Freedom of the Arts #3 • Sandra Frimmel: Art as a Shield Against the Expansion of External Cultures: Why and How the Freedom of Art in Russia Plays a Significant Role in National Security Policy

Freedom of the Arts • Public Lecture Series • Winter 2023/24

Lecture #3 — December 18, 2023, 18:00–19:30

Sandra Frimmel
Art as a Shield Against the Expansion of External Cultures: Why and How the Freedom of Art in Russia Plays a Significant Role in National Security Policy

The general constitution of a society, its tolerance or intransigence, can be read on the example of artistic freedom. Based on art court trials in Russia in the early 2000s, the lecture aims to trace the interactions between court trials, art practice, and legislation. How did individual lawsuits against artists and curators cause a change in legislation and thus lead to an increasing restriction not only of artistic freedom? Which social and political groups are responsible for this norming process in the field of visual arts? How does this affect art production and exhibition practice? Using selected works of art as examples, we will also look at the absurdity of trying to reconcile juridical and aesthetic speech in court, because the value systems they refer to are hardly compatible. It will be all the more revealing to trace a historical transformation on the basis of court records and to show how, in the course of the last two decades, supposed individual cases have led to a standard legal procedure and how the gradual restrictions on artistic freedom are linked to developments in society as a whole as well as to security policy interests.

Dr. Sandra Frimmel is an art historian and research associate at the Slavic Department as well as coordinator of the Center for Arts and Cultural Theory at the University of Zurich (CH). She is currently working in the SNF research project “Arts and Disinformation”. She is also president of the Commission for Visual Arts of the City of Zurich. Her research focuses on Russian and Eastern European art from the 19th to the 21st century, especially the relationship between art, law, society, and power. Sandra Frimmel is the author of ART JUDGMENTS: Art on Trial in Russia after Perestroika (Vernon Press, 2022 [2015]) and editor of several books, including Kunst vor Gericht: Ästhetische Debatten im Gerichtssaal (with Mara Traumane, Matthes & Seitz, 2018).


Freedom of the Arts

The lecture series inquires into the multifaceted terrain of “Freedom of the Arts” from different vantage points, each offering insights into complex contemporary challenges and their historical genealogies. The four evening sessions encompass (i) the international legal framework governing artistic freedom through freedom of expression and cultural rights, presented by Human Rights Expert Manfred Nowak; (ii) a critical exploration of ethical dimensions of the arts, navigating contentious debates on cancel culture and cultural appropriation, led by Art Historian and Sociologist Jens Kastner; (iii) an examination of artistic freedom as part of national security implications, with a focus on art subject to court cases in Russia, as unraveled by Art Historian Sandra Frimmel; and (iv) an investigation of digital transformations influencing arts and critical data, as undertaken by Artistic Researcher and Curator Manuela Naveau.

As these researchers delve into their respective domains, the lecture series aspires to spark cross-disciplinary inquiry and transversal dialogue: Which conditions are required for freedom of the arts, and which categories of rights (for an overview, see Polymenopoulou 2023) can guarantee those conditions? Which human rights treaties, codes, and instruments are relevant to the normative aspects of freedom of the arts, and what are their potential limits (see, e.g., the report on the state of artistic freedom by Freemuse 2023)? Which players and infrastructure promote and protect artistic freedom and how (on the role of the UN see, e.g., Cuny 2023)? In what socio-political climate does censorship of the arts thrive and which legitimate interests can be used to argue for a limitation of artistic freedom, balancing different interests? What ethical dilemmas emerge within the art world, and how does the broader cultural landscape grapple with issues of cancel culture and cultural appropriation? And which purpose do the “estrangement defense”, the “canonic defense”, or the “formalist defense” serve in defending the freedom of transgressive arts (Julius 2020)? To what extent are aesthetic judgments rendered (in)voluntarily when arts are debated in court (see Frimmel/Traumane 2018)? What’s the relation of the outdated distinction in free and applied arts to the “aesthetic model of freedom” (Menke/Rebentisch 2010) that developed with the discipline of Ästhetik as a sub-discipline to art history? In an era defined by digital transformation, what prospects and challenges arise for artists who intervene in algorithmic “pattern discrimination” (Apprich/Cramer/Chun/Steyerl 2018) and engage in a critical approach to data? The lecture series revolves around these questions, seeking to foster a deeper understanding of freedom of the arts through, amongst others, case study research, critical theoretical debate, and discourse analysis.

#1 Manfred Nowak: International Legal Framework: Freedom of Expression and Cultural Rights (November 13, 2023, 18:00–19:30)

#2 Jens Kastner: Between Cancel Culture and Cultural Appropriation: The Spectrum of Artistic Freedom (November 27, 2023, 18:00–19:30)

#3 Sandra Frimmel: Art as a Shield Against the Expansion of External Cultures: Why and How the Freedom of Art in Russia Plays a Significant Role in National Security Policy (December 18, 2023, 18:00–19:30)

#4 Manuela Naveau: Critical Data and the Arts: How Freedom of the Arts Fosters Understanding of Digital Transformation (January 8, 2024, 18:00–19:30)


Convenor: Lisa Stuckey, Applied Human Rights, University of Applied Arts Vienna


FLUX 1, VZA7 (3rd Floor)
University of Applied Arts Vienna
Vordere Zollamtstraße 7
1030 Vienna

Or via Zoom:
https://dieangewandte-at.zoom.us/j/62243779206 (Meeting ID: 622 4377 9206)


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