– Spring 2009

Friendship of the Peoples: On the Work of Goshka Macuga

Grant Watson

Goshka Macuga, When Was Modernism?, 2008, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view at MuHKA, Antwerp

Goshka Macuga, When Was Modernism?, 2008, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view at MuHKA, Antwerp

An improvised display area, rigged up from diverse bits of furniture covered in sheets. The things on display, an odd assembly of rejected works and test pieces donated by artists who no longer want them - kitsch little sculptures and 'bad' paintings mostly, purposefully ugly and indicative of a prevailing DIY aesthetic. The sad history of these works, the ghost-like quality of the sheets draped over tables and chairs, the basement gallery and the dim lighting came together to produce a brooding atmosphere, and a work that was spooky and melancholic. In hindsight I can see that this piece (made with the artist Matthew Leahy at Cubitt Gallery in 1999) was the prototype for what Goshka Macuga has since expanded into an oeuvre. Several elements already were in place which have become hallmarks of her practice: the improvised sense of community represented by this 'snapshot' of the scene; an interest in marginalia; the idea of the museum display; curatorial work; collaboration as a methodology; and the production of strongly immersive environments.

Museums by artists are nothing new, and it is unsurprising that those who have conventionally relied on museum structures to provide a frame, an interface with the public and a depository for the future should turn their critical attention to it and seek to claim ownership in both conceptual and material terms. Perhaps the most frequently cited of these (besides Marcel Duchamp's) is Marcel Broodthaers's Musée d'Art Moderne, Département de Aigles, Section XIXième Siècle, which, according to his longtime collaborator Jürgen Harten, was an attempt to produce a different kind of public space. Coming out of his participation in the 1968 Cultural Revolution debates at the

  1. Jürgen Harten, from an unpublished essay delivered at a seminar on Marcel Broodthaers at the São Paulo Biennial, 2006.

  2. Sleep of Ulro was commissioned by the A Foundation for the Liverpool Biennial in 2006.

  3. Friendship of the Peoples was commissioned by Project Arts Centre, Dublin in 2002.

  4. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990, p.52.

  5. Franz Kafka, Amerika (trans. Willa and Edwin Muir), Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970, p.284.

  6. Geoffrey Bennington, 'Politics of Friendship: A Discussion with Jacques Derrida', Centre for Modern French Thought, University of Sussex, 1 December 1997. Available at www.hydra.umn.edu/derrida/pol (last accessed on 20 November 2008).

  7. When Was Modernism?, named after Geeta Kapur's book When Was Modernism: Essays on Contemporary Cultural Practice in India (2000), was commissioned for the exhibition 'Santhal Family: Positions Around an Indian Sculpture' at the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen in 2008. The exhibition was curated by myself in collaboration with Suman Gopinath and Anshuman Dasgupta.