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This exhibition is Jusuf’s first showing in Zagreb in many years. With thirty-five years of varied and restlessly inventive practice behind him, this exhibition works over some themes familiar from that career- the performative, the transformation of the everyday object, the history of art, repetition, the profound consequences that random events, and chance meetings can have.

“Property of Emptiness” deals with the material detritus left behind by everyday life, and their transformation via Jusuf’s creative imagination, into art objects. Empty packaging, bottles, cartons, cans function as material evidence of Jusuf’s daily life in Sarajevo. These objects have been collected and assembled since he returned to the city following the end of the war, after a period in Belgium. The passage of time is marked by the obvious age of some of the packaging which makes up the installation; old cigarette packets with long-out-of-date health warnings, for example. Such details demonstrate the length and intensity of collecting-as-art; of a daily curation of unremarkable objects which come together to make a sum much greater than its parts.

In one sense, of course, such a practice locates Jusuf in the tradition of Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Beuys; the making of everyday objects and commonplace materials into art objects, in a gallery space. But, unlike both these historical figures, Jusuf does not seek to intervene or manipulate; the objects, emptied of their original content by the process of everyday consumption, are presented as mute witnesses to the life of the artist, and markers of the passage of time.

Giorgio Morandi, "Natura Morta", 1954.

Giorgio Morandi, “Natura Morta”, 1954.

In fact, the response of the artist to these objects is perhaps more painterly, and in particular reflects upon and pays tribute to the Italian nature morte painter Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964). Hadžifejzović is quite clear about the relationship between this current installation and the intense, near hallucinogenic vision of Morandi. “Property of Emptiness” is a play on words; the dual meanings of nature morte and “still life” are quite deliberate. The deadening effects of consumption, or the halt in time for an artist as they respond obsessively and intensively to different visual stimuli, are important elements here.

Once these objects contained fluids or solids vital for everyday survival and comfort; food, medicine, alcohol, tobacco, perfume, cleaning materials. Now voided of their contents in the process of consumption, the artist suggests that his own body has been filled with a like emptiness; all that is left is our contemplation of objects whose original purpose has been fulfilled. All that is left, is the obsessive relationship between Jusuf as bricoleur and his assembled materials; a constantly evolving, never fulfilled relationship. In one sense this installation can be read as a marketplace of past experience, shared freely, as opposed to a supermarket of consumer goods.

Jusuf Hadžifejzović, "Property of Emptiness" installation (detail), 2014

Jusuf Hadžifejzović, “Property of Emptiness” installation (detail), 2014

If we are what we consume, then this process reveals its emptiness; hollow objects filling the space of an art gallery, seeming to function as a sculptural depiction of the emptiness of lives primarily affected by consumer trends rather than by ideas or feelings. Further, it focuses on the status of the object; the ability of a humble carton, ignored by most, to trigger memories of a particular day or a particular encounter with someone; the empty bottle of wine as a marker of a brief meeting and interesting conversation with a stranger.

This latest show seeks to maintain the cutting edge of installation, and performance, as social critique and invitation to dialogue. In the very specific circumstances of culture in Sarajevo and wider BiH, installation and performance remain marginal, subterranean activities; culture, such as it is, is administered by political and business classes that are at once indifferent to, and ignorant of these practices. Perhaps it is this which gives Jusuf’s practice such a pungent relevance; these practices provide a dual space, to dream and remember, as well as to critique, that has perhaps been flattened out of such practices in other countries.

Jusuf Hadžifejzović, "Propety of Emptiness" installation (detail), 2014

Jusuf Hadžifejzović, “Propety of Emptiness” installation (detail), 2014

This artist, and those whose practice he continues to influence, continues to use whatever tools come to hand as a means of generating discussion, humour, social interaction, and the combination of all these factors into critique. Jusuf’s art is nothing if not social, and relational; this show here invites us to think of memory and how we order our thoughts of the past, and how to make sense of these memories in the hyper-capitalist present. It can be argued that much of the political edge of 1970s performance art has now transferred itself into contemporary “socially engaged art”. If that is true, then this exhibition shows us that transformation in the career of one artist.

Jon Blackwood

Property of Emptiness: Homage to Giorgio Morandi by Jusuf Hadžifejzović opens tonight at the Institute for Contemporary Art, Zagreb and remains open until December 30th. You can follow the ICA on facebook for more photos; or visit the show at Trg Kralja Tomislava 20, Tuesday – Saturday, Opening hours are 1200-1900.

 

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If you are from Scotland and living anywhere abroad at present, it is likely that your friends and colleagues will be asking you one question more than any other- what will happen in the Scottish referendum on the 18th September? The vote- on whether Scotland will move towards complete political independence from the rest of the United Kingdom- is a complex and difficult one. Referendums like these have uncomfortable resonances with recent histories in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, although the result is not likely to be anything like as decisive as the results in Slovenia, Croatia, BiH and Macedonia were in the early 1990s.

A friend in Macedonia once asked me- Does it mean the English will start shooting at you if you vote Yes? The answer is a decisive No. It must be said that, no matter how heated (and in small places unpleasant) the debate in Scotland has become, there is no chance whatever of any armed conflict. Nationalism and the broader movement in favour of independence in Scotland is quite a rare flower in European nationalisms, in that it is civic, democratic and non-violent in character.

The type of ethnic nationalist discourses that have bedevilled ex-Yu since the mid-1980s simply have no resonance whatever in Scotland. No matter where in the world you come from, be it from Dundee or Donji Paprasko, if you have British or EU citizenship and are registered to vote, you have a say. Thousands of Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and other European nationalities will take part in the poll next week, based on their residency status. Meanwhile, the Scottish diaspora, globally, being unregistered, has no say- and quite rightly so, as the vote will not affect their immediate futures or livelihoods.

But, how has it come to pass that this referendum is happening at all, what are the issues, and the possible consequences? This article attempts to fill in the contours of the debate for everyone who is interested in following it.

Roots of the Current Referendum

The distant roots of the independence referendum go back to 1707, and the Act of Union between Scotland and England. England had already acquired the territory of Wales by military conquest in the thirteenth century, and incorporating the Welsh into the English legal system in the sixteenth century. Scotland’s road to Union was more economic in character; after disastrous colonial enterprises at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century, Scotland was bankrupt, and Union with England offered the possibility of economic redemption, and a recovery of lost fortunes for aristocratic and business investors.

