Maja and Reuben Fowkes
Maja and Reuben Fowkes are curators and art historians whose work focuses on the theory and aesthetics of East European art from the art production of the socialist era to contemporary artistic practices. Their interests in the field of art and ecology are expressed through publications, research and curatorial projects that have explored environmental art history under socialism, visual cultures of the Anthropocene, the position of art within environmental humanities, and the intersections of contemporary art with plants, animals, rewilding, the biosphere, as well as beyond-human anthropology.
They are co-directors of the Translocal Institute for Contemporary Art, a centre for transnational research into East European art and ecology based in Budapest that operates across the disciplinary boundaries of art history, contemporary art and ecological thought.
Art and ecology
Their engagement with art and ecology has resulted in a body of work related to sustainability and contemporary art, starting with the 2006 Symposium on Sustainability and Contemporary Art at Central European University Budapest, which continued annually. An interview with Maja and Reuben Fowkes about their work on issues of sustainability and contemporary art was published in summer 2009 in Antennae Journal.
Maja Fowkes is the author of The Green Bloc: Neo-avant-garde Art and Ecology under Socialism (2015).
Their work within the field of environmental art history has included a chapter entitled 'Cracks in the Planet: Geo-ecological Matter in East European Art,' in Extending the Dialogue and an article on 'The Primeval Cosmic River and its Ecological Realities: On the curatorial project Danube River School (2013-2015),' in the journal Geohumanities.
Their contribution to the edited volume Curating Subjects III – Curating Research (2014) was a chapter on ‘Renewing the Curatorial Refrain: Sustainable Research in Contemporary Art.’
Their Danube River School project between 2013 and 2015 brought together artists, writers, environmental historians and anthropologists for a series of symposiums, exhibitions and excursions into wilderness and resulted in the publication River Ecologies: Contemporary Art and Environmental Humanities on the Danube (2015),
They are contributors to the Post-Human Glossary (2016).
East European art
A major focus of their work is on researching East European art since 1945 and contemporary East European art.
From 2006 to 2010 they organised the biannual SocialEast Forum on the Art and Visual Culture of Eastern Europe to examines how 'a revised understanding of the achievements and circumstances of East European art impact on global interpretations of art history,' This involved holding SocialEast Seminars at the Ludwig Museum Budapest, Manchester Art Gallery, Jagiellonian University Kraków, Mimara Museum Zagreb and Courtauld Institute London. They also co-organised the international conference ‘Contested Spheres’ on the art of the 1960s and 70s at Kassák Museum in May 2016.
Their publications on East European art include two special issues of Third Text, the first on 'Socialist Eastern Europe' (2009), the second forthcoming on ‘Actually Existing Artworlds under Socialism’ (2017).
They published a piece on ‘From Post-Communism to Post-Transition: Art in Eastern Europe,’ in The Art Book (February 2009) and an article on ‘The Return of East European' in Art Monthly (April 2013).
Texts dealing with the legacy of Socialist Realism include 'You Only Live Twice: the Strange Afterlife of Socialist Realist Sculpture.'
Their article 'Green Critique in a Red Environment: East European Art and Ecology under Socialism,' appeared in Art Margins (June 2014), while a parallel special issue of Art Margins online featured an interview with them on 'Politics, The Environment and Art across a Changing Political Landscape.'
Articles on 'Art and Animals under Socialism,' and the ‘Neo-Marxist Affinities of the East European Neo-avant-garde’ appeared in the journal Acta Historiae Artium in 2015.
An essay by Maja Fowkes on ‘Performative practices in East European art in the 1960s' in the exhibition catalogue Facing the Future: Art in Europe 1945-68 (2016).
They contributed essays to the catalogues of Balint Szombathy (2012), Csaba Nemes (2015), Urban Fauna Lab (2015), Tamás Kaszás (2016), Natalia LL (2016) and Rudolf Sikora (2016).
Their article 'Placing Bookmarks: The Institutionalisation and De-Institutionalisation of Hungarian Neo-Avant-Garde and Contemporary Art' on the role of collectors, global museums and art historians in forming art historical narratives appeared in Tate Papers in 2016.
They have lectured widely on East European art, including at: College Art Association annual conference, Washington 2016, MoMA New York within the framework of the C-MAP programme (2016), KUMU Art Museum Tallinn (2015), CSW Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw (2015), Former West conference, BAK Utrecht (2014), AICA 46th International Congress, Kosice and Bratislava (2013) and the Clark Institute conference on 'Art History on the Disciplinary Map in East-Central Europe' (2010).
