The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons [...] who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind. — Edward Bernays
Zoom in! There are a lot of hidden messages throughout the entire page!
To look at the macro view of the SCCA Network is to see a remarkable case study in emergent behavior and worldbuilding. The initiative was at the front lines of a humanitarian movement that would decolonize the former Soviet Union and usher in a new world of free-market idealism: the aesthetics, politics, and culture of what we call neoliberalism. It is also puzzling that this story has not received the art-historical hagiography that it deserves — ironic given that one of the SCCA Network’s main mandates was the creation of archives and narratives for editorializing and saving lost histories. This is an opportunity to confront that blind spot. But more than anything, this exhibition is about the aesthetics, mechanisms, and cultures of propaganda. It is itself propaganda. All exhibitions are. This one is honest about it. The intention is to actively teach lessons learned from the SCCA legacy about the performance of propaganda as art and vice versa. The publication is both an exhibition catalogue and a field guide to tactical media literacy, and it is itself a cultural exorcism: a holistic confrontation. These are things we’ve never needed more as we ride our current information juggernaut, which seems to offer no brakes or seat belts for its passengers.
Yimakh Shemo But I am fascinated by the way we are allowed or not allowed to talk about it. There is a mystical spell from the Kabbalah that is dropped casually in conversations. It is the oldest and most important spell. You don’t hear it unless you’re listening. Yimakh Shemo. It is a powerful curse that means, “May his name and memory be erased.” It is most often said after someone mentions the name Adolf Hitler, but it is also used to blaspheme Jesus Christ, depending on the context. It is to remove from sight. To occlude. While I am positive that this is used to blot out negative phenomena, I am certain that it can be used other ways as well. Because I will tell you something: media is not just what is revealed, but it is also what is not revealed.
Mind Control “The Influencing Machine” takes its title from a diagnosis of the earliest observations of schizophrenia. Psychoanalyst Viktor Tausk documented accounts from an array of patients suffering from grandiose delusions. They each described similar experiences of their hearts and minds being taken over by an abstract and very complex system of levers and cogs and wheels influencing their minds. They were describing a prototype for a retrofuturistic computer. It was supernatural and supreme. According to Tausk, they were “influenced by a ‘diabolical machine,’ just outside the technical understanding of the victim, that influences them from afar. It is typically believed to be operated by a group of people who are persecuting the individual, and were to the best of my knowledge almost exclusively of the male sex.”
Through an objective Western lens, everything that the OSI represented was a fundamental, necessary, and morally good thing. But as we will establish in this research, the OSI and SCCA Networks are undeniably an importantly underhistoricized blind spot of influence, social engineering, experimental propaganda, and colonization paradoxically disguised as “decolonization.” And we need to acknowledge and reflect on that accordingly.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. — Arthur C. Clarke
Każda odpowiednio zaawansowana technologia jest nie do odróżnienia od magii. — Arthur C. Clarke
Zoom in to get a better look at the texts & images!
This [webpage] and the overall narrative are the result of an independent research project that has lasted seventeen years. The through line of this research has spanned my art-world career as an art journalist, gallerist, art historian, curator, and anthropologist. I will provide many first-hand accounts from interviews I have conducted, anecdotes from my experiences chasing this story, and even a brief inventory of my own experiments with the ideas I learned from it. It is therefore somehow a subjective narrative based on participatory anthropology, but one in which the utmost forensic care has been taken with regard to scientific method, art-historical rigor, and journalistic integrity. “The Influencing Machine” exhibition originally occurred at Galeria Nicodim in Bucharest in 2019. Through this production I had the incredible experience of contacting various generations of artists from each of the cities that took part in the Network, or whose sense of art was dramatically influenced by the SCCA. Now, this expanded manifestation of the exhibition continues to demonstrate that there is an informal coalition of vitally important regional artistic voices who support the telling of this story. However, it must be said that arthistorical methodology and contemporary art itself are an elite pseudoscience within culture. Despite the many worthy platforms through which we understand value and importance, the construction of narrative is highly subjective and flawed by hegemonic confirmation bias or conflict of interest. So is this research. Acknowledging that, this research will address the problematic prism that this subject yields as an opportunity to see theevolutionary path of contemporary art and the potentials for creative expression through this meta-lens. This is a prism that I believe allows us to visualize an entire history, culture, and practice of messaging and control.
Family photos of director meetings, an intimate chat between SCCA directors and George Soros, a bizarre SCCA birthdaycake consecrating the opening of a new SCCA: we are given exclusive access to the family, the tribe, their rituals, and their culture.
Disappearing HistoryThe Open Society Archive, which is made up of the Vera and Donald Blinken Archives (Antony Blinken’s parents), is one of the world’s greatest resources for understanding the humanitarian cause and the struggles of the open society. It offers a forensic understanding of the closed society and the troubling power structures and visual cultures of propaganda that ityields. It probably has the greatest archive on propaganda as a subject for research, and represents the open society’s belief and role in history as a practice.
I applied for a research grant through the Foundation to come and see everything they had on the SCCA Network from the days of the Soros Fine Art Documentation Archive, SCCA Budapest, the SCCA Network, and even C3. I was mainly interested in notes from directors’ meetings, rare documentation, and insider reference points. They were totally impressed by my request and my research, and foresaw an immediate turnaround.
And then the person replied that they have no archive for the SCCA Network history. Nothing. “We have no information on who made the choice about the documents. Suzanne Mészöly, the one-time director of the SCCA Network, might know more but she chose a totally different career track and cut all ties with the Network. Katalin Neray, who was a witness and active participant of the early years of the SCCA, died a few years ago.”
Marta Kuzma won’t return my messages. Maria Hlavajova says she can’t remember anything that far back but also doesn’t want to do any recorded interviews. She politely declined my interview request time and again.
The SCCA curators were worldbuilders who were running a laboratory. They were given incredible budgets and power to perform tactical anthropology experiments in public space, to “decolonize” public space.
Whenever I tell people about the history of the SCCA I leave George Soros’s name out very intentionally. I want toexperience people hearing the amazingness of the story. Remember, I’m pro-anomaly. The epic tale of networks and weaponized aesthetics. Marveling at Eastern Europe like I did, hearing about unprecedented and amazing conzotemporary art experiments. The moment you mention the words “George Soros” it’s like a spell. People’s eyes glaze over. Something clicks in their head. Their minds become comfortably inoculated from what’s probably a conspiracy theory about a blood-drinking puppet master. That’s in the West and if they have beginner-level media contact with the name. In Eastern Europe it’s like you’ve said the name of a very active god, and people don’t like that name spoken without the right intention.
In fact, this is the great experiment of saying his name and seeing what it does to people, if they are able to hold a coherent conversation, if they know anything about him or if they revert to superstitious catchphrases. That we are not allowed to speculate on George Soros’s motives; we must simply accept them as if from a benevolent dictator. This is a problem — that the language around him is cursed is a very toxic problem. If conversing about George Soros was less primitive, then we might not have this irresponsible aura floating over things. I would certainly be less mystical about it.
Global art without roots means nothing. / Globalna sztuka bez korzeni nie znaczy nic. — Harald Szeemann
“The Influencing Machine” is based on the true story of the Soros Centers for Contemporary Art (SCCA), a network of twenty contemporary art institutions that suddenly appeared throughout the former USSR in the early 1990s at the conclusion of the Cold War. This grand initiative had a brief intensity that radically changed how visual art and culture could be directionalized and purposed. The intention was to transition these societies into a new paradigm.
This is a recursive spiral into The Influencing Machine as a cultural condition, a dataset, a mind map, an epic scroll, a turbofolklore, and a machine pulling the levers that control our hearts and minds.
Thirty years ago, as the Soviet Union collapsed, the Open Society Institute (OSI), an unprecedented civil society initiative created by philanthropic activist George Soros, stepped in to facilitate transition in most major cities throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This non-governmental organization (NGO) helped to implement a wide variety of neoliberal educational initiatives in areas such as public health, economics, political science, and independent media. These were efforts that accelerated the path toward democracy and free-market thinking — ideals that were often naturally incompatible with the previous system. This was shock therapy. One of the more prolific ways this was done was by ushering in the most avant-garde program of contemporary art in human history, in the form of the Soros Centers for Contemporary Art (SCCA), a network established in twenty major cities across the former bloc.
