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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is marked by the obvious age of some of the packaging which makes up the installation; old cigarette packets with long-out-of-date health warnings, for example.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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Damir Radović, Who Started the War?

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.

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Damir Radović, Sleeping Performance, Stockholm

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.

 

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Lana Čmajčanin, Tailoring and Sewing (detail), 2011

Lana Čmajčanin’s Tailoring and Sewing makes another appearance in France in the Memory Lane exhibition, having first been shown as part of the High Wire Act show in Lille, in May 2012. Finished during 2011, this is a clever and relational installation that comments on the multiple absurdities of political life in contemporary BiH, and the malign effect that badly wielded political power can have on an individual. Viewers are confronted with a map of BiH, a pattern, and several implements on a table with a working lamp; pencils, scissors, thread, and paper.

Čmajčanin utilises the format of a 1970s sewing pattern to approach the fractured and incoherent political geography of BiH. The Dayton constituion, a cumbersome amalgamation of political systems which have a history of working elsewhere (The USA, and Switzerland), has proven, in practice, to be an Anglo-Swiss word that has no ready translation in the languages of Bosnia. The Dayton system, rather than ensuring an efficient transition from war to peace, has proved a paradisical playground for gangsterism and political corruption, played out at the expense of the population themselves. Rather than overcoming wartime divisions, Dayton has entrenched them.

One of the strengths of this installation piece is its immediacy. People are encouraged to try and grasp the byzantine complexities of the current situation in BiH through the domestic discourse of sewing. In opposition to the stereotypically masculine discourses of diplomacy and power politics, the arguments in smoky rooms and the aggressive scoring of border lines in blunt military pencil, visitors are confronted with the anachronistic forms of the sewing pattern. The pattern, a familiar sight to the last generations of Yugoslav children in the seventies and eighties, invites the gallery visitor to try and make sense of the overlapping power structures in BiH, and to think about how they operate on themselves and their families. The pattern shows the idfferent outlines of State, ethnic entities, kantons, regions, counties and municipalities. Slowly, one sees the political burden that BiH’s populations of roughly 3.8 million people have to carry; in a relatively small country, there are 14 separate ministers for education, for example, part of a political and logistical logjam which ensures that whatever effort is made, nothing much changes.

But this work would not be as compelling if it were merely a political critique. Strongly implicit in the work is a questioning of where the individual fits into this diabolical puzzle. With the outlines and sewing patterns on the wall, visitors are encouraged to trace their own personal outlines of the country, to complete them, and leave them for others to consider. The work’s relational aspect then, is in the possibility of the production of limitless numbers of individual BiHs, each with their own narrative running through them.

In this sense, the work appraoches the discourse of nationalism in the sense of the theorist Tom Nairn; the nation is continually made and re-made, day after day; with so many competing interpretations of the history and development of BiH, settled and fixed narratives are continually deferred; the history of BiH depends much more on the interaction of individual stories, rarely chronicled beyond immediate family circles, rather than the dimly understood “grand narrative” of generals and senior politicians. Implicitly absent, too, is the territory of mahala, or immediate neighbourhood/groups of friends; a continually shifting socio-geographical conept of much more immediate relevance to most BiH people, than any of the artifical political constructs shown in the pattern. Notions such as mahala and raja are probably not recordable in geographical terms, only as a constantly overwritten daily social reality.

Tailoring and Sewing fits into the broader themes of the Memory Lane exhibition in three particular ways. Firstly, as we have seen, it is an avowedly political response to contemporary BiH, with a look back to the consequences of the war whilst firmly rooted in the dysfunctional present. Secondly, through the invitation to construct one’s own indivdual BiH, it touches on the strong notion of repetition and working-in-series in the show. And, finally, it suggests that only though developing individual working practices, and collectivist solidarity, can BiH artists dig themselves out of the deep hole, dug with such insolent carelessness, by others.

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Lana Čmajčanin, Tailoring and Sewing (detail), 2011

 

memory-lane1So the weather here is more Glaswegian than Parisian, but that is not bothering the team of workers, headed by Pierre Courtin, who are busy installing the Memory Lane exhibition at the galerie du jour. With two days until opening day, the show is 75% up and already looking good.

