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Ingo Vetter and Annette Weisser


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Carlos Garaicoa

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Bik Van der Pol

Hilary Koob-Sassen



Thinking in the house of the Balkan ‘gloc-art’

What is in common between farming techniques and art? Japan and the Balkans? They all share a common place of residence. They all live in the ‘glocal’, which is now more like a city rather than a -global- village.

‘Microcosmos x Macrocosmos’ was the title of the first biennale ‘Cosmopolis’, dedicated to Balkan art and organised in December 2004 by the State Museum of Contemporary Art and the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, Greece. Following a great number of big exhibitions dedicated to the concept of the Balkans, Cosmopolis attempted a different approach to the subject by presenting the Balkans as an alternative model of a globalised diversity.

The interrogation of issues of globalisation and postcolonialism is in line with the discourse developed by many recent international exhibitions like the Documenta 10 and 11 and the 50th Venice Biennale1. As James Meyer points out, the ‘grand exhibitions’ have now been transformed into ‘global exhibitions’ as their focus has shifted from showing the ‘best’ international work to organising themselves around the theme of ‘globalisation’ itself2. Constructed in the form of a series of events rather than a single exhibition, Venice Biennale and the Documenta have been turned into platforms for the contemporary theoretical debate on issues of cultural multiplicity, democracy and the role of the viewer in the context of globalisation.

Having the status of a ‘ peripheral’ biennale, Cosmopolis takes up a different role dictated by the representation of Balkan ‘otherness’ in the framework of a cosmopolitan culture. Instead of encompassing ‘differences’ in the international artistic framework and consequently in the global art market, Cosmopolis tries to sustain the art of a peripheral area and to ‘justify’ its existence through the elaboration of the theoretical context that refers to the place of the glocal as the intermediate area lying between globalism and localism. In terms with a long-standing ‘mythology’ on the Balkans that perceives them as the bridge between components of oppositions such as East and West, Christianity and Islam, tradition and modernity, or even, blood and honey, the general curator of the biennale, Magda Carneci, positions the area in the “second world” referring to the hybrid and impure nature of the Balkans3. She claims that in the contemporary world of “de-territorialisation and trans-culturality”, “the handicap of heterogeneity becomes an advantage”. Balkanism, as a “middle term between bland globalisation and local cultural sufficiency” could serve as “a possible model of mediation”4.

The same space in-between is also extended to Cosmopolis itself, which is described by Carneci as the peripheral biennale between the “parochial system of interests, hierarchies and constraints” and the “abstract global vision”5. The personal ‘microcosmos’ and the universal ‘macrocosmos’ create the middle space where the human being operates as connecting chain, as the ‘x’ that joins the “underworlds” and the “upper-worlds”, whereas the artist serves as the mediator between the human and the universal6. The fulfilment of the “middle space” constitutes what Carneci calls the “glocal cosmopolitanism”7.

The idea of ‘cosmopolis’ derives from the stoic philosophy of the Hellenistic period in which the old democratic organisations of ‘state-cities’ were transformed into centralised bureaucratic systems of power as a result of the conflicting identities that were integrated into the Hellenistic empire. Kant, based on the stoics, advocated a form of international legal order aiming at keeping peace and respecting human rights. In the 19th century, Marx and Engels perceived cosmopolitanism as an ideological reflection of capitalism.

The notion of a cosmopolitan culture has been developed by recent theories, like the Theory of Chaos. Isabelle Stengers, has proposed the term “politics of cosmos” with reference to the building of a City as a common home and the construction of a different cosmos for the “citizens of the world” as opposed to a global space that entertains multiple identities8. According to Nadia Urbinati however, the “theorists of cosmopolitical democracy do not simply claim for democracy ‘within’ and ‘between’ states.  Much more radically, they argue for constructing a supranational political body endowed with the power of legislation, administration, and military intervention/coercion.  Cosmopolis is a project of centralization and unification of power, not decentralization or mere cooperation”9.

‘Glocal’, like ‘global’, is a term initially used with reference to the economic system that has been developed in the period of the so-called ‘late capitalism’. In the 1970s the word globalisation appears in the USA for the first time as a reference to the American economic expansion to the world. In the same period, American sociology elaborates the idea of a globalised American perspective of democracy. ‘Glocal’ on the other hand is a word of Japanese origin modelled on the Japanese word ‘dochakuka’ which refers to the adaptation of farming techniques to one’s own local conditions. As Wordspy says, “glocalisation is ‘the creation of products or services intended for the global market, but customised to suit the local cultures”10. The word was introduced into the sociological terminology in the late 1980s by Professor Roland Robertson who used it to describe the process whereby social practices that have been shaped elsewhere are formed in particular societies with local characteristics.

