Abstract - Inke Arns

The Avant-Garde in the Rear View Mirror

The paper discusses a paradigmatic shift in the way artists reflect the historical avant-garde in visual and media art projects of the 1980s and 1990s in (ex-) Yugoslavia and Russia. The reasons for this paradigm shift can be found in the changing relationship to the notion of utopia, both in its political and its artistic connotation. In the 1980s, the reception both in so-called Soviet postutopianism (Il’ja Kabakov, E²rik Bulatov, Oleg Vasil’ev, Komar & Melamid, Kollektive Aktionen) and in the Yugoslav retro-avant-garde (NSK, Mladen Stilinovic´, Malevicı from Belgrade etc.) is characterized by a ‘discourse archaeological’ interest in the potentially totalitarian elements of the avant-garde. Yet this point of view changes fundamentally during the 1990s with a younger generation of artists (neoutopianism and retroutopianism). Retroutopianism (Marko Peljhan, Vadim Fishkin) no longer primarily equates the utopianism of the avant-garde with totalitarian tendencies, but this utopianism is re-examined with regard to its media technological projections and designs, which were not only developed by individual avant-garde artists, writers and theoreticians (Velimir Khlebnikov, Bertolt Brecht) but also by scientists and engineers during the early 20th century (Nikola Tesla, Herman Potocınik Noordung). Artistic projects of the last decade reveal an increasing ‘media-archaeological’ fascination for the avant-garde's early utopian fantasies of technology. This fascination, in turn, is symptomatic for a significant change in the relationship to utopia and utopian thinking on the whole: utopian thinking per se separates from its unambiguously negative, political-totalitarian aftertaste (understood as 'utopianism') and takes on a new positive political connotation. It is now understood as an emancipatory or visionary-spectral potentiality ('utopicity'). In this paper I wish to discuss the crucial role artistic research and knowledge production has for opening up and establishing a new area of scientific research: a media archaeology of Eastern Europe – a hitherto almost uncharted field.