The Union was bitterly contested by ordinary people- the national poet, Robert Burns, famously denounced the Act of Union in the couplet We’re Bought and Sold for English Gold- / Sic’ A parcel o’ Rogues in a Nation! But by the time that Burns penned this verse, in 1791, the sense of Scotland being a separate nation was beginning to fade, as generations became used to the idea of a United Kingdom. It is a romantic canard that you will hear sometimes, that “Scotland is England’s Last Colony”; as well as being factually untrue (the UK still has a remnant of empire in the Caribbean), it is historically illiterate.

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The stark truth is that access to the rapidly expanding colonial markets in the second half of the eighteenth century, and the whole of the nineteenth century, drove the mushrooming of Scottish industry and built fortunes for its best known magnates in slavery, tobacco, coal, iron, steel, shipbuilding, and engineering. By the end of the nineteenth century, Glasgow, with its gigantic engineering enterprises and trade links to all corners of the globe, was deemed by many to be “The Second City of the Empire”, whilst businessman and administration began to refer not to Scotland but to “North Britain”. “North Britain” appeared in business names from hotels to locomotive works; the North British Locomotive Company, based in Springburn, a suburb of Glasgow, was active until the 1960s, and some ageing “North British” hotels clung on in Scottish cities until the early 1980s.

At this stage, with Scotland fully absorbed into the UK imperial project, notions of Scotland re-gaining its independence were the preserve of dreamers, romantics and fantasists. In keeping with the “nationalist revival” that swept Europe at the end of the nineteenth century (ironically, the same drivers that argued for the dissolution of Austria-Hungary and a mystical future “South Slav” nationalism in the Balkans) notions of Scottish independence were confined to the independently minded middle classes. The novelist RB Cunnighame Graham helped to establish the Scottish Home Rule Association in 1886, but although this group put forward motions calling for greater self rule for Scotland seven times between the 1880s and the 1920s, none of them ever came close to being acted upon. Imagine a political party in contemporary BiH calling for the reformation of the Hapsburg Empire, and you will have an idea of how forlorn and marginal Scottish independence was, as a political cause, at this time.

Soviet stamp commemorating the leader of Red Clydeside, John MacLean, issued in 1979.

Soviet stamp commemorating the leader of Red Clydeside, John MacLean, issued in 1979.

The mechanised slaughter of the Great War marked the first straw in the wind of where we have got to, today. Working class agitation- particularly in Glasgow under the leadership of John MacLean- saw protest against the widespread and senseless carnage of that conflict as a focus of protest, as well as opportunism from local capitalists in raising rents steeply, and using wartime conditions as an excuse to attack working conditions and wage levels. Glasgow rent strikes steadily grew, through organised militant labour, into what was called “Red Clydeside”- a general strike in 1919, quelled by the then home secretary Winston Churchill sending tanks onto the streets of Glasgow. The London government, with little understanding of the situation on the ground, feared a Communist revolt; MacLean, after all, had been appointed Soviet ambassador at large in Scotland, by V.I. Lenin.

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British Army tanks on George Square, Glasgow, at the height of Red Clydeside, 1919

If Red Clydeside was quelled and then incorporated into the British political system, with its leadership joining the ranks of the emerging UK Labour Party at Westminster in the 1920s, the desire for Scotland to have a greater say in running its internal affairs was not really answered. Amidst these great socio-political upheavals, a civic sense of Scottish identity remained intact; through the separate (and established) Church of Scotland; a separate Scottish education system stretching from infant school to university; a Scottish banking system with the right to issue their own disticntive pound notes; and a separate Scottish legal system. Church, education, finance, and law, between them, did more than anything to maintain a community based sense of a separate Scottish identity within the unitary British state, between 1707 and the 1970s. As working and middle class leisure developed in an emerging consumer society, the exploits of Scottish sports teams- particularly the Scottish football team- became another marker of separateness. Over time, as the century developed, the Scottish football team became a carrier of what the theorist and historian Tom Nairn has described as “Cultural Sub-Nationalism”; the carrier of a sense of national identity for a people denied the expression of that identity through political means.

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Scotland take to the field against England at Wembley in 1967. Inspired by Rangers winger Jim Baxter, the Scots beat the then World Cup winners 3-2, to become (jokingly) the “unofficial champions of the world”.

In the strictly political sense, the present-day Scottish National Party was formed in 1934, as a result of the merger of two smaller parties. In its early days, it was a marginally important, right wing formation, focused more on the cultural symbols of a nation past than the needs of the nation present. It was not until 1967, with the party moving towards a left leaning orientation, that the SNP had a member elected to the Westminster parliament for more than a few weeks- the iconic Winnie Ewing. Ewing’s election in Hamilton was the beginning of a period of real momentum for the SNP, until 1979 and the election of Margaret Thatcher.

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Scottish National Party campaigning poster, 1970s

For the first time in the 1970s, the SNP moved from the irrelevant fringes to the centre of political life. The discovery of large reserves of oil in the North Sea, off the North East coast, in 1973, transformed the fortunes of the party, who gained much support and sympathy with their “It’s Scotland’s Oil” campaign to 1979. But the major event of the second half of the 70s was the campaign for Scottish devolution. A weak Labour government, hobbled by industrial unrest and a very narrow parliamentary majority, dependent on the support on minority parties in Westminster, including Scottish and Welsh nationalists, introduced a bill- fiercely opposed by some in their own ranks- for devolved assemblies for Scotland and Wales. These were not independent parliaments, but equivalent to the West German federal Lander– giving significant autonomy to both territories, with defence, foreign policy and tax raising powers reserved to Westminster control. In the ballots, the Welsh rejected their proposed assembly by a 4:1 majority; Scotland voted narrowly in favour, but thanks to the drafting of the bill, insufficient people voted for a devolved assembly for it to become law and happen. A few months later, the severely weakened Labour government fell, and ushered in the Margaret Thatcher era.

