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Emil Hrvatin

If There Is No Mission, a Mission Becomes Possible: On the Position of a Cultural Journal under Conditions of an Unbearable Lightness of Freedom

Maska, no. 100, year 2006

I have never viewed Maska as a document about a specific (artistic) practice but rather about a specific way of thinking. It is a document about the practice of thinking. Only as the practice of thinking can it become a document about an artistic practice. The practice of thinking is not something that would naturally follow artistic action in its discursive form. At Maska, the practice of thinking is inseparably linked to the practices of thinking about art. Maska has never been on the outside of artistic practice; in fact, together with art, it constantly rearticulates its positions and territories, constantly inhabiting the space between, where relationships of power have not yet been established.

The cultural field in Slovenia has been restructured over the past fifteen years. Public institutions have more or less preserved the position they held under socialism. However, some have, to varying degrees, weakened under the pressure of market laws (pandering to audiences, aggressive marketing, antiglobalization-related nationalism, and the renting of space for commercial purposes). The private sector has significantly branched out, from nongovernmental organizations reliant mainly on public financing to organizations offering commercial materials not financed with public funds. In this new constellation, cultural journals cut a sorry figure. Razgledi, a biweekly general-culture publication, closed down after fifty years. The weekly magazine Deloskop, which took a very affirmative approach to art and was in a way Ljubljana’s version of Time Out, failed after less than a year of publication. The publisher of both was Delo, the largest newspaper publishing house in Slovenia. However, Razgledi was subsidized with public funds far exceeding those allocated to any other publication. There is only one general cultural publication in Slovenia today, the monthly Ampak. It is shaped by the traditional view of culture as the vehicle of national identity. In fact, half the publication is devoted to current political issues. Capital has erased the space for critical reflection on culture and art. The state has localized it into specialized publications.

Even these publications have been subjected to reduction and erasure. The field of visual arts has suffered the most, with the discontinuation of the magazines Sinteza, M’ars, and Platform. Consequently, the only publications currently dedicated to the field of visual arts are Likovna beseda and Manifesto Journal, an international publication with a Slovenian copublisher. Censorship by capital is not unique to Slovenia; it can be seen throughout the democratic world. Contemporary art basically cannot reach outside the field in which it operates. For this reason, its reception depends on the community that generates it. Cultural publications are increasingly becoming the mouthpieces of isolated artistic groups, both as a means of public legitimation and proof of their very existence.

And yet, just as under conditions of an unbearable lightness of freedom art is not subject to any imperatives and its only censorship is that exercised by capital, a publication is not subject to any mission. To survive, a publication must create a need for reading, theory, and reflection, i.e. create a critical community in the field of contemporary art, rather than pamper to a potential reading public. The only thing a publication can do is open up space for debate and confrontation. Just like contemporary art, a cultural journal makes capital nervous under the conditions of neoliberal capitalism. When the imperative to serve history becomes a publication’s main goal, the publication itself becomes history and ceases to exist.

A Brief History of Maska

To understand the position Maska currently occupies, we need to briefly examine the journal’s history, which began in the 1920s.1 After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the creation of a totally open historical environment, once the dissolution of the communist system had brought about a wave of social optimism, Maske initiated two brave processes. First, the director and dramatist Dušan Jovanović, the theatrical historian Dragan Klaić, and Maska editor Peter Božič embarked on an ambitious project by launching the international theatrical magazine Euromaske. Euromaske was published in English and featured articles by internationally renowned authors. It was a publication of exceptional quality—the entire magazine was in four-color print—and was aggressively marketed. In addition to delivering it free of charge to numerous professionals in Europe and around the world, they introduced and advertised it at important festivals and international meetings of professionals from the field of performing arts. Only three issues were published, and its demise foreshadowed the difficulties faced by and failures of all similar transnational publications for the performing arts, such as the collapse of Hybrid and Theaterschrift, and the closing down of the English version of Ballet Tanz, to name a few. Regardless of globalization and the openness of the New World Order, there was no readership adequately interested in performance practices of a contemporary, experimental, multicultural, and cosmopolitan nature. This occurred despite the reader-friendly format of Euromaske, with its short articles, plentiful information, attractive graphics, and so on. The question is to what extent the prevailing festival character of the distribution of contemporary performance practices, which brings performances into a particular environment as a plain product of the cultural industry, contributed to this lack of interest.

