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Collective Work – Đuro Seder’s response to Gorgona group’s homework assignment

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Date: 1963

Participants: Đuro Seder, Gorgona group

Organized by: Radoslav Putar and Gorgona group

Location: Zagreb

From 1961–63, members of the Gorgona group (comprising artists, architects, and critics) collectively organized and self-funded a series of exhibitions in the “Šira Salon,”[1] a frame shop in Zagreb that Gorgona occasionally rented for its exhibitions. Gorgona’s activities could be seen as a precedent for numerous self-organized artistic exhibitions and spaces that would become a significant marker of the Zagreb art scene of the 1970s.

In place of an exhibition, however, this chronology presents a material trace of another, less visible aspect of Gorgona’s work: activities such as meetings, discussions, collective walks into nature, the exchange and circulation of letters, quotes, thoughts, surveys or assignments among group members. Documentation of these activities were only presented to the public in 1977, when the first exhibition of Gorgona group was organized at the Zagreb Gallery of Contemporary Art, curated by Nena Dimitrijević. Until then, their visibility remained limited to the small circle within and around the group itself, but since its presentation, Gorgona has been seen as a precursor to the New Artistic Practice even if the new generation of artists was able to identify this “point of origin only retroactively.”
In 1963, Radoslav Putar gave all group members a homework assignment – an example of their customary appropriation of bureaucratic and authoritative discourse — demanding that they answer the question as to whether it was possible to produce a “collective work.” Most responses posited collective work as a utopian, or simply an impossible project, unfit for realization. Ivan Kožarić, for example, proposed to make collectively, plaster casts of the inside of of the heads of all Gorgona members. Đuro Seder’s response distinguished between the “critical-rational” and the “Gorgonian” approach to the idea of collective work. In both cases, collective work was a desired ideal, a way to overcome narrow individualist interests and concerns. However, whereas the “critical-rational” approach exhibited a level of certainty in the successful achievement of this ideal, the “Gorgonian approach” highlighted its ultimate impossibility. In each of the four scenarios outlined by Seder, the attempt to create and exhibit a Gorgonian collective work fails as it transforms from idea/desire to materialization/representation. This failure is in all cases bound with the constraints of the exhibition space and its management—here epitomized by “Šira,” the owner of the frame shop. Seder’s four imaginary, failed exhibition scenarios construe the exhibition itself as the epitome of the paradoxes inherent in the (re)presentation of art: the exhibition at the same time communicates and undermines the art’s utopian potential.

The “Collective Work” homework exercise is presented here as an artifact housing questions that continued to haunt and preoccupy artist groups during the 1960s and 1970s: the dialectics between individualism and collectivism, self-organization and institutionalization, visibility and opacity, professionalization and amateurism, state support and autonomy.

DocumentĐuro Seder: The Collective Work (1963)

Guide for the chronology (Ivana Bago: Something to think about: values and valeurs of visibility in Zagreb from 1961 to 1986)


[1] Officially named after its owner, but it became Studio G when Gorgona made exhibitions there.


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The First Open Studio

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Otvorený ateliér / The First Open Studio, 16 mm film transferred onto DVD, 7:04 min. (courtesy Marian Mudroch, Bratislava)

Date: 19 November 1970

Participants and organizers: Milan Adamčiak (b. 1946), Peter Bartoš (b. 1938), Václav Cigler (b. 1929), Róbert Cyprich (b. 1951-1996)), Milan Dobeš (b. 1929), Igor Gazdík (b. 1943), Viliam Jakubík (b. 1945), Július Koller (b. 1939-2007), Vladimír Kordoš (b. 1945), Ivan Kříž-Vyrubiš (b. 1941), Otis Laubert (b. 1946), Juraj Meliš (b. 1942), Alex Mlynárčik (b. 1934), Marián Mudroch (b. 1945), Jana Shejbalová-Želibská (b. 1941), Rudolf Sikora (b. 1946), Ivan Štěpán (b. 1937), Dezider Tóth (b. 1947), Miloš Urbásek (b. 1932)

Location: Private house of Rudolf Sikora, Tehelná 32, Bratislava, Czechoslovakia

The collective exhibition ”1st Open Studio,” opened on 19 November, 1970, in Rudolf Sikora’s house—with an adjoining courtyard and garden—on Tehelná Street 32 in Bratislava. It was the first organized protest (in the form of an exhibiton) against the intervention of power over the visual arts, following the events of 1968. The nineteen participants, who gathered there at the invitation Rudolf Sikora, one of the young, emerging artists, shaped the unofficial art scene in the following years. Through the ”1st Open Studio” the artists declared their adherence to the progressive, Slovak art scene in the 1960s. In their work they developed experimental creativity, playfulness, a sensitivity to civilistic poetics of the painting, the art of object and the environment. On the threshold of the period of normalization, in the stifling atmosphere of a closed society and ongoing political purges, the artists’ studios became, not only a place to confront individual artistic practices, but also a space for participation in creative, collective experiences.

