[artinfo] [Easternalliance-events] BRUSSELS SPROUTS

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Thu Feb 7 00:08:03 CET 2008

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<P CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm">invisible PARLIAMENT</P>
<P CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm">(with <SPAN LANG="en-US">Luk&aacute;&scaron;
Jasansk&yacute; and Martin Pol&aacute;k)</SPAN></P>
<P LANG="en-US" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><I>Text by
Ivan Mecl</I></P>
<P CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><BR>
<P CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm">&quot;Kein Mensch
kapiert, was das Europarlament is&quot; *</P>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><BR>
<P CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><SPAN LANG="en-GB">At
the beginning of the 1990s, philosopher Mirek Vodr&aacute;ľka
indicated in his Lao Tse-inspired texts that the best government is
that which citizens do not even know exists. It&rsquo;s possible that
he didn&rsquo;t realize then how close his prophecies were to
becoming true. The European Parliament is truly something <I>about
which we know nothing</I>. I only know a couple of people who have
seen it from the inside. But I&rsquo;m almost certain that you could
dupe most people into believing that deputies meet in the Brussels
catacombs and the building above ground is just a large parking lot.</SPAN></P>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm">What is
good? What is bad? No one knows. Perhaps only the person that creates
them, as Nietzsche opined. Perhaps they know what they are doing in
Brussels. But all that we learn about their work is misinformation.
This does not mean that there is some premeditated,
distortion-focused media campaign going on. The best misinformation
is that which need not be created or invented. It comes from
journalists&rsquo; disinterest in trying to tackle a complicated
issue and the inability to understand the special coding of messages
into pro-European newspeak: very long messages.</P>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm">Recently a
group of photographers, perhaps inadvertently, revealed that the
European Parliament is often almost completely empty, and the rest is
just a Potemkin Village. Non-existent institutions or institutions
that create only virtual activities are one of democracy&rsquo;s
greatest gifts. These activities do not impact or affect anyone, and
so these institutions are beloved. The European Parliament is a
literal personification of the European Union, because each country
has its representative there and so everyone likes it. Just look at
how our top political representatives happily return from meetings in
the European central offices. Even though they do not speak foreign
languages, they proclaim how they negotiated top-level agreements
with foreign delegations, all of which are advantageous for our
country. Only a crazy person would believe them. But until things get
worse, they will continue to pat one another on the back.</P>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm">But let&rsquo;s
go back to the awful truth that was revealed about the European
Parliament. The Goethe Institute and a team of pleasant, confused
gallery operators, Thomas Huber and J&ouml;rg Koopman, invited a
number of artist-photographers to Brussels to show what it&rsquo;s
all about, this European Parliament. Hopefully the criteria for
selecting the photographers will remain secret for posterity. I sense
however that the organizers approached gallery owners, who later
chose from among the least-used artists in their employment. So far
the work has only been shown on the premises of the aforementioned
parliament. So almost no one knows about the project. I became
interested in it after overhearing Luk&aacute;&scaron; Jasansk&yacute;
and Martin Pol&aacute;k&mdash;a pair of sarcastic artists who could
easily set up a TV channel to amuse even the most disenchanted and
skeptical of intellectuals. It would broadcast in black-and-white,
full of technical difficulties, with the two of them at the helm,
having the most fun of all. What follows are a few excerpts from an
interview with the pair.</P>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><BR>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><B>Most of
the photos show only interiors? Why?</B></P>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm">When we
arrived we were told that we could only photograph inside. Apparently
the building&rsquo;s architect has licensing rights for photographs
of the building. He has the right to approve all photos. One
photographer was not discouraged by this fact. He photographed the
building&rsquo;s exterior, but from such a distance and in such a
composition that it failed to occupy even half of the space in the
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><BR>
<P CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><SPAN LANG="en-GB"><B>That&rsquo;s
strange. It&rsquo;s not possible to set such limitations, is it?</B> </SPAN>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm">Hard to
say. The building is too ugly and too big. Plus it can be seen from
all over. Perhaps the architect doesn&rsquo;t want people to find
that out. Thus he only allows pictures to be taken from certain,
acceptable angles. Otherwise, the building definitely suits that
which it is meant to represent.</P>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><BR>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><B>There
are no people in your pictures. This happens often in your work. But
pictures by the other artists also lack people. And in the photos
where there are people, they all seem arranged somehow.</B></P>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm">Because
the parliament is almost always moving, it is often empty. The
deputies get up and leave, their assistants pack their bags and load
them into trucks to be carted off to Strasbourg or Luxemburg. We were
all there at a time when no one was home aside from the maintenance
staff and a few employees. In fact there was really nothing at all to
photograph. There&rsquo;s almost nothing inside, and what is there
looks like elements from any other administrative building&mdash;just
bigger. Some photographers did actually arrange people. But the
movement of people there is excessively civil, gray. This is also
impacted by the extremely mundane setting of Brussels. One
photographer sort of exaggerated his work and put people in various
tragi-comic positions.</P>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><BR>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><B>Isn&rsquo;t
it just a fictitious institution then? Just a big facade?</B></P>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm">They&rsquo;re
always working on the building: fixing or re-doing something.
