Dragoljub Zamurović, Oslobađanje Vukovara / Liberation of Vukovar, 1991, L'impossible / FIA (Gamma Press Image; Paris Match)
It seems that in the middle of each decade there emerges a powerful need to thoroughly reconsider and define the preceding five-year period. How often do crucial events in a society, culture or art really coincide with the beginning or the middle of a decade? In our recent history it has happened several times – 1941 (World War II), 1980 (Tito's death), 1991 (civil war), 1996 (official peace).
The civil war that raged in our country in the past five years, the drastic changes in politics and society had a most direct influence on the situation in the arts and therefore, when one tries to interpret the characteristic phenomena of this period, one must necessarily pay attention to the socio-historical context. All of those turbulent events produced inversions in former local systems of artistic scenes and it seems that the preceding five years were sufficiently inspirational in order to bring about ideas by the end of 1995 and the realization of certain projects in the first half of 1996 (books, exhibitions) whose basic concept is an analysis of the nineties.
By the beginning of 1990 it became quite certain that the "tectonic shift" had begun, that events were to be expected which would leave deep traces behind. Politics took over the leading role, it turned into the primary interest of the media and the vital preoccupation of all inhabitants. Within a few months cultural production was reduced to smaller centres and individual activities. The party in power exercised its dominance, replaced the managers of important institutions including the media, offered its own cultural program with a language adapted to the masses and founded on a banal interpretation of national values and arts. However, this proposition would be of no interest to the already worn-out people had it not been handled by scandalmongers and masters of intrigues and spectacle, and told the masses they belonged to a godsend nation, that the only real art was the art that continued the centuries long tradition of the Serbian people, that all the world (except for some Christian Orthodox nations) hated us out of envy and tried to undermine our national culture by bad influence.
If we leave aside those average, honest artists who are, in general and particularly in periods of crises – losers, the other side was inhabited by those whose work was founded on the artistic currents of the second half of the twentieth century. Considering that the party in power in principle knew what it wanted to achieve, and the young opposition desired first power then culture, what was not at first sight recognizable as a continuation of the national tradition was proclaimed alternative. So it happened that all of a sudden some contemporary art exhibitions were forgotten, like Smithson in the Museum of Contemporary Art or guests like Beuys, the activities of the Students Cultural Centre had to rely on recollections of its participants and verbal testimonies of its existence, while eminent artists of the so called mid-generation, art school associate professors, became alternative artists. This group of artists, who publicly emerged in the seventies and the beginning of the eighties, in their full potential and the recently acknowledged status, then left behind by others, found itself in a vacuum, together with the constant dilemmas where and what should one do, should one exhibit and thus take part in the false impression that life was normal. The essential problem, however, was loss of will-power.
Nevertheless, contemporary arts activity was not totally frustrated by lack of exhibition space either, although the majority of the existing halls was under the management of the admirers of the traditional-national art whose understanding of avantgarde ended with the phenomena of the sixties.
Vesna Pavlović, Cinema Rex, 1992.
Fortunately, there are always the younger ones who have no reason nor patience to wait. In an atmosphere where the vital part of the artistic scene was under anesthesia, a group of artists emerged with creative ideas and a need to express themselves, already adapted to the given situation. They consituted a new poetics out of the general destitution, isolation and introversion. One of the reasons they were called "alternative" lies in the fact that many from the group did not attend art schools. Another reason was their decision, from the very beginning, to bypass cooperation with institutions, however not exclusively out of conviction, but because institutions practically did not exist. Such a parallel scene proved to be one of the rare possibilities of survival, particularly when a number of already renowned artists took part in the ensuing events which assumed "alternative" action. At one moment this artistic section went "underground" and the artists began gathering around concrete projects.
Strong individuality and preoccupation with one's own self turned to be the distinguishing mark of a group of painters whom Prof. Jerko Denegri called new figuration. Uros Djuric, Stevan Markus, Milica Tomic, Jasmina Kalic, Dimitrije Pecic and others, painted themselves, their family and their clothes, friends, their homes. The appearance of group Skart with a series of posters was quiet but striking. 'Q – infrequent letter, R for letter R, Important, Bad, etc. They financed the printing of the posters themselves and pasted them during the night at, for them important, buildings. At the same time Sasa Markovic-Bambus, Mikrob, Mladozenja (Bamboo, Microb, Bridegroom) also entered the artistic life of Belgrade. For years he was compiling his rich collection of snapshots from photo booths and the accompanying masks. The fast overcoming of the crisis from the beginning of the nineties should be attributed to them and those individuals who simply could not be stopped.