This is an exhibition which has been in the process of making for nearly two years, will be the biggest showing of contemporary art in Bosnia-Hercegovina ever held abroad. In Yugoslav times, BiH artists were part of broader Yugoslavian shows; Five Thousand Years of Yugoslav Art was shown in Paris in 1971, at what is now the Cultural Centre of Serbia (a stone’s throw from this gallery space); in 1990-91, the show FRA-YU-KULT was the last of the major showings of work from the region before the old federal republic collapsed. The individual practices of artists such as Braco Dimitrijević, Maja Bajević, Milomir Kovačević, and Damir Radović, who have spent significant amounts of their career wokring in Paris, have done much to keep work made by Bosnian artists in the critical eye. But this exhibition, although purely commercial rather than state funded, stands to take its place alongside those two canonical earlier shows; to bring the diversity and breadth of artistic practice in BiH into focus.

This exhibition has been made possible in three ways. In BiH, no significant funding from the state for an enterprise like this can be expected. As a result, a mixture of Pierre’s vision and daily support of contemporary art in BiH, through his activities at duplex, the financial and logisitcal support of the agnes b. foundation, and the work of the artists themselves, have all come together. This is a show which is cross generational, and multi-disciplinary. Alongside painting photography and video, performances from Jusuf Hadžifejzović and Alma Suljević will take place on the opening weekend, with Lala Raščić appearing live, at the end of June.

The key animating threads of contemporary BiH art, criss-crossing one another, are all here. There are broad historical narratives that reference both the Yugoslav past and the war (Radenko Milak, Mladen Miljanović, Gordana Anđelić-Galić); there is dark comedy in the absurdities of the present (Lana Čmajčanin, Andrej Đerković); and the impact that historical narratives have at a deeply personal level (Šejla Kamerić, Adela Jušić, Irena Sladoje); the brutal power plays of gender and patriarchy (Nela Hasanbegović); the impact of architecture from a common past in an indivdiualistic present (Igor Bosniak, Edo Macedo); the Balkan epic story / folk tale (Ibro Hasanović); works both familiar and unfamiliar.984102_705737896157402_1470724958560169717_n

We will be providing daily updates on SCB for people back home. Tomorrow, we will provide a more detailed look at the work of some of the artists presented. On Saturday, a review of the opening and some interviews will go up; with specific reviews of the two performances on the Sunday.

Memory Lane, curated by Pierre Courtin, opens on Friday 6 June at galerie du jour agnes b., 44 rue Quincampoix, Paris, and runs until the end of July. A catalogue with text by Jon Blackwood will be available at the end of the exhbition, featuring installation views and press reviews as well as a run down of all work exhibited.

9a98c3bef58c745faccb6a763ed23389The casual visitor to Bosnia & Hercegovina may conclude that little has changed in the visual art world in 2013. Major institutions remain closed, or subject to political interference; artists and art workers continue to look abroad for funding and exhibiting opportunites, despairing of the situation at home; art continues to fight a losing battle for any recognition domestically, with local exhibitions- no matter how ambitious- struggling to attract visitors, beyond a hard core of dedicated art enthusiasts and practitioners.

As is so often the case with culture in our country, though, the reality is much more complex and, on the whole, slightly better than a superficial look may indicate. Whilst there have undoubtedly been further setbacks, most notably in the inaccessibility of Čarlama, and some bizarre and seemingly arbitrary recent changes in the management of public galleries, these have been offset by a number of notable events and exhibitions both locally and internationally. Most prominent in the last year has been the re-appearance of a BiH pavillion at the Venice Biennale, featuring a well received exhibition by Mladen Miljanović; the vivid BiH thread running through this year’s Oktobarski Salon in Belgrade, curated by CRVENA offshoot Red Min(e)d and featuring Adela Jušić and Lana Čmajčanin amongst the commended artists; compelling shows such as Miraz / Dowry, organised by SCCA at Collegium Artisticum; the hard work of Collegium staff being rewarded with a remarkable double-show of contemporary European art in September, Europe South-East : Recorded Memories and ex-ordinary; and, most recently, the ambitious collaborative show What Can I Not Know About You, curated by Anja Bogojević and Amila Pužić, across three galleries in Sarajevo.

