Emma Geliot's picture

 Braca Nadezdic via Flickr. Portrait of Ra a Todosijevi , February 2014. Image copyright: Braca Nadezdic (via Flickr).

Ra a Todosijevi 's 1975 work The Edinburgh Statement, currently featured in the largest collection of Yugoslav art in the UK at Nottingham Contemporary, gives interesting perspective to Cardiff's art community and its campaign #CardiffWithoutCulture? Francesca Donovan contemplates who gains from art today.

I recently reviewed an incredibly vivid exhibition of Yugoslav art at Nottingham Contemporary, Monuments Should Not Be Trusted. Aside from enjoying the exhibition immensely, I was struck in particular by one work: The Edinburgh Statement (1975) by Ra a Todosijevi .

The textual work poses the question: who benefits from art and who gains from it honestly?

Todosijevi responded by listing extensively all art profiteers including, but certainly not limited to:

  • The producers of glass, paper, pencils, paints, tools, etc.
  • The real estate agencies that collect rent for studios, lofts, living quarters or holes where artists live.
  • All those producing and selling wholesale or retail drugs, sanitary supplies, and alcohol, contraceptives, cigarettes and sporting goods to artists.
  • The electric companies that charge for electricity used during the exhibition.
  • The editor in charge of the cultural section of the daily paper.
  • Fans.
  • Teenyboppers.
  • Models.
  • Wives.
  • Mistresses.
  • Children.
  • Old friends and acquaintances.
  • Lawyers.
  • All those using a work of art on stamps, labels, flags, picturebooks, wallpaper and kitchen or bathroom tiles.
  • Philosophers writing about art without ever really understanding it.
  • And all the other cheap politicians who have seized the sinecure in thismysterious way through relatives, friends and connections preaching to artists and making enough money for two lifetimes with this foolish business.

With over 200 unceremonious individual responses, Todosijevi manages both to satirise and justify the art world and all of its cultural accoutrements.

In an interview for Line Magazine, Sanja Koji Mladenov described the work as:

"...a very precise and exhaustive list of all individuals, professions, institutions and trades that make a living and feed off the artist. It was inspired by Todosijevi s position that contemporary art is a field of endless, continuous conflict and intersecting interests of all those who look to gain something for themselves in the field. He points to the fact that no domain of human activity can elude the artist who must stay awake and act on all fronts."

But, for me, in light of the recent threats to the funding of Cardiff's culture, Ra a Todosijevi 's words took on a new poignancy. I now interpret and understand them to be a call-to-arms. If so many people and organisations - good or bad - can profit or benefit from artists and their work in this way, how can the recently proposed700,000 budget cuts to the arts be justified?

It seems I am not the only one to have interpreted the work in this way. Adrian Searle, reviewing Monuments Should Not Be Trusted in The Guardian wrote: "More than a conceptual art statement, Todosijevi s statement makes salutary reading today as debates about the purpose and usefulness of art, and of museums, continue."

Of course, The Edinburgh Statement is very much of its time. The pigeon-holing of women is particularly hard to swallow and the omission of our twenty-first century virtual internet landscape stands out like several sore click-bait fingers.

But I remain inspired by Todosijevi 's words. They serve to reinforce what we all know: that art is of the utmost importance, not just for our own personal growth, but also on a infrastructural and fiscal level too.

Cardiff Without Culture? This eye-catching campaign image shows what a #CardiffWithoutCulture would look like devoid of institutions like Chapter Arts, Canton

At this worrying time for the arts in Cardiff, and in fact Wales and the UK, it would be interesting to consider what new additions could be added to The Edinburgh Statement today.

Cardiff Council will announce its final budgetary decision and perhaps the fate of Cardiff's vibrant culture on 25 February. Please do join the campaign against the cuts, by signing the petition and marching for culture with us on Saturday 6 February. Thank you for your support.