Advice from an Older Brother:
European Perspectives on American Turmoil
BY RADKA SALCMANNOVA
In the November issue of Psychology Tomorrow Magazine, we turn our attention to a group of very talented European artists who offer an invigorating and sweeping critique of the current American social, political, and economic landscape. It can be a bit comforting for Americans during times of duress to recognize that many of the complicated bogs and quagmires that threaten to swamp our fragile ways of life have been negotiated many times and in many place in Eastern and Western Europe. Questions such as how to create a fair system of health services, approaches to leveling the staggering depth of income inequality, backlashes against civil rights advances, and a re-shifting of gender opportunities are troubling for Americans to consider and an occasion for infighting and gridlock for federal politicians. For a culture that is averse to dealing with conflicts openly, it may be that in moments such as these, seeking answers, or even inspiration and hope, from other countries can be calming to the nerves.
It is with this spirit in mind that we look closely at this group of promising European artists who have moved to New York City, each bringing his or her own unique history and sensibility to the work that is made. An infusion of political critique with an expansive and provocative set of historical references might be what most unites this group of artists. There is something very direct and blunt about their work which is refreshing and accessible. It is not polite in the way that sometimes weighs down American political art.
Take one of the most iconic images from this issue’s selection: artist Marko Markovic cleaning the famous bull of Wall Street. It is hard to believe that two years have passed since that remarkable autumn of nationwide protest and collective action against the financial and political machinery that still keeps so many groups of American citizens oppressed and immobile. But the camps of tents have been long since been kicked out of their positions on city centers and the revolutionary fervor has retreated to corners throughout the country. Even so, an afternoon spent carousing the emerging artist communities in Bushwick or the thriving artist residencies in DUMBO will remind us that the movement may have moved, but it is just alive as ever.
Economic and political critiques are just a few of the issues that this issue’s group of artists confront. Ingrid Ung’s performances, for example, endow the viewer with a rare opportunity to glimpse into the psychological world of a transitioning transgender women. With an honesty and openness to bring her performers to life, she captures our attention with her beautiful and challenging videos.
Another unforgettable image from this month’s group comes from Aleksandra Ska, who drills into her own teeth using dentistry equipment during her performance “unproductive.” This excruciating act of self-sacrifice may not be productive in any literal or economic sense, but it brusquely captures the ethos of these artists’ approach to making work and letting their voices be hard: which is to say, forcefully, never afraid to go under the surface, and not shying afraid from disrupting expectations. Drilling may not be elegant, but it certainly gets to the bottom of things.