HERITAGIZATION: HOW ART AND ACTIVISM CAN MAKE HERITAGE. CASES FROM BELARUS AND SWEDEN
This catalogue is work in progress, where we propose to discuss the cases connected with the topic of Heritagization. Heritagization – heritage-making, the creation and re-creation of cultural, historical meaning, and identity – is done by different actors and at different levels, from institutions, museums, their visitors, to common people, and artists.
In our collective project, we focus on different forms of heritagization that emerge parallel and/or are in conflict with official and authorized forms of heritage making. In particular, we are interested in highlighting, enacting and performing alternative processes of heritage-making collectively, through art practice and activism in urban public spaces. The project is composed of different parts that dialogue and build on one another to explore how art and activism can make or reflect on heritage. We also plan to analyse the situation in Belarus and Sweden and will try to search for any similarities, patterns, or differences in our future work.
Prepared by Alina Dzeravianka
Having worked for the last five years with heritage and contemporary art in Belarus, I proposed a number of cases that I think are relevant to the topic of heritage making or Heritagization. For me, it is a process when an artist, group of artists, or activists start to work on a certain topic connected to the past. Somehow their works can be connected with material or intangible heritage, and sometimes it is not yet perceived as heritage by the wider society. In such cases, the artist or a group becomes an occasional researcher or historian who works with heritage. In some cases, as in Brest stories guide projects or Artur Klinau’s City of the Sun, the artists emphasise the importance of historical memory or the value of monuments. In others, such as the work of VEHA project or artist Andrei Liankevich’s work Pagan,, artists focus on the tradition, personal stories, and local identity connected with the past. In Ruslan Vashkevich interventions in the museum, he questions what gets perceived as museum heritage nowadays, and who decides what it is.
Brest stories guide (audio guide-performance)
In 2016, the independent theatre group Kryly Khalopa began the project Brest Stories Guide. It is a series of documentary audio performances in the city space of Brest that one can download on a mobile app. The project is an audio guide – a tour around a ‘nonexistent’ Brest – and is based on materials from the archives, books, photos, and interviews with witnesses of the events related to the rise of anti-Semitism since 1937 and the Brest ghetto and the obliteration of the Jewish community in 1941-1942. In addition to the memories of surviving Jews and Brest citizens, they also used the unpublished reports of German officers from the archives. The play becomes a kind of investigation based on the sonic memory of witnesses to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in Brest in the 1930s and 1940s. Now Brest has a history told not by the authors of textbooks and the creators of heroic narratives but by its inhabitants.1 For a long time it was almost impossible to see any remains or signs of the Jewish population in Brest, which used to make up 60% of the city in the 19th century; however, due to the Soviet ideology and Post-Soviet neglect of politics, this history is buried.
The mobile application consists of the audio guide and a city map, which allows the user to navigate freely on the map with key sites of Jewish heritage and historical events in Brest. Streets, buildings, and yards become a stage on which the voices from the past sound The Kryly Khalopa theatre offers the visitors to plunge into the history, and also see the outlines of a disappeared, old Brest appearing through the facade of today’s city2.
Brest Stories Guide is a project at the intersection of art, tourism, and cultural heritage preservation. It is the result of the co-work of about twenty people, including historians, experts from Jewish organizations, as well as the best actors of Brest theaters3. Brest Stories Guide is one of the heritagization processes in Belarus done by an independent theatre group who helps promote the untold, sometimes neglected history, but also promote the heritage of the city.
Horse in a coat exhibition by Ruslan Vashkevich
Horse in a coat is a unique project on borders and smuggling, which was created specifically for Brest by Belarusian contemporary artist Ruslan Vashkevich in October 2016.
The exhibition discussed how objects that were seized at the border, some of which were seen as smuggled objects, get framed as Art within the museum. The artist muses how these ‘Modern Art’ objects colonize the space of the local museum. The objects created by artist were supposed to mix their perception with their function in the museum. It was first planned to be exhibited in the Museum of Saved Values (Музей спасенных ценностей), but after museum professionals saw the objects, they refused to show it. So the artist has to find a new place in one day. Finally he found a place in the shopping center; so in the end, it was quite provocative and interesting at the same time.
From my point of view, Ruslan Vashkevich tried to reflect on how a museum object gets framed in the museum. The Museum of Saved Values is the only museum in Belarus where works of art and antiques are exhibited after being confiscated by Brest customs officers in an attempt to save them from being smuggled abroad. But the question is: how is the collection formed? What is the value of the smuggled objects? Why do they became museum objects?
