From the 11th October to the 23rd November 2019, the Visual Culture Research Centre staged the 3rd Kyiv Biennial, taking a critical look at the legacy of the fall of socialism in the 80s and 90s and the emergence of a highly digitalised world of no alternatives.
The Kyiv Biennial is an experimental biennial forum for art, knowledge and politics. Its third edition, Black Cloud, formed the first biennial of the newly established East Europe Biennial Alliance (Biennale Matter of Art in Prague, Biennale Warszawa, Kyiv Biennial and OFF-Biennale Budapest) and brought together artists, academics and activists to develop a consistent understanding of the last three decades in Eastern Europe. Looking at a period largely defined by the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, the subsequent collapse of the Soviet bloc and the emergence of a unipolar global regime of governance equipped with a new technological arsenal, this edition of the biennial focussed on surveillance and privacy online, digital forms of warfare, artificial intelligence and their political and civil implications.
More than thirty years ago, the Chernobyl catastrophe induced the first artificial cloud on a global scale. Its toxic plume moved through the stratosphere transgressing political and ecological borders as an object of fear and speculation, scrutiny and disturbance. Its impact was incomprehensible without machine sensibility and the augmented reading of the event’s metadata and its social and economic effects were not only a result of the flow of radioactive elements but of the concomitant information stream. Unseen and invisible, the spectre of real socialism could suddenly be felt all over Europe, cloaking the remnants of an ideology grounded in industrial endeavour and banishing the modernist dream of peaceful atomic power over the traditional battlefields of Central Europe. An opaque hyperobject, the Chernobyl cloud preceded and marked a transition to the hybrid, the dissipative and the multilateral.
The disintegration of the Socialist bloc has led to the global dominance of the ideology of financial capitalism. The fall of the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the Cold War, was celebrated as a shift towards a dynamic network system of power, epitomised by the inception of the worldwide web throughout the same period. However, post-communist transition resulted in growing inequalities, expanding state apparatuses, triumphant nationalisms and new types of physical and electronic walls. The promise of Velvet Revolutions to overcome the historical division and political isolation of Europe’s East has been metamorphosed into an anewed fortification of Europe and an obsession with border control, which itself has became the main topos of the state of exception today. The collapse of the Second World has so far led to the lack of a political alternative to capitalism and a consignment of revolutionary or reformist emancipatory projects to the black box of “the end of history”.
At the same time, the early years of democratic enthusiasm for the internet have changed to more pessimistic views on electronic freedoms, safety, personal data usage and the role of governments and corporations. The artificial ocean of data has become a worldwide surveillance domain. In the decades to come, sensual and intelligible alienation will proceed as the externalisation of intellect, creating an outward agency of “the human condition”, largely designed to cope with the vulnerability of the physical and its error-esque nature, pursuing the technocratic desire to detach the physical body from cognition and a growing burden of knowledge by prosthesising it with the ever-growing knot of capital and knowledge in the immaterial cloud. How should we relate to this new topology of power in the omniconnected society of late capitalism?
Over the last decade, Eastern Europe and the Middle East have become a battleground for proxy wars and an authoritarian avant-garde championing right-wing populism. In the current historical conditions, the Kyiv Biennial sees a growing need to position the region within different geopolitical divisions to overcome ideological amnesia and to rediscover a common socialist past. How does the development of internet infrastructure in post-socialist countries correlate with old and new geopolitical relations in the region? What role do information technologies play in the fear management of today’s societies and how are invisible, potential or distanced threats distributed and delivered to our lives? The creation of translocal knowledge through interconnecting (semi-)peripheries of the former West and revisiting the experiences of people in “Central Eastern Europe” after the disillusionment of capitalist transformation should contribute to imagining an alternative European project for the future.
To find out more about the speakers and individual talks featured in this page's video playlist, look at the following section of the page and click on the respective titles.
To find out more about the biennial per se, click here to visit the official biennial website with the full programme.
