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European Culture Congress

A great debate on the condition of contemporary Europe and the crowning event of the Cultural Program of the Polish EU Presidency in 2011.

The point of departure for the congress, held September 8–11, 2011, in Wrocław, was Zygmunt Bauman’s book Culture in Fluid Modernity, published on the occasion of the event, and the inaugural address given by the author. The questions he posed served to inspire discussions among guests of the congress, among whom were Gianni Vattimo, Victor Erofeyev, Brian Eno, Andrzej Wajda, Zbigniew Libera, Krzysztof Penderecki, Mirosław Bałka, Jan Fabre, Oliviero Toscani, Ryszard W. Kluszczyński, Fatos Lubonja, Jonny Greenwood, Pekka Himanen, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Dubravka Ugrešić, Sara Arrhenius, Ewa Rewers and many other artist, academics and intellectuals.

Is “Europeanness” anything more than just an intellectual construct? How can culture draw from the free market without falling prey to its nature? How can we efficiently lobby the European Parliament for culture-related projects? Is open culture really beneficial? What does the term “original” mean in the context of contemporary art? How can we reconcile copyright laws with the audience’s right to participate in culture? These are only a few of the themes explored during the congress. These explorations took the form of discussions and artistic projects, as we chose to depart from the traditional framework of debates and instead focus on merging theory with practice.

The total attendance of the congress was around 20 thousand people. Thirteen debates were held over the course of four days, along with over one hundred interdisciplinary projects involving the work of around 550 curators and artists as well as over one hundred NGOs from Poland and other European countries.


A report from the European Culture Congress prepared by Anna Zakrzewska and Max Cegielski.

Artistic Projects

The four-day program of the congress was filled with many exceptional artistic endeavors. The report (see above) features coverage of the Idea Generator, Trickster 2011 and the spectacular outdoor performance by Groupe F, Each One and Everybody.

The key moment of the congress was the unprecedented encounter between Krzysztof Penderecki, Jonny Greenwood and Aphex Twin, during which attendees witnessed a pre-premiere performance of Aphex Twin’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima Remix and Polymorphia Reloaded, as well as Jonny Greenwood’s 48 Responses to Polymorphia

Rather than being isolated phenomena, the artworks presented at the congress often engaged each other in critical discussion, as in the case of the Brian Eno’s special congress piece Future Perfect, presented at the Wrocław Fountain, and the installation by Mirosław Bałka entitled Wege zur Behandlung von Schmerzen.

Art for Social Change

Following the main theme of the congress, “Art for Social Change,” attendees were invited to participate and shape the open format of the congress by collaborating on such projects as “liberature,” music workshops, a series of workshops for NGOs, and tweeting.

Many artist invited the audience to take part in communal activities. In his piece Emergency Room, Thierry Geoffroy encouraged European artists to react rapidly to ongoing crises and invited them into an improvised space in which artists presented their pieces by engaging in discussions with the audience. As the curator and author of the project explained:

Artists can become the perfect ‘thermometers’ with which to measure the state of the world and identify its most urgent problems. 

Paul Butler’s Reverse Psychology, meanwhile, was a 48-hour project in which a group of artists and non-artists worked together in a shared space. The results of this experiment in “learning from each other and improvising” was later presented to the public.

Visit culturecongress.eu

Information about these projects and dozens of others can be found (also in Engilsh) at culturecongress.eu. More than just a repository of information about the congress, culturecongress.eu features numerous articles, reports, interviews and video recordings, providing extensive coverage of the discussion about contemporary culture.

See also