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Political Practices of (Post-)Yugoslav Art

Museum of the History of Yugoslavia, Belgrade

Retrospective 01. The exhibition presents a cluster of independent researches that deal with the cultural heritage of socialist Yugoslavia through specific examples and concrete analyses of art practices within the institutional, political and social contexts in which they were being shaped. Four independent cultural organizations WHW (Zagreb), (Novi Sad), SCCA/ (Sarajevo) and Prelom Kolektiv (Belgrade) collaborate on multidisciplinary research: a counter-position vis-a-vis dominant historical representations of Yugoslav art and culture, as well as the socialist socio-political system in general.

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The exhibition Political Practices of (Post-)Yugoslav Art: RETROSPECTIVE 01 presents a cluster of independent researches that deal with the cultural heritage of socialist Yugoslavia through specific examples and concrete analyses of art practices within the institutional, political and social contexts in which they were being shaped. The common starting point of the exhibition – as a collective endeavor – is a counter-position vis-à-vis dominant historical representations of Yugoslav art and culture, as well as the socialist socio-political system in general.

Within today’s dominant discourse, which follows the creation of the “regional” art history, the representation of art from socialist Yugoslavia is articulated in two distinct, but inter related ways. On the one hand, on global plane, it is presented as something that could be termed as ”dissident” art from Eastern Europe, which establishes a narrative of brave artists as individual voices of rebellion in the midst of a totalitarian communist system, making them combatants for one of the most basic human rights – the right to the freedom of expression. This image erases not only the historical complexity and contradictions of the “really existing socialism”, but also the differences, both general and specific, among the Eastern bloc countries, as well as the singularity of the Yugoslav socialist project which, from 1948 on, had embarked on its own path of constructing a socialist society. On the other hand, at the local level, Yugoslav art is being dismembered and (re)distributed in a variety of national art histories, which are based on the “liberation” of the individual art ventures from the “communist stranglehold” and their “return” to within the boundaries of their “authentic national culture”, comprising thus a constitutive part of the processes of the newly formed nation-states’ consolidation. Those vulgarly politicized representations indeed serve to enforce the dominant anti-communist consensus that unifies seemingly opposed political options, such as pro-European democracy and ethno-nationalism. The exhibition Political Practices of (Post-)Yugoslav Art: RETROSPECTIVE 01 is also opposed to that what is called Yugo-nostalgia, since it is not about some romantic idea, a return to the “good old times”, but about a critical and explorative (re)turn to the common cultural heritage of the socialist social project through the actualization of the ways in which art practices positioned themselves within the given socio-political constellation. Although the material basis of this nostalgia for socialist times is still a living memory of the period when the majority of the population enjoyed a better standard of living and considerable social welfare, Yugo-nostalgia perfectly fits into today’s model of cultural industries, which presents that period as an image of a consumerist paradise, whose imminent realization is promised by the advent of neo-liberalism.

The basic intention of the exhibition is a questioning of and struggle against those simplified and ideological representations of the socialist past, by using different approaches developed through case studies of particular practices within Yugoslav art. It is about concrete analyses of the concrete political practices of art within the existing institutional and socio-political situations, as well as about opening up possibilities for a more complex and affirmative image of the artistic and cultural heritage of socialist Yugoslavia. Therefore, the exhibition Political Practices of (Post-)Yugoslav Art: RETROSPECTIVE 01 represents an invitation for researching, or at least for questioning, the dominant representations of Yugoslav art, culture and socio-political system, as well as revealing the significance of its heritage today. The exhibition’s main goal is not some total and all-encompassing historical overview of the cultural and social life of the former common state, nor it is a partial archive of some insufficiently historicized art movements and practices; on the contrary, its goal is (self)educational in the sense of presenting some models for independent research of that period for the actual purpose of studying the genealogies of political practices of art, which can provide a different perspective for positioning and acting within the contemporary situation.

