On „Apologoscapes“ and Curatorial Research – in Conversation with SUZANA MILEVSKA

Suzana Milevska is one of four researchers/artists taking part in this year’s Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen Fellowship-Program. She works as a curator and theorist of art and visual culture, based in Skopje, North Macedonia. In this article we want to focus on her cross-disciplinary project „Apologoscapes – not yet an exhibition“ which is, nevertheless, at the moment exhibited at Neue Galerie Innsbruck (together with contributions by the fellows Olga Ştefan, Rosalyn D’Mello and Sam Richardson). The exhibition titled „CORPOREALITY REPAIR CONCILIATION – Investigating Ways Into a Better Coexistence“ is open for visitors until July 16th, 2022.

„Apologoscapes is a work in progress, a kind of rhizomatic hypertext“ that Milevska combines with research materials such as texts, images, and sounds of or about apology. The topics of her investigation are personal narratives and institutionalised apologetic and unapologetic discourses in the context of memory-practices.

In an interview with komplex, Suzana Milevska explains her theoretical approach and how it is linked to artistic practices. She gives an insight into the complexity of the phenomenon of apology and its consequences. Additionally, at the end of the article, Milevska presents a participatory Spotify-Playlist that contains various forms of apology expressed in popular music.

Apologoscapes “To Do List” is an outcome of the collaboration between Suzana Milevska and the artist Merete Røstad | photo: Daniel Jarosch

komplex: Suzana, what’s your background and why did you start doing research on the topic of apology?

Suzana Milevska: I am a curator and visual culture theorist. My educational background is cross-disciplinary, because it consisted of various disciplines and fields of research, and it included various B.A. and M.A. courses in art history, philosophy and theory of art and architecture, visual culture and gender studies, at various universities in Skopje, Prague, and London. Most relevant for my recent project was my Ph.D. thesis in visual cultures. It in a way informed and expanded my interests in researching contemporary art beyond art history and aesthetics. I am looking at art as a phenomenon that is influenced and determined by the socio-political and economic context of its production, and by the relevant humanist ethical principles, and not only as an isolated aesthetical phenomenon as it was conceived by the formalist aesthetics that was dominant in my early education.

The topic of apology and its relevance in politics, ethics and art thus became the organic research domain of my project Ethical and Aesthetical Protocols of Apology that occupied me during my residence at Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen, since these issues were closely related to the focus of my previous research projects.

What does „apology” mean in the context of your project? 

Throughout my early research period, I came across many texts that referred to apology as to a speech act that is related to linguistics and J. L Austin’s theory of words and phrases that not only say, but simultaneously do something – the most quoted example of speech act is the phrase “I do” when you get married. Not only you say “I do”, but also you become legally bounded with another person in a contract for all your life, well unless you get a divorce through another legal procedure. However, according to the original theory, the context is instrumental for the success of any speech act (usually dubbed “felicitous”). Therefore, in my view, apology is only partly a speech act, because after a long process of looking at the theoretical arguments and examples from various political and cultural contexts it turned out that the conditions for a successful apology are very difficult to meet.  

Most importantly, my research was not limited to apology in the interpersonal relations, but I also investigated the potentials and downfalls of the collective and political apology in public spaces. For example, before I came to Innsbruck I was invested in researching the topics of shame, reconciliation, and contentious cultural heritage. I saw this topic as a relevant follow up in terms of the collective and political apology that is a necessary, but not a sufficient step towards reconciliation. Lastly, but not the least important for my focus on apology was my feminist background – the urgency of looking at the interpersonal and gendered interpretation of apology in the wake of the #MeeToo movement stemmed from the observation of all too many failed apologies.

In one of your presentations, you used the term “renaming as apology” – what does it mean and how is it linked to memory-practices in North Macedonia?                                                          

For this concept I was inspired by the long-term “name issue” surrounding the name of my own country that was recently renamed from „The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia“ into „North Macedonia“  – the dispute stemming from the objection of the Greek state to the use of the name “Macedonia”. One of my previous long-term research and curatorial projects was titled „The Renaming Machine“ and throughout this project I looked at the phenomenon of renaming as a very complex and often invisible socio-political mechanism. Various patterns of the “desiring renaming machines” are at work behind the dominant visible social machines, to use here Gilles Deleuze’s distinction between desiring, invisible machines and social, visible machines. The iconoclastic radicality of such a “void”, a desiring machine that doesn’t produce anything but the absence or lack behind such emptied out representation is particularly important in the context of discussing the issue of the troubles with nation’s potency and inferiority complex.

However, in contrast to such colonial politics of disrespect of self-determination, I dubbed “renaming as apology” the critical practice of the attempts of various countries and cultures to get to terms with difficult events from the past. In communist countries and in other cultures embarrassed by their historic blunders as slavery, Holocaust, racism, etc. the renaming is one of the favorite cultural instruments, means or mechanisms for deflecting from the contentious past.

