Provoking of community ideologies in Danilo Prnjat’s art practice – In solitude, uninvited guest or desire for community

Text by Ana Vilenica

Translated by Slobodanka Jovic

  Through his practice, artist Danilo Prnjat has been trying to influence ideological phantasms of the contemporary society by using a model of behaviorally based actions in public space. He provokes mechanisms of neoliberal consuming capitalism, production of  native stereotypes, fascisoid nationalism and, by problematizing and  pondering traumatic places of the society indicated by his actions, invites audience do get involved.

The scene from the beginning of the text presents description of Danilo Prnjat’s recent action which was accomplished during his sojourn within residential programme  at the Academy Castle Solitude in Stuttgart.[1] The Academy  Castle Solitude operates in premises of the castle carrying the same name which is a famous tourist attraction. Also, this place can be rented for purposes of different kinds of celebrations, among which the most popular are weddings.  Almost every day the castle acts like a polygon for formal ceremonies where two people supported by witnesses make a promise to each other as an act of the romantic love pinnacle.

The object of provocation of this work of art is a picture of an ideal community initiated in the wedding ritual. Being present at the ceremony without being invited, the artist simulates desire to be a part of a community whose values are based on mutual love, solidarity, and welfare. By provoking the ideology of a social event – the wedding –  Danilo Prnjat invites on cogitation of dominant community models in the contemporary society, and by taking over a role of a symptom he shows the basic mechanism of their functioning: inhospitality and elimination.

Why does the artist provoke this ideal picture or what is beyond the wedding spectacle in which two, a man and a woman, commit each other to everlasting love, in sickness and in health, until death do them part? Or, to be more precise ,what is the marital community which is identified by symbolic and legal act of wedding?

Family and marital life is often presented as a decontextualised, out of time, natural model based on biological reproduction processes. Throughout history, but also in the contemporary society, it has been considered to be naturally given institution which is automatically and socially and morally eligible.

Even today dominant ideology of a family is based on nuclear family notion: heterosexual marital community with kids living together, sharing the same space where a man is breadwinner and a woman takes care of children and a household. This dominant ideology expands through everyday speech, language, symbols, pictures, operation of formal institutions and power structures, politics, educational system, media, social politics, and laws and legislation as well.

Ideology of marriage, family and romantic love, which is materialized in a performative act of  a wedding, can be considered as a way to camouflage oppressive social arrangements being used to construct a life in a community. Marriage is an institution which operates on the border between private and public life, through lawful regulatory rules, shaping private, economic and political aspects of citizens’ lives by regulating class, racial, native and civil relations and rights.

Feminists were the first to develop criticism of a life in the marital community as a model of behavior pointing out to ideology of romantic love. An anarchist Emma Goldman, one of the first feministic critics of marriage, in her book Marriage and Love says: “Popular opinion about marriage and love is that they are synonyms, born out of same motives, and responding to same human need. Like most popular beliefs this, as well, isn’t based on facts but on superstition. Marriage is before all economic agreement, a pact of insurance.“[2]

Standpoint that the marriage is, before all, an economic community is a starting point of Friedrich Engels thesis presented in the book Poreklo porodice, privatnog vlasništva i države[3]. As Engels says,  marriage and family play the key role in preservation of capitalistic system. This system reproduce itself through marriage by setting proprietary rights in which class contrariety and struggle evolve. “With patriarchy and monogamy taking care of household has lost its public character and become private service conducted by a woman, “says Engels. In fact,  the key role of a woman in a family and marriage becomes providing free time for a man as manpower.