The first Soros Center for Contemporary Art began in Budapest in 1990. It set the model and standard for how each successive center would be set up and even how each center would eventually transition out. The main rollout period of theSCCA Network was from 1992 to 1996, with some centers, like Almaty in Kazakhstan, opening as late as 1998.
Birth of the Network Suzanne Mészöly was the executive director and pioneering architect of the SCCA Network. She began her time with the foundation prior to its engagement with contemporary art, when it was the Soros Foundation Fine Art Documentation Center in Budapest. She was twenty-one years old. Coming from Australia in the late 1980s, Mészöly returned to her native Hungary as an exchange student, where she had a very active role in the Budapest art scene. She was part of the Újlak Group, a collective that was making apartment exhibitions and social interventions. In those early years she saw the Foundation’s potential for growth and maybe even foresaw the global art world in a big-picture way. She encouragedthe organization to directly align with contemporary art, which ultimately led to the name change.
As the executive director of the Network, Mészöly would do feasibility studies in each city, where she would often handpick people to run the centers and make up their boards. “I basically hijacked people out of government jobs,” said Mészöly. She was a preternatural talent scout. As a curator and pioneer within the field, Mészöly would curate prescient exhibitions about our media consciousness,such as “Sub Voce” (1991), “Polyphony” (1993), and “The Butterfly Effect” (1996). She organized legendary conferences about media and media theory, such as “The Media Were With Us” (1990), and conferences with the great Vilém Flusser. She was responsible for the major representation of artists from Eastern Europe at the São Paolo Bienal in 1994. And it was arguably Mészöly who ensured that Manifesta lived up to its name as a pan - European biennial. Suzy Mészöly was atthe forefront of ideas as they were emerging. She was the center of the universe. There are harrowing stories of Mészöly flying onto the tarmac of the Sarajevo airport under gunfire and being taken in an armored military vehicle to SCCA operations where, with her support, they continued planning a cultural intervention despite the war happening around them. She was at the SCCA in Belgrade when the news came in that George Soros had gone on TV to announce that he supported the NATO invasion of Serbia. At that moment she and her colleagues were uncertain of their own fates. This was a very different kind of art-world management.
When a scientific law is combined with the cause it provides predictions. When a scientific law is combined with the effect it provides explanations. In this sense, predictions and explanations are symmetrical and reversiblethrough the logic of deduction. That leaves testing. — George Soros
The SCCA legacy is most easily summed up in terms of how it gave artists access to major production opportunities, career advancements, and the internet, all while fostering new-media tendencies. This last term is intentionally vague. Today the term “new media” carries with it a nostalgic sense of the pluralistic and aspirational moment in the 1990s when technology intertwined with art. It can mean time-based art, computer art, net art, robotics, or anything with outside-the-box technical thinking. It introduced computer and telecommunications technologies into the practice of art but also had a strong theoretical side to it. Artists often didn’t make any actual money from producing sophisticated technical works, but their participation on this newly wired global stage could mean sudden attention in the art world. It notoriously led to painters dropping their brush, abandoning tradition, and picking up a mouse in pursuit of new-media tendencies.
I will restate that The Protocols are an example of black propaganda. They are THE example of black propaganda and an example of what in Russian is called aktivnye meropriyatiya, or “active measures.” Active measures is the official term used by the KGB to discuss this weaponized state of tactical measures. Active measures primarily include disinfo tactics but also encompass the culture of the “false flag,” which is essentially a “situational forgery.” Black propaganda is propaganda for which we cannot determine the origin or ever understand who benefits. It is an object that creates pure chaos and makes the people panic for action, for change, for blood. Certainly and without question, the group that suffered the most from this was the Jewish people. The danger for this story lies less in the believability but in the preconditioned desire to believe this scenario and how much we have been told to (not) believe in the possibility of this scenario. Illuminati, new world order, deep state, Bohemian Grove and the like all owe some of their mystique to a legend created by The Protocols. As a psyop, or psychological operation, The Protocols clearly understood humans, humanity, stereotypes, societal evolution, tribal fears, and thought experiments in a manner that remains enduring and problematic.
Weaponized Folklore I will tell you now two stories about the history of The Protocols. One begins late at night at a cemetery in Basel, Switzerland, on the eve of the First Zionist Conference in 1897. Twelve of the most important and influential Rabbis from across the globe, the Twelve Tribes, are meeting in secret inside this cemetery. The ceremony begins and they go through twenty-four protocols that outline a plot to take over the world. The Protocols purport to reveal a secret Jewish-Masonic conspiracy to overthrow monarchy and Christian civilization through the manipulation of wars, revolutions, and capitalism, paving the way for Jewish world domination. Each protocol identifies an aspect of society: entertainment, media, governance, economics, markets, religion, identity politics, refreedom of thought. And each Rabbi, through their diasporic governance of Sayanim, would implement these protocols to realize the master plan of a universal one-world order. Detailed notes are taken at this meeting. The tone of the text is the voice from the lead Rabbi. You the reader are led to believe you are speaking through this insider voice and the words of this supreme view. You regularly see reference to the “goyim” (what we can consider to be the actual non-Jew readership) that will be manipulated and oppressed through these protocols. The master plan has an undeniable connection to Satan or some evil supreme being. There is a thirteenth rabbi who appears at the meeting who is deemed a St Germain-type but definitely the incarnation of the Devil himself, Ba’al. He doesn’t speak much. The notes for this meeting became a manuscript that was stashed away inside the Mizraim Lodge in Paris, a breakaway sect of Freemasonry. They are stolen by a defecting freemason named Joseph Schorst, who was later murdered in Egypt. He gave the manuscript to a woman named Justine Glinka, who was related to military royalty in Czarist Russia and was also the travel companion of occult legend Madame Blavatsky. Glinka in turn passed the French manuscript on to someone within the Czar’s inner circle whereupon it disappeared. In 1903 a notorious mystic named Sergei Nilius came into contact with the document, had it translated into Russian, and released it like a plague into the world.
The Protocols The Protocols of Zion is a nefarious object in history and culture. It is the darkest and most powerful conspiracy theory, referred to more universally as the “international Jewish conspiracy.” It is forbidden to read it or discuss it. What I am doing here is officially dangerous. The Protocols is credited with pogroms, persecution, genocide, inspiring Hitler, and for ultimately forging the language of modern-day anti-Semitic beliefs. The text has a notorious viral quality, what we would refer to today as a “cognitohazard.” It acts like an earworm and, if it is not read in a certain way, it will get inside your head. And then it spreads. It should only be seen as a piece of black propaganda.
A genre of exhibitions emerged during the earliest years of the Network — exhibitions that can be credited with bringing the world the clearest and most advanced forms of socially engaged practice to date. In particular there was the revolutionary exhibition “Polyphony” from 1993, curated by Suzanne Mészöly. Prolifically engaging non-sites across Budapest, artworks in this exhibition appropriated and invented a range of Situationist tactics by hacking all forms of media and communication. One important innovation was that many of these interventions were intended to hopefully slip past the common viewer and not even be seen as art but more as medium as message as disruption. The open call stated it would “offer the artists information on available technological and material possibilities for the production of radically new forms of art.”
There is an occult problem. No one knows about the SCCA and the SCCA Network and all of this story I’ve told you. That for me is already a great big red flag. But no one really knows who George Soros is or what he does. He has become this weird weaponized cipher within culture. This section of the book will help deconstruct the folkloric conditions through which we are allowed to consider the work and the person. And in doing so visualize the aura that this cultural persona reflects back onto the work we have discussed thus far. I will only speak about George Soros through the anthropological language of folklore, conspiracy, and hyperbole because this is the rule that has been set. Take these different descriptions of the man, from the Washington Post, the New York Times, and elsewhere:
“A Hungarian-American who supports a range of liberal groups and causes, Soros, who is Jewish, has been cast as the antagonist of conspiracy theories large and small circulating on the right for more than a decade.”
“[...] Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, whose links to progressive causes have made him a far-right boogeyman both in the United States and around the world.”
“[...] George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist who has been a focus of right-wing vitriol and conspiracy theorists [...]” By negation you should naturally align yourself with George Soros. It’s a basic trick. Even if you don’t fully understand who he is from any of this, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. A boogeyman to the bad guys is an angel to us. And we, the readership of the New York Times, are by default too smart to think that this behavior could ever be that of a boogeyman or a tinfoil conspiracy theory as told on Fox News or by Donald Trump.