I think that through Vashkevich’s objects created for the exhibition, he was able to reflect and critique the museum display and its collection. We see that most of the works he created turned out to be similar objects as the ones that are in the museum but with some added artistic value. From this point of view, it is questionable what has more heritage value: the confiscated objects or the objects created by artist Ruslan Vashkevich? He also had a number of interventions in the museum collections: the exhibition Go and See at Rumyantsev-Paskevich Palace, Gomel, Belarus and the exhibition Museum in 2011 at the National Art Museum.
Minsk. City of the Sun concept and book by Artur Klinau
Artur Klinau is a Belarusian writer, artist, and architect, based in Minsk. In 2000, he continued to work on the topic of Minsk’s Stalinist style architecture that he started already as a student. As a result he created a photo album City of the Sun (2005) and later on a novel Minsk. City of the Sun (2006).
In 2009 he initiated a public program City of the Sun-2 which aimed at Minsk’s transformation into a major tourist and cultural center of Europe and later the group of UNESCO experts were invited to study and collect a portfolio; the discussion on the inclusion of some parts of the central Minsk into UNESCO heritage (such as its Stalinist architecture is still ongoing.
Minsk. City of the Sun is an attempt at describing one of the main urban planning projects of the Stalin era. The text, with photographs of the author, combines historical and architectural analysis of the great Soviet utopia. The book was written in Belarusian in 2005, and then it was translated into German, Polish, Swedish, and Hungarian, and published in Russian for the first time in 2013.
Klinau studied and described in his book the political and social history of Minsk architecture. He analyzed how a Soviet utopia was realized in the architectural form that the Independence avenue and six main squares, created in 1950s, takes. All the elements, including parks and squares, had a special meaning and concept for the people.
Since the early 2000s, Artur Klinau has meditated on the significance of Stalinist architecture in Minsk. He created a new understanding of heritage and the value of Soviet utopia. Through the artists eyes, we saw a new meaning created for the objects, streets, squares, parks, and so on. I think the book and the public program have influenced a public opinion and contributed to the re-evaluation of historical value of the Stalinist architecture of Minsk.
The best side photo project by VEHA group
VEHA is the project dedicated to the preservation of archival photos of Belarus and the formation of family photo archives. In 2017, the group started a project The Nailepshy Bok / The Best Side and started to collect photos of Belarusians that would be placed on homemade, woven carpets from small villages and places. The collection The Nailepshy Bok / The Best Side shows the theme of photography as a social ritual. Woven carpets are a peculiar phenomenon in family, festive, and everyday photography of Belarusians and represent the best side of life to others, which means that a holistic impression of life can be made.4 The project was shown to a wider public during the Minsk Month of Photography in 2017 for the first time.
The result of the project was the publication of a book The Nailepshy Bok / The Best Side with images of the collection supplemented by expert articles in the field of ethnography and visual research.
The project is also related to the construction of family heritage because during Soviet and Post-Soviet times it was not that popular to collect family historical narration. Now the group is trying to renew and analyze this specific tradition. I would say it was even risky to know the history of the family, especially after Stalinist repressions: parents and grandparents didn’t talk much about their life or relatives, so somehow we lost the tradition and connection to our previous generation. I chose this project because it is about understanding the value of personal/family history. The projects pays attention to the personal archives, photos, family history, and tradition. It helps to create a family history and to get a better understanding of one’s identity, roots, and prehistory. I think it is quite important to stress the value of family history and to help people to learn how to work with it, how to find out the story, and how to create a story.
Paganstva/Pagan, photo project & book by Andrei Liankevich
Andrei Liankevich is a Belarusian photographer who was born 1981 in Grodno and is based in Minsk. In his book Pagan, he shows the pagan traditions and customs that still exist in Belarus. Most traditions disappear or have already disappeared in the 1960-70s. In some villages, only one, the oldest inhabitant, still remembers them. Liankevich traveled through the villages and talked with people to collect legends. Today we are living in the Christian tradition, and we do not always understand that it appeared after thousands of years of Pagan beliefs and taboos. And if you compare the age of Pagan beliefs and Christianity, the latter influenced civilization for only two thousand years. Paganism is present in the life of modern Belarusian society because, after all, who does not look in the mirror when one comes back for forgotten things or who does not think a few times if is it worth it to continue the journey after meeting a black cat? In the villages, this is more common, and still a lot of people follow superstitions.
This project is about questioning our current and past traditions; what is left, and what can be preserved as a heritage. I would say that this project is not giving answers but asks more questions.
