Subversion to Red

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‘Subversion to Red’ Installation view Table, wood, red paint, white crayon, 300×300 cm. 2 videos, 18 and 11 min. colour, loop. 2013 Commissioned by Calvert 22, London.

Subversion to Red is a project that fosters a search for new forms of socio-political organsiation by revisiting certain concepts and societal forms from the past.

In Soft Subversions: Texts and Interviews, 1977-1985, Félix Guattari points out that Capitalism only selects and economically valorizes those things that fit its specific needs’. Thus it follows that (not capital letter) capitalism may only produce motivation by calling upon incredible levels of cruelty. In contrast, this project encourages a return of the idea seeking to revive the notion of idealism in contemporary society as an alternative form of motivation. It asks whether it is possible to re-visit and revive some of the ‘old’ concepts, re-activating them for our own purposes today.

Throughout 2012, I followed the events related to the Occupy movement closely. I wanted to learn more about the methods they were using in order to affect selected institutional systems. To my surprise, I did not learn anything from them. In one of the first instances after Occupy’s initial ‘occupations’ of MOMA New York, the museum’s curators publicly asked Occupy to suggest how they might modify the museum’s internal activities in order to fulfill the requests that Occupy was making. In another instance, during the last weeks of Berlin Biennial 7, Occupy were invited by the curators of BB7 to propose new working strategies for the Kunst Werke Institute, inviting Occupy to modify the structure of any one of the institution’s departments. However, perhaps due to Occupy’s lack of awareness about the inner workings of the institution – divisions of labour, workloads and the specific dynamic of their in-house processes – they were unable to propose anything relevant. In this instance they were unable to meet the core aims of their own fight.

Nevertheless, what I learned through this process – something that motivated me to start working on this project – is the following: first, conceiving how to change things. In order to create valuable tools for relevant change today, it seems necessary to investigate a history of alternative social / political arrangement. Secondly, I learned that art institutions are often open to revising their internal working methods; to consider and introduce changes, in order to propose new social/societal models.

These two aspects are fundamental for the project Subversion to Red, which has been conceived almost as a ‘ten-year plan’, where a number of activities (conferences, actions and performances) will be enacted in order for a final goal to be achieved.

The aim of the project is to find ways in which the idea of (not capital letter) socialism, or Marxism could be re-introduced in contemporary society.

Through a process of reviving certain socialist / Marxist ideas and strategies, the project aims to apply those postulates within present-day working environments. In the particular case of Subversion to Red, the chosen working environment is that of the art institution (and cultural environments more broadly), as these are often open to revising their internal working methods and to consider the possibility of introducing changes as a way of testing new social / societal models.

This project is not interested in large-scale revolution, or the performative aspects of public / street revolutions. It is based on the idea that change should come from within, and by carefully following predetermined steps that might work in different ways towards re-shaping individual or public opinion.

The steps

The project has three stages of development:

1. Knowledge (Red Discussion)
Red Discussion is conceived as a discussion between relevant thinkers and theorists who are invited to analyse and critique various concepts within socialist / Marxist theory. The goal of these discussions is to raise the possibility of reactivating certain ‘historical categories’, while bringing an element of discursiveness (delete) from within the realm of socialist / Marxist theory. The aim is to deconstruct former models (those no longer relevant to current social and political structures) and to propose aspects within them that may still be applicable today.

2. Ideology (Red-iness)

This second stage aims to point out the validity of certain socialist / Marxist postulates for contemporary society. Newly created artworks will revive these ideologies, by re-enacting excerpts from various speeches, books or films, in the form of performance or video-performance.
3. Application

When stages one and two have been familiarised (i.e. when a level of public knowledge and ideological belief in them has been augmented), a third step could then be applied. Concretely, the application of these new strategies would be tested within art institutions, by proposing to modify their internal working structure and strategies. The art institution(s) would work according to these modified strategies, supported by employees’ internalisation and appropriation of these ideologies.

