by Soumya MukerjiNov 28, 2022
The world is constantly moving, so are the people. This movement, be it across borders, between states, legal or illegal, is determined by the network of bureaucracy and governance. The geographical territories tactfully marked and controlled by the rule of the national security system in the 20th century regained prominence with the rise of globalisation. The international group exhibition Statecraft (and beyond) at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens (EMST), curated by Katerina Gregos - the artistic director of the museum - examines the undercurrent of geopolitics and its challenges. The 39 artists in the exhibition critically dissect issues and questions related to statecraft from a wide perspective. The works in the exhibition unravel the invisible matrix of statecraft and power to talk about the issues of democracy, citizenship, rights, inclusion, and exclusion.
The art exhibition on view against the Russia-Ukraine war raises the urgency to expand the political reality enveloping Europe and beyond. The war, when exposed to the making of the post-Cold War order, also broke the assumption around democracy and national sovereignty. The exhibition shows that democracy is a fragile idea that needs to be safeguarded. In an interview with STIR, Gregos talks about the constant state of becoming the nation-state are engaged with, “Statecraft (and beyond) explores nation-building, a process which is inherently flawed, riddled with glitches, that demonstrates different levels of success and failure depending on the political situation and degrees of democracy and transparency in each country.”
The participating installation artists reimagine the conventional model of nationhood and political organisation to address the challenges of mass migration and the post- and trans-national realities. “The places the artists come from inform their inherent problems and complexities, allowing them to offer a more nuanced view beyond stereotypical understandings, and to address a multitude of subjects that explore diverse issues such as the fundamental constructs of the nation-state, invented traditions, as well as the political and cultural philosophy that operates as the ideological basis of state policy,” informs Gregos.
The Right of Passage, a collaborative film by Zanny Begg (Sydney) and Oliver Ressler (Vienna), is created through a series of interviews with the migration theorists including Ariella Azoulay, Antonio Negri and Sandro Mezzadra. The interviews initiate the discussion around the ideas of citizenship in Barcelona, which is touted not only as the multicultural cities of Europe but also serves as a home to a brimming population living “without papers”. The film shot in the dark space of night suggests the exclusionary powers of nation and citizenship. It is from the place kept away from the illumination of light that the marginalised community could give voice to the trials and tribulations they experience to attain citizenship.
Cusco-based Daniela Ortiz with her installation art practice develops anticolonial and anti-racist narratives as a way to challenge the edifice of the colonial, patriarchal and capitalist power. Her work ABC of Racist Europe takes the viewers across the making of the anti-racist narrative. The work in the shape of a children's book has 26 alphabets juxtaposed with the individual images. The art installation traces the network of connections between the dynamics of the migration control system and the history of colonialism.
The performative work Augenmusik by Paris-based Katya Ev critiques the institutional power system of surveillance and control. As part of the performance, the individuals hold the police emergency lights in their hands to destabilise the autonomy of state power and responsibility. The police siren, synonymous with power and danger, when shifted to the custody of the public catches the attention of the passer-by. This transfer of power questions the semblance of authority to give individuals a sense of liberation, even if it is momentary.
The year 2021 marked the Bicentennial Anniversary of Greek Independence from the Ottoman Empire. Against this milestone occasion, the exhibition is an opportune moment, “to discuss issues of critical importance for the future direction and cohesion of the European continent from diverse viewpoints, including the migration crisis, its links with colonialism and the resurgence of nationalistic attitudes.” The exhibition opens the floor to the questions, as Gregos puts it, “Can we imagine other models of social organisation and statehood that don’t require identification with a particular flag or passport? What other forms of belonging and community outside the nation-state might come into fruition? How can we move beyond the toxicity of nationalism while retaining the benefits of the nation-state? Is the concept of ‘global citizenship, which is gaining currency in light of the need to find shared solutions to shared problems, at all possible or even plausible?”
In these times, punctuated by authoritarianism and nationalism, when the fluid concepts of identity, language and ethnicity are exponentially shifting, the objective reality around nation-states is an uphill task to build. The artists critically relook at the contested issues of nation and statehood to reveal their hidden complexities. Ultimately, the works at the display cajole us to reorient our understanding around models of social organisation and statehood from unexpected and imaginative angles.
The exhibition Statecraft (and beyond) is on view at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST) until November 20, 2022.