FLUID GROUND. Across the Black Sea on a Cargo Ship

FLUID GROUND. Across the Black Sea on a Cargo Ship

Varna – Tblisi: 20. - 27. 7. 2011

Nadja Abt, artist, Berlin, Germany
Sebastian Bodirsky, filmmaker, Berlin, Germany
Simonetta Ferfoglia & Heinrich Pichler, artist collective “gangart”, artists, Vienna, Austria
Ulrike Grelck, art historian, ROHKUNSTBAU e.V., Berlin, Germany
Susanna Gyulamiryan, curator, ACSL – Arts and Cultural Studies Laboratory, Yerevan, Armenia
Nini Palavandishvili, curator, GeoAIR, Tbilisi, Georgia
Livia Pancu, curator, Vector Association, Iasi, Romania
Jakob Racek, curator, ATA – Art Today Association - Center for Contemporary Art, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Anna Soucek, journalist, Kulturradio .1, Vienna, Austria
Inka Thunecke, director, Heinrich-Böll-Foundation Brandenburg e.V., Potsdam, Germany
Karoline Weber, media scientist, international academy
Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, Germany
Anastasia Zhivkova, curator, Kiev, Ukraine

“In the Horizon of the Infinite”, Nietzsche wrote in the 124th aphorism of the Gay Science: “We have left the land and have gone aboard ship! We have broken down the bridge behind us, - nay, more, the land behind us!” This sentence marks the beginning of a philosophical adventure that leaves the terra ferma behind defining the open sea as the new horizon of thinking.

To get in contact with the real space of the Black Sea the participants of the symposium FLUID GROUND went on a cruise connecting two central locations: Bulgaria – latest EU- and still Non-member of the Schengen treaty- and the southern Caucasus – the historic and geopolitical threshold between Asia and Europe. A ship passage was supposed to be the suitable framework for discussing and pondering questions of European identity and integrity. In this manner, the smooth space of the sea (Deleuze) turned into a genuine space for questioning (impossible) demarcation, phantasms of binding geography, the deconstruction of (national) identities, (artistic) mobility, homelessness and migration, developing into a psycho-geographical localization of Europe thought from its rims and edges.

Temporarily, the cargo ship travelling from Varna (Bulgaria) to Batumi (Georgia) acted as a thinking
machine that confronted scientific, political, ethnic and cultural discourses with each other. The participants
of the project – artists, curators, scientists and journalists – became passengers, just as all passengers
became participants in return.

In total 13 active participants from eight countries took part in the symposium FLUID GROUND. The scope of the present professions fulfilled the interdisciplinary claim of the programme. Next to the planned lectures, numerous discussions started engaging also members of the crew as well as fellow travellers. In order to deepen the understanding of sociological, historic and cultural aspects of the Black Sea region, a travel library has been gathered and was made accessible for the participants over the course of the cruise.

The single art projects that have been realized during the cruise were documented and published in a suitable way. The entire project has been video documented. The project FLUID GROUND was nominated for the “Black Sea NGO Award” 2011.



Inka Thunecke, Heinrich-Böll-Foundation Brandenburg e.V.:

Borderland, borderline experiences, and war experiences: The heritage of different cultures and political systems, belonging, alienation and identity are key concepts and characteristic elements of the eastern and south-eastern regions of our partner institutions. These experiences are also reflected and shared in the contemporary art practices. The project “Heritage, Identity and Communication in European Contemporary Art Practices” supports the exchange between artists through residency programs in Plovdiv (Bulgaria), Yerevan (Armenia), Tbilisi (Georgia), and Bratislava (Slovak Republic). The results were presented to the local art scenes. Furthermore, the partners realized five connected exhibition projects in Potsdam, Plovdiv, Tbilisi, Chisinau and Bratislava as well as some conferences and seminars in Venice and Yerevan.

Karoline Weber: “Lost at Sea. The Oceanic Nature of Uncertainty”:

The lecture dealt with the ocean as a space in which things can get lost without leaving a trace, a space that does not have landmarks or borderlines for orientation – a space therefore that is often connected to disappearance.
It is explored how the opening of unsecure grounds has brought forth an entire arsenal of media techniques and instruments that serve its measurement. At the same time a thorough analysis shows that those media have not only sharpened our understanding of geography, but on the other side have established their own narratives, speculations, and topographies. The Phantom Islands are exemplarily: they have emerged on world maps around the 15th century, just to disappear only decades later. They illustrate how media itself creates geographies even though the Islands have never actually been sighted in real life. The Phantom Islands are a specific product of a symbolic order that creates its own disappearance. This example should demonstrate how easily things can get lost through media technics of positioning and addressing.


Anastasia Zhivkova: “The Black Sea in the Ukrainian context”:

The Black Sea has always been the Ukrainian gateway to the world’s oceans and the main source both of friendly and hostile contact with the world. Early as the 8th century, some antique Greek colonies existed there, like Tyras, Olbia, Chersonesos and Panticapaeum. The local population consisted of the tribes of Scythians and Sarmatians. The Greek colonies were modelled after the Polis and served as trading points for Scythian grain and wine for Greek luxury goods such as ceramics, gold jewellery and cosmetics. The Greeks and the Romans after them created a highly developed commonwealth that only came to a downfall with the confusions of the migration period, and the attacks of the Goths, Huns and Mongolians and finally found its echo in the Byzantine realm. In the 19th century the Crimea became the space of longing for Russian artists and intellectuals and later a battlefield during the revolution and in the two World Wars. Stalin’s politics of ethnic cleansing lead to an ethnic homogenization of the region. With Khrushchev the region lost its independent status and became part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. During the Post-war times, the baths of Crimea became a cherished vacation place and venue of numerous films. The children camp “Artek” at the shore of the Black Sea remains a synonym for first love until today.


