Nils Claesson on Wed, 9 Feb 2000 22:06:49 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Report from Belarus



This is the first report from Belarus.
A brief text by me - then a text by Artur Klinov.
More will come.
E-lab people are there at the moment.

yours sincerly

Nils Claesson



A fact-finding trip was made in the beginning of January to Minsk. 
Participating was Nils Claesson/Crac and members from the Varka Crew and


Belarus: 10 million people, 3 million living in Minsk, vodka at 60 cent
per liter, a bonapartistic state, a post- Modern – Disney - land-
Stalinism, the ruling ideology is a mix of soviet nostalgia and

Result: isolation or exile the choice for many artists and intellectuals. 
A strong underground scene thats challenging the regime. 


Minsk is an unknown metropolis in the middle of Europe where you can find
a bubbling sea of underground activity: art, politics, literature,
performance Art, music and video is mixed to a powerful and muscular
cocktail. The ambiance is highly politicized and the Belarus-public is
extremely sensible for symbolic actions and therefore the
performance-Art-scene is big, important and the most genuine expression of
Belarus contemporary Art today. 

Together with E-lab and Varka-crew people a meeting was arranged with
different artist groups in Minsk, also individuals from oppositional
political groups and media participated. 

Crac could identify a partners for further cooperation the Organization
for Contemporary Art in Belarus, a network organizing about 200
individuals in the whole of Belarus: artists, photographers, journalists,
professors and theorists that works to Create a scene for contemporary art
in Belarus. 

The first big action of the organization was to arrange an international
performance-art festival in September 1999. A success. The organization
works both outside and inside existing structures. Some of the members
have joined the traditional artists union to get access to their public
space, the museum.  The name of the performance art festival was Navinki
99.  Navinki is the name of a big mental -hospital outside Minsk and also
the name of a satirical anarchist-paper In the Minsk-art-scene you can se
a determined will to create a dialogue with the outside world to break the
relative isolation that has struck the country because the policy of the
government that is breaking away Belarus from the rest of Europe.  You
also have the economic barriers and the language-wall. People have not
been traveling- for many: go to west is to go to Warsaw.  Crac has decides
to initiate a process of exchange and collaboration with Minsk. 

Analysis: a collaborative project Stockholm-Riga-Minsk could create a
fruitful dialogue between close neighbors divided by a sea: just in the
breaking -point between the similar and unknown there are a whole Spectra
of questions to investigate: historical the axis Stockholm-Riga-Minsk is a
traditional travel-route that was cut of by the cold war and the iron
curtain- now it exists a situation where it is possible to recreate those

For artist working at Crac it will be attractive to research and do things
in a cultural sphere that is not under so strong USA-cultural influence as
the Swedish. 

This is the "Swedish-crac-point-of view".

But for us all involved in International networking on the basis of art
and new media it is important not to leave the artists in Belarus behind
the new Berlin Wall. We all have to start communicate and send materials,
ideas, projects and people over the border

Nils Claesson


Topics of Collaborative program

Crac(Sweden) and The Contemporary Arts Association (Belarus)

Communication /exchange information, experience/ program. Developing
Internet communication between Crac and CAA. Exchange artists
representation, articles, information about running projects and programs. 

Education program. Master-classes, lectures. 

Workshops/Artist exchange. 

Collaborated exhibitions and festivals. 

Researches critics/theorists trips. 

Help! Program. Creating hi-tech new media center in Minsk. Creating
information and fundraising Center for art projects in Belarus. Library
program /collecting materials about Contemporary art and new media. 