(Eugénia Sikorová, ”The Coming of a Generation,” in 1. Otvorený ateliér. Sorosovo centrum súčasného umenia (Bratislava, 2000), 31.


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AUTOBUS – A3: Action and Anonymous Attraction (Street Happenings and Rock Culture)

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Date: 1972-1973

Participants and organizers: A3 – Risto Banić, Mladen Jevđović, Dobrivoje Petrović, Nenad Petrović, Jugoslav Vlahović and Slavko Timotijević

Location: Belgrade, Zagreb, Novi Sad, Skoplje

The actionist exhibition Autobus by A3, performed in the Belgrade city center in 1973, presents one of the early examples of performative street action within the New Artistic Practices, affiliated with Student Cultural Centre – Belgrade (SKC). The A3 – The Group for Action and Anonymous Attraction worked together between 1970 and 1974 and its members were Risto Banić, Mladen Jevđović, Dobrivoje Petrović, Nenad Petrović, Jugoslav Vlahović and Slavko Timotijević (who joined later in 1972, and, as the only art historian among the members of the group, became important for the articulation and positioning of A3 exhibition work).

The A3 group have been less interested in the context provided by the Gallery of SKC; the space of their operation were rather the streets and city public space, or, in their own words – “the life itself”. Timotijević wrote: “The goal of the group was to produce attraction by means of a sudden, unexpected action”. The group always insisted on their intentionally marginal positioning and ephemeral works and actions, signing up as alternative or amateur actors on the scene of New Art and considering their work as part of broadly understood “rock culture”. The latest conclusion may also stem from the fact that the two members of the group – Dobrivoje Petrović and Jugoslav Vlahović – participated in the controversially perceived installment of the musical Kosa (Hair), taking place in Atelier 212 in 1970 (in which some of the actors occurred naked on the stage for the first time in Belgrade’s theatre) and played in different music bands of the time.

The action Autobus assumed the construction of wooden scaled model of a bus (200x400x150cm), which was handheld from the inside and “driven” by the walk of its passengers, while rolling on small wheels on the front and back. The point was to produce a social event or attraction by engaging “casual passengers” in ludistic dialogue and estranged behavior. Some of the casual participants of the action commented on the bus as a “hippie vehicle”, mocking its DIY structure and the look of artists, while others ironically prized this “ecological ride” due to its natural ventilation (being without glass on windows), the possibility of stretching the legs on the way to work and for the absence of the gas pollution. Participants were exhibited to each other, their comments were immaterially exhibited “in the air” of the city.

Autobus is a skeleton of the off the wall idea, a nutshell within the social idiocy of perfect industrialism and technocratism. By material unfinishedness and ideatory perfection Autobus enables involvement of its participants in the realization of the idea […]This is anti-autobus of the Traffic Enterprise A3, a children’s toy, the dream of children’s megalomania and manifestation of the desire for air-conditioning of the people during the summertime. Autobus offers freedom, enables creation of various versions of the idea, depending on the level of participation. By avoiding the possibility of one definite classification, the way to realization of the project is secured by the Tolerance. AUTOBUS IS TOLERANCE. As difference from static interventions in the urban space Autobus realizes as estranged appearance, visual unexpectability in the spatial circulation.

(exhibition statement of the A3 group)

Slavko Timotijević connects the work of A3 – The Group for action and anonimous attraction with the various forms of rock music, alternative theatre, fluxus mass culture, happening and street action: “It is the fact that the members of A3 have always been well informed about rock music and had a lot of conversations on that matters – we did rely on the sensibility brought about by rock culture. We didn’t have to play music in order to be a rock band. We were the rock band by itself.”


