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is marked by the obvious age of some of the packaging which makes up the installation; old cigarette packets with long-out-of-date health warnings, for example.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

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.

I Family Portrait, Story About a Fish, and Other Stories

On a grand family photograph that was taken at Cetinje Biennial twenty years ago (1994), members of the family of Jusuf Hadžifejzović and his friends gathered for the first time at the very end of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina – and this photograph has become a basis of his continuous performance through the years that followed, under the enigmatic title “Fear of Drinking water”. “Fear of Drinking Water” points to the individual, family and collective trauma of separation and loss, as well as to the baggage of memories and the inability to act. Artists who are devoted to articulating this traumatic core often relate it first of all to the experience of their own families. Family portrait as a cornerstone of artistic research and practice is one of the telling aspects of contemporary art in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

“Memory Lane” by Adela Jušić is a work in progress that develops through the process of searching for the family photographs that have been lost during the war. It is dedicated to her grandmother who ‘always knew how to gather the whole family’ and to her father who lost his life as a soldier in Bosnian-Herzegovinian army. For this artist, family history is an indispensable reservoir of data, from “The Sniper” (video, 4’9’’, 2007) in which the same photograph of her father appears as the most important figure on the horizon of childhood memories, to “When I Die You Can Do What You Want” (video, 19’24’’, 2011) in which the granddaughter narrates from her memory the family stories that her grandmother has told her, up to “Memory Lane”. Adela Jušić takes her art-working to be a mission of building a new resistant subjectivity for herself and her own disillusioned generation.

“Story About a Fish” by Nela Hasanbegović sums up the childhood memory in which two incommensurable realities collide: the intimate reality of family love in a harmonious atmosphere of joy, and the social reality in a threatening atmosphere of the armed conflict. As she creates a paper fish that symbolizes the longing for the things that are being missed, the longing for the normalization of the everyday life, a ten-year old girl sings the song “May there always be Sun” (Arkady Ostrovsky) that marked the childhoods of several generations.

A dramaturgy of everyday family life is captured from the immediate vicinity on the photographs by Ivan Hrkaš. Through representation of the morning ritual of his parents, the artist envelops a search for his own identity. The intimate relation between the photographer and his actors turns into the intimate

relation between the observer and the photographer who exposes his privacy without hesitation. As an admirer of photography artists such are Nan Goldin, Iren Stehli, Sally Mann and Elinor Carucci, Ivan Hrkaš accepts the voyeuristic tendency of a photographic medium as positive undoing of the distance, as giving oneself to the others through the others. Such understanding of photography opens up an ethical dimension or rearticulates the ethical in terms of self-identification through shared intimacy.

Opening up a space for self-identification through art-working1 is one of the major achievements of gender perspective in the field of visual art. Curator and art historian Dunja Blažević employed the notion of “dowry” (miraz) that “symbolically denotes the relationship between personal heritage, all the properties inherited and handed down through the family, and those acquired and shaped through our own experience of life”2. Under this title she curated the exhibition as an integral part of the project “Women’s heritage: Contribution to Equality in Culture” (2011-2012). The core of the exhibition consisted of the works by Sarajevo women artists: Alma Suljević, Danica Dakić, Gordana Andjelić-Galić, Maja Bajević i Šejla Kamerić. These artists are speaking from gender perspective, which is by itself an engaged perspective in a strongly patriarchal environment, but their practices entail a wider field of convergence of ethics and aesthetics. Griselda Pollock writes about the convergence of ethical and aesthetical domain: “if the aesthetical domain has within it some useful knowledge or even subjective dispositions that being proto-ethical, foster inclinations towards respect, care and compassion for the other, [it] can subsequently enter into and transform another sphere of public debate and action. […] [A]esthetical-proto-ethical-ethical trajectory transgresses existing political agendas and even concepts of the agonistically political with potentials that can produce transformations in this sphere in the form of reorientations, new attunements and above all new ways of imagining and releasing other forms of desire or yearning for connectivity and for the life of the other.”3

