Interview with Nataša Ilić

Nataša Ilić (b. 1970) is a free-lance curator and critic based in Zagreb, Croatia. Ilić is a member of the independent curatorial collective “What, How & for Whom /WHW” and directs Galerija Nova in Zagreb. With René Block, she currently curates “Cetinje Biennial V,” Montenegro (July-Sept 2004).

Edit András: What do you think is behind all this Balkan hype? There were three exhibitions, one in Vienna, one in Graz, and one in Kassel.

Nataša Ilić: I would think that there is one very practical, pragmatic reason, and that is the interest of the European community to relate to the integration of the Balkans. So at this point there is money for these exhibitions, money which was obviously absent in the second half of the 90’s.

Another reason could be a certain hunger of the Western art community for new blood, which is one of the reasons behind all these discoveries of new geographical areas. There aren’t only negative reasons, but also a wish to make the art scene look less Euro-centric, and to include different regions in different ways.

AE: Don’t you think there is also some kind of bad feeling behind it as well?

NI: Of course, there is the element of bad conscience, but it is primarily related to the political, economical development there.

AE: As a kind of compensation?

NI: Yes.

AE: What about the art scene of the Balkans? Is it better, more vivid than before?

NI: I can speak of Croatia, and yes, it is better than it was during the 90’s, that is my personal opinion.

With the political changes and with the opening of the country, and as the horrible isolation of the 90’s ended, of course all these energies are up in a way and there is more communication with the international art scene, between different cities in Croatia and between generations of artists.

For example, at the moment there are really four generations in the Croatian art scene and there is communication between them.

So the Croatian art scene is certainly very alive at the moment. Probably for some countries in which contemporary art started, in a way, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, I would say that they also collected and gathered some experience in this last decade.

AE: So you would connect it to this political change and the opening up of possibilities?

NI: I would. This doesn’t mean it would last forever. It is the outcome of many different influences of course. It’s not as though once you have a political change, things get immediately better in the arts.

This will probably not last, but if we can speak about these cycles, how things sometimes erupt, sometimes stay in one place, then this is a moment when they are erupting, I would say.

AE: Then this is probably a great moment for asking the question that has just arose in Budapest, the opinion coming from artists that this is the end, this is a kind of hype which at the same time shows the end, that art in the Balkans is emptied out, it is a last kind of summarization and that it is over. What is your opinion?

NI: From one perspective it is just easier to disregard it and call it hype, than to show no real understanding, to express no real curiosity about what is behind this hype.

Of course there is hype going around the Balkans, and in that sense, it will certainly end, and it is good that it will. The point is not to help the Balkan exhibitions, and this geographical framing of the exhibitions is certainly not the best way to develop an artistic life from outside.

On the other hand, these big exhibitions recently, and all this hype around the Balkans, I don’t think it makes the end of the artistic production of the countries in the Balkans or the interest of other countries in what is going on in the region.

I think many of the artists who resent it could use it as a motor, as an engine. That is exactly the question, what we are to do with this hype. We should devise a strategy on how to profit from it, starting from pragmatic reasons.

If we have three artists circulating in international exhibitions, and after this hype there are six of them, then we could call it an improvement.

But then it also has relevance to the local art scene, and in a way these exhibitions are also so-called “platforms,” because people do get to know what is going on in the art scene around them. Therefore, all of these elements could be used.

It’s very easy to just disregard them and be critical about this Balkan hype. The point is how the exhibitions are staged, just as a setup, as an aesthetic and intellectual experience and also the relations that were forged during that time between all these art-related professionals during the process of exhibition-making.

AE: Now, jumping back to the hype, there were three exhibitions almost at the same time, one of them made by Szeemann in Vienna. I don’t know whether he had a collaborator from the region or not…

NI: Yes, he had collaborators in the region, but it was very authorial position; he was the curator of that show. Unlike Peter Weibel in Graz, who worked with Eda Cufer and Roger Conover.

AE: So wasn’t it a kind of competition between these three white male curators – the third one is Rene Block in Kassel – fighting for attention?

NI: I don’t really know of any competition. It is probably present, because this is an art world, so there must be some of it. But I can speak about Kassel exhibition, in which I was involved.

Block, the curator of the show was involved with Turkey, for example, for a very long time, since he did the Istanbul Biennial in ’95. Since then he did a number of exhibitions with Turkish artists and really opened up possibilities for many of them.