Art on a border! Moving Art



Contemporary situation in the Belarusian artistic life is marked by two
confronting factors. High creative potential of modern artists active
here, on one side, is counterbalanced by complete decay of specific
structures responsible for maintaining the natural mordern artistic

Several factors could be mentioned to give proof of our statement
concerning artistic structures being on the decline: 

1.Suspension of the great majority of independent artistic centers

Activity of the great majority of the non-governmental artistic sites
formed at the beginning of the 1990-ies has been suspended under
conditions of Belarus' economic stagnation and dramatic lack of the state
support customary given to such institutions in economically developed
countries.  Among those which have stopped their virtual functioning due
to the financial shortages such a notorious art galleries as «Shostaya
liniya» («The Sixth line»), «Vita Nova», «Kaucheg» («The Ark»), «Alter
Ego» in Mensk, «Zyaleny Dom» («The Green Mansion») in Gomel, etc., could
be named.  Moreover, Alexander Pushkin's gallery in Vitebsk has been
closed under direct pressure of the local authorities on the political
grounds. Note should be given, that only few independent cultural
institutions and groups are still active in Belarus today, surprisingly
being afloat just because pure enthusiasm of their founders («AB» and
«Nova» galleries in Mensk, «Salyanyia sklady» («The Salt Warehouses») in
Vitebsk...). Acting Belarusian political regime through legislative acts
and enactments sets up drastically unfavourable conditions for independent
expositioners and artists (in every sphere of visual, theatral and misical
arts), non-governmental publishers and press-media. Not the last
aggravating factor is constantly growing economic and financial crisis. 

2.Complete lack of independent sponsor sources in the country. 

Two main reasons have caused evaporating of independent financial sources
in Belarus. First, international charitable foundations have literally
stopped almost all their activities in the country, second, the private
business has been placed into entire dependence from official regime
institutions. Placed under strict control, business-people have been
forced to sponsor only «ideologically correct» artistic projects, such as
annual «The Slavonic Market» feast or «The Slavonic Movie Festival». Thus,
pomposity official celebrations of late soviet totalitarian times style
are being regenerated.  Business structures, in case they do take a risk
to support independent cultural projects, are being exposed to strict and
prejudiced inspections and severe sanctions. 

3.Shift in the governmental cultural institutions ideological positions. 

State cultural institutions, known for their support and backing of the
social realism at the Soviet times, changed their attitudes towards more
flexible cultural policy by the beginning of the 1990-ies. However, today
we could observe inverted process of their return to obsolete esthetic
standards. They act as a hindering stagnation mechanism in the better case
or as a tool of ideological guarantee of the existing regime in the worse. 
It brings full-value cultural process to virtual non-existence in such a
constraining limits determined by these institutions. 

4.Gap between the Belarusian artistic process and the global cultural

 Unfortunately, a fact could be established that the modern Belarusian
artistic process is placed into informational vacuum. The reason is quite
obvious: there is no any particular artistic institution able of
accumulating and selecting of valuable information in Belarus and from
abroad and maintaining effective dialogue with appropriate organizations
in the world. As a result, starting with 1994, no one Belarusian artist
has been invited to participate in any significant european artistic
project.  All the contacts of Belarusian authors with colleagues abroad
bear private and sporadic character. 

5.Social and political factor. 

The political regime's attitude towards people of culture turns more and
more cynical lately. It's enough to recollect just a couple typical
examples: books by famous writers Vasil Bykau and Uladzimir Arlou are not
allowed for publishing or they are criticized unfairly, exhibitions are
under censors' control and could be easily called of (as it was with the
last exhibition of "Pagonia" ("The Pursuit") artistic group), no concert
or public event could be organized without facing artificial obstacles
created by officials. Almost all rock-music clubs and concert halls have
been shut down during last two years.  The very fact that to organize
artistic exhibition or concert art-manager should get an official
permission discloses the anti-democratic tools of the artistic process
control operated by the state. Visual artists are practically deprived of
their intellectual property rights being forced to pay 100 per cent
customs duties when bringing their artworks abroad. The value of artworks
under taxation, again, is determined arbitrary by custom-house itself!
Actual regulations make it virtually impossible for artists and
independent cultural institutions to organize Belarusian contemporary art
exhibitions abroad and foreign art exhibitions in Belarus. Gloomy reality
is crowned by lack of effective network of commercial galleries and
art-shops, private publishing houses, theatres and concert organizations,
media channels. All these factors transform a creative worker - if this
person is not hairsplitter oriented on getting paltry doles for "obedient
ones" from the dictatorial regime (like back in Soviet times: ones a life
- free residential place, studio, sometimes - exhibitions, but
ideologically correct) or if this person doesn't work like craftsman -
into pure marginal being, deprived of stable livelihood and common social
guarantees. Weakness of the national business establishes insuperable
barriers on the way of cultural patronage forming - so that even this
illusory chance of support for artists seems unreal. 

