Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje.

Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje.

Conference reports  Retracing solidarity

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje has created a new program named ‘Radical Education’, designed by Tihomir Topuzovski and Kumjana Novakova. The program started on October 17, 2018 with a lecture “The Art of Political Imagination” by professor Stephen Duncombe. It continued on October 29 and 30 with a workshop by Forensic Architecture, an independent research agency.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2019:1. Vol. XII. pp 45-46
Published on on March 7, 2019

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The Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje has created a new program named ‘Radical Education’, designed by Tihomir Topuzovski and Kumjana Novakova. The program started on October 17, 2018 with a lecture “The Art of Political Imagination” by professor Stephen Duncombe. It continued on October 29 and 30 with a workshop by Forensic Architecture, an independent research agency.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje was founded in 1963 and opened in 1970. Based on the solidarity principle, it was designed as a type of architectural and cultural venue reflecting the socialist promise of a better society. It was built as a collaborative work by three Polish architects: Wacław Kłyszewski (1910—2000), Jerzy Mokrzyński (1909—1997), and Eugeniusz Wierzbicki (1909—1991), known as the Warsaw Tigers. During more than 50 years of continuous work, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje has negotiated various challenges, keeping its reputation and competence in the field of culture and art. In spite of the inglorious trajectory of this institution, when facing the reality of political turmoil and crisis we might legitimately ask how far the idea of solidarity can be taken.

Thus, something that was built in the name of solidarity, the guarantee of the right to life, of equal opportunities for all human beings, is daily denied and trampled in the global landscape1 in which the Republic of Macedonia is no exception. Quite simply, the conceptual idea of this museum is opposed to the currently dominant external conditions. Thus, the promise of a bright future and solidarity suffered defeats through events where a growing number of people have been forced to leave their homes, or are exposed to various forms of exploitation worldwide. Through such experiences, what Berardi2 claims might be true: that ‘the future becomes a threat when the collective imagination is incapable of seeing possible alternatives to trends leading to devastation, increased poverty and violence.”

Considering the wider context, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje has created a new program named “Radical Education”.3 In addition to what Radical Education means, in the sense of politically and ethically engaged, socially responsible, participatory, and inclusive modes of education, the focus of this program is on culture and art, or how and to what extent socially engaged artistic practices can contribute to reinventing the principle of solidarity. This focus also raises the question of what vision culture and art can create or how can they imagine the future. Further, this program is created to foster critical thinking and knowledge in arts and culture, as well as the development and promotion of transdisciplinary research and art practices within and outside of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje. Disseminating the range of ideas and knowledge across this program entails a series of various activities, lectures, presentations, workshops, debates, and artist talks.

The program started on October 17, 2018 with a lecture by Stephen Duncombe, Professor of Media and Culture at New York University and also co-director of the Center for Artistic Activism. In his lecture, entitled The Art of Political Imagination, Duncombe deftly outlined the power of art to envision personal and political possibilities. Thus, art has been used politically as an effective means to critique the world as it is, and also to imagine the world as it could be. Duncombe explored some of the ways that art — and artistic forms of activism — have been used for such political purposes. Examples were drawn from the early Soviet avant-garde, the US civil rights movement, and contemporary examples of artistic activism across the globe. Most of his examples illustrate how artistic practices can stimulate citizens’ imagination about what it might be possible to do. He put specific focus on the concept of Utopia and discussed imagined alternatives that insist on remaining imaginary. Not as a place or destination but as a direction, utopia creates an opening to ask ‘What if?’ without closing down this free space, and it uses imagination to foster political changes in society.

The program continued on October 29 and 30 with a lecture and workshop by Forensic Architecture, an independent research agency initiated by the research of Eyal Weizman and what he called “the architecture of violence”, where he considered architecture’s importance in the Israeli occupation of Palestine, as well as how architectural debris or damage can be used as evidence in the investigation of war crimes. The main point of Forensic Architecture is to focus on visual data and other unnoticed pieces of evidence and to make them accessible for public interest and dialogue. In its transdisciplinary approach, Forensic Architecture includes different activities and combines fields of activism, academia, technology, and aesthetics.

Their work is presented in public exhibitions, as part of institutional and legal prosecutions, as evidence in courts, and in human rights reports. In approaching the cases in different environments, Forensic Architecture uses a wide range of visual tools such as video, 3D models, animations, drawings and maps in recreating the spatio-temporal conditions and in tracing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. It is important to emphasize that this collective serves as a forensic agency that tries to trace contours, to make visible evidence which is distorted or simply muted by official narratives and state authorities. In their presentation in Skopje, they presented and elaborated several cases, among them Saydnaya, a Syrian torture prison. Using architectural and acoustic modeling, the researchers helped witnesses reconstruct the architecture of the prison and their experiences of detention.

The second case was ‘The murder of Pavlos Fyssas” where the investigation established that members of Golden Dawn, including senior officials, acted in a coordinated manner in relation to the murder, and that members of the Greek police were present at the scene beforehand and failed to intervene. The cases presented by Forensic Architecture showed how artists in collaboration with scientists can establish a new horizon of what is visible, and this new visual landscape is going to alter the surface of our society.

The program demonstrates the ability to form a nexus while simultaneously providing a recognizable focus on an important range of themes and an open platform for public discourse. Since the program began, the sessions have fulfilled expectations by illustrating possibilities of how artistic practices can open alternative ways of making a social contribution. Starting from these experiences, we need to reconsider the questions and approaches, recognizing that this is one aspect of what this program can represent — a forum of a great significance for interpreting social, cultural and artistic issues.

We could go further, recognizing in the program activities in which certain artistic and cultural practices are considered as acts of human compassion in various spatial and chronological contexts. These acts can establish brotherly connections of solidarity and the opposite of the dominant power relationships. In providing a forum for such dialog and knowledge, this program revives the initial idea of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje. ≈


1 Franco “Bifo” Berardi, After the Future, (AK Press, 2011).

2 Berardi, 122.

3 The program “Radical Education” is designed by Tihomir Topu-zovski and Kumjana Novakova.

  • by Tihomir Topuzovski

    Tihomir Topuzovski received his doctoral degree from the University of Birmingham UK and was a guest researcher at the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies, Södertörn University. He is currently collaborating on research looking at the politicization of space and artistic practices displaying a new understanding of temporary urbanism.

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