Thatcher, Blair, Neo-Liberalism & Scotland

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Conservative Party election poster, designed by Saatchi & Saatchi, 1979

Margaret Thatcher’s government was elected in the middle of 1979, inheriting an economy that was in major crisis (Britain had been obliged to seek a loan from the IMF in 1976), on a ticket of de-regulation and de-industrialisation. These twin policies were to hit Scotland particularly hard in the 1980s; industrial developments fostered by governments in the 1960s were simply closed down. The Linwood car plant closed in 1981, followed a decade after by the Ravenscraig steelworks. With less fanfare, heavy industry concerns across the Scottish Central Belt, many from the “North British” era, also closed or drastically reduced jobs and productivity. The bitter miner’s strike of 1984/5, the defining domestic political issue of the 1980s, decimated Scottish coalfields in Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire and Fife; today there is only one surface coal mining operation left in Scotland, with all the deep mines closed (despite having several centuries’ worth of coal between them still unmined).

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Scottish Miners’ leader Mick McGahey addressing a crowd in Glasgow, spring 1985

Thatcher’s victory in the Miners’ strike saw her build up the political capital to force through a raft of anti-Trade Union legislation in the years that followed; rights to strike and freedoms of movement associated with strike activity, were heavily curtailed. The Thatcher period saw an end to the “Welfare State consensus” that had prevailed in the UK since the end of the Second World War; inspired by the dogmas of Milton Friedman and monetarist economics, Thatcher’s concern was to build a “share-owning, home-owning democracy” where the actions of the state were severely curtailed; a rolling programme of privatisations, of nationalised industries and utilities, was ruthlessly pursued. Scotland- and the industrial heartlands of Northern England, the Midlands and Wales- stood largely opposed to such policy; the Labour Party, in a period of soul-seaching, in-fighting and re-definition, was largely impotent at this period; the Scots and Welsh nationalists again an irrelevant fringe who seemed to have blown their big chance at the end of the 1970s.  A second devolutionary vote was to come around sooner than anyone at the end of the 1980s would have predicted, however.

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The hard line Thatcherite era came to an abrupt end when she was obliged to resign, following a dwindling of support for her in Conservative ranks, in November 1990. A major factor in her removal was the riots and civil disobedience caused by her hugely unpopular Poll Tax policy– a policy where Scotland was used as a guinea pig, a year before the rest of the UK. The Poll Tax was not only a sign that Thatcher was losing touch with reality, it was also one of the greatest recruiting sergeants to the idea of a devolved Scotland.

Although a very weakened Tory government returned to power in April 1992, under John Major, it was clear that internal policy debates within Labour at that time would determine the political direction of the UK as the twentieth century neared its end. The party re-affirmed a commitment to introducing a devolved parliament for Scotland, and Assemblies for Wales and Northern Ireland. When Labour party leader John Smith died suddenly of a heart attack in 1994, his successor Tony Blair- privately thought to be a devolution-sceptic- saw this part of Labour policy as an important part of the deceased Smith’s policy legacy for the party.  After Labour’s crushing general election victory in May 1997, Blair, and his Scottish secretary Donald Dewar, moved quickly to steer the legislation through Westminster; in a 1997 referendum, Scots voted overwhelmingly in favour of establishing a devolved Scottish parliament.

Issues

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Alex Salmond (l), First Minister of Scotland and SNP Leader; Alistair Darling (r.), former Labour Chancellor and leader of the Unionist “Better Together” campaign

With the parliament so recently established, how has it happened that Scots want so much more so soon?

The architecture of Scottish devolution was meant to ensure that no party had an overall majority; the 129 members are elected by a mixture of traditional first past the post, plus proportional representation “list” members. In 1999 and 2003 Scottish Labour, under Donald Dewar then Jack McConnell, were the biggest party; in 2007, the SNP under Alex Salmond formed a minority government; then, in 2011, in the context of a meltdown of the UK Labour Party, under Gordon Brown’s disastrous premiership, and a defeat to a Conservative-Liberal coalition in Westminster, the SNP romped home by a landslide victory in the Scottish parliament elections; gaining the outright majority that parliamentary arithmetic was supposed to guard against. The old Labour figure George Robertson, who rose to be secretary-general of NATO, predicted that “devolution will kill nationalism stone dead” at the end of the 90s, is now widely mocked for such a foolish forecast.

The key plank of the SNP’s programme is holding a referendum on an independent Scotland. The question that will be asked on the ballot paper is simple: “Do You Agree that Scotland should be an Independent Country?” with voters having to respond Yes / No.

There is consensus amongst all the parties involved that Scotland could be an independent country. The disagreement lies in whether is should become one, or not. In taking the decision, several factors will come into play.

Currency

The ability of an independent Scotland to continue to use the UK pound has been a key debate throughout the campaign. The “Better Together” campaign, led by former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer (Minister of Finance) Alistair Darling, has insisted that if Scotland votes for independence, it will have to develop its own currency or use the euro, as it will not be permitted to use the pound. The three leaders of the main parties at Westminster have united to state that they will not allow an independent Scotland to use the pound.

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For a while, this narrative had some impact on voters. Increasingly, however, it seems untenable. The “Yes” campaign, of which the SNP is the largest but not the only component, has advocated a “currency union” between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK, with the Bank of England as lender of last resort, and setter of interest rates. Increasingly, the No campaign’s intransigence over the pound seems like a bargaining tactic- at least in the eyes of Nobel-prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz. More than anything else, the mechanism by which an independent Scotland could be prevented from using the pound is not clear. Scottish banks retain the right to print their own bank notes (just try changing one of these at a Sarajevo mjenjačnica, folks), and in Europe, Montenegro and Kosovo use the Euro without formally being part of the Euro mechanism. Brussels may not like it, but there’s not a hell of a lot they can do about it.

Relations with the EU

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Relations with Europe are also a key area of dispute and uncertainty. In the UK, the small UK Independence Party is picking up a lot of support and votes from the South of England through to the old Labour-voting former industrial heartlands in the Midlands and the North, by calling explicitly for a British withdrawal from the European Union. In so doing, they are outflanking the governing Conservative Party from the right, and to some extent forcing the Conservatives to ramp up their anti-European rhetoric.

The trouble is that since 1997 the Tories have had virtually no influence in Scotland…currently they have only one Scottish MP out of 59 sent to Westminster. Further, Scottish voters are generally much more sympathetic to the EU and the idea of politically being part of Europe, than their counterparts in England. Nationalists have made much play of the Tory and LIberal lack of “democratic legitimacy” in Scotland; if, after a No vote, the UK electorate voted to leave the EU, against the wishes of the Scottish people, then such concerns would be ramped up a hundred fold.