Since then, he claims he was interested in Istanbul as a city, and also how the biennial influenced and defined the Balkans region, since the Istanbul Biennial is very much about, or at least used to be about the Balkans region. But nowadays, I would say, it is just one of those big biennials, good or bad.

AE: How would you compare this exhibition to Szeemann’s?

NI: To me the biggest difference is that this exhibition does not end with the exhibition itself. I think it is very important that there is a budget that will be distributed to the partners in all the countries included in the exhibition.

The way Rene Block worked was that he had advisors, curators, partners in each country who introduced him to the artists, showed him around basically, and they will propose the projects that will be carried out in the countries themselves.

On one hand, those projects could not be big, of course, they will be modest projects. But still, they will, in a way, continue the dialogue that was started here in Kassel. Also, from the cultural policy point of view, it’s very important to have an opportunity to do the exhibition without having to exclusively suit the guidelines of regular grant-givers. That is a big difference.

The second part of the exhibition is called “In the Cities of Balkan,” as opposed to “In the Gorges of Balkan,” which is the title of the exhibition.

The third part, which I also think is very important, will be a big retrospective exhibition of late Croatian artist Mangelos, who is widely unknown, but who is very influential in Ex-Yugoslavia. But also his historical position should be recognized by art history, so I think it is very good to have his retrospective show in this kind of institution.

Also, parallel to Mangelos’s exhibition there will a project developed for Kassel by MarjeticaPotrc, Slovenian artist, at the end of the so called Balkan trilogy.

AE: What about the in-between parts, the whole exhibition will be touring on the Balkan?

NI: No, the exhibition won’t tour. The second part of “The Balkans Trilogy” will be projects developed by partners in different cities of the Balkans. For example, in Slovenia, the partner is Natasa Petresin, free-lance curator; in Istanbul it is Vasif Kortun, director of Platform Garanti Center for Contemporary Art; in Belgrade it is Branislav Dimitrijevic, curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art etc. etc.

So, people who are professionals, outstanding figures in their local artistic environment, will make proposals.

“In the Cities of the Balkans” will start with a conference that will take place in Istanbul in the middle December this year. The conference is about the communication and relations to the Southeast Mediterranean area, meaning Egypt, Lebanon, which are kind of an extension to the Balkans.

The countries that were historically related not only to the Ottoman Empire but to the Balkan countries, and why they are completely excluded, not from these kinds of survey expeditions but from any conceptualization of what art is in the region.

So this is the beginning, and until September 2004 there will be different exhibitions, publications, conferences, round tables etc. in Zagreb, Sofia, Skopje, Ljubljana, Belgrade, Pristina, Cetinje, Bucharest, Sarajevo, Tirana, etc.

AE: So “In the Cities of the Balkans,” the second part of “The Balkans Trilogy,” does not have a rigid structure?

NI: Absolutely no rigid structure, which is exactly why I think it is valuable. None of this is given from Kassel, what has to be done. Once the trust was given to the partners, they are to decide what they will do.

AE: Will the so-called Western art be involved in that part of the Balkan Trilogy? I mean that it was raised by Marius Babias at the related conference that this east-west dialogue has to start immediately. So wouldn’t it be kind of a continuation of the isolated local affair?

NI: In a way, of course it’s up to the partners again, but for example, curatorial collective “What, How & for Whom / WHW,” with whom I am working in Zagreb, will make an exhibition of contemporary art from Kosovo. But of course we will not show only Kosovo art, because that would be exactly what we do not want to do – to make some kind of national presentation again.

We would of course include the artists from other places as well. So we are not forced to just work among ourselves. Some kind of relevancy for something connected to Balkan issues is imminent, of course.

It would be very good if it weren’t just local affair. Although, that is also very important, since for example in ex-Yugoslavia, we still don’t communicate enough, even all these years after the war.

AE: That is a very good point, because I think this is behind the situation in Budapest as well, that the local art scene is eager to connect to this so-called international discourse, and at the same time, there is very little knowledge of what is happening in the neighborhood.

NI: I would say that we are also eager to connect to the international art discourse … but that means in things that are happening in Sofia or Tirana as much as in what is happening in the Western world.

I don’t see this division as so strong; I see it in other terms, as very executive power in terms of market and our everyday existences.