The second important step taken by Maske in the early 1990s was the change of editors and editorial policy. The editing of the journal, whose name was changed back to its original singular form, Maska, was taken over by drama students Maja Breznik and Irena Štaudohar. They surrounded themselves with a team of young critics, dramaturges, philosophers, and artists, and began a radical alteration of the journal. Maska became an arena for debate about current and contemporary performance practices. It addressed the still-nascent experimental theater, contemporary dance, and performance, and offered a contextual framework for local scenic practices. The first issue was devoted to Baptism under Triglav, a performance by the theatrical group Scipion Nasice Sisters. Five years after the play’s premiere, its powerful influence was still being felt by theater professionals and experts alike, and it had created a wave of new thinking about the performing arts. By choosing this performance to focus on in its first issue, Maska was essentially issuing a manifesto about a point of reference for its program. Maska’s subtitle “A Journal for the Theater, Opera, and Dance,” reflected its involvement with interdisciplinary scenic practices. At the root of this decision was a desire to address and support contemporary artistic practices, practices transcending the borders between artistic fields and expanding the boundaries of the theater, opera, and dance, often with the creation of new intermediary, hybrid, and uncharted areas not limited by specific disciplines.

From the early 1990s, Maska established new standards for graphics. In place of the inhibited, academic-loving appearance of Maske and most other discursive-based journals for the performing arts, Maska created a retrofuturistic design, which served to further emphasize the connection between theory and art.2 The journal acquired an exclusive and high-quality appearance. This was a bold move at a time when socialist regimes were crumbling and confronting an uncertain passage into the wilds of capitalism. Readers of Maska, especially those from western Europe, posed a classic and stereotypical question: “Who is financing the journal?” Because it was impossible to issue theatrical publications with such high-quality graphics in the West, it was troubling that something of that nature was coming from the territory the West perceived as the gray and impoverished East. A similar misunderstanding occurred between artists and festival selectors. The latter could not, for example, accept massive sceneries for experimental theater. For them, Jerzy Grotowski remained the model artist from the East, while questions of utopia and the relationship between the artist and ideology were wrapped up in the trouble-free cellophane of the human perspective. The good-hearted, though cynical, continuation of the question of who was paying for the publication was, “It looks great. It’s a pity I cannot read it.”

In 1993, Maska took another significant step. The publication of the journal was taken over by a newly established nonprofit organization called Maska. This move institutionalized the independent position of the journal Maska. Maska was now in a position similar to those faced by most of the newly created performance practices at the time—searching for and creating a new framework of production in order to launch themselves. Because a hefty majority of public funds is assigned to state cultural institutions (c. 93% in 2004) and the state has the prevailing influence within the entire cultural sphere, this decision resulted in Maska’s enduring struggle to legitimize its own creation. The process of transforming the cultural system, with the state elite on the one hand and amateurs on the other, was gradually enhanced by the establishment of the private production initiative.

There was no discursive instrument in the early 1990s to competently interpret and contextualize this new practice. That was why it literally had to be created. Those most interested in its creation were direct participants in the new performing arts reality, artists, playwrights, critics, and producers, who cocreated a new practice of interdisciplinary performance, dance, and conceptual theater. Maska’s collaborators were and still are artists and creators, such as media artist Marko Peljhan; directors Dragan Živadinov, Matjaž Berger, Goran Sergej Pristaš, and Ivica Buljan; choreographers and dancers Mala Kline and Petra Sabitsch; and performance author and performer Bojana Cvejić.

Maska brought critical reflection on current productions (domestic and international), texts about the key reformers of the twentieth-century scene, and translations of contemporary theoretical texts, mostly those related to the expansion of the field of performing arts as well as the creation of new artistic forms. In the early 1990s, Maska launched a debate about new technology, art, and science, and other places and contexts of performance. The fundamental shift in thinking initiated by Maska was that the performing arts were no longer treated as an aesthetic field in an archipelago of national art. Rather, they were now a factor of different artistic, production, and social practices. The internationalization of the publication, which accompanied the internationalization of all performance practices, and, ultimately, the entire country, was the logical result of this shift. Even though the radical loss of ties with the other republics of the former Yugoslavia was least felt in the field of contemporary art, the war and the radical impoverishment of the cultural sector drastically reduced the bonds.

Although the translation of articles partly contributed to the internationalization of the journal, the key to this process was its presence at international meetings, festivals, conferences, and the publication of articles by foreign contributors. The effort to internationalize the journal culminated in 2002, when Maska began to be published in two languages, Slovenian and English. This made the journal accessible to an international audience. Maska has since been considered relevant reading, continually developing a critical discourse in the field of performing arts and theory.

