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Topic: In search of a balanced view

Now that the shock of the cancellation of Manifesta 6 has been expressed with an emotive backlash against what appeared as conservative policies and attitudes in this country and I for one, have contributed my bit too, (see Not for Art[).
It is time to continue the debate with the other equally pertinent issues albeit less sensational in the light of what has been published in the various forums both official and non official.

Local and International Backlash

The backlash in all its forms appears to be an indicator of overall disappointment and frustration with a cultural and political system which does not at least appear equitable and transparent, not only in Cyprus but elsewhere too. So many artists and theoreticians missing the opportunity to participate in and contribute to a 3 month event that has been perceived as a courageous ground breaking initiative which would undoubtedly have exerted a great influence on the development and attitudes of future biennials is a lot of shared disappointment.
In Cyprus, many of us invested into Manifesta 6 an agenda of responsibility to at least kick start some very vital changes in our cultural environment. We expected the school to generate a transformative dialogue that would elevate the condition of cultural workers in this country and its immediate region. (see Planning for the Future)

Art and Politics

There is an inseparability of art and politics, especially on the scale of international biennials such as Manifesta. Unfortunately for all Cypriots, the abundant international documentation on the advocacy for the "No" vote in the Referendum 2004, by the present government has now re-created a climate of mistrust, a generalised deduction that the Manifesta 6 cancellation is exclusively a return and reinforcement of this political attitude. It is true, like most nations, Cyprus does have its share of nationalist bigots, but it is a major mistake for the international community to assume this represents the entire country as it negates the presence of many bicommunal collaborations and friendships.
My criticism of the NFA is that they should have foreseen this obvious connection and its literal translation by the international community and not allowed the situation to reach its unfortunate conclusion. In this context, IFM also played a role. The question then is why?
Why did the NFA and IFM fail to resolve this deadlock knowing that it would be the people of Cyprus who would in the end be the losers.
That there is a general disregard for the importance of culture and cultural practice in Cyprus is true. It appears also true that the Host failed to fathom that Manifesta 6 is not yet again one of those expensively funded large scale exhibitions which comes and goes quietly. They also appear to have failed to understand that IFM is a high profile organisation which would not shy away from politics and political debate. In fact, this conflict of purpose will raise IFM’s profile and as far as the international community will be concerned, the cancellation of M6 by the NFA will enhance IFM as a beacon for the freedom of expression and practice for artists and curators alike. The NFA has involuntarily set up a huge public relations campaign in favour of IFM but the situation here is not this issue alone.

Personal attacks

We, in Cyprus know that Yiannis Toumazis, the Coordinator of M6, was an energetic "yes" voter in the 2004 referendum. He was so impassioned with the prospect of a unified Cyprus that he published numerous articles in the press criticising the encouragement of the "no" vote by the present government and he advocated a move on to a healthier political and cultural future of cooperation and collaboration.
So why did the official M6 forum, IFM, the curators and NFA fail to delete or comment openly on the vitriolic extremely personal attacks on Mr.Toumazis which had absolutely nothing to do with the issue of cancellation nor with his skills as a coordinator and why were these comments allowed to remain on the forum until its closure. I notice that the new official manifesta forum states clearly its intention to delete any post with ‘bad language’. It is mainly this incident which took the discussion to such a low level of communication that made me revise my opinions about what’s really happening.

In Cyprus, we also know that the Ministry of Education and Culture has as one of its major priorities, the support and development of bicommunal projects and has allocated an equivalent generous budget for this. So what went wrong? The positive attitudes of bi-communality were in place at the onset of the Manifesta negotiations, so why did IFM and the curators insist on pushing the boundaries beyond the chance of M6 realisation and why was the delicate political situation in Cyprus not afforded a respect and cooperation due to a Host. This stubbornness represents a colonialist attitude, representing the rash eagerness of the populist world view that all people in this region are open source for accusations, manipulation and condemnation of being untrustworthy extremists.