Whilst never penetrating any meaningful details of his work, the media leads with this as a way to trigger and short circuit the conversation. The dialogue quickly becomes disciplined around emotional flashpoints rather than critical thinking. Conspiracy theory call-out is one of the primary ways the conversation about Soros, his legacy, or his intentions, is inhibited. He is spoken about through a prism of folklore, questionable benevolence, fear, and speculation. The public dialogue around and awareness of George Soros and his legacy therefore has a very primitive and emotional quality to it. Legends of an oracle who divined the markets like a mystical Robin Hood, or maybe, just maybe, a devil. We should be able to talk about supragovernmental structures and the conspiracies they engage in without it being disregarded as folklores of the boogeyman. Afterall, conspiracy theory call-out is a diversionary tactic created by the CIA that is still in active daily use to hide conspiracies.
Polyphony - SCCA Budapest (1993)
Alchemic Surrender, curated by SCCA Kiev Director Marta Kuzma, is a profound influence on this re-enactment of The Influencing Machine and its presentation in the political framework of the Ujazdowski Castle. In 1994 in the recently demilitarized zone of Crimea, Alchemic Surrender opened a very special doorway to the weaponization of art and context. This event should only be seen as an experiment in tactical media and Public Relations and not as art or even as an exhibition at all. Contextualizing it as art is a distraction to prevent seeing its true purpose. No one saw this exhibition. Marta Kuzma has never spoken about it in 30 years.
Alchemic Surrender - SCCA Kiev / Crimea (1994)
Some of the earliest SCCA Annual Exhibitions had an unprecedented understanding of weaponizing context for holistic purposes in the name of art. These actions, unlike any prior in the history of art, were done as a means to not only confront the past but exorcise it. This pattern of exhibitions ritualized the use of sacred heritage sites or recently demilitarized zones in a manner akin to cultural voodoo. One such example is the controversial exhibition “Alchemic Surrender” from 1994, curated by former SCCA Kiev curator Marta Kuzma, the current dean of the Yale School of Art.
Weaponized Aesthetics The open call for “Alchemic Surrender” is written like a manifesto. Very likely it is written like an “ironic manifesto,” but irony does not age well, and the open call says serious things about “takeover” and “striking while the iron is hot.” Kuzma raised white surrender flags all around the boat. In naval speak, an action with these intentions is referred to as a “false flag.” Pirates deceptively used this tactic to bring the enemy in and then attack them. Imagine for one second how potent thisprank of language is in the newly divided militaristic hot zone. Ilya Chichkan, a Ukrainian Maurizio Cattelan who was the boyfriend of Kuzma at the time of the exhibition, brought in baby mutant cadavers. According to McAlister there were dozens of them. He installed them in the hulls of the ship in a cross between a fish tank and a reliquary, their forms distorted by the bulging convex glass.
This boat was theirs! Arsen Savadov and Yuriy Senchenko made by far the most memorable and possibly most iconic artwork of the entire history of the SCCA Network in their surreal balletic tale Voices of Love (1994). Seen as the great icon of ’90s art from the Ukraine, the three-channel video projection meanders through the Slavutych like a decolonizing dreamscape popping in and out of view. Naval officers dressed in tutus engage in hypnotic and nonsensical rituals treating machine parts like fetishistic talismans. Sacraments are taken. Superior and inferior are the same. This is now a new kind of family. This exhibition is the recursive Trojan horse that “The Influencing Machine” is modeled upon.
The term czarina is used in multiple accounts of this project as a way to describe Marta Kuzma. It is a way, of course, to describe the behavior of Kuzma as someone who is a girlboss, a culture manager, someone who is beyond reproach in their decisions. And she is an inspiration for leading that character through such an incredible feat of diplomacy, bureaucracy, and exhibition-making. According to Tatiana Kochubinska, during this time the word “curator” in the post-Soviet territory is associated with KGB men. Such a radical exorcism of post-Soviet space would likely create such associations.
I will hazard to say here that this was not an exhibition but a superstitious ritual to desecrate this power structure for political activism.
For all of the work involved to launch this unprecedented exhibition on an active battleship in the Crimean Sea, once again the grand Annual Exhibition of the SCCA existed for two days with a press preview and a private opening. Who was this for? With bombast, the New York Times covered “Alchemic Surrender” with a big photo spread. According to interviews withSavadov, none of the artists who participated in this exhibition ever saw or received the incredible catalogue that was produced. The effect of such a PR campaign has multiple beneficiaries and helps to further a very specific narrative about power structures. While this project remains for me the most radical use of context and directionalized artistic practice, I do not think of this as an exhibition at all, but rather a militaristic deployment of art as a weapon.
Broadening of Mind
The SCCA Network Infographics from Ole Hantzschel allow us to visualize the totality of the Network and its emergence throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The first map shows the 20 locations that existed along with the lesser-known 4 that didn’t.
NGO art is art that infiltrates the fringes of a community in the name of art. It is art acting as an active limit tester. In the case of the SCCA Network, NGO art takes the form of experiments in tactical anthropology that use ideas of tactical media (hacker, situationist, advanced technology to infiltrate media, political discourse, internet). It uses advanced notions of context by using sacred historical sites. It encourages artists to work with fringe demographics (institutions of interest to the NGO movement such as insane asylums, Roma communities, disabled communities, factory workers, orphanages). It engages passersby and uninformed publics with experiments in situational media.
It is art and practice using bureaucracy as a conceptual/tactical material. It promotes a specific brand of identity art found in pro-EU/nationalism, Western identitarian activism, and neoliberal values. Within this there is the arguable use of art as a communication technology for “decolonization,” which in turn results in widespread neoliberal colonization. The rise in biennial culture only served as a delivery mechanism for the new NGO art and the new open-society curators. Today the emphasis on socially engaged practice within curatorial education and the art world at large borders on cult-like fanaticism.
I would identify NGO art as art funded by an NGO. It should not be confused with the Western idea of a not-for-profit gallery or public institution, despite the tendency to make that mistake. NGOs are proxies of governmental and corporate interests. In America, the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center are prominent NGOs who are active in social spaces and helping to define hate culture. Big tech are the world’s NGO gods. In Eastern Europe, NGOs represent a supragovernmental structure that controls interest in media, political lobbying, and the practice of everyday life.
Duona ir druska [Bread and Salt] - SCCA Vilnius (1994)
Curator side note: While it declared itself to be a socially engaged exhibition, Bread & Salt was criticized for not being socially engaged enough.
‘An artist`s critical relationship with the society, his vigilance towards even small signs of historical and everyday changes, the expression of existential everyday themes not only through a myth or an archetype - this is the theme of this exhibition which again draws attention to the “bread and salt” of life. Apart from the forms of abstract plastic expression, a critical, psychological and informative or even didactic figurative art finds its proper place here. The works are free of any stylistic, genre or material restrictions. ‘The public engagement does not mean the dominance of apocalyptic prophecy. For the East and Central Europeans, humor has always been the main means for the survival at one’s home; therefore, it is quite natural that here it serves as one of the means of analysis.’ - Raminta Jurenaite
It’s chaos we’re going to cause. And I hope it will be a productive one. — Geert Lovink
The SCCA Network landed all around Eastern Europe like a UFO. A synchronized network of asymmetrically powerful change agents with profound intention. Considered through the lens of social biology, the arrival of the Network was point zero: the point at which a socially engineered virus was injected into a community. This was a community that already suffered from a rotating hegemonic inferiority complex, a kind of geopolitical Stockholm syndrome. Take us to our leader. This time the antidote was a solid weaponsgrade dose of freedom and democracy — not from American imperialism but a neoliberal corporate entity. The indigenous society rippled and adapted their culture in accordance with these new sacred traditions.
CarbonArt - SCCA Chisinau (1995)
The Network essentially created three kinds of artists. There were international biennial artists who did the NGO dance best and presented their regions in an aspirational European patois, a universal artistic language. They would likely speak great English and be able to mingle within any international art scene. Then there were the local limit testers who put on whatever hat the open call requested and embraced the new conditions. They were part of a new wave of technology or trends and yet might not be as accessible to an international audience. And then, beyond the periphery in outer darkness, there were those who were not included in the art-of-the-open-society dialogue, who we learn almost nothing about due to a practice of exclusion. They were either part of the open-call process and rejected, or were holdovers from the preexisting art world.