This programme only features those English-language talks for which recordings were made, to see the full programme, visit https://blackcloud.info/Program
The deregulation of representations - Geneviève Fraisse
The mechanics of the arts, which for a long time knew how to distribute places in the functioning of creation, became sickly at the end of the 18th century. What became of the ancient balance between muse and genius from then on? The egalitarian imaginary began to forge its path and this path had no limits: the question of the enjoyment advocated and produced effects in art itself. It is from inside this philosophical and aesthetical tradition that subversion will appear; even with and through contradictions.
The event was part of the book presentation series of The Right to Truth: Conversations about Art and Feminism. Interviews (ed. Oksana Briukhovetska, Lesia Kulchynska, VCRC, 2019).
Geneviève Fraisse, born in 1948, is a philosopher and historian of feminist thought and the emeritus director of research at France's National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). Her work deals with epistemology and politics, focussing on the genealogy of democracy, concepts of emancipation and the philosophical problematisation of the sex/gender debate.
She was a founding member of the journal Les Révoltes logiques (Logical Revolts) with Jacques Rancière in 1975, an inter-ministerial delegate for women’s rights in 1997-1998 and a member of the European Parliament from the European United Left / Nordic Green Left from 1999 to 2004. She was also a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton from 1990 to 1991 and a visiting professor at Rutgers University from 2000 to 2002.
Geneviève Fraisse is the author of numerous publications, notably, La Sexuation du monde: Réflexions sur l’émancipation (The Sexuation of the World: Reflections on Emancipation); Les Excès du genre: Concept, image, nudité (Gender Excesses: Concept, Image & Nudity); A côté du genre: Sexe et philosophie de l’égalité (Besides Gender: Sex and the Philosophy of Equality) etc.
From Neoliberalism to Illiberalism. The Great Transformation after 1989 - Phillip Ther
This lecture deals with the intellectual history, the political practice and the social consequences of neoliberalism. The main pillars of this ideology are: the idealisation of unfettered, free markets, in the belief that these create an equilibrium for all sorts of market imbalances; an irrational faith in the rationality of market agents; and a libertarian antipathy toward the state. It also includes some elements of traditional laissez-faire capitalism, such as the concept of the “hidden hand”, adding a metaphysical dimension in which the market is regarded as the last instance of judgment over all commodities.
On the practical side, neoliberalism is based upon a standard economic recipe consisting of austerity, privatisation, liberalisation and deregulation, as codified in the Washington Consensus in 1989. Neoliberal reforms were at first implemented in the 1980s in Chile, Great Britain and the United States. With the demise of state socialism in 1989, neoliberalism gained global hegemony and was implemented in a particularly radical form in Central and Eastern Europe.
Philipp Ther, born in 1967, is a professor of Central European history at the University of Vienna, where he also guides the Research Cluster for the History of Transformations (RECET).
Ther has also worked as a professor of comparative European history at the EUI in Florence and three of his monographs have been published in English: Europe since 1989: A History (Princeton University Press, 2016), The Dark Side of Nation States: Ethnic Cleansing in Modern Europe (New York: Berghahn Press, 2014) and Centre Stage: Operatic Culture and Nation Building in 19th Century Central Europe (West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2014).
He has co-edited twelve other books and his articles have been translated into fifteen European languages. His most recent book synthesises the history of refugees in modern Europe and The Outsiders: Refugees in Europe since 1492 was published by Princeton UP in late 2019. In 2019, he received the Wittgenstein Prize of the Austrian Research Fund for his work.
Queer art, herstories and emancipatory strategies - Isabelle Alfonsi
Through the construction of a lineage for contemporary queer art, Isabelle Alfonsi discusses the importance of a situated, feminist writing of art history to devise emancipatory strategies. Drawing from her book Pour une esthétique de l'émancipation (For an Aesthetic of Emancipation) (B42 ed., Paris, 2019), the author presents case studies of cultural activism that are inspiring for today's art and activism.
This event was part of the book presentation series of The Right to Truth: Conversations about Art and Feminism (ed. Oksana Briukhovetska, Lesia Kulchynska, VCRC, 2019).