Ethics

This situation raises some very salient issues with the main one being the absolute necessity for an ethical approach when organising events in conflict zones. It is of vital importance that sensitivity and discretion are implemented by both curators and organisers. Working in a region imbued with its own divisive political and historical agenda is a mammoth task requiring cultural diplomacy which transcends the autonomy of curators and organisers (see Open letter to Manifesta).
It requires the understanding and experience of the intricacies of the fabric of a particular society with all its interwoven pain and resentments. Without this consideration, internationally organised cultural events would take upon themselves, a mandate to be highly funded and transient incursions upon a host city and its culture. (see Open City)
This is an important consideration which requires its own concentrated open discussion.

An Open Debate

With the exception of a few, where are the voices? The cancellation of M6 is the radical realization of M6 which moves the dialectic into a totally new arena. Does this not provoke some very serious and honest consideration? Why are most of my colleagues sheltering themselves in their ateliers or behind alias names, waiting to see which side will be the most profitable to openly support at a later date? This radical realization of M6 is now public domain demanding a translation of issues which should be addressed with a balanced dialogue representing all points of view.

The School

I believe that the people directly involved with the organisation of Anton Vidokle’s department had no ethical problem with its site in Northern Nicosia. However, the legality of this situation was not up to them. This is the domain of lawyers who are bound by the nation’s laws and legal requirements. No cultural event on any scale can usurp this right.
As an analogy, I could not imagine the Palestinian government would consider funding and implementing a section of an art school in Israeli occupied territory, nor would the international community expect them to do so. This issue goes far beyond the autonomy of curators and the jurisdiction of international biennials especially in this region where the delicate thread of détente is always pulled so tight by many conflicting vested interests.
The 100 days school could have been a meeting place which encouraged people to feel at home across the border, to trust and take responsibility for a shared future. I would have greatly admired the establishment of a department of the school in the north as a courageous and positive pacifist mediation with the Turkish administration. This hope is shared by many Cypriots but at this point in time, the political and legal framework on both sides is still in a state of "under siege" and as such the only translation possible is the reading of legality bound by UN resolutions. In spite of this, it appears that the Host was willing to implement and fund short term events (meaning days at a time rather than months) throughout the 3 month period of Manifesta in occupied territory so why was this not mentioned in the various forums and why didn’t both IFM and the curators see this agreement as positive social and political progress in itself?

The bipartisan issue

Although it appears to the international community that the sum total of the cancellation of M6 is again the victory of wealthy Greek versus poor Turk, it is a very cliché and mistaken conclusion. As I have stated already and regrettably, like most nations, all of Cyprus too, has its proportion of nationalist obsessives who encourage a paranoid xenophobia and racism. However, to focus a development of scholarly, relevant and constructive dialogue exclusively from this point of reference negates what we have already achieved through a small but open discussion instigated by the presence of M6 on this island for the past two years.

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Re: In search of a balanced view

You find a reply to Helene Black's text (also posted on the Manifesta forum) signed "Anton Vidokle" at
http://www.manifesta.org/forum/display_ … asp?mid=28

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Re: In search of a balanced view

Dear Anton,

The misconception that one must not make any critical observations to the contrary and there are sides to be taken with obedient and unquestioning support, is unacceptable to me.
My post, In search of a balanced view, is clearly not about taking sides. It is my attempt to question the issues raised in the various posts and press releases more objectively beyond the accusatory nationalist and inflammatory divisive comments which appear to dominate the discussion so far.

My enthusiastic support for M6 is well documented as is my concerned engagement in advocating a responsible, equitable and transparent dialogue in the cultural environment of Cyprus. Obviously, this absence of clarity and responsibility was a major obstacle to the realisation of this most important project and I do state that the NFA contributed to this.

However, this does not, in my view, devalue the consideration and discussion of other issues I raised in the post.

in friendship,
Helene

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Re: In search of a balanced view

Having tentatively absorbed the rumour and finally the confirmed cancellation of Manifesta 6 - along with the resulting clarifications, disbelief, accusations and (unfortunate) mud-slinging - I am reminded of my evening out last Wednesday:

Right About Now: ENGAGEMENT

Wednesday, 7 June 2006, 20:00 - 23:00 hrs.