Both, Emma Gorman and Friedrich Engels define marriage as a community with basic function to regulate economic relations within society. These relations are based on a patriarchal capitalistic model of production which discriminates a woman through a role given in  marriage and family which function is to sustain economic order based on class inequality.[4]

To support a thesis that marriage is, before all, based on regulation of economic relations there are numerous examples from contemporary life which testify about its instrumentalisation  in carrying out measures of social politics toward creating neoliberal state of welfare. One of the recent examples was the case of former president of the USA, George Bush, and his conservative right wing political propaganda. He founded Healthy Marriage Initiative[5]. This initiative spends 100 million dollars per year on education and promotion of heterosexual marriages which should result in reduction in poverty in America. This five-year–old plan was also approved by  current president of the USA, Barack Obama. Strategy in affect is based on locating the expenses of taking care of children within family privacy and by doing so the country frees itself from liability.[6] The example of initiative for healthy marriage is the example of making political discourse within neoliberalism to become like family which (re)codes and naturalizes family as space of social reproduction.

Apart from being based on a model which produces differences within hierarchical key and excludes a woman from public life, even prohibition practice of divergent marriages, as one of the basic models in public politics which has served in different periods in order to sustain certain social conformation, speaks of exclusivistic production of marital and family community. In the book Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation[7] Nancy Cott  wrote about the marital contract as a structure which in certain periods of time has defined those who belong and those who don’t belong to a certain nation and which has identified regnant order. This contract has been used as a tool to control certain groups not willing to comply to the dominant model in America. Such groups are American Indians, slaves and Mormon Community. Likewise, marital contract has been used as a regulation model which banned marriages between classes and in that way served to preserve system of classes, incriminating transition from one class to another.

In the same way, a country using its systems of regulations defines forms of marital sexual relationships. In contemporary society current model of incriminating marriages between same gender has focused marriage as a domain of human rights and public sanctioning. On the other hand, countries which permit marital practice between same gender strive for normalization of gay and lesbian community allowing this kinds of relationship but on condition of heterosexual regulation.

Values of marriage as well as values of marital family life are models which have often been (ab)used  in terms of national countries and their strategies in demographic development. Population and reproductive politics have mostly been promoted through a conservative model of family life, also including circulation of certain eligible moral values within society. What was symptomatic was an extreme example of regressive nationalistic currents acting in Serbian Republic in 2005 which tried, through the initiative ‘Opstanak’ (an association fighting against white plague), to lay a tax on bachelors. This law would imply that all individuals who are not married, those who are married but without children and are over 25 and under 60 years old need to pay reimbursement to the country. This suggestion, luckily not accepted by the parliament, was directed to solving a problem concerning fall in fertility rate in Serbia which had been  interpreted as dangerous for national community. Likewise, ever since the 1990s other forms of the country’s activities have been constantly present and directed to promotion of marital community ideals and moral values of the family as a model of preservation of the nation and national identity. One example is a ritual of the group wedding conducted in Belgrade, in front of the Old Palace, and financed by the city budget, which has been held for the past 10 years and whose role is actually promotional. This manifestation was first held in 1999 during the NATO bombing under the slogan ‘ by wedding against bombs’.

As it is shown by Clare McGlynn’s researches published in the book Families and European Union – Law, Politics and Pluralism family legislation in the countries of European Union is still based on conceptualization of mutual life through a model of nuclear family, which means that other forms of family life are at the margin. These laws serve to domesticate new discourses and ways of seeing the family and community, to reduce their influence and effects of radical ideas.[8]

Blinded with brightness of the romantic wedding ceremony where, in front of  witnesses, two people make vows as a pinnacle of their romantic love we are in a position to forget constitutional public aspect of this act. Apart from presenting personal love relationship and commitment, marriage has a role in shaping public order. Through legal form marriage produces and regulates class, racial, native and civil relations and rights. Promotion of family values love, solidarity, forgiveness, sharing and happy life within marriage can be also interpreted as way of producing everyday life through discourses which put a mask on reality where these models are used to rule.

Still, ideology isn’t only a phantasmal construction putting a mask on traumatic social divisions or oppressive mechanisms of behavior which cannot be symbolized, and providing bearable social reality but, according to the book Sublimni objekt ideologije written by Slavoj Zizek, ideology is also a mechanism which manifests certain real internal needs functioning not as an escape from reality but as the social reality itself which is the escape from some real traumatic essence.[9] This realistic inner need materialized in ideological phantasm of romantic wedding ceremony, is in fact, a true need for community. That real traumatic essence the artist wants to tell us about in his work of art is that the desirable community, in fact, doesn’t exist and that it is represented by spectacularised photos on which real social relations are materialized. So if we comprehend ideology in this way we can understand Danilo Prnjat as desire for community based on some different values.

