congress / reading room

Trickster 2011

Agata Siwiak

How does the modern trickster operate: is he the artist-provocateur, the artist-political activist, a virus attacking the cultural and social order of Europe?

The trickster archetype is characterized by action outside of the established norms, refusal to conform to neither authorities nor societal order. His sense of humor is boundless, subversive and intelligent, he plays with reality, deftly crossing the border between fiction and truth, between desire and taboo. He’s like a virus – unpredictable and mischievous, but always allowing us to fight that which crawls beneath our skin, weak and unnamed.

The Polish presidency in the European Union coincides with the 30 year anniversary of forming the Orange Alternative. Created in 1981 in Wrocław by Waldemar Frydrych, the group – later transformed into a happening movement – was working in opposition of the socialist authorities. A small gnome, plastered wherever the authorities tried to cover subversive graffiti, became the group’s smbol. The gnome was a trickster par excellence. He played the authorities using his most important characteristics – laughter, irony and distance. He existed outside ideology, far from any “serious” politics or sense of patriotic mission, and yet his actions brought changes: they exposed the harmfulness and absurdities of the socialist system, they fought apathy and the delusions of martyrdom of Poland thinking itself the Messiah of nations.

Actions of the Orange Alternative inspired the performance program which is to accompany the European Culture Congress. The program, however, will neither include any actions conducted by famous activists, nor will there be any documentations of their previous achievements. The project is supposed to summon the spirit of nonconformity and play the existing realities, like the OA did decades ago. But where the Alternative operated in the gloomy realities of socialist Poland, the 2011 Trickster, working within the framework of the Cultural Program of the Polish Presidency in the EU, celebrates the ideas of modern Europe with its freedoms and liberal and humanistic character. After 1989, Wrocław itself became a symbol of European success: its infrastructure and economy bloomed, as did its cultural and artistic qualities, all of this thanks to excellent governance and good PR.

On one hand, success is characterized by dynamism and vitality, and on the other by narcissism, superficial rituals or quite ridiculous celebrations. Success also means losing sight of what’s uncomfortable and marginal, like homophobia, swaths of cities filled to the brim with the poor and the excluded or responsibility for colonial oppression… The project is supposed to convince people to take ownership of these uncomfortable aspects of our European character, to dispose with the Eurocentric way of describing our world. It’s supposed to not only discuss values, but also point out the traps that lay in a common European identity, within its cultural heritage and social and political condition. The program means to pose questions about the identity of the trickster of our times: the artist-provocateur, the artist-political activist, a virus attacking the cultural and social order of Europe.