Technicians are laying cables, they&rsquo;re opening soffits and
drilling into the walls and ceilings. The place is filled with long
hallways and conference rooms of all sizes. Numerous offices, dark
ones and lit ones. Spaces with tons of unused technical equipment. An
abandoned TV studio, poised and ready for a broadcast. We never saw
it up and running. There is so much equipment that never gets used.
And the people work to keep it all on &ldquo;stand-by,&rdquo;
visually at least. We&rsquo;re not sure if it actually functions.</P>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><BR>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><B>So
ultimately you decided to photograph art.</B></P>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm">That was
the most abandoned stuff that we found. As we wandered around the
building and into its&rsquo; various corners we began to discover
artwork in the least likely of places. There was a strange variety of
styles and forms from engaged, pro-European statues and reliefs to
horrid samples of the international informal style. We figured out
that art is what binds Europe together&hellip;bad art. Bad art is the
same everywhere. Perhaps this is why it&rsquo;s represented in the
Parliament. So we decided to photograph it.</P>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><BR>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><B>So how
did the gallery operators and Institute like the results of your
work? </B>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm">We think
that they didn&rsquo;t like it much. It took them a long time and
much effort to assess our photos. They didn&rsquo;t invite us to the
exhibit. But they did send us the catalogue. 
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><BR>
<P CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><SPAN LANG="en-GB">The
catalogue was surprisingly the biggest contribution to the exhibit;
mainly because it contains a wonderful essay by an editor from
Germany&rsquo;s <I>Tagesspiegel</I>, Robert Birnbaum. He used it,
among other things, to develop his own universal parliamentary
<P CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm">&ldquo;<SPAN LANG="en-GB">Democracy
in practice is the most highly abstract and incomprehensible type of
government. Whoever does not believe this should take a test. First,
envision some type of castle and imagine how, in his day, King
Ottokar der Heizbare ruled there. It&rsquo;s not that difficult, is
it? A king, a couple of advisors, perhaps some <I>&eacute;minence
grise</I> in the background &ndash; the personnel and decision-making
structures in a monarchy are transparent. Afterwards he accompanies a
normal group of visitors to see the Reichstag in Berlin, the Sejm in
Warsaw, the Cortes Generales in Madrid, etc. Prior to the tours, the
visitors' faces were lit with looks of happy expectation &ndash;
afterward expressions of mild confusion. </SPAN>
<P CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><SPAN LANG="en-GB">Most
definitely they saw the assembly room with the speaker&rsquo;s podium
up front. But to find an answer to the question why, for example, the
Berlin Reichstag in time of debate is almost completely empty, is in
itself complicated. It relates to the number of weeks in plenary and
the legislative documents, to the difference between a debate and a
working parliament, to the residential care of the deputies, only to
name a few of the reasons. All by itself this seemingly simple
question leads deep into the institutional underbrush of the
Parliament that only political enthusiasts or hobbyists care to
follow. All others continue to be satisfied privately with the
suspicion that the explanations are invented, and the deputies are
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm">However in
the end even the journalist gets frightened by his criticisms and in
his final words decides to give the European Parliament a chance,
both as an artifact and a thing of curiosity. I began my
correspondence with the project organizers by asking how much they
thought the artists suffered working on such a silly project. I was
answered with a yell: &ldquo;But who can appreciate our suffering?&rdquo;
There, there. It&rsquo;s not without good reason that we say &ldquo;Don&rsquo;t
take your lord out onto the ice, Vasek. Your lord will fall and you
will break your nose.&rdquo; Goethe Institute please bear in mind
this oft-repeated fact: no one knows anything about the European
Parliament. They wanted to show in artistic photos the work of the
&ldquo;only directly-elected EU body.&rdquo; But the question remains
whether the Germans wanted to ingratiate or take revenge on the
Parliament (an empty mass). Artists can stand on their head trying to
extract some meaning from the Parliament. Institutions are not
responsible for their own failure. We can only hope that the
conspiracy was only the project of the Goethe Institute and that the
level of opportunism on the part of the project organizers was
minimal. The results can be presented as an example of an office
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><BR>
<P LANG="en-GB" CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><BR>
<P CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><BR>
<P CLASS="western" STYLE="margin-bottom: 0cm"><I>*&quot;Nobody knows
what the Parliament is&quot;, Robert Birnbaum</I></P>
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