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The City as a Site of Plastic Happening – The Proposal Section of the 6th Zagreb Salon

Author:
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Date: May, 1971

Organized by: 6th Zagreb Salon

Concept by: Željka Čorak

Participants: Boris Bućan, Braco Dimitrijević, Jagoda Kaloper, Ivan Kožarić, Boris Ljubičić, Nada Orel, Goran Trbuljak, Marija Ujević, et al.

The beginning of the 1970s in Zagreb saw a number of curated projects that commissioned new artistic productions to be realized in public space. At the time, texts written by art critics expressed strong enthusiasm and belief that such artistic practices were able to “democratize” art and reshape the social environment, by developing communication between the urban space and its inhabitants.

The City as a Site of Plastic Happening, conceived by art historian Željka Čorak, was the first invitation for artists to use the city as material for their art. The event was the first iteration of Proposal, the newly established section of the Zagreb Salon, whose very title pointed to the primacy of idea over realization: artists were commissioned to submit proposals, only some of which could be realized. Seventeen authors/groups submitted twenty-four proposals, which were all exhibited at the Student Center Gallery. [1] The idea of a socially-engaged art that uses the city and the public space as a site of confrontation with the audience itself constituted a radical proposal—a desired ideal of social and aesthetic transformation. Some of the works that became widely known were first produced for this event, such as the Grounded Sun by Ivan Kožarić, a large abstract golden sphere placed on one of the neighboring squares in the city. The work’s elusive, abstract shape and its bold placement in one of the busiest areas in the city spurred controversy and even incited aggressive reactions. Another provocative work was Braco Dimitrijević’s series of large-scale photo-portraits of “casual passers-by,” which hung at the representative site of the city’s main square facade. Monumental portraits of anonymous citizens mimicked similar representations of political leaders and occupied the square on which official political gatherings were held.

Taking place three years after the neo-leftist 1968 student revolts in Yugoslavia and immediately after the nationalist Croatian Spring revolts in 1971, Proposal marks the era when the urban space was developing into a site of articulation and visualization of political and aesthetic contestation. By the end of the 1970s when the New Art Practice was already being historicized[2], many of the critics initially enthusiastic about art’s interaction with the urban space now expressed disillusionment, identifying the failure of art in public space to truly succeed in its effort to reach the people. They also noted the indifference of the public and the failure of social institutions to take advantage of the artists’ “offer” to act in the name of the public good.
Guide for the chronology (Ivana Bago: Something to think about: values and valeurs of visibility in Zagreb from 1961 to 1986)


[2] Through exhibition projects such as New Art Practice in Yugoslavia 1968-1978, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb (1978), Innovations in Croatian Art of the Seventies, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb (1982), New Art in Serbia 1970-1980. Individuals, groups, phenomena, Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade (1983).


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Direct Week

Author:
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Date: 6-9 July 1972

Organisers: Gyula Pauer (1941), Tamás Szentjóby (1944)

Participants: László Beke, Miklós Erdély, Gyula Gulyás, Miklós Haraszti, László Haris, Ágnes Háy, Tamás Hencze, Péter Lajtai, Péter Legéndy, József Molnár V., Gyula Pauer, Margit Rajczi, Tamás Szentjóby, Endre Tót

Location: Chapel Studio of György Galántai, Balatonboglár

Direct Week was an exhibition and event series that incorporated works and actions replying to Pauer’s and Szentjóby’s call, as well as lectures and screenings that were originally in the program of the “Avantgarde Festival” planned in April in a Budapest Club, but banned shortly before its scheduled date.

Documents:

Gyula Pauer, Tamás Szentjóby: Call for “Direct Week” (1972)

Gyula Pauer: II. Pseudo Manifesto (Advertisement) (1972)

Tamás Szentjóby:  Exclusion exercise – Punishement-Preventive Autotheraphy (1969-72)

Source: Törvénytelen avantgárd. Galántai György balatonboglári kápolnaműterme 1970–1973 [Illegal Avant-garde, the Balatonboglár Chapel Studio of György Galántai 1970–1973], eds. Júlia Klaniczay and Edit Sasvári  (Artpool–Balassi, Budapest, 2003):  126-135.

