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is marked by the obvious age of some of the packaging which makes up the installation; old cigarette packets with long-out-of-date health warnings, for example.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

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.

Ivan Hrkaš’ photography holds many different, sometimes unrelated strands, in tension. These are images which are simultaneously pin-sharp and blurred; intimate and impersonal; realistic and hallucinogenic. His images, rich in saturated colour, beckon us into a world which parallels but never touches our own. The latest series of photographs, exhibited at Collegium Artisticum in September, continue a trajectory which has been developing for over a year now; based on a love of the domestic, a wide circle of friends, and a passionately inquiring and well-informed critical mind.

photo-1Present in every one of these latest images, is a microscopic attention to interior detail, and to the effect of light and differing climactic conditions. The English collector H.S. “Jim” Ede, on moving to a new house, used to sit for the first evenings, before he unpacked his things, observing the play of light and shadow on the walls, and the random chance of pattern and grain; there is a similar sensibility at play here. Hrkaš encourages us to look again at the everyday with new eyes, to sit and take time to contemplate the domestic that is so familiar to us, we cease to notice it. In so doing, he draws us into unfamiliar living spaces and encourages his audience to focus as intently as he does, in making the image.

But photographs which are merely still, and beautifully composed, rarely hold the attention for long. We also encounter several layers of tension and unease in these images. Below, the presence of a showering man can make the viewer feel like an unwanted intruder on a private moment; being granted priveliged access to the private life of someone who has not conceded it.

photoThis photograph, in bringing us so close to an unknown subject, confronts us with how distanced we really are from most people; of the disjunct between public selves and private reality. Some of the barriers that divide these two states are provided by everyday and high fashion, and many of Hrkaš’ works, have a sensibility derived in part from fashion and film. But these are maybe incidental compared to the strong echoes that the photo has from the interior paintings of the Danish realist Vilhelm Hammershøi, and, more recently, the early Los Angeles paintings and screenprints of David Hockney.

Such referents will vary from viewer to viewer, but for all, the strength of the composition controls how we process the information here. The intense small shaft of cobalt blue, from the shower’s curtain rail, in the top right of the picture, insistently draws our attention, looking over the shoulder of the anonymous male. This seemingly small detail sets up the animating tension between close up and distance, between voyeurism and impassivity. The blue rail is echoed by the silver of the shower head, which in turn points us towards the patterned perfection of the curtain; only once these interior details are processed does our eye turn- fleetingly- to the figure, who he might be, and the uncertainty of our relationship to him.

photo-2Blue forms a similar function in the photo of a sunbathing man and companion. This is another meticulously composed image, perhaps the most redolent of fashion photography of all those discussed here. A bar of shadow rests across the figure’s chest, his anonymity ensured by the hiding of the eyes in the crook of the arm. A commonplace of art history is that the eyes are the most important element of a portrait; we are left here in the position of an ambiguous close up of a figure whose identity is as obscured, as if we were seeing him from a hundred metres distance. The same is true for his companion, clad in blue, with his back turned to the viewer. There is an ambiguous sexuality in this photo; we are left unsure if these men are just close friends or lovers, something encapsulated in the position of the prone man’s hand at the top of the image. Again, there are two readings; it could just be unwittingly resting there, or caress just beyond our scrutiny. Once more, every crease in the bedsheet, the acute capturing of the fall and play of light, form a stage set for an unresolvable human drama.

The choice of a career as a Fine Art photographer is an uncertain one in the most stable of cultural contexts, let alone here in Sarajevo and wider BiH. Hrkaš, who has a background both here and in Jerusalem, and who also works at the Academy of Fine Art, has a very stable platform upon which to develop the captivating line of imagery he is developing here. His photographs constantly re-trace shifting borderlines, between hyper-realist painting, photography, scenography and theatre. A genuine love for the beauty that can be found in the everyday, and a restless appreciation of the contigencies of that relationship, drive these latest works. They can be enjoyed merely in formal terms, but for me the most interesting aspect of them is finality and closure constantly deferred; both in the new details that are observed in looking repeatedly at these images, and at the parallel narrative sequencing they provoke in the mind. In a visual culture saturated with both original and photoshopped imagery, the ability to not only hold the gaze of a restless audience, with an ever-shortening attention span, but to make them come back for more, is a truly remarkable thing to have.

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Jon Blackwood

Many thanks to Ivan for giving up his time for a recent interview, and for allowing us to reproduce his photographs with this article.

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Lala in full flight last Friday night, performing The Damned Dam in Belgrade

Few practices in contemporary BiH are as varied and wide-ranging as that of Lala Raščić. As an artist, she embodies the nomadic rhythms of the twenty first century, based between Sarajevo, Zagreb and New Orleans. In the past month she has been a relentless producer; opening solo shows in Rijeka and Zagreb, performing three nights in a row for the closing of the Oktobarski Salon in Belgrade; then, the week after next, appearing at Bone 16 in Bern, with a return to the USA planned for early in the New Year- and a series of new exhibitions in New Orleans.

