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WHY THE 1980s?

A seminar organised by L’Internationale Online, Museu de Fado, Lisbon, April 18

A seminar organised by L'Internationale Online, Museu de Fado, Lisbon, April 18

In the framework of the symposium When Were the Eighties?, April 10–21, co-organised by Ana Bigotte Vieira (IFILNOVA, IHC/FCSH/UNL e CET-UL), Érica Faleiro Rodrigues (Birkbeck, University of London), Giulia Bonali (Birkbeck, University of London), Luís Trindade (Birkbeck, University of London), Marcos Cardão (IHC/FCSH/UNL), Tiago Monteiro (IFRJ), Instituto de História Contemporânea, Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas – Universidade Nova de Lisboa.

Not only When Were the 1980s? could be seen as one of the very first efforts to critically scrutinize the Portuguese 1980s, but also the ways in which that was being done were quite open. Having as a starting point the acknowledgement that it is usually difficult to identify the exact moment when enough time has passed in order to start writing the history of a period, and that, in this sense, the proximity of the 1980s makes it particularly problematic and challenging', When Were the 1980s approach assumed that it is still not possible to speak of the '1980s' as an autonomous object of study with the same degree of specificity with which, for example, many historians refer to the "1960s", or even the "Long 1960s",1 as a period with well recognizable transformations and chronological limits.

More than twenty years after the end of the decade, that period is usually associated with the political and economic hegemony of liberal values and the development of consumer cultures in western societies. In Portugal, as well as in other countries recently freed from authoritarianism, these phenomena were experienced as part of a wider feeling of political emancipation and followed by processes of European integration that have produced a strong political, economic, social and cultural impact. Here too, key moments in recent Portuguese history, such as the beginning of the colonial wars in 1961 or the 1974–75 revolutionary process, are easier to situate historically in longer time frames than, for example, dates like 1983, when socialists and social-democrats formed a governmental coalition, 1985 and the beginning of "cavaquismo", or 1986 when the country joined the European Economic Community.

Meanwhile, a mounting nostalgia around different phenomena from the 1980s has recently erupted, particularly around youth culture, pop culture and the audiovisual system organized by television, all emergent cultural fields at the time. These returns to the past may be helpful for a better definition of what the period means in Portuguese social memory, but the feelings of nostalgia with which they are usually expressed become particularly problematic in the current context of economic crisis affecting Portuguese society. According to these forms of memory, the decade emerges as a period of political relaxation after the extremes of dictatorship and revolution, on the one hand, and as a moment of social openness to ways of life more compatible with other European countries, on the other hand.

However, this same context of crisis has also proved a unique occasion to question the country's political system and, even more importantly, the social and economic models followed in last forty years, and in particular since the 1980s. This may be a good opportunity not only to revisit the 1980s more critically, but also to identify decisive historical phenomena and situate them in more rigorous chronologies.

Such an approach involves both the opening of cultural phenomena to its relations with politics, society and economy, and the inclusion of historical phenomena transcending the 1980s, either with their origins in the post-revolutionary period, or beyond into the 1990s. Accordingly, the cycle aims at opening up the period to cultural history, cultural, film, theatre, literary and music studies, contributing not only to open the 1980s as an autonomous historical period to research within several disciplines, but also to interdisciplinary perspectives in order to fully retrieve its political and social complexity.

With the backdrop of a non-linear chronology, When Were the 1980s? proposed, thus, a congress structured in open call, along with a set of activities where a critical and sensory revisiting of a series of spaces, practices, images and products 'of the time' took place: music sessions with live comment, TV marathon, walks around pivotal 80s places, cinema and debate. At stake there was an effort to both map out critical non-nostalgic researches being currently done, and to collectively investigate the foundations of our current moment – opening up perspectives, by setting up the conditions of possibility for a conversation on our recent (traumatic) past to take place.

By watching 1980s TV together or listening to 1980s music collectively there was an urge to enact the powerful social experience these kinds of media endorse and to collaboratively investigate their sound, images, historical context and emotional resonance, while at the same time having fun.2


This panel discussion is organised by members of the editorial board of L'Internationale Online, the recently developed online platform where research and debate related to the current project of the confederation L'Internationale takes place.