List of Subversion to Red projects by now:

  1. Red Discussion 1, live art event, Cavert 22 gallery, London, 2013
  2. Red Discussion 2, live art event, La Biennale di Venezia, Venezia 2019
  3. Red-iness: Robespierre, video documentation of a performance, 2013
  4. Red-iness: Gestalt, video documentation of a performance, 2013
  5. Humane Communism, photo documentation of a workshop, Tirana, 2016

Red Discussion 1

Live art event

Red Discussion 1 is part of Subversion to Red project. Red discussion is conceived as a discussion between relevant thinkers and theorists who are invited to analyse and critique various concepts of Marxist theory and left thought. The aim is to deconstruct former models (those no longer relevant to current social and political structures) and to propose aspects within them that may still be applicable today.

During the event, various ideas and key words have been written onto a pentagonal table, which served as the platform to build up and define a set of key concepts and ideals that could be used as a guide for redefining the contemporary society.

Speakers include: Dave Beech, Hannah Black, Gail Day, Mark Fisher and Nina Power. Chaired by Vlad Morariu.

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Red Discussion 1, Live art event with David Beech. Hannah Black, Gail Day, Mark Fisher and Nina Power
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Red Discussion 1, Live art event with David Beech. Hannah Black, Gail Day, Mark Fisher and Nina Power

Red Discussion 2

Live art event

During the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, as one of the key elements of the exhibition within the Pavilion of the Republic of North Macedonia, Red Discussion 2 is organised to take place as a performative discussion including the following participants: Charles Esche, Maurizio Lazzarato, Vlad Morariu, Chantal Mouffe, Laura Raicovich and Artan Sadiku.

In general, Red Discussion is conceived as a discussion between relevant thinkers and theorists invited to analyse and critique various concepts of socialist / Marxist theory and Leftist thought. The aim is to analyse and deconstruct former societal models and ideologies (those no longer relevant to current social and political structures) and to identify and re-propose aspects or specific ideas that may still be, or could become, applicable today.

The red painted pentagonal table, onto which the various ideas and key words from the discussion were written during the performative event, defines a set of key concepts and ideals that could be used as a guide for redefining contemporary society. It subsequently remained as an artwork within the exhibition space, exhibited alongside the video documenting Red Discussion 1 and other artworks of Subversion to Red.

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Red Discussion 2, Live art event with Charles Esche, Maurizio Lazzarato, Vlad Morariu, Chantal Mouffe, Laura Raicovich and Artan Sadiku.
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Red Discussion 2, Live art event with Charles Esche, Maurizio Lazzarato, Vlad Morariu, Chantal Mouffe, Laura Raicovich and Artan Sadiku.

Redi-ness: Gestalt

Video performance

Red-iness is a series of video performances that explore the idea of ‘time collapse’ and the applicability of past concepts in the present. Redi-ness: Gestalt  (2013) presents the re-enactment of a speech acted by Milena Dravić in the film W.R. Mysteries of the Organism (1971), directed by Dušan Makavejev.

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Red iness - Gestalt Part of the project 'Subversion to Red' 2013 18 min, colour, loop. Commissioned by Calvert 22, London.
Red iness – Gestalt
Part of the project ‘Subversion to Red’
2013
18 min, colour, loop.
Commissioned by Calvert 22, London.

 

Redi-ness: Robespierre

Video performance

Red-iness is a series of video performances that explore the idea of ‘time collapse’ and the applicability of past concepts in the present.

In the film Early Works (1969) directed by Želimir Žilnik, excerpts from a letter written by Karl Marx to his friend and fellow political philosopher Arnold Ruge are read aloud:

…In the eyes of the despot, men are always debased. They drown before his eyes and on his behalf, in the mire of common life, from which they always rise up again. Muta pecora, prona et ventri oboedientia. [“The herd is silent, docile and obeys its stomach.”]

For our part, it is our task to drag the old world into the full light of day and to give positive shape to a new one…

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Red-iness: Robespierre Part of the project ‘Subversion to Red’ 2013 18 min, colour, loop. Commissioned by Calvert 22, London.
Red-iness: Robespierre
Part of the project ‘Subversion to Red’
2013
18 min, colour, loop.
Commissioned by Calvert 22, London.

