Belgrade won a award last year for its favourable investment climate. The economy has been flourishing since Serbia opened itself to world trade. This wave of privatization is affecting everyone, not least the art world, which is reacting critically. Artists and artists' groups have initiated various studies into the consequences of these economic changes for the population.
‘That building opposite was the central committee of the Yugoslav Communist Federation. The sessions took place there. This very beautiful modern building was built in the 1970s and bombed in 1999. It was quite ruined then. Later, a private businessman bought the building; he repaired the former Central Committee building and now wants to use it for private purposes. Here you can see a historical turning point. This square, on which the critique of capitalism was very strong, has developed into a commercial, capitalist square.’1
Talking about the Change, one of the most evident aspects in the reform program of an economy which is changing from a planned economy to a free market is certainly the process of privatization. Privatization is the process of transferring property from public ownership to private ownership. It is also the process of transferring the management of a service or activity from the government to the private sector. This has been the case for all the transitional societies in the years following the demise of totalitarian regimes in the East of Europe. Privatization all over Eastern Europe has, just like elsewhere, been subject to the creation of a financial sector and movement from public to private ownership of resources.
These changes have resulted in new proprietary relations that testified new models of survival and made visible new methods of collective action. How is then the construction, visualization and implementation of a discourse at the point of intersection between art, economics, business, organization and society treated in the specific local and regional conditions of South East Europe, and how is it interpreted and visualized in contemporary art projects? My approach revolves around two precise theoretical and political patterns, pertaining to the global capitalism on the one hand, and to the post-socialist (Eastern European) transition, on the other hand, that will be used as interpretive tools. In terms of a subject-matter, the dialectics between public and private property, alongside with the issue of ownership, will be treated as paradigmatic phenomena within the value-system of the Global Art World.2
The age of global capitalism (and the way one experiences its implications in the field of art and culture today) imposes a crucial question onto all the relevant protagonists taking part in it. The question to be concerned is as following: after the transition from state-directed to market-oriented economies had taken place, which model of private support to the arts should be favored by European states? Or, more precisely: once we are determined to work within the new economic environments that are predominantly structured around the idea of corporate capital investments, WHO is supposed to claim the rights over the current cultural development and to take over responsibility for the art matters?
In order to reply to such a question, one is supposed to think of the ways the contemporary world has been re-designed according to a new set of criteria taking place in today’s decision-making processes, globally. The analysis reveals the complex hierarchy of the art edifice and the way it is constituted through networks of different power mechanisms. It also demystifies the inner logic of power structures in the art world just as much as in the world of politics, bringing together their antagonisms to the core of one’s professionally-based self-addressing critique. As some theoreticians would claim, ‘we can see today art projects, exhibitions, etc., that have several owners who establish new proprietary relations that can be seen as the protection of capitalist property rights, which leads to the increasingly privatized ownership of different public projects and exhibitions. (…) Therefore, the power of changing the neo-liberal capitalist system consists in building new cultural and social infrastructures, self-sustained and self-organized micro-systems and political thinking.’3
One example of the project group working in this line, at the point of intersection between art, economics, and social reality, is REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT (RG). RG is a group based in Dresden (Germany). It exists since 1996 and is run by Martin Keil (1968) and Henrik Mayer (1971). Their projects, within various artistic and curatorial projects, especially elaborate the themes of social importance and the change of the working world. They understand themselves as an independent art company. The activities of RG are a collective act, often with involved partners from other spheres of society as e.g. from humanities or economy. In February 2006 RG stayed in Belgrade for artistic research and investigation, particularly on the connection of a transitional society and new concepts of labor. The RG group introduced the results of their previous artistic research on the potentialities of cooperation between business and art. It was essential to point out the possibilities how art and aesthetic discourses can relate to economic and social processes. The presentation concerning their working methods and previous projects (Forum UnternehmensKultur, Arbeite Mit, Plane Mit, Regiere Mit!, The Spirit of Work, The City of Cool) was related to their specific interest to realize a new project in Belgrade. In order to realize their goal, RG set up a collaborative project structure bringing together the institutions involved with the privatization processes in the local context (The Privatization Agency of the Republic of Serbia, for example). They made a set of video-interviews with the representatives of two local textile companies, one of them in the position of just before being privatized, another one – already under the leadership of a private owner. RG naturally has a great interest in getting to know the specific situation on spot and in developing the project out of that context. This can possibly be at a local level.
