The 2021 Bratislava BAK Spring School, titled Art During Death, is a five-part series of podcasts, audio artworks, lectures, and radio plays from artists, theorists, and other cultural practitioners who have assembled a collective soundscape, driven by the urgencies brought about by the global Covid-19 pandemic.
A conversation between Maria Hlavajova and Kader Attia
To engage with the subjects of the 2021 Bratislava BAK Summer School, this conversation takes as a starting point the current project Fragments of Repair (17 April–1 August 2021), convened by BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht with artist Kader Attia and decolonial forum La Colonie, Paris. In Fragments of Repair, Attia proposes decolonial repair as a tactic to engage with the urgencies brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, and in particular the urgencies of collective mental health, chronic uncertainty, social isolation, exhaustion, fear, and loss. The concept of repair has been key across Attia's practice, especially in relation to the material and immaterial injustices of colonial violence that persist into the present. Understanding repair not as a return to past ways, but a forward-looking process shaped by demands for decolonization and the politics of restitution, the conversation asks what pathways can repair offer to life in and out of the viral and psychological pandemonium?
Maria Hlavajova is the founder and artistic director of BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht since 2000, an institution that advocates for the critical role of art in society through various programmes of education, exhibitions, and publishing. Hlavajova is also initiator and artistic director of FORMER WEST, an eight-year long transnational research, education, exhibition, and publication project organised and coordinated by BAK. She regularly contributes to numerous critical readers, catalogues, and magazines internationally. In addition, Hlavajova is co-founder of tranzit, a network established in 2002 that supports contemporary art practices and exchanges in Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania. She serves on the Advisory Board of Bergen Assembly, Norway.
Kader Attia is an artist who explores the wide-ranging effects of western cultural hegemony and colonialism. Central to his inquiry are the concepts of “injury” and “repair,” which he uses to connect diverse bodies of knowledge, including architecture, music, psychoanalysis, medical science, and traditional healing and spiritual beliefs. Throughout his multimedia practice—ranging from sculpture to film installation—“reparation” does not mark a return to an “intact” state, but instead makes visible the immaterial scars of psychic injury. This approach is informed by Attia’s experience of growing up between Algeria and the Paris banlieues.
Attia’s work has been shown in biennials such as the Shanghai Biennial; Gwangju Biennial; Manifesta, Palermo; Venice Biennial, Venice; and Documenta, Kassel. Notable solo exhibitions include The Museum of Emotion, The Hayward Gallery, London, 2019; Scars Remind Us that Our Past is Real, Fundacio Joan Miro, Barcelona, 2018; Roots also grow in concrete, MAC VAL, Vitry-sur-Seine, 2018; Repairing the Invisible, SMAK, Ghent, 2017; The Injuries are Here, Musée Cantonal des Beaux Arts, Lausanne, 2015; contre nature, Beirut Art Center, Beirut, 2014; and Continuum of Repair: The Light of Jacob’s Ladder, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2013. Attia has shown in group exhibitions at venues such as MoMA, New York; Tate Modern, London; and Centre Pompidou, Paris. Attia has been awarded the Marcel Duchamp Prize (2016), the Joan Miró Prize (2016), and the Yanghyun Art Prize (2017). Attia lives and works in Berlin.
Farmers are sovereign cultural actors who, through their activities, shape, and influence the specific form of the landscape. They take care of the commons such as healthy soil and clean water. They tend to cultural heritage - visually, haptically and sensorily - in the form of a great diversity of crops and animal breeds. In their fields, orchards and vineyards, they preserve a valuable gene pool - often hundreds of years old plants - whose uniquely shaped, tasteful and climate-resistant varieties, are preserved for generations to come. Living and healthy soil rich in microbial relationships, is also a cultural heritage that, like architectural monuments and works of art, deserves attention and protection. At the same time, it is also an intangible cultural heritage - oral and spiritual - which includes gentle farming methods passed down from generation to generation, a deep understanding of the characteristics of the place, soil, and sometimes weather in the areas where farmers work. What better describes the concept of a living culture than a lifelong devotion to replanting the best seeds of valuable varieties over and over every year to keep them in existence? Farmers provide us with a cultural experience of biodiversity. They give the landscape and food an unforgettable character. Something that in the words of philosopher Walter Benjamin we could call an aura.
However, farming belongs to a group of professions that are often exposed to great psychological stress. This tends to result in life with anxiety and depression. Market pressures, speculation and low feed-in tariffs, debt, sales insecurity, loneliness, gender inequalities, and climate change - all this and much more crushes those, on whose stability depends the survival of societies and ecosystems all around the world.
Tomáš Uhnák is food policy analyst, Ph.D. student at the Czech University of Agriculture, publicist and member of the Association of Local Food Initiatives. In his research he focuses on agrarian paradigms, especially food sovereignty and agroecology. He is involved in the development of community-supported agriculture.
