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, 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)