On the website of Artpool Art Research Center


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Meeting of Czech, Slovak, and Hungarian artists – exhibition, actions

Author:
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Date: 26 August 1972

Participants: Imre Bak, Peter Bartoš, László Beke, Miklós Erdély, Stano Filko, György Galántai, Péter Halász, Béla Hap, Ágnes Háy, Tamás Hencze, György Jovánovics, J. H. Kocman, Péter Legéndy, János Major, László Méhes, Gyula Pauer, Vladjimir Popović, Petr Štembera, Rudolf Sikora, Tamás Szentjóby, Anna Szeredi, Endre Tót, Péter Türk, Jiři Valoch

Organized by: László Beke (1944)

Location: Chapel Studio of György Galántai, Balatonboglár

During the two-day meeting an exhibition and various actions were organized by László Beke, who invited artists from Czechoslovakia and Hungary to create contacts with each other.

Documents:

Interview with László Beke (1998)

Interview with Gyula Pauer (1998)

György Galántai’s diary (1972)

Source: Törvénytelen avantgárd. Galántai György balatonboglári kápolnaműterme 1970–1973 [Illegal Avant-garde, the Balatonboglár Chapel Studio of György Galántai 1970–1973], eds. Júlia Klaniczay and Edit Sasvári  (Artpool–Balassi, Budapest, 2003):  141-3.


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Oktobar 75 – An Example of Counter-Exhibition (Statements on Artistic Autonomy, Self-management and Self-Critique)

Author:
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Date: October 1975

Participants: Dunja Blažević, Ješa Denegri, Goran Đorđević, Vladimir Gudac, Bojana Pejić, Zoran Popović, Jasna Tijardović, Slavko Timotijević, Raša Todosijević, Dragica Vukadinović

Location: Student Cultural Center (SKC) gallery, Belgrade

The Oktobar events at SKC1 presented vital moments of linguistic-political forming and development of New Art Practices2 in Belgrade during the first half of the 1970s. SKC gallery was regularly organizing alternative Oktobars” as a sort of oppositional, counter-cultural activity to the official art event called October Salon, which contained the conventional (bourgeois) prerogative of a salon, and was following l’art pour l’art (“art for art’s sake”) trends of late modernist aesteticism. At that time, October Salons were being held annually at the Modern Gallery located in a former garage on Masarykova Street, opposite to the SKC building and in a sense, SKC’s Oktobars literally operated as a sort of “door-to-door” counter-salon.

Oktobar 75 was (self-)organized as a participatory project in which the community of cultural workers—art critics, curators, and artists gathered around SKC gallery—decided to publish a series of individual critical statements on the concept of self-managing art. For the opening night, the gallery was left empty: the only “object” was small table, with a pile of stapled A4-size publications with the designed print Oktobar 75 on the front page (the print can be seen among the pictures accompanying this article). In other words, what makes this project a counter-exhibition is the very decision by SKC’s artistic community to not to show the artworks as objects of contemplation, but to use the gallery space to present their individual statements and texts that comprise the hectograph notebook, Oktobar 75.

The topic of art and self-management corresponded with the ideological program of Workers’ Self-Management that was part the official state politics of socialist Yugoslavia, initially developed by the prominent politician, economist, and intellectual Edvard Kardelj.3 However, counter to all possible “literal” translations from the sphere of politics to the sphere of art and vice versa, the issue of self-management art in the Oktobar 75 debate didn’t remain closed within the circle of ongoing discussions about workers self-management in state institutions and in the production sector, which were often occupied by bureaucratic questions. It is equally worth mentioning that the Oktobar 75 debate hasn’t been considered a straightforward, frontal critique of the state (cultural) apparatus on behalf of an alternative art practice. The issue of self-management actually evolved here into the larger debate on the politicization of cultural activity, and the experimental change of the language of art with the emergence of the new paradigms of Conceptual art and New Art Practice.

Many of the texts published in Oktobar 75 explored the relationships between the autonomy of art and artistic engagement in specific ideological and institutional constellations along the line of political division of the world into the socialist East and the capitalist West, and their dominant ideological worldviews about what art should be and what culture should represent. Taking into account the specificities of Yugoslav self-managed society, but also its shared viewpoints with sometimes Eastern, sometimes Western ideologies, the real cultural political target of Oktobar 75 became the bourgeois institution of art and its preservation within “the official” institutions of culture, mostly located centrally in Belgrade, as the capital of former Yugoslavia. Socialist self-management was applied rather generally and routinely in the actual practices of various artistic associations and public cultural institutions. The institutions at the time enjoyed the program of a “relative autonomy of culture” and the official state policy can be described in terms of a generalized modernist tendency that was often defined as socialist modernism in the field of visual art. The Oktobar 75 collection of statements showed how nominally progressive socialist modernist tendency advocated by the Yugoslav state in the very practice proved itself as the conservative one. Oktobar 75 directly criticized the aspect of art management that neutralizes the political through the use of abstraction and modernist abstract forms, enclosed into the traditional bourgeois structure of the “admiration of precious objects.” Let’s hear some voices of the original participants of the event.

