Sanja Sekelj and Željka Tonković
Time and Place: Friday, 02.07., 09:40–10:00, Room 1
Session: Networks of Events
This contribution in concerned with the influence and reception of Soros’ Open Society Institute and a number of its cultural spin-offs in Croatia during the 1990s and early 2000s, especially the Soros center for contemporary art (SCCA). Although both art history and contemporary curatorial practice have been greatly influenced by the spatial turn, expressed most explicitly in Piotr Piotrowski’s call for a horizontal art history (widely applied to scholarship related to inter-war avant-gardes and transnational artistic contacts during the Cold War) (Piotrowski 2008), in current scholarship related to the historical significance and/or structural position of the SCCA’s there is still a tendency to adopt universalist positions. Claims such as that the Soros Centers encouraged only specific kinds of artistic production (making it uniform across the former Eastern Bloc) or that they were merely vehicles for the introduction of neoliberal ideology in ex-communist states – these claims neglect specific local contexts, differences in the lived experience of communism and its dissolution across Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the differences in the development of contemporary art and artistic infrastructure in specific post-socialist states during the 20th century. To properly reflect on the position and significance of the Soros Centers, as well as on the meaning of transnational collaboration they initiated during the 1990s, our claim is that they need to be researched in relation to specific structural and cultural contexts. In our previous work – in which we analyzed the local network of SCCA-Zagreb, generated through its annual exhibitions – we already concluded that the exhibition activity of the SCCA in Croatia depended on “the personal networks of the individuals involved in the work of the Center”, as well as that the Center adopted “a hybrid model of functioning (…) between an ‘organization’ and a ‘network’” (Tonković, Sekelj 2016). However, the local significance of the SCCA remains under researched in the above-outlined relational sense.
By way of using qualitative and quantitative data, this contribution seeks to a) interpret the structural position of the SCCA and other relevant Soros spin-offs (such as the Multimedia Institute) in the Croatian institutional landscape during the 1990s and early 2000s, and b) to complement these quantitative findings with insights from key cultural workers of the time, thus bringing to the fore the agency of actors involved with Soros’ organizations specifically and the art scene more broadly. The dataset used to define and interpret the structural position of Soros’ organizations using social network analysis is extracted from art criticism published in professional magazines dedicated to following current contemporary art events (Arkzin, Kontura, Vijenac, Zarez). In the period between 1991–2006 a total of 4829 texts were published in which art critics wrote about different local and international art events (exhibitions, art festivals, performances and screenings), and from which we extracted data on authors and institutions mentioned in art critiques. Two sets of network visualizations were made: a set of bimodal networks in which the nodes represent art critics and mentioned institutions, and by way of which we can determine central institutional actors as seen from the perspective of Croatian art criticism (in total 1835 nodes with 4398 established edges); a set of unimodal networks consisting only of institutions, in which institutions are connected if they collaborated on the organization of art events (in total 845 nodes with 2304 established edges). From this second set of collaborative networks we describe the structure of the art scene from a Croatian perspective, define central actors according to degree and betweenness centrality, determine social circles and interpret the position of Soros’ organizations within the institutional landscape. While the interpretation of network dynamics between 1991 and 2006 is complemented with the changing cultural narratives drawn from the content of art criticism itself, the agency of cultural actors is interpreted through the analysis of 30 narrative semi-structured interviews conducted with key cultural actors during the 1990s and early 2000s. The protagonists were asked about their networking practices during this period, to describe the structure of the scene, its main actors and the quality of their ties, about the values disseminated through the network, as well as about the influence of the socio-political and cultural contexts on their networking practices. Following a qualitative structural analysis approach (Herz, Peters, Truschkat 2015), a structure-focused, an actor-focused and a tie-focused analysis of the conducted semi-structured interviews was applied, with a greater emphasis on Soros’ organizations. The narrative dataset served as basis for the development and interpretation of analytic concepts with the help of “thematic coding” (Charmaz 2006).
The obtained results are thus interpreted with regard to structure, culture and agency of actors, by conceptualizing different social circles in the institutional landscape as netdoms (White 2008), in which common aesthetic, political and social meanings are shared. By combining idiographic and nomothetic investigations specific for art history and sociology, this contribution seeks not only to propose a methodological approach that combines qualitative and quantitative data analysis, but also (by using qualitative methods from both fields) to steer the discussion towards the issue of deep interdisciplinarity between the humanities and social sciences.
Charmaz, Kathy. 2006. Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide through Qualitative Analysis. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: SAGE Publications.
Herz, Andreas, Luisa Peters, and Inga Truschkat. 2015. “How to do qualitative structural analysis: the qualitative interpretation of network maps and narrative interviews.” Forum: Qualitative Social Research 16 (1).
Piotrowski, Piotr. 2008. “On the Spatial Turn, or Horizontal Art History.” Umění art 5: 378–383.
Tonković, Željka, and Sanja Sekelj. 2016. “Annual exhibitions of the Soros Center for Contemporary Art Zagreb as a Place of Networking.” Život umjetnosti 99: 78–93.
White, Harrison C. 2008. Identity and Control: How Social Formations Emerge. Princeton: Princeton University Press.