Isabelle Alfonsi, born in 1979, is a graduate of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris and of University College London. In 2009, she created Marcelle Alix, a contemporary art gallery situated in Paris, which she co-curates with Cécilia Becanovic. She has been producing lectures about the lineages of contemporary queer art since 2014, some of which she performs in drag. Her book on the subject, Pour une esthétique de l’émancipation, was published by Editions B42 (Paris) in 2019.
Moderation by Oksana Briukhovetska.
Is there really a crisis of democracy? - Jan-Werner Müller
In his lecture, Jan-Werner Müller talks about what he sees as a major concern today: the crisis of intermediary powers, political parties and the media in particular. The problem is with institutions, not with the masses, contrary to what some liberal observers often claim. After a normative assessment of what a democracy needs from intermediary institutions, he makes a number of concrete suggestions for institutional reform.
Jan-Werner Müller, born in 1970, teaches in the Politics Department of Princeton University.
He has been a member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton and a visiting fellow at the Collegium Budapest Institute of Advanced Study, Collegium Helsinki, the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, the Remarque Institute of NYU, Harvard's Centre for European Studies and the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute in Florence.
Müller is a co-founder of the European College of Liberal Arts (ECLA; today: Bard Berlin). He is the author of Another Country: German Intellectuals, Unification and National Identity (Yale UP, 2000), A Dangerous Mind: Carl Schmitt in Post-War European Thought (Yale UP, 2003), Constitutional Patriotism (Princeton UP, 2007) and Contesting Democracy (Yale UP, 2011). He is also the author of What is Populism? (Penguin Press, 2017), which has been translated into 25 languages. His forthcoming books are Democracy Rules! and Street, Palace, Square: What Spaces for Democracy?.
Proliferating borders on the battlefield of migration. Rethinking freedom of movement - Sandro Mezzadra
The talk will take as a point of departure the current proliferation and hardening of borders in many parts of the world. It will critically take this trend as a key feature of a global political conjuncture characterised by a nationalist surge as well as by various degrees of combinations between neoliberalism and authoritarianism. The proliferation and hardening of borders will be analyzed from several points of view, including their implications for contemporary capitalism and the increasing criminalisation of humanitarianism and more generally of solidarity. The stubbornness of migration, the persistent challenge that movements and struggles of migration pose to borders will also be emphasised. This analysis will provide the background for an attempt to develop in the second part of the talk: a “left case” for freedom of movement and open borders, with a specific focus on Europe.
Sandro Mezzadra teaches political theory at the University of Bologna and is an adjunct research fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society of Western Sydney University.
He has been a visiting professor and research fellow in several places, including the New School for Social Research (New York), Humboldt Universität (Berlin), Duke University, Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme (Paris), the University of Ljubljana, FLACSO Ecuador and UNSAM (Buenos Aires). In the last decade Mezzadra's work has particularly centered on the relationships between globalisation, migration and political processes, on contemporary capitalism, as well as on postcolonial theory and criticism.
Mezzadra is an active participant in the post-workerist debates and one of the founders of the Euronomade website. Key publications include: Diritto di fuga. Migrazioni, cittadinanza, globalizzazione (The Right to Escape: Migration, Citizenship & Globalisation) (ombre corte, 2006), La condizione postcoloniale. Storia e politica nel presente globale (The Postcolonial Condition: History and Politics in the Global Present) (ombre corte, 2008) and In the Marxian Workshops. Producing Subjects (London, Rowman & Littlefield, 2018).
He has worked on several European and international research projects and is currently coordinating the Horizon 2020 project PLUS (Platforms, Labour and Urban Spaces).
