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)

self-portrait-1933

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.

black-square-1915

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.

Kasimir-Malevich-Kazimir-Malevich-Table-No.-1-Formula-of-Suprematism

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.

So, after all the months of preparation, opening day of “Memory Lane” is finally upon us. The artists who are coming tonight have all arrived, and I am writing this article against the whine of an industrial vaccuum cleaner, preparing the space for the opening.

Adela Jušić, Memory Lane (detail)

Adela Jušić, Memory Lane (detail)

Today, for the final article before the opening, I decided to concentrate on what we might call the “title track” of the whole exhibition; Adela Jušić’s photographic installation Memory Lane. Longstanding observers of Adela’s work will recognise the biographical theme as one of her signatures, but these four photographic prints, together with a rather moving text written by her sister, responding to the images, marks a new departure.

Amidst the intense trauma of the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the loss of small personal items seems almost trivial by comparison with the human suffering and the colossal damage to the built environment and infrastructure. However, the near-total destruction of a family’s photographs, the loss of the physical evidence of collective experience and memory, built up over several decades, is in a micro-parallel to the attempted erasure of the collective memory of BiH (for example, with the shelling and destruction of Vijećnica in 1992). The four photographic prints, therefore, act as documentation of a vanished pre-war world, an attempt to re-enagage with the past and to re-construct it, having survived that trauma. They mark a similar painstaking and slow process of re-construction and re-evaluation; the frustration of broken links and black holes in the records; the photographs had to be gathered where they had survived, from relatives and friends.

In this show, the prints are cleverly placed next to Adela’s video When I Die, You Can Do What You Want of 2011. As such, the viewer can see the life of her grandmother bookended; a beautiful young woman, about to marry a handsome soldier; a daughter and mother with a growing brood of small children; her son, and Adela’s father, posing with his sniper’s rifle (an image seared onto the viewer’s memory by Adela’s The Sniper of 2007- shown elsewhere in this exhibition); a group of kids standing together in a group of six, staring with the fierce curiosity of small children at the camera, an image made poignant by our fragmentary knowledge of their subsequent transition into adulthood. In this sense the video marks a full stop at the end of these life events; an old lady looking back on her rich and complicated life story which we can see like the fragments of a broken mirror, in these photographs.

Memory Lane holds together, in confessional tension, the main animating forces in Adela’s work from the last three or four years. The impact of the war on her childhood and development; the role and contribution of women in the history of war in the former Yugoslavia, and contemporary Bosnia-Herzegovina; an evolving personal evaluation of gender and the role of women in contemporary society; an engagement with family and family narratives, as validating of personal experience and development; and, a desire to work in series, to expand and develop this material in new formats and new presentations. All of these factors come together in an intimate revelation of the roots of the artist’s personality and set of interests, in a frank self-revelation which avoids much of the narcissism and trivia of contemporary artistic “biographical” and “confessional” strategies.

the-sniper-photo

Adela Jušić, Memory Lane, (detail)

Between the grey-silver tones of a past long faded, and the pixelated life story of Adela’s grandmother, lies a handwritten testament by her sister, a verbal link between the two works. Part of the extract from the text reads:

I know very little about my father, and the little I know, I am not sure whether it is my own memory or a memory created based on other people’s stories. I know that thanks to him I am left handed and I am glad. My mother wanted to convert me to being right handed, but he wouldn’t allow that. I know I have only three photographs of him. This one is my favorite. I also know that to a great extent I amnow a soldier, because he was one too, and that I have the same name on the uniform as he did – „A Jušić”

It will be interesting to see where Adela’s work goes next. She has been developing a new body of work in a residency in Tirana on the experiences of women in the Hoxha period in Albania. It may be that Memory Lane will continue to develop as new stories are uncovered, or it could be that this powerful piece will draw a line under the work of the last few years, and clear the ground for new pieces in different but related discourses. Whatever the outcome will be, the gripping tension between candour and intimacy, the scrupulous avoidance of sentimentality and nostalgia, in this work, will keep visitors to this show coming back to look again.

Tomorrow (sometime) we will post an interview with Jusuf Hadžifejzović, and review his and Alma Suljević’s performances from the opening night. These articles will bring our coverage of the “Memory Lane” exhibition to a close.

 

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Damir Radović, Who Started the War?

SCB: Damir, you are originally from Sarajevo but have lived and worked in France for some time. Can you tell us a little about the significance of “diaspora” to your work?