 

Oktobar 75 (excerpts)

Art should be changed! As long as we leave art alone and keep on transferring works of art from studios to depots and basements by means of social regulations and mechanisms, storing them, like stillborn children, for the benefit of our cultural offspring, or while we keep on creating, through the private market, our own variant of the nouveau riche or Kleinbürger, art will remain a social appendage, something serving no useful purpose, but something it is not decent or cultured to be without.

THE SELF-MANAGING SYSTEM OF FREE EXCHANGE AND ASSOCIATION OF LABOUR THROUGH SELF-MANAGING COMMUNITIES OF INTEREST REPRESENTS A NEW NON-OWNERSHIP RELATIONSHIP that examines and revises the existing models of artistic work and behavior.

Dunja Blažević, curator of the SKC gallery

The ballast of the past is such that we, who have different social circumstances today, and therefore greater possibilities for ANOTHER ART, are incapable of understanding correctly society’s need for art. Even though we have perceived that the classical antagonism of class provenance concerning the division into two “types” of labour should be overcome, even though art has the status of an equal-footing phenomenon in society, that same art, endangered and confined for centuries, is showing its old class face again.

Only when we really come to understand that art is a SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE ACT, the same as any other social act, shall we be able to say that art has finally been released from its decorative authority.

Bojana Pejić, associate curator of SKC

A continual wish for a total autonomy of art is nothing else but its effort to attain a self-conscious and efficient functioning within the framework of its own language.

It is only when functioning as a critique and self-analysis of its own language that art is capable of raising the issue of the analysis and critique of social practice and demanding its change.

Art that celebrates victory stops fighting.

Raša Todosijević, artist

Art must be negative, critical, both towards the external world and in relation to its own language, its own (artistic) practice. It is pointless and hypocritical to be engaged, to speak and act in the name of some humanity, of mankind, political and economic freedoms, and to remain passive on the other hand in relation to the system of “universal” artistic values, the system that is the basic prerequisite of the existence of artistic bureaucracy, and therefore of the outrageous robbery perpetrated by star artists.

Zoran Popović, artist

The alternative October events at SKC, as we may conclude from the reading of excerpts from the statements of the participants of Oktobar 75, have functioned not only as a response of one exhibition to another one (i.e. the larger October Salon exhibition), or as an act of confrontation between the “official” and “alternative” cultural spheres, but also as an effort at building a different perspective on art and artistic activity, which is based on the processes of democratization of the production and reception of art. Art critic and curator Jasna Tijardović, who advocated different informal and anti-disciplinary behavior in the gallery space,4 metaphorically named this new, democratic practice of art the utopia of hectographs,5 which for her became a brand mark of the art of SKC, and of many other critical approaches within Conceptual art. The utopia of hectographs would thereby encompass all of those artistic forms that emerged from the student protests and the corpus of “poor art,” which refused to be a social luxury or a precious object, striving instead to become a reflection of one’s (political) position or the attitude.

Oktobar 75—a declaratively critical counter-exhibition—can be seen as a window for looking at one of SKC’s many “characteristic faces” cohabiting its permeable institutional walls. It shows the “face” of the critique of the Yugoslav socialist state from the leftist, Marxist positions that emerged in the circles of the student protests of 1968 with the slogan (which is tautological at the first glance): fighting socialism with socialism. That characteristic face of criticism can be recognized in the institutional politics of SKC’s first director, Petar Ignjatović, and the artistic politics of Dunja Blažević, the first editor of the SKC gallery art program.

There are two explanations for the initiation of Oktobar 75. One is connected to a broader international climate of political art and the questioning of the legacy of late modernism. In this context I should mention the influence of the group Art & Language, who were in contact and collaboration with Zoran Popović and Jasna Tijardović, and who came to SKC in early October 1975 to organize a symposium on the political engagement of art. The seminar consequently led to the “localization” of the questions on art and politics and focusing to the practice of self-management within the community of artists, critics, and curators gathered around the SKC gallery. The second explanation is connected to Dunja Blažević’s personal and political inclinations toward rethinking the actual social transformations within Yugoslav society, and her interests and beliefs in the politics of socialist self-management. This explanation, of course, places Blažević in the position of curator of the event, with which she completes her five-year work as the head of the SKC gallery,6 after which the management of the visual arts program is delegated to the curator Biljana Tomić, who would choose a different cultural and political approach.7

According to the protagonists of the SKC scene, some of the artists and critics refused Blažević’s proposal for Oktobar 75 as “a form of collaboration with the regime in power” (since that was a time when the duty of citizens was to express their opinion about self-management as “the optimal social system” practiced in various types of institutions, from factories and schools to cultural institutions), but numerous actors of the SKC community accepted the challenge, using the theme as a starting point for exploring some fundamental issues related to the social role of art.