These artists are searching for the ways to recognize and transform the established gender and cultural positioning (Šejla Kamerić), the common understanding of work and togetherness (Danica Dakić), to criticize the protocols of “normalization” in the world of art and in the ways of life (Maja Bajević), as well as to map out the traumatic inter/border spaces that traverse the political territories: Alma Suljević has been actively involved in the actions of demining the minefields. In her video work “Democracy” Gordana Andjelić-Galić addresses the problem of self-articulation in the context of ‘post-socialist’ transition. The artist is trying to speak below the surface of the water and her barely understandable words formulate a definition of democracy that entails its hypocritical dimension. The water has an important symbolical presence in other works by Gordana Andjelic-Galic, such as the performance of washing the flags of Bosnia-Herzegovina in politically and ethnically divided city of Mostar or the action of sewing the shores across the river Neretva – the river as a wound, the water is a symbol for the state of vulnerability. These series of conceptually interconnected works, both intimate and engaging, investigate individual and collective identities, cultural trauma, segregation and reinvention of history.

II New Past, No Heroes

In a new constellation of power distribution, in a collision of different regimes of life control, neoconservativism and new forms of colonization, since the 1990s onwards, art-working becomes one of the important apparatuses of verification of discursive strategies and protocols that determine what is appropriate to think and what is not. As an apparatus of verification, art-working is not descriptive but prescriptive, pointing to the technics through which one is able to achieve his/her well-being. In this sense, Damir Nikšić defines art-working as a “system of melioration”: improving the characteristics of the soil to ensure the stable growth of the cultures. The artist suggests a relaxation of everyday life, analytical observation of the surrounding, the questioning of everyday interaction and things we take for granted. Instead of ethno-national hygiene, he propagates the mental hygiene, and taking care of cultural landscape.

One of the main problems he observes, particularly in Bosnia-Herzegovina due to its specific position and cultural profile, is an absence of adequate historical consciousness. This absence is then being compensated through the creation of ideological myths and ad-hoc interpretation of the past. The absence of historical consciousness is a topic of his series of installation “Historical painting – history of non-existence.” In its Bosnian-Herzegovinian version, this installation keeps the empty spaces on the wall for non-existing paintings that would capture the

important historical events, such are the Crowning of the King Tvrtko I Kotromanic for the king of Bosnia or the Arrival of Bogumil Priests in Bosnia.

The Montenegrin version entails a collage presenting Karl Marx in the garments of Petar II Petrović Njegoš. “Gorski vijenac” (The Mountain Wreath) was written by Njegoš 1846 in Cetinje and printed in Wien a year later, while the first edition of “Communist Manifesto” appeared in 1848. Damir Nikšić explains that at the times of Ottoman domination in this region, the local people who converted to Islam (so called “poturice”/”Turkicized”) should be regarded as a proletarian class: “Colonial and imperial power introduces itself as the freedom-bringer and the fighter for the rights of the proletarians in their class struggle against the ruling class or dynasty, which, on the other hand, recognizes this proletarian class as a traitor of proto-national interests and identities, the proletarian class following its own interests and selling out the loyalty to the other power, other leader, other system, other ideology – and here is where the production of proto-national ideology and its moral attitudes starts, which Njegoš, a contemporary of Marx, will try to negotiate philosophically and poetically, later in the 19th century, the century of nations’ creation.”

Damir Nikšić cherishes a historically grounded agit-pop approach when he is establishing a relation between the socialist ideal and the unique model of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The series of paintings titled “Bosnian Theology of Liberation” and “Imams of Socialism” do not propagate religious enthusiasm or ethno-national heroism, but are rooting for the principles of social liberty and communitarianism. Social movements all over the world since the 1990s carry these principles under the name of globalización desde abajo (globalization from down under). Contrary to the relativist vision of a global consensus that cancels the distinction between the political left and right, globalización desde abajo insists upon a deeper critical questioning of a genealogy of colonialism in all its aspects, past and present.

The relation between aesthetics and politics is being redefined in that process that also fosters collective values and new autonomous forms of resistance and destabilization of capitalist power, as well as critical reflection on the artistic position within a “world after politics and after ideology”. Such self-reflection is an interpretative frame of the cycle “Think Left” by Iva Simčić. “Think Left” consists of several segments. The series of drawing/collages is based on the Western film stills but with the empty spaces for the missing heroes. Western genre is structured around the opposition between the week and the powerful and around the myth of a hero-outsider who takes up the position of defending a collective body against equally individualized representatives of evil and

corruption. “Think Left” is a visual fragmentation of such strong narrative structure and leaves it without a resolution of conflict. The second part of the cycle is the sculpture made out of the medical cast, taken from a left injured leg and reshaped into a cowboy booth. It is a metaphor of the position of the new political left that is trying to articulate itself within neoliberal relativist political framework. The third part of the cycle is the four pages essay “Destabilization of Language – the Political Asset of Art,” turned into an aesthetic visual object-print. Iva Simčić emphasizes the tension between a direct political connotation and the (in)comprehensibility of the message transmitted through art.

