Large Glass_Essay by Jovanka Popova


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The MoCA’s Pavilion in Venice Biennial 2019 Nada Prlja ‘Subversion to Red’

Text by Jovanka Popova


Nada Prlja’s ‘Subversion to Red’ is a project that uses artistic practices and methods to articulate the causes of today’s crisis – the precarious, socio-politically and critically produced discourse and its manifestations, the expansion of capitalism and the growth of nationalism and right-wing polices in local and global contexts.

The growth and popularity of extreme right-wing options have confirmed Walter Benjamin’s observation that the emergence of fascism is a symptom of failed revolution. The failure of leftist theories and practices to gain recognition as a serious political alternative inevitably paves the way for right-wing options and extremism. On the other hand, capitalist realism and its widespread effects on popular culture, work, education and mental states in contemporary society, implicitly confirms that history is moving in a single direction – towards a world in which capitalism is the only social option, with an authoritarian and bureaucratic mode of politics and a lack of viable strategies for social transformation. The machinations of power in this kind of world provide support solely for those who are already wealthy while ignoring the needs of the oppressed and the marginalized.

Guided by the notion that the past century was characterized by notably left-leaning significant historical events, but also by the declaration of the end of utopian socialism, the intention of the project ‘Subversion to Red’ is to reconsider the need and possibility for re-actualizing the socialist past through practices from the present and re-evaluating its positive symbolic elements, while all the time remaining conscious of its negative connotations.

The project redefines the idea of communism, understood here as an alternative collective organization and a set of new emancipatory policies to oppose the profit-driven market logic that currently prevails. Loyalty to the idea of a socialist past means little if we do not relate it to the current situation of antagonisms we face today.

Therefore, we raise the following questions. What do we really mean when we say socialist experiments have ended in failure? What is the basis for their proper terminological and practical interpretation today, with the intention of directing them towards a different kind of political emancipation? And finally, in what ways can contemporary leftist alternatives restore ideological support, bearing in mind the historical development of twentieth-century socialist projects?

It is very likely that the range of problems that define the ‘interesting times’ in which we live will continue and that an effective political response to these problems will not arise. This is one of the reasons for refraining from placing our hopes on the power of the democratic left, and likewise a reason to avoid mythologizing past communism and fantasizing about a ‘socialist horizon’.

From this premise, through a series of artistic and non-artistic methods, the author of the project raises questions about the democratic way of solving problems through imperfect but permanent dialogue, through disagreement, disputes, struggles and the resolution of public problems.

The ‘Subversion to Red’ project shows the potential of art as policy, while also referring to other works of art from the past with similar aims. The process implies an artistic as well as a political imagination, transformed and amalgamated into a ‘new work’ – a provocative call for unity and coming together in new forms of political action through a specific approach to rhetoric and interaction with the public.

The artist analyses existing historical material relating to socio-political conditions from the 20th century, relating these to the key cultural moments of modern history through several stages of development, applying a research process that takes a documentary approach in the art video Red-iness: Robespierre, and Red-iness: Gestalt; using photography through the project Human Communism; a performance and public debate, Red Discussion1, which resulted in a video; a performance art event, Red Discussion 2, and the collection of works entitled She does what She wants, produced for North Macedonia’s pavilion at the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia.

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