Their starting point was thereby the specific situation in Belgrade and the fact that since July 2001 there is effective a law of privatization in Serbia, an accelerated re-structuring of the big state-owned enterprises to be able for a speedier privatization. This allots the sale of enterprises by bidding and auctions. The law says, that the investor can purchase up to 70% of the companies capital, and 30% are assigned to the staff (according to the German Office of Foreign Affairs). Within this context, RG were interested in which way changing labor conditions are a factor that creates human identity. The artistic research was site-specific and clearly located, but at the same time the outcomes have the importance for international discourses. This was achieved by addressing the theme as a model situation and from a global perspective. The practice of RG, being based on the principle of a direct perception, aimed to visualize new behavior within the working world in the local situation of the city of Belgrade today. Video sequences shot in different locations resulted in a video-work that explores the relation between people’s personal and social needs, and the changing conditions in the process of privatization. The video (entitled Private Dancers) was presented in May 2006 in Kunsthalle Dresden, on the occasion of the exhibition Wildes Kapital (The Wild Capital), in course of a long-term project supported by relations / Kulturstiftung des Bundes (www.projekt-relations.de).
City of the Future
Interventions of this kind confirm that what really determines the new political and economic situation in the transitional societies is the so-called ‘investment climate’: the business aspects of corporate governance taking place in the geo-political zones such as the former European East, those European countries which still have very small markets and which are, at the same time, being subject to an increasing influence and high concentration of foreign companies and products saturating local markets. In May 2005, for example, Belgrade hosted the annual meeting and business forum of EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development), bringing together more than three thousand state officials, bankers, investors, economists, as well as representatives of the world’s leading companies. This is the first time after the mid-seventies (when the World Bank Summit was hosted in the capital of, then, Yugoslavia) that such a large and significant economic event has been organized in Belgrade. Jean Lemierre, the President of EBRD, expressed his opinion about such a choice by saying that the bank had chosen Belgrade for the two-day meeting in order to encourage continued economic reforms and positive changes in the region. Local journals announced the event by proclaiming the Serbian capital city – a temporary banking capital city of Europe.
In March 2006, on the other hand, Belgrade was awarded the name City of the Future in Southern Europe, at the competition organized by the Financial Times. As given at the official web-presentation of the city of Belgrade (www.beograd.org.yu), the competition for city and regions of the future is given on all continents and is organized by the specialized edition of the Financial Times for foreign and direct investments, FDI Magazine. The title carries a recommendation for the biggest future investment location, by the most recognized financial newspaper in the world. Categories and criteria by which the judges have made their decision are based on economic potential, cost effectiveness, human resources, IT and telecommunications, transport, quality of life and FDI promotion.4 According to the competition organizer, the reason to award the Serbian capital resulted from the following facts: Serbia’s economy grew at 8.6% in 2004 and GDP growth is expected to exceed 6% in 2005. Total investment in Serbia in 2005 is estimated to be €1.65bn and significant recent investors include Italy’s Banca Intesa, US company Ball Packaging and Germany’s Metro Cash & Carry. Metro’s facility in Belgrade was the largest greenfield investment in south-east Europe in 2004. In addition, Microsoft has established its first software development centre in south-east Europe in Belgrade.5
Another project emerging from such an atmosphere has been initiated in August 2006 by the Italian group PROGETTOZERO(+), in collaboration with Valerio Del Baglivo, Maddalena Pugliese and Maria Zanchi. Progettozero(+) is a duo of artists/curators (Alessandro Bertoncello & Paolo Dusi) formed in 2001 in Venice, Italy. Since 2005 they are teaching assistants at the Visual Art School at the IUAV Architecture University in Venice. They plan and carry out contemporary art interventions based on the concept of creative processes as horizontal and expanded structures and the open-working with other subjects. The main points of interest are: the focus on local territory and the re-use of public places and their re-launch as socio-cultural aggregation spaces.
On the occasion of their first visit to Belgrade, they made up their mind to investigate exactly this new climate: the human and working aspects of urban and socio-economic transformation in the post-socialist Eastern Europe after the establishment of new market economy in the region. In particular, the project aims at proposing a wide interdisciplinary analysis and a successive intervention in the community of New Belgrade, the emerging business zone of the city of Belgrade, considering the dynamics of its transformation as the paradigmatic case for the capital cities in the South East Europe. The focus of the project will be the changes of “values”, their translation from the previous dominant system (of the socialist society) into the new system of values (pertaining to the new market logic), the perception and the representation of this transformation from the point of view of the inhabitants: the workers, the new business class, as well as the ordinary people living in the area. The project will be developed on a theoretical, discursive level (involving urban planners, sociologists, economists, artists and curators) and on a practical, relational level (in terms of direct communication with various communities, involving the citizens of New Belgrade through the strategies of community-related art).