Oktobar 75 was documented in the form of a publicly distributed notebook—a hectographed reader with texts written by all participants on the project in the form of proclamations or statement-essays. Some of these texts were republished in the journal Književna reč, and provoked a public polemic in the official press. Moreover, some of the texts in Oktobar 75 were presented and performed (read) by their writers in the Vertovian documentary Cinema Notes by German director Lutz Becker. In the film, Becker portrays the artists, curators, and art critics as cultural workers by juxtaposing the performance of individual statements written for the reader of Oktobar 75 with other narratives or gestural expressions of various people involved in SKC, including some who had refused to participate in Oktobar 75. The film speaks of SKC as a production site, a gallery-as-a-factory that, instead of an idealistic picture of modernization and industrialization with its glorification of production and its ideology of hyper-productive work, enthusiastically produces the ideology of not-doing and not-working—the fetish of contemplation.

Documents:

The translated version of the script Oktobar 75 from the notebook in the exhibition SKC in ŠKUC: The Case of SKC in the 1970s by Prelom Kolektiv can be downloaded here: prelomkolektiv.org/pdf/catalogue.pdf.

My essay with the title “SKC as a Site of Performative (Self-)Production: October 75 – Institution, Self-Organization, First-Person Speech, Collectivization” closely examines the political intervention of the SKC in the institutional landscape and the art system of the time by using the counter-exhibition Oktobar 75 as the case study. The essay, available in both Croatian and English, was originally published in the Zagreb-based journal Život umjetnosti and can be downloaded here


1 Starting in 1972, Oktobar events took place annually over the month of October, and were diverse in format and content.

2 The term New Art Practices was introduced by art historian Ješa Denegri, who closely cooperated with the community gathered around SKC in Belgrade. For the further explanation of the term, see my introduction text into the exhibition chronology: The Student Cultural Centre (SKC) as the Art Scene (especially the footnote 3).

3 For better understanding of Kardelj’s position I’m quoting one of his famous statements: “As far as Yugoslavia is concerned, the choice is not between multiparty pluralism or a one-party system, but rather between self-management, i.e. the democratic system of pluralism of self-management interests, or the multiparty system which negates self-management. […] The pluralism of interests is incomparably closer to the individual and immeasurably more democratic than any form of political party pluralism which alienates society as a whole from the real man and citizen, even though it decides ostensibly on behalf of the citizen.” Edvard Kardelj, Self-Management and the Political System (Belgrade: Socialist Thought and Practice, 1981). A recent study on Yugoslav self-management available online: Gal Kirn, From the Primacy of Partisan Politics to the Post-Fordist Tendency in Yugoslav Self-Management Socialism, http://p-dpa.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Kirn-post_fordism_and_its-discontents.pdf.

4 For contextualisation of Tijardović’s position see my introduction text to the exhibition chronology: The Student Cultural Centre (SKC) as the Art Scene.

5 Jasna Tijardović, the conversation with the author conducted on the occasion of the research of Oktobar 75 in August 2012.

6 Dunja Blažević was the curator of the SKC gallery until the end of 1975. In 1976 she became director of SKC, but also participates in different ongoing programs (see the chronology on Comrade Woman conference as an examples).

7 The art and exhibition policy of Biljana Tomić can be traced in this archive through the projects of promotion of New Art Practice in the Tribune of Youth (Novi Sad), BITEF Festival (Belgrade), early exhibitions in Museum of Contemporary Art (with Ješa Denegri), participation in various SKC programs before she became the head of the SKC gallery in 1976 and later, through her exhibition projects and participation with Group 143.


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The Week of Latin America: Murals by Salvador Allende (Ramona Parra) Brigades – ‘Non-Aligned’ Street Art

Author:
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Date: November 1977

Location: Student Cultural Center, Belgrade

Curator: Milo Petrović – the editor of SKC Tribune program

Artists: Salvador Allende (Ramona Parra) Brigade

In the words of its editor Milo Petrović, the Tribune program in Belgrade’s Student Cultural Center (SKC), “between mid-1970s and mid-1980s offered a site of free-minded public speech, intellectual debate and social activism, aiming to engage with primarily students, but also with a wider, general public.”[1] Developed in line with other, more art-oriented programs, the Tribune took the task of providing the support for social-critical theory and political theory produced and observed by young intellectuals and political activists from Yugoslavia and abroad.

