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On the Other Side of Elsewhere

A cultural exchange initiative engaging a broad network of civic institutions in the former Eastern Bloc and beyond

Values


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Curatorial practice
  • Politics / Economics

Organizing Institutions

Slought

Organizers

Aaron Levy, James Merle Thomas

Funders

Trust for Mutual Understanding

Acknowledgments

Tung Chau, Jordan Garlic, Sydney Millar

Opens to public

09/01/2018

Address

Bratislava, Slovakia
Cluj, Romania
Philadelphia, USA
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sofia, Bulgaria
Tirana, Albania
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Slought is pleased to announce On the Other Side of Elsewhere, a cultural exchange initiative engaging a broad network of civic institutions in the former Eastern Bloc and beyond. Our project will support people-to-people exchange and direct dialogue, and engage cultural actors and organizations that are invigorating civil society. Working together with regional partners in Bratislava, Cluj, Sarajevo, Sofia, Tirana, and Ulaanbaatar, we will interact with their informal economies, networks of interdependence, and modes of survival.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 initiated an uneven and disorienting transition from late socialism to democracy that is still unfolding across the Eastern bloc. As we approach its 30th anniversary, civil society across the region continues to face a myriad challenges. Political extremism, barriers to mobility and opportunity, and defunding of the cultural sector are fraying progressive networks of people and institutions. Privatization has eclipsed formerly state-sponsored social support systems, while other threats and transformations have further reshaped everyday life and undermined the promises of democracy. While many are attempting to forge new ties and resist the turn towards illiberalism, the perception of democratzia in the region has rapidly devolved from aspiration to insult, as noted by the ethnographer Kristen Ghodsee. This project will create a forum for reflecting on these developments and their implications for the arts.

Through exhibitions, discursive programs, and a film festival, we seek to model a new democratic aesthetic which engages the lived realities and everyday struggles of those left behind by social upheaval. Adrian Paci's video Turn On (2004), for instance, depicts unemployed men who wait indeterminately and silently demand a better life, left behind by Albania's political and economic turmoil. Building upon artistic practices such as Paci's, as well as principles of humanistic anthropology, we will also examine the strategies used by individuals and institutions to sustain democratzia and nurture collective identity and belonging.

Our project title, On the Other Side of Elsewhere, takes the form of a riddle which gestures to the long political and intellectual history of non-alignment in the region. Alexei Yurchak, in his anthropological study of late socialism, Everything was forever, until it was no more, discusses "being vyne" as a condition of simultaneously living inside and outside state systems. Like Yurchak's notion, this yearning for alternatives is a hallmark of many dissident artistic and intellectual circles across the Eastern bloc, which have historically flourished underground through informal gatherings in domestic spaces. In asserting their right to exist, and to exist beyond the control of the state, these groups are politically unpredictable in their non-alignment. They possess, like democracy, a promise that is to come and is always in the coming.

"Late socialism became marked by an explosion of various styles of living that were simultaneously inside and outside the system and can be characterized as 'being vyne.' These styles of living generated multiple new temporalities, spatialities, social relations, and meanings that were not necessarily anticipated or controlled by the state, although they were fully made possible by it."

-- Alexei Yurchak, Everything was forever, Until it was no more (2006)