PRECARITY HAS A CHANCE: Public spaces in movement (toward)
16 June – 29 July 2023
Structura Gallery Sofia, Bulgaria
Artists: Elena Chemerska, Iskra Dimitrova, Hristina Ivanoska, Slavica Janešlieva, Gjorgje Jovanovik, Filip Jovanovski, Verica Kovacevska, Shqipe Mehmeti, Oliver Musovik, Natasha Nedelkova, Dorotej Neshovski, OPA (Obsessive Possessive Aggression), Aleksandra Petrushevska Ristovska, Nada Prlja, Dita Starova Qerimi, Nikola Uzunovski, Dragana Zarevska & Gjorgji Despodov, Velimir Zernovski
Curator: Ivana Vaseva
Produced by Faculty of things that can’t be learned – FRU in partnership with Structura Gallery in the frames of AKTO 18 festival for contemporary arts and 20 years of DENES award. Supported by Trust For Mutual Understanding (TMU), New York
“The space of a tactic is the space of the other… It operates in isolated actions, blow by blow. It takes advantage of “opportunities” and depends on them, being without any base where it could stockpile its winnings, build up its own position, and plan raids. What it wins it cannot keep. This nowhere gives a tactic mobility, to be sure, but a mobility that must accept the chance offerings of the moment, and seize on the wing the possibilities that offer themselves at any given moment. It must vigilantly make use of the cracks that particular conjunctions open in the surveillance of the proprietary powers. It poaches in them. It creates surprises in them. It can be where it is least expected. It is a guileful ruse.”
Excerpt from The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau, p.118
The rapid shrinking of public space amid global capitalism is directly damaging the emergence of the public sphere and, consequently, the public person. The atomization and subsequent privatization of public spaces depoliticizes everyday life and changes whole contexts and ecosystems in the post-truth era. The public debate shifts in an automatic and temporary created spaces, and often becomes depersonalized, heated and even hystericized without interpersonal relations that are created in bodily meetings.
The neoliberal urban restructuring in post-socialist societies has shrunk and transformed public spaces to sites for passive reception of consumerist and nationalist messages rather than being places for nurturing democratic political subjectivities. The capitalist expansionist policies make inequalities, exclusions and enclosures more noticeable than before. Such dominant consensus of the state controlling apparatus and the profit-oriented elites has led to tailoring of discourses and withering freedom of speech, loss of argumentation, commodification of public interaction, devaluation of expertise, even greater polarization and divisions in society, and silencing the plurality of voices. Anthropologist Goran Janev points out that the public sphere has turned into an arena for political party skirmishes, in which there is no room for an already devalued expert analysis. He adds: “framing any different opinion as something that “comes from the opposition camp”, a public debate was killed and became impossible”. It can also lead to growing conflicts and intolerance on ethnic, gender and sexual grounds. Chantal Mouffe notes that conflict in public space can take the form of violent antagonism when it is not given the opportunity to have legitimate channels of expression or to take an agonistic form.
Artists have always tended to enter contested and polarized grounds, to set the stage for the public to emerge, to imagine “new ways of operating” in the formal rules and “disciplinary structures” as de Certeau’s tactics… And, this selection is precisely that – different artistic endeavors that reclaim and redefine the public sphere and the public space by creating tactics for its re-conquest and access for the precarized and silenced. It is either through direct and indirect processual relationality with an idea of reappropriating and returning the public space to its ‘owners’ or through legitimizing a symbolical public space where other potentialities can be conceived and shaped. They all envision a freed space, even temporarily, for contestation of the existing narratives through collaboration in voicing up with the ignored, neglected, silenced, unremembered, omitted, marginalized within the existing hegemony… These art practices can create public space anew through the struggles for the rights and in close relation with the social movements or even stimulate them in times when it seems that they are weak.
On the other hand, this exhibition simultaneously talks about the very material conditions of the initiators of these processes – artists and cultural workers who live in precarious circumstances with political but without economic agency and without any or proper infrastructure. Their precarious status offers them flexibility, agility and unprecedented criticality when working collectively, constantly standing ready to negotiate and challenge hardships, committed to their purpose, though in an uncertain economic and financial position. They are here and they address different crises with radical imaginative proposals, but often dependent on chance and often using chance procedures so as to further explore their intentions.
Some of them are going to the public space (once) belonging to the community or the neighborhood, and together with the local residents they try to evoke the memory of solidarity and togetherness and to reestablish the significance of the public anew, while calling for reparation. Such is the case with the former communal – now privatized building Domche in Filip Jovanovski’s work, then the erection of a wall in Berlin by Nada Prlja, the significance of cultural heritage for a better future through the narrative of one modernist building and the surrounding buildings designed by architect Frano Gotovac in Split in Verica Kovacevska’s work, through the public actions for the preservation of a local street and its ecosystem as a collaboration with the neighbors in Przhino by Iskra Dimitrova, to the neglected public space as a monument dedicated to the freedom in Kochani in Elena Chemerska’s work, and public children parks and the disappearance of playgrounds and subsequent changes in the children’s games as in Dorotej Neshovski’s work.
