Curating (Post)socialist Environments: An International Workshop
Workshop Report (Leipzig, 28 February – 1 March 2019)
In what ways are, or do become, environments (post)socialist? How is the relationship between built environment, memory and identity enacted? What are the spatial, material, visual and aesthetic dimensions of (post)socialist interventions? And how do such (post)socialist interventions in environments become (re)curated?
These key questions were addressed in the international workshop Curating (Post)socialist Environments, hosted and co-organized by the SFB 1199. It was the third and final stage of a research project under the same title, which has brought together curators from the State Ethnographic Collections Saxony and the State Art Collections Dresden as well as academics and students in anthropology, art history and history from the Leipzig University and other universities in Germany, Romania and the USA, to collectively investigate (post)socialist environments in East Germany and Eastern Europe through a curatorial lens.
The workshop proved to be inspiring and productive in terms of both content and format. While a core group of authors had worked on case studies centered on (post)socialist locations in Saxony, such as Leipzig and Dresden, the invited speakers added international examples of (post)socialist Poland, Romania and wider Eastern Europe as well as Soviet Africa. By making productive use of the urban as an empirical focus through which to de-center and pluralize the “Eastern bloc”, and by integrating individual cases into broader transregional comparisons, the contributions investigated, among other aspects, hobbyist groups in Leipzig, who navigated between Party organizations and museum institutions to perform their own expertise on North American “Indians” and articulate visions of “anti-colonial” solidarity; private collectors of Oriental carpets in Dresden, curating their homes as counter imaginations to socialist life worlds; cartographic, museological and visual representations of “Africa” proposing narratives of socialist modernity in Leipzig and Moscow; Bucharest-based civic and student groups problematizing official memory politics and art historiography in Romania after the end of the Cold War; and public debates on artistic interventions in urban settings contesting post-socialist transitions in Dresden after 1989.
Together, we thus simultaneously provincialized and internationalized “socialism”. Throughout the workshop, we filled this abstract signifier with concrete substance, by delineating its various interrelated dimensions – ideological, institutional, practical and temporal – and by embedding it in, and investigating it through, material-spatial environments – museum exhibitions, art galleries, urban ecologies, architectural and public art interventions, private collections and object designs – and visual manifestations – cartographies, maps, documents and photographs. Both empirical foci, material-spatial environments and visual manifestations, enabled us to place an abstract idea such as “socialism” in tangible life worlds; and both could, as the workshop showed, be apprehended through a curatorial lens.
The curatorial lens allows zooming in on the material-spatial and visual (re)arrangements through which an abstract idea becomes an environmental reality with argumentative effects upon audiences. Shedding light onto these dialogical, curatorial practices facilitates, on the one hand, an understanding of the ways in which the complex, multilayered and often unpredictable relationship between the built environment, temporalities – histories, memories, futures and utopias – and identities is enacted. On the other hand, and apart from these epistemological and ontological efficacies of curatorial interventions, their underpinning methodological acts and moments – captioning, juxtaposing and (re)arranging – enact the relationship between image and text, and create, or rather curate, the visual layer needed so that the story told can make a multisensory, visceral and affective impact upon audiences.
The workshop demonstrated that the notion of curating (post)socialist environments has the potential to be further refined to address the enduring afterlives of socialist material-spatial and visual remains in post-socialist times, and analyze the associated practices through which these continue to be mobilized for particular ends: ethical, political, ideological, economic and so on. Curation, as developed and understood here, operates as both practice/method and analytical/conceptual lens. As a practice and method, it simultaneously entails material-spatial (re)constructions and visual (re)organizations, as well as the associated ideological (re)interpretations and the underpinning curare, or caring for memories, pains, losses and the wounds of history. As an analytical and conceptual lens, it enables us to move from critiquing the museologization of environments, often branded as Disneyfication or open-air museum, as in the case of the Dresden Frauenkirche, to approaching environments as being already museologized or rather curated, which might be provisionally called the curated condition of built environments.
In a sort of double-move, then, we liberate curation, as a method and practice, out of its predominant confinement to museum institutions, while deploying it, as a conceptual and analytical lens, to consider and study the processes through which, and the environments in which an idea such as socialism becomes spatialized, materialized and visualized. As a next step, we aim at further developing and substantiating this vocabulary through a collective volume under the umbrella of the SFB, offering insights into particular (curatorial) processes of (environmental) spatialization under the ((post)socialist) global condition.
The workshop programme can be found here: Link
Dr. habil. Philipp Schorch (LMU Munich, Germany)
From winter term 2019/20 onwards, Philipp Schorch is the professor of museum anthropology at Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, where he will lead from winter 2019 on an ERC-funded 5-year research project on “Indigeneities in the 21st Century”. Philipp is a co-editor of the volumes Transpacific Americas: Encounters and Engagements between the Americas and the South Pacific (Routledge, 2016) and Curatopia: Museums and the Future of Curatorship (Manchester University Press, 2019).
Image rights: Lumumbastraße Link