The great desire and need of photographer Stanislav Sarp to organize young artists of different fields of interest but similar sensibility in order to create a system for an easier communication with the public was finally realized in 1990 in FIA (FotograFIA) group. From the beginning the main figures in FIA were Stanislav Sarp and Nada Rajicic, with permanent support from Dragan Ve Ignjatovic, Milanka Todic, Aleksandar Kujucev and others. FIA decided to promote photography and continue the local surrealist tradition (zenitism – Micic). FIA engaged a number of artists, insisted on craftsmanship and good prints, and owing to this and its production it succeeded in asserting itself as one of the most significant phenomena of the nineties, particularly with its exhibition Fobjekt (1992, old Sebastian Gallery), its leaflet and then the magazine for modern photography L'Impossible (1992-95). It also published a Calendar where various artists of this new nineties' scene were involved.
Vesna Pavlović, Klipani u pudingu / Bumkings in Pudding, 1994.
One of the important personalities of the nineties is Rasa Todosijevic, a man who actually belongs to a somewhat older generation. With a significant experience of a middle aged artist, Todosijevic resolutely undertook to revive the frozen scene by several manifestations of project Private-Public. By combining public spaces (galleries) and private (homes) he tried to advocate a parallel culture. "The goal of this long-term venture is to prepare, apart from the existing cultural institutions, conditions for creating a Private society that would be able to establish in Belgrade and professionally maintain and enrich a Museum of modern art with an international collection" (D.T. Rasa, catalogues Private-Public, November 1993). This project was first carried out in Podgorica (February-March), then in Belgrade (March 1993) and Novi Sad (November 1993). The event in Belgrade can be taken as a crucial point in relation to what could be interpreted as characteristic of the artistic scene of the first half of this tenth decade.
We should not forget that in the spring of that year Soros Fund appeared as a sponsor of cultural events.
In May of 1993 in the Gallery and in front of the building of the Youth House Belgrade public was introduced to Led art group (literally, Led Art means Ice Art). The leaders of the group were Nikola Dzafo, Dragoslav Krnajski, and Garbijela Pajevic, and around them gathered others, like, Mrdjan Bajic, Vera Stevanovic, Talent, Sasa Markovic, Milan Rakocevic, Darija Kacic, Marija Ilic, Jovan Cekic, Mileta Prodanovic, Jelica Radovanovic, Dejan Andjelkovic... For a couple of months these artists froze their works in the big deep freezers of Belgrade Agricultural Cooperative in order to exhibit them in big refrigerator-lorries parked in front of the Youth House. Their standpoint – to freeze and await better times – was more than obvious. Fortunately the period that followed looked more like thawing.
During the same spring Miomir Grujic Fleka, a cult-personality of the underground scene of the eighties commenced a new wave of events by starting a long-term project called Urbazona.
"As a movement, Urbazona is neither an artistic fraternity, nor selection, nor a team gathered on firmly formulated and precisely defined programmatic foundations, but a gathering of individuals, ideas and poetics, whose language and energetic charge could hardly fit into the compressed, intolerant and overly tragicomical system of cultural values". (M. Grujic, "Uputstvo za prijem i dalje emitovanje" – Guidelines for reception and further broadcasting, catalogue for Action No. 5).
Urbazona, B 92, 1993.
The project has produced since 1993 (and today is March 1996) around fifty different actions ranging from exhibitions in various formal and informal halls, fashion shows, performances, concerts, music cassettes. Urbazona was responsible for active participation of Radio B92 in creating and producing the town's cultural scene.
In the same year, during the period of outrageous inflation, while the war was roaring nearby, two visual arts magazines were published New Moment and Projeka(r)t. While New Moment (published by Saatchi & Saatchi) was primarily turned toward contemporary artistic theories, toward the creation and fostering of local theoreticians, with high standards in design, Projeka(r)t could more easily be characterized as continuing the concept of old Moment, filling in the void in information concerning both the national and international scene. The third magazine, primarily of significance for the design of the nineties was Kvadart. With L'Impossible of the FIA group and New Moment, Kvadart was yet another example of a modern (graphically and textually) product during a great social and economic crisis. None of these magazines was intended for the newly rich, nor as a demonstration of power. It was an encouragement and an act of displaying desire to preserve the endangered level of visual and general culture, in small oases at least.