Conversely, the No campaign have sought to play on fears and uncertainties surrounding Scotland’s future in the EU, if there is a Yes vote. This would lead to a complex set of international rules and laws being brought into play; if Scotland were to secede, then England, Wales and Northern Ireland would probably be regarded as the old UK’s “successor state”, leaving Scotland “out in the cold” and having to re-apply to join the EU. According to the No side, this would be catastrophic for Scottish business- particularly farmers, who are heavily dependent on EU subsidy.

The trouble with this issue is that no one knows how it will play out. This is an unprecedented situation for the EU- no member state has ever before faced the possibility of part of its territory seceding. The general view is that Scotland would have to re-apply to join the EU, but that realpolitik would dictate that this is a foreshortened process; there is no way the EU commission would want an energy-rich country out of the club for the long term, as it is in nobody’s interest. However, governments in other EU countries facing independence and nationalist questions- most notably Spain and Italy- may disagree. Those who prefer to refer to the “Velvet Divorce” between the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993, have to concede that this divorce took place outwith the confines of the EU, and therefore is not really a helpful example in this context.

Oil

The SNP’s old campaigning slogan- “It’s Scotland’s Oil”- has been reformulated in contemporary times to have a softer message. Such simple sloganeering in contemporary times seems selfish and grasping, particularly in the global context of growing awareness of the impact of burning oil on the environment, and its increasing scarcity as a resource. Those in favour of independence now argue that Scotland should establish a “sovereign wealth fund” along the lines of the one established by Norway, to ensure that the profits from oil and petrochemicals are shared as widely as possible.

The Better Together campaign argues that the oil in the North Sea is running out, and that it is crazy to base the nation’s future economic strategy on a dwindling resource. Again, in contradictory fashion, the Westminster government has announced plans to introduce the highly controversial “fracking” (“hydraulic fracturing”) technique to Scotland, to try and capitalise on what they claim is a potential shale gas bonanza. Experience in the United States and the massive environmental damage it can cause are prominent in Yes campaigners arguments.

Moreover, yes campaigners point out that significant Oil reserves will be available to underpin an independent Scotland’s economy for a minimum of 50 years, arguing that this is more than sufficient time to develop the infrastucture and strategic priorities for a post-oil economy, reliant on green technologies still in development..

Nuclear Weaponry

The UK’s fleet of nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered submarines is based at Faslane, a naval base on the West Coast of Scotland. The SNP- and the wider Yes campaign- have insisted that the removal of these weapons, and the subsequent creation of a nuclear-free Scotland, is a non-negotiable item in the event of a Yes vote.

Better Together have come at the issue from a jobs angle. they claim that thousands of jobs will be lost if Faslane is closed after the nuclear fleet is moved. In response, the SNP government in Edinburgh have earmarked Faslane as the putative Headquarters of a newly independent Scottish Defence Force, safeguarding jobs. No campaigners remain unconvinced by this line, however, given that the vast majority of the Yes campaign are minded to steadily reduce military spending in an independent country.

National Health Service

The National Health Service (NHS) was a UK-wide service established in 1948, by the first post-war Labour government. In recent times, the demands on the NHS of an ageing population, and by younger people who expect a consumer-style tailored experience from a state owned service, have stretched demand to breaking point, and debate across the UK rages about the best way to take healthcare forward in the years to come.

In England, the privatisation by stealth of the NHS was ushered in by the new Tory-Liberal coalition, with the NHS reform bill introduced early in the term of the new government. This opens up many aspects of the NHS to “marketisation” and users worry that the guiding principle of “free at the point if use” is under threat; they fear a breaking up of the NHS and a headlong move towards an American style system of health insurance. Westminster vigorously denies that they are in a privatisation process, as such a move would be toxic in terms of public opinion; however, it is a line that is increasingly tenuous and lacking in credibility.

Yes campaigners claim that a Yes vote is the only way to preserve a free-at-the-point-of-use Health Service, with tax revenues from oil and monies saved from differential tax and foreign policies covering the bill. No also claim that the NHS is under threat from independence, how exactly is not clear.

There are of course other issues at stake in the referendum, but these are the main areas of contention that come up time after time. Note: none of these issues have ethnicity or appeals to nationalist myths at their core. Both campaigns are cross party. The “Yes” side is dominated by the SNP, but also includes smaller parties such as the Scottish Greens, Scottish Socialist Party, Scottish Communist Party, and also members from Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who disagree with their leadership’s Unionist line. “Better Together” is dominated by the Labour Party, supported by the majority of the Liberal Democrats and the whole of the Scottish Conservatives.

Given the deep, deep unpopularity of political Conservatism in Scotland, a legacy of the high-handedness of Margaret Thatcher, however, the Tories have taken a much lower-key role than might have been anticipated; if Conservatives were to take a more prominent role they would simply damage the No campaign’s chances of success. It has been a difficult sell for Labour activists to campaign alongside Conservatives, and privately Labour sources worry that their party has been severely damaged by their uncomfortable alliance, in the No campaign, with otherwise bitter enemies.

What will the outcome be?

This is a remarkable moment to live through in Scotland, as this campaign has caught the imagination of the electorate like no other. Even voters who normally greet Scottish and Westminster elections with a cynical arched eyebrow and indifference, have been galvanised in recent times by the campaign; voters have registered to take part in large numbers, and joined campaigns as activists. The “Yes” campaign in particular has been a tremendous grassroots affair, with the official campaign sidelined in some areas by the work of local organisations or the autonomous “Radical Independence Campaign”. Better Together have relied more heavily on endorsements from established figures in business, economics and show business, and the tacit and sometimes overt support of the much of the mainstream media, north and south of the border.

Until recently, it seemed that the chances of the Scottish people voting Yes were remote. Polls consistently showed Better Together between ten and twenty points ahead in voting intentions; one poll, at the beginning of summer 2014, had the margin at as much as 61-39% against independence. Of particular worry to the Yes side was the unpopularity of their case amongst women voters, and the over-65s- the demographic most likely to vote in UK elections.

