Serbia as a Symptom of the Balkans: Internationalism & GlobalizationVol. 21 (September 2012) by Miško Šuvaković
Miško Šuvaković (University of Arts, Belgrade) situates his native Serbia within an emergent sphere of artistic production vis-à-vis the world of high art. The institutions of sovereign aesthetic art, he argues, have made way for a decidedly instrumental, socio-political art – one serving as a vehicle of cultural politics for transitional, “marginal” cultures hitherto unrepresented by the Western cannon. Šuvaković discusses Serbian art as an idiom of a region heard for the first time, a gesture that is further complicated by the historical denial of the opportunity to show its face globally even prior to post-modernist discourses that have destabilized concepts of identity and cultural borders. The result is an artifact bearing the “erased traces of culture,” symptoms of a world as of yet unassimilated within prevailing narratives of European identity…
Symptom = Crisis = Slippage of Sense1
The symptom may be attributed to a defect in symbolization.2 It forms the center of the subject’s opacity because it is not brought up to the level of the concept, word, language, i.e. meta-language.
As part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Serbia went through several phases of “internationalization,” starting from Soviet internationalism (1945-1948), via a hybrid internationalism, poised between the Political East and West (1948-1991), with uncertain moves toward its own “variant” of internationalization in the Non-Aligned Movement that turned toward the “Third World” in 1961, when the first Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement was held in Belgrade. The Non-Aligned Movement could be viewed as an “anti-imperialist” movement opposed to Western neo-colonialisms and Eastern (i.e. Soviet) political, military, and economic hegemonies. The establishment of Slobodan Milošević’s regime precipitated a de-internationalization of Serbia, as well as its self-isolation and the establishment of a “closed society,” with its ostensive opposition to the “new world order,” i.e. neoliberal economic globalization. At certain times during its struggle to retain power in Serbia, the regime and its “satellite” organizations offered political “programs” that featured hypothetical alliances with the Russian Federation, China, India, and Belarus, and at one moment even with orthodox Greece. But those were only short-lived political and propaganda tactics directed at Serbia’s own public opinion, rather than a genuine political pursuit of international alliances. In reality, Serbia’s official policy was set up as a blend of an explicitly proclaimed “national society,” and an un-proclaimed introduction of neoliberalism on the local levels of society. This duality, comprising the national state and neoliberal globalizing capital, has remained in place even after the democratic changes of 2000. Furthermore, the Republic of Serbia ceased to be a part of “open societies,” so a real opening up of Serbia, or more precisely, a real opening up of the world to Serbia, did not occur in 2008 either, despite the efforts of most of Serbia’s democratic parties. Unlike Serbia’s wartime transition of the 1990s, its transitional globalization of the 2000s has become a part of Serbia’s social life in many respects, trailing behind other ex-Eastern European societies with a ten-year delay. Serbia’s transitional globalization has manifested itself in the privatization of public property, amalgamation of local capital, and the establishment of an almost impenetrable economic field between global centers of power. The political and cultural strife that erupted between the national-liberal and globalist-neoliberal positions on one side, and the remaining public and secret structures of Milošević’s regime on the other, led to countless conflicts in Serbia’s society, the most drastic manifestation of which was the assassination of Zoran Đinđić, the country’s first democratically elected prime minister, in 2003.
In the cultural field, globalism was realized in Serbian society in a similar way as it has been in most third-world societies. That means that the boundaries between high and popular culture have been erased, which was accompanied by processes of Americanizing or globalizing popular culture. In practical terms, popular culture – above all, the entertainment culture of television channels and computer servers – has become the dominant model in the social articulation of leisure.3 In a way, Serbia’s national popular culture went through a transformation that is characteristic of “world” productions, modeled after the concept of “world music.” In other words, local “media identities” have been presented in the language of Americanized global popular culture. On the other hand, the mythic aura surrounding Serbia’s historical national culture has been posited as the horizon of the highest social values, a horizon perceived not only in an aesthetic sense, but also in the ethnic-identificatory sense of establishing a collective identity.
Professional art practices, primarily bound to the evolution of the “visual arts,” have been globalized mostly by means of new-media poetical platforms and performative art practices, and are then linked up, either genuinely or fictionally, with the global presentation and communication “institutions” of international cooperation on the regional level and beyond; examples might include exhibitions such as Manifesta,4 Belgrade’s “October Salon,” revamped after 2000, and the inter-media and soft-activist summer festival Belef.
However, the Manifesta family of international exhibitions has given rise to an entirely new and unfamiliar situation. It has generated a secondary international high league, which means that the transformation of international hegemonism into the multiculturalism of incipient globalization required the creation of a mobile and open institution that could integrate young artists into European cultural politics; artists from those marginal Western European cultures that are not “great” in the way that the cultures of Germany, France, Italy, and possibly Russia are, as well as artists from the now transitional cultures of former Eastern Europe. At the same time, every precaution was made to avoid causing a blow, or at least a disturbance, in the stable market system to the identification and existence of “the great masters of modernism and postmodernism” who constitute the world of art or, to put it somewhat crudely, the premier masters’ league. It is as though the international network of Biennials and Triennials had created an inter-space between autonomous high art, which generates the world of great and epochal works, and a selected and projected art meant to represent and display the current interests of individual cultures and their identities. For the first time in Europe, it occurred that the world (institutions, officials) of autonomous high art had enabled and projected a space for the emergence of a utilitarian art that would be its other, so that it may not challenge, but rather, affirm it in its exceptionality and provide it with fresh blood (young or other artists) within a strictly controlled environment and with careful selection, thereby strengthening it without questioning it.
