reede, märts 26, 2010

About X-OP

X-op people in front of Apartment Project, one of venues where get-together took place in Istanbul

This article provides short a overview of X-OP network, based on issues and experiences that occurred during meeting in Istanbul. Written by Maarin Mürk, originally for Estonian cultural weekly Sirp (read in Estonian from here), translated for Artishok by Madli Mihkelson.

In the beginning of November 2009 another meeting of the X-OP network took place in Istanbul. Officially (, X-OP is presented as a "constantly growing network of artists, researchers, coordinators and organizations, who aim to create trans-European platform for reinforcing mutual collaboration, interdisciplinary approach to art and creating collective artworks among European initiatives". X-OP (exchange of operators) was founded in the year 2008 and is funded by European cultural programs for three years. Moks, being the only Estonia-based member organization of this network, was also present in Istanbul.

hEXPO as a prologue

In 2000, in Slovenia a festival called hEXPO ( place and that event can be viewed as a prelude to X-OP. It was a festival of international self-organizing cultural formations that made an attempt to bring together "independent" and "alternative" initiatives. The festival lasted four weeks and was distributed between three cities (Maribor, Ljubljana, Koper). By that time it was clear that mister Soros was pulling his money out of Eastern-European region and all organizations still dependent on this source had to start thinking about survival in the post-soros era. Self-made network as a common front would have helped in the search for solutions.

It was the first big attempt to create a common platform for self-organizing initiatives but it failed due to internal conflicts. One of the organizers John Grzinich (also one of the central figures in Moks for some years now) has said(1) that the participants still distrusted each other and were reluctant to cooperate. But postfactum the festival gained legendary and even mysterious reputation and the main organizers were in close contact even after the event, still chewing over the initial purpose of hEXPO. Until several informal meetings grew into rapidly expanding euro-project called X-OP.

Who is X-OP?

The network connects and brings together nine European organizations-initiatives, all with very different profiles: MAA, a small alternative art-school form Helsinki; Media in Motion - a platform for video art and -production in Berlin; center for art- and social practices from Estonia called Moks; artist-run-initiatives Apartment Project from Istanbul and Egon March Institute from Slovenia; massive platform for art and technology from Prague called CIANT, assembler of lectures on digital culture - Transforming Freedom from Vienna; Museum of Modern Art Rieka from Zagreb; Polytechnic Institute of Tomar and last but not least multimedia center Kibla from Maribor, the principal member of the network. It is important to note that Europe has a contract with only this organization and remaining organizations in turn with Kibla.

The main question that arises in X-OP is how to get all these different organizations to work together. When talking about euro-projects we usually think of large sums of money and complicated bureaucracy; X-OP is no exception. Smaller and bigger organizations have essentially very different problems. As a leading organization Kibla dictates the functioning of the network, but this leaves the problems of smaller and less established organizations out of focus. Typically to self-made practices X-OP sprang from the personal relations between the core group members, many of them had been organizers of hEXPO. However, many organizations that joined later, have looser personal ties with the aforesaid. Due to all these factors, internal communication has an utmost importance in the development of X-OP and in whether it remains a passing project or grows into a larger network.

What does X-OP do?

The most visible output of the activity of X-OP has been a series of meetings, symposiums and cooperation projects including partner organizations, formations actively connected with them or mediated by them. Regular meetings are accompanied with small symposiums organized by the hosting organization. In Istanbul (host was Apartment Project) one could see various concerts, screenings and presentations by members and colleagues they had invited to perform.

Being a member of X-OP doesn't oblige to change organizations’ habitual functioning – the money they receive (which of course increases considerably their income) can be seen as a reward to initiatives that have already proven themselves. Still, in return every organization is compelled to initiate events and meetings more often and on a bigger scale than before. In addition, as kafka-like European bureaucracy requires planning the events further ahead, flexibility can no longer be a keyword to the functioning of the network. All organizations must become more structured, transparent and functional. It turns out to be a bigger challenge for smaller participants, who haven't inculded full-time assistants or accountants to their team. These forced rules may therefore be perceived as very confining and as a threat to their self-organizing image.

The burden of establishment

Griznich has said, that the practices that X-OP was meant to unite, were born from the necessity to create something outside the existing systems. But what happens when an initiative of this kind turns into a proper establishment? Members of X-OP in its present form have certainly done that and on a massive scale. It wasn't initially intended, so how to deal with it now? It certainly corrupts the romantic self-image - instead of avoiding the system, it has created another and even more complicated bureaucratic version of it. Procedures that seem useful to some are pointless to others. All such cases need to be thoroughly discussed. For example there is no consensus on how bureaucratic the meetings should be and whether it's more important to expand the network or should the system keep on functioning as it always has – pretending that it’s not a part of official European cultural policy.

Inscribed conflicts

Most of the problems that arise within these organizations are due to the dual nature of self-organized artistic practices On the one hand they are organizations, on the other creative units. The image of a talent being smothered by having too many management errands to run, keeps the artists from diving into the role of organizer.
This becomes increasingly difficult in the X-OP network though. But it needs to be pointed out that the sense of „becoming overly bureaucratic “ is often just a prejudice and an emotional resistance; in reality all the members are already functioning as organizations. Still, the resistance is strong enough to make one wonder whether self-organizing practices could ever be capable of uniting into a bigger and more transparent network. The case of hEXPO shows that bringing such initiatives together to form one unified network, might not work after all.

In conclusion

If one would ask any of the member organizations, what is the purpose of X-OP, he would likely get nine different answers, probably bearing some similarities, but also revealing much surprising. My opinion is that X-OP is above all an experience. The experience of being exposed to the huge machinery of the cultural politics of the European Union. It’s also a lesson in cooperating with partners who we don't have personal relations with and in many cases we fail in trying to make them. Participating in X-OP is a chance, especially for a small organization to think things through. It also presents a possibility to change their habitual artistic practices. The breaking point will likely come on the last year of this three-year project. Though it is conceivable that the project continues, there will probably be many changes in the participating organizations.

(1) Interview to MMürk, summer 2007, notes on property of author

Maarin Mürk is art critic and researcher, member of Moks board

Spontaneous lecture. Everything gets recorded and archived for future generations

Moment from official meeting day

Trying out ironing that produces also sound art (visiting special exhibition)

3 kommentaari:

jgrzinich ütles ...

Did you ever publish the article I wrote about hEXPO?

Unknown ütles ...

No John, I never did. I planned pdf compilation about self-organization in Estonia, but never finished it. Although I have used interviews done then in quite many other writing. Im thinking maybe to do second round or revisited version, because some pieces are very good!

Anonüümne ütles ...

this is quite a one bit statement, that "hexpo had failed". maybe the author of the text (and / or the informer) should check around for other sources of "evaluation", and reflect the notion of "failure" a bit more.

therein you can find the contemplation about the same hexpo failure idea in a more illustrative way ...

very recommended to expand understanding of what failure is in the case of self-organization ...