Apr 25-26, 2014, CEFRES, Prague

For this conference, I organized one of the panels, titled “Politics of Art Languages in Central Europe” with papers by Juraj Čarný, Tímea Junghaus, Jan Zálešák, and myself (“The Language That the Art World Speaks: Case Study of Poland”). This panel served as the basis for the art section of Understanding Central Europe (Routledge, 2018).

The conference was co-organized by Res Publica Nowa, Centre français de recherche en sciences sociales in Prague, BISLA Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts, and Magyar Lettre Internationale, and funded by The Visegrad Fund.


In Ancient Greece the word “barbaros” described a person unable to communicate in the Greek language, which automatically excluded them from the community of the citizens of polis. It was the proficiency in common language that was the basis for obtaining citizenship and the rights to the common, democratically reigned space that came with it. What language of today grants citizenship to the international art community to those individuals who do not want to be seen as barbarians?  What is the language that the art world speaks? Following Mladen Stilinović’s well-known piece from 1993 “An artist who cannot speak English is no artist” we could point to English as the lingua franca of the contemporary art world. And it is surely the mastery of English that enables, or disables, communication in the global art sphere today. However, this conclusion bears further implications, which differ for various locations. For the former Soviet Block, a region that has painfully experienced the burden of a forcefully imposed common language in the past – both the Russian and the art language of socialist realism – there is much at stake in striving for a new, supposedly open and freely chosen communality, both of the English and the visual language of contemporary art. Is the necessity to operate in the sphere of this new common language a grace or a curse?


Understanding Central Europe (Routledge, 2018)

To which extent does this language grant access to a democratically reigned space and to which extent is it just an empty jargon understood only by its users? How does the desire for a cross-national exchange, both with the former West and the other countries of the former Eastern Europe, structure how we think and speak about art?

This panel is going to address the issues of common language, necessity and (im)possibility of translation, miscommunication, linguistic tensions and dominating discourses for the local and translocal art worlds of the today’s Central Europe. It will attempt to answer the question of the language that the Central European art world speaks, and probe whether its voice distinct is in any way.

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