Survival Tactics

In 2014, the International Festival of Contemporary Arts – City of Women celebrates its 20th anniversary. During this time the Festival has become anchored in the Slovenian cultural milieu and has significantly contributed that the equality of women in art and society in general, as well as different feminist theories and practices have become, and still remain, relevant premises for social discourse. Under conditions not always favourable of the Festival, we managed to establish and maintain a trans-disciplinary event that every October populates different locations in Ljubljana with the works of women active in the fields of art, theory and activism. Public spaces and institutions, spaces of NGO’s as well as autonomous and alternative spaces become a temporary City of Women. The twentieth anniversary is an important milestone and at the same time a good reason to ask where we are, what we have accomplished and what are the challenges that lie ahead. Indeed, a look into the past is the best ground upon which to reflect on the future.

The idea of the festival was initiated and realised by Vera Kozmik and Uršula Cetinski, with the indispensable assistance of a number of individuals and the support of our loyal co-producer, Cankarjev Dom, which has been with us since the very beginning. During these years, the City of Women has been "inhabited" by about seven hundred female and male artists, collectives, groups, curators, theorists and activists from all latitudes. This was made possible by over one hundred and fifty collaborators of different profiles who have participated in the organisation and invested their energy and skills; the fluidity of the festival's collective can also take credit for the City of Women being a different, special, heterogeneous and experimental festival, which under ever-changing conditions strives to search for new ways and models of existence.

Special mention should also be made of the participation and support of an extensive network of partner organisations and various local and foreign supporters, without whom the City of Women would never have made it to its twentieth birthday.

In line with our mission, we have presented and promoted through the festival platform many different stories, offering viewpoints from women coming from many varied cultural milieu that are all too often ignored, whilst drawing attention to the vision and provocativeness of women's creativity and ideas. By addressing contemporary issues surrounding women, as well as some broader socio-political phenomena that each festival programme has been focused on, we have reflected on the necessity of solving burning issues, such as different forms of discrimination, sexual, class and race inequality, racism, stereotypes, the production of highly questionable historical memory, the negative effects of transitions and transformations in the socio-political systems, the issue of surveillance, environmental protection, ageing, the visibility of women in public spaces, etc. These and other relevant questions have been investigated from different perspectives of both theory and practice and through different media and aesthetics.

The first festivals were focused on the visibility of women working and creating in the fields of art and culture and their positioning in both an international and local context.  Even though the statistics recorded a radical increase in the number of women engaged in culture, they always came last in the hierarchy and were therefore paid less. On the Festival's tenth anniversary in 2004 when Slovenia became an EU member, in her editorial entitled Gifts for the Tenth Birthday the President of our Association drew attention to the alarming decrease in the number of women in politics, the diminution of women's social and health rights, the prolongation of their working life, the increasing number of women self-employed in culture and their loss of power and influence in decision-making.

Today we can establish that the negative trends regarding women's position in the aforementioned fields have worsened. In 2014, the number of women in politics hasn't considerably increased; women's social and health rights – together with all workers' rights – have been reduced to the extreme, and underpayment, which has become a general problem, still affects the female population first and foremost.

However, some positive changes can also be observed: the number of women executives in culture as well as public and other institutions in on the increase. This would be great news had the field of culture not become a target of attacks and attempts to degrade culture as a parasitic activity, which promotes a negative public attitude towards artists and their work. The transformation of the notion of work in the arts since the 1990’s until today is best summed up by the interview with Bojana Kunst given upon the publication of her book Artist at Work, where she states that "the trust in an artist in the early 1990’s can be attributed to the fact that at the time an artist had not yet been a capitalist; there was still a general consensus that an artist works in a common, public interest.  A consequence of an artist becoming a private person – a capitalist – was the growth of mistrust; they have to be constantly monitored, in particular to observe whether they work and spend money for the right purposes, or are they just lazy people working for their own interest, which is what any proper capitalist does."

It is a fact that attitudes towards art and the meaning and reputation of culture have drastically changed. Capitalist society requires from culture the mass production of commodities, with product marketing and measurable indicators of success. The negative effects of such mechanisms are the destabilisation of the labour market; a reduction of all employment-related rights; the enforcement of the logic of exploitation; the emergence of independent and flexible professions; a more precarious labour market and the promotion of competitiveness in the name of the accumulation of commodities and capital… Unfortunately, the field of art has succumbed to these trends too. The economic crisis has only made things worse, and according to the statistics, women – yet again – are the first victims. Hence work has been one of the principal topics of feminist theory and one of the most obvious proofs that emancipation and equality haven't yet been attained and something not to be taken for granted. Women's struggle in this territory is anything but finished.

From a historical perspective, women have always been discriminated against in the field of work. They mainly did unpaid, underpaid and invisible jobs, thus it is no coincidence that feminism was among the first theories to emphasise changing working conditions in late capitalism and the problematic elimination of distinction between work and leisure. Feminist theory paid particular attention to the different forms of production of subjectivity and the precarious working conditions that we addressed within different programmes in previous festivals, and which is still the explicit topic of this year's festival.

Consequently, the 2014 festival programme (which due to new severe cuts affecting cultural budgets and a reduction of funding to a minimum is less extensive, but nevertheless diverse and – hopefully – attractive) particularly explores the issue of work and activity under tight and minimal working conditions. The programme is focused on art projects that deal directly or indirectly with the festival's main topic. The artworks are characterised by research approaches, personal life stories, and works embedded in a broader social context that investigate different contemporary strategies of survival. A section of the programme addressing the problematic production of historical memory is dedicated to women's history and women's movements. The common denominator that connects the work of all the invited artists, activists and theorists is the exploration and identification of possibilities and forms of revolt against the existing political, economic and social conditions and patriarchal norms, as well as displaying infinite creativity and energy dictated by necessity – the necessity to change, the necessity to create, the necessity to survive.

A special focus dedicated to local female artists is new to the 2014 programme. The twentieth anniversary seemed perfect to highlight and present the creativity of some extraordinary local female artists who have for years excelled with their innovative artistic approaches and have persistently paved poorly beaten tracks. In addition to a diverse transdisciplinary international programme we also present seven productions of various aesthetics and topics as well as different creative formats and approaches, of which five are premieres. You will have the opportunity to see many of the international – and local – guests for the first time on the Slovenian artistic "menu", whilst a few of those that we hosted in the past have convinced us one more time with their outstanding and innovative works that are simply a "must-see".

In celebrating the twentieth birthday, we want to thank all citizens of the City of Women; all those who participated in its organisation, those who were loyal visitors and those who inspired it. For the twentieth time we draw attention to the numerous women's voices that demand their place in history and the right to an equal, decent and safe life. In the words of the activist, writer and poet Maya Angelou: "My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style."

Mara Vujić, Artistic Director of the 20th International Festival of Contemporary Arts – City of Women