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Symposion 74

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Date: 28 February 1974

Participants and organizers: Peter Bartoš (b. 1938), Róbert Cyprich/Hervé Fischer, Stano Filko (b. 1937)/Miloš Laky (1948–1975)/Ján Zavarský (b. 1948), Vliam Jakubík (b. 1945), Juraj Meliš (b. 1942), Katarína Orlík, Rudolf Sikora (b. 1946), Dezider Tóth (b. 1947), Jana Želibská (b. 1941)

Location: Bratislava

“Symposion 74” was the outcome of meetings held between participants, and took the exhibition-as-poster format, juxtaposing both individual and collective works by “unofficial” Slovak artists. Contributing artists’ work appeared on a poster in a grid format. Often artists worked collaboratively. The contributing artists and the title of their artwork is as follows: Peter Bartoš: Zooparticipations (1974); Róbert Cyprich/Hervé Fischer: Ninnananna, Ružomberok-Paris (1973); Stano Filko/Miloš Laky/Ján Zavarský: A White Space in a White Space (1973–74); Viliam Jakubík, Many Greetings for Poster Collectors (1974); Juraj Meliš: We Think thus We Are (1974); Katarína Orlik: Love (1974); Rudolf Sikora:-5 000 000 000 ? +5 000 000 000 ?, (1974); Dezider Tóth: Realization of Reality (1974); Jana Želibská: The Taste of Paradise, Galerie Jean-Gilbert Jozon, Paris (December 1973).


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Exhibition of Works by Moscow Artists at DK VDNKh

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Date: 20–30 September 1975

Participants: A total of 122 Moscow artists

Location: DK VDNKh (Dom Kultury, Vystavka Dostizhenii Narodnogo Khoziaistva; Hall of Culture pavilion at the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy), Moscow

Organized by: The organizing group at various points in time included Aleksandr Rabin (b. 1951), Larisa Pyatnitskaya, Igor Sinyavin (b. 1933), Eduard Zelenin (1938–2002), Koryun Nahapetyan (1926–1999), Aleksandr Kurkin, Vitaly Komar (b. 1943), Alexander Melamid (b. 1945), Mikhail Odnoralov (b. 1944), Maksim Dubakh, Borukh (Boris Shteinberg, 1938-2003), Lev Bruni (1950–2011), Vyacheslav Koleichuk (b. 1941), Vitaly Linitsky (b. 1934), Yakov Levinshtein (b. 1923), E. Kovaikina, Tatiana Kolodzei (b. 1947), and Leonid Talochkin (1936–2002).

After the Bulldozer and Izmailovsky Park exhibitions that took place in the autumn of 1974, some unofficial artists were emboldened to seek more opportunities to show their work in public. Their efforts resulted in a series of significant exhibitions the following year that included an exhibition of painting at the Beekeeping Pavilion, DK VDNKh on February 19–22, 1975, by twenty Moscow-based artists. A two-part apartment exhibition series titled “Apartment Previews in Advance of the All-Union Exhibition” also took place at private addresses in the hope of convincing the Ministry of Culture to mount a union-wide exhibition. (First exhibition: March 29–April 5, 1975, eight apartments, 132 artists, 741 works; Second exhibition: April 23–27, 1975, six apartments, 163 artists, 726 works). Finally, the “Exhibition of Works by Moscow Artists” at DK VDNKh took place September 20–30, 1975. Each exhibition was not without difficulty. Local authorities used many tactics to intimidate artists and limit participation including the exclusion of artists not based in Moscow, threats to participants (i.e., Nadezhda Elskaia was threatened with the removal of her daughter; others with loss of work or living space; threat of psychiatric intervention), delays with the hanging of the show or difficulty installing the works, and obstacles created for the public audience members such as long queues, closed cafes and toilets. A total of 145 unofficial artists submitted artworks for the exhibition, but after much back-and-forth between the group of organizers and the administration, only 122 Moscow artists were allowed to participate. The exhibition at the DK VDNKh attracted huge crowds who were forced to wait in line for hours to gain entry. Two of the more controversial works exhibited were Hippie Flag by the group Volosy [Hair], and the action Hatch Eggs! by the collaborative trio of Mikhail Roshal (1956–2007), Victor Skersis (b. 1956), and Gennady Donskoi (b. 1956) who were later called the Nest. The latter work consisted of a pile of branches and leaves in the shape of a nest, two meters in diameter, and was installed directly on the floor of the exhibition hall. Viewers were invited to sit in the structure in order to “hatch eggs”; signs nearby stated: “Quiet! Experiment in progress!” According to Roshal, the Ministry of Culture had threatened to remove Hatch Eggs!, but the other exhibitors refused to help and it remained in place, becoming a place where people would sit, eat, drink, and socialize. Eventually, the work was destroyed when the authorities declared it a fire hazard and soaked it with a fire extinguisher.

See I. Alpatova, L. Talochkin, and N. Tamruchi, eds., “Drugoe iskusstvo”: Moskva, 19561988 (Moscow: Galart, 2005).