Polls last weekend, however, showed a dramatic narrowing of the polls, and in one case showed “Yes” as having taken a narrow 51-49% lead; voting predictions particularly amongst women, had improved dramatically. This poll has had the effect of waking up what had been a rather complacent Westminster political elite, who seemed to have believed too much of their own publicity; this week, the papers are full of the possibilities of Scotland breaking away from the rest of the UK, and the impact it would have. The pound tumbled on yesterday’s currency markets as international investors reacted to the possibility of the UK ceasing to exist in its current form.

If Scotland votes Yes, there will be a period of negotiations, with a Scottish cross party group, led by SNP First Minister Alex Salmond, negotiating terms with the Westminster government. Once that deal is concluded, Independence Day for Scotland is set at 24 March 2016; giving a transition period of eighteen months before the UK ceases to exist. England, Wales and Northern Ireland will continue as the “United Kingdom” successor state; the unitary United Kingdom will be changed to “United Kingdoms” after Scottish independence has been confirmed.

A No vote contains just as much uncertainty as a Yes. Westminster, in something of a panic at the sudden closeness of the outcome, has wheeled out former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, to offer a package of “further powers” for Scotland if it votes no, although they refuse to be drawn on what those powers might be. Some voters may take them at their word; Yes-minded voters fear that if the vote is No, Westminster will act quickly to strip away the powers of the devolved Scottish parliament to hold future referendums on Independence. The refusal to be specific as to what powers might be on offer lends itself to a cynical reading of this belated “offer” from the UK government. The issue typifies the rather clumsy handling of the whole referendum by David Cameron’s Tory-led coalition, strengthening suspicion that he is rather out of his depth when handling this complicated and constantly evolving historical process. A “Yes vote will almost certainly force Cameron’s resignation as Prime Minister- and perhaps that of Ed Miliband, too, the Leader of the Opposing Labour Party, who has consistently struggled to build a coherent political narrative or alternative to the Tories.

The result, having seemed for so long to be a foregone conclusion, is all of a sudden far too close to call. Only the brave would make a prediction for definite on which way it will go. But, whatever the outcome, the nature of the UK, and its four constituent members, is in a process of irreversible change- now and into the future.

Strap in for the ride!

Jon Blackwood

Ars Kozara: Seventh Edition

The seventh edition of Ars Kozara was held, despite the odds against it, from 23rd-31st August 2014 in Kozara National Park. Ars Kozara is an ongoing project of the art group Tač.ka, from Prijedor, which started in 2007 as an art in nature laboratory to both provide a platform for artists, and to connect their work and practices with the politics and place of Kozara National Park. With a focus on creating a dialogue between artists and space, the Ars Kozara project connects people from all over the former Yugoslavia and provides freedom of expression and display, due to its position outside of formal institutional structures.

This year fourteen artists (Goran Čupić, Aleksa Gajić, Miodrag Jović, Davor Paponja, Aleksandra Kukoljac, Bojan Matović Fligler, Melita Matović Fligler, Irena Mirković, Bojana Radenović, Vladimir Sekulić, Ivana Živković, Tanja Marić, Danka Terzić and Suzana Vulović) from a range of locations and creative backgrounds, including poetry and comic illustration, gathered to create both individual and collective works at the Glavuša site, and two additional locations.

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The choice of natural space in which to realise work provides a unique creative backdrop because ‘to engage directly with natural materials… to make site-specific ‘sculptures’ in open spaces, is to open up a space in which meanings are unpredictable, and in which the histories and associations of location become a part of the work.’1 Of course, all artists applied with a concept, but the park provides a dynamic workspace because it requires that they adapt and develop those concepts when confronted with the physical space.

The project is not only unique to Bosnia and Herzegovina, but internationally too. Whilst many land art/art in nature projects exist, these are usually one-off, isolated events. Over the last seven years, Tač.ka has transformed Kozara National Park into an open-air gallery. This creates a more open space for the public and interpretation because visitors to the park do not have an imposed gallery, but are free to happen upon and interact with the works on their own terms. The works are openly available for viewing at the Glavuša site in Kozara National Park, along with all previous works since 2007. An interesting feature is that no two viewings will ever be the same, as artists agree to leave their work in the care of nature. Works from all previous years can be seen as they appeared on completion on the Tač.ka website, and images from this year on the Ars Kozara Facebook page.

This year’s works reflected the range of backgrounds and layers of meaning present in the context of nature generally, and Kozara specifically. Despite a wide range of ages and experience, all of the artists lived and worked as equals. For many it was their first experience working in nature with mostly natural materials, which perhaps served as an equalizer of sorts. All came ready and excited to experiment, showing that there are still experiences and contexts in which art can be created collectively with enthusiasm and without ego.

The work “Pucanje Nečega“ by seasoned land artist and third time Ars Kozara participant, Goran Čupić (Banja Luka) was a response to the floods and the terrible devastation they caused. Using segments of tree trunks cut in varying sizes, he created a flowing installation along one slope amongst the trees of the Glavuša site, with cracks amongst the carefully orchestrated collection of circles reflecting the damaged earth. The work draws attention to the power and fragility of nature and is a welcome tribute to the damaged land and livelihoods during the 2014 disaster.

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Goran Čupić Pucanje Nečega, 2014

Diverting from his original concept, Belgrade comic artist and illustrator Aleksa Gajić was inspired to erect a giant smiley in the trees. Whilst Davor Paponja and Miodrag Jović (Banja Luka) drew on the history of Kozara for their installation of children’s toys, hung from the trees, relating to the children who died and/or suffered during WWII, specifically in the Kozara area. Bojan and Melita Matović Fligler (Zagreb) created a dwarf figure out of broken mirror glass, in order to play with reflections and light, and man’s connection to nature. And Bojana Radenović (Belgrade) simulated the constellations in the earth by digging a circular ditch and inserting specially powered LED pins.

The work “Enter the Wood” by Vladimir Sekulić (Krupanj) plays on ideas of openness and space. By erecting a fence in what was previously open space, the artist invites us to enter the space of Ars Kozara. The concept was related to gates and access through land in rural areas, and responses to the often irresponsible behaviour of those who pass through. Although related to cattle and farming, the erection of a fence and stile at one of the main entry points to the work sites at Glavuša raises questions of preservation and responsibility towards art; whilst at the same time welcoming us with the “Welcome” and “Enter the Wood” signs.