The exhibition, Political Practices of (Post-)Yugoslav Art: RETROSPECTIVE 01, reconstructs and researches three historical references or forms of critical thought within the art that developed in socialist Yugoslavia, or in the vanguard of the political concept of socialist Yugoslavia – these are partisan art, socialist modernism and the new artistic practices. These three notions can be seen as important historical references for today’s conceptualization of political activity within the field of contemporary art. The exhibition Political Practices of (Post-)Yugoslav Art: RETROSPECTIVE 01 does not approach these notions as abstract idealities, but examines them through their effects on their very terrain, i.e. through concrete practices. The modes of usage of those references within the thematic parts of the exhibition, as well as in the individual artworks represented, are diverse. However, what unifies them is a critical-research approach towards (re)examining the past, as well as to the understanding of the very concept of art. The other crucial link exists in different articulations of art’s development vis-à-vis the classical bipolar scheme: art subsumed under the official state competence vs. critically positioned art in opposition to that state. It is this opposition of official and alternative art, firmly inscribed within the curriculum of art history, which the exhibition Political Practices of (Post-)Yugoslav Art: RETROSPECTIVE 01 seeks to dismantle by concretizing the mutual interconnectedness and transactions that occurred between those two supposedly separate domains that have activated the political thought process in art on the terrain of the practice itself.

Partisan art represents a historical example of the unity of art and socio-political commitment in making a common gesture. It occupies a position quite contrary to the conceptions of art autonomy and their practical manifestations (such as practicing art within the enclosed, autonomous sphere of art) and closely connected to an avant-garde comprehension of art as revolutionary vanguard. The exhibition does not present majestic images of the partisan’s struggle during the WW2 as the dominant ideological representations of a Yugoslav socialist state, nor does it strive for a simple provocation of those for whom the only possible representation of partisans is as an image of enemies of democracy and national autonomy. It is about (re)examining the relationship of art and politics conceived through simultaneity of art and resistance, of thought and action, or about the capacity to think and act outside of the dominant “rationality”. Partisan art therefore represents a conception of art which unites the concrete revolutionary movement within the common struggle for constructing a different society, thereby establishing new coordinates for conceiving art itself. In this conception, art becomes a constituent part of the process for creating revolutionary subjectivity. These analyses of partisan art also open possibilities for raising the question of the “instrumentalization” of art for political ends (i.e. art as an integral part of a political movement) and posing it in a manner that differs from those in which is insisted a supposed impunity of the concepts of freedom of expression and art’s autonomy. The concept of partisan art, as presented in the exhibition, points out that the political role of art should be primarily transformative and emancipatory, not merely propagandist.

Socialist modernism represents the affirmation of the stance that proposes that it is possible to directly connect the political system and the autonomous language of art. While the widespread modernist stance claims that the politics of art is contained in its language, Yugoslav socialist modernism recognized the autonomy of art as an authorized state concept of art, therefore opening the possibility for the abstract language of art to become a proponent of the official ideology. The term socialist modernism – also called socialist aestheticism – is often interpreted in terms of the neutralization of the language of art as a consequence of building an autonomous cultural policy for socialist Yugoslavia in opposition to the propagandist methods of the USSR and the Eastern bloc (termed socialist realism), but also in the sense of blocking the critical potentials of art that would eventually disclose the problems of a bureaucratized state system of culture and its reactionary effects. In opposition to the current dominant perspectives on heritage and the artistic project of modernism that produced a retro-vogue new formalism and a “nostalgia for the 20th Century” during the last decade, the exhibition Political Practices of (Post-)Yugoslav Art: RETROSPECTIVE 01 is interested in this topic as a critique of the ideological and institutional constellations which precisely generate such perspectives on art. This exhibition, by researching the concept of socialist modernism, seeks to emphasise those progressive ideas that were based on the closeness formed by the universalism of modern art and the universality of mankind’s emancipation.