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Appearance – action by the Collective Actions Group

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Date: 13 March 1976

Organizer-Participants: Andrei Monastyrski (b. 1949), Lev Rubinstein (b. 1947), Nikita Alekseev (b. 1953), and George Kiesewalter (b. 1955)

Location: Izmailovsky Field, Moscow

Appearance was the first action organized by the group of artists and poets who would later become the Moscow Conceptualist performance art group Collective Actions.[1] A group of around thirty fellow artists and friends received invitations to attend Appearance. These viewer–participants included: A. Abramov, M. Saponov, I. Golovinskaia, V. Chinaev, N. Panitkov, N. Nedbailo, R. Gerlovina, V. Gerlovin, N. Lepin, and twenty other people. As instructed, they traveled just outside of the city and gathered on the edge of a field to wait for the action to start. After a short time two figures—Lev Rubinstein and Nikita Alekseev—appeared from the forest on the opposite side of the field. Crossing the field to meet the audience, they distributed documents for viewers to sign as testimony that they were present at Appearance. In the following years, other actions were staged where viewers were invited to listen to a bell ringing in the snow (Lieblich, April 2, 1976), to pull a rope out of the forest for hours (Time of Action, October 15, 1978), or to have their pictures taken as they crossed a field (Place of Action, October 7, 1979). Inspired by the work and writings of John Cage, by Zen Buddhism, and by the philosophies of Kant and Heidegger, these actions explored the limits of viewer perception, while also serving as social meeting places for the Collective Actions group and the circle of Moscow Conceptual artists. Over time, hand-bound volumes documenting the actions were produced and called Poezdki za gorod (Trips Out of the City). The representational and aesthetic qualities of photographic and textual documentation themselves became subjects of the group’s further investigations.

[1] Rubinstein did not participate in in organizing actions following Appearance. Subsequent members of the group included Nikolai Panitkov (b. 1952), Igor Makarevich (b. 1943), Elena Elagina (b. 1949), Sergei Romashko (b. 1952), and Sabine Hänsgen (b. 1955).

Document:

Irina Pivovarova, viewer recollection from Lieblich (1976), The Lantern (1977), and Time of Action (1978), November 1980.


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Rusovce – cross generation friendly meeting by lake (another of the many attempts to be invisible)

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Date: 4-7 August 1978

Participants and organizers: Peter Bartoš (b. 1938), Ľubomír Ďurček (b. 1948), Stano Filko (b. 1937), Vladimír Havrilla (b. 1943), Juraj Mihálik (b. ), Ladislav Snopko (b. 1949)

Location: Rusovce, Bratislava, Czechoslovakia

By a lake in Bratislava, participants created mini events and ephemeral artworks out of materials found at the location, including pebbles, stones, plastic, etc. The event was initiated by Ľubomír Ďurček, a conceptual artist, performer, filmmaker, and author of experimental texts and books. The entire event was documented in a series of black-and-white photographs taken by participants.

In comments made Ďurček about the event, he points said that situations created did not necessarily correspond to reality.

 


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The Conference Comrade Woman – Art Program (On Marxism and Feminism and Their Mutual Political Discontents)

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Date: October 27–29, 1978

Participants: Helen Roberts, Parveen Adams, Jill Lewis, Diana Leonard-Barker (United Kingdom); Naty Garcia, Christine Delphy, Catherine Nadaud, Catherine Millet, Françoise Pasquier (France); Nil Yalter (France-Turkey); Ewa Morawska (Poland); Judit Kele, Lovas Ilona (Hungary); Dacia Maraini, Carla Ravaioli, Chiara Saraceno, Anne-Marie Boetti, Manuela Fraire, Annabella Miscuglio, Ida Magli, Adele Cambria (Italy); Alice Schwarzer (West Germany); Dramušić, Rada Đuričin, Dragan Klajić, Anđelka Milić, Miloš Nemanjić, Živana Olbina, Borka Pavičević, Vesna Pešić, Milica Posavec, Vera Smiljanić, Vuk Stambolović, Karel Turza, Ljuba Stojić, Dunja Blažević, Jasmina Tešanović, Biljana Tomić, Danica Mijović, Žarana Papić, Goranka Matić, Bojana Pejić (Yugoslavia–Belgrade) Vesna; Ida Biard, Gordana Cerjan-Letica, Nadežda Cacinović-Puhovski, Slavenka Drakulić-Ilić, Ruža First-Dilić, Božidarka Frajt, Đurda Milanović, Vesna Pušić, Lidija Sklevicki, Jelena Zupa (Yugoslavia–Zagreb); Mira Oklobdžija, Slobodan Drakulić (Yugoslavia–Rijeka); Katalin Ladik (Yugoslavia–Novi Sad); Nada Ler-Sofornić, Zoran Vidaković (Yugoslavia–Sarajevo); Silva Menžarić (Yugoslavia–Ljubljana); Rada Iveković (Belgrade–Rome).

