Transitland: Video art from Central and Eastern Europe 1989-2009

This book is conceived as a unique supplement to the archive, providing for an in-depth comment on the topics present in it and on the media they occupy. Its editor is Edit Andras (art historian and art critic, Research Institute for Art History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest) and the realization is carried out by ACAX | Agency for Contemporary Art Exchange. The release date of the publication is beginning of November 2009.

"The title of the book and the selection of essays correspond with the title of the archival project. In a separate section, entitled Transitland video archive, it serves as a catalogue of the project providing the list and short descriptions of the selected 100 videos, accompanied with a curatorial text by Kathy Rae Huffman curator-in-charge.She puts the works into four categories, performance, conceptual works, artistic license, a terminology coined by her, and documentary. She takes the responsibility to cover almost every single video in the archive, taking the weight off the shoulders of the editor to follow the same routine in her essay. Naturally, the essays cannot cover every single piece of the rich collection of this video archive; however, they do mention, and in some cases even elaborate on the reading of those videos as well, which could not get into our selection because of limited space but which would perfectly fit into a broader survey.

The book includes seventeen essays by distinguished art historians, artists and theoreticians. Six of these essays were commissioned specially for this volume, that by Marina Gr?ini?, Zoran Eric, Keiko Sei, Mikl?s Petern?k, Boryana Dragoeva and Edit Andr?s. The rest of the essays have already been published in art journals, anthologies or catalogues. Two of them are translated into English for this volume, and thus became available for the first time in English.

The collection of essays explores the so called New Europe (how the territory got to be called nowadays), once called the East Block (or Socialist countries behind the Iron Curtain), dividing again Europe even just by the naming, and separating it from Western Europe, considered unmarked “Europe”. For practical reasons, the volume uses the terminology applied by the project, however we are aware of the problematic nature of this seemingly neutral geographical categorization. One could detect a hidden political agenda in dividing the region, which probably should be called in a more proper way, Post-Socialist European countries, as it does not cover Asian socialist countries, and does not include countries from the geographical region that has no Socialist past. The scope of this publication is Post-Socialist Europe.

Concerning the time frame, although there are some references to the preliminary phenomena of the genre, the core of the book focuses on the last twenty years, the period of transition or transformation of the region. Transition and transformation are the two keywords of the volume focusing on the videos that are, in one way or another, reflect on the political changes, and what come with them, and on the complete rearrangement of different walks of the life of these societies. What is more, the genre has the capacity of generating political issues and concerns, and thus stimulates transformations to happen.

The book concentrates strictly on video art, that is, video films being represented or screened within art and exhibition context. It is noticeable that video art in the region gradually broke out from the ghetto of its category, experimental digital art or media art, and got involved in a broader activity of the different local art scenes. The number of video installations and museum screenings has increased all over the region. One can witness a kind of boom in using the technology of video even by artists with totally different background, education and training, which was not the case in the early nineties. Lately, video art is discussed within the discourse of contemporary art, as the center of attention shifted from technology to the message. Art historians and art critics, not necessarily specialized on media research and activities, got involved in interpreting video art. The list of authors in this anthology clearly reflects this change, there are well established authors among them in the field of critical theory, cultural studies, art history and art criticism, and the authors not necessarily come from the well-known poll of circulating media gurus, although they are not excluded either.

Every editor’s dream is to select texts that are theoretical, critical and most importantly, comprehensive and comparative, as if it were possible to jump over the phase of putting together the pieces of the puzzle first, that is, of gathering knowledge of the very diverse activities of a very diverse region. A lot of scholars from the region argue for locality and for the importance to comprehend the relevant context, and to revise the superficial statements relying on good old Cold War clich?s, always returning in mega-regional or sub-regional shows and in statements on post-socialist countries. To demonstrate this diverse context and heritage in different parts of the region, that once was understood as homogeneous, the selection tried to shed light on every corner of the shadowed land, as it was labeled in the infamous Wilson speech. All the two dozens countries could not be represented in the anthology, given the limited extent of the volume, at least it was intended to have all sub-regions to have its own moment through close encounter with the scene of one of its countries. Those sub regions, in accordance with the archival project, around which the essays were arranged, are the Balkans, Central Europe, and successor states of the former Soviet Union. Most of the authors of the volume provided an overview of just one, and mostly their own home country, only a few of them covered two (Boryana Dragoeva – Bulgaria and Russia) or three countries (Keiko Sei – Czech Republic, Hungary and Rumania), however the reader is compensated for the mosaics of nations by the wild variety of approaches. Some of the authors give an art historical overview of the country they represent (Mikl?s Petern?k – Hungary; Katarina Rusnakova - Slovakia; Ryszard Kluszcynszky – Poland), while also elaborate some aspects of the genre, as Petern?k touches the issue of the interrelation between TV, video, and internet as wildly used public communication devices. Others chose a specific issue to elaborate on the genre in their country: Zoran Eric took up the issue of identity in Serbia; Tomas Pospiszyl the historical memory in Czech videos, Alexander Bokhorov examines the interrelation of performance and video in Russia. Rusnakova and Boryana give a special overview of the use of the body and gender related videos in Slovakia and Bulgaria. Some authors get even closer to their subject by providing a close reading of a single segment that can offer a deeper understanding of the specificities of the region like Boris Buden’s analyses of Goran Devic’s video The imported Crow, or Giorgio Bertellini’s analysis of Marina Gr?ini? & Aina ?mid’s videos in the terms of space as opposed to the general notion of video centered around temporality. The peculiar case of post-soviet, post -socialist countries carrying a double burden in their transformation, is elaborated in Antonio Geusa’s critical outline of Russian video art in comparison with the state of video art in the global scene, in Ruben Arevshatyan’s study on Armenian video art all the significant works are considered, whereas Mihnea Mircan concentrates on the fate of Socialist monuments after the political changes, and how this issue is raised in videos. Trans-nationality, which is very much part of the nature of the region, is present in the “cross-attention” of a Rumanian art historian (Mihnea Mircan) working on Lithuanian videos, and Keiko Sei’s Asian perspective on the changing societies and video as one of the most effective interpretative tool of its transformation. Her essay leads us back to the early hey days of video art after the political changes at the beginning of the nineties. Calin Dan’s essay, earlier published in the Ex Oriente Lux catalogue accompanying the first comprehensive exhibition of Rumanian video art, is a documentary “footage” itself in our archive. Boris Groys theorizes both, the archive and video, and their interference transforming the meaning and notion of both of them. Theoretician and video artist Marina Gr?ini?’s essay, written specially for the present volume, serves as a keynote study providing a guideline to many of the aspects that this collection of essays raises."

Edit Andr?s

Editor of the book