The Third East-Central European Art Forum

Understanding 1989 in East-Central European Art. War vs. Revolution
14-15 June 2024


Fb event:

The third East-Central European Art Forum Understanding 1989 in East-Central Europe as War and Revolution is a part of project led by the Piotr Piotrowski Center for Research on East-Central European Art at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, supported by the Getty Foundation as part of its Connecting Art Histories initiative. The aim of both the project and the conference is to create a platform for exchange of different narratives on the art produced as a result of the chain of events that unfolded in 1989 and in the following years (the fall of the socialist system in Europe, the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, the collapse of the Soviet Union, followed by the transition to democracy and capitalism/market economy. Usually, the study of these phenomena is restricted to national contexts, languages, and geographical borders.

The conference marks the 35th anniversary of the events of 1989 and the 30th commemoration of the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia offers an opportunity to overcome these limitations in favour of a comparative narrative that focuses on both similarities and differences of the process of political, economic, and social transition in Eastern Europe, and East-Central European art. Understanding 1989 in East-Central Europe as War and Revolution is crucial for comprehension the contemporary situation in the region and more broadly – in Europe. Conservative governments in East-Central Europe have appropriated both events and narratives of 1989 for the sake of their own nationalistic, symbolic capital and in order to legitimise their own indispensability. At the same time, contemporary artists in this part of Europe investigate the political, economic and social changes, and the role of 1989 and its initial revolutionary potential, as well as confront the question of what went wrong. The ideological appropriation of 1989 as national liberation and restoration of national sovereignty has led to the proliferation of ethnic conflicts in the former socialist  East and finally to the return of the spectre of war to the political scene of modern Europe, while revolution faded away.

The third East-Central European Art Forum – Understanding 1989 in East- Central European Art. War vs. Revolution aims at approaching these tendencies in the contemporary art and art history writing of the region as a peculiar re-appropriation of 1989, which – when understood as a revolution – creates the possibility to transgress national divisions and lay bare the common historical experience of this part of Europe. It is in this context that the notion of revolution, which has been totally ostracised by the discourse of the post- communist transition, as a political instrument of the totalitarian rule, deserves renewed attention, especially after the world financial crisis of 2008 that overlapped with the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism in Europe. The growing awareness of inequalities and the need to seek other solutions to the problems than those offered by conservative nationalism, provoked the visible reaction to reevaluate the communist and Marxist ideological background, as well as the criticism of capitalism in this part of Europe. This approach attempts to trace back the political and cultural process that marginalised topics related to class division, poverty, and other aspects of social and economic injustice. Thus the conference will also focus on artists’ reactions to the most recent events in the region – the current war in Ukraine or the contemporary revolutionary movements in post-communist/post-socialist Europe. Special attention will be given to the environment of contemporary Belarusian artists who have found refuge in Poznań. The conference will be accompanied by an exhibition of contemporary  Belarusian, critical of political situation in Belarus art at the DOMIE gallery. The Poznan conference will also focus on the dialectics of war and revolution, with particular attention to art in the face of class war as a foundation for contemporary revolutionary movements.