The Common Which No Longer Exists can be found on the first floor of the Vienna Künstlerhaus, and unfolds over an L-shaped series of rooms. The exhibition space is rather awkward from an architectural point of view, a series of hole-and-corner spaces and corridors making it difficult to read the show as a whole, but the curators Anamarija Batista and Majda Turkić manage to overcome the limitations of the space in producing a wide ranging and rich exhibition.
Elvedin Klačar’s installation, Go Everywhere Come Home, dominates the opening space. Consisting of a potted dwarf apple tree, with a toy train running on a circular track around its base, it is awkward to try and see the installation in full in such a tight space. This piece, a development of earlier work, considers the loneliness, repetitiveness and occasional absurdity of exile. The circularity of the train track, and the repetitiveness of the train’s journey, perhaps make for a rather depressing predicition as the the new “common experience” for a younger generation; with the old Yugoslav certainties torn apart by war and greed, perhaps the new “commonality” for a younger generation is the difficult route of exile away from an impossible present reality in the home culture. the installation throws the difficulties of a “hybridity”; the tension between re-invention in a host culture, set against the memories and ties to one’s country of birth.
Irena Sladoje’s video piece, Paper Can Take Everything, juxtaposes the stitching of a “wound” by anonymous surgical tools, with the flat narrative from a family’s letters written from BiH to relatives abroad, during the war. The disjunct between the visual beauty of the image of repetitive stitching, and the flat, monotone reading of the letters, is unsettling. Sladoje’s film also deal with a still yet unfinished process of transition; on the surface, the “wounds” of the nineties appear to be healing, just as, on the surface, the news from the Bosnian family is positive. But, beneath the surface of these bland words, we are keenly aware of the emotional and physical difficulties faced by them on a daily basis, which they do not write about; just as the “wounds” from the 90s have been healed only at first glance. This is a film which finds in the clinical apparatus of surgical proceedure, a powerful metaphor for a sense of lost commonality which can never be recovered.
It was good to see a further example of Sejla Kamerić’s Sarajevo/HomeSICK series, initiated in Graz in 2001, and the architectural photography of Zlatko Ugljen was a real revelation. Ugljen, whose buildings can be seen all over BiH, has a remarkable eye for colour and composition. His architectural structures- dating from the hegemonic norms of a lost “Utopia”- are both comforting and uncomfortable presences in a contemporary reality where Utopian aspirations are treated with, at best, scepticism.
Saša Karalić’s twenty minute video piece Square of 2012 manages to knit the differing strands of this exhibition together very effectively. The artist, now based in Amsterdam, returns home, and, with a team of men, seeks to clear the ground at a nearby mountaintop, where there used to stand a five-pointed star in the Tito era. As well as offering a vision of common labour towards a defined goal, the video is interesting for the conversations of the men working on the project; the differences in their memory of the “common past”, as well as the symbol that should replace the old Communist star in the present era. This interaction of memory, political opinion and practical problem solving is fascinating to watch. In the end, the ground is cleared and the remains of the old star overwritten with an empty white square; a striking, almost neolithic presence on this mountain ridge, and at the same time a very contemporary “anti-brand” symbolising the eclipse of ideologies, and the lack of common belief and common vision.
The Common Which No Longer Exists, innovatively, confronts both the past and the present via three different generations of artists from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Yugoslav past is referenced candidly and without nostalgia, and the painful difficulties in the contemporary present- of seemingly endlessly deferred transition- are outlined through a variety of voices. The implicit question of this show- if the common no longer exists, then what is to replace it now, and in the future?- could perhaps be developed further in subsequent exhibitions. As a counterpart to the earlier Sarajevo Tranzit at Collegium Artisticum, this is a challenging show, and an impressive further addition to the fertile and developing new relationship between the artists of Vienna, and the artists of BiH. Having such a decent representation of contemporary art in a venue such as this is vital to growing the international profile of contemporary art in BiH, and, it is to be hoped, not the last international collaboration on this scale.
Das Gemeinsame das Es Nicht Mehr Gibt / The Common Which No Longer Exists is open at the Vienna Künstlerhaus until the 7th October.