From the perspective of almost three decades later, Petrović elaborates: “We wanted to be in touch and to hear about the problems of the world, the problems of our times—to discuss the development in intellectual thought, in artistic practice and socially engaged work. We wanted to host programs and people who reflected our epoch, people who reflect important social events of our time no matter if they are somewhere in the world or if they stem from the local Yugoslav context, no matter if they are in the ‘heart of West’ or in the less developed ‘Third World,’ where, as we learned in those days, some important things were happening—and we thought that it is good to present all this to Belgrade, to student public, that it is good if we live in tune with our times.”[2]

Between mid-1970s and mid-80s, the Tribune program presented several conferences and events: the Week of Spain in 1976, coinciding with the end of Franco’s dictatorship; The Week of Latin America in 1977, dealing with the anti-colonial struggle of different militant guerrilla movements in various parts of Latin America; the first “women’s questions” have been opened in 1978 through the conference Comrade Women, after which followed the event dedicated to militant revolutionary Chilean cinema – The Second Week of Latin America at the beginning of 1980s. New movements in psychiatry (or more precisely the positions and attitudes of anti-psychiatry) were discussed in 1983, while events in 1984 were dedicated to the critique of the Yugoslav society at the time.

As one of the largest events of the Tribune program Petrović describes The Week of Latin America, held in November 1977, which was a dedicated program of conferences, exhibitions, movie screenings, and public discussions: “I should remind you that the 1970s in general were the times of the worst military dictatorships in almost all Latin American countries. This was the time of the fall of the first democratic president in Latin America—Salvador Allende, and the time when the generals of Argentina started with their mission of extermination of their political enemies by throwing them alive from the airplanes into the Atlantic Ocean. This was the time where there were a lot of political refugees in Europe, and I went to Paris. There I contacted this critical intelligentsia, intellectual opposition from Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Mexico and other places. […] So it was really important to bring this 20 or so people, some of whom claimed that this was the most important event of that year worldwide in regard to discussing the Latin American issues. I remember the opening of the Week of Latin America—more then 500 people were in the auditorium and when the singer and author Chango Cejes was about to start singing the song Hasta Siempre, he said that he would like to sing it without a microphone and invited Roberto—the brother of Che Guevara—and other participants and the audience to join. […] And I remember this excitement of people that was being felt in that moment throughout the hall of SKC.”[3]

This alternative program of the SKC Tribune was partly in line with the official state politics of Non-Alignment Movement at the time, although organized independently and separately from state protocols and diplomatic normatives. The case of The Week of Latin America is interesting precisely because of this overlap with the issues and the interests of the state, but being organized in different, semiofficial manner and formally not aiming at any of the pragmatic goals set by governments of nonaligned countries. However, the very language of the internal institutional report uses the vocabulary of the state party bureaucracy in the similar way that, for example, the reports on contemporary projects funded by the EU today use the language of EU political bureaucracy.[4] Part of the official archived report states:

“We all found especially interesting the discussion about problems and perspectives of the politics of Non-Alignment in Latin America. Some participants expressed critical objections on Non-Alignment from the standpoint of the demands of revolutionary movements in struggle. The discussion was able, especially thanks to the contribution of the comrade Mates, to point to the proper place and role of the Non-Alignment politics in the process of positive transformation of international relations, and to the objective connectedness of such politics with the struggle of revolutionary movements on their respective national levels.” [5]

The artistic program of The Week of Latin America comprised a music section, film section, and a visual-arts section. According to the program organizers and SKC editors of the time, the program was framed under the notion of engaged art practice with a “tight connection between artistic and revolutionary act.” The music program featured the guitar player Chango Cejes from Argentina, the band Carcasu from Chile, and Julia Alfonso from Mexico. The film program put into the focus documentary and revolutionary propaganda films from Cuba, Chile, Germany, Mexico, and France, to deal with the various struggles in Latin American countries.[6] The visual art program included the participation of the artistic (muralist) brigade called Salvador Allende (Ramona Parra), who worked on the streets of Belgrade over the two weeks in collaboration with the students of Belgrade Academy of Fine Arts. They painted three large-scale murals: one was made on the wall of SKC building (overlooking the inner courtyard that was at the time understood as the place for informal gatherings and as meeting point of young people visiting SKC programs); another was painted on the plaster tiles placed in the interior of SKC; and the third was produced on the wall of the cafeteria in the Faculty of Political Sciences, Belgrade.