When All Weeping Dries ~* Listening for Generational Grief
Natural disasters and species extinctions, but also mythical traditions and nuances of cultural memory. In this operatic lecture, we aim to deconstruct and transcend the bargaining stage of grief by exploring the ways through which knowledge and imagination may intersect. While theorizing the loss of biodiversity as planetary necrosis, we also look into the subtle meanings of a local catastrophe at Lake Nyos in Cameroon - "an eye of the world" - through the lens of geomythology. The sometimes delicate, other times explosive narrative voices and musical textures shape a poetic universe where constantly modifying embodiments and musical temporalities give form to a flickering entity that can counter the current planetary changes and social stagnation caused by global capitalism and discourses of "normalcy" with radical sensitivity, innocence, and queerness. Overall, this operatic lecture is an elegy for the deceased of the Earth, for those who were damned or erased due to various imbalances of our world - chemical, political, and spiritual.
Dominika Moravčíková (text) is a Ph.D. student of musicology, journalist, prose writer, and poet. In her research as well as her creative work, she explores themes of exclusion and sense of belonging to a group, collective psyché and fate, and boundaries between human and nonhuman animals. Her debut poetry collection Deti Hamelnu (Children of Hameln) was awarded the Book of the Year 2020 prize from Pravda Magazine in the original work category.
Jan Durina (music) is a Slovak interdisciplinary artist and a Ph.D. student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. Through performance, photography, drawing, textile and sound Durina unfolds the nuance of each narrative, grappling with themes of loneliness, loss, the boundaries between nature and the body, and the distortions of the human mind as experienced within an ever developing gender and identity. These narratives are also evolving in his current music project called Ephemeral Harms.
Song without Mourning is an essay in the form of a poem (or lyrics) which celebrates an anger as a way of individual catharsis and/or fire-pyr-polemos as a mode of personal purifying (koshering).
Boris Ondreička (1969) is an artist, author, curator at Class of Interpretation Prague, former director of an art-initiative tranzit.sk, and curator at Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna. He has co-curated Rare Earth, Olafur Eliasson: Green light—An artistic workshop, and 6 seasons of the frequence of spoken-word Ephemeropteræ, all for TBA21, The Question of Will, OSF, Bratislava, and Empire of the Senseless, Meetfactory, Prague; Manifesta 8, Murcia, Cartagena, ES; Being The Future, Palast der Republik, Berlin, DE; Auditorium, Stage, Backstage, Frankfurter Kunstverein, DE; He has co-founded The Society of Július Koller. His artistic projects were exhibited at Bergen Assembly 2019; Manifesta 2, Luxembourg, L; Venice- (Czecho-Slovak & Roma pavilions), Prague-, Tai-Pei-, Athens- , Kyiv-, Jakarta- biennials; MoMA PS1 NYC, US; BAK Utrecht, NL; De Appel, Amsterdam, NL; Smak, Gent, BE; Tramway, Glasgow, UK; Fondazione Sandretto Regaudengo, Turin, IT; Le Plateau, Paris, F, Frankfurter-, Kölnischer-, Badischer-, Münchener-, Stuttgarter Kunstvereins, HMKV Dortmund, Kiasma, Helsinki, FI, HKW, Berlin, DE, ACAF, Alexandria, EG; Secession, Mumok, Kunsthalle, TQ, Vienna, AT. His HI! lo. was published at jrp Ringier; One Second / Out of Time at Revolver and Spevník at Brak, SK.
It is claimed that the subject about to die will begin in denial as a step along the path of dying. It is further claimed that death is also the object of collective disavowal. Mortality, some will say, is treated as a social embarrassment to be discreetly managed and politely put away. And yet, the giddy tally of the dead jostles for screen-time with all its graphic matter-of-fact-ness. The repetition of the body count courts a daily renewal of attention. What then is denied and avowed in these rhetorical forms? What death is spoken, what death evaded, in the claim that death is denied? If not subject to a disavowal, who or what shall come to speak for death, the dying and the dead?
Mick Wilson is an artist, educator and researcher based in Gothenburg and Dublin. He is currently professor of art and director of studies for doctoral education at HDK-Valand, University of Gothenburg. Current research interests include questions of: political community with the dead; contemporary art as public culture; exhibition-making as enquiry; and the rhetorical dynamics of knowledge conflict. Recent co-edited volumes include: Curating After the Global (MIT Press, 2019); Public Enquiries: PARK LEK & the Scandinavian Social Turn (BDP, 2018); and How Institutions Think (MIT Press, 2017). He was one of the (2018/2019) Fellows at BAK, basis voor aktuele kunst, Utrecht.