Andrey says in one of the interview about the book Pagan
Many people who have seen the book and photos ask the question, what is paganism for me. Many people have an understanding of it: here is a cow, cut off the head, lay it down and dance, preferably at night under the moon. But for me it became clear that paganism is a huge world view, which Belarusians still live with. To the quiet Christians we are just slowly coming closer to Christianity…It is clear that this is a long process of transition. Now many of our holidays have a direct connection with paganism. I have village roots, and all these unforgettable summers, which I hated when I was a child, now turn into these photos….I have answered the questions of who the Belarusians are, what, why and how, who I am, who we are5
Prepared by Elina Vidarsson and Chiara Valli
The Shoreline memorial is a raised stone with a plaque engraved with “Play Shoreline” (in swedish “Spela Shoreline”). The monument was put up in a large park (Slottsskogen) in Gothenburg, Sweden by two anonymous artists in 2014. The monument is dedicated to the memory of the Swedish alternative rock band, Broder Daniel and placed on the site where the band had its final concert in 2008.
However, the city’s Park and Nature Administration wanted it removed because it was put up without official approval. But this got a huge social media response. Both the public and famous Swedes objected to its removal and argued for the value of the monument. A Facebook campaign was created to convince the city’s Park and Nature Administration that the public wanted the monument to stay. After two days, the campaign was joined by 5,000 people. And finally, the political board of the city’s Park and Nature Administration made a formal decision to let the monument stay in the park.
In the fall of 2018, the monument was part of an exhibition called Public Luxury at the museum ArkDes (Sweden’s National Centre for Architecture and Design) in Stockholm.
This case is very interesting because it is made by two artists that highlights the importance and relevance for the public. An anonymous creator writes:
It is not a dusty sword bearer or sad bust of any Czech poet who no one read. It is contemporary history and speaks to the souls of Gothenburg’s people6
The monument is also a memory of the Swedish youth subculture Popare which is inspired by Brit-pop and pop art. Some also call (or rather called) themselves BD popare where BD stands for Broder Daniel, one of the most popular bands of the subculture. So, it is interesting that a subculture that more or less died with the breakup of the band is in a way materialized through this monument. It is also interesting that this monument has done a ‘class journey’. It came from the bottom, was challenged by the decision makers and was approved from the top. And later it became part of an exhibition in one of the finest museums in Sweden.
Fascinate is a graffiti painting created on the outside wall of an industrial building in Bromsten, Stockholm. The painting was made 1989 by the two artists, Circle and Weird (Tariq Saleh), with consent from the property owner and was then the largest graffiti painting in northern Europe.
Its preservation was under discussion for many years (in the mid 90s Stockholm city introduced a Zero Tolerance policy against graffiti inspired by New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani), but in 2015, it became the first officially protected graffiti work in Sweden with much thanks to the researcher Jacob Kimvall and author Tobias Barenthin Lindblad.
In 2007, Jacob Kimvall and Tobias Barenthin Lindblad sent an application to the county administration board of Stockholm with a request that four graffiti paintings in Stockholm should become officially protected. They argued for the importance of the art form and the need of protecting it for the future. And they described their worry for the loss of cultural values and loss of cultural heritage due to the city’s Zero Tolerance policy.
This case is interesting because there has been and still is low tolerance against this art form. Still many find it’s hard to see the difference between art and vandalism and most of the graffiti is removed within 48 hours. So there is rarely any time to fight for protection. However, Kimvall and Barenthin Lindblad have as activists worked for protection and succeeded. According to Jacob Kimvall, Fascinate is one of the world’s oldest protected graffiti paintings. And its preservation value is not only that it is old, but part of the identity of Bromsten and that it represents a subculture (in contrast to elite culture).7
The Library of Unborrowed Books
In 2012, the Stockholm-based artist Meriç Algün Ringborg had an exhibition in Stockholm Public Library called The Library of Unborrowed Books. This first section consisted of 600 books that had never been borrowed at Stockholm Public Library. The second section was presented in Art in General in New York the following year and consisted of 1001 books that had never been borrowed at Center for Fiction in New York.
Meriç Algün Ringborg writes,
There is a selection made of what books accompany us into the future. Within education, for instance, the establishment of a canon is clear – it is the venue for the particular echo that determines what books persevere, those that are to be kept in the loop and read again by the next generation. This comes natural, a selection is necessary, and it’s made in different instances either conscious or unconscious. Nevertheless, the books that are left behind — those deemed useless or for unknown reasons are abandoned — still exist in physical form, organized and systematized within the one institution representative of knowledge in all its forms, the library.