The programmatic concept of the murals and the artistic-political position of the members of the Salvador Allende (Ramona Parra) brigades are described in the TV reportage, broadcasted on the occasion of the week of Latin America.

Documentary video, part of the On Solidarity project by Darinka Pop-Mitic (2005 – ongoing)

As often is the case with street art projects, their existence is temporary and connected to the particular moment and actual situation. None of the murals were preserved—they grew pale and vanished over time, following the fading of the official ideology of socialism, Non-Alignment, and revolutionary struggle and its replacement by the currently prevailing combination of neoliberal economy and right-of-center ideology. The story of the Salvador Allende Brigade in Belgrade was revisited in the 2005 project On Solidarity, initiated by the artist Darinka Pop-Mitić. For the project she refreshed the colors on the remnants of the mural on the wall of SKC, expressing by this act a certain “solidarity in time” with this particular historical-political moment of people’s struggle for decolonization and liberation. Pop-Mitić states:

“The inside of this institution, the SKC, is a conceptual art scene, while its outside is a ‘third-world’ mural made in collaboration of an artistic brigade and the students of the FLU (Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade)—obvious propaganda art. The framework, the ‘frame,’ of the entire conceptual art scene in the SKC is in a way exactly this mural, but on the other hand it is exactly this mural that was both badly documented and left at the mercy of the ravages of time, which fragmented it until the only thing left were the giant heads that frightened me when I passed by the SKC building when I was a child. Chesterton has a following aphorism: ‘Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.’ The mural Solidarity is the ‘frame’ for our conceptual scene.”[7]

The project on Latin America and the works of the Salvador Allende Brigade are also interesting in this analysis of the exhibition history of SKC as examples of certain politics of art that were framed in a quite of a different manner in comparison to what was happening in the gallery program of SKC, which at the time assumed a variety of artistic and political positions but mainly dismissed such “explicit political activism” and “traditional pictorial expression.” This again points to the hybridity of SKC and the lamination of different positions of critical art and intellectual communities that coexisted in the same space.[8]


[1] Milo Petrović, quoted in the television program Trezor on RTS, April 10, 2007. The topic of the show was Alternativni univerzitet – istorija SKCa (Alternative university: The history of SKC).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] As I commented on in the introduction text to this chronology, the SKC was funded partly by the state and partly through proactive fundraising. Since it supported numerous international programs and insisted on international collaborations in contrast to the majority of bigger state institutions that presented local art and sometimes diplomatic, state-exchange exhibitions and programs that already had financial support, SKC editors often fundraised at the international embassies, cultural centers, or institutes whose funds were opened toward such initiatives. However, majority of the institutional reports catalogued in the SKC archive describe the Yugoslav state as the “main sponsor,” although the addressee is not mentioned directly, and all the reports are written in the fashion of a “summary” or notes from the event.

[5]             Note on translation: this report sources foreign names phonetically in Serbo-Croatian.

[6]             The exact names of the authors are absent in the reports on the Week of Latin America and difficult to find in the SKC archive, which is not yet systematized.

[7]             Quoted from Darinka Pop-Mitić’s artist statement.

[8]    See the introduction to this exhibition chronology, The Student Cultural Center (SKC) as the Art Scene.


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

Author:
Keywords: , , , , , ,

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.


[1]

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Works and Words – Early critiques of the discourse of Eastern European Art

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Date: 20-30 September 1979

Location: De Appel Foundation, Amsterdam

Curators: Frank Gribling, Josine van Droffelaar

Participating artists and critics: Aalders Franklin, Abramovic Marina, Andel Jaroslav, Attalai Gabor, Bartos Peter, Belic Zoran, Beres Jerzy, Body Gabor, Cardena Warming Up…., Demur  Boris, Denegri Jesa, Djordjevic Goran, Nusa & Sreco Dragan, Durcek Lubomir, Dziamski  Grzegorz, Erdely Miklos, Galeta Ladislav, Gotovac Tomislav, Antje von Graevenitz, Gribling  Frank, Grinberg Bucky, Gudac Vladimir, Hajas Tibor, Haka Janusz, Halasz Karoly, Havrilla  Vladimir, Hawley Martha, Hay Agnes, Hegyi Lorand, Hoover Nan, Ivekovic Sanja, Jenssen  Servie, Jaworski Cezary, Jovanovics Gyorgy, Jozwiak Jacek, Karolyi Zsigmond, Kelemen Karoly, Kern Michal, Knizak Milan, Koller Julius, Konart Tomasz, Kostovowski Andrzej, Kovanda Jiri, Harrie de Kroon, Kutera Romuald, Kwiek Pawel, Kwiek Przemyslaw & Kulik Zofia, Lachowicz  Andrzej, Leering Jean, LL Natalia, Marroquin Raul, Martinis Dalibor, Maurer Dora, Mikolajcick Antoni, Miler Karel, Mlcoch Jan, Mrozek Lech, Murak Teresa, Paruzel Andrzej, Peeters Sef, Pinczehelyi Sandor, Pogacnic Marco, Reindeer Werk, Richter Jaroslav, Robakowski Jozef, Sikorski Tomasz, Sosnowski Teresa / Zdzislaw, Stilinovic Mladen, Stembera Petr, Straus Tomas, Susovski Marijan, Szczerek Janusz, Sziranyi Istvan, Todosijevic Rasa, Tomic Biljana, Tot Endre, Ulay, Valoch Jiri, Veto Janos, Warpechowski Zbigniew, Wasko Ryszard, Albert van der Weide, Zarebski Krzysztov, Zbornik Dobra.