This roster of shows and activities indicates that whilst 2013 may not be seen as a vintage year in BiH’s art history, nonetheless it will be seen as significant after a very bleak 2011 and 2012. Future historians will have plenty of evidence that 2013 was a year when things seemed to be turning- however incrementally- in a more positive direction. What cannot be predicted is how long this apparent upturn will last.

Institutional Developments

276806_254681597991614_1565229407_n2012 drew to a close with the threat of closure apparently lifted for the Čarlama gallery in Sarajevo’s Skenderija shopping centre. For a couple of months, it seemed that the existential threat to the space was over; however, since early summer, it has been without electricity. Although not officially closed, this lack of electricity has made it very difficult for the space to be used as it once was; as a space of artistic experiment, as a repository for Jusuf Hadžifejzović’s fascinating collection of contemporary art and ephemera from ex-Yu; and as a meeting point for the exchange of ideas and information betwen the city’s artists. Whilst it is possible that  Čarlama may again open at some point, the prospects of that happening any time soon seem remote, and it is the loss of this exchange of ideas which has been perhaps felt most keenly. From the times of subdokumenta in 2009 to early 2013, Čarlama was the space for experimentation in the city, and if no solution can be found for it in Skenderija then surely alternative venues will have to be looked for.

Protesta per la chiusura del Museo nazionale di SarajevoČarlama was the last institutional casualty of the year. The National Museum, scandalously, remains closed, and despite a day of protest on the first anniversary of its closure, and continual pressure from camapigns such as Culture Shutdown and Akcija Građana, there seems to be very little movement on that issue. A new commission has been formed to look into the matter of the crisis in BiH’s national institutions, but it will not move quickly. Elsewhere, new leadership, in particular at the Historical Museum of BiH, has seen fresh energy and approaches developed both to the care of national collections, and to the funding of programmes of display and education.

These positive signs at such state funded institutions have been offset by the bizarre removal of several key directors in December- including the director of Collegium Artisticum who had, by any measure, done a very good job since being appointed. The intentions of politicians in making such moves have yet to be divined, although rumours persist of a desire for a clumsy merger between Collegium, ARS AEVI and the Bosnian Cultural Centre. If this is true, it is a crude cost-cutting measure which may fatally weaken the ability of Sarajevo to mount any kind of coherent exhibiting strategy, on the threshold of the most important year, in cultural terms, since the signing of the deeply flawed Dayton agreement.

Exhibitions and Interventions

327580865d20d590d59e4f1a14d850aaSpace does not allow for a detailed blow-by-blow account of the exhibiting year, merely to note the most significant events. At the beginning of 2013, attention was focused on the National Gallery of Bosnia & Hercegovina; after the end of the show of Montenegrin artists contributing to the ARS AEVI project, Nela Hasanbegović took over the gallery’s top floor with her solo show Speech of Whiteness. The stand-out works in what was almost a retrospective of the artist’s early career, was the beautiful video installation Priča o Ribi, a childhood story of a desire to eat fish when it was completely unavailable during conditions of wartime. Perhaps the most striking work visually was the Between Light and Darkness, a spectral lancing of a dark and awkward space with strings of fluorescent thread; a geometric shattering of a familiar terrain.

Early in 2013, a show of young BiH artists was curated by Jusuf Hadžifejzović at Collegium Artisticum. Jusuf’s work as a curator, and as an encourager of emerging talent, receives less attention than his work as an artist, but it is no less significant for that. This was an engaging showcase of about a dozen artists, with the paintings of Demis Sinancević and the brightly coloured geometrical sculptures of Emir “Mute” Mutevelić perhaps sticking longest in the memory. This was a significant show, as people tend to conceive of BiH art as running in generations; it gave an idea of who from the next generation fo younger artists may-with a fair wind- emerge in the coming years.

3tout404DirectDemocracyRemaining at Collegium, one of the shows of the year was undoubtedly Miraz / Dowry, a profound exhibition of video installations by mid career artists from all parts of ex-Yugoslavia, curated by Dunja Blažević. It was particulalrly interesting to see the public interventions of the Belgrade artist Milica Tomić, and her work focusing on the casual militarisation, barely suppressed violence, and constantly re-written and over-written histories of the contemporary age; Gordana Anđelić-Galić’s video performance, Washing, was a compelling parallel, programmatically developing her earlier Flags performance in a new way, wittily echoing the forms and paradigms of socialist realist portrayals of domestic labour, as well as drawing attention to the absurdities of the multiple emblems that have presumed to represent this part of the world in the last century.