A viideo interview with Maja and Reuben Fowkes appeared on the MoMA online platform Posts: Notes on Modern and Contemporary Art around the World in 2016.
Their curated exhibitions include Revolution is not a Garden Party, which dealt with the legacy of the 1956 Revolution for contemporary art and was held at Trafo Gallery Budapest, Norwich Gallery and Galerija Miroslav Kraljevic in Zagreb in 2006-7. The second part of their revolution trilogy is Revolution I Love You: 1968 in Art, Politics and Philosophy which was shown at the Centre for Contemporary Art Thessaloniki in summer 2008, as well as Trafo Gallery Budapest and International Project Space Birmingham. Revolutionary Decadence: Foreign Artists in Budapest since 1989 completed the trilogy and was shown at Kiscell Museum Budapest in November 2009.
In 2010 and 2011 they curated the exhibition Loophole to Happiness that explored the freedom-enhancing loopholes that exist on the margins of social systems from East European communism to global capitalism, taking the inventive strategies of worker resistance under socialism as the starting point for contemporary attempts to imagine exceptions and find escape routes from today’s neo-liberal capitalist order. Held at Trafo Gallery Budapest, Museum Sztuki Lodz, Futura Centre for Contemporary Art Prague and AMT Project Bratislava, the exhibition also resulted in a samizdat publication.
Their exhibition Like a Bird: Avian Ecologies in Contemporary Art examined complex questions around the changing human relationship to the natural world, the channelling of environmental awareness and its political dimensions and was shown at Trafo Gallery Budapest and tranzit.ro in Bucharest in 2014.
The group show #underthestars at Knoll Gallery Vienna in 2014 was realised as part of Curated_By_Vienna and investigated ecological alternatives to the tragic figure of the immaterial worker who spends too much time in bed, replying to emails, creating social media clips, interacting virtually, but not going anywhere.
In 2014 and 2015 they curated the solo exhibitions of Csaba Nemes at Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka, and MOCAK, Krakow.
In 2015-6 their exhibition ‘Walking without Footprints’ was held at tranzit.sk in Bratislava, addressing walking as a strategy to rethink our relationship to the natural environment.
- Praesens: Contemporary Central European Art Review 1/2006
- "In Conversation with Maja and Reuben Fowkes" (PDF). Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture (10). Summer 2009.
- Fowkes, Maja (2015). The Green Bloc: Neo-Avantgarde Art and Ecology under Socialism. New York and Budapest: CEU Press.
- Extending the Dialogue. Ljubljana: Igor Zabel Association / Erste Foundation. 2017.
- Fowkes, Maja; Fowkes, Reuben (2016-11-03). "The Primeval Cosmic River and Its Ecological Realities: On the Curatorial Project Danube River School". GeoHumanities. 0 (0): 1–16. doi:10.1080/2373566X.2016.1234350. ISSN 2373-566X.
- "Natural, Artistic, and Political Ecologies of East-Central Europe". Retrieved 2016-08-22.
- "Translocal Institute. Interview with Maja and Reuben Fowkes - the anthropocene index". theanthropoceneindex.com. Retrieved 2016-08-22.
- Curating Subjects III – Curating Research. Amsterdam: de Appel. 2014.
- River Ecologies:Contemporary Art and Environmental Humanities on the Danube. Budapest: Translocal Institute. 2015.
- Braidotti, Rosi; Hlavajova, Maria. Posthuman Glossary. London: Bloomsbury.
- 'A Short History of the SocialEast Forum,' in Baltic/Balkans. Szczecin: Museum of Contemporary Art. 2009.
- Matter and History. Bucharest. 2011.
- "Interview with Maja and Reuben Fowkes in ArtMargins".
- Facing the Future: Art in Europe 1945-68. Brussels: Bozar. 2016.
- "Placing Bookmarks: The Institutionalisation and De-Institutionalisation of Hungarian Neo-Avant-Garde and Contemporary Art | Tate". www.tate.org.uk. Retrieved 2016-12-12.
- "5 Questions with Maja and Reuben Fowkes | post". post.at.moma.org. Retrieved 2016-12-12.
- Revolution is not a Garden Party, ed. Maja and Reuben Fowkes (MIRIAD Manchester Metropolitan University, 2007)
- Revolution I Love You: 1968 in Art Politics and Philosophy(Manchester Metropolitan University, 2008)
- Maja and Reuben Fowkes, Revolutionary Decadence: Foreign Artists in Budapest since 1989 (Manchester Metropolitan University and Museum Kiscell, 2009)
- Maja and Reuben Fowkes, ed, Loophole to Happiness (Translocal.org, 2011) ISBN 978-963-08-2491-0