But this is not a practice which privileges production and outputs over research- rather, it is the other way around. A constant and straying curiosity, a core of ideas continually replenished by new reading, has seen three or four strong performance pieces maturing at the same time. Lala’s recent research has encompassed a profound study of man’s malign effect on his environment, both in the USA and in Europe; the rich visual imagery of her epic The Damned Dam derives in part from this work.

It is maybe a surprise that an artist for whom the spoken and written word is so important, is still perhaps better known for her video work rather than performance; films such as A Load from the Inside-Reviewed of 2011, set in the Sigmund Freud museum in Vienna, gives strong evidence as to her performative capabilities. In this film, cleverly, she appears as a 1920s-style silent move slapstick figure; the balance between aestheticisation and comedy is very finely judged.

Lala’s performance of The Damned Dam last Friday night, at the Oktobarski salon accompanied by Jusuf Brkić on the saz, drove home the centrality of performance to her practice, to those who were fortunate enough to witness.it. This is a project that the artist has been working on for over four years now; based partly on the Modrac dam in Bosnia-Hercegovina. This dam was the subject of BiH’s very own War of the Worlds moment some years ago; the broadcast of a radio play, suggesting that the dam was about to break and give way, caused serious panic amongst listeners in the small town of Lukavac, who took the fictional narrative seriously.

Lala with Jusuf Brkić during "The Damned Dam"

Lala with Jusuf Brkić during “The Damned Dam”

In addition to the environmental agenda running through this performance, there is also a profound awareness of the oral tradition, of the expansion and development of epic narratives passed on from generation to generation. The Damned Dam, a mixture of dystopian post-apocalyptic landscape, a narrative of travel, and the unlikely growing together of the two main protagonists- Tarik and Merima- is a performance piece suggesting at an unpleasant future but very firmly rooted in a local past.

This multi-layered piece can be approached in a number of ways. It is possible simply to enjoy the performing of it- concentrating on the artist’s magnetic “stage personality” and the contemplative release offered by the saz interludes. But this would be to pay less attention to the piece’s sumptuous visuality and its deep emotional range. There is every sensation here, from mild embarrassment and laughter at Tarik’s clumsy attempts to woo Merima initially, to terror in the three dam breachings and floods that programmatically break up the narrative; from sadness and pathos at death and the environmental destruction of a whole way of life, to relief at escape from near certain oblivion for our heroes.

Implicit in the declamatory rhythms and the lilting of the saz is a strong critique of our present, in terms of politics and man’s relationship with the environment. We live in an era of worsening environmental disaster; of political impotence and shoulder shrugging in response to those disasters; where recycling a plastic bottle or wearing a wristband endorsed by a celebrity is enough to make us forget the impact of the rest of our actions on the world around us.

This poem, set in the late 2020s, portrays Bosnia as a colonised and devastated land, ruled by remote-control EU commissioners, with the local population reduced to the status of overworked, anonymous vassals, tasked with meeting energy targets set in Brussels. It is a land subject to frequent flooding and turbulence, natural events watched over by a weak and supine administration. Neighbouring Serbia, it seems, has disappeared under successive waves of floodwaters, with all but a tiny part of Belgrade lost forever. Part apocalyptic vision, part conscience pricking, an analysis of the words spoken reveal a subtle critique of the dehumanising aspects of neoliberalism and a dark imagining of what may lie ahead in the future.

Lala’s spoken imagery also relies heavily on a deep knowledge of, and love for, different landscapes and their appearance in all conditions. There is a careful tracing of the contours of BiH in the opening section, and BiH both in winter and early spring; an imagining of the destructive forces of nature on the flat uplands of Serbia, and the people that live there. This passionate engagement with nature is replicated in Lala’s research on the landscape of Louisiana, around New Orleans, and her work reading past geographical surveys from the nineteenth century, plus engagement with thinkers critiquing man’s use of land in that part of the world, in the present.

This performance of The Damned Dam was an unalloyed triumph. Beautifully written, performed tautly, and accompanied by the captivating, plaintive lilt of the saz, it is a piece that fully involves the audience’s attention for the forty minutes of its duration. A splicing of slam poetry, Balkan epic storytelling, love and loss, it leaves as big a bruise on the mind, as it does on the senses.  If you get the chance to see it anytime soon, take it. In the meantime, there’s always soundcloud.

Jon Blackwood

Lala will next be performing The Damned Dam, with Jusuf Brkić, as part of Bone 16 on Friday 6 December in the Stadtgalerie, Bern. Jusuf is currently working on an album and we will keep you posted with details of its release.

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