Anna Soucek: “Pirate Radio”:

Pirate radio stations are broadcasting stations that broadcast their programmes without a licence. To escape the access of the police, especially in the UK numerous broadcasting stations were relocated on ships (e.g. Radio Caroline) or on abandoned sea fortresses (e.g. Radio Sutch on the platform Shivering Sands). Their (pop)cultural significance was to circumvent the state monopoly in the allocation of radio frequencies and the popularization of alternative music.


Ulrike Grelck: “ROHKUNSTBAU: Power – Presentation of the exhibition”:

ROHKUNSTBAU is a location-based exhibition of contemporary art that takes place in valuable historic and architecturally important places in Brandenburg. For sixteen years ROHKUNSTBAU uses spaces for its exhibitions that are outside of the conventional world of culture. The regional project, which started in a building shell in the province of Brandenburg, developed into an internationally respected art project that attracts thousands of visitors. In cooperation with internationally active artists, each summer an eclectic ensemble of exhibition and festival is created that is adapted to the specific place and questions usual reception aesthetics. With its summer exhibition, the ROHKUNSTBAU XVIII has shown works on the theme ‘power’ as a prelude to a four-year cycle – thematically freely interpreted and adapted from Richard Wagner’s “Ring des Nibelungen”.


Jakob Racek: “Re-territorialisation of the smooth space. The Frontex Agency”:

Based on the example of the European border security agency Frontex, with assistance of theoretical tools as they appear in Deleuze and Guattari’s “A Thousand Plateaus”, and due to current events of the extension of the EU Schengen border to the Black Sea, this article deals with the techniques of excluding. Europe is foreclosing and therefore is bringing an arsenal of war material to use: military ships, satellites, and para-military patrols at the external boundaries. The risk thereby is the increase in the states outsourcing of sovereignty to private companies that are beyond democratic control. Thus, Frontex becomes a special case to the Deleuze’ war machine that operates in a (legally) unmarked space. With the migrants or terrorists – this paradigmatic figure for the globalized era – the war machine creates its own antagonists that are potentially everywhere. Thus, war is transformed into a new category: the permanent non-war.


Livia Pancu: “Almost Institutions”:

The association Vector analyzes the relationship between artistic practice and its socio-political context in the form of exhibitions, research programmes and publications. What roles accept artists and institutions in a post-communist society, which is characterized by a radical transformation towards a new socio-political and economic order? And what specific conditions and opportunities arise without a proper infrastructure for artistic production? Vector supports contemporary artistic practice, which in turn generates a feedback to the social space and is critically with the existing conditions. Thus, Vector is a symptomatic example of an “almost institution” in a permanent state of becoming, a quasi-institution, which indeed cannot be derived from the hyperstructures such as politics, economy and religion, but rather arises again and again by the interaction of individual actors. Vector is an unstable but also continuous structure and thus symptomatic for the cultural practice in post-communist countries.


Susanna Gyulamiryan: “Investing Transcaucasia”:

When talking about the South Caucasus region, one has to include the ideas of the “East”, the “others” or the “Oriental”, with the help of those Russia insured their own European identity to this day. Russia saw its eastern and southern peripheries always from a Western perspective. The Caucasus was identified as a threshold space, as a corridor between East and West - a civilized East only through the mediation of Russia. For their existence, identity always requires a difference, a process of differentiation to others. Thus, the conditions are named to formalize simple differences in an overall concept of the “other”. Europe also brought forth this “otherness”´in the process of its identity building. Russia tried to define its own identity by applying the same Western concepts to represent itself as a modernized country in the Western sense - as a country that is part of Europe.


Nadja Abt: “Notations on a Ship” (art project):

As a performance artist, Nadja Abt dealt with routine motion sequences of working steps, which she held grafically by a notation she has designed. For this purpose she asked the crew members working on board of the ship to mark their routine ways on a floor plan, so as to develop a landscape within this fixed space. It quickly became apparent: The hierarchies on board were extremely strict; the borders ran between the upper deck for the Officers and guests, and the lower deck of the ship workers. Nadja Abt wanted to test those limits on their permeability. The notation became ways to contact, and soon it turned out that in addition to the formal hierarchical structure there was a network of relationships between the various members of the crew, in which not only the rank but also experience, solidarity and friendship were decisive factors.


Simonetta Ferfoglia and Heinrich Pichler: “Intermodal corridors” (Art project):

The member states of the EU have unified the structure of trans-European transport networks (TEN-V) for the first time in 1992 by the Maastricht Treaty. Thus, the goal of a realized internal market is pursued, which promotes economic and social cohesion. This network is created intermodal and contains roads, railways, airports, etc., and the waterways.
The establishment of a trans-European transport network should strengthen the ties between existing networks on the international level. For this purpose, the European Commission has estimated overall costs of 225 billion Euros. Even the ship’s route Varna - Batumi is part of the Pan-European transport corridor and connecting point between Europe - Caucasus - Asia (TRACECA). For their project, the two Viennese artists Simonetta Ferfoglia and Heinrich Pichler began a research on board of the ship by interviewing the crew on local knowledge. Thereby they linked a great strategy with a local venue. Parts of the interviews were documented as comic strips.


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