In the series titled “New Past” Jasmina Gavrankapetanović-Redžić tackles a problem of the representation of the past as a coherent narrative whole in which we are confronted with certain spatial and temporal coordinates and the hierarchy of meanings and roles. The drawings from the series “New Past” aim at dissolving any possible hierarchy into a floral pattern, so that what used to be a coherent whole becomes broken into a thread of repeated fragments. Through the pattern appears a recognizable heroic attitude of Stjepan Filipović, with the rope around his neck immediately before the execution in 1942. With a diagonal line of barrels of the army tanks crossing the hero, this work also refers to Francisco de Goya’s famous representation of “May 3rd 1808”.

The cycle “History re-painting” by Muhamed Kafedžić is set apart from the other works at the exhibition because it treats the history of art and painting techniques as a topic in itself, although certain contextual connotations related to different epochs and cultures are not to be neglected. “Poster Boy – Young Samurai Flautist” clearly refers to “The Flutter” by Edouard Manet (it even matches its dimensions), but retains the main characteristics of Japanese graphic art. Muhamed Kafedzic finds the universal value in Japanese Ukiyo-e worldview (the view of a floating world). He makes his research into various epochs and traditions, and especially into different media, from Japanese woodcut and Western classical painting to modern graphic design, comics and street art. Oversized paintings and massive street murals by Muhamed Kafedžić show a possibility of the creative process of translation and transformation.

III We Are All Made of Stars

The question of identity is addressed through the process of transformation of a graphic image in Taida Jašarević’s installation “Sky/We are all made of stars,” as well as in her other cycles titled “Water” and “Above the Surface.” This relation between the image and the identity is translated into the relation between the

technique and the material: technique of intaglio and the transparence of Japanese paper that is hand-painted in blue. In her research she uses a concept of “re-mediation” as a possibility of re-creating digital images through the technique of photoengraving or intaglio, as well as a possibility of achieving the effects of digital image through the classical techniques of graphic art.

Renata Papišta is also interested in the status of graphic image in our contemporary world, especially in the ways it corresponds to the status of the human being, susceptible to scanning and multiplication. She experiments with the visuality of electrocardiograms and searches for the ways to widen the meaning of graphic art, which is an art of embedding a trace, of registering the subtle oscillations, and having control over coincidences. Her particular concern is with the role of artist who “discover new recipes and establishes a balance between the soul and the imprint, the present and the history,” as Papišta writes in her essay “Apocalypse of Graphic Art.”

Relating art and technology, the multimedial installation I-BOT by Daniel Premec addresses certain technological currents (such are the artificial intelligence, robotics, creation of humanoids), as well as the problem of dehumanization. I-BOT is his own replica in the form of a robot who, sitting on the floor, projects a childhood image of the artist. Once imagined to be an additional aid to humanity, the aim of robotics in contemporary world becomes an aggressive tendency to make dispensable human life and working ability. In addition, there are equally aggressive tendencies to eliminate human weaknesses (including the imposing of the image of a perfect human body and the marketing of the female humanoid called “Perfect Woman”). All this also augments the chasm that separates those who are keeping the monopoly over the technological development, and those who are not able to follow it or even to be properly informed. Daniel Premec’s “I-BOT” is a robot without a function; he seats motionless on the floor fixated on the image of a memory. Although this work represents a critique of dehumanizing aspects of technology, it has a certain amount of humor pointing to the futility of the attempts to define human value as maximum efficacy with minimum affectivity.