Location: Student Cultural Centre (SKC), Belgrade

The international conference Comrade Woman: Women’s Question – A New Approach? (Drug-ca Žena: Žensko Pitanje – Novi Pristup?) took place at the Student Cultural Centre (SKC), Belgrade, in 1978. It was the first autonomous second-wave feminist meeting in former Yugoslavia, and beyond—the first conference of this kind initiated in non-Western-European context, and in a socialist country. Comrade Woman gathered a number of significant feminist theorists and artists from both sides of “the curtain,” and especially from various different cities in Yugoslavia. The discussions that took place in the different venues and spaces of SKC were accompanied by a thematic art program of exhibitions, films, and video-art screenings.

The event was initiated by Žarana Papić, a young feminist and anthropologist from Belgrade, who curated the conference program in collaboration with Dunja Blažević (who was then the director of SKC), and was predominantly focused on social-political issues. The panel discussions were developed in three thematic threads: 1) women, capitalism, social change; 2) women’s culture; 3) women, capitalism, revolution.

The closing session called Position(s) of Woman in the Self-managed Socialist Society was dedicated to specific local issues and feminist struggles in the Yugoslav political context. According to the recollections of participants, the initiation of the conference was also attributed to several academic intellectuals who were colleagues of Papić: Nada Ler-Sofornić, Vesna Pusić, Lidija Sklevicki, and Rada Iveković.

The visual arts program that accompanied the conference was curated by Biljana Tomić (who was head of the SKC gallery at the time) and Dunja Blažević, with the assistance of a younger art historian Bojana Pejić. Before Comrade Woman, the only artistic event taking place in SKC that could be explicitly designated as feminist was the discussion Women in Art,[1] organized within the fourth edition of April Meetings – The Festival of Extended Media in 1975 (the year was celebrated as the International Year of Women worldwide).[2]

The exhibition program included two documentary displays. One was The Yugoslav Woman in Statistics (Jugoslovenska žena u statistici), conceptualized through the selection of different data “portraying” the position of women in Yugoslavia; interestingly enough, the data was collected from official state media, such as the annual statistics report (Statistički godišnjak) and the similarly titled publication A Woman in Statistics of Yugoslavia (Žena u statistici Jugoslavije), published by the state organization called the Conference for Social Activity of Women (Konferencija za društvenu aktivnost žena)—the main organ of the party for discussing women’s issues in the official political context. Another documentary display was presented under the title The Sexism That Surrounds Us (Seksizam oko nas), comprising a selection of excerpts from Yugoslav press that illustrated the thesis about women being dominantly perceived as sexual objects, and their social role being reduced to motherhood and housekeeping, despite the nominally progressive, egalitarian and socialist tendency of Yugoslav society at the time.

The exhibitions included a presentation of illustrations by the French cartoonist Claire Bretécher, which were also occasionally published in Zagreb-based women review Modni Svjet (Djurdja Milanović was the editor in chief, and one of the participants of the conference), and Portraits of Women, an exhibition by Goranka Matić that presented in the SKC gallery.