Could one argue that at some point in the mid-1990s, the SCCA Network, with all its facilities, financial power, focused training in avantgarde practices, and network cohesion, might have been more advanced than the organically networked West? Especially in terms of internet usage, philosophies, and applications?
The complexity of the world in which we live exceeds our capacity to comprehend it. Confronted by a reality of extreme complexity, we are obliged to resort to various methods of simplification: generalizations, dichotomies, metaphors, decision rules, and moral precepts, just to mention a few. These mental constructs take on a (subjective) existence of their own, further complicating the situation. — George Soros
Orbis Fictus - SCCA Prague (1994)
Antisymmetry According to the Anti-Defamation League: A person who promotes a Soros conspiracy theory may not intend to promulgate antisemitism. But Soros’ Jewish identity is so well-known that in many cases it is hard not to infer that meaning. This is especially true when Soros-related conspiracy theories include other well-worn antisemitic tropes such as control of the media or banks; references to undermining societies or destabilizing countries; or language that hearkens back to the medieval blood libels and the characterization of Jews as evil, demonic, or agents of the antichrist. Even if no antisemitic insinuation is intended, casting a Jewish individual as a puppet master who manipulates national events for malign purposes has the effect of mainstreaming antisemitic tropes and giving support, however unwitting, to bona fide antisemites and extremists who disseminate these ideas knowingly and with malice.
There is an artist contract from the SCCA Moldova that stipulates that funding cannot be used for creating political influence, propaganda purposes, for interfering with a democratic election, legal processes, lobbying, or for promoting a particular political agenda. This contract is a great way to protect the Network if anyone should audit their intentions in the future. In this way the artist has been contractually advised to not make a political artwork but instead to create a political artwork. No one can stop the free will of the people.
In this case we are looking at an “immaculate conception” — the first point at which the creative energy is released (or rather controlled). This model puts the artist in a position in which they must produce art according to what the Network wants, otherwise they might not have their work accepted and their career will not advance. When you frame that against something like an organized religion that is sweeping the nation, it’s easier to understand how one might compromise oneself in order to walk the righteous path, thus becoming indoctrinated.
Artwork in Public Spaces - SCCA Prague (1997)
Magical Capitalism What interests me about this idea of antipolitics is this supposedly neutral zone that purports to not be influenced by the political energies of good and evil but only wishes to show “the way.” We give many different highly contested institutions in culture this flexible space to be a neutral “medium,” something that is free of dualism. Money, money markets, media, the internet, social media, search engine algorithms: all are supposedly neutral surfaces through which the truth emerges or energy is merely evidenced within. They are of course the tea leaves of modernity. To make this research all the more vulnerable, but again to demonstrate the seriousness of my own approach to creating a spectrum, I propose the following. I believe much of this tactical media zone is historically used as a liminal zone of consciousness where clairvoyants, numerologists, oracles, and the like make observations with divination. I would relate this to channeling, mediumship, and the intuitive impulse.
Collective consciousness, for anyone who has done group meditation, knows there is something more than your own energetic frequency in that collective setting. Socially engaged practice could truly have some nextlevel spiritual technology potential. Imagine the humanitarian superstitions at work in Hands Across America or the Baltic Chain of Freedom. I believe there are magical patterns in this story. I’ll say it out loud. Eight is the magic number. George Soros’s philanthropy and fortune is distributed in groups of eight. There should have been twentyfour SCCAs. The SCCA logo has sixteen squares. Executive Director Suzanne Mészöly’s office, the Quantum Fund investment group, and the Open Society Foundation office are located at 888 7th Ave on the 33rd floor. Anyone with beginner Freemasonry knowledge gets that joke. This office building was made by an important Freemason, Emery Roth, who made many of the classic skyscrapers in Manhattan, including the Twin Towers. Just saying.
All magic talk aside, this is one of the greatest human social experiments ever performed. I don’t believe this was ever just an NGO. I think that’s a simplistic way to talk about it, which undermines its scope. Open society operations are a vast pyramidal network. We have to zoom way back. It’s a meta-NGO, with many layers and systems that overlap and interlock. We’re talking about internet systems, lobbying organizations, think tanks, coercive philanthropy, media networks, cultural networks, university networks, and, of course, art worlds. It’s the convergence of a religious movement, a multi-level marketing pyramid scheme, a machine-learning model. It is very political and it is definitely aspirational. Let’s call it “The Influencing Machine.”
New Media Topia - SCCA Moscow (1994)
curator and new media art expert Kathy Rae Huffmann. Speakers included theoreticians and experts Lev Manovich (USA), Geert Lovink (The Netherlands) and Erkki Huhtamo (Finland). Common topics to the exhibition and symposium spanned video art, virtual reality and media archeology.
New Media Topia was part of an educational and curatorial initiative by the SCCA Moscow to support the development of new media art in Russia. The Moscow New Media Art Lab (1993-94) was a mixed theory and practice course for artists in preparation for the final exhibition New MediaTopia, led by artists and critics from the local SCCA network. New Media Logia (November 1994) was an international symposium curated by art critics Olga Shishko and Tatyana Mogilevskaya, artist and animator Anatoly Prochorov, and American
The Media Are Not With Us While we have spoken at length about new media and tactical media, the “media” is a very important subject in all of this. It represents the prism through which you will be allowed to interpret this book you are holding and the various anomalies and histories of tactical media it has provided you with. Watch closely how they metabolize this story. Whether they allow the content to emerge or whether their effects are chilling. Look for how they will inoculate the readership with the “real story.” They will provide strategies for perception management. Media is not just what is revealed; it is also what is not revealed. It is a place of situational forgeries. The media space is a pathologically and paradoxically folkloric space. Operating as a cipher in culture, a lens through which we scry reality, the media represents the true evil eye. It is the watchdog trying to protect us from what we want and instead showing us what it thinks we need. The media’s original purpose was to keep power structures in check on behalf of the average human. To speak truth to power, voice to corruption, to the people, for the people, and by the people. Democracy dies in darkness. The media is now a corporate entity owned by telecommunications companies, by oligarchs. Verizon owns the New York Times. Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post. Elon Musk owns Twitter. Tech giants own the voice of the people now. Your voice. This is the real influencing machine. This is a class war. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Pune Ochiul - SCCA Chisinau (1997)
Naming is the most powerful weapon that this book can teach. We have always known about the power of giving words to something, a feeling, a symptom, a problem. Naming it allows it to become a controllable object. The spell is cast. It also allows us to see patterns, stereotypes, truths. And with naming, there is also, equally important but less understood, unnaming. The ability to convince people that a word or phenomenon doesn’t exist. It’s a trick from Foucault. The way woke culture came into existence openly through liberal vernaculars of “awakening” to the matrix of injustices, is later spearheaded in the media as the “paranoid fantasy of the right wing and something that, let’s be honest, doesn’t exist, am I right?” Naming is also the crucial weapon in sectarian call-out culture. Someone is a Nazi, a racist, a libtard, a boomer, an anti-vaxxer, a rotating archetype for my hate. Or think about the Nword, C-word, and B-word. What is this game we are playing? It’s not hygienic or holistic to play with dark energy or hide it or weaponize it in this way. When you hide things, dark ecologies for example, they fester. You can’t control them. Silence is violence in that way.
Oblivescence How quickly we forget context through progress, accelerated by adapting. History really is an elaborate fantasy. Hollywood is a circus mirror of PR for governments, oligarchs, and rich lobbyists. Diane Weyermann just died. Katalin Neray is dead. George Soros will die any day now. Based on the silence of the many significant protagonists who might tell their side of the story, this story is being allowed to disappear. This is standard operating procedure for any problematic historical event: let the witnesses die quietly. A pride of historians will crawl over each other to lionize this effort once the final second opinion has been eliminated.
This story is esoteric, from the far corners of the Earth, and occult in that it is hidden from the eye. And yet it is probably the most significant and influential story in the history of modern and contemporary art. It’s arguably where we formalized the language of the curator, the globalization of the art world, and the understanding of art’s ability to perform actions such as decolonization and socially engaged practice, actions beneficial to the open society. By turning the prism we can see how much it means today.