Belgrade’s “October Salon”5 was founded in 1960 as one of those typically local annual art exhibitions, with the goal of reconciling Belgrade’s fascination with “the art salons of Paris” qua annual exhibitions with real-socialist cultural policies, geared as they were toward organizing review presentations of modern artistic practices classified by “guild,” as well as connecting “modern artistic expression” with revolutionary traditions: the October Revolution (implicitly), and explicitly with the liberation of Belgrade toward the end of the Second World War. The October Salon was a typical city guild annual art exhibition. The 41st October Salon (2000) was curated by six critics/curators, who made the following selection of artists: Darka Radosavljević, Ljiljana Ćinkul, Lidija Merenik, Mirjana Bajić, Gordana Marković, and Miroslav Musić. The curators of the 42nd October Salon (2002) comprised a group of artists: Marija Dragojlović, Darija Kačić, Marija Kranjac, Slobodan Mašić, Saša Marković Mikrob, Era Milivojević, the Škart group, the Apsolutno association, and Nada Aksentijević. In the following years, the Salon’s curators and artistic directors included Lidija Merenik (2002), Milanka Todić (2003), Anda Rothenberg, Darka Radosavljević (2005), René Block (2006), Lorand Hegy (2007), and Bojana Pejić (2008). Under the management of the Belgrade Cultural Center, the institution of the “October Salon” has turned from a city review and guild exhibition into a curators’ exhibition, and then into an international exhibition with artistic directors of international standing. The “October Salon” has thus grown into an exhibition that could fit into global networks with biennial and triennial exhibitions from all over the world.
There have been four exhibitions dedicated to Balkan art that have diverted international attention to Southeastern European artists and their relative contexts at the turn of the century:
1) In Search of Balkania, by Roger Conover, Eda Čufer, and Peter Weibel, held in Graz, Austria, in 2002;6
2) Imaginary Balkans, by Breda Beban, held in Sheffield, England, in 2002;7
3) Blut und Honig / Zukunft ist am Balkan (Blood and Honey / The Future Is in the Balkans), by Harald Szeemann, held in Klosterneubung, Austria, in 2003;8
4) In den Schluchten des Balkans – Eine Reportage (In the Gorges of the Balkans – A Report), by René Block, held in Kassel, Germany, in 2003. 9
A “world” – that of Southeast Europe or the Balkans, not yet situated in the present according to the criteria of New Europe or contextualized in the global distribution of social, cultural, and artistic identities and power – was presented in those exhibitions in its “apparent” geographical or regional presence and phenomenality. The exhibitions had an explicit political function: that of constructing and performing an unstable relationship between fiction and the reality of the new identity of Europe in a not-yet definitely established, but still European, space. These Balkan exhibitions featured surprising presentations of artists from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, Montenegro, and Turkey.
But there have also been presentations of meaningless productions of works made to “look” Balkan; for that reason those works are not meaningless themselves, as they document a real response on the part of artists to the challenging demands coming from cultural and curatorial bureaucracies, local and global alike. Therefore, unstable, open, melancholic, intelligent, ecstatic, provocative, partly corrupt, as well as good works have also been presented. Works by living, dead, and anonymous artists were shown, as were those by locally and globally acclaimed artists. Those works were presented in an attempt to draw a potential map of one of Europe’s critical and as yet unshaped spaces. To be sure, these Balkan exhibitions are useful: one segment of Europeans showed their relative and fleeting artistic, cultural, gender, political, practical-pragmatic, and media faces to another segment of Europeans. Those presentations have demonstrated that at every step there exists more than one Europe and that those multiple Europes are not so many secure identities, but only passing or momentary effects of performing local or global Europeanness, which cannot be posited as “one,” but only as an instability of transitions along both temporal and spatial potentialities of performing individual and collective subjects. For the context of Europe, as well as that of Serbia, has been trapped in the schizophrenic duality of liberal individuality and collective identifications. These exhibitions have posed the important and telling question of how the margins of Europe relate to the central and hegemonic stories of European, that is, Western art, at a time when the margins and the centers are all being deconstructed down to local and global structurings and mappings.
Cultural Politics instead of “Poetics”: Neoliberalism and Art
One can say that the turn from “wartime transition” to “globalizing transition” demonstrated an important feature of the new era: the domination of bureaucratic strategies and tactics in the contemporary worlds of art. Bureaucratic strategies and tactics emerged in the transformation of “artistic poetics” or “critical aesthetics” into platforms of “cultural politics,” whereas curators have become the leading authorial figures, assuming the new identity of art – the identity of planning networking projects in cultural and economic terms, in a neoliberal world of global potentialities, as opposed to centered powers of society.
The concept of “politics”10 has moved from its positions of “social articulation” onto the platform of cultural regulations. In the European tradition, politics denotes those practices and related institutions whereby humans achieve their coexistence, which is usually called “society.” “Political” is a label commonly attached to the many antagonisms by which, I suppose, human society plays out and determines itself. Politicization denotes different theoretical-analytic-critical practices that entirely diverse, often incommensurable historical or geographic socialities or culturalities identify, construe, and interpret as functions of those antagonisms by which society plays out and determines itself. In such a context of conceptualizing ‘politics,’ ‘the political,’ and ‘politicization,’ cultural politics signifies three different – though not unrelated – social practices of the performance of culture:11
1) Cultural politics denotes those practices and related institutions whereby humans may perfect or harmonize themselves in relation to the absolute or universal values and symbolizations of their society and its traditions.
2) Cultural politics denotes those practices and related institutions whereby the actual everyday life of humans in their society or social relationships may be shaped or organized. In other words, cultural politics intervenes in issues of shaping “life” within the everyday.
3) Cultural politics denotes those practices and related institutions whereby ideal or actual arrangements or forms of exceptional or everyday human life may be presented/represented in the dominant and marginal media of communication and identification.
Cultural politics is usually posited as a certain/uncertain autonomous domain within “politics” qua practices and relevant institutions whereby humans attain their coexistence, which is usually called “the everyday within a given society.” The autonomy of cultural politics emerges either as the “metaphysical autonomy” of social superstructure, as opposed to basic social production, or as the “technical autonomy” of performing culture as a special domain within social antagonisms. The task of the politicization, i.e. the theoretical analysis and critique of culture, is to demonstrate “culture” as a necessary autonomous domain within society or sociality, which must be performed by a political act (decision, event, structural realization of certain powers) in order to be posited as autonomous either in metaphysical or technical terms.
