The Totalitarian Paradigm and The Making Of Contemporary Art
Expert talk with Antonia Majaca & Jelena Vesić
The concept of “totalitarianism” emerged in the early 1930s during the late stages of the Weimar Republic and has since then not only shaped the politics of the 20th century, but became a term of cultural othering during the Cold War. As a vague point of ideological intersection between the various anti-Stalinist factions, the “totalitarian paradigm” entered the Cold War battle for the “hearts and minds” as one of the most ubiquitous concepts in the political vocabulary of U.S. liberalism. The equating of Nazism and Communism became the pretext for the rise of the dictum of the “end of ideology,” as professed by ideologues close to the CCF. At the same time, the struggle against totalitarianism, and the ideology of freedom became a pretext for the birth of contemporary art and the process of its elusive canonization. The writing of new art histories in a contemporary framework introduced new principles of global inclusion, equality, context, plurality, and heterogeneity vis-a -vis the former Western canon. However, the epistemological division between the official, totalitarianism-free and 'alternative' art, seems to remain operative as the latent grid behind this new, democratized field of contemporary art.
Antonia Majaca is an art historian, curator, and writer based in Berlin, as well as the research leader at the IZK Institute for Contemporary Art at the Graz University of Technology. She lectures regularly and has contributed to numerous publications in the field of contemporary art and art history. In collaboration with Angela Dimitrakaki and Sanja Ivekovic, she instigated the aural intervention Art of The Possible: Towards the International Antifascist Feminist Front, and co-curated the discursive program Women's Work in Revolt for Documenta 14 in Athens (2017). Her recently curated conferences include Knowledge Forms and Forming Knowledge - Limits and Horizons of Transdisciplinary Art-Based Research at the Halle für Kunst & Medien, Graz, and Memorial For(u)ms – Histories of Possibility for DAAD and HAU - Hebbel am Ufer. Her earlier work includes numerous publications and exhibitions co-curated with Ivana Bago through Delve – Institute for Duration, Location and Variables, which they co-founded in 2009.
Jelena Vesić is an independent curator, writer, editor, and lecturer. She is the co-founder of Prelom Collective and co-editor of Red Thread – Journal for social theory, contemporary art and activism. She has published numerous essays exploring the relations between art and ideology in the fields of geopolitical art history writing, experimental art, and exhibition practices. Her most recent exhibition is Story on Copy at the Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart. She also curated Lecture Performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, and the Kölnischer Kunstverein (2009/2010), as well as the collective exhibition project Political Practices of (post-) Yugoslav Art (2009), which critically examined art historical concepts and narratives on Yugoslav art after the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Her recent collection of essays, On Neutrality, The letter from Melos (with Vladimir Jeric Vlidi and Rachel O'Reilly, 2016) is part of the Non-Aligned Modernity edition of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, dedicated to exploring different cultural-political cases of the Non-Aligned Movement.