Maska’s context changed when it transitioned to a bilingual publication. Contemporary performance production in Slovenia has dramatically evolved over the last fifteen years; public funding supports a diverse range of performance practices, from experimental theater and contemporary dance to interactive performances and site-specific and public art. At this point, the affirmation of new fields by recording them in writing and through their global and historical contextualization is no longer of key importance to Maska. Instead, it is concerned with problematizing the structural and political issues represented by modern art. This refers to the overexamination of contemporary art’s own position, something that became a sort of ethical imperative of art in the twenty-first century.

In other words, theory and reflection do not evolve through service to practice. Rather, they are deeply ingrained in practice itself; they are practice. Now let’s focus on some of the journal’s “missions.”

Journal as an Event

In one of the latest issues of Maska, our contributor and friend Goran Sergej Pristaš wrote the following about Frakcija, a performing arts journal from Zagreb of which he is editor: “Each issue of the journal that we have published is, for us, an event that does not only encompass theorists, but mainly artists, who are always in a position to produce, promote, distribute, and explain themselves.”

Goran Sergej Pristaš, "Why do we produce ourselves, promote ourselves, distribute ourselves, and explain ourselves? Why are we "as well" around?", Maska, vol. 20, no. 92-93, spring 2005, p. 7

The journal is another performance/exhibition we are going to examine. It is a festival on paper. The more uncertain and disorganized the frequency of its publication the better it works as an event. This is what Maska was like in the 1990s.

After 2000, Maska’s readers became accustomed to its regular publication. It grew from an event to the process of maintaining the position of critical reflection, of broadening the space for public debate, and legitimizing new forms of performing arts. The byproducts of the journal include a year-long education program for those interested in critical thinking about modern art (Seminar on Contemporary Performing Arts, led by Bojana Kunst); Transformacije, a series of books featuring debates about contemporary art; and artistic productions.

These are processes similar to those taking place in the field of performing arts in the early 1990s, when it was necessary to fight for space for different practices and different forms of production. In contrast to earlier generations, including the avant-garde of the 1960s, the 1990s generation produced and clung to new means of production. It did not surrender to the long march through institutions. It showed that certain artistic forms require a production process more contemporary than the production of traditional theater or ballet.

The same is true of the journal. Maska is not an academic journal or a popular newsletter. We have nothing against large-format photographs, and we are often reproached for having too many naked bodies on our covers. Maska’s position is one of validation. We write about what we are interested in, and we achieve validation by establishing a critical discourse.


When we mention internationalization, we refer to what Maska has done to be present in the international context. However, what has the international context (the context of the West, the first world, of course) done to enable Maska to be present in it? For now, the gesture is a typically paternalistic one: allowing a curiosity to enter a context defined by a capitalistic and infastructurally sound West. Such a curiosity is something that will never be part of the market, something that will never be taken seriously, something that is brought and distributed free of charge by eternally enthusiastic and good-humored individuals, although we are not sure exactly what it is that they do. They are editors, artists, merchants, professors. Why can’t they specialize and carry a business card so we know who we are speaking to? Their blurred, varied, and fluid identities only serve to confirm the image of the East, or, God forbid, the Balkans, as something incomprehensible, where you are never completely sure what these people are really up to, even though it is crystal clear what they want—to be part of this part of the world. The paradox of this entire viewpoint is that the more similar a product is to a western publication—for example, Maska and Frakcija compared to Performance Research—the more puzzling it is. Furthermore, they wonder how it is possible that so many fresh, high-quality, and current publications come to them from the East—for example, Umelec from Prague and Idea from Romania—while more and more publications in the West are failing. Those publications that remain are completely dependent on market laws, especially publications for the visual arts, whose survival depends on the number of advertisements. Has a publishing house in the West ever shown any interest in publishing a magazine managed somewhere in the East? As Slavoj Žižek would say, “love those close to you, but from a distance. Remain just as incisive, interesting, and beautiful, but stay where you are.”3

It is a paraphrase, he repeats that in several articles.

