Concerning Solidarity

Images: all the posted ones are details from a single photograph documenting the activities of Galerie der Freundschaft  [Gallery of Friendship] at the Lindenau-Museum Altenburg during Winter, ca. 1977. Galerie der Freundschaft had been the name for an educational programme (instead of a manifest gallery space), primarily for school-aged children during the existence of the GDR; it also could be located as a concept in a school or cultural centre. On the white thick paper, partly folded into a wind wheel, you can read Galerie der Freundschaft and the graphic logo of the museum. The activities take place within an exhibition, apparently of children's drawings. Photo: Reinhard Mende (c) Archive Produzieren 2013.

November 13, 2013, Berlin. I just returned from an enjoyable work-week in London with much reading, researching and meeting friends. And now, I struggle to write this blog-entry, already for two days. But I have to post something here in order to fulfil the residency’s agreements. Six entries – minimum – shall go online within six weeks. Mhm. I already seem behind schedule. At this moment, it feels as if Tarek Elhaik’s Incurable-Image did infect the writing apparatus out of control, as if any knowledge about how to make thoughts public disappeared in the ‘chaotic affects’ that Elhaik attached to this tempting ‘incurable image.’ It had been so kind to infect me as a way of helping (I realize now that infection could be a kind of help) to turn the previous blog-entry into a poem. However, I cannot write another poem now, because I don’t struggle with the loss of professional curating to the extent as it had been the case with the particular photograph taken in a hotel room in Beirut in 1982 (read my previous entry), which simply requested another treatment than putting its visual / visible appearance on public display. Elhaik’s ‘incurable image’ resists any prefabricated method; it destroys any hope to master an aid-programme for the image’s survival. If one has hoped that the writing of a poem would finally be the appropriate method to curate, then I have to warn the reader (and myself) hereafter about a huge disappointment. It does not work. In fact, there is nothing to curate; and the blog-writer's bloc teaches us to struggle further. In other words, while a clinical approach to curating comes close to a sort of intellectual vivisection of that which is on display, the ‘incurable image’ affects the one who wish to put something on display. Any observational analysis (or intellectual vivisection) inevitably involves the one who considers herself in the position to help and to support. Realizing the break-down of curating as a clinical figure / aid-programme profoundly unsettles the seemingly secured position somewhere ‘outside,’ where ever this might be. This break-down comes with consequences.

Well, I have to make something public, to exhibit, and to display now. There is a valuable proximity, stemming from an etymological relation, between ‘to display’ and ‘to displace.’ Any method of placing a photograph on display, of transforming a thought into a written word, of translating a conversation within a research process into a public moment – any means of articulation, which aim to make something public, inevitably depart from the forces of displacement. In other words, for example, the images of this blog-entry [Galerie der Freundschaft, Lindenau-Museum Altenburg, ca. 1977] arrive with a loss of any evidence of their origin; although, it is not clear even which origin we must talk about here: is it the ‘origin’ of the event, i.e., a family-day at a peripheral museum in the GDR during the Winter around 1977 hosting a gallery of friendship; or is it the ‘origin’ of the photographer’s gaze that had been reproduced and printed in 18 x 24 cm for the museum’s archive; or should we talk about the ‘origin’ of the viewer’s view who looks now at these fragmented pieces taken out from a photograph? Jacques Derrida reminds us in a conversation with Bernard Stiegler in 1993 that

‘the addressee has never simply been a passive receiver […] All the problems we have been talking about a technology that displaces places: the border is no longer the border, images are coming and going through customs, the link between the political and the local, the topolitical, is as it were dislocated.’

I have to displa(y)ce ‘the images in language’ that I had been looking for in my research into educational structures (read my first blog entry); I have to displa(y)ce everything what I had been looking for ‘in the desert,’ as Jean Genet would say. I struggle exactly from the dilemma in exhibiting with regard to the blog-entry’s headline: Concerning Solidarity. It is also the title from a chapter of my practice-PhD, however, it makes no sense to copy/paste here what I have written in my PhD, because a blog requests a different tone of writing. But I wish to extend my reflections around ‘solidarity’ in order to further the problematization of its promises for the creation of a sense of communality that seems to be attached to the concept of solidarity. This struggle in ‘making something public,’ i.e., to exhibit / display / displace, is not just a personal problem, but connects profoundly with concerns about ‘solidarity’ that attaches exhibition making to a geopolitical lens.

Let me try to elaborate on this complexity a bit: A few days ago, on November 10, I went to attend the workshop-talk on Socialist Friendship : Maputo-Tashkent-Havana. Art Education and International Solidarity at the exhibition venue Calvert 22. It contained a rich presentation by Polly Savage, focussing on Soviet scholarship programmes for students from Africa, particularly promoted through art education between the 1960s and 1970s most actively. It had been an extremely inspiring morning, where we tried to disentangle the solidarity’s double-bind that could be understood as following: one side of solidarity operated strongly through power structures and ideological protocols of state-socialism, which indicates an institutional-ideological dimension of solidarity. The other side links up with informal encounters, social relations, and student-life beyond ideological protocols, which created a sense for communality below the control of state-structures, as the East-German filmmaker Iris Gusner remembers her studies at the All-Union-State-Cinema-Institute (VGiK) in Moscow in the early 1960s. What, then, is ‘solidarity’ that Ros Gray profoundly analyzed as ‘socialist friendship’ in her research of lusophone African cinema, particularly in Mozambique, and the Soviet Union and other non-aligned nations such as Cuba and Yugoslavia. How can we problematize its macro-political dimension that the filmmaker Iris Gusner saw in real-existing socialism when solidarity had turned into ‘a bureaucratic act […] without your having to think about the meaning of it’ (as she argues in an interview with Ralf Schenk)? In other words, while organizing solidarity always depends on structuring powers, enacting solidarity puts a seemingly secured ground in fragile condition. The latter often misses the language to communicate with a wider public; it even might be speechless and wont produce anything to be exposed in public. This is a nightmare for a curator who permanently searches for something to put on display. But within this double-bind, made of macro-politics and micro-politics, I'd like to locate any promises departing from the notion of solidarity. 

I will come back to Iris Gusner in the next blog entry in form of a Letter to Iris Gusner.

Doreen Mende 2013