The story is a complex tale about neoliberalism and the purposing of contemporary art. It’s about NGOs making art that influences the world. I believe it is the most important untold tale from art history ever. I offer you here a holistic intervention given against all odds. This is a cultural exorcism to give you, the lowly consumer, some empowerment where there was none.
Color Revolutions Discussing tactical media literacy, conspiracy theories, and the legacy of George Soros wouldn’t be complete without mention of the “color revolutions,” the slow but steady gush of revolutions that followed 1989 and led to the opening up of different closed societies. Each of the revolutions is tinged, however, with the idea of astroturfing. The rumor exists that these uprisings of the people might have been artificially encouraged, accelerated, or even created by NGO groups, the CIA, NED, and their influence. The Bulldozer Revolution in Belgrade, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan. Each came to change the regime with a scripted branding campaign. Russian military intelligence view the color revolutions (tsvetnye revolyutsii) as a “new US and European approach to warfare that focuses on creating destabilizing revolutions in other states as a means of serving their security interests at low cost and with minimal casualties.”
Depending on the location, the SCCA program had a five-to-ten-year shelf life. The latter years were referred to as the “sunset years,” when, as quickly and suddenly as they had come, they would exit. The Network would downsize the budget annually with the notion that the centers would begin to stand on their own through the knowledge and infrastructure they had acquired. And by then, a new generation of philanthropists would hopefully step in to take responsibility. The SCCA Zagreb and the SCCA Ljubljana, among others, successfully transitioned into independent operations and prospered, to become the leading institutions of their respective art worlds. For others, that was not the case. They shut down in slow motion, becoming shadows of their bombastic beginnings. Art worlds would remain problematically divided in their wake. In many ways the 1990s are a formidable blind spot in cultural consciousness. Now the histories of the SCCA are fast disappearing, just like the histories they had stepped in to save.
What Was Art? I always had this question about what was art in all of this? What did art mean for the SCCA? For the OSI? I know there is a way to talk about it through meditations on Karl Popper, fallibility, and the uncertainty principle. The art of the open society. Please read the Esanu book for this abstraction into rhetoric. I will be very unromantic and say that I don’t think this was art at all. We should stop using that word, as it misrepresents the gravity of this. Hides it even. Art was an experimental communications technology for the Network. In the same way that the Network was looking at the internet, art was this technology that couldn’t quite be controlled, that had the potential to create irreversible openings into democratic frameworks of communication and also reveal some interesting new things about social engineering and perception management. Artists don’t do this autonomously. GOs and NGOs do. Art is civilization’s last Green Zone for madness. It appears to be the last acceptable zone where we voluntarily play tricks with the mind and the eyes. It is a place where no one is shy about embracing the placebo effect, becoming a guinea pig, or willingly putting their life in the hands of a crazy person. It’s the ambassador of the shamanic unknown that you invited in the front door like a Trojan horse. For me, and I think the same is true for the Network, Eastern Europe was always this place where you could run around with a chainsaw and no one would stop you. Call it “art.” There was no reference, no way to contextualize it. This is the crucible where language is formed, where aspirations become transcendent, where context is a battleground, and where avant-garde is survival.
The SCCA QUARTERLY highlighted the cultural activities of the Soros Centres for Contemporary Arts.
- zoom in to get a better look at the catalogue.
In 2002 Suzy Mészöly sat down for an interview with Dr. Nancy Rosanoff on “The Listening Place,” which aired on Pleasantville Community Television. The low-fi public access talk-show setting is a comedic contradiction relative to the power she wielded across Eastern Europe not so long ago. Rosanoff introduces Mészöly with a gossipy but marveling question: “You were a corporate executive, you had the life of a jet-setter. How did you get from there to being this amazing vibrational healer.” Suzy replies, “Maybe I was betrayed. My job, my reputation, and everything was taken from me, and it was horrible to think of how all of this international community would think of me. And my close friends who were also colleagues were the ones responsible for that betrayal. And people that were my friends for so long and who I knew through the art world were suddenly ignoring me. Maybe that was the first thing that happened. The experience felt like layers of my skin coming off.”
Today Suzy Mészöly lives near Woodstock in upstate New York. She is a medicine woman and a New Age healer. She does Reiki healings, psychic readings, and sound baths. She leads shamanic ayahuasca retreats in Peru.
I took my close friend, filmmaker and longtime collaborator Mike Morrell, to her home in August of 2019. We went with a full documentary setup to get her life story on camera. We spent a week there collecting fifteen-plus hours of footage. It was one of the most generous, inspirational, and creatively generative moments I’ve ever had with a subject. Mészöly is a known medium who channels the Master Teachers, a quorum of “ascended masters” who speak directly through her. She does programming for the Temple of Understanding, a United Nations religious organization blending the world’s religions into a One World Religion. She is a leading expert in UFO and conspiracy communities, having given considerable coverage to the Montauk Project and the Montauk Boys, a covert government experiment in time travel and pedophilia. She believes she was also a child who was involved in the Montauk Project. She told me in confidence that she had sexual relations with an actual reptilian being and had advanced knowledge of 9/11.
Right Wing Contemporary Art Museum
Barbara Kruger’s famous work Your Body is a Battleground is a symbol of sacred proportions in Poland. The poster appeared on the streets of Warsaw during the Women’s Rights Movement in 1993 and was a very visible message in the postsocialist visual landscape. Written in Polish it now carried an entirely new value for the community and this moment in history. But it doesn’t merely say the iconic phrase, the work is now doubling as a marketing ploy for the “Womens’ Rights Dept”. The work reappeared again in 2020 when there were rollbacks on abortion rights. This is one of the most influential Western contemporary art works in the history of the region.
Kruger was invited to speak at the castle in 1992 and had an exhibition there in 1993 when the work would have been conceptualized for the Polish context. Its appearance at that key moment in time was a coordinated effort created by the museum and Kruger. The museum has this work in the collection. Presenting it here allows a great chance to recontextualize it within The Influencing Machine as a tool for propaganda. Alas this work was suddenly withheld from the exhibition due to political circumstances but it is nonetheless important to address its status as a case study.
I was told by everyone close to me, including artists in this exhibition, as well as employees of the museum, that making this exhibition in the Ujazdowski Castle context would cause a natural reaction that would summarily dismiss everything you have read above as a right-wing anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. And I would like to preemptively address that, invoke it even. Because the information we have gathered above, including all of the great vocabulary words, allows us to apply these concepts in a different way, in a way that is now about the mechanics of “perception management.”
Is the Soros Foundation’s future interwoven with the future of the region where it operates? What will happen with all the infrastructures and financial strategies of the Open Society Institute after the disappearance of George Soros? Will they turn anonymous, like other similar operations? Will NGOs become the substitutes of governments? And you start to develop a feeling about the Kafkian atmosphere of a structure too randomly oppressive to be understood. One on top of the other, the partial conclusion could be that you became part of (another) organization which values principles more than individuals. This might sound unfair when you think about the presence of the foundation in such terminal places like Bosnia, Chechnya, Albania. But history is beyond human scale and therefore beyond the understanding of the individuals. What individuals perceive is their discomfort and their immediate needs. What history is about is all vectors, forces in conflicts, global equilibrium, etc. All concepts. Using them as matter for one’s activity is tempting, because it gives the feeling of substituting God. But it is also risky because, except God, nobody is exempt from failure. - Călin Dan
An exhibition about the legacy of The Soros Center for Contemporary Art Network and the impact of the NGO Movement on the visual culture of Eastern Europe after The Cold War
Inspired by Alchemic Surrender and the creative practice of its curator Marta Kuzma, The Influencing Machine is an invocation of her 1994 exhibition in all senses: recursively as a ritual, as a trojan horse and as a curatorial experiment. In the name of art I, Aaron Moulton, have engaged in covert and overt measures which would normally be seen as acts of tactical media, ritual magic, active measures, or disinfo psyops; I have done this as a way to pay conceptual homage to this overarching stor of the SCCA Network and to give necessary credit to the under-celebrated story of Marta Kuzma’s great exhibition.
Entering The Influencing Machine is entering at Point Zero. Your body, your identity and your mind is a battleground. Ciprian Muresan’s animated sculpture shows the process of writing history played out through the live-action drama of sectarian slapstick. Surrounding the action hang the e-deology flags from Joshua Citarella. Kazahkstani artist Yerbossyn Meldibekov’s monumental sculpture Gattamelata (2007) is inspired by Donatello’s iconicsculpture of the same name, a work which has defined the genre of the equestrian monument. And Meldibekov has just chopped it off right at the ankles as if there is this direct-action glory of dethronement and real carnage as a result.