The exhibition Works and Words, organized in Amsterdam’s De Appel Foundation, in the words of it’s organizers aimed at “creating confrontation between artists who share a common sensibility from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia and the Netherlands. It was a manifestation which focused on the dialectical interaction of reflection and action, of works and words”.[1] The exhibition program and information on participants can be found in the original leaflet attached here, while De Appel archive provides a short description, accompanied by several images and videos. 

At the first glance, Works and falls out of the story on different aesthetical-political positions and trajectories of New Art in Student Cultural Center – Belgrade (SKC), which is the main theme of the selection of projects presented in this archive. The exhibition, presented in 1979, approaches this field of observation laterally, as it has to do with the various developments (’the works and words’) of certain artists and critics from former Yugoslavia [2] who participated in the program of SKC or who were broadly connected with the SKC ideosphere [3].

However, what is more interesting within the context of this archival presentation is that the participation of Yugoslav Artists – and protagonists of SKC scene in particular – had intervened within the conceptual framework of exhibition-in-the-process-of-making. The exhibition was initially conceived as presentation of Eastern European Art, as an event that accumulates its curiousness in the very fact that it presents the art from ‘behind the Iron Curtain’, as ‘something that is rarely seen abroad’, thus offering the presentation context that ‘covers’ the reality of singular artworks by grouping them behind the monolithic banner of dissident art. Some of the artists gathered around the SKC gallery expressed their disagreement with such idea of presentation. They perceived it as an act of ‘closing particular works by individual artists into an uniform ghetto’, and requested more equality with the Western art context by problematizing its ‘exclusive’ right to recognition of singular artistic positions. Goran Đorđević, who used to exhibit in SKC from 1973-1985[4], wrote to exhibition organizers about how such an international context of exhibiting, based on the mimicry of the cold-war geopolitical agenda, actually becomes the only context of presentation on offer for the artists coming from Eastern Europe. Đorđević’s answer to invitation letter summarized some of the critiques coming from the side of Yugoslav participants: “They (The artists from Eastern Europe) are practically forced to accept any offer since these are rare occasions when their work has a recognized artistic status, and on the other hand, this exhibition should explicitly or implicitly reaffirm the ‘unlimited’ freedom of artistic activities and ‘universality’ of cultural/artistic practice of the West. In that way the significance of such ‘ghetto’ exhibition is mainly reduced to its political dimension (dissident, exotic), while the nature of the works themselves, their character and significance, are pushed to background.”[5] After receiving Đorđević’s letter, the exhibition curators changed the initial plan; they decided to avoid framing the exhibition within the expected geopolitical agenda and joined the previously separated group of artists from Netherlands to the general selection; they also have chosen the more ‘universal’ heading – Works and Words – as the exhibition title, and dropped the term of “East European” that was prominent in previous versions and propositions. The answer by curator Josine van Droffelaar is included in the photo selection of this article, while the letter by Đorđević is reproduced among archival documents.

The story behind the exhibition Works and Words is an interesting example, or a comment on the contemporary forms of representation of Eastern Europen art in the (former) West. This story announced in a way the re-introduction of the critique of the discourse of Eastern European art in theoretical and art-historical overviews of the exhibition history and art history that emerged after 1989. As for the generation of artists gathered around SKC gallery in the 1970s, the exhibition can be observed as the indicator of some of their positions towards the “outside”, towards the context of international presentation and participation in the politics of exhibiting and framing New Art in the European and global context.

 

[1] c.f. curatorial-editorial introduction text, Works and Words (exhibition catalog), De Appel 1980.