Conflictual aesthetics. Artistic activism and the public sphere - Oliver Marchart
A new wave of artistic activism has emerged in recent years in response to the ever-increasing dominance of authoritarian neoliberalism. Activist practices in the art field, however, have been around for much longer. As Oliver Marchart claims, there has always been an activist undercurrent in art. In this lecture he traces trajectories of artistic activism in theater, dance, performance and public art and investigates the political potential of urbanism, curating and "biennials of resistance". What emerges is a conflictual aesthetics which does not conform with traditional approaches to the field and activates the political potential of artistic practice.
Oliver Marchart, born in 1968, is a political theorist and philosopher and, currently, a professor of political theory at the University of Vienna.
From 2001 to 2006, Marchart worked as a research assistant at the University of Basel's Institute for Media Studies. From 2006 to 2012, he held a SNSF professorship in the Sociology Department of the University of Lucerne and, from 2012 to 2016, he was a professor of sociology at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf.
Marchart's books include Post-Foundational Political Thought: Political Difference in Nancy, Lefort, Badiou and Laclau (2007), Thinking Antagonism: Political Ontology after Laclau (2018), Conflictual Aesthetics: Artistic Activism and the Public Sphere (2019) and the forthcoming Post-Foundational Theories of Democracy: Reclaiming Freedom, Equality & Solidarity.
Borderlines in the East of Europe
Symposium on the Europe in the Middle East – the Middle East in Europe (EUME) research programme at the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin
After the Arab revolutions of 2011, madness has prevailed. Hopes have been broken and societies divided, border control has been tightened and surveillance expanded, while authoritarian temptations have flourished in Europe, the Middle East and further afield. The Arab revolutions of 2011 marked the beginning and the end of the development of the modern and universal legacies of emancipation and opposition to such. Cracks in the division between Europe and the East have emerged ever since an East/West schizophrenia became apparent. For instance, while Europe struggled under the yoke of fascism in the 1930s and 40s, refugees from Europe were sheltered in the countries of the East - in Morocco, in Syria, Egypt, Iran or Turkey. And, in 1939, Egyptian Surrealists declared that the “East is working for the defence of Western Culture” and took up the struggle against “the infinite empire of walls” (Georges Henein).
Since the years 1987-93, new ideas on the position of the individual in society, on the meaning and practice of citizenship and of our relationship to the world have been articulated by a new generation of artists, writers, academics and activists in the countries east of the Mediterranean. The American invasion of Iraq and the consequences of destructive and failed internal and external colonial politics as well as numerous protest movements all over the Arab world (such as the first Intifada in Palestine or the strikes in the Tunisian town of Gafzah or the Egyptian Mahalla Al-Kubra) have challenged local canons, the aura of nationalism and identitarian tropes, leading to new modes of peaceful resistance to the denial of rights, the persistence of colonial legacies and authoritarian politics & ideologies.
This movement, as significant or insignificant as it may be in light of the ongoing destruction, reached a high point but did not end with the outbreak of the Arab revolutions - it persists. It is not confined to the Arab world or the Middle East, but is interconnected by ideas, solidarities and technologies across borders of territory, nation, language and identity. In four interventions by scholars from Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, this symposium's panel addresses stories of ideological deportations, the persistence of colonial modes in postcolonial lands, narratives of conflict, flight and border-crossings, questions of madness, gender and society and the notions of crisis, solidarity and empathy beyond the borderline between Europe and the East.
Alexandria – Odesa: Revolutionary Paths and Ties by Rim Naguib
In the years following the 1905 revolution, several socialists and anarcho-syndicalists from Russia found refuge in Alexandria, especially the sailors who had carried out important strikes in the port of Odessa. They continued to organise and to disseminate radical ideas amongst sailors aboard Russian ships transiting Alexandria's port. When in 1907, and again in 1913, the Russian consul in Alexandria obtained the help of British colonial authorities to arrest revolutionary activists from Russia, with a view to repatriating them to Russia, where they would face trial and possible execution, protests erupted in Alexandria. The protesters, who spanned different nationalities and ethnicities, attempted to prevent the extraditions and demanded the right of asylum for political refugees in the colonial port city, but British authorities argued that colonial territories were no sanctuary for political refugees and the extraditions were carried out nonetheless.