From a “cultural politics” platform one may speak of the status of “art in the neoliberal society.” Neither neoliberal economic and political theory nor philosophy has special registers for theorizing art, although the neoliberal organization of global social orders has made some essential impacts on the characteristic structuring of the art world. In the late capitalism and also in the neoliberal globalism of the late 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, fundamental changes occurred in the creative (poetic), media (productive), organizational (curatorial), communicational (distributional: presentational, promotional), and economic (financial-commercial) character of art practices and their autonomies in culture and society. Late capitalism had anticipated those changes when postmodern society relativized the relationship between elite, high art and popular, mass art. Another important change was linked with that in the universal human perception and character of human labor in the modern world. It was a turn from creative-productive labor into techno-media-mediatory and managerial-organizational labor in cultural, that is, art practices. Artistic labor has been restructured from the work concept into that of projects, whereas the practice of creating works (that is, masterworks) has transformed into one of exploring art, culture, and society.
In such a constellation, the operative poetic relationship of “the artist – the critic – the exhibition-going public” has been transforming into a relationship of “the curator – the artist – the media and festival public.” The curator emerges as an active coordinator, organizer, and initiator of art projects and their economic and institutional realization. An interpretive claim of the contemporary historicization of art is that after conceptual art, say, since the mid-1970s, painting and sculpture have exhibited no historical logic of linear development, i.e. alternation of styles in art, individual poetics or phenomena (-isms and arts). Everything is comparable and possible, with many instances of feedback within loosely related worlds of art and cultural contexts. It is an unregulated and vast field of plurally performative and media possibilities and their proliferations. It is not a matter of post-history, as postmodern theorists presumed, but of a history gone mad/crazy, entropically falling apart and wasting away, becoming a matter of esoteric erudition or a fascinating “liberalized” and “arbitrarily initiated” spectacle between the eye and the body, that is, between the visual and the haptic, between the individual and the collective. Works by any artist and any strategy, gesture or procedure (trans-avant-garde, neo-expressionism, anachronism, non-expressionism, neo-conceptual art, simulationism, retro-avant-garde, soc-art, cynical realism, post-pop art, net art, cyber art, artivism etc.) are all legitimate. There is no difference between an oil painting and an image digitally generated onscreen, that is, between working on a painting in the isolation of one’s studio and the art of the spectacle according to the rules of mass culture. Art emerges as a “social, i.e. cultural field” encompassing countless possibilities of the liberal – and that means individual – networking of distributional curatorial and artistic centers of the first, second, and third world. Its vastness is an essential quality of all art that takes place in the epoch of neoliberal globalization. Going into painting, getting out of painting. Abandoning art. The destruction of the painter’s profession and an obsessive invoking of the traditional role of the painter qua artisan-craftsman. The artistic contexts of Europe have seen a shift caused by the collapse of real socialism (the Eastern Bloc) and the creation of Western institutions meant to stimulate, initiate, and supply transitional processes in the East (the former Soviet republics, the communist states of Central Europe, and the Balkans). Encouraging, initiating, and supplying those processes was also enabled by the Centers for Contemporary Art (SCCA) of the Open Society Fund or, simply, “Soros.” Initially, those centers emerged as institutions that could enable documenting local art scenes, financing current art projects, and representing trans-nationally emancipated local art on the international scene. Eventually, the Centers detached themselves from their parent Foundation (the financial center) and linked up into financial, communicational, exhibition, promotional, and educational networks bridging, but also torn between, the East in transition and the West in globalization. What happened very soon after the Centers were established was the emergence of a similar new art in entirely different and often even incommensurable local cultures. The stories and the cases were different, but the tools, i.e. poetics of presenting, expressing, and communicating, were entirely comparable. Roughly speaking, it was probably not the result of any plans or programs drawn up in advance, but it was certainly not a matter of any Zeitgeist metaphysics either! Presumably, it was a matter of a relation between function, structure, and effect, in other words the function of an institution that could reconfigure art according to extra-artistic demands:
I. Globally: the function of initiating transition in Eastern European cultures;
II. Poetically: the function of breaking free from elite autonomous-artistic modernism and postmodernism in practical-artistic and theoretical-interpretive terms;
III. Culturally: the function of transforming “alternative” (emancipated urban) art qua national culture’s marginal art, stranded between popular and high culture, into an art-probe that would test, project, and represent strategies of relativizing the relation between the margins and the center in every concrete individual society; in other words, culture itself becomes a “material” and “medium” for the sake of anticipating and realizing a conflict-free (politically correct) society;
IV. Politically: the artwork becomes a media demonstration project through which a politically colored, but not entirely explicated, practice and production of samples is realized; these samples promise real work within civil society that has yet to emerge, whereby the conditions in which the critical, cynical, subversive, and, quite obviously, nihilistic art of soc-art, Perestroika, cynical realism, and retro-avant-garde were made and presented are essentially neutralized in reality.
This almost completes the formula for the “genesis” of the work of art qua project that enters into processes of supported and stimulated distribution. The ontology of the work acquires a recognizable morphology: (a) new media (globally) + (b) local and regional themes = (c) a derivation “made of” erased traces of culture.
French curator and art theorist Nicolas Bourriaud has defined contemporary art practice precisely by pointing to the change in the “ontology of art” from creating autonomous works of art, to an obviously neoliberal managerial, i.e. curatorial organization of the art world as a dynamic field of “relational projects” and “postproduction practices.”12 French philosopher Yves Michaud has proposed the idea of transforming the artwork as a derived piece into an “auratic” field of cultural effects.13 He has written of the gaseous state of art. In that context, the idea of art qua production is replaced with art qua performing cultural services in the order of cultural politics, as in tourism, the politics of entertainment, etc.
