Kenneth McBride

Kenneth McBride is an artist, writer and educator as well as being the founder of agora8

In his durational performance installations he is interested in art as a form of memorial that can activate collective memory. He is author of many works and has presented in diverse locations and contexts internationally, often operating beyond the traditional gallery structures and in a wide variety of impermanent or public spaces. Works often engage the full range of senses.

Introduction: Defining the Communist Project of Emergence

We will now turn our attention to Communism as a universalist system not designed for leaving.

The truth, in fact, is quite the opposite; it was designed for arrival. The real deceit of Communism was to make citizens believe that in order to create the future Utopia all life meanwhile must be directed towards its construction,

Future generations will enjoy social justice at the cost of a cynical acceptance of an outrageous historical injustice – the exclusion of all past generations from Socialist, or Communist, society (Groys, 2006, p.14).

In his analysis of emergence Mikhail Bakhtin identifies one unique model where, “man’s individual emergence is inseparably linked to historical emergence” (Bakhtin et al, 1986, p. 23).

Bakhtin contrasts this type of emergence as the character of a world in progress against a world that is “ready made and basically quite stable” (Bakhtin et al, 1986, p. 23). In order to draw a critical distinction between the ‘ready made’ and ‘stable’ world that, for the purpose of illustration, we will propose as western democracy, and the ‘unmade’ and ‘unstable’ ideological world of Utopian-minded ideology, we can say that the Communist Utopian project was entirely a project of historical emergence.

That is to say that, since the fundamental aim of the Communist project, Utopia, did not exist actually or physically in any shape or form but, rather, was conceived entirely as one actively generating its own process of becoming, it was thus concerned with erasing all previous histories of the world in order that its own inner logic would take on flesh.

They [the Communists] cling to their own conception of man, which recognizes as human only those individuals who are willing to live in the realization of an idea whose future is yet to be implemented (Chalupecký, 1949, cited in (eds.) Hoptman & Pospiszyl, 2002, p. 35).

As Groys demonstrates, “we must say that Communism is a universal futuristic project… in the name of the future, not of the past” (Groys, 2003). Thus, when we consider non-official art within the Eastern European context we can understand it as a movement that, “emerges along with the world and reflects the historical emergence of the world itself” (Bakhtin et al, 1986, p. 23).

In other words, the artistic productions of non-official artists are a kind of heteroglossia: at one and the same time they act independently from the dominant discourse by rejecting propagandist whim while, at the same time, they are absolutely dependent on that discourse for their meaning.

In Bakhtinian terms the dominant and ideological language of the State is a “centripetal force” (ed. Morris, 1994, p. 15) that unifies their sloganeering as the one and only truth. Monologic by nature, it neither invites nor engages criticism or dialogue, but proposes itself as the sole “unitary perception of truth” (ed. Morris, 1994, p. 15). Without the possibility for dialogism there exists only monologism.

What defines the character of heteroglossia, on the other hand, is that by being a “centrifugal force… [it] stratifies and fragments ideological thought into multiple views of the world” (ed. Morris, 1994, p. 15). Heteroglossia is, “saturated with ideology” (ed. Holquist, 1981, p. 274) and produces “multiple views” that are always linked to the dominant discourse through an oppositional and antagonistic quality. That is, they do not, and cannot, exist in any other way than as products of their relationship to the dominant discourse.

In the examples of works that we will look at we will see that they all share this quality of heteroglossia: they all “aimed sharply and polemically against the official language” (ed. Morris, 1994, p. 115). Thus, each work exhibits, and relies on, its total context as the driving force that has sprung from within an axiology of heteroglossia.

Emergence as a discourse, then, is a common denominator in both the ideology of the Communist system and the artistic manifestations we will look at, although the purposes for applying it is at odds one with the other. We may illustrate this by saying that, in art activity, emergence is what allows process to be an ongoing event, that it demands a permanent repositioning of oneself against the closed and localized world of ideology (Ippolita, 2009).

Furthermore, and crucial to our understanding of emergence in relation to the non-official artist, is that it is wholly grounded in where it is coming from. In this critical point it is at variance to the project of Communism.

In order to convince the masses that the future Utopia was a cause of which to be proud and to actively participate in, the Soviet’s undertook the most extravagant propaganda campaign in the history of the world. Groys, in his curatorial essay that accompanied the exhibition Dream Factory Communism (1) frames it thus,

The art of Stalinist Socialist Realism was a huge promotion campaign beating the drum for the building of Communism. Communist agitation, which is far closer to Western commercial advertising than to Nazi propaganda, was not aimed at a limited target group but rather called on all mankind to purchase a product named Communism. (Groys & Hollein (eds.), 2004)

In the chapter that follows we will see how artists tackled this ‘promotion campaign’ through the appropriation of its very and images, and that this method produced its own non-official narrative of the Communist project.

1 The exhibition was held at Shirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt 24 September 2003 - 4 January 2004. | top |

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