Rim Naguib will tell the story of these revolutionaries from Russia in Alexandria, their repatriation and the cross-ethnic solidarity manifested in the attempts to prevent their extradition. These stories highlight the fluid nature of radical ideas and activism across the Mediterranean and the Black Sea region and the transnational and reciprocal revolutionary influences they created in the years leading up to the 1917 revolution. The events also offer important anecdotes for thinking about how the colonial practice of divide and rule shaped the practices of the modern nation-state, both within Europe and in the colonies.
Rim Naguib received her PhD in Sociology from Northwestern University (Illinois, USA) and her MA from Sciences Po Aix-en-Provence. Her PhD dissertation was entitled Intelligentsia Class Formation and Ideologies in Peripheral Societies: Comparing Egypt and Iran, 1922-1952.
She recently worked as a post-doctoral fellow with the Arab Council for the Social Sciences. Based in Cairo, she taught in several alternative education initiatives, seeking to popularise critical social sciences. Her current research interests address three different, but not unrelated, fields: the genesis and development of Egyptian patriarchal nationalism; the formulation of the first Egyptian nationality law; and the practice of deporting internationalist foreigners in interwar Egypt.
She is also writing and illustrating a graphic novel on Egyptian deportation of internationalist foreigners in the interwar years and has co-translated several graphic novels into Arabic. In the academic year 2019-20, Naguib will be an EUME fellow in Berlin.
Contact Zones, Border Crossings & Borderlines: The Depiction of Refugees in Graphic Narratives by Rasha Chatta
The waves of recent and less recent migratory "crises" have been extensively covered and much documented in various media avenues and outlets, ranging from sensationalist approaches to more in-depth and multifaceted analyses. This intervention seeks to focus on the emergence and development of a less-examined popular sub-genre, namely the testimonial/refugee graphic narrative, which Rasha Chatta investigates in order to examine how conflict, border crossing, and asylum seeking are depicted and visualised as firsthand accounts in an often complex and problematic manner. This presentation ultimately reflects upon how these visual narratives embedded in the context of past or current wars and migration contribute to ongoing debates on migration in Europe and how this sub-genre lends its form to the articulation of voice and uniqueness of experience.
Rasha Chatta holds a PhD in Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies from SOAS, the University of London. Since 2017, she has been a research fellow on the Europe in the Middle East – the Middle East in Europe programme at the Forum Transregionale Studien, where she is working on a project on Arab comics entitled A Comparative Study of (Im)migrant Stories, War Narratives and Conflicted Memory between the Near East and Europe. She has also written a chapter for the forthcoming SAGE Handbook of Media and Migration entitled Conflict and Migration in Lebanese Graphic Narratives.
Female Patients of Institutional Psychiatry: Madness, Gender and Society in Lebanon by Lamia Moghnieh
Lamia Moghnieh looks at the history of violence and social transformations in Lebanon through the lens of the development of modern psychiatry and its practices of governance. She focuses on the story of one female patient of the Lebanon Hospital for Mental and Nervous Disorders, Hoda, who was admitted to the hospital in the early 1950s and diagnosed with nymphomania and schizophrenia. Moghnieh presents three different readings of Hoda: one based on her clinical records, another based on her letters and a third established in relation to the stories of other female patients of Lebanese psychiatric institutions. These three stories of Hoda provide a complex account of the cultural authority of psychiatry in Lebanon, its various reforms and the regulation of sexuality, kinship and gender.
Lamia Moghnieh is an EUME fellow of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. She holds a PhD in Anthropology and Social Work from the University of Michigan. She is currently working on a book entitled Global Mental Health at the Periphery: A Social History of Psychiatry, Humanitarianism and Violence in Lebanon (1860–2012).