The management at the Belgrade Museum of Contemporary Art was replaced after the political changes that happened on October 5th, 2000. Branislava Anđelković, who at the time headed the Belgrade Center for Contemporary Art, became the Museum’s new director. The Museum of Contemporary Art surveyed the current state of the international, regional, and local scenes in exhibitions such as Konverzacija (The Conversation, 2001), Poslednja istočnoevropska izložba (The Last Eastern European Exhibition, 2003), as well as in retrospectives of 1960s and 1970s artists: Anonymous Artist (2001), Raša Todosijević (2002), Dušan Otašević (2003), Neša Paripović (2006), and Bora Iljovski (2006). The exhibition O normalnosti: umetnost u Srbiji, 1989-2001 (On Normality: Art in Serbia, 1989-2001; 2005) served to recapitulate and canonize, in terms of cultural politics, the concept of the Serbian scene from the viewpoint of the Center for Contemporary Art and the new management at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Apart from the Museum of Contemporary Art, another important center of fine-arts life was the Belgrade Cultural Center, where Danica Jovović Prodanović became director after 2000. Several alternative institutions from the 1990s, such as the Center for Cultural Decontamination, the Remont gallery, and the Rex Cultural Center, continued working in the 2000s. A new cultural center, Magacin, was founded in 2008 to host art groups from the “other scene.” In Vršac, the Konkordija center for contemporary culture had to close down. The Museum of Contemporary Art of Vojvodina in Novi Sad went through a series of transformations, turning from a Gallery into a Museum. Until 2002, the driving force behind those transformations was Dragomir Ugren, succeeded in 2005 by Živko Grozdanić. In the mid-1990s, the Museum initiated its program of retrospective exhibitions with a series of exhibitions dedicated to the art practices of the 1970s: the KôD and (∃ groups (1995), Verbumprogram (1996), Slavko Mataković (2005), Bálint Szombathy (2005), and Vladimir Kopicl (2007). The Museum has initiated several parallel exhibition practices: exhibiting private collections (Marinko Sudac, Miško Šuvaković, Sava Stepanov, and Slavko Timotijević), organizing exhibitions focused on a particular problem, such as Fatalne devedesete: strategije otpora i konfrontacija – umetnost u Vojvodini na kraju XX i početkom XXI veka (The Fatal Nineties: Strategies of Resistance and Confrontation – Art in Vojvodina at the End of the 20th and Beginning of the 21st Century, 2001), Hibridno – imaginarno: O slici i slikarstvu u epohi medija (The Hybrid and the Imaginary: On the Image and Painting in the Media Epoch, 2006), and Zvezda i njena senka: ikonografske predstave zvezde petokrake u umetnosti socijalističkog i postsocijalističkog društva (The Star and Its Shadow: Iconographic Representations of the Five-Pointed Star in the Art of Socialist and Post-Socialist Societies, 2006), as well as Play Cultures (2008), an exhibition of new-media practices. A monographic study of twentieth-century art in Vojvodina, Evropski konteksti umetnosti XX veka u Vojvodini (European Contexts of 20th-Century Art in Vojvodina, 2008), was also realized.
Art klinika (Art Clinic)14 is the utopian and alternative project of a group of people based out of the Led Art Multimedia Center.15 The project’s leader is painter, performer, and activist Nikola Džafo (1950). The Art Clinic became active in Novi Sad during late 2002. This alternative institution was founded as a response to “the sick society in which we live,” with the conviction that art can cure and change the world. The Art Clinic project has been realized as a multimedia process through which independent exhibitions are organized at the Šok (Shock) gallery (the Art Clinic’s intensive care unit – the smallest gallery in the Balkans, its area totaling only 22 square feet); the project Perspektive (Perspectives; a “laymen’s jury” vote to select the best young artists, graduates of the Novi Sad Academy of Arts); Večernji akt (The Evening Nude), public classes in drawing and sculpture; film programs and screenings of video works; lectures, public forums, debates, performances, and workshops. The Art Clinic also sells artistic products. By means of the ongoing competitions it organizes to give young artists the opportunity to exhibit their works at the Šok gallery and create a personal flag, the Art Clinic insists on dialogue and accepts all constructive suggestions, and exhibiting artists are chosen by the Clinic’s Arts Council, the ‘physicians.’ By promoting artists with fresh and provocative approaches in realizing and presenting their works, the Art Clinic strives above all to encourage young artists to find their own way in the world of art and the world in which we live… By cooperating with individuals and likeminded organizations, the Art Clinic seeks to participate in creating a network for the sake of changing ineffective and autistic cultural politics, both locally and beyond.
By setting up “institutions” of cultural work, Zoran Pantelić, an artist from Novi Sad, has shown how the “artist-creator” is transforming in modernist terms into an “artist-curator” and “artist-cultural worker.” Centar za nove medije_kuda.org (New Media Center_kuda.org) emerged simultaneously with the demise of “socialist patronage” and with the formation of NGOs acting under the conditions of the neoliberal market and financing art through foundations. Centar za nove medije_kuda.org is a collective dedicated to new technologies, art, activism, and above all, to cultural and social politics. The Center is an organization that gathers artists, theorists, media activists, researchers, and the wider public in the fields of information and communication technologies (ICT), new cultural relations, and social theory:16
New Media Center_kuda.org is an independent organization which brings together artists, theoreticians, media activists, researchers and the wider public in the field of Information and Communication Technologies. In this respect, kuda.org is dedicated to the research of new cultural relations, contemporary artistic practice, and social issues. Kuda.org’s work focuses on questions concerning the influence of the electronic media on society, the creative use of new communication technologies, and contemporary cultural and social policy. Some of the main issues include interpretation and analysis of the history and significance of the information society, the potential of information itself, and the diffusion of its influence on political, economic and cultural relationships in contemporary society. New Media Center_kuda.org opens space for both cultural dialogue and alternative methods of education and research. Social issues, media culture, new technologies, art, and the Open Source and Free Software principal [sic] are areas in which kuda.org is engaged.
