SCB: Damir, you are originally from Sarajevo but have lived and worked in France for some time. Can you tell us a little about the significance of “diaspora” to your work?
DR: Well, it was unexpected that I found myself part of a diaspora; I lived a long time before I knew what the word even meant. But, once you become part of something, you have to find out more about it. I researched quite a lot and found that maybe Jacques Derrida, who was himself part of a diaspora, had the best definition. Derrida compares the experience of diaspora to a pommegranate, the fruit used to make grenadine. Everyone knows that the pommegranate is full of seeds; Derrida suggests that the fruit is the country of origin, and the seeds are scattered far and wide like individual members of the diaspora. They move away from the fruit and reproduce in unfamiliar surroundings. Diaspora can be a kind of freedom; after the hard initial start it is possible to live anywhere you want, once you have become used to it. There are allusions to diaspora in the work of other artists in the show…this piece by Irena Sladoje, where she grows over an old Sarajevo rose and turns it into something completely different, for example.
Diaspora can be very helpful to the development of an artistic practice, too; it helps one’s experience, and ideas, ripen. I am far from the only artist to have gone through this; diaspora is a very common experience in the biographies of artists now and in the past. Derrida also wrote very well about the relationship between Algeria and France, and of the need as an individual to resolve the experiences in the home country with the contemporary realities of life in another.
SCB: Tell us about some of the main themes in your work.
DR: I really started with architectural drawings. When I first came to France, I had nothing left of Sarajevo, other than a few postcards of the city from the time of the Olympic games. In that war from 1992-95 so many people died, there was so much awful human tragedy, but less remembered is the buildings that were destroyed as well. Many public buildings, churches and mosques, were demolished, along with much common space that everyone had enjoyed before the war. We have of course replaced these with new buildings, but it is not the same. BBI is a good example. It is a gleaming modern place but I remember Robna Kuća on that site; it was a modern concrete building which really interests me. I wanted to remember these old buildings. Through Robna Kuća, I began to do some research on Corbusier and I am a really fan of this style of concrete architecture, which some people find ugly. When I visited Hiroshima in Japan, I learned that only two buldings in the city survived the atomic explosion in 1945, and both were concrete buildings; these are now musuems of the city as it was before the bomb.
The war also had a lot of effect on my development; it deeply impacted on my imagination. I did some really utopian drawings, where I imagined moving all the buildings in Mojmilo, as one block, and bringing them to France. It is a kind of utopian migration, an imaginary parallel to the grim reality of real patterns of migration, and the conditions that refugees find themselves in. I drew this mythical event- the moving of an entire building with 2,000 people in it, and imagined how it might happen.
Alongside sculpture and drawing I also became very interested in performance. I did my first Sleeping in Public performance in 2007. This was on Ferhadija in Sarajevo. The reaction of the people was very, very interesting. Many citizens came to me and asked me why I was sleeping there, was I alright, and could they help. The performance lasted for about ten minutes, and I nearly blocked the whole of Ferhdija with people. Since then, I have done this performance many times in cities all over; in Stockholm, Dresden, Munich, Vienna. However, the sight of a homeless person asleep is so common in Western and Central European cities that people don’t notice or bother, really. However, despite all the problems in BiH, seeing a homeless person still is not really a common event. The reaction of the people in different places where I have done this performance says a lot about the country and the mentality of ordinary people. This is a series of performances, and I am hoping to go and do it in Istanbul next.
SCB: Tell us about the pieces that you have exhibited here.
DR: Well, when Pierre called me and asked me to submit some pieces, he ended up choosing these two neon works. One is Who Started the War? This derives from the famous scene in Denis Tanović’s movie No Mans’ Land where the Bosnian and Serbian soldier are trapped together in the shellhole, and have an argument with one another. Both are in the same shit, but get into this stupid fight. That is the origin of the work, but over the years the implications of the work have become global. We have such a short historical memory now, we forget very quickly how wars started- not just in BiH, but also Iraq, Afghanistan…it is important to keep remebering and keep learning those lessons.
The second neon piece works along a similar line. I have covered two walls with the handrwritten phrase, “How the War Started In….”. The phrsase is repeated so often that it begins to lose a bit of meaning, become like a mantra. In a way, this repetitive action is reminiscent of people suffering psychological trauma. people often retreat from their surroundings by doing repetitive actions. The way in which an artist can retreat into their own world is another link with traumatised behaviours. On top of thse words is a familiar image of mine; a neon reporduction of Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1893-1910). Munch’s painting spoke of alienation, difficulty and trauma in his own time, and of course the Great War came along not long after the final version was finished. I suppose I am thinking about psycholigcal trauma and sffering as a precursor to war, something that prefigures a coming conflict.
SCB: What is next for you, after “Memory Lane” has finished?
DR: I will be in Sarajevo in September, I have been invited to do a solo show in duplex. I will be showing some maquettes I made a while ago, showing soldiers attacking the houses of curators; I am also preparing a series of new works, based around the implications of the number 7.
Many thanks to Damir for his time.