The City as the centre of glocalism is a concept that has been widely elaborated by theorists in the fields of sociology and urban studies. According to Neil Brenner, in the period of the globalisation of production, the denationalisation of the autocentric national economy has transformed the territorial states into regulatory organisations in the serve of the deteritorrialisation of the capital. Supra-national organisations like the EU or the World Bank ‘have come to play direct roles in the regulation and restructuring of each state’s internal territorial space’. In that context the world cities have emerged as the centres of capital accumulation and the main agents of global competitiveness. “The term ‘glocal’ (…) is intended to describe this increasingly dense superimposition and interpenetration of global political-economic forces and local regional responses within the parameters of a single, re-scaled framework of state territorial organisation”11. The crucial role that the world cities play in the globalisation of economy is reflected in projects like the ‘Glocal Forum’, the ‘Global City’ and the ‘International Conference of Glocalisation’ organised by the World Bank and other international and local agencies and multinational corporations. The aim, as stated, is the creation of a “new balance” and the contribution to“to global efforts in building peace, stability and understanding”12.

What does then ‘glocal’ mean in terms of cultural determination? How can we define this space in-between where the Balkans seem to fit? And what exactly is the Balkan ‘Cosmopolis’?

As part of the western imagination, the Balkans live in the area between the living and the dead. The Balkan ‘vampirism’, with all the negative connotations that this idea pertained for the self-sustained independent national welfare states of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, revived in the end of the 20th century with the disintegration of the ‘eastern block’ and the nationalistic wars in the region. In the period that follows however, the ‘impure nature’ of the Balkans seems to be converted into - as Carneci says - an advantage. On their way to ‘democratisation’ that will finally lead to the integration into the global community -and the global economy- the Balkans are perceived as an entity that concentrates the characteristics of a ‘glocal culture’. Conceived as a multiethnic, multi-religious and multicultural unity, as a glocal ‘cosmopolis’, the Balkans are in fact deprived of the differences within them and they are ‘exported’ as a cultural commodity that addresses the needs of the global market.

Adapting Wordspy’s definition of glocalisation to the concept of the Balkan biennale we could say that the Balkan ‘gloc-art’ is the product of a local culture customised to suit the global market. According to Carneci, “against the ‘cold art’ of the international scene, the ‘hot’ and ‘impure’ art of the Balkans could propose its spectacularly diversified and creative formulas, often intentionally featuring an enormous aesthetic and existential Kitsch.” Moreover, Balkan traditionalism and “anachronism could complement Western ahistoricism for a more profound vision of the real functioning of the individual human self within the collective self and the world consciousness”13. Reproduced within a cosmopolitan culture, the long-standing stereotypes about the exotic and backward Balkans have found their own place in the house of the Balkan ‘gloc-art’.


1 Francesco Bonami curated the 50th Venice Biennale (2003) under the title ‘Dreams and Conflicts. The Dictatorship of the Viewer’. Catherine David was the curator of the Documenta 10 and Okwui Enwezor of the Documenta 11.

2 ‘Global tendencies: globalism and large-scale exhibition - Panel Discussion’, ArtForum, Nov. 2003 available at http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_0268/is_3_42/ai_110913973/pg_1

3 Carneci, M., 2004. “Cosmopolis: A challenge”, Cosmopolis microcosmos x macrocosmos (exhibition catalogue). Thessaloniki: State Museum of Contemporary Art, p.27

4 ibid, p.29

5 ibid, p.27

6 ibid, p.31

7 ibid, p.27

8 Latour, B., 2004. ‘On the Difficulty of Being Glocal’, anailable at http://www.ensmp.fr/~latour/presse/presse_art/GB-02%20Domus%2002-04.html. The theories of Stengers on the ‘politics of cosmos’ and of Bruno Latour on a ‘common domus’ are also mentioned by Carneci.

9Urbinati, N. ‘Can Cosmopolitical Democracy be democratic?’, Political Theory Daily Review available at http://www.politicaltheory.info/essays/urbinati.htm

10 http://www.wordspy.com/words/, quoted in Khondker, H. H., 2004. ‘Glocalization as Globalization: Evolution of a Sociological Concept’ Bangladesh e-Journal of Sociology, Vol. 1. No. 2, available at http://www.bangladeshsociology.org/Habib%20-%20ejournal%20Paper%20GlobalizationHHK,%20PDF.pdf

11 Brenner, N., 1998. ‘Global cities, glocal states: global city formation and state territorial restructuring in contemporary Europe’. Review of International Political Economy 5:1 Spring, p. 16

13 Carneci, M., ibid, p.33


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