Panelists that are coming from some of the members' institutions of L'Internationale will reflect on the contemporary readings of the 1980s, each from their perspective and related to their actual research projects, drawing parallels and differences among them. Broadly speaking, the 1980s can be identified as a key moment in the definition of contemporary Spain, as the beginning of a new era in Eastern Europe, as a period of the expanding of the new models of the welfare state in Belgium and Netherlands, and the shifts in public sphere that emerged as a result of the 1980 military coup in Turkey which introduced new possibilities and new ideologies that prioritized micro-politics. The panel will offer observations on the emergence of new civil and social movements, new subjectivities, new aesthetic framework, contemporaneity that moves beyond modernity and postmodernity, and on the transformation of the central role that contemporary art played in the official culture of the new regime, gradually becoming part of the general social imaginary. Simultaneously, and in an ambivalent relation to the official scenes, a number of subcultures emerged, which mixed visual, musical, and literary productions without high-culture prejudices. Another point of discussion will be dealing with the crisis and political, social and cultural changes today, by learning and revisiting similar situations in the 1980s, where in capitalist countries crisis in the 1980s meant recession, unemployment, the crisis of growth, of the welfare state, and in the Eastern Europe it meant the inability of the socialist systems to carry out economic reforms, and in the political arena, a crisis of the one-party system.


12h. Steven Ten Thije, Jesus Carrillo and Nataša Petrešin Bachelez, Presentation of the L'Internationale confederation: the five-year programme The Uses of Art – The Legacy of 1848 and 1989 (UoA) and of L'Internationale Online


14h WHY THE 1980s?

Moderators: Jesús Carrillo (Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia), Nataša Petrešin Bachelez (L'Internationale Online/KASK), Luis Trindade (When Were The 1980s?)

Panelists: Miran Mohar (Irwin group/ Neue Slowenische Kunst), Nav Haq (Museum of Modern Art, Antwerp), Merve Elveren, (SALT, Istanbul), Rosario Peiro, (Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia), Ana Bigotte Vieira (When Were the 1980s?)

14h – 16h

Miran Mohar, member of the group Irwin and former member of the NSK, retrospective exhibition about NSK. From Kapital to Capital, Moderna galerija, Ljubljana

Merve Elveren, SALT (Istanbul), project How did we get here?

Rosario Peiro, Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia (MNCARS, Madrid), exhibition Minimal Resistance

Nav Haq, Museum of Modern Art, Antwerp (MHKA), project Energy Flash – The Rave Movement

Ana Bigotte Vieira, symposium When Were the Eighties? (Lisboa)


16h15 – 17h15 Final Discussion


NSK: From Kapital to Capital. Neue Slowenische Kunst, an Event of the Final Decade of Yugoslavia
12 May – 17 August 2015, MG+MSUM

NSK from Kapital to Capital is the first retrospective exhibition of the NSK art collective, with a special focus on the transformational decade of the 1980s in the former Yugoslavia. In the final decade of the slowly unravelling Yugoslavia, when only lip service was still being paid to its system of socialist self-management, NSK loudly and clearly proclaimed the emperor naked – from Laibach's first poster action in Trbovlje in 1980 to the collective's last coordinated series of projects in the early 1990s, entitled Kapital.

On the basis of the fundamental principles set out by Laibach in the 10 Items of the Covenant in 1982 (that "all art is subject to political manipulation, except for that which speaks the language of this same manipulation" and then charting the programme for the latter), the NSK groups and departments developed, over the 1980s, a consistent artistic method: a retro approach to making art, based on the denial of individual artistic freedom, originality, and authorship, and advocating the idea of tactical quoting, repetition, and the dictated readymade. This approach seemed consistent with the spirit of the 1980s and their mania for citation, yet the work of the NSK groups countered that at the same time with its clearly articulated method, consciously developed terminology, and precisely defined aesthetic and political goals, which put it outside the canonized approaches to historicizing art in the 1980s.

NSK did not aspire to be dissident art. Appropriating the dominant political and art languages of 20th century societies it adopted an apparently affirmative approach. Also not interested in improving the existing social system through critique, it strove for more radical change, which could only be achieved by playing upon people's consciousness through performative tactical manoeuvres, the retro method, misleading over-identification to achieve de-identification, and through unmasking the economy of pleasure, on which every ideology is based.