kuda.info / infocentar
Provides information in the field of new media, contemporary art, social phenomena, research and education through library, mediatheque, and digital archive access. […]
kuda.lounge / presentation and lectures
Consists of lectures, workshops, talks, and public presentations of artists, media activists, theorists, scientists and researchers. [Exhibitions, presentations, forums, symposia, and lectures are places of active dialogue and interaction that help generate new, essential core qualities on part of both the speaker and the audience.]
kuda.production / production and publishing
Creates a matrix for non-profit artistic production in the field of new media and technologies, as well as for interdisciplinary research and experimentation.17
The New Media Center_kuda.org has been effecting the significant transformation of artistic labor qua autonomous creativity into artistic/curatorial and organizational labor in the contradictory cultural and social fields of shaping transitional life in the globalization era. The Center has contributed to the establishment of intervention and production registers, that is, service registers for artistic labor – for curators and artist-cultural workers. Over the past few years there has been a characteristic redefining of the ontology of the artwork into an art-curatorial project that does not produce a “piece” but a set of relations of production in culture. This new art is located in between a critique and apologia of social reality; itself, it is a constitutive offer of reality qua imaginary and symbolic representation of a possible global coexistence of different racial, ethnic, class, generational, gender, and professional identities and their unstable relations.
TkH: Teorija koja hoda (Walking Theory) was founded in Belgrade in late 2000 as a research art-theory group. Until 2002 it worked under the auspices of the Center for New Theater and Dance, and since 2002 Walking Theory has operated as an independent NGO: the TkH Center for Performing Arts Theory and Practice. The TkH platform’s main line of work is to stimulate the development of contemporary practices in the performing arts and critical discourses in their local context, as well as to critically affirm those discourses and practices in a wider regional and international context. The TkH platform operates through different theoretical and artistic programs and projects: the TkH journal for performing arts theory; projects in education (PATS, the S-O-S Project, training programs in dramaturgy); tkh-generator.net, its online platform; different art (Pro Tools) and theory events (the BITEF symposia); interdisciplinary performances and other artistic works in Serbia and abroad, as well as presentations and lectures by artists and theorists, mostly hailing from the region. Additionally, the TkH platform engages in the field of cultural politics. It cherishes active cooperation with self-organized initiatives, groups, organizations, and platforms from Belgrade (Druga scena / Other Scene), the region (THe FaMa; the Clubture regional initiative), and beyond (PAF – Performing Arts Forum), for the sake of enhancing the infrastructural and discursive potentials of independent scenes in art and culture. TkH was founded by: Bojana Cvejić, Bojan Đorđev, Siniša Ilić, Jelena Novak, Ksenija Stevanović, Miško Šuvaković, Jasna Veličković, and Ana Vujanović. The core circle of TkH’s permanent contributors, between 2000 and 2007, included: Bojana Cvejić, Bojan Đorđev, Siniša Ilić, Vlatko Ilić, Marija Karaklajić, Jelena Knežević, Mirko Lazović, Tanja Marković, Ljubiša Matić, Maja Mirković, Jelena Novak, Maja Pelević, Marta Popivoda, Ivana Stamatović, Ksenija Stevanović, Miško Šuvaković, Jasna Veličković, Ana Vujanović, and Katarina Zdjelar, among others.18
Prelom*[*Prelom: break, rupture, but also paging, layout – Translator’s note.] kolektiv was constituted in mid-2005 as an independent organization and publisher.19 It came out of the editorial board of the Prelom magazine, which was founded in 2001; seven issues in five volumes were produced. The journal was started in Belgrade as a project at the Center for Contemporary Art. Its field of interest encompassed critical theory, political theory, and art and film theory in the post-Yugoslav context. Prelom kolektiv engages in theory and curatorial-activist operations against different and paradoxical forms of contemporary neoliberal capitalism. Its members are Jelena Vesić, Dušan Grlja, Zorana Dojić, Dragana Kitanović, Vladimir Marković, Siniša Mitrović, Ozren Pupovac and Milan Rakita. Two of its projects should be noted in particular: Is It Possible to Be a Marxist in Philosophy?, an international conference held on December 29th, 2004 at the Center for Cultural Decontamination in Belgrade, which also featured a presentation by the Historical Materialism journal (London School of Economics) and the exhibition SKC in Škuc: The Case of SKC in the 1970s (Ljubljana: ŠKUC and Belgrade: Salon MSU, 2008).
Art in the Age of Culture
Art in the age of culture is an indeterminate indexical identification for art after the fall of the Berlin Wall, as well as for the turn away from special symptom retro-practices in the art of the eighties and early nineties, in favor of establishing an art for the new global epoch. This new art in the age of culture has been transforming from centered autonomies within a macro-political order into an art endowed with obvious and demonstrative functions of culture within a new media reconfiguration and re-semanticization of the present. Art in the age of culture emerged with the derivation of global empires, from the US to the EU, in the post-bloc era. There was an important change in art and culture after the fall of the Berlin Wall and that change needs to be identified.