Crisis at the Border: On Empathy and the Fear of Migration by Walid el Houri
This intervention proposes alternative ways of contemplating the concept of ‘crisis’ in relation to notions of empathy, borders and the unequal distribution of wealth and resources under capitalist systems. What does the concept of ‘crisis’ reveal when looked at through the lens of the so-called "migration crisis"? Why is ‘crisis’ often imagined, produced, experienced and feared during and after moments of mass popular uprisings? And, can the language of ‘crisis’ be redeemed or is it inherently detrimental to any analysis of political and social phenomena?
Walid el Houri is a researcher, journalist and filmmaker based in Berlin and Beirut. He is a Partnerships editor at openDemocracy and the lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia section (NAWA). He holds a PhD in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam and is a former postdoctoral fellow at the Forum Transregionale Studien (EUME) and the Institute for Cultural Inquiry in Berlin. His work and publications deal with protest movements, the politics of failure and geographies of war and violence.
This symposium was chaired by Georges Khalil
Georges Khalil is the academic coordinator of the Forum Transregionale Studien and of the EUME research programme. He was the coordinator of the working group Modernity and Islam (AKMI) at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin from 1998-2006 and has studied history, political science and Islamic studies in Hamburg and Cairo and European Studies at the Europa-Kolleg in Hamburg. He co-edited Di/Visions. Kultur und Politik des Nahen Ostens (2009), Islamic Art and the Museum. Approaches to Art and Archeology of the Muslim World in the Twenty-First Century (2012) and Commitment and Beyond: Reflections on/of the Political in Arabic Literature since the 1940s (2015).
Data Sonification - Daniel Siemaszko
The content of this presentation comes as a result of a series of discussions on the broad notion of data interpretation when talking about its sonification. A quick review of existing data sonification in science and art is presented with sound examples as a way to understand what one may expect from this practice, focussing on the specific case of data sonification for network security monitoring and more generally surveillance technologies. Concluding, the talk suggests that similarities can be drawn between data sonification and the evocation of primal sound – or what future archeologists will find when they look at our data –, looking at some SuperCollider code examples for sonifying data with an artistic approach.
This seminar will be followed by a workshop on SuperCollider, allowing the audience to experiment with their own data sonification.
Daniel Siemaszko is a power electronics engineer, music composer, cinema curator, film producer and body performer from Geneva, Switzerland. He is a co-founder of the electroacoustic duo Biblioteq Mdulair, the co-founder and producer of performance collective SM Noise and the founder of SZKMD production for cinematic sound design. His solo project Kosmoscore (a.k.a Générateurs, Cosmos, Cosmic Sleep) takes several forms, from short and intense live concerts to long hypnotic marathon sleep performances. Sіemaszko works with SuperCollider, bringing together digital generators and synthesisers for multi-channel soundscapes.
Transitioning from state socialism to democratic capitalism. Observations on ten works in progress - Claus Offe
One generation after the end of European state socialism – an end that was hoped for by many yet predicted by few – seems to be a good time for stock taking. Initially, it was hoped that after this end a putatively “normal” system of democratic capitalism and international peace would emerge. But, that expectation was naïve from the beginning. What are the current and persisting problems of post-Communist societies and polities in their historically unique transitions from socialism to capitalism? And, who are the dominant agents? Claus Offe focuses on a political landscape with ten works in progress.
Claus Offe, born in 1940, is a professor emeritus of political sociology at the Hertie School (Berlin). Formerly, he was a professor for political science und political sociology at the universities of Bielefeld (1975-1989) and Bremen (1989-1995) as well as at the Humboldt University in Berlin (1995-2005). He has held guest professorships at, amongst others, the institutes for advanced studies in Stanford and Princeton, the Australian National University, Harvard University, the University of California, Berkeley und the New School in New York.
Offe's fields of research are democratic theory, transition studies, EU integration, the welfare state and labour markets. Book publications in English include: Varieties of Transition (1996), Modernity and the State: East and West (1996), Institutional Design in Post-Communist Societies (1998, with J. Elster and U. K. Preuss), Reflections on America. Tocqueville, Weber and Adorno in the United States (2005), Europe Entrapped (2014) and Citizens in Europe (2016, with U. K. Preuss).
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