AE: But at the sametime, this is a question of visibility as well?

NI: Yes, and I do hope that these kinds of exhibitions can serve as an engine for international visibility. This exhibition in Kassel was in a way planned as a response to Documenta – which used to neglect our region – because Fredericianum in-between Documentas doesn’t mean much to anyone.

This is what Nedko Solakov is dealing with. Everyone is aware of that, but this project aims to use the symbolic value of this museum to show exactly that which was lacking not only from the last Documenta, but from all previous Documentas as well.

AE: But it seems to me that the methodology of the last Documenta is utilized, since that kind of platform was invented by Okwui Envezor.

NI: I think that is a wise strategy, and could be very useful.

AE: Actually, who made the choices for Kassel exhibition?

NI: Rene Block, and my impression was that he was quite open to suggestions, although, of course, he was the curator. I really liked some of his choices.

For example, he included this filmmaker from Serbia, Vlatko Gilic, who is very little known not only internationally but also locally, but who got all the awards in Oberhausen, Berlin, was nominated for Oscar in the category of the best foreign film etc, etc.

He was kind of prohibited during the 80’s, and since there was really no relation between Croatia and Serbia during the 90’s, he is unknown. To have this kind of very modernist film, “Slaughterhouse,” for me was a discovery.

So, these kinds of exhibitions could be used also for that: the outside view does show things that we locals are not aware of in that very basic sense.

Or the other Serbian artist, Zoran Popovic, who showed drawings from the 90s and his film from ’71, who was kind of excluded throughout the 90s because of complex local cultural and political interactions.

Zoran Popovic in late 60s and early 70s did films with, for example, Marina Abramovic, who is now a star, or with Art and Language, and these facts were somehow erased from local art history.

So it seems to me that it is important to include him in this kind of an exhibition. Then, for example, this exhibition shows for the first time in the context of the exhibition, and not film festival, the early 60s structuralist films of Croatian artist Tomislav Gotovac.

These things are quite opposed to the idea of what Balkan art is and what it looks like – that it is witty, catchy, very poor in a way (technically and formally not demanding), and that it is all about blood.

AE: It was then a conscious decision, as opposed to the two other shows, that all these predecessors, a kind of continuity was involved, since In Graz and Vienna there was just the very recent contemporary art, and not the forerunners. Here, as I realize, there were a lot.

NI: That is a political statement also, that contemporary art didn’t start in 1990; that this area was included in the currents of international art development for decades. It was never more excluded than it is now.

AE: Concerning your involvement in this exhibition, what was your task, your duty? How could you cooperate and what was your contribution?

NI: I was a partner for Croatia for this project, but I also got a scholarship from IFA, which is why I was based here for a few months. I was working as an organizer.

AE: So it wasn’t a kind of co-curatorship?

NI: In the catalogue I’m an organizer. In some part I did much more than organize, but I was not the co-curator.

AE: So the hierarchy remained?

NI: Absolutely, yes. This is Fridericianum! I was working with Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Croatia, and there were four of us curators involved in the organization, and we were working in different countries.

AE: So your contribution was offering food, and then the curator picked what he liked?

NI: Well, I wouldn’t say it like that, but that is actually what it is. But there was a sensibility for what is coming out from the region, an attempt to fill in the needs of the local art scene. There was real care for artists involved, how they were treated during this exhibition.

For example, it was always discussed who would get a new production, not just in relation to the quality of the exhibition, but also in relation to the development of the artist in question. There was a dialogue going on all the time.

AE: What is the main conception behind this Kassel show in which you were involved?

NI: There is not really a big ambition with the concept of the exhibition. The concept is just really reportage, traveling around the countries. It plays with this Karl May title of the book, “In the Gorges of the Balkans.”

The funny point is that Karl May never really visited the Balkans, just like he never visited America of which he also wrote. Block really traveled to all the countries, and that is probably why there were not many works which would comply with this simplified idea of Balkan art…

AE: So it is a kind of subversion?

NI: I think so. The title is ironic, completely, because it epitomizes the idea of Balkan in a way. As if Balkans is only about gorges, with no cities to speak of, no civilization, only pure nature and wilderness, with barbarians living there…

AE: How then could the so-called “real Balkanian art” be recognized in this exhibition? I have seen some traces of the cliché-Balkan art.