DANIJEL OZMO Na splavu_CropHowever, it was not only in the familiar exhibiting spaces that interesting exhibitions could be found. At Atelje Figure, at the end of June, a long-overdue sampling of Danijel Ozmo’s work was mounted for one night only. This sensitively chosen selection of paintings, woodcuts and linocuts drew on collections from all over Sarajevo and reminded viewers not only of the breadth of Ozmo’s tragically short career, but also of his central place in the Sarajevo art world of the 1930s, and his instinctive sympathy with left wing persepctives and the bitter struggle of sections of the local working classes during that long and troubled decade. It was a reminder, too, of what every citizen of our country loses by not having regular or structured access to the national collections. The slow-motion collapse of the “official” institutional art world in BiH means that the very groups of people who should be inspired by works such as these- children and students- are largely unaware that they exist. The only frustration of this show was that it was on for such a short time.

Meanwhile, in Zvono, there were many such short-running shows; I particularly appreciated the chance to study Izmet Muježinović’s drawings up close, whilst the evenings devoted to the work of Ambrosia in January, and to the hugely popular humorous videos of Damir Nikšić, werre amongst the busiest art events of the whole year in Sarajevo.

Venice 105Historians of 2013 will acknowledge, however, that the most significant showing of BiH art took place not in this country but in Venice. At the beginning of June, the first pavillion representing BiH art, in twenty years, opened at the Palazzo Malipiero. The exhibition happened after the conclusion of long and tortuous government level negotiations; in short, the right to mount an exhibition representing BiH will alternate between the cultural authorities in Banja Luka, and in Sarajevo. For this first re-appearance, the work of Mladen Miljanović was chosen as representative, curated by Sarita Vujković and Irfan Hošić. Themes familiar to many longstanding observers of Mladen’s work- the performative, the post-conceptual, delicate carved inscription on granite- were all present. The artist’s quotation of Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, and his re-location of that masterpiece in contemporary BiH, complete with Stojadin and fine-writing policeman in a fluorescent vest, was widely commented upon and one of the more assured national representations at this year’s Biennale. The curation, location and presentation of the work was of a very high standard, and it is to be hoped that the next pavillion, to be overseen by a team from the Federation, is already in the planning. It will need to be to maintain the standards set by this year’s exhibition.

54-oktobarski-salon-3In Banja Luka, another intriguing exhibition was the return of Mladen’s mentor- Veso Šovilj- at Dogma Arts, with a show of new work entitled And What do you Represent? This show of installation and painting opened at the end of October, by which time the Oktobarski salon was winding towards a conclusion. This event received very, very little recognition in domestic media but, arguably, was just as significant as the country’s return to the Venice Biennale. The salon, at the tricky Zepter exhibiting space, featured over fifty artists from around the world, with a very strong core from BiH. With Danijela Dugandžić-Živanović on the curatorial team, the show covered performance, installation, video, painting and sculpture. Adela Jušić’s Ride the Recoil, in development for over a year, made a remarkable debut appearance, perfectly located in a chilly, run down store room surrounded by a claustrophobic courtyard. Lana Čmajčanin’s piece 166987 Uboda was shown in a new arrangement, silver stitching on white cloth under a bright light, the stark language of the piece shocking the viewer as they try to follow it in the glare. The salon, deply concerned with issues of inclusivity, gender, education and cultural specificities, finished with an extremely strong and memorable series of performances from Alma Šuljević and Lala Raščić.

izlozba_sta-sve-o-tebi-ne-mogu-da-ne-znamIn December, an unusual collaborative exhibition was displayed across three separate gallery spaces- the gallery of the Academy of Fine Art, Galerija Roman Petrović, and Java. The show What Can I Not Know about You, curated by Anja Bogojević and Amila Pužić, of Abart, invited fifty young artists to show work they had done whilst on a residency programme in Mostar. Some of the work- notably by Lejla Bajramović, in her piece dealing with childhood memories of Mostar’s bridges, and by Iva Kirova, in Java, dealing with the ruined architecture of the city, were sensitive responses. The methodology of the show- through widespread collaboration (with Weimar University), and the desire to show Mostar through fresh eyes and challeneg a local audience to put aside their steretypical views of a city they think they know all about- was compelling. In some ways this exhibition was the latest iteration of the strategy by which contemporary art in BiH survives- live locally, work as much as you can internationally, or with international partners.

