Küba: Journey against the Current | May 1–September 9, 2006
Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria

MS Negrelli
Photo: Michael Strasser | © Bildrecht, Vienna, 2020 | TBA21, 2006

Aboard the converted container barge Negrelli Turkish artist Kutluğ Ataman’s award-winning film installation Küba traveled 1,500 kilometers up the Danube River. A geographic space with specific social, political and cultural contexts unfolded; at each stop – in Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia - a new artwork specifically commissioned by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary was presented in dialogue with Ataman’s original installation.

Küba is a community of men, women and children who live in one of the most notorious ghettos in Istanbul, a shantytown slum that began life as a hideout for left-wing militants and other outsiders in the late 1950s. Since then it has developed into a cohesive society, presenting an impenetrable solidarity to the outside world. Today, its mostly Kurdish residents range from a petty criminal who steals in order to follow his obsession to collect pigeons, to a married woman and mother to two children who secretly is in love with somebody else, as well as to the community leader and political refugee. Their makeshift houses, built from scrap metal and soil, stand in the shadow of a twenty-first century megalopolis. It is a marginalized place that has learned to make do.

Filmmaker Kutluğ Ataman spent more than two years getting to know Küba’s inhabitants and filming them talk. Their stories are presented on old television sets as part of a 40-person audio-visual installation. In front of each TV is a chair, allowing only one viewer per set. Seen individually, from voice to voice, their soliloquies present a detailed mosaic of humaneness: terror, tragedy, love, obsession, resistance, survival. Seen together, the voices of Küba present a deeply moving communal portrait of the hidden society that they are proud to call home. Matei Bejenaru, Nedko Solakov, Želimir Žilnik, Renata Poljak, László Csáki & Szabolcs Pálfi, Anetta Mona Chisa & Lucia Tkácová, Emanuel Danesch & David Rych were invited by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary to react and respond to the questions, contents and issues of Ataman's Küba with independent projects and works within the context of their own own socio-political environments. "All art in the former Eastern Bloc countries is inextricable from the specific context of its place of origin and develops out of these political perspectives." (Zoltán Sebök).

The invited artists speak in different tongues about minorities and invisible communities, their migrations, histories and memories, and the survival skills learnt to protect their identities and self-representations. Their works foster important connections in a formerly disconnected part of the world and their own stories and histories. For two months now, Küba: Journey Against the Current has kept track of parallel metaphors: exhibition and journey, stillness and movement, local presence and international connections. This journey has opened itself to unpredictable and unalterable forces: in May the Danube basin experienced devastating floods, bringing the Negrelli to a 3-week standstill and acting as a catalyst for a series of humanitarian aid projects. Whereas the linear and geographically determined direction of the river journey at the heart of Küba: Journey Against the Current seems to project a trajectory of mobile interventions in various locales, it is in fact the notion of layering and the idea of coexistence that has informed the structure of the project.

By juxtaposing the particularities, as formulated in the seven projects developed for the purpose of this project and each focusing on the specifics of a locale, the project does not confine itself to one single meaning nor rest on simple correlations, but rather "open(s) new possibilities for analyzing discursive productions of social and political reality as complex, contradictory processes." (Joan W. Scott) Thus, small things, marginal stories and seemingly irrelevant events unfold into alternative paths through the past and present, opening gaps in monolithic memories, reversing our perspectives represented by hegemonic narratives, valorizing a return to the personal and lyrical encounter with the everyday over the discursive and critical investigations of an apparently obsolete postmodernism. By seriously addressing the change of traditional trajectories, we wish to create these sites of enlightened debate on what contemporary art means today, and may perhaps give direction to how we think of, write about, and exhibit contemporary art.
Küba: Journey against the Current
Edited by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary

With texts by Konstantin Akinsha, Sorin Antohi, Iara Boubnova, Sezgin Boynik, Boris Buden, Gabrielle Cram, Branislav Dimitrijevic, Ivaylo Ditchev, Marina Grzinic, Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, Natasa Ilic Kristian Lukic, Boris Ondreicka, Zoran Pantelic, Irit Rogoff, Zoltan Sebök, Daniela Zyman

182 pages, ~ 200 illustrations 
Graphic design: Thees Dohrn, Philipp von Rohden / Zitromat, Berlin
ISBN: 3-9502064-0-X
May 1 –September 9, 2006
Constanta (Romania), Rousse (Bulgaria), Novi Sad (Serbia), Vukovar (Croatia), Budapest (Hungary), Bratislava (Slovakia), Vienna (Austria)
Kutluğ Ataman, Matei Bejenaru, Lászlo Csáki and Szábolcs Pálfi, Emanuel Danesch and David Rych, Anetta Mona Chisa and Lucia Tkácová, Renata Poljak, Nedko Solakov, and Želimir Žilnik
Küba: Journey Against the Current is taking place during Austria’s presidency of the EU and has received generous support from

Wiener Städtische Versicherungsverein