Getting away from the stereotypes, what is on the other side, what kinds of works? It is true, that in Kassel there is not so much blood and violence as in Graz or Vienna, but there are some of these kinds of works.

NI: Of course, because this is part of the reality of the region. If you have Bosnian artists, it would be very strange if they don’t react to the war that was going on around them, or the same with Croatia.

Actually, that was one of the paradoxes of the local art – that in most of the 90’s there were no works that were dealing with social realities around us. So, it needed some kind of distance to that period, so all of these energies could erupt in a way.

It started in ’97-’98, when these social realities were once again included. That’s why I like the drawings of Zoran Popovic, which was a kind of escapism of course.

It is a total withdrawal into “let me do what I can” with all these horrible things going on. So you have all these reactions to the social realities. But many of the artists are involved in them and this is obvious in the exhibition

AE: So you could say that this “escapism” was the most characteristic until 1997?

NI: I would only talk about Croatia, and “escapism” would be too strong a word. Of course, that is not pertaining to all the artists. Sanja Ivekovic, for example, was always doing works that were completely trying to define and deal with social reality.I would only talk about Croatia, and “escapism” would be too strong a word. Of course, that is not pertaining to all the artists. Sanja Ivekovic, for example, was always doing works that were completely trying to define and deal with social reality.

AE: I would think that there is a very strong reflective attitude in the Kassel exhibition, which means it is not so oppositional, not so attack-like.

And furthermore, there is a very playful and absolutely great humor involved, for example, painting is disappearing, and at the same time there are these photos of the slums in the cities and the way of living.

It is not just a strong and rigid socio-documentary, or social-critique, but there is strong reflection.

NI: Of course, there is no political agenda involved in what artists are doing. Especially with the younger generation of artists, one can see that we are leaving the ‘90’s behind us. The way they treat all the traumas and frustrations of the recent past is more with a humorous perspective.

AE: So you think that the trauma is being treated in this way?

NI: I think that humor is a healthy approach. There is this work of Bosnian artist Maja Bajevic in which people tell cynical and brutal war-jokes. This joke is the only way to tell that which is not talked about, what is not discussed. This is a healing process.

AE: At the same time there is a double-stake in ex-Yugoslavia because you must deal with the collapse of this old socialist world, which is the same as other ex-Socialist countries, even in Budapest or Poland.

And on the other side, in ex-Yugoslavia, there is an “after-story” that is even more brutal, and in a way overwrites that past.

Comparing to the countries, which define themselves as Central Europe, the past is totally ignored, and they would like to forget about it and not deal with it. It is over, and that it is. We should not deal with it: that is the subconscious command.

NI: I think ex-Yugoslavian countries generally share this and would also like to get rid of the past, but the artists here are aware of this neglected aspect of the past.

AE: I also mean that in Central Europe this is also neglected in art, so you cannot find a work dealing with the traumatic past, since it is over and we must forget it as soon as possible. But at the same time, no works seem to deal with contemporary social reality either.

NI: That is obviously not the case here. There are works strongly involved with the traumatic past and the contemporary reality. I’m grateful for that; I think we need this production. It’s hard to see an explanation, but maybe since your countries are closer to the EU, maybe it really is over for you.

AE: The problem is in Central Europe that there is a two-fold identity mechanism trying to be as far as possible from both East and West, which is a trap.

Getting back to the Kassel exhibition, what kind of credit do you think the region would get from this exhibition, you personally and the art scene?

NI: I think it is more about individuals getting credit than the scene as a whole, because as you started with the disregarding of this Balkan hype, that is the dominant attitude.

I do hope however that some curators will feel obliged to include some artists from the region in their projects. … I don’t think the region will be credited though, and if it will, I am afraid it would be for all the wrong reasons. It would be seen as some fresh blood into the old Western art system.

AE: Do you think the Balkan exhibitions will stimulate thelocal art scene?

NI: I think it would, but only in incremental steps. I hope that there will be more communication between artists from Zagreb and Sofia, for example. Of course we always have a certain interest in ex-Yugoslavia, but Albania, Romania, and Turkey were not on the map for us.

AE: It is very interesting, that there is a need for an exhibition outside the region to raise attention for the neighboring scenes.

NI: That is happening all the time.

AE: So it seems to me that while there is competition going on between these great, white male curators, the exhibitions are used by you as well.