The transfiguration of autonomous art into art in the age of culture has a global as well as a number of local histories that can be shown with point de caption! It is as though a “game of appropriations” between “reality” and the “fictional symbolic capital” of art had begun.20 For instance, in his diary notes from the mid-sixties, the composer John Cage wrote down the following few anticipations:
To know whether or not art is contemporary, we no longer use aesthetic criteria […] we use social criteria […]21
Cage was pointing to the uncertain turn away from modernism’s essentialist autonomy of art toward the anarchic effects of representing culture as the “stuff” of art. In the wake of Marcel Duchamp, Georges Bataille, Walter Benjamin, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jacques Lacan, and even Cage himself, that turn was entirely expected and plausible. Art became an object, situation, or event of “culture” in motion from “a possible world” into “the possible world.” Two decades after Cage’s anticipations, promoting the condition postmoderne, conceptual artist Victor Burgin addressed the end of art theory:
Art theory, understood as those interdependent forms of art history, aesthetics, and criticism which began in the Enlightenment and culminated in the recent period of high modernism, is now at an end. In our present so-called postmodern era, the end of art theory now is identical with the objectives of theories of representations in general: a critical understanding of the modes and means of symbolic articulation of our critical forms of sociality and subjectivity.”22
Roughly around the same time, during the mid-eighties, David Carroll, one of those not entirely consistent followers of Jacques Derrida’s teachings, tried to name the situation pertaining to the border relations between theory, art, literature, philosophy, and culture with the term “paraesthetics.” Paraesthetics points to the fascinations with the boundaries of the possible worlds. In other words, the aim of “paraesthetics” is not to resolve any of the issues pertaining to the “borders” of art, theory, and culture, but to enter the game of replacing, representing, approximating, and deferring possible inscriptions of discursive identities of art, theory, and culture. Paraesthetics refers to those events that are inscribed into the process, or behavior inscribed into the wider discursive production:
The task of paraesthetic theory is not to resolve all questions concerning the relations of theory with art and literature, but, rather, to rethink these relations and, through transformation and displacement of art and literature, to recast the philosophical, historical, and political “fields” – “fields” with which art and literature are inextricably linked.23
Carroll’s notion of “paraesthetics,” as the theory of the border syndromes of theory, art, and culture, is a sort of pre-text of the promise that has been realized in contemporary art. During the late eighties, at an entirely determinate moment in European history, the function of art was reconstituted. Once again, art became a “matter of culture” with determined functions of mediating, this time between Western (liberal or social-democrat) European societies of integration and Eastern Europe’s post-political (pre-transitional, transitional, or “well-adapted”) fragmented and stratified societies.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, art became political again, or perhaps anthropological, without necessarily dealing with explicitly political, ideological, or representational themes. European post-Cold War art has not “reflected” its social contents by means of its choice of topics, but directly, by means of organizing its economy of signification, whereby its topics are only a secondary effect of that economy. Art is thereby posited not as some “pre-human chaos,” an indeterminable abyss of nature, but as a determinate social practice, and that means a practice of signification within demonstrable social demands, expectations, and actions.24
In other words, the moving of art in Serbia from “modernist autonomies” and the “disinterestedness of eclectic postmodernisms” toward acquiring social functions, above all those of culture, mediating among all the “possible worlds” (the center, the margins, transitional formations, non-transitional formations) affected art itself, and thus the possibilities of its material formulations. The formulations of painting and sculpture were replaced with those of the open work of information, which is an erased trace of culture at a site-specific place, or an “inscription” of layered traces of culture “from” a specific place. Therefore, the ontology of these “contemporary” works is not an aesthetic but a social one: it is “of” culture. The ontology of art is not the presence of form, but its resistance (entropy) in performing the social event.
Zoran Todorović’s video work Cigani i psi (Gypsies and Dogs, 2007) is one of those characteristically “culturally oriented” works. It was made with a specially designed micro-camera worn around their necks by homeless children and stray dogs. The work was conceived with a rather clear concept in mind: to trace the arbitrariness of the behavior of Romani children and stray dogs in public space. A work set up in this way has a precise conceptual goal: to transgress and reexamine the cultural values and norms of political and racial correctness in contemporary transitional societies. On the other hand, this work communicates no ethical or political stance; rather, its “problematic title” is that which re-semanticizes what we see onscreen and in the photos. And what we see is only what the camera saw, mounted on the body of a child or a dog moving in space without a plan and most often randomly. The gaze of the camera controlled by chance, or, more accurately, the moving of “forms of life,” was thus recorded and offered up to our gaze, which “knows,” by reading the work’s title, whose bodies are featured in the work-performance. It is a difficult and dramatic work, which uses ostensibly unmotivated images to engage some fundamental contradictions of racial identity and racism in transitional national societies. The work’s intensity stems from the gap between the image and the text, the naming and the sensuous presentation of animals and humans qua “forms of life,” i.e. of animals and humans outfitted with an electronic contraption in a context that is always rigorously political and that is the context of a society in transition.
Contemporary culture is characterized by short circuits or corridors between art and culture, in other words, by a mutation of “poetics” into “cultural politics.” There are movements by which art transforms into culture – the production, multiplication, exchange, consumption, usage, application, as well as enjoyment of the “phenomenality” or “meaning” of art as an artifact of the everyday. Art comes to incorporate culture – by means of citing, collage, editing, paraphrasing, simulation, the mimesis of mimesis, usage, ready-made, transfiguration, transformation, intertextuality. It is as though the membranes separating theory of art from theory of culture had grown transparent, soft, and permeable. One could single out different indexical works that refer to concrete or potentially fragmented reality – this would concern presenting and constructing the visibility of mutually close micro-ecologies; for instance, critical Internet-based activism on the art scene (Zampa di Leone), as well as indexations of the “normal everyday” (Predrag Miladinović, Dental Trauma, 2002 and Personal Rituals, 2004), representations of sexuality (Jelena Radić, Bez naziva / Untitled, 2001 and Prigodni kulturno-umetnički program / A Suitable Cultural Program, 2004), provoking cultural clichés (Zoran Naskovski, Smrt u Dalasu / Death in Dallas, 2000-2001), confronting local images of reality and their constructs (Mileta Prodanović, Godina lava / The Year of the Lion, 2008), recognizing the system of coding in the shaping of life/death (Boris Petrović, RSZV (republika srbija), 2001 and Honey Be Or Not To Be, 2007), relations with neighbors/others (Zsolt Kovács, Stanari / Tenants, 2004), complicity in “mass identification by way of sports” and participation in populist culture (Uroš Đurić, Populistički projekat – Bog voli snove srpskih umetnika: SK Šturm Grac / The Populist Project – God Likes the Dreams of Serbian Artists: Sturm SC, Graz, 2001), fetishizing everyday objects (Dragan Jovanović, Nema ga / It’s Not There, 2000), appropriating visible traces of the everyday (Vesna Pavlović, Hoteli / Hotels, 2001), working with disturbances in the neoliberal everyday (Rena Readle and Vladan Jeremić, Serije spomenika / Series of Monuments), working with cultural entropy (Milan Atanasković, Negovanje korozije / Cherishing Corrosion, 2000), and open-closed society relations (Tanja Ostojić, Looking for a Husband with an EU Passport, 2000).
