Monday, October 27, 2008

Exhibition programme in Birmingham

Lunchtime Lecture Series

Tuesday 28 October, Aston Webb Rotunda, 1-2pm

Hannah Arendt: Politics and ‘Dark Times’
Dr Steve Buckler- Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham

The lecture will examine the work of the German political theorist Hannah Arendt who made an influential contribution to the study of totalitarianism and who developed a distinctive conception of politics that was intended as a response to the vulnerability to oppression that we experience in ‘dark times’.

Click here to get information on the Series.

Film Screenings

Wednesday 29.10.08, The Rainbow, 160 High Street,
Digbeth, 7 pm

La Vita è bella, (Life is Beautiful) Italy 1999

Winner of three academy awards Best Actor, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Dramatic Score. A moving and poignant tale of one father's sacrifice to save not just his young son's life but his innocence. This is the story of a Jewish Italian, Guido Orefice who comes to the Tuscan town of Arezzo in 1939. He falls in love with Dora, a beautiful young schoolteacher and a fairytale romance ensues. Several years later the occasional bigotries Guido once ignored have become Racial Laws. Throughout it all, he determines to shield his son from the brutal reality governing their lives.

This determination becomes a matter of life and death when Guido and his son are sent to a concentration camp three months before the war’s end. Of her own accord Dora deports herself on the same train. Now, in this unimaginable world, Guido must use his bold imagination and every ounce of his indefatigable spirit to save those he loves.

See the full programme here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

“The arts of freedom, of diversity and pluralism prove to be stronger”

Rt. Hon. Neil Kinnock, Leader of the Opposition, 1983-92 and UK Commissioner of the EU, 1995-2004, honoured the exhibition of Overcoming Dictatorships by giving a brilliant speech during the opening at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham on 9 Oct 2008.

Lord Kinnock and exhibition convener Dr. Dr. Jutta Vinzent during the reception

In the face of absolutely ruthless oppression, Lord Kinnock told his audience, “people have to resort to other means of trying to resist the dictatorship of the intellect, the occupation of the mind, the colonization of the conscience; and that is why arts are vital components, vital means and vital vehicles of freedom.”
Compared to the arts poetry or prose are rather risky endeavours. “Because you write it down what you think and it’s going to be retained. Words mean what words say. If the censor catches you in the trap or somebody betrays, then the results can be and have been devastating.” In his view the still many dictatorships of the world today painfully prove it.

Lord Kinnock pointed out that music has the protest most of the time through metaphor and through allegory. That may impede its accessibility. As soon as people start to sing freedom songs, the best thing that will happen to them is to be locked up, he warned. It is more likely that their fingers are going to be smashed in public, as it happened to Chilean guitarist Victor Hara before he was shot by the henchmen of Pinochet. It is in this way that we have to understand a genius composer like Dmitri Shostakovich who, while expressing his hopes and protests in remarkable symphonies, “changed his tune into a nice martial march that even a bloody idiot like Stalin could enjoy.”

The great thing about art is that throughout the centuries there have been innumerable artists who have used their creativity to attack absolutism and tyranny. “When challenged by the censor they can say: ‘Oh, you overinterpret that. I didn’t mean that at all! Oh no, that’s not an expressive blackness, that’s a shadow.’ And that means that quite a lot of them managed to stay out of jail. That’s why visual arts are such a glorious declaration of a liberty of conscience and thought. They don’t just speak for the artist, but they allow others to congregate around them.”

Lord Kinnock’s visit to Birmingham was reported by the Birmingham Post. For detailed information read also the project report. The exhibition will continue to be on display at The Rotunda Gallery of Aston Webb Building at the University of Birmingham (Mon – Fri, 10 am-5pm; closed weekends, admission free) until 9 November 2008.

Exhibition catalogue published

Jutta Vinzent, OVERcoming DICTatorships. Contemporary East and West European Visual Inquiries, Bielefeld: Kerber Verlag, 2008.

How do artists who experienced the challenging changes relate to the year 1989 and the then forced or enabled ideological migration caused by collective political-economic upheavals respond visually to their own specific ‘locations’?

Applying concepts which have been developed for and amply applied to physical migration, the works in question will be explored as signifiers of ideological dislocations and relocations experienced in terms of both the past (through processes of mourning and remembering and attempts at overcoming) and the present (critical approach to the ideology of the Western art market, the new political government and Europe), thus neglecting a mainly object-oriented formalist and aesthetic analysis as well as psychoanalytical methodologies and putting issues related to Postcolonialism
to the fore. It also only touches on gender issues, because this valuable topic deserves treatment in its own right.

The variety of the individual artist’s responses on the one hand and the relatively small number of art works explored on the other hand defy any attempt to subsume their individualities into a ‘grande narrative’ or as the start of a new ‘democratic’ history of longue durée, as if they simply could be incorporated into old, existing Western categories as markers of the latter’s superiority and longevity. On the contrary, the works discussed revolt against new communal enclaves and rather represent attempts of individuals to overcome given collective identity formations and to question both the political past, the EU and Western democracies.

Dr. Dr. Jutta Vinzent , exhibition convener of Overcoming Dictatorships, is Senior Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Art and Visual Culture at the University of Birmingham.

Purchase the exhibition catalogue now in selected bookstores, online and during the touring exhibition.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Inside OVERcoming DICTatorships

Film Documentary by Barbara Lubich

One of the unique features of Overcoming Dictatorships is its combination of literary, visual and scientific explorations, which opens up various levels of reflection. Throughout the last two years authors read their pieces, artists presented sculptures and paintings, and academics explored the historical context. During workshops they came together in order to share experiences and find appropriate ways to present them to a European public.

We now offer you yet another level of reflection. The film documentary by Barbara Lubich is not only a mirror of project events, but rather a treasure chest filled with magic insights into discussions and intimate personal stories. You can see Hungarian artist Sándor Pinczehelyi confront his works from the 1970s, which he had increasingly rejected over the years because – as he himself put it – “they have been quoted so many times.” Zsófia Balla describes the dire personal consequences of political decisions and explains how poetry helped her to cope with her experiences in Ceauşescu’s Romania. And Venetian painter Silvestro Lodi reappropriates the tailoring patterns of his granddad in order to form his own artistic style.

Learn more about what happens when artists are invited to individually present, discuss and integrate their work into the creative process. What may happen if the formation of an exhibition is not impaired by curating along political, economic or aesthetic lines, but influenced by debates of artists?

See OVERcoming DICTatorships – the last chapter.

The complete film documentary will be on display in participating galleries. Trailers will be presented online while the exhibition proceeds from station to station. For more information contact director Barbara Lubich and project coordinator Gert Röhrborn.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Round-table discussion

8 October, 6.30 p.m., Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK (admission free)

A round-table discussion with artists participating in the Overcoming Dictatorships exhibition will be held at the internationally renowned Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK on 8 October, 6.30 p.m. (admission free). Chaired by the Ikon curator Nigel Prince, it will focus on up-and-coming contemporary art groups in post-Communist countries and draw parallels with the situation immediately after 1989, when the former underground art replaced the official.

Participating artists in the round-table discussion:

German photographer Harald Hauswald (,

Venice-based painter Silvestro Lodi (,

Romanian artist Vlad Nanca (, and

the Hungarian artist Sándor Pinczehelyi.