In  described action the artist acts as a cynic, in this way pointing out at dominant way of today’s ideology functioning.[10] Although aware of ideological phantasm he, all the same,  comes to the ceremony and insists on participating in a dream which created a whole industry now producing and reproducing it.[11]  Taking the role of a symptom, and by persistent repetition, the artist undermines the universe of this specific case, pointing out at the same time to traumatic absence of the desirable essence.

Hospitality and welcome Danilo Prnjat seeks for refer not only to an isolated case of marital and family community but also to hospitality and welcome into any, to be more precise every community. Hospitality and welcome referred in this work of art are close to understanding of this concept presented in texts of a theoretician Jacques Derrida “ The word hospitality  means to invite and welcome ‘a stranger’ (l’etranger), both on personal level- how do we let others into our homes?- and on the level of a state- raising a socioeconomic question about refugees, immigrants, ‘foreign’ languages, minority ethnic groups etc. “[12] 

Elimination and inhospitality are symptoms of both, community model such as family and those political models embodied in national countries and communities whose tendency is to create new over national geo-political space (the example would be European Union) based on neoliberal capitalistic model of production. These communities by promoting individual responsibility and emphasizing the importance of self-totality identify mentioned mechanisms as natural models of self-preservation. The model of European Union is based on defense of welfare utopia from immigrants and all others who are not functional and who can endanger this welfare. Likewise, ‘ nationalistic identitarianism is based on self-affirming  and homogenizing identity which is doing all its best to prevent the other to cross ‘our’ borders, to take over ‘our’ jobs, to enjoy ‘our’  benefit, to go to ‘our’ schools, and to intrude ‘our’ language, culture, religion and public institutions’.[13] Regarding the previously mentioned it is likely to draw a conclusion that the model of elimination is one of the central ways of management in contemporary communities and it functions as a mechanism no other than a regulation based on exploitation and essentialisation of identity which contribute to preservation of system based on interests of not numerous.

 

In the end of the 1980s and during the 1990s, after The Soviet Union‘s collapse and fiasco of communistic idea or ideals within so called real communism, the need to rethink the notion of community emerged in philosophy and theory. Authors such as Nancy, Derrida, Lyotard, Blanchot, Badiou, Agamben, driven by a wave of disappointment, criticized the model of community in traditional sense as a construct based on illusions and mythical discourse where differences stay unreduced which makes this notion an empty determiner.[14] Jacque Derrida, a French philosopher, in his texts went so far that he invited to abandonment of this notion by emphasizing on its origin in militaristic formations. “To have it means to be fortificated , to built mutual vindication like building a wall around a city in order to keep the stranger outside“[15]. What motivates Derrida to abandon this notion is actually a fusion and identification he implies: “ If by community is implied, as it often happens, a harmonious group, consensus, fundamental concurrence, beyond the phenomenon of variance and war then I do not believe in it much because within it I fell both, threat and a promise“[16].

 But how can we opine notion of community or is it possible to opine beyond this empty and undefined totality based on traditions which are excuses for conservatism and elimination and which are based on self-affirming homogenizing identities, contemporary strategies of biopolitics and allocation of capital and finances leading to marginalization of socially useless individuals or those who do (not) participate in production, exchange and consumption of relations producing status quo? How can we opine community beyond boundaries which are, according to Derrida, inherent? 