Speakers: Hal Foster (USA), Sven Lütticken (DE/NL)

Does increasing globalisation lead to a renewed acquaintance with the world around us? Has the post-modern paradigm of ‘art-as-simulacrum’ (Baudrillard) of the 1980s, shifted in the 1990s towards a focus on daily reality in the arts – a ‘return of the real’? An increasing number of artists currently explore socio-political issues, and so the notion of the artist as anthropologist/ethnographer/social worker seems one of the dominant elements in the discourse of the late 1990s. It remains to be seen, however, whether this art is truly engagé – exerting a significant influence on the outside world – or whether it is doomed to remain an interesting but ultimately powerless product, with a range that cannot extend beyond the narrow corners of the art world.

What surprised me was that neither in the presentations made - Sven Lutticken could not attend and was substituted by Jeroen Boomgaard - nor in the following discussion was any focus or attention given to the situation of the cancellation of Manifesta 6. Taking into account the topic of the evening, and assuming that the purpose of such an affair is dialogue and discussion, it somewhat disappoints me that an distinct and actual instance such as the cancellation of Manifesta 6 is not included. By all means I do not explicitly blame the speakers and/or audience posing questions; the expected level of quality with such speakers was achieved and although the discussion may have been better mediated, the Q&A led to interesting insights. However, the focus was consistently focussed on singular artists (of Dutch and 'Western' context) and their practice.

Now why do I mention all of this? Because the preoccupied and rather heedless manner in which the 'art world' attempts to practices its discourse is running away with itself, and I think this is relevant for the situation of Manifesta 6. The term 'art world' alone says enough as far as I'm concerned. This is not because I eschew the professional field of contemporary art and its practioners (as I am one of them), but I feel that when art reaches out beyond its 'world' it often does so with the assumption that all that it touches becomes part of that world; it too often presupposes understanding and assumes an autonomous safety-zone which grants constant leverage and manoeuvrability. When at the end of the 1960's Western contemporary art stridently stepped beyond the institutional realm into the 'real world' - meaning not only artistic practice and form, but representatives of its infrastructure such as curators, critics, academians and institutions themselves - it did so with vigour and youthful expectation. Now almost 40 years later I experience this naitivity as less permissible. When contemporary art ventures outside its 'world' it should not take its presupposed autonomy for granted.

In no way do I assume to know how the cancellation of Manifesta 6 came about, nor is it my intention to make any specific accusations to the involved parties. I can only base my (provisional) conclusions on the information which has been sent to me by the IMF and NFA. From these I do conclude that IMF has been innocuous in its approach. The fact that the host suddenly distanced itself from contractual obligations/agreements is inexcusable, but it does not surprise me that this could happen in highly politicized and precariously cultural context such as Cyprus. I understand that - at least in part - this situation is exactly the reason that the curators of Manifesta 6 were interested in Cyprus as a location, therefore I would not expect that they would be surprised or disappointed when assurances fall through, they should be prepared. By preparation I do not (only) mean their handling/negotiations with the host context, but their reaction after the cancellation. All information I have received on this situation has been sent to me by the curators and/or organization IFM in more or less the form of a press release. I do not feel that the curators are in a position to explain to me the political intricacies of Cyprus. This I expect from lawyers and politicians (and I would hope they will also involve themselves in this discourse). From curators and organizers I expect to explain content and to express the urgency for contemporary art and its manifestations, even when they fail.

I hope (rather expect) that this is yet to come.

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Re: In search of a balanced view

Ms. Black, you seem to completely forget that Turkish Cypriots, immigrants, settlers, refugees, students, migrant workers and all others have certain human rights. Regardless of whether the army of Turkey is stationed in North Cyprus or not, people who live there are first and foremost human beings. How easily you seem to agree to deprive them of cultural and social contacts with the rest of the world. I urge you to read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly this paragraph:

Article 22.

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

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Re: In search of a balanced view

Helene raises important questions that I for one would like to pursue: did the IFM fail to anticipate the bureaucratic strategies and legal blockages that the NFA would come to use against them? Did they fail to arm their curators with the appropriate legal defense? And did the curators willfully refuse to negotiate the delicate political situation in pursuit of impractical ideals?

It may be a little pointless to ask these questions in a situation where transparency and publicity have been lacking for some time now - there are more concrete ways of responding to criticism than forum posts and word of mouth. In retrospect, it's understandable that with negotiations heading where they were, no one would not be issuing press releases on their plans and positions. But it certainly hasn't helped public opinion.