This would also concern uncovering the “rhetoric of bodily cosmetic care” (Zorica Čolić, Dismorfia, 2004), the grotesqueness of the everyday (Monika Sigeti, What is Ordinary Life?, 2007), and the critical relation between the true and the “real” in the everyday (Olga Ungar, Projekt – kamuflaža / Project Camouflage, 2006), that is, “rupturing” or “breaking” in ordinary life (Ivana Smiljanić, Veliki prasak / The Big Bang, 2003 and Ivan Grubanov, Have you ever seen your best friend bleed?, 1999).
Moreover, there have been productions that address the “alienated and cooled down” visibilities of contemporary life, for instance, allegorizations of “bare life” (Goran Despotovski, Coat, 2002), as well as elaborations of “architectural” and “designed” presence in the life/behavior of humans (Milorad Mladenović, No Title /Cursor_04/, 2006), confronting the visual culture of the urban world as “inevitable nature” (Branko Pavić, Magična kocka / The Magic Cube, 2007), confronting inversions of memories of communism (Igor Antić, Ovde daleko / Here, Far Away, 2006), presenting visibility in a culture of consumption (Zita Majoroš, Wellness, 2004), entirely intimate communication with the other (Jelena Kovačević, Moja priča / My Story, 2003), issues of racial identity and confronting the gaze of the other (Nikola Pilipović, Od Kine do Banata / From China to Banat, 2000-2001, as well as Marija Vauda and Nikola Pilipović, Verwerfung, 2001), demystifying artists (Ratomir Kulić, Anamorfoze / Anamorphoses, 2004), etc. Marija Vauda & Nikola Pilipović – MANIK (Maribor, Slovenia: Umetnostna galerija, 2001); Branislava Anđelković, Branislav Dimitrijević, and Dejan Sretenović (eds.), Konverzacija (Conversation; Belgrade: MSU and CSU, 2001); Zoran Erić and Stevan Vuković (eds.), Poslednja istočnoevropska izložba (The Last Eastern European Exhibition; Belgrade: MSU, 2003); Svebor Midžić (ed.), Jugoslovenski bijenale mladih (The Yugoslav Youth Biennial; Belgrade: CSU, 2004); Jasmina Čubrilo, Svetlana Mladenov, Irina Subotić, Dušan Todorović, and Suzana Vuksanović (eds.), MAD E + IN NOV I + SAD – Savremena umetnička scena (Contemporary Art Scene; Novi Sad: Galerija Tableau, 2006); Ratomir Kulić: Anamorfoze (Ratomir Kulić: Anamorphoses; Novi Sad: Muzej savremene likovne umetnosti, 2004); Nebojša Milenković (ed.), Zvezda i njena senka: ikonografske predstave zvezde petokrake u umetnosti socijalističkog i postsocijalističkog društva / Ideologije, utopije, simulakrumi slobode, 1945.‒2005. (The Star and Its Shadow: Iconographic Representations of the Five-Pointed Star in the Art of Socialist and Post-Socialist Societies / Ideologies, Utopias, and Simulacra of Freedom, 1945‒2005; Novi Sad: Muzej savremene likovne umetnosti, 2006). Sculptor Mrđan Bajić has ventured into the field of exploring the spectacularity of “contemporaneity” by means of the open media of sculpture and installations (Pozorišna skulptura / The Theater Statue, 2002-2003). Branimir Karanović has turned away from photography as a “documentary medium” in favor of the “discourse of photography,” i.e. photography as a way of performing and appropriating “cooled down” representations of ideological and political reality (Kolica / Cart, 1997-2000 and Čisto lice Srbije / Serbia’s Clean Face, 2003). The traditional photographic, realistic appropriation of reality emerges as a language of deriving a symbolic identity, or, at any rate, of the traces of something that is reality by consensus.
An entirely radical set of examples of “iconic,” i.e. photographic appropriations of the “triviality of the everyday” rendered trivial or unusual, was presented in the exhibition of the 1/1 – BUG workshop, held in June of 2008 at the Kontekst gallery in Belgrade.25 Zoran Todorović, an artist and professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade, presented his students’ work on inter-media analyses, presentations, and deconstructions of the everyday. For instance, Ranko Travanj presented a series of photo-portraits under the following caption: “People often view me and my friends as gay. For that reason they assault us, physically and verbally. These photographs were made after such incidents.” Nina Simonović took photographs of mentally disabled people close to her. Jelena Grujić exhibited photographs of female bodies with markings drawn around the places where those women would like to have cosmetic surgery. Aleksandar Cvetković had acquired around 5,000 photographs from a photo shop and classified them by motive, place, etc. Jovana Sibinović made detailed photographs of her mother’s body (Moja majka / My Mother). Tamara Pantić documented private situations of maintaining personal hygiene in her family, whereas Katarina Popović made a detailed presentation of applying makeup. All of these works “engaged” some exceptional and isolated details of privacy, as if to suggest that one should venture behind the private, up to the sequence, the detail, and the “isolated individual.” These works are critical specimens opposed to the “neoliberal” spectacularization of the public, although they are themselves possible only when privacy has penetrated into public space.
In 2008, curators Kristijan Lukić and Gordana Nikolić of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Vojvodina in Novi Sad and curators Vida Knežević and Ivana Marjanović of the Kontekst gallery in Belgrade organized the exhibition Odstupanje – Savremena umetnička scena Prištine (Exception – Contemporary Art Scene of Priština).26 The exhibition featured young artists from Kosovo: Artan Balaj, Jakup Ferri, Driton Hajredini, Flaka Haliti, Fitore Isufi Koja, Dren Maliqi, Alban Muja, Vigan Nimani, Nurhan Qehaja, Alketa Xhafa, Lulzim Zeqiri. The exhibition took place in Novi Sad, between January 21st and February 5th, 2008.27 It was “closed on the eve of its opening” in Belgrade on February 7th, 2008. The closing was due to the riots that several rightwing groups staged in the vicinity of the Kontekst gallery. The exhibition was perceived as a political provocation at a time when the Kosovo Albanians were expected to proclaim independence.
