The Beginning of Something Yet to Be Determined
Exhibition at Hunt Kastner Prague, 2019
text by Pablo José Ramirez
Can we build political meaning from an imagination yet to come? Is it possible to write the history of something that has not yet happened? Baladrán shows us that history is an alchemy of time, whose magic is still to be disputed between creative entanglements of life and the algorithmic determinations of capital. In a moment where human agency is lost amidst the annihilatory void of capital, the task of an imaginative-material history is more relevant than ever, as Baladrán reminds us.
Marxist spirits from the future populate Baladrán´s research impulse, but don’t get me wrong: history as progress is not his theoretical refugee, but one of his targets. Communism as a political project was indeed defeated, and the current liberal abstraction of the world represents a loop of human labor as a never-ending present.
Discourse (2008) – a light box containing a mapping of post-communist economic reforms in Czechoslovakia in 1990, opens the exhibition with what came to be a set of events that somehow shaped the country’s current state of affairs. Baladrán’s subversive potential relies in the fact that what he does is invert the practice of ethnography as the privileged tool of colonial anthropology, directing it instead to the power structures and their system of decision-making while showing the underlying dynamics, which the artist calls “the socio-political apparatus.” Bureaucracy is shown here as evidence of the supra-human algorithmic nature of history.
What we find in these traces of history are whispers of a future that has already arrived, one portrayed with subtlety in the video installation The Apparatus as Goal of History (2019), which shows how the mechanical production of value is built upon the alienation of human labor, depicted as interconnected pieces of quotidian workspaces in the country. The automation and exhaustion of the body, and the wild loneliness of factories and call centers, seem to represent the human dimension of a present explored by Baladrán in this docu-fiction, which builds upon a narrative that by taking distance from the exploitation of social reality – a recurrent idea within the documentary genre – it builds upon a fiction that feels rather eerily intimate.
There’s a deeply materialist sense of Baladran´s research projects and creative process. In his work, the future is not to be determined exclusively by subjectivity, but by the materiality and form of history. The collages of Contingent Propositions (2015) are perhaps the ones that show this spirit in the most visceral manner – the visually oriented exploration of the effects of late capitalism and its potential futures are somehow synthesized in collages from the Communist daily Rudé právo (1971-1989) and the post-revolutionary liberal daily Lidové noviny (1989-2008), as two ideological ghosts from our recent modern past. Maybe on those traces, we can find some hidden code that can help us decipher the grammar of a future yet to come.
History is the history of things and its representation, and in this sense, it is far from being exclusively human. Our attempts to claim it as a social construct may simply be hiding the symptoms of our current political impotence. What Baladrán seems to prove through endemic political ethnography, obsessive research strategies, and a ferocious visual imagination, is that neither static nostalgia nor liberal hope can inform the beginning of something yet to be determined.
To question how we came to be what we are seems not to be as relevant as to consider how is it that we are what we will come to be.
Things Fall Apart (Interim Report)
Exhibition at Jocelyn Wolff gallery in Paris – Romainville, 2020
text by Zbyněk Baladrán
In Things Fall Apart, a novel written by Chinua Achebe in the late 1950s, the author describes the incursion of expansive European colonialism into the thousand-year-old agricultural civilisation of the Niger River basin. In a few striking sentences, he creates an image of the violent replacement of the dominant logic of power by another logic – more aggressive and even more powerful. The old world collapsed very quickly. Seen from the vantage point of the new hegemony, the old was labelled primitive, childish, and backward. Over the course of a few decades, this imperialist expansion reached almost the entirety of the so-called Third World, preventing its autonomous development.
Thirty years ago, another chapter of the same story began, this time focusing on the Second World. The Eastern bloc collapsed, and with it the modernist alternative in the form of socialist state capitalism – an attempt to change the flow of history. Over the course of the years that followed, this part of the world also capitulated to the irresistible economic power and expansion of the consumerist world. A softer form of colonial dominion spread, creating a global hegemony.
Today, it seems that there is nowhere left for exploitation to expand into. What remains are the countries of the former First World with their democratic institutions – considered until recently to be necessary conditions for capitalism. The neoliberal hydra, risen from the expansive logic of capital, as described by Achebe, has replaced the logic of Enlightenment modernity, calling it outdated and childish, inappropriate for the ideology of uncontrolled growth of power through accumulated capital. Just like Africa in the past, the eastern part of the European continent can be considered the “avant-garde” of changes that now probably also await Western Europe.
Economic colonisation, the dismantling of the welfare state, the stabilisation of the job market, social and salary dumping, an acceleration of the “race to the bottom”, and the oligarchisation of politics and economics are phenomena that have already been successfully realised on the eastern periphery or are currently coming into being there.
The Eastern Europeans, having toppled their governments and rejected the story of the socialist alternative to the modern world, force themselves to even greater performances under the never-ending torment of self-criticism. With the stubbornness of children, and with feelings of insufficiency, inferiority, and dependency, they strive to become part of the “adult” world.
They probably never will. The foundations of capitalism are based on the imperative that core countries develop more dynamically than peripheral ones, while the underdevelopment of the periphery is an essential condition for the success of the core.
Today, however, the “adult” world of the developed countries is also afflicted by infantility and helplessness. The neoliberal establishments of these countries compete to see which will be the first to lose control and give itself over to the sovereign power of unregulated private ownership. The “adult” world is increasingly paralysed by the shock of this new paradigm of threat.
Perry Anderson describes the current European community as an order based on the restriction and privatisation of public services, the dissolution of democratic control and representation, and a deregulation of production processes. Is there still a shared, joyful perspective on the future, or are we only an impotent object colonised by a new hegemony of ownership? The world is falling apart; in some places, people haven’t noticed, and where they have noticed, they still do not realise how great the threat really is.
What function can art serve in such a world? If it is a tool for accumulating capital or artwashing taxes, then it is fully in the grip of the new order and has therefore perished. However, if it is still possible to be critical within this social institution, to create space for self-reflection, or at least to attempt realistic observations of what goes on around us, then there is still hope.
The artistic research presented in this exhibition is the result of several years’ work dedicated to social and other changes observed from the position of the global European semi-periphery, which – for various reasons – defines itself as Central Europe. However, the captured explorations have universal validity and are comprehensible to anyone; in the end, all of us on this planet are part of the same system.
As the Serbian philosopher Miško Šuvaković has written on the ideology of exhibitions, it doesn’t matter what is written in the text that accompanies the exhibition; what matters is the difference between what was intended by the exhibition and what wasn’t, between the acceptable and the unacceptable. Between the conscious and the unconscious, the literal and the fictitious. The ideology of the exhibition isn’t what should be accepted by public opinion; it’s what creates public opinion and presents its opinions through shared social values and movements.
This threatening new hegemony is based not on public control but on a small minority’s acquiring total ownership of the world. Achebe’s novel ends with a reflection by a member of the colonial government on the title of the book he wants to write: “The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger”. The author thus perfectly captures how every exploiting power sees the world – an inferior local deviation that must be suppressed. This is what the current struggle for a better world is about: not allowing these things to happen.
Capitalism Restoration in Central Europe
300 pc collages on paper
Exhibition at Salvator Rosa, Unknown (Hiden) place