New Artistic Practices are analyzed in direct comparison with today’s strategies in contemporary art. They represent a critical and political turn in art that was grounded in the dialectic of “speech in the first person” and self-organized collectivist action. It is the social context of self-management in the Yugoslav political space that was characteristic of those forms of self-organizing, which on a conceptual and practical level shows significant similarities with contemporary neo-liberalism by virtue of its insistence on market mechanisms as the only substrate for a social bond. The term New Artistic Practice was coined through a global comprehension of conceptual art and formulated by the art critics that were active in Yugoslavia during the 1970s as an intervention within the modernist paradigm of the “autonomy of art”, as well as a radical overturn in the field of artistic production. This overturn consisted in the displacement of the mimetic function of art from the field of “representation” to the very ideological apparatus which set up the criteria for validating art practices. Two basic contributions of the new artistic practices are still discussed today: firstly, demystification of any process of artistic production which presents the work of art as a process, i.e. as an open experimentation, and not necessarily as a product itself; secondly the issue of democratization of artistic practices by “opening the code” of artistic production, as well as revealing the practice of art as possible and available to everyone, and not enclosed in the form of an exclusive object – the eternal piece of art. The exhibition Political Practices of (Post-)Yugoslav Art: RETROSPECTIVE 01 questions the “utopian projections” and “contemporary institutional assimilations” of the 1970s new artistic paradigm in the field of contemporary art. The key questions are: have the critical tools of conceptual art become mainstream in global artistic production today? What would be an adequate way of returning to the heritage of conceptual art from the vantage-point of the contemporary socio-political situation?

The exhibition Political Practices of (Post-)Yugoslav Art: RETROSPECTIVE 01 is a result of the collaboration between several independent organisations, collectives and individuals which operate in the area of former Yugoslavia, and whose activities include researching the Yugoslav heritage in art and culture.

The exhibition Political Practices of (Post-)Yugoslav Art: RETROSPECTIVE 01 consists of nine exhibiting sections: How to think partisan art? (Miklavž Komelj, Lidija Radojević, Tanja Velagić, Jože Barši), Didactic Exhibition (WHW), Vojin Bakić (WHW), As soon as I open my eyes I see a film (Ana Janevski), TV Gallery (SCCA/, Sarajevo;, Novi Sad; WHW), The Continuous Arts Class (, Removed from the Crowd: Dissociative Association (DeLVe), Two Times of One Wall:The Case of Student Cultural Centre in the 1970s (Prelom kolektiv) and Kunsthistorisches Mausoleum.

The exhibition also presents a group of contemporary art works which correspond thematically and methodologically to the abovementioned sections: Retired Form by David Maljković, Journal No.1 - An Artist’s Impression by Hito Steyerl, On Solidarity by Darinka Pop-Mitić, Black Peristyle by Igor Grubić, Partisan Songspiel. Belgrade Story Chto Delat (in collaboration with Rena Raedle and Vladan Jeremić) and The Path of Remembrance and Comradeship by Tanja Lažetić and Dejan Habicht.

The project Political Practices of (Post-) Yugoslav Art was initiated in 2006 by four independent organizations: Prelom kolektiv (Belgrade), WHW kolektiv (Zagreb), (Novi Sad) SCCA/ (Sarajevo), as a long-term process of interdisciplinary researching, mapping and analysis of the historical, socio-political and economic conditions that led to the present-day constellation of art practices or intellectual and cultural production in the region of former Yugoslavia.

Text by: PRELOM kolektiv members, Jelena Vesić and Dušan Grlja.

Curators-researchers: DeLVe (Ivana Bago i Antonia Majača) / (Zoran Pantelić, Branka Ćurčić, Borka Stojić) / Kunsthistorisches Mausoleum / Prelom Kolektiv (Radmila Joksimović, Zorana Dojić, Dušan Grlja, Jelena Vesić) / SCCA/ (Dunja Blažević, Asja Hafner) / WHW (Ivet Ćurlin, Ana Dević, Nataša Ilić, Sabina Sabolović, Dejan Kršić) / Ana Janevski / Miklavž Komelj, Lidija Radojević, Tanja Velagić, Jože Barši.

Artists: Chto Delat (u saradnji sa/in collaboration with Vladan Jeremić i/and Rena Raedle) / Igor Grubić / Dejan Habicht i/and Tanja Lažetić / David Maljković / Darinka Pop-Mitić / Hito Steyerl.

Working group of the exhibition PPPYUart:RETROSPECTIVE 01
Jelena Vesić (kustoskinja/curator), Radmila Joksimović (koordinatorka/coordinator), Zoran Pantelić (dizajner izložbe/exhibition design), Vladimir Jerić (tehnički konsultant/technical consultant)

History Museum of Yugoslavia
Botićeva 6, Belgrade, Serbia

Political Practices of (Post-)Yugoslav Art
dal 28/11/2009 al 30/12/2009

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