Art-working that catalyzes the elementary positive energy, revitalizing the perception of reality and sensibility toward shared values, confronts such an affectionless vision. One of the artists who confide such potentiality to art is Jusuf Hadžifejzović. Since the 1980s he is spreading that “contagion”, from Yugoslav documenta (1987, 1989) to SUBdocumenta (2009-2010), from “depotgraphy” as his own working process to Emporio drangularium (Charlama Depot) as a collective exhibition in progress, in continuous growth and transformation. His

artistic labor through the years assumed various forms of expression (collecting, installation, assemblage, ready made, art of participation, performance, curating), but its beginnings belong to the domain of analytical painting. After three decades he returns to his painting characterized as “neofuturistic optimism of colorful expansion”. This is not an arbitrary definition but has its solid reasons and it also entails a number of artists of younger generation. Jusuf Hadžifejzović’s willingness to show the public the existence and potency of this scene resulted in an exhibition titled “Initiation in a Saloon of Celebration” in January 2013 at the gallery Collegium artisticum Sarajevo. He made a selection of artists including: Emir Kapetanović, Iva Simčić, Jasmina Gavrankapetanović, Demis Sinančević, Edo Vejselović, Emir Mutevelić, Emina Huskić, grupa YAGE (Young Artists Group Exhibition) etc. It was one of the exhibitions with the greatest number of visitors in 2013 but also one that carried a load of positive energy in accord with its hypnotic visual intensity.

The return of a ludic (playful) approach to culture that characterized Sarajevo of the 1980s is owed also to the renewed activity of Jazz Café Zvono. Aleksandar Saša Bukvić who is responsible for this comeback is the only member of the former artistic group Zvono now living in Sarajevo. The group Zvono made its significant appearance in the 1980s taking artworks out into the streets, cafes, in nature and even to the football stadium. The new series of self-portraits by Saša Bukvić is at the same time loaded with humor and pinched with bitterness. A sad look on the side carries a hint of loneliness and worry. Some of these self-portraits show him as a mouthless robot, as a featureless head, as a face covered with empty crosswords or a brick wall. Twelve self-portraits conjure up twelve states of mind and belong to the “neofuturistic optimism of colorful expansion”.

From family history to self-identification, whether delving into familial stories or one’s own states of mind, whether dealing with cultural-psychological analysis, performative action or with an analytic research into the artistic medium, artists who are today active in Sarajevo artistic scene are all concerned with the status and function of art-working in something we call a “bristling reality”. Bristling reality is a reality under pressure, loaded with affects. The pressure assumes different forms: lack of the system of values; the absence of social connectedness to the lives of others; the aggressive ethno-national hygiene; precariousness of work and existence; permanent transition; unadjusted forms of democracy; ideological relapses disguised as progressive propaganda; shortage of political articulation; new forms of cultural colonization; invasion of “turbo-folk” capitalism; the absence of adequate historical consciousness and vision of the future. The function of art-working in such reality is to critically verify discursive strategies and the ways of behaviour, as well as to redefine the relation between the ethical and the aesthetic, personal and collective, and to cherish an ultimately positive ludic attitude.

Branka Vujanović

Branka Vujanović, together with Jon Blackwood (Sarajevo),Predrag Terzić, Slobodan Vidović (Banja Luka), and Igor Bošnjak (Trebinje), is part of the curatorial team behind the DECODING: Contemporary Art in Bosnia and Herzegovina which opens at the National Museum of Montenegro in Cetinje on Friday, and which runs until August 31.

The chosen artists for the show are:

Maja Bajević, Saša Bukvić, Danica Dakić, Gordana Anđelić-Galić, Nela Hasanbegović, Jusuf Hadžifejzović, Ivan Hrkaš, Taida Jašarević, Adela Jušić, Šejla Kamerić, Emir Kapetanović, Muhamed Kafedžić, Damir Nikšić, Renata Papišta, Daniel Premec, Jasmina Gavrankapetanović-Redžić, Iva Simčić, Alma Suljević (Sarajevo) | Slobodan Vidović, Ninoslav Kovačević, Nenad Malešević, Miodrag Manojlović, Radenko Milak, Mladen Miljanović, Borjana Mrđa, Veso Sovilj (Banja Luka) | Nada Arnaut, Igor Bošnjak, Nebojša Bumba, Miljan Vuković, Ratko Vučinić, Miloš Vučićević, Mirjana Kodžo, Marko Musović, Bogdan Radović, Bojana Tamindžija (Trebinje)


Kazimir Malevich, Self-Portrait, 1933

Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935) has always had an ambiguous and ambivalent relationship both with European modernism, and art history. He is both present and absent; present in his utopianism and ambition; absent in the widespread understanding of his ideas and work and, more critically, how they related to developments elsewhere on the continent. And, although Malevich impacted significantly on local modernisms right up until the late 1980s, there has been scant discussion of how Malevich’s big abstract idea- Suprematism- mutated in other contexts. The show which opened last week at Tate Modern, then, Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art had much more work to do than might have been necessary with the more familiar oeuvre of other canonical twentieth century modernists.