NI: I think it’s good for artists to participate in this show, though it may be bad as they could be labeled as “just” a Balkan artist. We could use the credits of these curators as well.

AE: It seems to me that this is greatly expressed metaphorically in Tanya Ostojic’s new work “Vacation with the curator”; making us conscious that behind professional questions there are a lot of personal elements as well that could possibly canalize in the interest of someone.

So while we are dependent on their attention, we can use that attention for our purposes as well.

NI: Yes, this kind of work deepens the understanding of our own condition. Just as it happened with every exhibition, they all bear the same problems. But then again, all of these big exhibitions do trigger some kind of intellectual conceptualization of what is going on around us.

AE: But it could happen the same way with what happened after Documenta; that after this huge show the result was very disappointing; that in the following Venice biennial Africa was treated awfully, along the old stereo-types, as if nothing has happened in this regard.

Alongside the stereotypes, could you not really take any international advantage from the Fridericianum show?

NI: Yes, the whole Biennial was so anti-intellectual, it was amazing after Documenta.

AE: Almost as a negative counterpart to that, as I understood it, you don’t expect this state of disappointment because you hope to get more communication within the region as consequences of the Balkan-hype.

NI: And another thing – all of this curator’s show, none of it was very intellectual, so they will provoke criticism, which will also be helpful for us. We feel a need to articulate our position more than before because we are challenged by these exhibitions.

As you said, they come and use us to promote an interest in the European Union, and they are guilt-conscious. But if they do have a guilty-conscious, then we can use that. Let us profit from it. However, I wouldn’t be too optimistic of course, this is just an exhibition.

AE: Comparing once again, because I’m coming from a specific region as well, at the same time it seems to me that in a very witty way, Balkan is using the advantage of the theory as well, like “Balkanism.”

This is another element that is missing in our country. It pushes away all the Balkan and so-called Eastern European connections, emphasizing the term “Central Europe,” while at the same time do not feel any urge to make its own theory, thinking that we are part of that European theory.

NI: Yes, maybe the disconnection we suffer from gives us a kind of fuel.

AE: Finally, please tell me about your specific art scene, the Zagrebart scene.

NI: I work with a collective of curators, four women of my generation, we are called “What, How & for Whom/ WHW,” which was the title of the first exhibition we did together in 2000, which was dedicated to the 152nd anniversary of the Communist Manifesto.

The Communist Manifesto was republished by independent publishing house Arkzin on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the book, with preface by Slavoj Žižek, and it provoked no reaction whatsoever.

As you said, the dialogue with the past was completely neglected in the 90’s, and we felt that we could not just allow us to be deprived of 20 years of our lives just because the political system changed.

That was one point of the exhibition, and the other was that we believe we should not forget about the ideas expressed in Communist Manifesto.

Of course the failure in its realization has been very real, and of course we agree with that, and therefore there was no nostalgia about Communism involved (actually, nostalgia of Communism had been a very right-wing thing during the 90s).

But we should not just forget about the ideas expressed in the Communist Manifesto and happily comply with new rules of liberal democracy. That was the basic idea of the exhibition – let us not forget that we must come to terms with Communism as well as with Capitalism.

There was also an attempt to make a context within the local art scene, so we mostly invited artists from Eastern Europe, but also some from Western Europe because we like to believe that Communism is a universal heritage.

We made a big exhibition with 47 artists in Zagreb, and it was quite an achievement.

We also invited art professionals from Serbia, and … We did try to reintroduce that past and Communist Manifesto, to the broader intellectual public again. Then we did the same exhibition the next year (2001) in Vienna, which was the 153rd anniversary. Now we will do it in Amsterdam next year.

Then we did another big project, it was called “Project Broadcasting, dedicated to Nikola Tesla,” who among other things invented electricity, alternate current. It was also a project that dealt with the questions of science funding, distribution, promotion etc.

We did that exhibition in the Technical Museum in Zagreb, which is a beautiful modernist building. We also had a big series of lectures approaching the subject of copyright, science, centralized media as opposed to technical potentials of media, etc.

And now since June 2003 we run the Gallery Nova in Zagreb, with quite an ambitious program of fast exchanging exhibitions of young local artists, screenings, lectures, round tables, and also international exhibitions. At the moment we are also working on the small exhibition for apexart gallery in New York, to be opened in November 2003.