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Vladimir Sekulić, Enter the Wood, 2014

This year’s event also included two collective works, involving friends and volunteers as well as the artists themselves. One was the installation “Samonikla Umetnost” (“Spontaneous Art”) along the main road entrance to Mrakovica; the other was the mural “Jam Session” on a wall of the National Park workers’ office and residence, which is also home to participating artists during Ars Kozara residencies. The design and production of these works is emblematic of the cooperative atmosphere not only between artists, but between artists, the National Park staff, and the guests and volunteers that Ars Kozara attracts. With funding, flooding and politics all working against the project, the week and works that resulted from it all serve to show the energy and drive present amongst Tač.ka members and the Ars Kozara participants.

Charlotte Whelan

 

Charlotte Whelan is a PhD student (UCL) based between London and Prijedor. Her research (working title: “Experimental art practices and alternative space in Bosnia and Herzegovina”) examines art from a geographical perspective, exploring the relationships between art, space and identity in contemporary BiH . Although she mostly works with the art collective Tač.ka from Prijedor, she is interested in the broader contemporary scene and how it functions in relation to these issues.

All photos courtesy of Tač.ka

So, how has 2014 been for you? Everyone I know has undergone significant changes or life events this year; the birth of children, the change of jobs, the leaving of a long-occupied house for somewhere new. And these personal narratives have been played out against a traumatic year of brutal conflict (Palestine, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq), floodings, high profile accidents, epidemics, uprisings and chronic political instability. Looking forward to 2014, SCB predicted that it would be a very unusual year in term of culture in Sarajevo and in wider BiH, as for once money would not be an obstacle to the realisation of interesting projects.

In fact, culturally, politically and socially, the year has mutated in some very strange ways, and the long-anticipated and planned for “commemoration” of the centenary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and Countess Sophie, have simply been drowned out by the relentless appearance of appalling news from other parts of the world. Far from being the centre of the world’s attention, as was planned for the last week of June, Sarajevo has been a sidelined puppet-show, with the world’s global audience captivated by bloody bear-pits elsewhere. Those of a spiritual bent talk of the world “entering a new phase through a long painful transition period”; those who set less store by spirituality merely note the production of a decade’s worth of history in a few short months.

In terms of visual art, it has been a compelling year so far. The show The Desire for Freedom at the National Gallery in June put together five mid-career artists who, in their own way, have developed compelling trajectories in the last decade. Gordana Anđelić-Galić’s two videos, Mantra (2006) and Washing (2011) show the stultifying effect that a constant change in political structures, and views of the future, have burdened ordinary people and, at best, blighted them with a permanent instability and lack of faith in the future. The artist’s stubborn persistence in carrying an enormous weight of flags in Mantra symbolises the persistence of the struggle of the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the face of this constant uncertainty, the existential struggle to survive. It also links to the highly contested and contingent narratives of the recent past, engaged in a constant process of re-writing and over-writing, thereby undermining the foundations of any notional progress in the present century.

In the same show, a youthful work by Venice 2013 entrant Mladen Miljanović echoes earlier work by his academic mentor, Veso Sovilj; Welcome from 2006 shows the young man standing against the outline of BiH, rendered in the form of a hangman’s noose; this focus on the limitations set by the state on the ambitions of a young artist to travel, develop and exhibit recalls Sovilj’s work The Art of Bosnia-Herzegovina Stays within the Boundaries of Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1996. Maja Bajević’s videos, facing one another, wittily re-interpreted canonical texts from the febrile atmosphere of SKC in Belgrade in the early 70s; Marina Abramović’s Art Must be Beautiful is re-calibrated as Maja’s Art Must Be National; in this sense, her claustrophobic self-destructive gestures form a very good metaphor for the straightjacket of lies that the ethnic nationalisms of the 90s imposed on artists and their production. How Do You Want to Be Governed also uses the form of a 1970s performance piece- this time Raša Todosijević’s Was ist Kunst? to similar devastating effect.

2014 has been a good year to show contemporary BiH art to an international audience, and alongside the National Gallery, Collegium Artisticum’s programme of international and domestic art, and duplex 100m2’s industrious activity, have tried to make the most of the opportunity. Collegium’s programme this year- showing a spectrum of artists from Scotland to South Korea- has been remarkable for its breadth and depth, whilst duplex successfully pulled off the biggest-ever showing of art from BiH in the Memory Lane exhibition at Galerie agnès b. in Paris, in June. Certainly the biggest showing of BiH art since independence in 1992, this show, which you can read about in entries below from June, was one of the biggest ever from the “Yugosphere” in history; probably the most significant showing of artists from the Western Balkans since the state-funded 5000 Years of Yugoslav Art shown in Paris in 1971.

Note the mention of state funding and state involvement there. The duplex exhibition, so potentially far-reaching in its implications of the future of the chosen artists and visual culture from BiH in general, was funded from entirely private sources; the state seems actively indifferent to its core function of promoting, and encouraging interest in, BiH from abroad. The political and diplomatic classes are genuinely clueless about the role that the arts can play in shaping and changing the image that a country has in the world, and in encouraging inward investment. Similarly, a show last year of BiH art at the Rosenberg Gallery in Baltimore was entirely funded by non-BiH sources, as is the recently opened Decoding show in Cetinje. This is of course nothing new, in that even established artists have to struggle and adapt however they can to keep a career going in a funding climate only occasionally troubled by a token gesture from the state.

Another trend has been interesting to observe this year; the cranking into life, via millions of EU funds, of a semi-dormant and ruthlessly self-interested local cultural elite.

In most countries, the appearance of a major anniversary such as the 28th of June would have been planned for years in advance, carefully co-ordinated and designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. In fact, the scramble for funding was typically last minute, ill-targeted and of course eventually hoovered up, in large part, by the usual five or six bodies that monopolise external funding in BiH. The result has been a rather scattergun, incoherent series of here-today-gone-tomorrow events, of at best questionable significance. The megalomaniac The Century of Peace after the Century of Wars performance- A Riverdance through a hall of caricatures- achieved, at best, polite indifference, and the causing of traffic jams on Obala for a few days, a major cultural legacy in return for a six-figure budget. This is just one example amidst a bizarre programme clearly not pitched at ordinary citizens, an archipelago of ticket-only bar-code access conferences, and concerts closed to all but international audiences.