Exhibition Themes Exhibitions are like scrying through a prism, each artwork offering a new angle within the collective whole. Together with crystalline arithmetic, these angles transmit an idea or a theme. I see this as no different from tea leaves, I-Ching, AIalgorithms, astrology, or casting hot lead into water. Some people are better than others at reading these signs. To see the pattern can open a real door that everyone knew was there. And while an art exhibition doesn’t seem like a place for healing, it is in fact a portal and a place for energy alignment. Imagine it like an altar and a superstitious ritual. The cumulative power of these energies will have a grand effect.
The Influencing Machine has many themes that it would like to convey. Each gallery in the museum is somehow a mirror of ideas learned from the Network, from its legacy and how that plays out over time within the feedback loop of theGlobal Art World. These themes are meant to be experienced like stages in a cleansing process.
This is the point in the story where philosophy turns to applied practice. I will show you art from across the Network,throughout Eastern Europe (and the world), from past to present, case studies and anomalies in material form. We will experience ideas in an unprotected way. Galleries will be like aspirationally traumatic dioramas, where, like with a Museum of Tolerance or the Church of Scientology museum about psychiatry, we confront the ghosts, sensations and auras of this history. It is art history, cultural history but also, importantly, a history of tactical measures in aesthetic form.
With high production music videos and gifted songwriting, Dorian Electra uses the punchline talking points of politicians and the media to craft sinister tales of our contemporary reality. My Agenda is a video inspired by an Alex Jones conspiracy theory claiming there is stuff in the drinking water that is making frogs (and maybe people) gay. Is the video a joke? Now there is more publicly available scientific research (previously hidden by lobbyists) to suggest that Jones was maybe not wrong after all. The actual flag from the video hangs in the gallery like an artifact alongside a discrete package of red and blue horny pills from another music video called Ram it down.
Tactical Media Literacy Lab & Archive
This gallery is an inundation of data in a spiraling form, the fast-beating heart of The Influencing Machine itself. This is a zone of paranoid mind maps, archives and history emerging from the same soup. Tactical media experiments, art as propaganda, active measures as art; it is a place where conspiracy shifts from theory to cultural practice. The strength of this room is the intensity of messages and messaging – a symphony of noise. The room and its contents are recursive and self-referential. This is an echo chamber where Tactical Media Literacy merges with the legacy of the Soros Center for Contemporary Art Network. This is also the gallery that brings our story into the present moment. It allows the viewer to see how these strategies and tactics of influence evolve over time and reappear in next generations of culture, art and practice.
If you read The Protocols there is even the reference to the “symbolic serpent,” a snake eating its tail which will coil around the capitals of Europe and then squeeze. I didn’t make this comparison; I was told by Dr. Fiona Hill to see it. And this is the game: You see Bigfoot. He’s right in front of you, based on everything you see and what you know about what Bigfoot looks like. But you are told by the ADL that if you see Bigfoot standing in front of you then you are anti-Semitic. In fact it goes further: anyone who even tries to entertain the idea that George Soros is a boogeyman, despite being told that he is daily by the media, needs to question their allegiances, prejudices, and stereotypes. Because despite what you see, you are wrong and you could be pariah-level wrong. Tactically speaking, this becomes an inverse or derivative of pseudo-ostension.
David Dees is the original conspiracy theorist as artist. His nefarious visions of plots to control our minds go back over a decade. Photoshopped tableaus tell sci-fi horror stories about GMOs, Antivaxxing, 5G, Illuminati bloodbaths, adrenochrome, Chemtrails, NATO as a devouring octopus, Flat Earth, the media as disinfo laboratory, false flags, etc. Before “awakening” and “woke” became synonymous with blindness, Dees was extremely open-minded to ALL possible narratives, rendering them with psychedelic rigor. Dees died in late May 2020 during the height of the pandemic lockdowns and on the eve of the George Floyd uprisings - a perfectly Deesian moment. Despite his being forbidden online as a dangerous imagemaker, he remains a singular and important influence for the visual languages of 4chan, radical meme cults and conspiracy theory as a visual culture.
I don’t think anyone truly believes in blood libel. If they do they are not in their right mind. The recent folklore surrounding adrenochrome, a plasma elixir made from prepubescent blood — the literal stuff of vampires — does play heavily with the Pizzagate conspiracy and generally with the overall beliefs of QAnon. Certainly in the history there will even be legitimate moments of ritualized bloodletting through a bris, also known as metzitzah b’peh, the orgogenital (mouth to genitals) suctioning of blood from the penis of an infant male following circumcision. Or something else that has been misappropriated for this story, about which I won’t waste any more time here. Let’s be serious. Blood libel is absurd and we should make fun of it actively. But I think it’s strange to include blood libel. It’s sci-fi. And to put it into this grouping of other things addressing conspiracies of control is a tactic to make all of them seem equally absurd, implausible, and synonymous.
MEMRI is an archive dedicated to documenting the media of the closed society in certain Arab nations.
Dull Dawn (2018) is a concept commercial by artist Constant Dullaart, Mike Morrell and Aaron Moulton. The project’s aim is to tap into all of the shadow economies defining our era of fake news and paranoid social media: disinfo, Like farms, bot armies, troll farms, text farms, psyops, tactical measures. When realized in 2018, this project was made for a world where disinformation culture of the time hadn’t found the words to understand itself. Cambridge analytica was recent news. Fake news was still something that people believed Trump may have made up. Our path towards insanity and resistance fatigue was only just beginning.
Meet Wojak, he is the perfect representation of the mediocre white liberal known also as an NPC (Non-Player Character). Wojak makes perfectly average spectacles of virtue signaling just like all of the other NPCs who think they are making unique decisions in sync with the choir. He goes with the flow until science doesn’t provide the facts that support his political opinion. Then he melts down because how could anyone possibly not think like him? Jacob Broms Engblom uses neural network GANs to make complex portraits of images as they flow through the prism of an Artificial Intelligence. They feel like a squishy halfway point between the human brain and Internet consciousness. His portrait of Angry Wojak is a swirling horde of psychedelic pink-faced rage showing someone broken beyond repair who didn’t get their way.
For The Influencing Machine, Filip Kostic has transformed a powerful site of childhood memory into his own pirated version of the popular video game Fortnite. Entitled Fortnite: 007 Merciful Angel, the game shows the Belgrade city blocks where he grew up during that fateful moment when NATO bombed the city. Though he didn’t experience the actual event, it is a history that has defined his identity folklorically. The urban plan is as faithfully forensic as memory allows which means crystal clear surfaces punctuated by vague impressions or nothing beyond that fence. Kostic has spared nothing from the game designer’s quiver: burying easter eggs, magic strings, and inverting rules.
Kostic takes artistic license to tell his country’s history with a new voice of the people: Turbofolklore. Creating his own Marvel Universe, he unveils a classic new character who would parachute into any city in the cover of night with a license to kill. The name is Popov, Duško Popov. Popov was a Yugoslav double agent and the primary inspiration for Ian Fleming’s character James Bond. Complete with moves like the Dab and the Floss, Popov is a master of tactical warfare and an agent of chaos. Will he rewrite history before it’s too late?
A bookshelf contains the most complete library of SCCA catalogues, books about the histories of tactical media, the global art world, socially engaged practice, art as activism, art as psyops.
Each item on the timeline shows the emergence of the SCCA logo. This logo that has been a continuous voice speaking through the exhibition. We see it here for what it really is: a great metaphor for the template, the modular system, the manual, the institutionalization of the avant-garde in graphic form.
The second map shows a timeline that illustrates the fast-spreading of socially engaged practice through the Network’s Annual Exhibition program over a short time. Here we see the anomaly, the concept of Point Zero and how this artificially advanced curatorial practice was implemented in an unnaturally synchronized manner.
On the walls, tables and shelves is a pulsating timeline of artifacts, documents and infographics. It maps the SCCA Network, the anomalies of emergent behavior and the overall emergence of culture from the Network.
The film is set atop an incredible archive from Bratislava’s official photographer under Communism. Every ribbon cutting, patriotic parade, factory worker lineup, or official relaxation (such as the arrival of Punk) was shot through the lens of this man.