[2] i.e.  Marina Abramović, Biljana Tomić, Vladimir Gudac, Ješa Denegri, Raša Todisijević, Goran Đorđević, Tomislav Gotovac, Vladimir Gudac, Sanja Iveković, Marijan Susovski, Dalibor Martinis etc.

[3] The term Ideosphere is borrowed from the same-titled text by Rolan Barthes. Here in particular ‘SKC ideosphere’ refers to the institutional links between the Student Centers in Belgrade, Zagreb and later Ljubljana, and their various other official or self-organised art spaces supporting the work of young artists; it also refers to the personal relations and friendships among different artists, art groups or art couples living and working in various cities throughout Yugoslavia.

[4] Goran Đorđević leaves the artworld as individual artists in 1985, or – to term it in his own words – he ‘disappears as a character from the artistic scene’.

[5] From Đorđević’s letter to the organisers of the exhibition Works and Words.


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Hommage à Solidarity – performance by Ewa Partum

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Date: 9 August 1982

Participant: Ewa Partum

Organizer: Czyszczenie Dywanów

Location: Czyszczenie Dywanów [Rug Cleaning] Gallery, Łódź

Rug Cleaning was an independent art space in Łódź during the martial law in Poland in the 1980s. Partum was invited to perform there on the first anniversary of the state’s legalization of the Solidarity movement as a workers’ union. She stood naked in front of a long banner of paper on the wall that had “Hommage à” written on it and talked about the internal emigration of artists after the marital law in Poland had been announced. Then she imprinted with her lipstick-painted lips the letters “S,” “O,” “L,” “I,” “D,” “A,” “R,” “N,” “O,” “Ś,” and “Ć” on the paper after speaking each of them separately, after which she scattered flowers on the floor and lit candles.

In this performance Partum managed to accomplish an individual transgression—the subversive use of her autograph—the imprint of her lips, used before in her conceptual poems. Here, as a flesh-and-blood woman, she finally appears as the subject of expression in the act of the rhetoric of the pose[1] . Her action can also be read as the act of rewriting and reviving the passive[2] allegory of Polonia established in nineteenth-century iconography. The action was reenacted by her in Wewerka Gallery in Berlin in 1983, after her emigration from Poland in 1982.


[1]A Craig Owens term.

[2] Polonia, the allegory of Poland is always shown as a  passive figure.


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Only a Broom – performance by Maria Pinińska-Bereś

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Date: December 1984

Participant: Maria Pinińska-Bereś

Organizer: Labirynt Gallery

Location: Labirynt Gallery, Lublin

The performance took place during the exhibition “Intellectual Tendency in Polish Art after the Second World War” and it was one of Pinińska’s first gallery appearances after the martial law was lifted in Poland, during which she refused for political reasons to participate in any art shows organized by official institutions. The first time in her artistic career dressed only in black, without any of the pink attributes so characteristic of her art, she entered the gallery space and, in the midst of the crowd, started to sweep the floor with a broom with a long handle—that was also a flag mast with the little grey linen flag at its end. As the broom cleaned the space under the feet of the audience, the flag made the air above everyone’s heads vibrate. After a long while, when the action was over, the artist hung the broom on the wall, making the inscription on the flag fully visible (“Only a Broom”) and left the gallery. Using the popular feminist-art motif of bustling around, and the figure of a witch, in an ironic and characteristic way, Pinińska-Bereś made a comment on the political situation in the Polish art world of those times and in a symbolic way removed a spell that hung over art practice and the art space—she was a supporter of the thesis of the supremacy of the aesthetic over the political in art.


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On Kalektarnaya – exhibition

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Date: SeptemberNovember 1987

Participants: Aliaksej Zhdanau, Todar Kopsha, Artur Klinau, Andrej Pliasanau, Vital Razhkou

Organizer: Forma, the alternative artists collective

Location: Minskgramadzanproject Institute, Kalektarnaya street, Minsk

This exhibition introduced a non-conformist approach to space organization. It stirred up an official criticism resulted in several attempts to close down the show. A telegram asking for support was sent to Raisa Gorbacheva (the wife of the head of the USSR government). It read: “Dear Mrs. Raisa Gorbacheva! The first exhibition of young painters was opened in Minsk but the authorities are trying to shut it down. Please, protect our cultural endeavors!”

DocumentNataliya TATUR: Exhibition on Kalektarnaya, 4—Fragments From the Book of Remembrance (2004)

Source: Volha Archipava. Belarusian Avant-garde of the 1980s. ‘pARTisan’s Collection’ series. Minsk 2012. http://partisanmag.by/


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