The Library of Unborrowed Books bases itself on the concept of the library as an institution manifesting language and knowledge, of the passing of awareness and the openness to all types of people and literature. This work, however, comprises all the books from a selected library that have never been borrowed. The framework in this instance hints at what has been disregarded, knowledge essentially unconsumed, and puts on display what has eluded us.
Why these books aren’t ‘chosen,’ why they are overlooked, will never be clear but whatever each book contains, en masse they become representative of the gaps and cracks of history, or the bureaucratic cataloging of the world, the ambivalent relationship between absence and presence. In this library their existence is validated simply by being borrowed, underlining their being as well as their content and form by putting them on display in an autonomous library dedicated to the books yet to have been revealed.8
The Daddy come home project
Around 2014 the Swedish professor and film producer Kalle Boman started to work with the film director Ruben Östlund on a project called the Square. The idea was to create a sanctuary in the form of a white marked box, a zone which represents trust and equality. As a first step, they designed an exhibition at the art and design museum Vandalarum in Värnamo, Sweden. The municipality of Värnamo immediately got interested in the project and installed a permanent Square in the marketplace Flanaden that was finished for the opening of the exhibition.
As part of the art project, Boman and Östlund also started the project Daddy come home”(in Swedish “Pappa kom hem”) in 2015. The idea was and still is that they want the equestrian statue (known as “Kopparmärra”) of the Swedish King Charles IX on a horse, located in a central square in Gothenburg, to be moved. And they want it moved to another square a few hundred meters away, where a statue of the son of Charles IX, King Gustav II Adolf stands. The idea is that both kings should be taken down from their pedestals and that the wife of Charles IX, Christina of Holstein-Gottorp, also should have a statue next to her husband and son. The place where Charles IX now stands should later be replaced by their Square.9
The city of Gothenburg will celebrate 400 years in 2021 and Boman and Östlund argue that the city should revalue its landmarks and show that it’s a progressive city. According to Ruben Östlund, the removal of the kings is connected to the bigger question of “what should the public room be – and for whom?”10
A form of ‘craftivism’, Guerrilla-knitting “takes that most matronly craft (knitting) and that most maternal of gestures (wrapping something cold in a warm blanket) and transfers it to the concrete and steel wilds of the urban streetscape.”11 Guerrilla-knitters have a feminist orientation and distance themselves from consumerism while giving new light to the hand-made, labor-intensive production.
Although this is an international movement (in the Global North, at least), it is widespread in Sweden also because of the zero-tolerance policy towards graffiti and street art.
This is as an example of alternative heritage making because it seeks to reinterpret the traditional handicrafts of knitting that has traditionally been performed by women in the private space of their homes and bring them out to the streets. It also represents a soft and warm feminist critique to the heritage of the male-domination in the graffiti art subculture. In Sweden it is particularly interesting because it also represents a way to get around the zero-tolerance policy against graffiti art. The guerrilla-knitting group Masquerade based in Stockholm states: “We often have political messages, but sometimes we don’t. Once, we decided to celebrate Sweden’s few female statues by dressing up four of them as super heroines.”12 This is a form of criticizing the male-dominated authorized heritage in Sweden through arts and crafts.
Haga was planned to be demolished in the 1970s. Through protests that saw a large involvement of artists and cultural workers (in the late 1970s-1980s it was the core of the punk music scene in Gothenburg), it became acknowledged as heritage and saved from demolition. Now it is one of the most gentrified areas in Gothenburg
This is as an example of how well-intentioned processes of heritagization in urban spaces often become co-opted and become instruments for gentrification. There are several examples of course, but this is a striking one on the ambivalence and risks of heritagization.
Interview of A. Liankevich for Znyata. https://znyata.com/o-foto/lenkevich-interview.html ↩
Lindqvist, Johan (2014). “Konstnärerna bakom Shoreline-stenen talar ut” in Göteborgs Posten http://www.gp.se/kultur/konstn%C3%A4rerna-bakom-shoreline-stenen-talar-ut-1.237193. Accessed 30, December 2018↩
Jofs, Stina (2015). “Rubens ruta” in Vi. https://vi.se/rubens-ruta/ . Accessed 11 January, 2019↩
Wollan, Malia (2011). “Graffiti’s Cozy, Feminine Side” in The New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/19/fashion/creating-graffiti-with-yarn.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. Accessed 21 December, 2018↩
Rotschild, Nathalie (2009).“Sweden: Where graffiti is prohibited, urban knitters make a new street art” in the Christian Science Monitor https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2009/0922/sweden-where-graffiti-is-prohibited-urban-knitters-make-a-new-street-art. Accessed 21 December, 2018↩