In her masterpiece Exercise (2008) Lucia Nimcova shows an epic reenactment of bodily memory. Inside intimate living rooms, work spaces, or community centers of the former East, each citizen channels a ritual of exercises they performed daily until the opening up of society. It reads like an Orwellian workout tape for past-life regression.
The next gallery of The Influencing Machine is full of archetypal remnants and specters of the fallen regime, the Closed Society in the face of Disaster Capitalism. What goes up must come down in this place of monument therapy. Here we see the physical and psychic frontlines of the advanced guard as limit tester, as change agent for the Neoliberation. Art therapy and conversion therapy intertwine with works that address a spectrum of Ostalgia, unbecoming, theories on forgetting and transitory aesthetics. Desecration is consecration.
As an artifact we can now call “NGO Art”, the Bruce Lee of Mostar was not a heroic solution in the end. The monument would be vandalized time and again for facing the wrong side of town with its fight stance. With Bruce Lee of Mostar (pink version), Fijolic steps in with supreme problem-solving skills, putting the hot pink martial artist on a rotating pedestal allowing the perfect directionalizing of his energy.
Before you is the Bruce Lee of Mostar (pink version) by Ivan Fijolic. This object is both case study and artifact for understanding the legacy of the SCCA Network. It represents a paradigm shift in monument culture, referred to by artist Aleksandra Domanovic as“turbo sculpture”, that occurs in Eastern Europe, particularly in the Balkans but is definitely visible as an emergent phenomenon throughout the region. Historical and cultural monuments are replaced with the ephemeral pop stars of the West, a new church of consumerbased icons of the free market were born.
Sectarian communities struggled to be united in postwar environments, especially those of the recently former Yugoslavia. And in a place like Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina, a place divided ethnically and geographically by bridges and rivers, there was nothing that the Bosniak, Croat and Serb communities could come together on. No icon or narrative was free from the blood of the neighbor’s brother. Through the Soros Center for Contemporary Art in Sarajevo a consensus was achieved. Who is someone who we can all celebrate?! who represents an aspirational step forward in the face of diversity?! Bruce Lee!
The “Tulip Revolution” in Bishkek is captured on camera and operatically synched with the tempestuous soundtrack of “Hall of the Mountain King” in Krygyz artists Gulnara Kasmalieva & Muratbek Djumaliev’s frenzied film Revolution (2005), a movie that leaves you hungry for change now at any cost.
In Heavy Weight History from Christian Jankowski, the artist reveals the physical impossibilities of preserving history. Polish bodybuilders wrestle to lift the weight of enormous public sculptures who they prove incapable of keeping in the position of power.
The Riot Shield Paintings of Serbian Ivan Grubanov bang like drums. You can feel the tension of bodies crashing against one another and against these surfaces.
The fist, the universal sign for human uprising from caveperson to Black Panther, looms large enough to smash you. The symbol is a fundamental branding component of any serious revolution. Its presence echoes in this room. But relax, it’s just a large soft inflatable, a work entitled “Either way we lose” from Anetta Mona Chisa and Lucia Tkacova. Welcome to Point Zero.
[Srdja Popovic wrote the] little red book From Dictatorship to Democracy, itself a tactical media guide to nonviolent resistance, played a fundamental role in the formation and actions of Otpor!. The little red book has been translated into many languages and is banned in just as many countries. Inside it lists 198 “non-violent weapons,” ranging from the use of colors and symbols to mock funerals and boycotts. Designed to be the direct equivalent of military weapons, they are techniques collated from a forensic study of defiance to tyranny throughout history. Rumored to have CIA involvement in its creation, the little red book is seen as a cognitohazard by autocratic regimes. TSA will not let it in the country. WARNING: Reading causes color revolutions.
This precarity of the avant-garde is mapped out with an accountant’s precision in the work GastARTbeiter from Luchezar Boyadjiev. Playing off the German expression for the Turkish guest worker culture that brought many ablebodied Turkish people to Germany in the 70s. Boyadjiev sees himself and his labor on a precarious frontlines of working class. The avant-garde is not fun and it certainly by Boyadjiev’s calculations does not looked profitable. One of this more successful stints of his career is forensically documented and after all of the residencies, travel, honorariums, per diems, fees, flights, biennials, dinners, etc etc. He walked away with almost zero profit.
Anetta Mona Chişa & Lucia Tkáčová have made a practice out of invoking the hard stereotype realities of the Eastern European artist as witch, revolutionary, hustler, trickster, sex icon, subversionary, and shaman. How to Start a Revolution (2008) charts the path of the successful radical artist like a menu of transgressive etiquette. Communist Red spray paint on a Coca-Cola red wall show that the struggle is real. The room becomes an immersive zone of the Red Pill.
In late capitalism, when men turn 20 what are their options? All of this avantgarde energy and impulse seems to only crash more and more into a wall revealing a vulnerable society without opportunities. Anxiety, boredom, anger, and spiritual hunger all drive the path towards radical and even fundamentalist terrains. Joshua Citarella and Jacob Hurwitz-Goodmanmight possibly have an answer. Their three-part trilogy entitled When Guys Turn 20 (2022) offers a short but incredibly punchy, even at times aspirational tourism through an otherwise dour landscape of failed and built-to-fail stereotypes of masculinity. Citarella dons multiple wigs of archetypes, memetic role players, boogeymen who have been unabombers or supreme gentlemen, a blade runner, a Chad, an Incel; each psychotic, nefarious, legendary, viral, macho, and toxic: this is all masculinity is supposed to be though correct? Citarella invokes these stereotypes with profound empathy and intention.
Nearby Labor and Capital have a clear conversion value in their piece All Periods in Capital from 2007. The seminal book by Karl Marx has been filtered through the bean counter, each moment of punctuation converted into a small handmade black ball, more than 22,000 sentences of commodified ideology.
Halo Effect Regarding the “halo effect,” Calin Dan states, “Generally, all analysis of the Soros Foundation’s activities are based on two truisms: either speculating on the conspiracy side, or emphasizing the mediocre conflicts streaming behind an imposing facade. The episode of ‘breaking the pound’ is relevant in that sense: Soros transformed the media coverage of this event into an open advertisement of his philanthropic activities, claiming that what he took from the pocket of the British taxpayer went into projects supporting the more-in-need societies of Central-Eastern Europe.” Through sleight of hand, in very large international high-stakes forums such as the transitional space of the former Soviet Union, we are able to imagine the positive and necessary qualities of this. The “halo effect” shields philanthropy and provides protection from the evil eye. Look at any of the American oligarchs who have used art as a karmic weapon to enhance their wealth and “good luck.” Did we only just learn that the Sacklers had created an incredibly efficient opioid epidemic when Nan Goldin did a little intervention? No. Anyone with Google knew all along. These are what are called “institutions” and “traditions” under capitalism. And as with Jeffrey Epstein or Harvey Weinstein, it was never a good moment to say anything until their reputations were in decline. Only then did the surprised outrage follow. However, those problematic systems often adapt to their benefit. Unless engaged in unpredictable whistleblowing, the press is almost always part of a PR campaign, especially in art and definitely for oligarchs. These people and behaviors are very enabled. They are powerful. This use of art in late-capitalist culture is indisputable. It is called “art-washing.” As progressive call-out culture has evolved, “woke-washing” is now the latest way people and corporations perform acts of semiotic shamanism that make you look away.
Utah artist Jon McNaughton is the quintessential Right Wing Contemporary Artist in America today. His paintings can be found in the homes of elite newscasters from Fox News. His practice applies the painterly craft of Thomas Kinkade through the bullhorn of Breitbart Media. Hyperrealistic paintings create allegories of paranoid right-wing fantasies with President Obama burning the Constitution, a dragonslaying President Trump or the powerlessness of the common human. Produced for The Influencing Machine, McNaughton’s painting of George Soros entitled The Investor shows the philanthropist against the tatters of the American flag, a sinister smile and generous wallet funding the nation’s decline. Here Soros is perfectly imagined as the boogeyman the media has folklorically defined him as.