The speaker at the conference will be Miran Mohar, one of the constituent members of the NSK collective, also being part of the theatre and later Irwin and New Collectivism group.

How did we get here?
Autumn 2015, SALT

The 1980s in Turkey is marked both by the legacy of the powerful military regime, instituted originally with the 1980 coup, and the government's economic regulations forging close ties with global finance. How did we get here? focuses on the conflicts and alternative collaborations that came to light as a result of the consequent shifts in power struggles that still resonate today.

Neo-liberal reforms of the 1980s not only contributed, by means of foreign capital inflow, to economic growth; but attempts to integrate Turkey fully into global order, transformed everyday practices, urban planning, and private life. The government's remodeling of the country led to continuous urban renewal projects, and as advertising flourished, in response to newly imported brands, so did aspirations and practices of consumption, inciting a rapid restructuring of the traditional class system. Economic flexibility and its outcomes within the society collided with the repressive atmosphere of the post-coup era. It was only by the late 1980s that civil society took an active role in democratization and advocating change to the status quo. As everyday life transformed into a battleground for politics, new emerging groups of the period, such as socialist feminists, environmentalists, gay rights activists and academicians, began collaborating in order to critique the state prohibitions and recast the political order. SALT's How did we get here? project intends to map this struggle and help trace a core for the current conflict at this turning point in Turkey's history.


1989. Archive: Murat Çelikkan.

Minimal Resistance
October 16, 2013 – January 5, 2014, MNCARS

In this selection of works from its Collection, the Museo Reina Sofía took a close look at art produced in Spain and abroad during the 1980s and 1990s.

Minimal Resistance centred on the search by artists for new spaces of resistance in a globalised world, and examined a series of dualities that polarized the period dealt with, from the global economic crisis to financial capitalism, from the potential of the collective to the recuperation of the myth of the artist, from interventions reclaiming public spaces to discourses revolving around memory and the body, from a form of theatricality that emphasizes staging and architecture, to performative languages and relational models, and from the rehabilitation of traditional genres to the appropriation of images from mass media and mass culture. These tensions, which were very much a sign of the times, translate into a multiplicity of overlapping practices and discourses, and into a renewal of the art codes and languages that come from the perception of modernity as something past.

This exhibition encouraged dialogue between pieces that, for the most part, have not been shown in the Museum, as they were recent acquisitions and deposits. Taking the inevitably fragmentary nature of the starting point of all contemporary art collections as a given, this was only the first view of a series of new presentations of the Collection planned for the future.

Energy Flash – The Rave Movement
2016, M HKA

Rave culture from the 1980s and '90s was arguably Europe's last big youth movement. For those who felt failed by both capitalism and the state, rave operated as a third kind of space, borne of the desire for an alternative life or "counterculture", built around the latent energy of electronic music. Raves themselves were autonomous zones – spontaneously organised concentrations of people that formed their own logic based on the collective, possessing extraordinary qualities that transgressed race and class. After first emerging in the UK, closely followed by Belgium, and then Germany, Netherlands, France and beyond, rave parties drew participants that regularly numbered in the tens of thousands. Significantly, it also provided the conditions for one of history's densest periods for the diversification of music. Nav Haq will discuss the exhibition that he is developing for MuHKA in 2016, which will consider the rave movement across Western Europe and beyond, along with the social, political and economic context that led to the advent of rave. Additionally he will consider the ramifications for civil liberties following legislation by various national governments to criminalise rave culture.

For a periodization of the "Long 1960s" see Fredric Jameson, The Ideologies of Theory, chapter "Periodizing the 60s", 1988.In this sense, a proposal such at the TV Marathon organized during the cycle When Were the 1980s? has a parallel in events such as Collective Listening, Collective Liberation at Interference Archive in NYC, even though there is no direct relation between the two events.For a periodization of the "Long 1960s" see Fredric Jameson, The Ideologies of Theory, chapter "Periodizing the 60s", 1988.In this sense, a proposal such at the TV Marathon organized during the cycle When Were the 1980s? has a parallel in events such as Collective Listening, Collective Liberation at Interference Archive in NYC, even though there is no direct relation between the two events.

The views and opinions published here mirror the principles of academic freedom and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the L'Internationale confederation and its members.