Others tackle social issues and are in solidarity with the underprivileged and marginalized, jointly creating temporary (public) spaces in the city and its institutions. In her work, Slavica Janešlieva reflects on the underprivileged position of migrants though her own personal lens. In the work The Roma, Oliver Musovik focuses on their game that creates another space at a time of big protests against authoritarianism, as well as against privatization, Velimir Zernovski creates a platform to give voice to people with atypical development and their artistic potentials, Hristina Ivanoska strengthens the feminist voice in our society though a critical perspective and through this practice challenges the existing narratives thus creating different public space, while Dita Starova Qerimi explores the medium of painting to give focus on the women’s position in a patriarchal society and motivates her to fight for a better future.
And, there is a third gateway that continues to fight against the contemporary threats of disillusionment created by illiberal governments in late capitalism, such as the fake feeling of democracy and freedom of expression and speech also resulting directly from diminishing the public and the public space, as well as by using irony. This can be seen in the work by OPA, the fake feeling of security and belonging, especially in the era of post-truth and fake news as in Natasha Nedelkova’s work which talks about the current environment of toxicity in nature and media, the different models to present defiance against the shrinking of so many rights – freedom of speech, freedom of public expression and freedom of public space as in Gjorgje Jovanovik’s work, or even becoming apocalyptical in the isolated, dehumanized and speechless public building’s interiors of the specific Yugoslav socialist modernism in Aleksandra Petrushevska Ristovska’s paintings, and the post-human apocalyptical landscape that Dragana Zarevska and Gjorgji Despodov are introducing through the perspective of the persona/phenomenon of queen(ness) .… while Nikola Uzunovski envisions platforms for people, animals and plants in the face of the alarming climate changes and urgent need to preserve the biodiversity and natural resources.
This selection brings together various voices that have expressed dissatisfaction with and defiance against the suppressive mechanisms and geometries of power and exclusion, and acquire visibility and power to transform implemented policies. They are sometimes indirectly relational and sometimes collaborational, but if simultaneously executed and articulated, they present an opportunity to form micro public spaces in movement of an imaginary (artistic) community that would re-establish the public. Precisely by simultaneously claiming the right to “ownership” of all, there is a potential toward implementing symbolic place for collective politicization. On the lines of what Stavrides notes in terms of the squares movement in 2011, i.e. that public space acquires new meaning out of such collective acts: “It is as if people reclaim space as a locus of dissident acts, a locus separated from the dominant mediatic space of simulated participation. It is as if people explicitly or implicitly redefine the meaning of space sharing and of publicness”. We have to work toward collective reinvention of public place as common space. Or, as Stavrides puts it: “The most urgent and promising task, which can oppose the dominant urban governance model, is the reinvention of common spaces. The realm of the common emerges in a constant confrontation with state-controlled ‘authorized’ public space”, and that is one of the most urgent tasks that will lead to the rethinking of common spaces in which together we create a future equal for all.
The selected works in this research are located in the intersection between art, activism and sometimes include research in architecture and urbanism, sociology and anthropology, law and the rule of law… They are strongly embedded in the local context(s), although talking about global processes that are familiar to other distant places; they are intersubjective and collaborative, where the aesthetic quality is mixed with the ethical one. In different proportions, all the works try to publicly and loudly show that public space is an important element of democracy, and is not something solid but a changeable asset that should be constantly demanded. They are important critical responses to that reality, and bring the potential for its re-conquest through the constant presence, contestation and perpetuation of the discourse that a living and inhabited public space is essential for a democratic process.
We have to continue moving.
 Goran Janev, Neoliberal Manipulation of Symbols – “Skopje 2014” and the Appropriation of Public Space https://rs.boell.org/en/2021/01/29/neoliberal-manipulation-symbols-skopje-2014-and-appropriation-public-space Accessed 01.04.2023
 Chantal Mouffe, Which Public Space for Critical Artistic Practices?, 165 https://readingpublicimage.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/chantal_mouffe_cork_caucus.pdf Accessed 01.04.2023
 In the past three decades there have been several artistic groups’ attempts to create collective semi-temporary public spaces due to the political turmoil in the country or to present kind of subversive responses to the pushed urbanization strategies or the re-vamping of the center of the city of Skopje. In the first group I would mention formal and informal groups of artists including the ad-hoc choir Raspeani Skopjani, the art group and art space Art I.N.S.T.I.T.U.T., Skopje, the initiative KOOPERACIJA, the art group Momi, the group of artists that formed the space Kula, the art group Dzee, etc., all having different reasons for their formation, with their own language, expression and methods of operation. And, in the second group I will mention only a few: The Golden Shell on the main city square, Atanas Botev’s Billboard as an announcement for his exhibition in 2008, “Territory” by Igor Tosevski in 2009, Zoran Popovski’s “Right to the City” in 2008, the OPA billboard „Solution” in 2012, Filip Jovanovski’s billboard “Mother Courage and her children” or his projects in the Railway residential building, the Universal Hall, the Main Post office and the former communal space called Domche, dating from 2015 and ongoing, or even throwing paint as an act during the “Colorful Revolution” and so on. These were all critical of the change in public space but also of projects attempting to artificially construct the public. There were also a number of youth initiatives that, seek new alternative places to create art, in the absence of space, or reduced public space, though they were very short-lived.
 Stavros Stavrides, Common Space The City as Commons (London, Zed Books, 2016): 160
 ibid: 179