The exhibition by Matić included more than forty photographs of women in the format of black-and-white portraits (50 x 60 cm), which were shown along the gallery walls. The process of photographing was conceptualized as a docu-fiction—in parallel to being photographed, women could decide how they would like to be presented by answering the following four questions: How old are you?; What name you would like to have/get?; Where would you like to live?; What occupation do you desire? Their answers accompanied the portraits in the form of photo captions. The “sample” of photographs presented women at various stages of life, with different experiences, professions, and cross-cultural backgrounds. The youngest participants were in the stage right after their first menstrual cycle, while the oldest participants were sometimes over eighty years old. In a conversation with Matić, she revealed that the oldest “commrade woman”, who was photographed selling fruits on the Green Market, offered quite a curious answer to the question of employment, stating that she preferred to be occupied by nothing—that her desired “job” would be to just sit and rest.[3] This particular “piece of data” or personal statement, among other things, also reveals the specific character of Matić’s questionnaire—the fact that it was about desires and imagination of a “better world,” rather than about the “scientific objectivity” of the data collected. The data presented was almost entirely fictional and was meant to address the actual desires of the subjects of the questionnaire. It was only the information about the participants’ age and the personalities that emerged from the photographs that stayed on the side of documentary. Matić, today one of the most important photographers working in Belgrade and exhibiting internationally, was at the time a young art historian who came up with the concept, and realized the exhibition in collaboration with Nebojša Čankarović, who was employed as the photographer of SKC at that time. In that sense, the exhibition can be also explored in terms of a curator-artist relation, or in the context of “delegated photography” and participatory art/curatorial practice. Matić is also being photographed and represented in the frieze of the Portraits of Women. Her fictional name was Ira Fasbinder, and she presented herself as the thirty-year-old Madam of the Brothel in Budapest. In the photo we see Ira, a young woman with short hair, dressed in a tie, a neat shirt, waistcoat, and jacket, with a cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth.[4] Others who were photographed included some of the participants of the Comrade Woman conference, among them Dunja Blažević, Ljubica Stanivuk, and Žarana Papić.

The film and video screening event included presentations of following works: La Roquette, Prison de Femmes (1974) by Nil Yalter, Judy Blum, and Nicole Croiset; The Apple Game (1977) by Vera Chytilová; The Living Truth (1972) by Tomislav Radić; The Night Porter (1974) by Liliana Cavani; Aggettivo Donna (1972) by Rony Dapulo; Il Rischio Vivere (1977) by Annabella Miscuglio and Anna Carini; Talking about Love (1974–75, video) by Jasmina Tešanović; Fughe Lineari (1975), Puzzle Therapy (1976), Rony, and Paola by Annabella Miscuglio; La Bella Addormentata nel Bosco (1978), Mio padre amore mio (1976), and Aborto: Parlano le donne (1976) by Dacia Maraini.

Papić edited the preparatory seminar materials in Serbo-Croatian and English, which included texts by Marxist social feminists (Alexandra Kollontai, Evelyn Reed, and Sheila Rowbotham), feminist-Marxist theoretical psychoanalyists (Shulamith Firestone and Juliet Mitchell), theorists of sexual difference (i.e., Luce Irigaray), and a series of texts on the emergence of the feminist movement in Italy. The reader also included essays by Yugoslav feminists previously published in periodicals such as Vidici or Žena.

The conference Comrade Woman opened up a cluster of important debates facing the long (often conflictual) history of Marxism and feminism, especially within the socialist context, including both the history of people’s struggle for emancipation and of official state politics in real socialist countries. In the Yugoslav context, the issue of women’s liberation is considered to be solved within the paradigm of universal emancipation; for example, the feminist-communist organization Women’s Anti-Fascist Front, or AFŽ, was self-abolished in 1953, claiming that their “historical task” was being performed and that the specific “women’s issues” were delegated to the state party organization called the Conference for Social Activity of Women—in general, the issue of the liberation of women was considered to be “solved.” However, in Yugoslav context the difference between the nominal political theory or state propaganda in favor of women’s rights, and the actual realization of these ideas in everyday reality remained strikingly visible. Despite of social state investments in women’s liberation through different supports such as education, equal right to work, organized support for reproductive and family care (free medical service, kindergartens, and education), the Yugoslav socialist culture remained essentially patriarchal —the “bourgeois morality,” with all its taboos and constraints remained to loom on the path of “universal emancipation.” In that sense, the conference resulted in certain conflicts between the “official” and “alternative’ spheres,” between the so-called state and autonomous feminisms. In this particular case, “autonomous feminism” was accused by the state media for anarcho-liberalism and new-leftism as reactionary and politically confusing “imports” from the Western capitalist democracy. The debates were conducted in different media and educational contexts, most vividly in the Belgrade magazine Student, which regularly followed and reviewed the activities of SKC.

Critical positioning toward the Yugoslav “state feminism” at the Comrade Woman conference is performed from the similar angle as was the artistic critique of the “state art’ in October 75 and many other socially engaged SKC projects—Comrade Woman was considered as a form of  “internal critique” of the Yugoslav system, stemming from the feminist, but also from socialist premises.

Some aspects of this critical atmosphere were captured in the reportage of the conference by the feminist journalist Vesna Kesić, which was published in the Zagreb-based magazine Start, where she talks about solidarity between young Yugoslav feminists and feminist activists in the West. Kesić writes: “Their path into feminism is mostly similar to our own. They rose together with the men in the 1960s as the members of left students’ movements, as the members of western communist parties or anti-parliamentary left activists. But soon they felt that despite the common struggle for universal emancipation of the humankind and human goals they remained neglected in the theory and practice of these movements. Despite of the declarative equality between men and women which is part of all existing leftist political programs, they confronted with the male intellectual left which suffered from almost identical forms of sexism, of masculine-chauvinist consciousness and non equality that traditionally dominated in bourgeois order.”

