Installations, videos and projects in public space

by Oliver Ressler

One-Two, Transition

Ovidiu Tichindeleanu

On February 27 1989, after the Caracazo riots, Venezuela entered in a transition whose meaning took a definite shape only ten years later, when the Bolivarian Constitution has been created by the newly elected Constitutional Assembly and ratified through popular referendum. Justice, popular sovereignty, solidarity, decentralization and autonomy are some of the key concepts characterizing this massive transformation, said now in the official discourse to lead towards the socialism of the twenty-first century, a participatory and protagonistic democracy, a real alternative to global capitalism and neoliberalism.

In Eastern Europe, the dominant sense of the transition that also began in 1989 has been from the first moments clarified in the public sphere as the passage “from communism to capitalism,” a difficult course over an abyss that had to be carefully managed by technocrats, experts, Western consultants, and local cultural elites. The transition consisted in chapter after chapter of formal and material assimilation of the Eastern nations, societies and institutions into Western military, economic and political structures (NATO, WTO, European Union). In Romania, the newly adopted post-socialist constitution, result of the work of a committee of experts, was quickly ratified through popular referendum already in 1991, and then modified in 2003, accenting the national state, political pluralism, and private property as fundamental values reorganizing the society.

In both regions, the initial driving forces of these transformations, from the barrios in Venezuela to the disempowered people of the Eastern European urban industrial complexes, have been the masses: neither the bourgeoisie nor the dissident intellectuals, but the disenfranchised – workers, jobless, peasants, housewives, youth, students, elderly, black, indigenous, gays. If the Romanian workers were enjoying a certain protection and stability ensured by the centralized state, most of the Venezuelans, in addition to the multiple forms of repression faced, had to bid their labor force in the informal economy, without any stable income and security. For both regions, the necessity of a radical transition was understood due to the “disastrous heritage” left to the present by the power structures that ruled with an increasingly stronger hand over the local people for half a century. In Eastern Europe, one pointed to “totalitarian communism” as the source of social evils. In Venezuela, one of the resource-richest countries in the world, local oligarchies and global capitalism were found guilty for the impoverishment of more than 80% of its population. From the demise of the present, the future looked however full of promise everywhere.

In Eastern Europe, the rapidly surfaced accursed symbols of “communism,” the danger from within, helped controlling these hopes, restricting the sense of “economy” to hierarchic versions of market fundamentalism, and imposing the new sense of “normalcy” as the necessity of colonization and disciplination of the local society. In the process, the mass participation to both political culture and cultural politics diminished constantly, being replaced with the exclusivist policies of a society organized in confidential communities run by elites. Global capitalism has been imperatively and authoritatively associated with democracy and the free market, and development has taken on a strictly Eurocentric sense. Prominent anticommunist dissidents have become the local tails of the happy global imperial dog. The transition was understood as the closure of a doomed time, and the process of transition towards capitalism ended itself in the official discourse with the integration of Romania into the European Union in 2007 – itself a singular chapter from a long, long series of “endings” and integrations. With every such closure, the sense of transition has also narrowed down: seemingly there can be only one transition. In the same time, the local cultural and political spheres have increasingly become less tolerant, opening as fertile soils to racism and sexism. And in the meantime, the increasingly externalized Eastern European labor force has lost more and more visibility and opportunity to speak out.

In Venezuela, the looming external specters of both global capitalism and state socialism have given birth to the quest for a new inclusivist political culture, opening society inwardly, towards its most marginalized groups. The practical meaning of transition has not been defined as quickly as in Eastern Europe, remaining an essentially open category, and the “alternative future” has taken a definite shape only in the process, through the actual involvement of workers and local councils in the process of reorganization. If around 2002 the idea of nationalization was very much in the air, today workers’ self-management and decentralization are the dominant operative concepts, but by no means final. It has become clear that centralized economies are neither feasible nor desirable as alternative systems to capitalism in the new millennium, and nor is an essentialist concept of class. Gradually, an extended and in the same time more modest sense of labor and economy has taken shape, based on the desire to democratize the economic sphere itself and to conceive economy as a domain contributing to the larger community development. Even if more than a third of the state budget has been invested in social services, Venezuela had the world’s biggest growth after China from 2004 to the present semester of 2007. In this context of social production, and not only economical production, opened to the possibility of sense but unrestricted to significations, critical thought and artistic practice have a vital role in broadening the spectrum of possibilities.

The documentary “5 Factories–Worker Control in Venezuela” realized by Dario Azzellini and Oliver Ressler is their second film focused on the political and social change in Venezuela, after “Venezuela from Below” (2004). Here, Azzellini and Ressler bring the workers to discourse, taking on the changes affecting production and growth in the industrial sector. The English version of the documentary opened in 2006 as an installation version with six video projections in the MATRIX cycle “Now-Time Venezuela: Media Along the Path of the Bolivarian Process” at the Berkeley Art Museum (U.S.A.), organized by Chris Gilbert.

The present project, by necessity outside the space of gallery, is an intervention into the work of art itself, cutting and modifying it locally as a becoming body of transformational knowledge and subjective experience. The documentary is not represented in the journal, e.g. as a form of banking art, recording the essence, but lends itself to a new story making process, opening the fundamental concept of the post-1989 East-European history, the transition, to a multiplicity of sense and practice opposing its enclosure in given signifieds. First the cocoa bags arrive, then… and then the cocoa liquor is processed. Sure the solid melts, but the remainders grow taller.

from: IDEA, arts + society, #26, 2007, section: Documenta Magazines