As Jean-Luc Nancy says in his book Inoperative community what haunts contemporary society is a dream about lost community[17]. He identifies lost community by using a number of paradigms, among which there is a family, and whose identifications are based on excess of imaginary essence such as love and welfare. The dream about community is based on nostalgia over past times when harmonic relations existed and are no longer present in contemporary society. However, as Nancy says, this dream about original community do not relate to a specific period in history. It is based on mythologized and imaginary pictures of the past. This innocent picture starts being dangerous at the moment when it becomes a starting point for politics of community which invite to harmonization through values of that particular lost community which are based on mutual norms and systems shared by people with same identity and background. Then, says Nancy, we have to become suspicious since we are not far away from numerous nationalisms still present in contemporary society.

However, in his book , Nancy emphasizes that “ the society we are living in is not built on  remains of previously existing communities which we have lost, but the community is what happens to us near at hand of society as: a question, waiting, event, imperative“[18]  It is a community which does not exist, is originating and which demands our active engagement.

This community is an emblem of desire for what philosopher Giorgio Agamben defines as „coming community“ [19] against communities of present time. It is a net of multitude [20] not based on racial, class, native, sexual or cultural differences. It is an active idea constantly undermining, getting free from imposed functions and totalitarising exclusivistic myths.

Negative or operative community of our social reality is solitude which is being shared out in absence of the community. By accident, or perhaps not, the castle where the scene from the beginning of the texts takes place carries the name – Solitude. “Solitude is that inhospitable introversion of individualism ideology on which contemporary life is based. It is powerlessness and inability of political doing,“  says Antonio Negri [21].  The community Danilo Prnjat longs for would never be bought at the cost of reducing any individual, a man or a woman, an animal or a thing to solitude. Because solitude and individualism are actually opposite to the community he dreams about.

Sharing life not based on identity and uniformity demands finding that mutual which allows communication and mutual doing, and that mutual we share is not revealing but production. The community is not a passive idea; it is constant activity, an invitation to opening of potential relation nets, life and being with other person in consonance with current social moment which leads to creating a resonant, applicable and politically constructive model.

 

It is necessary for us to keep on opining different models of being together, those which will help us to resist the imposed inhospitality, but we should not only opine them , we should, even more, continue creating them.

 

 

 


[1] Artifact of this work of art is a photo story conducted by the hidden artist where he records development of the situtation throughout the action.

 

[2] Emma Goldman, Marriage and Lovehttp://www.gutenberg.org/etext/20715 , (30.10.2009., 0:05)

[3] Friedrich Engels, Poreklo porodice, privatnog vlasništva i države,  „Glavni radovi Marxa i Engelsa“, (ure.) A. Dragičević, V. Mikecin, M. Nikić, Stvarnost, Zagreb. 

[4]Engels was convinced that with arrival of comunism all the bases of economic monogamy will inevitably vanish.

[6] Robert E. Rector and Melissa G. Pardue, Understanding the President’s Healthy Marriage Initiative, http://www.heritage.org/Research/Family/bg1741.cfm, (30.10.2009., 0:32)

[7] Nancy Cott, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2000

[8] Clare McGlynn, Families and Europien Union – Law, Politics and Pluralism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2006

[9] Slavoj Žižek, Sublimni objekt ideologije, Arkzin, Zagreb, 2002, pg 71

[10] ibid. pg 54-55

[11] This reffers to the wedding industry.

[12] John D. Caputo, Deconstruction in a nutshell: a conversation with Jacques Derrida, Fordham University, New York:, 1997, pg 110

[13] ibid., pg 106

[14] Janne Hiddleston, Reinventing community- Identity and Difference in late XX century, Modern Humanities Research Association and Maney Publishing, London, 2005, pg 1

[15]John D. Caputo, Deconstruction in the Nuthshell: A Conversation with Jacque Derrida,  Fordham University Press, New York 1997, pg 107-108

[16] ibid., pg 108

[17]Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1991

[18] ibid., pg 62

[19] Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1993

[20]Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri,  Multitude – War and Democracy in the age of Empire, Penguin Books, New York, 2004

[21] Tom Waibel, Who is really free? Antonio Negri and the Prison, http://transform.eipcp.net/correspondence/1221645163#redir, (30.10.2009, 1:10)

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