Document: The need for a new approach to the women question (the summary in English of the conference plan)


[1]             Participants in the discussion Women in Art were: Gislind Nabakowski, Urlike Rosenbach, and Katherina Sieverding (Dusseldorf); Natalia LL (Wrocław); Iole de Freitas (Milan); Ida Biard, and Nena Baljković/Dimitrijević (Zagreb); Irina Subotić, Jasna Tijardović, Jadranka Vinterhalter, Biljana Tomić, and Dunja Blažević (Belgrade).

[2]             April Meetings were established on the occasion of April 4, 1972, also Students’ Day in Belgrade. In the first years, between 1972 and 1977, the festival carried the name Festival of Extended Media with the goal of overcoming the existing institutional borders between different arts, and fostering interdisciplinary approach and experimental character of New Art.

[3]             The facts and details related to the exhibition Portraits of Women were “reconstructed” in a conversation I had with Goranka Matić, on the occasion of writing of this article.

[4]             The description is taken from the transcript of the 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Conference Comrade Woman, organized in Sarajevo by Foundation CURE in 2008. The transcript, edited by Danijela Dugančić-Živanović, was published in the special issue of the journal Pro-Femina, and was edited by Jelena Petrović and Damir Arsenijević in 2011.


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For Art as Knowledge Production and Theoretical Inter-Textualism: The Seminars of the Group 143

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Date: November 811, 1978

Participants: Jovan Čekić, Miško Šuvaković, Paja Stanković, Darko Hohnjec, Igor Leonardi, Maja Savić, Boris Demur, Bojan Brecelj, Biljana Tomić, and Marko Pogačnik

Location: SKC gallery, Belgrade

The Seminar by Group 143 was conceptualized as theoretical artistic event. It was paradigmatic for the work of the group whose main artistic medium was conversation, and as such, events were often presented in the form of artistic seminars and theoretical performances. The Seminar in SKC was an exploration of various formal, semantical, and contextual issues of art placed behind the “surface of visible” of an art object (as the assumed fetish of modernist aestheticism). Artists, critics, and philosophers—members of Group 143 and their guests from Šempas and Zagreb—were interrogating and performing different artistic, philosophical and logical questions, emphasizing process-based work (or thought) and focusing (aesthetically) to the very process of lecturing. Some of the investigations by participants of the Seminar unfolded under titles such as “Specific character of the structure or of the process,” “Specific character of meaning,” “Theory of numbers in the domain of visible-sensible manifestations,” “History of art as the process of education of the humankind,” “The art of nature and the art of man,” and so on.

The Seminar experimented with the concept of art-as-knowledge-production in line with the tradition of analytic Conceptualism in Britain and the United States, but also with the other institutionalized avant-garde forms of artistic education such as the Bauhaus school where the learning of art making coincided with the urge for theoretical reflection on art by the artists themselves. In the similar fashion, the occasion for the artistic talks and investigations where their artworks exhibited in the gallery space in the medium of film, photography, performance, and analytic drawings. Some of the theoretical references, important in the development of Group 143 and the structure of their (internal or public) seminars and workshops, were the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Art & Language, the concept of a “paradigm shift” by Thomas S. Kuhn, Joseph Kosuth’s investment into linguistics, and Germano Celant’s concept of critical critique. The work of the group was oriented toward “non-utilitarity, non-partisanship and ethical, rather than political statements. In other words, the group didn’t support any forms of artistic activism, but rather insisted on theoretical intertextualism.”[1]

Group 143 was established in 1975 by curator and art critic Biljana Tomić, one of the most influential figures in the history of Student Cultural Center (SKC), Belgrade, who became head of the visual arts program at the end of 1975, when Dunja Blažević moved to the directorial position of SKC. Tomić was also one of the editors of the Likovni program of the Belgrade International Theater Festival (BITEF), which was the visual arts program organized by Atelier 212 as an accompaniment to the festival of avant-garde and experimental theater, held in Belgrade since 1967. Within the context of BITEF and Tribune of Youth, both predating the establishment of the SKC gallery, Tomić organized different projects of experimental art, collaborating with early Yugoslav conceptualists (OHO, Braco Dimitrijević, Goran Trbuljak, KOD Group, Group E, etc.), and presenting various actors from the international art scene—from performance artists to protagonists of Arte Povera and Conceptual art (Michelangelo Pistoletto, Jannis Kounellis, Daniel Buren, Germano Celant, Catherine Millet, etc). At the time, Group 143 was joined by young philosophers and artists who were often influenced by analytic philosophy and logical positivism—among these were Jovan Čekić, who later called himself a media theorist and artist, and Miško Šuvaković, who later became a significant theorist of the art of 1960s and 1970s in both the Yugoslav and international context.

