceausescu) in Bucharest, where among others Nicolas Bourriaud and Jonathan Dronsfield will present lectures.

Both conferences aim to address similar questions:
How does the institutional museum reflect ways in which contemporary art is used as a representation of political change?
Can art take over the location of power, being ‘a symbol of openness and democracy?’

A striking example is Casa Poporului. Since the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime in 1989, this building has become the seat of the Romanian government and since 2004, part of it is in use as a national contemporary art museum. The visual rhetoric of Casa Poporului was originally designed to impose a national identity, constructed by Ceausescu in the 1980s. Its size certainly contributes to getting this message across ­ the ‘house’ is the second largest building in the world. The building is not the only post-communist iconic remainder in what we now call ‘New Europe’. This, and other structures, worked as strong symbols for communist/socialist statehood, while often their completion is associated with the regime’s decay. While being abandoned or re-appropriated since, these buildings still carry political connotations. Being part of a ‘national heritage’, their still-intact energy as icons demands a variety of responses, including the use of contemporary art.

From here, questions can be asked both in specific address to the MNAC museum, and in reference to other or related efforts of mobilizing (visual) culture to, apparently, alter the perceived meaning of a former totalitarian architectural symbol. All these questions could lead, however, to a more general inquiry into the capabilities of art to change a political status quo.

Where and how does the museum step in, and does implementing art as a political strategy work in a process of European integration?
Can a National Museum of Contemporary Art still be called a (national) museum when it does not facilitate public visits, is not able to create a collection, and has no independent position with regard to government politics?

The main examples under examination will be the Casa Popurului/MNAC, Bucharest, and the Enver Hoxha Mausoleum in Tirana, until 2002 co-locating the International Cultural Centre (ICC). The more general issue of art as an agent of political change will be discussed in relation to the events leading to the cancellation of Manifesta 6 in Nicosia, Cyprus. The 2006 edition of this Biennial was prevented from realization, allegedly because its geographical concept crossed the country’s political agenda.

This research conference is organized by Meta Haven: Design Research, Jonathan Dronsfield and the Jan van Eyck Academie.