Looking Forward to 2014

2014 will be a very atypical year in the cultural history of BiH, 100 years since Gavrilo Prinčip’s actions triggered the beginning of the first world war. As a consequence, there are comparatively vast sums of money available for local artists to make projects and collaborations reflecting on those events, whilst the city gears itself for a huge influx of both visitors, and a level of international meida attention probably not seen since the middle 1990s.

It goes without saying, however, that there will be a huge disjunct between the very specific cultural circumstances of 2014, and the reality on the ground that most people active in culture in BiH have lived through in the current century, until now. It is vitally important that visitors to the city are made aware of this huge gap. Come the end of 2014, it seems likely that the sums of money made available this year will simply dry up. 2014 is not just about presenting BiH art in its best light to visitors, but in developing a strategy for how to continue the increased level of quality activity once the attention of the international media and funders has moved elsewhere. The pressing and urgent need to build a new cultural infrastructure, incrementally, is something that this global attention can help to achieve.

2014 seems set to be a big year for a few organisations and individuals. In June and July, duplex is taking a representative showing of contemporary BiH art to Paris for a two month exhibition, and will be taking a smaller show to Stockholm before then. Duplex is an abslutely vital link between the different art scenes from around BiH and other captials; Pierre Courtin’s tireless efforts promoting artists from here may well be about to bear fruit. No less important, in keeping these channels to the outside world open, is the planned re-emergence of the Zvono Award for young artists, after two years in abeyance for lack of funding. The prize, overseen by SCCA, promises a solo show doemstically to the winner, along with a fully funded six weeks in New York City, is a remarkable incentive for emerging young artists and an absolutely crucial founding block in building an international profile. The return of Zvono in 2014 is a really welcome filling of a sad absence in the Bosnian art calendar, and is probably the event we are most looking forward to in the next year. And speaking of Zvono the group, rather than the prize, their retrospective planned for Collegium Artisticum in Janaury seems set to be the first highlight of the New year.

In terms of individual artists, it seems set to be a massive year for one or two in particular; certainly for the painter Radenko Milak, whose profile continues to grow at a rapid rate, and who is lookin forward to shows in paris and in Munich in the twelve months ahead. Expect, too, to hear much, much more of Adela Jušić, Lana Čmajčanin and Lala Raščić in the next twelve months; Adela and Lala have had prominent recent showings in Switzerland, as part of the Culturescapes Balkan festival and Bone performance festivals, and already all three artists have international showings lined up for 2014.

So, in conclusion, yes, on the surface, nothing changed and everything stayed the same in the BiH artworld. But, as this brief summary of the year has shown, we have active at the moment, in our country, 25-30 artists whom one could take anywhere in the world for an exhibition and be absolutely certain of its quality and enduring interest, alongside five or six curators. Many countries with much better resources and cultural infrastructures would be desperate to try and attract the kind of talent that is emerging- in spite of everything – from here. But, as has been observed many times, the political classes in BiH remain enduringly indifferent to the talent glittering all around them- and this is applicable to all sections of cultural life. if quick and easy money could be made from art, you could be sure that there would be much more immediate political interest.

So, in the meantime, it must be enough for the artworld that we have to be built by our own efforts, as it seems futile to expect anything like a cultural straegy or vision to emerge from the political classes anytime soon. Just like our football team, just like our film industry, just like our small number of business successes, any success and prestige in this country emerges in spite of the conditions that they emerge from, rather than because of them.

Although we may lament this state of affairs, it does not top us working or very much enjoying the successes of others. In 2014, with the world’s press turning its focus again to Sarajevo, I can see a freshening north-westerly breeze from Bosnia-Hercegovina’s art world blowing across Europe. I would like to think that, in time, this breeze will strengthen, and blow away the choking smog of political apathy and indifference once and for all. Only time will tell, and we will be there to report and reflect on what happens throughout 2014.

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