An entirely different set of problems is addressed in those works that represent provocations of traumatic places, above all, the role and effects of religious politics in transitional societies and the global conservative turn of the 1990s and 2000s. A number of European and American artists have engaged in exploratory or transgressive work with increasingly prominent religious repressions and rigidities. Working with the “blasphemous”28 may be seen in international artists such as Maurizio Cattelan (La Nona ora, 1999), Sarah Lucas (Christ You Know It Ain’t Easy, 2003), Theo van Gogh (Submission, 2004), Ciprian Mureşan (The End of the Five-Year Plan, 2004), and Dorota Nieznalska (The Passion, 2001), among others. “Religion” or “faith” has been explored as a political practice in relation to everyday life, gender politics, the treatment of the body, ideological political interpellation, as well as in individual and collective identification. In the words of a French author, religion is examined in contemporaneity in the same way as sex or feelings are, on the same stage of meaningless industrialization. 95% of whatever is presented as religion today morphs into carnage or killing in God’s name.29 The group Škart used elements of “urban semiology” (public signs, printed posters) to simulate an “artistic campaign,” realized in an actual religious space: Ljudi misle: Zbogom crkvi! (People Think: Farewell to the Church!, 2006).30 In 2001, Vladimir Nikolić, an artist from Belgrade, realized Ritam (Rhythm), a critical video installation that featured the “Christian Orthodox rite of baptism,” coupled with a techno soundtrack.31 A ritual that had become during the 1990s and 2000s not only a pseudo-ritual sign of religious address/expression, but also a political sign of national and social identification, was thereby isolated and presented as a “symptom.” In his Gott liebt die Serben (1991), Dragoljub Raša Todosijević performed an act of politicizing “God” as an ideological brand.32 In a similarly ironic way, he used painterly devices to perform the “theological statement” of Bog postoji (God Exists, 2004) as a political act, on an issue of the Financial Times, representing the “neoliberal system.”33 With his series of paintings (W)holly Composite (2005), conceptual artist Slavko Bogdanović realized a set of icons painted over in black. Živko Grozdanić has elaborated and set up an artistic project production platform, which he named ПОП Art. “ПОП” is a Cyrillic rendering of pop, as in Pop Art. Here, however, ПОП also signifies the popular, the populist, the entertaining, the consumerist, the mass, the mass-media, the cultural, the social, as well as “priest,” in its normal Serbian usage – an institutional subject of a specific religious practice. Following the collapse of “communism,” i.e. socialist self-management, the Serbian Christian Orthodox Church occupied the political and social position of the leading “spiritual” force of Serbian society. The void left by communism saw the re-creation of that which real-socialist politics had sought to suppress: the role of Christian – Orthodox – teaching in public and private life. The replacement of communist politicality with anti-communist nationalist religiosity has unfolded as a social and, above all, rigid and totalizing political praxis and fight for domination and power. To be sure, this process is not limited to Serbian society, but characterizes most of post-socialist and transitional societies of the former political East. For instance, the atmosphere of the rigidity and grotesqueness of the turn from political to religious totalitarianism – from National-Socialism to Catholicism – was rather suggestively described by Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard in his Gathering Evidence, where he wrote about the transition of Austria’s National-Socialist society into its civil society immediately after the Second World War:
Since my grandfather kept warning me against buying into either of those two inanities (National Socialism or Catholicism), I was never in danger of exposure to such weakness of spirit and character, even though it was most difficult to accomplish that in such a toxic atmosphere as Salzburg’s was, especially in a boarding school of that kind. Not even the Body of Christ, which by then we had to swallow around three hundred times a year, was anything but a daily show of respect to Adolf Hitler; I, at least, was under the impression that the function of the ceremony was the same, although those were two entirely disparate kinds of greatness. And the suspicion that our treatment of Jesus Christ then and that of Adolf Hitler just a year or six months earlier were one and the same thing was soon vindicated. If we take a closer look at the songs that we sang at the boarding school during and after Nazism to glorify such an ostensibly great personality, no matter which one, we must admit that those were always the same texts, albeit with somewhat different words, but always the same texts set to the same music; therefore, all of those songs and singing in the choir was nothing but an expression of stupidity, depravity, and lack of character on the part of those who sang those songs with those texts, because what such songs invariably sing about is only idiocy, total and global idiocy. And crimes in education, which education institutions perpetrate against their pupils all over the world, are always perpetrated in the name of such an exceptional personality, whether that exceptional personality was called Hitler or Jesus.34
It is a matter of an almost obviously paradigmatic signifying mechanism of transitional recycling, and thus performing particularized power as a singular trace, that anticipates the universal power of reigning over human lives in a transitional world between two or more totalitarian principles/regimes of government. Grozdanić’s work – installations – that deconstructively address signs of the institutional phenomenality of religion are the following: Meteorska kiša (Meteor Rain, 2005),35 Vladika Pahomije na Bulevaru sumraka (Bishop Pachomius on Sunset Boulevard, 2006),36 Četiri Patrijarha Pavla gledaju dvesta hiljada linija Raše Todosijevića37 (Four Patriarchs Pauls Gazing at Two Hundred Thousand Lines by Raša Todosijević, 2007), and Made in China (2007).37 In 2007, Slavko Bogdanović and Živko Grozdanić realized Final Shot / Final Cut, a video work in which they cynically reconstructed – by recycling American gangster movies – a “narrative” and an “allegorization of a narrative” about war and postwar traumas and national myths about “the father of the nation” in contemporary Serbian society.
Translated by Zarko Cvejić, Dr.
- The First) October Salon 1960: (Painting, Drawing, Sculpture