We collaborate a lot with Multimedia Institute mi2 and the Center for Drama Arts in Zagreb. This non-institutional culture is recently getting very strong, (as opposed to institutional culture, which is still very much into a representative model of culture, mostly based on national identity).

This non-institutional, youth-culture, alternative culture, as you may call it, is getting more and more visible, of course not nearly as much as it should be, and it still does not sufficiently affect cultural policy.

But recently, WHW together with Multimedia Institute mi2, Center for Drama Arts and Platforma 9,81 (a group of architects) works on the two-years project “Zagreb Cultural Kapital 3000.”

“Zagreb Cultural Kapital 3000”is part of the project “relations” initiated by Kulturstiftung des Bundes, where we work around issues of collectivity, our collaborations and influence on cultural policy.

In that way we hope to gain the visibility needed in order to be influential in the cultural policy in Croatia.

AE: Thank you for the conversation.

Kassel, Fall 2003
[Second part of the interview]

AE: What were the continuation and/or further realization of the project, since we
met in Kassel?

NI: It continued with the project “In the Cities of the Balkans,” the second part of the “Balkans trilogy” and a continuation of the dialogue on cultural scenes and contemporary art production in the geographical area called the Balkans, initiated with the exhibition “In the Gorges of the Balkans.”

Until September 2004 “In the Cities of the Balkans” will support and accompany around 10 projects of diverse activities – exhibitions, conferences, lectures and conversations, publications, round tables, etc. – devised and carried out by partners in the cities of the Balkans: Belgrade, Bucharest, Cetinje, Istanbul, Ljubljana, Priština, Sarajevo, Skopje, Sofia, Tirana, and Zagreb.

It started with the lectures and conversations ”South…east…europe…mediterranean…” organized by Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center in Istanbul in December 2003.

The lectures and discussions brought together a group of artists, writers, academics and journalists from Southeastern Europe and Mediterranean region.

They discussed creating a context for discussion between south-east Europe and the south-east Mediterranean – two regions that are on the edges of Europe yet simultaneously central to the discussions both in artistic and cultural contexts.

In January 2004, curators collective WHW from Zagreb organized the exhibition “Side-effects” at the Salon of Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, with EGOBOO.bits, Felix Gmelin, Igor Grubic, Sharon Hayes, Vlatka Horvat, Kristian Kozul, Andreja Kuluncic, Aydan Murtezaoglu, Serkan Ozkaya, Ivan Petrovic, Kirsten Pieroth, Bulent Sangar, Marko Tadic, and VERSION, which was the first collaboration of that scale between Serbian and Croatian art scenes after the war.

“Side-effects” presented works that are concerned with certain unavoidable conflicting nods of “transition” toward liberal capitalism, whose “side-effects” are class divides, increase of unemployment and crime, cultural and spiritual impoverishment, lack of imagination, solidarity, safety, indifference, and lethargy.

In March 2004 in Sarajevo, Dunja Blazevic and the Sarajevo Center for Contemporary Art organized “Who Is Singing Over There,” an exhibition of videos, projections, and films by Gülsün Karamustafa , Danica Dakic, Lulzim Zeqiri, Arman Kulašic, Milica Tomic, Adrian Paci, Marina Abramovic, Ayse Erkmen, and Adela Peeva.

The name of the exhibition is actually the name of a cult Yugoslavian film from the eighties, directed by Slobodan Sijan.

The light-motif of the film is a song performed by gypsy musicians (within the film in the function of the Greek choir). The text of this song places the plot into a “historical context” in the dawn of April 6th 1941, when Belgrade was bombed.

The Sarajevo presentation focuses on the works (documentary film, video projections, and installations) that reflect the relationship between regional and local differences with musical or sound elements as the common denominator of the materials selected for the exhibition.

In Ljubljana in April, Galerija Škuc, in collaboration with curators Gregor Podnar and Nataša Petrešin, organized a conference: “Public vs. Private: Cultural Policies andthe Art Market in Central and South-eastern Europe.”

The conference focused on one side the wider context of the Alpine-Adriatic region (Alpe-Adria), the other on South-eastern Europe, questioning the relationship between private and public support for the arts. Both are of particular significance for these two quite different geographical and historical contexts.