Socialist Realism was seen as a subservient form of creative expression intended to aggrandize the dictator or the state’s message — a means to control the transcendental aspirations of the nation, of the artist. This was embodied in classical paintings of the Dear Leader or the proud worker in the field. It was the aesthetics and materiality of the Closed Society. With Globalization and calls for an Open Society, a Good Samaritan came with the geostrategic zeal of a missionary, a mystic merchant offering an alternative form of aspiration to save the common human. Like a Big Brother, he directed them to the hopeful dreams of Magical Capitalism, a spiritualized alchemy of culture and finance. He worked across these lands to sow his seeds of enlightenment unconcerned with social consequences. Through this applied therapy we can become stronger together. Bringing Neoliberalism to the frontlines of the Culture War, he would take measures to assure that no one could have a greater philanthropic impact than him. In his native tongue of Esperanto his name meant “will soar”. This man was George Soros.
We should be able to better visualize his image and celebrate his name in relationship to visual culture. He hedged an enormous bet on contemporary art’s promise for the region. This section of the exhibition is a pantheon of portraits dedicated to this patron saint of the Open Society. Each artist has taken great care to imagine his image in a manner that reflects his energy, his vision, his message, his culture, his aura, his face. In the following slideshow a selection of works explore the pursuit of individual identity through his vision.
“Soros Realism” is the unofficial label given for a type of identitarian art coming from the SCCA Network. This would be seen as a replacement to the identity restrictive aesthetics of Socialist Realism. Artists of the different regions would represent their identity conceptually as a kind of ethnographic self-othering. Despite the region’s new independence, national or rather “nationalistic” representation was discouraged, as was anything optimistically nostalgic of the USSR. Imagining the aspirational self was to see the path forward as part of an ambitious European whole — a necessary evolution. This room is about the paradox of identity from the individual points of view. In this space the anthropological authority of the mirror folds in on itself to reveal real, imagined, and projected complexities of the self. Conversations about nationalism, patriotism, globalism, sovereignty, conformity and submission all echo within this feedback loop.
Roma artist Daniel Baker works regularly with reverse-glass painting to produce hauntingly reflective results. The luster triggers a very basic human response to the ‘shiny’ as innately valuable, a classic trope of Roma aesthetics. Using artisanal fonts, Baker creates whole vocabularies of language around seeing and being seen, object and subject, who is naming who; often riffing hard on his own identity as gyspy, as traveler, as ultimate “other”.
“An Artist Who Cannot Speak English Is No Artist” were the famous words stitched on Serbian Mladen Stilinovic’s iconic artwork of the same name. While not an artwork in the exhibition it remains a looming reference for adaptation among many generations of artists.
A sobbing intensity of black text begs Please Don’t Leave Me!, written in Ukrainian Cyrillic. A bare bulb burns raw in the middle.
János Bruckner has bravely taken on the ideologies, philosophies, and special languages of the newest racial pseudoscience: Critical Race Theory. He has studied and listened with open ears and an open mind and embodied this new philosophy faithfully and with empathy. Created and institutionalized through corporate America’s human resources culture, CRT is the current lingua franca for decolonization. Bruckner is very realistic and profoundly sincere in exploring himself as a Hungarian male who despite being the “colonized” is merely white according to a simple colonial eye.
Coming from Bucharest, Mihaela Minca is the most powerful witch in Europe. Together with her three daughters (Anda, Casandra and Ana) they are the most wellknown coven in the world. They have had media exposure across all channels and been the subject of many recent documentaries on witchcraft from VICE to CNN. They are recently famous for their effort to change the course of European politics, regionally in Romania but also throughout the European Union. They do this through magic rituals and superstitious traditions. In addition to being orthodox Christians, they are ambassadors of the Roma’s undying faith in energy work and Pagan traditions, traditions that make up the incredible fabric of the European Union and its people. In their eyes, God put all of this energy on the Earth – the good and the evil – and Minca and her coven use white, red & black magic to steward all of God’s energy as their fateful duty to humankind.
In the name of grand cosmologies, Ciprian Muresan gives us a conceptual artwork with a Gods-eye view. The artist has taken the famed novel Auto-da-fe from Romanian author Elias Canetti and scattered the book’s phrases throughout Europe like a cut-up poem.
In 2001 Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture reimagined the European flag and how it represents Europe as an image. Taking the essential colors of every member countries’ flag, they lined them side-by-side to assemble a vibrant barcode. Over time the flag has grown to accommodate new membership countries. The EU barcode remains one of the most inclusive ways to imagine this complex rainbow of nations. Corner to Corner, the flag runs the longest length of wall in this gallery, creating a cathedral of Eurocentric togetherness.
Painted in an intoxicating European Union blue, the next gallery should be experienced as a spiritual altar. Contrasted with the Red Pill gallery from before, the terms “red pill” and “blue pill” refer to a choice between the willingness to learn a potentially life-changing truth by taking the red pill or remaining in contented ignorance with the blue pill. The blue pill is here taken to religious conclusions. This gallery is a sacred alchemical space where the aspirational desires of a new world order are celebrated.
Pseudo-Ostension / What if the hoax was that it was ahoax? / Proto-ostension, quasi-ostension, and pseudo-ostension are important ways to sanctify an unexplained occurrence into a sacred one. Each involves glitches in perception when one is confronted by something unexplained and potentially supernatural. Quasiostension occurs through someone witnessinga natural occurrence and then misinterpreting it to be from legend, e.g., a Bigfoot sighting. Pseudo-ostension is someone actively perpetrating a hoax or legend for the purpose of it being interpreted as a paranormal event, e.g., dressing up likeBigfoot and walking near a campground. And proto-ostension is when someone declares an event from legend to have personally happened to them. For both the “witness” and the people who hear the story, these actions trigger contagious moments of collective belief, a hysteria that relaxes one’s ability to believe in the supernatural. The term “ostension” was popularized by Umberto Eco, with Foucault’s pendulum being the story of a pseudoostensive series of events occurringthrough the invocation of an occult document. It creates what we can call a “situational forgery.” I believe that pseudo-ostension is the mother of all tactical media and it is used regularly by the media, Hollywood, the intelligence community, and ourselves to tell us the narratives we need to hear or that we have been preconditioned to desire. Pseudo-ostension is fake reliquaries, Jesus’s crown of thorns, yellowcake, Okhrana making a satanic worship lair, or Dad dressing up like Santa Claus to give the kids a furtive but magical glance, something that could successfully inspire a near-fundamentalist belief for years to come.
🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃 Welcome To Spooky Castle! Set inside Warsaw’s infamous Ujazdowski Centre for Contemporary Art, Spooky Castle is a totally real and not meta-parody TV show that will shake your bones. 🔮🔮🔮🔮🔮🔮🔮🔮 Audiences will witness a live-action cultural exorcism inside the art world’s first Right Wing contemporary art museum. Like a telegenic altar finding it’s true purpose, the TV show ritualistically uses the Aspirational Union (Au) gallery of The Influencing Machine, an exhibition about art as propaganda. 👻👻👻👻👻👻👻👻 Don’t be scared; these are merely ghost stories for our modern era. Are they conspiracies or are they theories?! Neither! This is art history. 😈😈😈😈😈😈😈😈 Enjoy this tasty teaser of Halloween recipes to get your mouth a watering and your spirit cooking. Don’t touch that dial, we are going to haunt this house. It’s Spooky Castle time. ☠️☠️☠️☠️☠️☠️☠️☠️ Video made in collaboration with: @ja_ak_rtgr@abbeypusz Production: @srszstk With help from: S.U.S. Shifting Uncertain Situations (Jak Ritger + Clack Auden) Thank you: @u_jazdowski@mihaelamincaofficial 🧿🧿🧿🧿🧿🧿🧿🧿
Why Tell This Story Now in 2022? Because it is extremely intriguing. Because in 30 years no one is properly telling it and it’s being allowed to disappear. Because it fits neatly in a history between Abstract-Expressionism for the CIA and our age of memetic warfare. Because politics and perspectives around this subject have evolved in unforeseen ways from then to now. Because this is not about art nor was it ever. Because it’s the great Rorschach of our times. Because it is not a simple matter about good or evil even though we’re preconditioned to believe it is. Because perception management and consensus control is everything. The exhibition is a reflection of cultural practice in a mirror that has never seen itself. It is a celebration of the avantgarde in its most experimental form. It reveals contemporary art as a true battleground for beta-testing radical ideology. Where the contemporary artist is an awakened activist. Where institutional critique is a form of well-branded lobbying. And where avant-gardes can be scripted. It is a portrayal of perception, network and control. This is The Influencing Machine.