What’s your opinion on renaming streets and public spaces in the context of remembrance?

Throughout my research, I became aware of different pros and cons of renaming streets, toponyms and objects in public space. Some of the rationals against renaming seem very pragmatic – e.g. the most frequently quoted are the financial issues. There are also historic arguments, e.g. the renaming would mean amnesia of the past. However, I disagree with the preservation of the old contentious names, because I hold these arguments of purely political reasons. The costs of renaming are high, but the costs of celebration of various murderers or racists are much higher. Also, to produce a plaque next to the problematic names is also expensive and still does not send the right message, because there is never some kind of original naming, all these streets had some other names in the past. I find the naming as celebration of certain event or person and there are so many events and heros who haven’t been yet celebrated properly.

Hereby, I agree with the comments made by Andrei Siclodi (Director of the Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen) during the event you mentioned – that if one worries about erasing the memories of the past and the possible collective amnesia the only possible conclusion and solution would be to produce a plate with the information of the historic details about the previous name after the renaming, not to preserve the memory through preserving the problematic, but yet celebratory naming.   

A lecture of yours was titled „Apologoscapes of Objects, Bodies, and Memories” – what is an Apologoscape and how is it related to materiality? Can you name an example? 

My project was highly inspired by Arjun Appadurai’s five dimensions of global cultural flows, five “scapes” that he named: ethnoscapes, technoscapes, financescapes, mediascapes, and ideoscapes. In his essay, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy” (1990), Arjun Appadurai popularised the idea of “global cultural flows”. He argued that the current flows of people (e.g., of diasporic communities and refugees), images and capital are “disjunctive” and “chaotic”, in contrast to the situatedness of different kinds of traditional actors in nation-states. I added to the list the sixth one: “apologoscapes”. In respect to these ephemeral and shifting flows, where static national units are the opposite of free flows I assumed that in apologoscapes the perpetrators and victims meet and are confronted with the past in a supposedly more ethical and equal grounds, and therefore, apology appears as consequential and necessary step. 

How are practices of apology linked to aesthetics? What’s the role or potential of art in the context of apology?

I am glad that you asked this question because there is a danger to limit the interpretation of my project to the anthropological and psychological understanding of the phenomenon of apology. I am profoundly interested in contemporary art practices as participatory art, community based art and activist art for social change. In this respect, I see the links between art and apology as inevitable and I was looking at art practices that either use or induce apology throughout different relational and participatory art projects, and art strategies as are the performativity, renaming, reverse recuperation, artivism, etc. 

Why is this topic a personal interest for you? Are you going to continue working on this topic? 

Without going into too many details I did expect and still expect a few apologies from a few institutions that disrespected me and my work, and I also owe apology to some colleagues. More importantly half of the human kind owes apology to the other half for the violence and disrespect. Therefore, I see the phenomenon of apology highly relevant and this project is an ongoing research project that perhaps will never be completed, regardless to eventual other events and publications that may result from it. This is the main reason why my room at Neue Galerie’s concluding exhibition „Corporeality Repair Conciliation“ was titled „Apologoscapes – Not yet an exhibition“. 

Suzana Milevskaphoto: Sam Richardson

Apology is not a simple noun. It’s a speech act that is indispensably determined and affected by concrete past events that lead to it, and by the urgent sociopolitical and cultural contexts and conditions that allow it to happen. Thus apology is a kind of bridge between the past and future. The apologising and apologised subjects are interwoven in a complex grid of performative and reciprocal relations in the context of phenomena such are the individual and collective shame, and other affects and traumas. Therefore apology contributes to subjectivity’s construction and transformation in the globalised world where the victims, perpetrators, and witnesses are more likely to meet and confront again, and eventually get a new chance to reshape the geopolitical landscapes and move forward with sincere acknowledgment and apology about any wrongdoing from the troubled past

Suzana Milevska

In the framework of the project Milevska conducted the participatory workshop “Is ‚Sorry‘ Enough?“ included completing a short questionnaire and compiling participatory Apologoscapes playlist on Spotify:

Workshop participants: Johanna Becker, MA student, University of Innsbruck; Michaela Bstieler, researcher, University of Innsbruck; Andrei Siclodi, curator and Director of Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen, Innsbruck; Nayra Hammann, researcher, University of Innsbruck; Margarethe Drexel, artist; Iryna Kurhanska, art manager and curator; Sam Richardson, artist; Veronika Riedl, project manager, Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen; Nina Tabassomi, curator and Director of Taxispalais – Kunsthalle Tirol, Innsbruck.

| Brigitte Egger

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