The joy felt by so many citizens of Sarajevo at the beautiful re-construction of Vijećnica, the hallucinogenic Neo-Moorish masterpiece of Karel Pařik, Alexander Wittek and Ćiril Iveković, was heartfelt; few eyes were dry as Vedran Smajlović appeared again in a building that had lain in ruins, when he last played his cello there. However, such emotion is tempered by the fact that this is another public building, formerly owned by all, which has stealthily changed function; no longer a national library, it is in strong danger of becoming a private playground for local politicians and itinerant foreign diplomats; the commitment to re-establishing the building as a national and university library seems a lot more lukewarm in comparison with the desire for luxury accommodation for politicians and an expensive restaurant to keep them well-fed. Sadly, this is just another example of a stealthily asset transfer enriching a tiny corrupt elite at the expense of everyone else, happy-clapped by gullible external funders.

Such strange scripting took place against a backdrop of environmental catastrophe. The floods that overwhelmed much of central and northern Bosnia in May, along with neighbouring communities in Eastern Croatia and Western Serbia, displaced nearly a quarter of the population and destroyed the lives that many had rebuilt for themselves after the war. Shocking scenes saw the contours of familiar towns such as Doboj, Maglaj and Bosanski Šamac were transformed by the floods into deserted, devastated, diseased, dystopian nightmares. Activists on the ground regularly report that the damage is much more severe than that caused by the fighting in 1992-95, and will undoubtedly add to the already existing burden of mental and physical illness, as who will pay for the damage, and the timescale for it to be righted is far from certain. Central government, farcically, did next to nothing, other than organise a day of mourning, call for an increased level of prayer, cause problems and delays over “missing paperwork” for aid convoys, and, very grudgingly and belatedly, mobilise the BiH army. The functions of government- providing aid, help, comfort and succour to the near one million people affected by the flood- fell on the shoulders of volunteers, activists and foreign aid agencies. The very existence of “celebrations” on the 28th June, when people were suffering the loss of all they owned no more than two hours drive north from the capital, seemed obscene.

Before 2014, it seemed as though it would be the year of the cultural and political elites; for a year at least, culture would be well resourced and all active would benefit. In fact, 2014 has turned out to be the year of the hard-pressed grassroots reacting to events in Bosnia. Volunteers- often with little experience of life outside of cities, and certainly no experience of disaster relief- did what they could, and gave from scarce personal funds, to try their best to dig out fellow citizens from catastrophe. Little wonder that the BiH government is obviously no longer trusted with money by the international community, and was by-passed almost entirely at the recent disaster recovery fund in favour of NGOs, and direct investment on the ground.

The protests from February 2014 showed the ordinary BiH citizen the huge potential for grassroots activity. The establishment of plenums in the wake of these uprisings in cities and kantons across BiH, the passionate and long-suppressed challenge to the Dayton state, demystified the process of government for many who had been accustomed, all their lives, to leaving those processes to elites. The tipping-point had been reached, whereby the costs and risks of uprising were fewer than the costs of enduring the internationally-sanctioned kleptocracy any longer. The plenums have much less of a profile a few months later, but the work that continues to be done under their auspices will eventually feed into a better future post-Dayton polity; something that is simply an inevitability in the next few years, however unwilling the international community, its attention fragmented by a farrago of urgent crises around the globe, may be to contemplate that. The abysmal hand played by local politicians- seemingly unaware that their futures were at stake- was exemplified by the response to the damaging of the national archives. The very politicians who had starved the institution of money and ensured that it was kept open in poor and unsuitable conditions, blamed protestors for the collateral damage suffered to a nation’s cultural memory, a memory they paid some limited attention to for the few moments when it was politically expedient to do so.

In cultural terms, a similar trajectory can be observed. Whatever the ephemeral “impact” of the major cultural events of the year, the grassroots activities are the ones which will have the longest lasting impact on the trajectories of BiH culture. I am thinking of projects such as CRVENA’s crowdfunded new initiative to document the lives, activities and legacies of the women’s partisan movement during the second world war, working with the archives of the resurgent Historical Museum of BiH; of Jim Marshall’s recent opening of a photography exhibition at Galerija AB in Maglaj, so severely affected by the flooding in May but which has determinedly, thanks to huge efforts by gallery staff and the community, re-opened; of the re-emergence of the Zvono award, attracting a record number of applicants and shaping again the potential for development of the winner, Selma Selman.

The lesson is stark. In terms of cultural activity, and building the infrastructure that BiH culture needs so desperately to flourish, it is the persistent and under-valued efforts of those who work year after year on the ground, in making exhibitions personally costing hundreds and thousands of KM, in working for nothing to realise a vision, in believing in creativity and personal development despite all the obstacles and indicators to the contrary, it is the grassroots and small active NGOs that have a track record of delivering quality projects which have a lasting impact for the widest number of people, and which will lay the foundations for a BiH culture which has such enormous potential for growth and lasting significance.

One wonders when international funders will grasp that screamingly obvious fact, and begin to support them with amounts of money that actually matter, in order to begin to build towards an over-arching cultural strategy that people can have some faith in being delivered; everything else, I’m afraid, is just white noise from political and self-appointed cultural elites, that the vast majority of people tuned out long ago. When the EU tap once again is turned off at the end of 2014, it is those small organisations and selfless and poorly rewarded cultural workers, those who graft and adapt in the circumstances, that will survive and endure- in culture and in politics.

Sarajevo’s art “scene”, for decades now, has been constantly shifting, resistant to definition, and hard to grasp, particularly for the outsider. As in most of the former socialist, newly neo-liberal countries of the region, art no longer occupies any significant public space or attention; rather, starved of any state funding or recognition, it has since the early 1990s adopted the mode of a subculture; accessible to a few, misunderstood by many, existing at the margins of the mainstream media’s field of vision. It is a sad paradox that, in the hyper-visual, narcissistic, consumerist era of social media, the visibility of art, at least in the home field, has shrunk dramatically.

How is an artist to build and maintain an audience in such circumstances? Whilst recent critiques of art production in BiH have identified a lack of funding and functioning cultural infrastructure as the key problem facing contemporary art’s development, fewer have focused on the position that the artist occupies in contemporary BiH society.

