When socialism collapsed around 1989/90, the widely held belief was that the cultural sector in democratising Eastern European countries would soon form international networks and become diverse, lively and beyond state control. Before the fall of communism, cultural institutions in Warsaw, Bucharest and Prague served as places of political enactment. Art was ideologically charged, following a state-directed political agenda. Artists were invited to participate in the construction and preservation of socialism. Free, dissident art, which critically examined the role of repressive systems and social reality, operated in private or underground. More than thirty years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, many cities in Eastern Europe still have far fewer galleries, art collectors or art venues than the rest of Europe. If an artist from Eastern Europe wants to be successful, he or she usually moves to Berlin, Vienna or London at some point. Although state cultural institutions have ceased to be cultural palaces, in many places they still provide the only framework for non-commercial art production and exhibitions. Independent groups have a hard time finding spaces, funding and thus an audience. The situation has even worsened in some places, especially where governments are again using art to paint pictures of collective identity, a glorious history or national identity.
We co-founded tranzit in 2002. tranzit is a unique network of independent associations working in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia as well as across borders / peripheral zones of Europe. Each of the five tranzit initiatives works autonomously in the context of the local art scenes and the social and political framework conditions. They provide artists with a versatile space in which art can be produced.
Methods and formats include exhibitions, lectures, discussions, research and publications in all conceivable forms of expressions and artistic settings. This enables profound experiences that reveal correlations and allow a reassessment of contemporary history. tranzit challenges canons, geographical classifications and predominant narratives of post-war European (art) histories. The initiatives operate in a constant dialectic between local and global culturally meaningful narratives.
Independent, free (art) spaces are not only more flexible but also examine the role of art and collective or national identity more attentively. Art makes an existential contribution to the development of a pluralistic, open and democratic society. tranzit primarily aims to promote mutual understanding and cross-border dialogue, especially in a Europe marked by nationalism and economic and social inequality. Independent cultural and art initiatives such as tranzit are an important cultural pillar for the still young societies of Eastern Europe, especially in times of insufficient funding and the political instrumentalisation of cultural initiatives. We need new and innovative art spaces that permit experimentation, safe places for the critical examination of current social phenomena and taboo issues. In such spaces, art may succeed in opening up low-threshold access for the mainstream of society.
Artist-in-Residence programme Q21/MuseumsQuartier Vienna
Each year from February to November tranzit, together with the Igor Zabel Association for Culture and Theory, Kontakt Collection and ERSTE Foundation, offers an Artist-in-Residence programme at Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier. Up to six artists from Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia get the chance to live in the city and work in one of the MuseumsQuartier studios.
Fellowships for curators and artists, Salzburg International Summer Academy of Fine Arts
In collaboration with tranzit.cz, tranzit.hu, tranzit.ro, tranzit.sk and the Igor Zabel Association for Culture and Theory, ERSTE Foundation grants five scholarships to young artists and five fellowships to up-and-coming curators from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, who can participate in a course of their choice at the Salzburg International Summer Academy of Fine Arts.
Header image: Emília Rigová, Vomite ergo sum, 2018, video, from the exhibition “Upon Us All Equally. tranzit statements for the future”. 7-9 November 2019, Bucharest