Malevich, Shroud of Christ, 1908

Malevich, Shroud of Christ, 1908

In such a context the curators wisely chose to stick to a biographical spine to the show, with some unexpected and challenging variations. One of the major strengths of the show is that at each of its twelve stages even those familiar with this artist’s work are surprised. Hence, in the first room, as we walk through Malevich’s early Symbolist experiments, we come across an image such as Shroud of Christ, a beautiful decorative jewel of a painting, already exhibiting the careful course Malevich was attempting to steer between the visual experimentation of the European avant-garde, and the tradiaitonal visdual cultures of Russia, notably the religious icon on the lubok or woodcut.

Malevich, The Wood-Cutter, 1912

Malevich, The Wood-Cutter, 1912

This tension undepinned Malevich’s development to sometime in 1913. In a picture such as The Wood-Cutter from 1912, we can see the flattened two dimensional forms of a cypher-like figure from a Russian lubok expanding and swelling into three dimensions, through a tight curvelinear interlocking geometry; this is an early fore-runner of his brief cubo-futurist phase, when the differing formal and theoretical imperatives of Cubsim and Futurism were synthesized most succinctly in The Knife-Grinder of 1913, which sadly didn’t make the cut for this show. 

Malevich, Woman at a Poster-Column, 1914

But to cast Malevich merely as a processor of the ideas of others, and of historical precedent, would be utterly mistaken. Rather than (as many were doing at the time) copying ideas, he took them as a springboard for his own development, as happened in the most fertile period of his evolution between mid 1913 and c.1916. Moving beyind the familiar strategies of Cubism and Futurism, Malevich developed a new visual idiom owing much to the developing theories of groups of friends in theatre and philosophy. Taking forward Aleksei Kurchenyk’s notion of zaum– an alternative reality, beyond established structures of reason, Malevich began to inch towards zaumnyi realizam (alogical reason) in his painting.

The work Woman At A Poster Column completed in 1914; the female figure, visible only by parted hair and the outline of a dress, is almost completely obliterated by the letters and forms of advertising, and by abstract shapes; one of the earliest metaphors in the history of art for the “alternative reality” created by consumer and political advertising, and as such, is strikingly contemporary nearly a century after it was finished. Layered, in ambiguous space, this image looks backward to the earlier Cubo-Futurist works, and anticipates the remarkable developments of Suprematism that were to come in the following year.


Malevich, The Black Square, 1915

 Malevich’s Black Square, the endpoint fo representation in modern art and one of the foundation stones of contemporary art, is one of the highlights of the show. The curators are at pains to explain the ambiguous dating of the work; although the original painting dates almost certainly to mid 1915, the painter was in the habit of dating it to 1913, when he first began to work on the complex ideas that lead to the production of the Black Square.

This was a process that came about whilst working on the set for an opera entitled Victory over the Sun (Mikhail Matyushin, Aleksei Kruchenykh, Velimir Khlebnikov); the implications of working with abstract colours and shapes for the costumes and backdrops finally crystallised in his miond and led to the prodcution of this image. Cleverly, a video of the opera Victory over the Sun is shown in between the Zaum and Suprematist rooms, giving an invaluable piece of context to a set of ideas that can often remain obscure and hard to grasp for the viewer.

What is often lost in contemporary interpretations of the Black Square is that Malevich imagined it as a living, vibrating entity, as the sum of all living oppositions, a cypher for the multiple movements and vibrant colours visible to us all. The painting was the result of an extraordinary frenzy of work, with Malevich triumphantly declaiming

“The black square on the white field was the first form in which nonobjective feeling came to be expressed. The square = feeling, the white field = the void beyond this feeling.” (Malevich, Suprematist Manifesto, 1915)

Suprematism was very much associated with liberation in Malevich’s mind, the shedding of the skin of an old world and the adoption of a new and utterly transformed appearance. In the broader context, notions of “liberation” were reaching a critical mass in the years of the first world war, as a bloated and corrupt eighteenth century Tsarist regime found itself unable to withstand the pressures of the twentieth century. The February revolution of 1917 brought to an end a brief spell in the Tsarist army for Malevich, and he was amongst those who welcomed the Bolshevik October revolution later in the year. For Malevich, his own transformations in the discourse of painting were being mirrored by the fundamental transformations in the economy, politics and society.