I am writing as someone who has worked with western and eastern European cultural journals. It is no coincidence that the future we envision, i.e. the part-of-the-world future, is written into the very title of a joint number of the British journal Performance Research, Croatia’s Frakcija, and Maska—“Yet to come.” So, am I allowed to be part of this world as I am, or do I have to be a realist, as Rem Koolhass would say, and submit to the dictates of money; the academic, production, and publishing networks; and proper behavior? Here I will include a longer quote from an article by Bojana Kunst, published in the above-mentioned joint number. It deals with some contemporary artistic strategies and precisely defines Maska’s position:

“The projects are therefore always ambivalently playing with their own visibility, searching for strategies of being present, but, while being present, challenging the very modes of presence. They openly develop non-servile tactics and thus critically reflect on the time yet to come, reshifting the symbolic presentation of power and fighting for the right of imagination in various territories of contemporary life. The important outcome is thus the acknowledgement that art production is tightly connected to institutionalization and commercialization, and that it succumbs to similar bureaucratic laws and participatory problems as exist everywhere. But even if it seems that the territory for the artist is even narrower today, the demand to be an alternative knowledge producer and act as a radical agency is present even more. Interestingly, there is also a certain utopian demand for autonomy at work, which is very close to civil disobedience as described by Paolo Virno. The strategies are not directed toward the discontents of the law, but toward the very ability of power and control, toward the subtle and overwhelming mechanisms by means of which this power and control are entering our contemporary lives and our contemporary work.” Bojana Kunst, "Yet to Come: Discontents of the Common History", joint issue of Performance Research (vol. 10, no. 2, June 2005), Maska and Frakcija, p. 46.

However, once you become “international,” you can no longer stay where you are. From a local standpoint, Maska was expected to be a sort of portfolio for local artists. Yet a significant moment was overlooked: nothing had really changed at Maska, except for a few technicalities, i.e. the transition to a bilingual publication led to a reduction in the number of texts, which, in turn, led to greater selectivity. If by developing a critical discourse, Maska cocreated and legitimized contemporary performing practices in Slovenia, it is now doing the same in an international context. It is cocreating it by developing an arena of critical discussion about the determinants of contemporary artistic practices. Nevertheless, the local scene got the answer it had been looking for. Maska put the local scene in an international context the second it became relevant for the development of a self-critical discourse, i.e. once it had placed itself in an international context.

The legitimization of the field of contemporary art is another political element important for the entire process of internationalization. Every national culture has a problem with contemporary art because the latter is liberated from the local context (which, of course, does not mean that it is not deeply rooted in it) and traditional artistic fields that cultural bureaucracy can still understand and supervise. Even though it may sound very orthocommunist, being international and hailing from the East means to be literally nowhere. This “nowhere” at Maska is taken as a political choice and is understood as a constant overexamination of our own position. Maska is small and unimportant. It comes from an unstable and difficult-to-define territory. And that is exactly what we want to maintain. That nonposition is the point from which we wish to speak.

The Journal’s Transdisciplinary Nature

Maska is recognized as a journal for the theater and contemporary dance, meaning that it circulates within a specific community of contemporary performing arts. Even though we have published some thematic editions that ventured into areas such as media art and new technologies (“Pleasure of the Machine,” “Genetic Art,” “Biotechnology, Philosophy, Sex,” and so on) on the one side, and activism (“Scene of Action, Scene of Thought”) and theories of the aesthetic and political (“The Unbearable Lightness of [Artistic] Freedom”) on the other, the journal is still considered a publication for the performing arts. But first, why has the journal’s concept become so broad?

What is known as the third generation of Slovenian directors, such as Eda Čufer, whose work marked the late 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, took an interdisciplinary approach and understood the theater as a place for the meeting of different artistic, technological, and social practices. Projects from the generation of Dragan Živadinov, Vlado Repnik, Matjaž Berger, Marko Peljhan, Tomaž Štrucl, Igor Štromajer, and Emil Hrvatin introduced performance elements, visual arts, new technologies, pop dramaturgy, and environmental installations. They redefined the field of the theater by broadening it. They showed the theater that it constantly establishes itself only in relation to the borders it transcends. They conceived of the theater as a practice that takes place outside, with the external defining the theater as such. This reformative impulse of the third generation of directors is in line with Maska’s understanding of the performing arts, not as an aesthetic phenomenon, but as a place of encounters, confrontation, and communication between various artistic and social practices in which the presumptions of the medium itself and its borders are reflected.

The question of whether these new forms of performing arts represent a broadening of traditional art forms or the creation of new fields may, on the face of it, seem an academic one. However, it is foremost a cultural and political question. In the early 1990s, contemporary dance was subsumed under musical art, one of the most conservative arts, whose experts and bureaucrats allocated pitifully small subsidies to dance. Artists and producers got the cultural ministry and local communities to reclassify contemporary dance as a performing art. Since then, contemporary dance in Slovenia has truly blossomed. Unlike Maska, which in the early 1990s classified contemporary dance as a special field between music and performance by adding the subtitle “Journal for the Theater, Dance, and Opera,” the bureaucracy has never been able to make this crucial move. Today, we are interested in broadening the concept of performing arts into a field in which different arts, both traditional and modern, do not exist in a hierarchical relationship. At the same time, it is a field that is constantly being rearticulated.

