Since ten years Erik Hagoort has been working in close collaboration with artists and art institutions in Russia. In Manifesta's latest statement he detects fear and 'a sad rethoric'.
By Erik Hagoort
In reaction to "the most recent calls for a boycott", Manifesta 10 Foundation has issued a statement last March 11th.
It is disappointing that Manifesta 10 Foundation had to wait so long. It says to respond to the most recent calls for a boycott due to the crisis in Ukraine. Apparently the intimidation, house-arrest or imprisonment of members of oppositional political movements as well as the enactment of the legislation, end of last year throughout the Russian Federation, which forbids to show other than heterosexual orientation in the presence of minors as normal, hasn't been reason enough for Manifesta to come earlier with a public statement, although many individuals and organisations, among them AICA Netherlands, have pledged Manifesta to do so.
Nobody will hold Manifesta accountable for current legislative measures, that infect Russian law with violations of human rights. Manifesta only has been requested to shed light to its approach of the situation, in which it has chosen to operate in.
Now, at last, there is a statement. It is an utterly disappointing statement.
Sad are its rhetorics. Chief curator Kasper Koenig writes to aspire to a complex exhibition, grappling with "all the possibilities that the art offers" and therefore "to present far more than just commentary on the present political circumstances." Who would expect him and his team to do otherwise? His argumentation continues to downplay politically charged art. In doing so a false contradiction is created between politically charged art and, to quote his statement, "substantial artworks".
Also disappointing is the double-heartedness of the invitation to the participating artists. They are urged not to censor themselves "however within Russian law". But the latter turns the former into an impossibility. This is followed by a clear public warning beforehand against any "misuse" of Manifesta as a platform for political protest. Here Manifesta – eyes wide open – falls into the trap of the above-mentioned legislation, which intentions are to spread anxiety.
These last ten years, part of my practice has evolved in close contact and collaboration with colleagues in the arts in Russia. I will continue to do so. From experience I know how enriching and important for both sides collaboration in the arts can be. As in all circumstances, one must be attentive of the signals one's own role sends out to partners and audiences.
It is a big and unnecessary mistake of Manifesta to openly comply beforehand with the confinements of current Russian legislation. Moreover, to ad a warning finger against what it calls "misuse", gives the wrong signal, to put it mildly. It breathes fear.
Erik Hagoort, member of AICA Netherlands