East European Performing Arts Platform (EEPAP) supports the
development of contemporary performing arts (dance and theatre)
in 18 countries of Central and Eastern Europe.


Marta Keil

photo: "Physical_0327-w2500-h2500" (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Central Sussex College




by Marta Keil


            Let us consider that the evolution of institutional criticism has been conducted in relation to actual political and economic situations, and thus in relation to changes in the systems of arts production. In Poland, as in other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, institutional changes took place in different timeframes than in Western Europe, which was influenced by local political institutions. The tempo of changes increased in the 1990's, reflecting the sudden clash between capitalism and the previous state economy. To a certain degree, we saw a repeat of the situation observed within Western arts institutions in the 1970's. Institutional critique of that time challenged national arts institutions and national cultural institutions in Western Europe and the USA, which were meant to create the frameworks for that which is normative, national and social. Artists were then asking why, in certain institutions such as museums, minorities or marginalised majorities (women, BME groups) were not represented. It is worth noting that the institutional model of the time functioned in terms of the Fordist model of economics. Institutional critique postulated at the time a negation of institutions as such, the building of new institutions and including critique into existing frameworks. In this way, arts institutions were made to include minority colonised cultures, feminism, ecological movements, etc.. In Poland, due to social and economic conditions,  such an approach dominated theatrical institutions in the 1990's and the first few years of the 21st century.

            Such a model of institutional critique fell away in Western culture, according to Hito Steyerl, in the 1990's, which was a time of transformation from the Fordist system of organising production along with a change in geopolitical order, and of change from the national to a transnational space. At the time, a process of symbolic integration between critique and institutions was initiated, or rather with the surface of institutions, without any tangible consequences for the institutions or their organisational systems. This in turn is a mirror of similar processes which takes place on a political level: symbolic gestures of integrating minorities, while basic political and social inequalities remain firmly in place.

            Hand in hand with a change in economic systems which was part of the late, neo-liberal capitalist phase, changes took place in the way public space functioned and was at the same time defined. On the one hand, we saw the erosion of the public sphere, connected with its commercialisation and commodification, along with subjection to demands of production, on the other however, thanks to feminist and post-colonial critique, Habermas' presumption of homogeneity in the public space has been dismissed, space which is commonplace (each one different, according to class or social grouping) and whose interdependent relations are constantly reformatted.

            I am convinced that in the current political and social environment, with regards to the vanishing of the public sphere and its continuous, stubborn transformation into a sphere of capitalist production and consumption, in which conflict, discussion and the clash of many opinions becomes impossible, activities related to public institutions are not irrelevant. Quite the opposite: not only do they have very real political consequences, but are above all a step forward (or backward) in the struggle over space for the public sphere. Activities and decisions related to public cultural institutions and access to culture itself will become part of this struggle, whether they like it or not, and in this way they directly take part in the process of creating or destroying democracies.


translated by Marek Kaźmierski


The edited and changed version of the excerpt of the lecture presented at the conference „Politicality of Art Institution” http://www.festiwalprapremier.pl/en/2015/10/06/politicality-of-the-art-i...