Group 143 continued working until the 1980s. One of the reasons why the members of the group dispersed was, according to the statements by its members, the perceived lack of interest in conceptual thinking within contemporary art production at the turn of 1980s, and their refusal to participate in the new “paradigm shift” that lead to the supremacy of painting. This particular period was marked by the return to image and painting, which, in the local context and within the microclimate of SKC, was probably fostered by visits of Achille Bonito Oliva, and promotion of the concept of Transavanguarde by the local critics and curators, including those who supported New Art in the 1970s.


[1] Miško Šuvaković, Konceptualna umetnost (Novi Sad: Muzej savremene umetnosti Vojvodine, 2007), 308.


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We Buy and Sell Souls – art action by Komar & Melamid and the Nest Group

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Date: 19 May 1979

Participants: Vitaly Komar (b. 1943), Alexander Melamid (b. 1945) in New York; The Nest Group – Mikhail Roshal (1956-2007), Victor Skersis (b. 1956), and Gennady Donskoi (b. 1956)

Locations: The action took place simultaneously in the studio of Mikhail Odnoralov on Dmitrievskogo Street, Moscow and at the Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York.

The event was initiated by Komar and Melamid, the founders of Sots Art in the early 1970s and teachers of a number younger Moscow Conceptualists, including members of the Nest, who emigrated from the Soviet Union to New York in 1977. One of the newly emigrated artists’ first projects was to establish a company that would buy and sell human souls. They launched an advertising campaign which included posters and print ads. They also took out an advertisement on the Times Square video display, sponsored by the Public Art Fund of New York. Komar & Melamid, Inc. purchased several hundred American souls, including that of American Pop artist Andy Warhol (1928–1987), who donated his soul for free. An advertisement in the New York Times announced “the first auction of un-official American art in the Soviet Union simultaneously in New York and Moscow on Saturday, May 19, 1979, 12:00 p.m. New York Time.” A heated auction took place in Mikhail Odnoralov’s apartment, where the soul of American collector of nonconformist Soviet art Norton T. Dodge (1927–2011) drew particularly heated bids; Warhol’s soul sold for thirty rubles. The customers who attended included the poet Genrikh Sapgir (1928–1999), art historian and collector Tatiana Kolodzei (b. 1947), and Anatoly Lepin (b. 1944). Artists who attended included Alena Kirtsova (b. 1954), Vadim Zakharov (b. 1959), and Yuri Albert (b. 1959).


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The Art Holiday. Narva-88 – seminar on non-official art

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Date: 21–30 May, 1988

Participants: Artists from Belarus, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan. Belarusian artists Andrej Bialou, Aliaksander Zabauchyk, Ihar Kashkurevich, Yauhen Kirylau, Artur Klinau, Uladzimir Lapo, Valer Martynchyk, Viktar Piatrou, Vital Razhkou, Ludmila Rusava, and  Dzmitry Yarmilau.

Organizer: Department of Culture of Narva Gorispolkom (the city’s Executive Committee) of Estonian SSR, and curator Ninel Ziterava

Location: Narva, Estonia

The USSR seminar on non-official art that took place in in Narva, Estonia, was titled “The Art Holiday. Narva-88,” and was organized by the Department of Culture of Narva Gorispolkom (the city’s Executive Committee) of Estonian SSR and curator Ninel Ziterava. Participants included artists from Belarus, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan. The seminar included individual performances by artists, spontaneous collaborations between artists to make outdoor installations, site-specific sculptures, and other forms of visual art. It was first time that Belarusian avant-garde artists had participated in a large art festival in the Soviet Union—this was made possible thanks to Perestroika, a political movement for reformation. During the festival, Belarusian artists who usually felt isolated from those artists working in other Soviet countries, were able to introduce their artwork to their peers from other parts of the USSR, to make connections, and to become part of the larger network of non-official, avant-garde artists. Some fruitful, international collaborations between artists formed at this historic festival stayed viable for many years after.

Sourcehttp://partisanmag.by/


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