In May, Contemporary Art Institute EXIT from Pejë, Kosova prepared an exhibition, lectures, and public forum titled “Reappearance: the authors look for a reappearance of the event,” with Sanja Ivekovic, Ayshe Erkmen, Edi Hila, Sener Ozmen, and Roza El-Hasan.

In May also, WHW in Gallery Nova in Zagreb opened the show “I need a radical change.”

The exhibition presented the contemporary art scene from Kosova and its structural conditions and cultural position, with an attempt to link it with the most recent tendencies of Croatian contemporary art and issues of cultural policy, as well as with international art context.

The exhibition focuses on two major threads that run through Kosovo contemporary art – political and everyday traumas of war and post-war normalization, and cultural production as the means of a “way out” and connecting to the outside “world.”

The exhibition also presents similar preoccupations in the works by artists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey and Croatia.

During the exhibition there will be several lectures on cultural conditions and contemporary art in the “marginal” regions in the broader European context, as well as round table discussions focused on the rise of nationalism and political situation in the region, in relation to possibilities of contemporary art to function as the agent in finding solutions.

In following months, “In the cities of the Balkans” will take place in the Serbian town Vršac.

The Yugoslav Biennial of Young Artists 2004 is quite ambitiously organized this year; its general concept is based upon problematic and polemic construction of the notion of a “Biennial of Young Artists.”

It will explore the possibilities of emancipatory politics in contemporary art through forms of interruption, radical breaks or unpredictable incidents, and the contingency of an Event, its beginning and ending.

Sofia will host the conference “The Balkan Reunion,” a project meant to provide a venue and a natural context for an all-Balkan anti-alienation action, in the intended atmosphere of relaxation from the sharp eye of the Western art world.

The culmination of “In the Cities of the Balkans” is planned as Cetinje Biennial 5, entitled “Love it or Leave it,” and conceived as a project between Cetinje (Montenegro), Tirana (Albania), and Dubrovnik (Croatia).

In relation to specific local circumstances of Cetinje, the former capital of the independent Montenegro state pauperized by years of the EU economical sanctions and even more so by recent economic regulations undertaken with the goal to approach the EU in the not so distant future, “Cetinje Biennial V” will expand its confines by opening two more venues besides Cetinje, in Tirana (Albania) and in Dubrovnik (Croatia), where a number of artistic projects and workshops will take place.

The American slogan “Love it or leave it” has mostly lost its sentimental pop connotations and nowadays is connected with conservative political demagogy.

That is also how it figures in the work “Love it or love it” (1998) by Turkish artist Halil Altindere: the photograph of two men, Istanbul writer and curator Erden Kosova and the artist himself, walking away from each other in opposite directions, Erden to the left and Halil to the right, in frontof the wall with huge slogan “Love it or leave it” written in Turkish.

If we read the slogan as the figuration of the Turkish map, Kosova leaves towards the Balkans, Halil towards Kurdistan, and perhaps towards their cultural/ethnic roots. Contemporary art in the area between Balkans and Kurdistan, with psycho-geography of European marginal zone which insists on its identity in relation to Europe, is the focus of “Cetinje Biennial 5.”

By establishing cultural and political relations with developments in a broader area of the so-called Middle East, “Love it or leave it” expands its subject in spatial but also temporal sense, and traces relations between political and cultural conditions and practices that pose a challenge to general perception of the Balkans and the Middle East as “belated” regions.

Rather, bypassing the external opposition of Europe and West (as universal) and the Balkans / Middle East (as particular), “Love it or leave it” is interested in internal opposition and antagonism within Europe itself and those “conflict areas.”

It regards these areas, that are for decades in continual process of progress, modernization, and normalization that is supposed to bring them closer to the Western rules and regulations, as full expressions of deadlocks of globalization

“In the Cities of the Balkans” will be closed with the exhibition in Kurdish town Dyarbakir, once a multicultural city and today a place that is becoming “normalized” with the whole set of abnormalities and brutalities, this project carries itself within the zones where the conflicts are easily devised and described as ethnic.

Email exchange, Spring 2004

Edit András is a Hungarian art historian and critic. She is a research fellow at the Research Institute of Art History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest. András divides her time between New York and Budapest. Her main interests are contemporary American and Eastern European art, gender issues, and art and culture in the post-socialist countries, which she extensively writes and lectures about.

 

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