Malevich Table No. 1: Formula of Suprematism

From the canonical The Last Exhibition of Futurist Painting 0:10, first held in Petrograd in December 1915 and re-created faithfully here, through to the long, fascinating room stuffed with Malevich’s works on paper- very rarely seen outwith the realms of the archive room and private collection- the story of Suprematism’s brief development is told compellingly. From the experiments with colour and movement in 1917-19, through Malevich’s brief spell teaching in Vitebsk at the People’s Art School, and in Petrograd with UNOVIS, to his vital shows in Warsaw and Berlin in 1927- shows upon which his legacy outside of Russia were based, the sad and familair tale of early utopianism and ambition being replaced by fear and bitterness as Stalin took control following Lenin’s death in 1924, give the viewer a deep insight into a movement, and a linked set of ideas, which until now have been difficult to get a rounded understanding.

Three Female Figures, 1930

Three Female Figures, 1930

As Stalin’s control of the USSR tightened in the second half of the 1920s, and the exhilarating debates surrounding future visions of the art world, shrivelled on the poisoned vine of “Socialist Realism”, so too Malevich’s practice had to change. The shows of experimental work in Warsaw and Berlin, rather than being the beginning of a pan-European movement, proved to be the hidden jottings of a Utopian moment. In the last years of his life, under suspicion and probably surveillance by the NKVD, Malevich distilled the lesons of the Suprematist moment in his late figurative paintings. An image such as Three Female Figures of around 1930 shows strong Suprematist elements shoehorned into the imperative to represent the new reality as the Soviet state would liked to have seen it. In the context of Stalin’s frst Five Year Plan, initiated in 1927, and of the Ukrainian famine, the reduction of these three women into abstract, dehuamnised cyphers tells its own story. By 1933, already stricken with cancer, Malevich’s visual idiom, as the Self Portrait at the head of this article shows, had turned full circle.

Malevich died in 1935, and there is no grave or shrine to him today; his grave, at Nemchinovka, was obliterated during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. I left this exhibition having enjoyed it hugely, although wondering whther there might have been a little more on Malevich’s legacy in other parts of Europe. His work was reproduced widely in the 1920s, and the avant garde periodical Zenit, based between Belgrade and Zagreb, saw in Malevich a kindred spirirt, and promoted work by him and other members of the Russian avant-garde, such as Vladimir Tatlin. Long after Zenit and the Royal Yugoslav culture that had proscribed it had disappeared, a 1980s artist such as Goran Đorđević (The “Kazimir Malevich of Belgrade”) turned the Utopianism of Malevich’s Suprematist output against itself, reproducing in its entirety the 0:10 exhibition and, in so doing, questioning the nature of the art object itself, in late socialist Yugoslavia, and in critiquing and undermining the “monetising” of art as commodity by Western museum directors.

Dragan Alekšić, Ivan Goll, Ljubomir Mičić, Branko Ve Poljanski, Zenit magazine, 1921-27

Dragan Alekšić, Ivan Goll, Ljubomir Mičić, Branko Ve Poljanski, Zenit magazine, 1921-27

But, on reflection, to focus on malevich’s legacy would have confused and cluttered what is an elegant and easy to follow show on many levels. I am sure that an enterprising curator is already working somewhere on a  “Legacy of Malevich” show, somewhere; as for this one, it has achieved its purpose. It is an exhibition which provokes those who know Malevich’s work well, and inform those who have not had the opportunity to look at and think about him before now; it will generate debate and repeated looking well beyond the life of the exhibition. As such, the show will be remembered as an important one, as it will finally- and unequivocally- secure for Malevich the prominence in global art histories that have largely eluded him until now. And, even if one doesn’t really care about any of that, it is a beautiful show to visit, visually and in terms of the restless, impatient quiverful of ideas that these images represent.

Jon Blackwood

Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art runs at Tate Modern, London until the 26th October, admission £11.30-£14.50.

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