In this short essay, I would like to suggest the “performative” as a key element of that relationship between the Sarajevo artist and their public; in the visually saturated society, performing challenging or alternative viewpoints is a vital part of building an artistic profile. It should also be noted that I am not speaking of “performance” in the narrow sense of “performance art”, but rather identifying performative elements in a much broader portfolio of artistic production. Specifically, I would like to highlight performativity as a communication strategy; as a biographical and confessional intervention, in which the artist offers implicit comparison between personal stories and those of the audience; and, the use of performativity in the construction of socio-political critique.

Perhaps the best example of using performativity as a communication strategy can be found in the practice of Jusuf Hadžifejzović, as artist, curator, and advocate for contemporary art in wider BiH. As one of the curatorial team which delivered two of the most significant exhbitions of contemporary art in former Yugoslavia- Jugoslovensko Dokumenta, in 1987 and 1989, Jusuf’s experience as an organiser and constantly evolving practice as an artist feed into his contemporary artistic practice, and his work in maintaining the artist-run Galerija Čarlama, in the city’s Skenderija shopping centre.

Jusuf’s practice of “depotography”; the recycling of installations and performances in different locations, a swell as the collection of a vast range of objects from high art to mass produced kitsch, is an all-encompassing practice that has been developing since the late 1970s. In a series of developmental performances, performed on a solo basis and together with others (in recent times, Dzenan “Cviki” Hadžihasanović and Emir “Mute” Mutevelić), Jusuf examines recent historical events, contemporary politics and aesthetics through a range of satire, absurdist humour and Dadaist contrasts. Steeped in the history of performativity, this is an artist who manipulates a spectrum of performative possibilities to challenge and make his audience think again.

A parallel strategy can be found in the work of Damir Nikšić. Like Jusuf, Damir is a performative artist who intervenes in a wide variety of disciplines; from performance and video (If I Wasn’t Muslim of 2005), through painting (Richard Burton as Tito 2011), and art historical installations (Bosnian and Herzegovinian Historical Painting-Tradition of Nonexistence of 2013-14). Damir’s work harnesses the possibilities of social media to grow and develop his profile as an artist. Uploading a new video on youtube almost daily, Damir adopts the persona of an idiot-savant, a playful fool, to comment upon misconceptions, misunderstandings and the absurdities of daily life in the Bosnian capital. In so doing, he has achieved a much higher profile than most of his contemporaries, with his work regularly trending and being discussed on Bosnia news portals and messageboards. In achieving a much larger audience and reception for his work, beyond the traditional gallery exhibition, Nikšić’s on-line interventions offer one possible strategy to grow new audiences for contemporary art.

Maja Bajević’s video Art Must be National is an example of performative art offering a sharp socio-political critique. Taking Marina Abramović’s Art Must be Beautiful (1975), Maja changes the word “beautiful” to the word “national” and repeats the original performance. In so doing, the emphasis of the whole performance shifts to one of horrifying self-destruction. A parallel is drawn between male-defined notions of “beauty” and the way these definitions are written as scripts on womens’ bodies, and the arbitrary and often downright untrue scripts of nationhood and national identity that have visited the Western Balkans since the dissolution of Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 1990s. The real impact that the myths and phantom half-truths of ethnic nationalism have on real people’s lives are laid bare, here. There is also a bitter recognition of the fact that the “international” art audience expects work from this part of the world to contain messages either of war or of national identity, placing a further burden on the artist who may have no wish to communicate such messages or develop a practice involving these issues. Caught between the hammer of expectation at home, and the anvil of the international art market, this video very subtly shows how the Yugoslav legacy has mutated in a post-socialist present.

The artist’s collective CRVENA (Red) has played a major role in developing a cutting critical edge to performative art in recent years. Artists associated with CRVENA, such as Adela Jušić, Lana Čmajčanin, Lala Raščić and Nela Hasanbegović have all developed practices that hold up, through the lens of gender and politics, a mirror to the myriad dysfunctionalities of contemporary society in BiH. Lala Raščić’s performances reach both those engaged in these discourses, and those who have no knowledge of them, but who come to enjoy a captivating stories and to compare the fates of its protagonists with their own. In her installation Tailoring and Sewing, Lana Čmajčanin impresses on the viewer the absurdity of easy nationalist polities, and presents the idea of a “nation” as a complex mosaic of interacting, constantly changing individual subjectivities.

“Performative” art also offers the possibility of building a relationship with the audience, through the confessional and the biographical. Adela Jušić’s photographical installation Memory Lane is one such example. The work focuses on the destruction of family photographs during the siege of Sarajevo in 1992-

95, and the attempt to reconstruct priceless personal memories through discussion with family members in other locations, and friends. The destruction of personal memories and the family unit is exemplified by the framed statement by Adela’s sister, now serving in the Bosnian army, of her father, who was killed on active service in the siege; the familiar figure of the dead serviceman takes its place alongside other lost photographs recovered and preserved, from the maternal line of the family. In the candid revelation of her own family history, the artist immediately begins to build a link with the anonymous viewer, who is invited to consider their own family history, and how much of it they actually remember, in viewing Memory Lane.

Šejla Kamerić’s Sorrow of 2005 adds another layer to our consideration of performativity. Šejla’s inserting of her own figure into her work in the first years of her career was something of a leitmotif, and in this photograph she dramatises herself in a re-creation of a van Gogh drawing entitled Sorrow, of 1882. In this way the original nineteenth century context is mutated into a densely layered twenty first century narrative; “sorrow” for events lived through by the artist in the 1990s, but also an attempt at re-establishing the link between BiH visuality and the European tradition, a cultural link denied by those who sought to destroy the country in that recent conflict. This is a drama, therefore, of introspection, reflection, and re-invigoration.

Sarajevo is a city rich in performative tradition, across popular music, theatre, and film. For the artists who live and work here, as I have shown, a broad definition of the “performative” plays an important role in both established and emerging practices. It is this “performative” element that is vital in reaching out to both existing, and new audiences for art, both in the city and beyond. In this sense, perhaps the struggle that art has to be seen in a visually saturated and self obsessed culture is a blessing in disguise. For the basis of any human relationship is mutual respect and exchange of feelings and ideas. This communication of feelings and perceptions by these artists, on a deeply human level ensures that, despite everything, art in this city will continue to grow and develop, whatever the future might hold.

Jon Blackwood

Jon Blackwood is now based between Aberdeen, Scotland and Sarajevo. He is continuing to edit SCB, and his book “Contemporary Art in BiH” will be launched at duplex 100m2 in November. 2014.

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