For Whom Is the Journal Intended?

Let us conclude with the question posed at the beginning of every undertaking: for whom is the performing arts journal Maska intended? Artists? The public? Libraries? Itself? The international community? An unidentified reader, who will eventually find it?

The answer from a marketing standpoint is all of the above and even more. We have no reason to criticize this; it is simply aimed at making the publication more accessible. However, as the circle widens, we encounter a paradox: as the arena of performing arts widens, it becomes more diverse, thus making the audience for a publication of this nature smaller. The motto of neoliberal capitalism is this: if you want to survive, specialize! Be a Fachidiot or die! In the struggle for bare survival, the formula for a cultural publication is twofold. On the one hand, there is the validatory-announcement formula, a publication focused on future events, a high-quality example of which is the Parisian Mouvement. On the other hand, there is reporting, a review of current artistic events, such as the Viennese Springerin. In both instances, the publications have advertising potential. A third formula, which is no longer a European one, involves academic publications. These survive in the United States because of its well-organized and well-subsidized system of university libraries.

In all instances, it is not only about the survival of a mere publication, but the survival of an entire specialized community. If we look at the history of Maska, we see that its publication was of greatest interest to artists, and they were actively involved in putting it together. Artists need a professional cultural publication as this alone can establish them as artists. The professional and lay publics constitute themselves thorough a professional cultural publication. The publication is the unifying factor in the constitution and maintenance of a community.

Democracy is based on freedom of speech, right? The main difference between socialism and democracy lies in the conditions of reception. While socialism is based on the strict control of production and the multilayered reading, listening, and observation of carefully chosen subject matters, in democracy the selection is based on the size of the community that is shaped by a certain practice. In democracy, everyone can speak, which is why there is no one left listening.

So, we ask ourselves, as Lenin once did, what is to be done within such a constellation? Should we nurture art as the final frontier of freedom in society? Should we develop art as an increasingly separate subsystem of society, in which freedom, transgressions, and even more so, creativity, new lifestyles, and nonconformity are exercised? Consequently, should we accept that art on the whole is an experiment on which the economy will selectively capitalize, that it is a training field for procedures and practices that will never cross the safe borders of its own subsystem?
Cultural journals have always striven to be a venue of alternative thinking. It is time for them to become a venue of alternative action. Impossible, you say?


1. Maska was founded in 1920 by a “progressive” (a term used back then and under socialism) group of people from the theater world, directors, and actors. They saw the journal as the vehicle for changing and restoring theater. In the introduction to the first issue they wrote, “We must build a new human race. All nationalities build. Let’s work. Let’s build.” Maska was a place for debate, providing information about international theatrical events and artistic intervention. The publication of the journal stopped because of financial woes as well as administrative restrictions, as cast members, who wrote most of the articles in Maska, were forbidden from writing about the theater. Here the gap between practice and theory, as the constant companion of cultural publications, was caused by an institution.
A group of people from the theater world, consisting of writers, directors, critics, and others, resurrected Maska—in the plural form, Maske—in 1985. They found a publisher in an organization bringing together amateur creators at the time. The editors were the writer and playwright Peter Božič, and Tone Peršak, a lecturer at the Academy of Theater, Radio, Film, and Television. The journal was conceived as a source of informative and critical materials about the events in the national theater. A special section of the journal played a didactic role and gave practical advice to theater enthusiasts in their amateur pursuits. The journal established itself as a link between elitist theatrical production and the multitude of amateurs involved with the theater. By publishing drama texts, the journal declared its allegiance to the drama theater. As the experimental, visual, and dance theaters came on the scene, articles about the nascent transformation of the entire landscape of the performing arts gradually made their way into the journal.

2. At the same time it acted as a connector for the impossible situation we were living in at that moment. An enormous gap was created, a gap in which there was no longer a past, the present was unbearable, and the future was quickly transformed into infinite transition.

3. The most dramatic rejection happened in 1990 at the famous meeting of the IETM (Informal European Theater Meetings) network in Zagreb. It was there that festival organizers from western Europe categorically rejected not only Zenit by Dragan Živadinov but the entire Slovenian/Yugoslav production as well. That production reflected what were then massive ruptures in time through the reflection of the utopian in art, ideology, religion, and science.

[Translated from Slovenian by Bernard Pesjak]

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