6.Lack of independent art- and cultural periodicals in Belarus. 

>From the beginning of the 1990-ies there has been no one independent
culturall periodical professionally dealing with problems of contemporary
art launched in Belarus. Under current conditions periodicals like
"Mastatstwa" ("The Arts"), "Kultura'" ("The Culture"), "Literatura i
Mastatstwa" ("The Literature and Arts") have to adopt themselves to the
political regime, being dependant on it financially. 

All the above mentioned factors lead to gradual strengthening of the
following negative tendencies: 

It is a process of mass emigration from the country, on the one hand. 
(Through the last couple years many outstanding individuals have left
Belarus, - just to mention artists Igar Kashkurevich, Yury Darashkevich,
Ales Taranovich, Timokh Izotau, Valery Martynchyk, Ilona Baradulina,
Siargei Lapsha, Uladzimir Lappa, Igar Famin and others.)  Writers of a
global fame, Vasil Bykau and Sviatlana Aleksievich virtually have no
opportunity to live, work and publish their writings in their native
country. Leading theatral stage manager Mikalay Pinigin has a contract
abroad. And this list of artists, musicians, writers, actors, scientists
is far from being complete.  This makes especially morbid and harmful
effect on artists-beginners. With no prospectives in their home country,
young intellectuals leave it at the very beginning of their creative
career, losing on the ways of emigration their cultural identity and
leaving the Belarusian cultural space forever. 

On the other hand, given the lack of conditions for creative potentials
implementation and artistic process stagnation, tendency towards
professional and moral degradation of the Belarusian authors is
increasing.  Creative workers are being transformed into marginal stratum
of the society.  Further development of these tendencies could lead to
gradual decline and possible complete destruction of the nation's
intellectual elite, and, in consequence, - to general cultural degradation
of the Belarusian society.  This creates a danger of irreversible losses
for the european and global cultures and threatens with dangerous social
and political conflicts in the middle of Europe. 

In these conditions it seems inevitable and absolutely urgent to undertake
energetic efforts and form an association, which should unite various
groups of democratically oriented independent intellectuals and creative
workers, free cultural forces of the country. Such association can play
the role of informational and coordinational center, accomplish social aid
programs, render assistance in organizing exhibitions, concerts and
book-publishing, make a positive influence on the current cultural and
artistic process. Such an organization can be the "Contemporary Arts"
Association (CAA). 


The CAA should be a non-governmental public organization uniting artists,
writers and literary men, musicians, critics and arts historians, gallery
curators, journalists, historians of culture, collectors, business people
- all those who are connected with or participating in the current
cultural and artistic process in Belarus, interested in its further
development or directly involved in the creative activity. 

The major object of the CAA is forming a sufficient structure for really
independent and free cultural process in Belarus. 

To reach this goal the CAA unites creative and intellectual forces of the
country and carries out the following programs: 

1. "The network" program. 

The program is aimed to unite 4-5 currently acting exhibitional places in
a network of galleries, which would form a basis for future regular
exhibitional activity. The CAA will act as a coordinator and promoter of
this process, rendering informational, juridical, financial and technical
assistance. Creation of integrated net of cultural centers, including
galleries, art-shops, libraries, publishing houses, conference halls etc.
is a prospective goal of the project. 

2."Belarus on the European culture map" program. 

