CULTURE

Salonica forum looks at art and multiculturalism

Listen to any discussion on contemporary art and its institutions and you are almost certain to run across terms like mobility, artistic exchange, international networking, diversity, new media and communication. This is not corporate language, but rather the jargon of art – yet an art which, as the words themselves suggest, is clearly under the influence of a globalizing world, its economy and intersecting markets. It seems that just as economic markets are opening up, so is art and its main institutions. Existing museums like the Guggenheim are extending their power through their satellite branches while museums are growing in number all over the world, even in those parts whose economies are suffering (the recent opening of the Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires is a good example). This growth also extends to a broad range of art events from art fairs, touring, international exhibits and emerging biennales, many of which take place as much on the artistic periphery – for instance, the latest Tirana Biennale – as at the center. A multicultural world, as ours is often called, is ostensibly concerned with matters of culture. But to speak of culture in a meaningful way one has to frame it in its social and political context. Use of the term merely raises the question of how the culture of each nation is expressed, in what direction and with what broader impact. Only then can we get beyond the simplistic parlance concerning how art can reconcile differences through a common language and a network of artistic exchanges. So how are we to appraise all the artistic commotion that is taking place around us? An opportunity to speculate on such issues was raised by Artistic Mobility in a Multicultural Europe, an annual, two-day forum which took place for the second consecutive year in Thessaloniki just a few days ago. The principal organizers are the Contemporary Art Center of Thessaloniki and its director Sania Pappa, the Strasbourg-based Apollonia-European Art Exchanges organization that is directed by Dimitris Konstantinidis, and Art Box, which is an art management company. Also involved in the organization of this year’s forum was the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art and the State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, the museum that owns the famed Costakis collection. The forum was initiated by a handful of people, headed by Sania Pappa and Dimitris Konstantinidis, with the ambition that it would expand into a major annual institution, a goal which, judging from the financial backing afforded by numerous Greek ministries and state organizations, is gradually being attained. That the forum addresses a current issue and attempts to give practical solutions to existing problems faced both by artists and institutions is part of its success. This is an opportunity for artists to express their concerns and reveal their problems, and for writers, curators and art specialists to meet in order to discuss partnerships and offer their expertise. Another distinct aspect of the forum is its engagement with issues concerning the broader region of the Balkans, thus prioritizing the relationship between the center and the periphery. Art exchanges in South-East Europe was the subject of last year’s forum, and this year Multicultural Europe was intended to include southeastern Europe, the Baltic region and eastern Europe. This focus explains the strong participation of artists from these areas in this year’s event. In a certain sense, the forum is largely an attempt to publicize the work of artists in the artistic periphery and associate them with new, dynamic institutions and joint ventures, even if not bring them into the mainstream art establishment per se. Indeed, an urge to redefine the role of existing institutions, visualize alternative ways of presenting art and help with the production of art was evident throughout this year’s forum. Interestingly enough, this is happening at a time when art institutions and art events are proliferating not just in the West but also in the regions of the artistic and geographical periphery. What is more, there seems to be a general effort to draw attention to the Balkan region and eastern Europe. The New Balkans, for example, is the title of the launching program for the 2004 Cultural Olympics, a program that the Bureau of Promotion of Greek Cultural Heritage has announced that it will commence its activities with. In the meantime, cultural institutions – many of them arising out of international initiatives – have emerged in certain parts of southeastern Europe. Examples include the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sarajevo and the Soros Centers of Contemporary Art, a network which was set by the Hungarian emigre financier and was active until 1999. Apollonia, which is one of the three principal organizer behind the Thessaloniki forum, is another venture directed toward promoting art in the southeastern European region. Initiated by the Council of Europe in 1994 as part of its program of cultural exchanges, Apollonia is responsible for organizing touring exhibits, setting up artists’ residences and encouraging artistic exchanges – it has also set up a web site (www.art-exchanges.com) to that effect – among the artistic communities found throughout different parts of Europe. Most of these operations, including the Thessaloniki forum, are based on the notions of mobility and networking. (This probably explains why many of the artists participating in the forum work with the so-called new technologies, producing works like art on the Internet, computer and audio-visual art which can travel fast and has an immaterial quality to it). They are not just about one project but about multiple, interconnecting activities. The Thessaloniki forum, for example, was supplemented by a screening of the After the Rain, a film by Milto Manchevski (it was awarded at the Venice Film Festival in 1994), an exhibit of his photographs as well as two more exhibits, one on Balkan video art and The Beauty and the Beast, a group, contemporary art show. Through such activities, the forum hopes to build contacts between people in the art world and promote future partnerships. Producing concrete, practical results rather than simply theorizing about art is the forum’s main objective, and there are signs of success in that aim. Last year’s forum, for example, led to the establishment of SECAN (South-Eastern European Contemporary Art Network), a joint venture funded by the French Institute and the European Council with branches in France and Bulgaria. One of the network’s activities is the launching of Gazet Art, an art magazine which, in order to reach a broader public, will circulate as a supplement to a different international art magazine each time. Such elaborate ventures are often seen as signs of a multicultural world coming to terms with its diversity, accepting cultural differences and incorporating them into its cultural mosaic. But it often seems that globalization and multiculturalism have almost become slogans, concepts too abstract and all-encompassing to connote any substantial meaning. Somehow, the issues involved in multiculturalism are far more intricate than our general understanding of the term. They involve cultural politics, funding for the arts and the mutual relationship between art and economies. It is against the background of such concerns that one has to determine the overall significance of Artistic Mobility in a Multicultural Europe. -The Federation of Greek Industries (SEV) holds a press conference at the Hotel Amalia.