This may be a tall order, but I agree that the IFM should have foreseen the need to arm themselves, and their curators, against legal twists such as the one that brought things to an impasse. The NFA had clearly laid their groundwork - the February 2 Manifesta press release claimed that the biennial "...will not attempt to mediate over 30 years of complex Cypriot polemical and political conditions, despite the fact that Nicosia is a divided city..." Coupled with the fact that they reserved the right to approve the sites for the school, and the right to block the project completely, it seems likely that they anticipated trouble from the moment they signed on to the project.

But should the curators should have accepted a more pragmatic path from the one they have taken? Judging from Anton Vidokle's response, no compromise was possible. But even if it had been, the apolitical path is hardly a useful one. The curators responded to a situation that required them to take sides (such as situating their part of their school in the Turkish area); there is no indication that they did not respect the political situation of Cyprus, and every indication that the NFA does not consider culture to involve politics at all. So it is not a question of "agreement as positive social and political progress in itself", but a question of how we envision a situation, and what we are willing to cooperate with. But I would not lose hope that all chances for a transformative dialogue have been lost - this may an impetus for more demanding critiques. The IFM may well have been lacking in ethical understanding and experience in dealing with sensitive political issues, certainly having produced several editions of manifesta would have warned them of the dangers at stake in sites of conflict - but the least we can all do at this point is steer the conversation away from useless mud-slinging and towards more productive discussions.

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Re: In search of a balanced view

>>So many artists and theoreticians missing the opportunity to participate in and contribute to a 3 month event that has been perceived as a courageous ground breaking initiative which would undoubtedly have exerted a great influence on the development and attitudes of future biennials is a lot of shared disappointment.<<

Wow - p.r. machines and manifesta seem to go hand in hand! Just explain, please, as it didn't happen and there was no real initiative that was formally introduced to anyone other than the devoted invitees, just who has already established this project,so that is "has been perceived as a courageous ground breaking initiative"?!

The reason people are cynical and laugh at Manifesta and particularly this one, is such egotistical mindless p.r. statements. Oh how humble, you forgot all the other examples that exist, and instead, you are absolute in your assessment, that it
"would undoubtedly have exerted a great influence on the development and attitudes of future biennials is a lot of shared disappointment."

How do you all sleep?

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Re: In search of a balanced view

I admire manifest 6's commitment to art praxis for peace but nevertheless I have some reservations about your observation. Please don't make easy and extremely misleading political parallels like the following: "As an analogy, I could not imagine the Palestinian government would consider funding and implementing a section of an art school in Israeli occupied territory, nor would the international community expect them to do so."
Turkish Cypriots have lived in Cyprus for hundreds of years. They are not occupiers. They have voted as a community for peace yet are cut off from Europe and abandoned to a twilight zone. The long and sad history of the divided communities since 1963 differs to that of Israel. Comparisons impoverish any nuanced understanding.
Just to correct another point the North of Cyprus is not under "Turkish administration" although the army does have too much power it is a democracy and has a Cypriot governement, the party in power voted for the annan plan and the reunification of the island with minority rights for Turkish Cypriots.

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Re: In search of a balanced view

Alev,
Perhaps I should have made the distinction clearer.
When I refer to Cyprus, I mean all of Cyprus which includes both Greek/Turkish Cypriots and other minorities.
When I refer to the Turkish administration, I mean the dominant features introduced in Northern Cyprus by mainland Turkey. The few that I have experienced are:
Turkish Cypriots must write "Turkey" as their postal address and not Cyprus.
When I call my Turkish Cypriot friends, I must dial Turkey's country code and not the one for Cyprus.
The currency used is Turkish and not Cypriot.
The stamps are Turkish and not Cypriot.
The mainland Turkish settlers and Turkish military forces both outnumber and out vote the Turkish Cypriots.
I do not wish to provoke a bi-partisan debate but these are issues of concern when we discuss the independence of Turkish Cypriots.

Helene

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Re: In search of a balanced view

Helene you write "I do not wish to provoke a bi-partisan debate but these are issues of concern when we discuss the independence of Turkish Cypriots." Of course there are huge issues of concern for all Cypriots, especially those committed to a peaceful settlement that respects evryone's rights. My original point remember was that using Israel as a comparison was both inexact, partisan and unhelpful.