Gerardo Montes de Oca Valadez. Leak

Legalise contraband1


Saulius Leonavičius, 2013

Notes from Contrabbando* creative workshop, organised by Migrating Art Academies (MigAA) in Nida Art Colony (NAC).

How an object or a text could become a means for a different content? What is the difference between concrete blocks stuffed with cigarets and an activist’s head stuffed with anti-state information? The question which I brought into Contrabbando* workshop in NAC is this: (How) can an institution become a laboratory of sabotage? This in particular concerns an institution situated a few kilometers away from the border of an empire; an institution, which however plays a representative role in cultural field as a white cube or as an academic space. Can ideologically conflicting ideas, radical in relation to any existing norms, be possible within such institution? Can the meaning of an offense be explained and re-evaluated in a situation where only subordinated norms of an institution have been disobeyed. Can such creative workshop become an event the meaning of which would be measured according to the amount of threat?

In my opinion political activism barely appears in contemporary Lithuanian art and if it does, it is very fragmented. Cinema house “Lietuva” protest laboratory or constantly reappearing Alytus [art strike] biennial are only a few examples. It is hard to predict how much institutional critique is (still/no longer) important to artists, but as per my point of view, institutional contradictions are unnoticeable or not valid in the art world. One of the reasons might be the left-wing nature of this institutional critique, the way it started to emerge in the West in the sixties. The ideas of the new left are only slightly appearing in Lithuania – this can be identified from public readings of K. Marx in Vilnius or the popularity of G. Deleuze’s name in Vilnius Art Academy. MigAA and NAC are both closely related to Vilnius Art Academy, therefore pretensions regarding provocative initiatives within these institutions are understandable.

Ontological contraband is an illegal import of irrational factors into reality – of something which is incompatible with the structure of rational logics – the law of non-contradiction, the principle of individuation and the conception of randomness.

A lot of work carried out during the workshop was related to place, location, territory, space. One could predict that living in such beautiful environment during this beautiful season for two weeks turns your thought from the memory-dream flow into the contemplation of the Present. „The Leak“ by Gerardo Montes de Oca Valadez in which water drips into a bucket on the gallery floor through the leak in the roof most of all emphasizes the present time. It very much reacts to the sense of Here and Now. The plastics of the work comes form the balance of natural forces and the diagram of the basic laws of nature is drawn. Institutional context has been touched upon as well – the leaking skylight of the gallery space refers to a very frequent communal flat problem of being flooded from the above. The suggestion by Gerardo to the spectators to pour the water through the leak by themselves connects material and action into one. Water drops leaking into a bucket open up the dimension of time (waiting) whereas vertical and horizontal lines of gravitation and matter define the model of the physical space. I am thrilled by the simplicity of this piece and the idea behind it. Not from the top to the bottom, not from the bottom to the top, not from the side, but from the eye to eye. To be present, to capture and to shape the present moment.

Cultural criminology points out quite an obvious fact that we all keep committing smaller or bigger offenses all the time. It starts with a street crossed over in a wrong way and continues with illegally downloaded movies from torrent sites – minor daily crimes go on even being unidentified as such. Cultural criminology also points out significant disturbances of existing norms known as cultural changes and observed due to their symbolic rather than factual significance. Understanding of an offense and offense control are dependent on a particular culture and the meaning of an offense in this culture. By constantly committing small sins we find ourselves within a critical distance from common rules and norms; we wake up the daemons of the resistance. Sometimes we get punished or threatened, however this does not influence our dignity or self awareness and become part of our daily lives. Minor offenses inhabit our outer layers and turn into a tolerated but fragile part of our personality. Having committed a crime one covers his face with his hands. Something we did illegally can only be told to the close ones – these are our secrets, something we hide most. The moment an offense becomes a part of our history is the most fragile and the most significant to observe, here the private and the public interconnects into a common narrative.

Artist of the chaos can behave in a threatening manner, he can even behave as grand guignol, but he can never allow himself to dive into a stinky negativity, death, enjoyment of torture. Even if it looks like rage, anyone – with the help of an invisible third eye – can see the difference between life-bringing revolutionary art and death-bringing reactionist art. Images we choose have got dark power however all images are masks behind which energy exists that can be transformed into light and pleasure.

Marija and Greta were doing almost unnoticeable interventions into NAC space for the whole two weeks. They did some minor changes of the existing visible order in a way which allowed those changes to remain unperceived by others. Things were moved away from their usual places, fake notes with information were left in the space, food was cooked by/for someone who did not exist and so on. In two weeks time lots of unidentified changes of this kind were made and they were only disclosed as the project finished. I think this is the game well played in which the partner could only suspect he is into something he does not understand. This is a good reference to interlinking realities and our awareness. I am not sure whether it is wise for a contrabandist to turn back and tell the customs about what he has just done, he would rather tell his story to his accomplices. All actions which Maria and Greta had taken seemed organic and the emotion in them was definitely felt by the ones staying in NAC at the time. I think this is the case where the artwork exists only at a certain time in a certain situation and disappears as soon as the door is opened.

By the end of the second week of the laboratory my naïve hope to identify chances of conspiracy in a functioning structure was overcome by understanding that anarchy is firstly born inside one’s heart, that it grows and develops transforming all consisting parts of a human and that it can appear in unpredictable forms. Video work „Borderline“ by Nick Degtyarev and Nadia Degtyareva resonates on a very intuitive level of emotion and sense. Authors indicate that this work is aimed at variable (in history and in memory) perception of time – static time and dynamic time. Without literally commenting on contraband this work refers to the plastics and vibration of the verge – the verge between two screens, between our horizon and their horizon, between the present and the empty. Any line can be expanded to a field, any moment contains all moments of the past. The horizon does not exist, it is just an angle of the position of one’s head. Blurred boundaries could be crossed over without noticing or without being noticed. The word smuggle comes from scandinavian smog which refers to fog.

Recently I started to understand that intervention which crosses the line between allowed and prohibited, right and wrong, good and bad is a means to recognize the conditional and fearful nature of this line. All thirteen works presented in this exhibition contain an element of illegal intervention into existing order. A stolen bolt from Koenigsberg Palace, pseudo-drugs, instructions of hacking the organizer’s email, postcards with false landscapes, transportation of goods across the border or a visionary journey to the unconscious – all these actions appear very subtle, poetic, transcending the ethics of an offense. Languages which operate in art field allow for more than one interpretation of the same fact – this could be used when discovering alternative versions of reality. However it is not easy to evoke changes in the system or at least to evoke reaction – especially when existing system does not seem that problematic or unacceptable to the majority of artists. For that reason MigAA Contrabando* has worked out as a possibility of breaching the inner boundaries. There are many ways to cross the line – to erase it, not to notice it, to ignore it – but first one needs to identify and admit the contrabandist within oneself and to allow this contrabandist to do one’s job. When the last unfulfilled wish wins against an officer inside your head – then perhaps our surrounding landscape starts to change.

1 Extracts from works of Hakim Bey, Hans Haacke and Kristupas Sabolius have been illegally used in this text.