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Confrontations: Sessions in East European Art History



Tomislav Gotovac Institute

confrontations29 April 2019

After intensive discussions at MSU and pulling of the rope, we ended in the Krajiška street 29 in the former apartment of Tomislav Gotovac. Welcomed by Darko Šimičić, co-founder of the Institute and secretary of the artist’s archive, along with Zora Gotovac and daughter Sarah, we could follow Gotovac’s fascinating journey from experimental films, photostories towards performance art.

In the authentic settings of the artist’s apartment and the studio we were able to understand the birth of a visual artist using expanded media in the unique situation of Croatia since the 1960s. Gotovac’s case is one of the examples of artistic trajectories behind the Iron Curtain, influenced by politics, social change and personal standings. He was a key member of the Yugoslav neo-avant-garde and exhibited in 1976 for the first time after 15 years of continuous work. He created series of photographs, collages,  a number of experimental films and famous performances. The visit of the artist’s kitchen was an experience of its own – Gotovac’s Yugoslav Merzbau is an original and very personal collage in the space. And when Darko Šimičić pulled out of one of the closets Gotovac’s batman suite made by Zora Gotovac from underwear, we were hooked.
(Pavlína Morganová)

Pluralising Yugoslav Art

confrontations29 April 2019

A constitutive element of the Confrontations sessions are peer seminars at which the members succinctly present their research related to the particular focus of the programme and then respond to questions and comments from the others. The first such seminar was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb and was focused on the uneven terrains of Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav art history, with presentations by Ivana Bago on What is Yugoslav Art?, Asja Mandić on The Centre-Periphery Relations in Socialist Yugoslavia: Multiple Art Histories and Sandra Bradvić on Jugoslovenska dokumenta (Sarajevo, 1984-1989): From ‘off-space’ to ‘big-scale-exhibition’.Much discussion ensued over the relation between Yugoslav art history and that of the individual countries of the former socialist federation, and how to evaluate moves during the post-communist period to assimilate Yugoslav art to a wider East European account. Productive debate was also sparked over how the narrative of Yugoslav art history could be pluralised to include artists and communities who were excluded from the celebrated ‘second line’ traced in canonical accounts from EXAT51 through New Tendencies, Gorgona and the New Art Practice to the post-avant-garde formations of the 1980s.

Southern Constellations

Tomasz Załuski29 April 2019

During our stay in Ljubljana we visited the exhibition Southern Constallations at Moderna galerija – Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova. This impressive show, curated by Bojana Piškur and based on her long-term research, presented the role of arts, cultural collaboration, exchange and diplomacy in the history of the Non-Aligned Movement. The movement was a political initiative, founded officially in the early 1960s, in which countries belonging to neither of the two Cold War blocks were involved. They were mainly Third World African and Asian countries but also Yugoslavia which pursued its “third way”. And it was from the perspective of Yugoslavia, quite obviously, as one of the non-aligned countries which had initiated the movement, that the exhibition approached the whole issue. The show combined historical documentation of different cultural exchanges and initiatives within the network of the non-aligned countries, along with some artworks from between the early 1960s and the late 1980s, and contemporary artists interventions.

For me, given the context of our Confrontations project and the issues we were dealing with during our visit to Zagreb and – especially – to Ljubljana, Southern Constellation really pinpointed the question of East European art history. It is significant that Moderna galerija, which has been playing an important role in the formation and development of studies on East European art of the second half of the XXth century (e.g. the exhibitions Body and the East, 1998; Interrupted Histories, 2006), seems now to be taking a different direction and trying to rediscover Yugoslavia’s participation in a global but at the same time non-Western network. I quess that one of the agendas behind looking for such a forgotten, “interrupted” history of another globality is to position one’s own local art production within the narrative of global art history on one’s own terms: to stress one’s specificity and difference with regard to Western globalisation by showing one’s connections to the “Third World”, “postcolonial”, “(semi)peripheral”, “Global South” etc. networks, but also, by the same token, to avoid the reduction of all Europe to Western Europe, not so uncommon in postcolonial studies. In this sense, the exhibition staged what seems to be a need for reinventing East European art history studies, especially ones that deal with the socialist period. Obviously, this need is not new, it has been with us for some time but it poses a task that is far from complete and yet to perform. It is a task of writing a history that still aims at establishing the specificity of a given local – national or regional – East European art phenomenon but shows it in its actual translocal connectedness, or transnational interdependency, not only within the Eastern bloc and across the West/East divide but also within other global networks next to it or beyond it. This can be, of course, applied not only to the art of Yugoslavia but also to that of other East European countries as well. After all, despite its participation in the Non-Aligned Movement, Yugoslavia was no exception here.

(Tomasz Załuski)