Similarly enough, the project ..any doubts? by Marija Simeunovic, an Architecture Engineer from Belgrade, examines the problems of globalization process in the field of work and social psychology in the new investment climate, which is defined by foreign investments. Being focused on the specific area of call-centers industry, the author proposed a visual intervention that questions the way that Western and Indian cultures co-exist in the specific call center environment: how does the call center employment shape Lifestyles and the City, what could be the future of call center business, how does the development of IT industry encourage communication and business between different continents, does the employment at foreign companies change lifestyle of employees (changing at the same time the identity of the local), how do the foreign investments of multinational companies influence local cultural identity, etc?
The format of the project is an exhibition – installation in the gallery space. The concept of the exhibition has been developed during participation of the author at the postgraduate interdisciplinary program Transnational Spaces – Bauahus Kolleg VI, Bauhaus Foundation [Dessau, Germany] and during her stay in India (2004/2005). A research of call centers phenomena was done in Calcutta. Due to low-cost efficiency, call centers are outsourced from United States, Australia and England to India. The Government of West Bengal, the Indian state where Calcutta is situated, is trying to attract foreign investments as much as possible by improving infrastructure, building business centers and following Western standards.
Phenomena of call centers outsourcing was a starting point for the research which - beside the author herself - included an international group of architects and engineers from Italy, Germany and India (Fabrizia Berlingieri, Axel Grischow, Sumit Diwan, Shashank Misra). The research resulted in the conclusion that most of the employees are very satisfied with their work, because it gives them the impression of belonging to the exclusive group of citizens (the high salaries offer them special opportunities: they often receive coupons for the most expensive restaurants and clubs, for example).
...any doubts? is a scenic installation which - while using different formats and approaches - succeeds to detect and visualize the (in)visible influences of foreign investments in the call centers‘ industry in the specific spatial and social context of Calcutta. However, we could detect the same phenomena in the context of Belgrade and Serbia today. The program accompanying the exhibition-project presented in Belgrade, took the form of a (web) conference & discussion about the outsourcing strategies, foreign investments, new business organization and the influences they have to local cultural and business identity. The event brought together local experts in the domains of telecommunications, Internet, information technologies, economy, business, and culture.
Through a creative (both affirmative and critical) approach, all these projects (and those alike) attempt to give an innovative analytical view towards the most significant actual issues dealing with the relationship between artistic and economic issues, involving both the theoretical dimension and direct investigation in the field. They contribute towards answering the questions related to the complexity, similarities and contrasts of contemporary cultural and business life in the region, and develop communication between local, regional and global institutions and companies (governmental and non-governmental, public and private, cultural and economic), on the one hand, and artists, interdisciplinary groups, cultural operators, economists and businessmen involved in projects of social importance, on the other hand. While fostering direct exchange between different professional identities and expert communities, such activities focus primarily on the intersections between current artistic practice and theory, as well as the social and economic function and relevancy of global production today. Applying the methods of such cooperation into a permanent and dynamic stimulation of artistic and business development in South East Europe will hopefully promote the value of new discourses which could, at the same time, positively contribute to the processes of re-defining the image of the region and its proper integration into the contemporary European cultural space.
- Todor Kuljić, ‘Yugoslavia’s Workers Self-Management’, transcription of a video by Oliver Ressler, 23 min, 2003. www.ressler.at
- In order to conceptualize this intriguing relation, Slovenian theorist Marina Grzinic focuses her attention (and the object of her critique) not onto the institution of museum as such, but rather – onto the very institution of art as represented and embodied by the public museum, and further - as an institution of hierarchic relations, of stratified power and dynamics, i.e. the institution of (political and financial) power corresponding to the new situation of a contemporary globalized world. See: Marina Gržinić, “Does Contemporary Art Need Museums Anymore?”, in CIMAM - The International Committee of ICOM - The International Council of Museums of Modern Art Conference, Budapest, 2000. See also: Marina Gržinić, Situated Contemporary Art Practices. Art, Theory and Activism from (the East) of Europe, ZRC Publishing, Revolver - Archiv für aktuelle Kunst, Ljubljana - Frankfurt am Main 2004, pp. 109-123.
- Marina Grzinic, “The Ex-Yugoslav Condition, The Underground and the (Retro) Avant-Garde”, in KONTAKT... Works from the Collection of Erste Bank Group, exh. cat., MUMOK - Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna 2006, pp.48-55.
- See Belgrade – City of the Future of Southern Europe.
- fDi Magazine, Financial Times Business Ltd, European Cities of the Future 2006/07.