Friday, 18 November 2011


Text by Mihaela Varzari, published with Public Preparation catalogue, Estonia
commissioned by the curator Rael Artel, 2009

Jens Haaning’s performance Bicycle Holiday in Poland, 1979
Crisis Special in November 11, 2009
Museum Sztuki, Lódz, Poland

Faithful to his discourse formed as a politically driven conceptual artist, Jens Haaning presents his project Bicycle Holiday in Poland, 1979 in a self-criticizing manner whether he addresses the Scandinavic political system or himself as being part of it. On this occasion he shifts attention from the excluded due to political systems, a familiar subject to his previous work, to how we identify each other as nations. As to say, we are subjects to our different cultural background and ultimately products of the political system we are affected by.
   In his performance, the artist introduces a series of 24 photos taken while holidaying with his Danish parents during the summer of 1979 in Poland. Each photograph is accompanied by the artist’s mother commentaries, as he remembers them. The Haanings took the initiative for this bike vacation to Poland out of curiosity raised by the Marxist propaganda leaflets received through their letterbox, back in Copenhagen. Denmark represented at the time a Scandinavian model of social democracy, which made Copenhagen the gateway between Scandinavia and mainland Europe. Marxist interest was more common in posh areas where intellectuals lived. Haaning family lived in one of these areas in Copenhagen, even thou they were neither rich nor highly educated. Family pictures depicting the parents and the three children traveling through Poland are common snapshots. The mother’s comments range between sweetness and warmth with a general tone of  sincerity and genuine naivety. Meeting a different culture that you know of through socialist advertising is bound to establish some preliminary thoughts on what you are to encounter and upon one is going to form an opinion. Whether the East for the Haaning family represented a socialistic dreamland or the sight of queues for rationed food shortages is going to act as a barometer or reference point for further interpretations of the new environment. How are to deal with this baggage is also investigated in a project dealing with a similar issue - where how we identify each other as notions on the basis of our perceived knowledge in relation to the Other and which has ultimately a self-reflective potential - was commissioned to David Cerny by the European Community in Brussels in order to create an installation called Entropa, 2009. The project consisted in the artist being in charge with commissioning other 27 artists, representatives of all European Union’s members, whose artworks were supposed to depict the prejudices they harbor one of each other. Without consulting anyone Cerny decided to make himself all 27 artworks, which in the end had legal repercussions. The Netherlands was shown as series of minarets submerged by a flood, Romania as a Dracula theme park and Bulgaria’s location on the European Community’s map was represented by a Turkish toilet. In the end the project had to be removed at the demands of the Bulgarian government, due to the country’s representation as a Turkish toilet. This project sets out on unmasking the very misconceptions that one is operating with when asserting the other, how this process works on the basis of projections and that it mainly brings to light features belonging to the speaker. In Cerny’s case he only depicted what different countries are known for in order to show how ignorant and ‘naively’ prejudicial one of another we may be. Both artists Haaning as well as Cerny are set out to expose how we generally color our ideas of the unknown with our notions of the known. We populate a new land with remains of our own reality, history and expectations. With slight misconceptions of reality we fabricate our hopes and beliefs and we behave like poor children who make believe they are happy by living off crusts that we call cakes. And this is how a particular system generally known as civilization works. The idea of a different civilization consists in giving something a name that does not belong to it and then dreaming over the result. In the case of Jens Haaning’s mother, her description joins to the true dream and create a new reality and thus the object does change into something else, because we make it change involuntarily. The physical borders start taking shape of mental borders, the latter being more difficult to erase as is usually inherited from the previous generation in a process known as ‘mental mapping’. In order to explain how deconstructionist works in relation to politics, one should focus on Homi Bhabha’s, by now influential quotation – “Nation is narration” [1][1] which implies that the so called unity of narration is a construct realized as a result of discursive and literary strategies. One’s experience of any culture differs according to how one is positioned by and positions oneself within it according to a variety of parameters like age, gender, and economic situation. These parameters in themselves are subject to a constant modification which gives rise to new identifications and affiliations

What’s like living in your reality? Don’t answer it!
   Were Marxist ideas flourishing and being appreciated in the West, on a territory reigned by freedom of speech, or better say fetishist in the same way as the beauty of a naked body is only appreciated by cultures that use clothing? The funny thing is that socialist ideology in the East now is a kind of recycled version of what once existed and it comes back via West. After 30 years since the photos were taken, Poland does not represent any longer the exotic other but the new Europe that is subject to all the changes like the other new EU members are. While the rampant economies of hedge fund investors, creative financiers and ‘adventurous capitalists’ of the turning of the 21st century vane on the horizon, the satellite states of the European Union look to neo-liberal system still as their only possible economic salvation. Betrayed by socialist ideals, they are embracing what remains of the economic haven offered by the European Union as an attractive option. Western model of democracy is being spread mechanically to other societies with different historical experience and cultural traditions.
But it was soon very clear that western capitalism, too, deprived of its old communist adversary and imagining itself the undisputed victor and incarnation of global progress, is at risk of leading western society and the rest of the world down another historical blind alley. The current economical crisis comes with a temporary rebirth of a social conscience in the Western World and acts as an indicator of what the belief that ultra liberal capitalism is the only way forward and so eagerly embraced by the new EU states. Given the current economical situation and the recent reshaping of the global map there is the urgency for self-reflexivity and the need to rearticulate itself despite its economic superiority.

Let me color your reality

   Within the current global climate cultural boundaries are never fixed but subject to constant change, which does not quite fit the idea that the West still posses of the East. As the world is progressing towards looking as a sole organism, the old economical barriers between different countries are now to be found within the same country where first, second and third worlds co-exist. Within this increased homogenized political-economic space the issues of ‘we’ and ‘them’, the processes of ‘otherness’ have to be redefined according to the change of paradigm engineered by the increasingly predominant division between rich and poor. The 19th century project of the creation of national identities is being replaced by that of transcending them, which in the case of Europe do not necessarily translate into a shared European consciousness, especially as the media usually present European issues through their national element.[2][2] It came as a response to pressures from national state and their citizens to resist any further erosion of national identity as well as sovereignty. Under this influence which still prevails binary bifurcations and pyramidal system there is a long way before emancipatory concepts will start to take shape. According to cultural theorists such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak[3][3] or Boris Buden[4][4] it is in this context that the notion of cultural translation is of paramount importance. It first of all combats the very idea of an original cultural identity, which multiculturalism, as the basis of future Europe, is grounded on and secondly it focuses on rearranging relations between countries engaged into a reconstructed concept of universalism. Cultural translation is drawing away from the literary translation where one word is given a different meaning in several languages and takes one step beyond into a zone which neglects the existence of original and reproduction.
   In a broader sense, Jens Haaning’s work identifies a step towards perceiving a different culture no longer as something alien, determined by the abstract notion of nationality, but as a reality that people live. In other words a reality which is the result of a mediated and negotiated relationship where one is mirrored in the other not on the basis of old dichotomies like identity-alterity, inside-outside, East-West.

[5][1] HK Bhabha (ed), Nation and Narration (London and New York: Routledge, 1990) p. 204
[6][2] As a Romanian living in London around the time of joining the EU, I was exposed to a tendency in the media which would put an emphasis on more of the negative elements of Romania or Romanians living in the UK, as an ‘explanation’ on why we should feel forever grateful and indebted for having been accepted.
[7][3] (accessed February 20, 2010)
[8][4] (accessed December 18, 2009)

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