The program goal is the Belarusian art presentation in the major
international cultural projects. It requires breakthrough in the
informational vacuum around current artistic process in the country. In
the frames of the program electronic data base of the independent
Belarusian artists, creative workers and intellectuals (in wide ranges)
should be selected and constant informational exchange between the CAA and
appropriate european and global institutions established. One of the most
essential parts of the program would become a series of the Belarusian
arts festivals abroad (like "The Kingdom of Belarus" festival in Poland). 

3."The Territory" program. 

The program's goal is presentation of the modern international (foreign) 
arts in Belarus and broadening direct contacts between arties and creative
communities in Belarus and abroad.  It means as well that foreign artists
will be invited to participate in joint and individual projects in

4."The International Arts-Feasts in Belarus" program. 

In accordance with this program support should be given to those feasts
which have become traditional in Belarus ("In-Formation" in Vitebsk) and
to new initiatives, which are being planned ("The Soutine plein-air",
performance festival "Navinki-99"). The goal of the program is to make
Belarusian arts-festivals corresponding with major european artistic

5."The European Studios" program. 

Contrary to their european colleagues from the western countries, the
Belarusian artists, musicians, literary men, have no opportunity, in most
cases, travel abroad independently in order to work, establish contacts,
or just get fresh inspiring impressions. In order to overcome this
disadvantage at least for certain extent, the program aimed to form a net
(not very expanded) of studios in the cultural centers of the european
countries (Prague, Berlin, Paris, Rome etc.). With the use of this net the
program will make it possible for Belarusian artists and intellectuals to
travel and live abroad, use informational and cultural resources and get
the access to international cultural and artistic process.  Similar
program has already been launched by the Belarusian Humanitarian Fund
"Nasha Niva" together with the Polish cultural association "Kola Podkowy"
and The Stefan Batory Foundation. Their joint efforts in a frame of "The
Window to Europe" project have resulted in creation of the first
Belarusian independent studio in Podkowa Lesna close to Warsaw.  6."The
Independent Arts Publications" program. 

The program is oriented on launching and promoting independent artistic
periodicals in Belarus and rendering assistance to artists and galleries
in printing necessary publications and materials (catalogues, leaflets,
etc.).  Opening appropriative Internet web-sites would be a part of the

7.Educational program. 

The program would provide possibilities for the Belarusian art critics,
art historians, gallery and exhibition curators to have probations in the
world cultural centres.  Constituent part of the program is
Belarus-oriented and provides series of seminars and lections on
contemporary art, art- and gallery business in Minsk and province. 

8.Social program. 

This program is aimed to offer possible social aid to cultural workers
having major social problems (financial, housing conditions, work, drugs,
alcohol, etc.), organize juridical and customs consultations, rent space
for informal meetings and contacts, i.e. to create humanitarian
surroundings for the nation's elite. 

Possible positive consequences of the CAA programs implementation: 

a) Social aspect. 

The CAA activity could keep and save from degradation and destruction the
national creative elite in Belarus and would support in forming its new
generations. The most pressing position would be hindering and reversing
of the intellectuals forced emigration process.

b)Cultural and international aspects.  

The CAA programs would contribute to the cultural life of the country
flourishing, promote creative potential of the Belarusian artists maturing
in every sphere and form conditions for dialogues with the cultural elites
in the european countries and globally. This would help to preserve
Belarus as an integrative and valuable part of the cultural universe of
the european commonwealth, which can make contributions in its development
but not only consume the results of the cultural achievements.  It worth
mentioning that Belarus was a birthplace for Chagall, Soutine, Streminsky.
Its cultural catastrophe would be an irreversible and irreplaceable loss
for the global cultural process.

the text is written by Artur Klinov chairman of the Assosiation for
Contemporary Art in Belarus


Nils Claesson

International Coordinator
Creative Room for Art and Computing
Artist run medialab

Igeldammsgatan 30 A
112 49 Stockholm
tel+46 (0)8 6504090
fax+46 (0)8 6504098

Nils mobile(0)70 6329369

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