 

Humane Communism

Photo documentation

This series of photographs is positioned at the entrance hall of our pavilion, The project is set of documentary photographs, resulting from a workshop with students at the National Gallery in Tirana, Albania. The artist asked the participants of the workshop to engage with a series of monumental socialist-era statues in the museum’s courtyard, developing an intimate and tactile relationship with the statues.

The workshop aimed at creating a more humane view of the past, by supporting the notions of self-irony, love, human errors and naivety, and the liberation of the soul and body, in contrast to the stillness of the cold and rigid monuments from the socialist past of Albania.

‘ This artwork argues against the notions of domination, the adoration of heroes and the blind submission to the Party ’

Adela Demetja

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2016
Workshop documentation, 20 Photographs, each 10 x 15 cm
Workshop organised by TAL Tirana Art Lab.
Workshop participants: Aurora Kalemi, Mirjana Meçaj, Lucas Vogt, Ruzmira Beqiraj Bejaj. 
Held at the National Gallery of Arts, Tirana, Albania
Photographs by Nada Prlja and TAL.
Courtesy of TAL and the artist.

 

Exhibition history:

/ The Republic of North Macedonia at 58th La Biennale di Venezia

/ Imaginarium: contemporary video art from Macedonia – Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen, Scotland

/ Double Feature # 4 Nikolin Bujari & Nada Prlja – Tirana Art Lab, Tirana

/ ‘.how is it towards the east?’ – Calvert22, London

Press coverage:

e-flux announcement

/ Russian art + culture

What did they say about the project:

‘…The exhibition by taking its title from William Morris’s ‘News from Nowhere’, ‘…how is it towards the east?’, builds on Morris’s questioning of socialism starting with artist Nada Prlja’s newly commissioned work Subversion to Red, which features a Red discussion 1, a discursive discussion that was looking back at communist ideas and their present-day relevance. The imposingly  and intentionally red round-table has been adorned with conceptual quotes written during a discussion with leading leftists, socialist and Marxist theorists today at UK…’

‘…Nada Prija’s work is part of a ten-year-plan that proposes to “revive the notion of idealism in contemporary society as an alternative form of motivation”, and she is equally concerned with the principle of “reactivating” – in this case good concepts from the ‘old’ socialist forms of organisation. She explores these through the art institution, a platform she finds open to revising its internal working methods. She has curated a public event, the Red Discussion, where five thinkers discussed Marxist theories and leftists ideas in the aim to deconstruct former models and flesh out aspects that may be applicable today. The resulting ideas were written over the surface of a pentagonal table, and for the duration of the exhibition visitors are welcome to disscuss or relate to those thoughts.

Matthew Burgess

‘…Nada Prija’s work is part of a ten-year-plan that proposes to “revive the notion of idealism in contemporary society as an alternative form of motivation”, and she is equally concerned with the principle of “reactivating” – in this case good concepts from the ‘old’ socialist forms of organisation. She explores these through the art institution, a platform she finds open to revising its internal working methods. She has curated a public event, the Red Discussion, where five thinkers discussed Marxist theories and leftists ideas in the aim to deconstruct former models and flesh out aspects that may be applicable today. The resulting ideas were written over the surface of a pentagonal table, and for the duration of the exhibition visitors are welcome to disscuss or relate to those thoughts.

Prija’s video performances under the title Red-iness further probe these issues by exploring the concept of “time collapse” (the ways in which past ideas can be transposed into the present), and she re-enacts excerpts of speeches by Robespierre during the French Revolution, and later Stevo Zigon during the Belgrade student protests of 1968. The outcome, however, is a somewhat cryptic piece that is perhaps a little too ‘foxy’ as far as its institutional critique goes, especially given the extraordinarily well-educated profile of its Red Discussion participants, but art is also for a public, too…’

Ana Baeza Ruiz

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