DR: Well, it was unexpected that I found myself part of a diaspora; I lived a long time before I knew what the word even meant. But, once you become part of something, you have to find out more about it. I researched quite a lot and found that maybe Jacques Derrida, who was himself part of a diaspora, had the best definition. Derrida compares the experience of diaspora to a pommegranate, the fruit used to make grenadine. Everyone knows that the pommegranate is full of seeds; Derrida suggests that the fruit is the country of origin, and the seeds are scattered far and wide like individual members of the diaspora. They move away from the fruit and reproduce in unfamiliar surroundings. Diaspora can be a kind of freedom; after the hard initial start it is possible to live anywhere you want, once you have become used to it. There are allusions to diaspora in the work of other artists in the show…this piece by Irena Sladoje,  where she grows over an old Sarajevo rose and turns it into something completely different, for example.

Diaspora can be very helpful to the development of an artistic practice, too; it helps one’s experience, and ideas, ripen. I am far from the only artist to have gone through this; diaspora is a very common experience in the biographies of artists now and in the past. Derrida also wrote very well about the relationship between Algeria and France, and of the need as an individual to resolve the experiences in the home country with the contemporary realities of life in another.

SCB: Tell us about some of the main themes in your work.

DR: I really started with architectural drawings. When I first came to France, I had nothing left of Sarajevo, other than a few postcards of the city from the time of the Olympic games. In that war from 1992-95 so many people died, there was so much awful human tragedy, but less remembered is the buildings that were destroyed as well. Many public buildings, churches and mosques, were demolished, along with much common space that everyone had enjoyed before the war. We have of course replaced these with new buildings, but it is not the same. BBI is a good example. It is a gleaming modern place but I remember Robna Kuća on that site; it was a modern concrete building which really interests me. I wanted to remember these old buildings. Through Robna Kuća, I began to do some research on Corbusier and I am a really fan of this style of concrete architecture, which some people find ugly. When I visited Hiroshima in Japan, I learned that only two buldings in the city survived the atomic explosion in 1945, and both were concrete buildings; these are now musuems of the city as it was before the bomb.

The war also had a lot of effect on my development; it deeply impacted on my imagination. I did some really utopian drawings, where I imagined moving all the buildings in Mojmilo, as one block, and bringing them to France. It is a kind of utopian migration, an imaginary parallel to the grim reality of real patterns of migration, and the conditions that refugees find themselves in. I drew this mythical event- the moving of an entire building with 2,000 people in it, and imagined how it might happen.

Alongside sculpture and drawing I also became very interested in performance. I did my first Sleeping in Public performance in 2007. This was on Ferhadija in Sarajevo. The reaction of the people was very, very interesting. Many citizens came to me and asked me why I was sleeping there, was I alright, and could they help. The performance lasted for about ten minutes, and I nearly blocked the whole of Ferhdija with people. Since then, I have done this performance many times in cities all over; in Stockholm, Dresden, Munich, Vienna. However, the sight of a homeless person asleep is so common in Western and Central European cities that people don’t notice or bother, really. However, despite all the problems in BiH, seeing a homeless person still is not really a common event. The reaction of the people in different places where I have done this performance says a lot about the country and the mentality of ordinary people. This is a series of performances, and I am hoping to go and do it in Istanbul next.

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Damir Radović, Sleeping Performance, Stockholm

SCB: Tell us about the pieces that you have exhibited here.

DR: Well, when Pierre called me and asked me to submit some pieces, he ended up choosing these two neon works. One is Who Started the War? This derives from the famous scene in Denis Tanović’s movie No Mans’ Land where the Bosnian and Serbian soldier are trapped together in the shellhole, and have an argument with one another. Both are in the same shit, but get into this stupid fight. That is the origin of the work, but over the years the implications of the work have become global. We have such a short historical memory now, we forget very quickly how wars started- not just in BiH, but also Iraq, Afghanistan…it is important to keep remebering and keep learning those lessons.

The second neon piece works along a similar line. I have covered two walls with the handrwritten phrase, “How the War Started In….”. The phrsase is repeated so often that it begins to lose a bit of meaning, become like a mantra. In a way, this repetitive action is reminiscent of people suffering psychological trauma. people often retreat from their surroundings by doing repetitive actions. The way in which an artist can retreat into their own world is another link with traumatised behaviours. On top of thse words is a familiar image of mine; a neon reporduction of Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1893-1910). Munch’s painting spoke of alienation, difficulty and trauma in his own time, and of course the Great War came along not long after the final version was finished. I suppose I am thinking about psycholigcal trauma and sffering as a precursor to war, something that prefigures a coming conflict.

SCB: What is next for you, after “Memory Lane” has finished?

DR: I will be in Sarajevo in September, I have been invited to do a solo show in duplex. I will be showing some maquettes I made a while ago, showing soldiers attacking the houses of curators; I am also preparing a series of new works, based around the implications of the number 7.

Many thanks to Damir for his time.

 

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Lana Čmajčanin, Tailoring and Sewing (detail), 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lana Čmajčanin, Tailoring and Sewing (detail), 2011

 

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