The Igor Zabel Award for Culture and Theory 2014

Russian art historian, writer and curator Ekaterina Degot wins the Igor Zabel Award for Culture and Theory 2014. In addition to the award in the amount of EUR 40,000, three grants, each of EUR 12,000 are being given. The jury granted the art theorist and curator Karel Císař from Prague and the art historian, poet and translator Miklavž Komelj from Ljubljana. The laureate, Ekaterina Degot, gave the third grant to the Russian activist, writer and translator Kirill Medvedev for his publishing house, Free Marxist Press.

Jury 2014:
Keti Chukhrov, philosopher and art theoretician (Moscow)
Apolonija Šušteršič, artist and architect (Ljubljana)
Rainer Fuchs, and the curator and deputy director of mumok (Vienna)

The award ceremony was held on 6 November 2014 at Viennese Secession in a setting designed by the Austrian artist Josef Dabernig. In the afternoon, the prize-winners presented themselves at a conference, whose motto “Continuing Dialogues” was borrowed from Igor Zabel essay. It took place at the mumok and the prize-winners gave insight into their work in conversations with the jury members.

Laureate 2014

Ekaterina Degot is an art historian, art writer, and curator based in Cologne and Moscow. She has taught at the European University, St. Petersburg, was a guest professor at various American and European universities, and is currently a professor at the Rodchenko Moscow School of Photography and Multimedia. From 2008 until 2012, she was senior editor of, an independent online magazine of art criticism and cultural analysis. She is currently the artistic director of the Academy of the Arts of the World in Cologne.

She was honored with the Igor Zabel Award for her prolific interdisciplinary work in critical writing and curatorship. Degot’s work focuses on sociopolitical and aesthetic issues in Russia and Eastern Europe. In her writing, she has reconsidered many issues pertaining to the Russian avant-garde, has researched concepts such as realism, formalism and modernity in early socialist art and culture, and re-interpreted it to extend and apply them to contemporary art practices. This enabled her to rewrite the history of the former socialist art as well as find new connections with this legacy after 1989. The Bergen Assembly (2013) that she curated in collaboration with David Riff was an extraordinary dramatic narrative about the horizons of emancipation inscribed into a contemporary Norwegian city. Her numerous curatorial projects were experimental and innovative in combining complex historical research with the attempt to subvert the limits of exhibiting practices.

Grant recipients 2014

Karel Císař is an art theorist and curator. He studied philosophy at Charles University in Prague and at University of Geneva. From 2009 to 2011 he was a core group participant in the Research and Academic Program Unfolding Narratives: Art Histories in East-Central Europe after 1989, organized by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (Williamstown, MA). Today, he is Assistant Professor of aesthetics and art theory at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. He has contributed to periodicals, monographs and exhibition catalogues.

The central topics of his academic interest are contemporary theories of interpretation and attempts to re-evaluate and revitalize the project of modernity and modernism in contemporary art. His curatorial work is based on his compound competence as an art theorist as well as a scientist who is familiar with the philosophical and semiological traditions wherein contemporary art theory is based. His knowledge in different fields of contemporary theory mirrors also his concept to shift between the different media of photography, film, literature, architecture and design. In some of his central exhibition projects as well as his publications, he is interpreting contemporary art in relationship to its modernist traditions and at the same time putting a new light on modernism. An outstanding example of this reflection on modernism and its reception was his exhibition Figures and Prefigurations in the City Gallery in Prague in 2013.

Miklavž Komelj is an art historian, poet and translator based in Ljubljana. He has published several books of poetry and a collection of essays entitled The Necessity of Poetry (in Slovene, 2010). He has also translated into Slovene the works of Fernando Pessoa, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Djuna Barnes, and César Vallejo. He has received several of the most important Slovenian literary awards, the Golden Sign ZRC SAZU for his doctoral thesis and the award of the Spanish Embassy in Ljubljana for his translation of César Vallejo's Trilce.

Miklavž Komelj has been awarded an Igor Zabel grant for his very dedicated and intense writing. Komelj’s main interest in the field of the history and theory of art is dedicated to the question of how to produce a new field of the possible out of the confrontation with the impossible. Therefore, he is mainly concerned with the historical turning points, when the coordinates of thinking about art were re-established. Miklavž Komelj wrote a monography study, How to Think Partisan Art (2009), an in-depth analysis on art that emerged during the National Liberation Movement in Yugoslavia and particularly in Slovenia (1941–45). Based on his research, partisan art got its new meaning and permanent place within the new permanent exhibition of the national collection, titled Continuities and Ruptures, at the Moderna galerija in Ljubljana.

Third working grant is traditionally dedicated by the laureate. Ekaterina Degot awarded Kirill Medvedev/Free Marxist Press

Free Marxist Press (FMP) was founded in 2008 by the poet, translator and political activist Kirill Medvedev, although he had already started to publish books under this label in 2007. The Free Marxist Press has published books and pamphlets on such topics as contemporary Marxist and critical theory, political art and poetry, the history of labour, socialism, feminism, minority rights, and antifascist movements, including works by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bertolt Brecht, Charles Bukowski, Adrienne Rich, Zlatan Dudov, Terry Eagleton, Jean-Luc Godard, and others.

FMP received the Igor Zabel grant as a non-commercial educational project, consisting of a group of left-wing activists (historians, artists, sociologists). FMP combines the needs for education and self-education with public political engagement and experiments in cooperative economy. Books by FMP, partly manufactured in tradition of samizdat, partly produced in printing offices, have been distributed throughout activist and trade union networks, at the opposition’s rallies, concerts of solidarity, and sold in bookshops. FMP takes part in the organisation of independent book fairs, arranges discussions, street actions, produces different kinds of militant educational activity. With their characteristic ascetic design and precise choice of texts, FMP books are an important part of the politically and intellectually resistant new dissident community in Russia.

Photo: Barbara Zeidler
Photo: Barbara Zeidler