In 1994 one could already feel the end of the crisis. Not everything was impossible. Beside the regular good quality exhibitions in the Youth House, the Cultural Centre of Belgrade announced its willingness to participate, thus partially replacing the activities of the Museum of Contemporary Arts Salon. In January 1994 the "Lazar Trifunovic" awards were presented for the first time; Mileta Prodanovic was rewarded for art criticism and Svetlana Mladenov and Sava Stepanov for exhibition – the Seventh Exhibition of Yugoslav Sculpture in Pancevo (which proved to be the last show in that series). Accompanied by disapproval from the traditionally and nationally minded critics and artists, Knez Mihailova street hosted the exhibition called The Critics' Choice with works by Predrag Neskovic, Dejan Andjelkovic, Jelica Radovanovic, Igor Stepancic, Talent, Sasa Markovic, the Skart group, Aleksandar Davic, Stanislav Sarp, the FIA group and Aleksandar Kujucev. Then came one-person shows of Zeljka Momirov and Nenad Rackovic... Mileta Prodanovic, painter, writer, theoretician was appointed artistic manager of the new Sebastian Gallery in Rajiceva street – unfortunately only for just about a year. From the end of 1993 until the end of autumn of 1994 the gallery organized some wonderful one-person shows of Uros Djuric, Dragana Ilic, Sasa Markovic, Zoran Grebenarovic, and some 'expatriates', Yugoslav artists living abroad – Vladimir Radojicic, Vesna Golubovic, Zoran Belic Weiss.
In the summer of 1994 the First Yugoslav Biennial of the Young was held in Vrsac. Apart from an obvious honest envolvement of organizers, the promotion of a wonderful exhibition space in Konkordija house, and a general cross-section of young artists, the Biennial did not show anything new. However, the accompanying seminar "Modernism after Postmodernism" displayed a dichotomy of opinions on the distinguishing features of the nineties in our region. While one part of the critics, one could say, older colleagues, had already articulated their standpoint with the exhibition called The Early Nineties – the Yugoslav Art Scene, held in 1993 in Novi Sad, then in Podgorica (treating the development and maturing of artistic ideas from the end of the '80s), younger critics insisted upon serious consideration of non-classical, sometimes, non-gallery phenomena that sprung up in the '90s.
Dragoslav Krnajski, Domaća mlevena paprika / Home made milled paprika, Art aid, 1994/95.
These events may not have directly influenced, but they certainly prepared ground for another "miracle": the National Museum, engaged in promoting extremely nationalistic art in the preceding years, suddenly became the centre of an interesting experiment whose concept would be gladly accepted by any modern art museum in the world. Museum's curators Irina Subotic and Gordana Stanisic Ristovic began in August a series of exhibitions called Experiences from Memory. In just over a year fourteen Belgrade artists (Otasevic, Bajic, Krnajski, Stevanovic, Naskovski, Pilipovic, Joksimovic, Vasic, Pavic and others) had a chance to create their own works as a reaction to one of the works from the museum's foreign collection.
Prepared in haste and near confusion during the summer, the Second Biennial of Cetinje was opened in August. As selected by Lidija Merenik, the following artists from Belgrade and Novi Sad were represented: Srdjan Apostolovic, Gabriel Glid, Dragan Jelenkovic, Dobrivoje Krgovic, Zdravko Joksimovic, Sasa Markovic, Talent, the Skart group and Zoran Pantelic.
When the Soros Centre for Contemporary Art was founded, a number of catalogues, publications and magazines were published. One of the ventures financed by SCCA was the monthly feuilleton of the weekly Vreme – Vreme umetnosti. In its eight issues Vreme umetnosti justified its essential concept of making a chronicle of the visual arts in Serbia.
The previously mentioned Radio B92, already involved in Belgrade's cultural production, made use of the fact that central Belgrade municipalities were governed by opposition parties and rented the space of the former Cultural Club in Jevrejska street, in Dorcol. The building was erected in the thirties for a Jewish charity society and was used as a home for senior citizens. After the Second World War it was the Cultural Club for the borough, then auction centre for the property of those who left no inheritors behind, and for many years it was closed. In early nineties, for the shooting of a film with urban theme, Cinema Rex was written on the facade. This was accepted as the official name of the hall – Cinema (or Bioskop) Rex.
The first activity of the future cultural centre was an exhibition – Art vrt (Art Garden).
As an attempt to have several artists react to a non-gallery space after they had worked in it for some time, it was only partially successful. However, the exhibition of 24 artists (from Predrag Neskovic, Era Milivojevic, Jovan Cekic, Marija Dragojlovic, Mileta Prodanovic, to the beginners from groups called Klipani u pudingu (Bumpkins in Pudding) and Util, added a lot of energy to the '90s scene which was growing in strength and determination.
A few days after Art Garden was opened, a group of young artists, those who entered the scene in the nineties, went to Slovenia. This was the first official artistic guest tour since 1991 and the project was called Dibidon, a jumbled version of "dobar dan" (good day) whose meaning had been lost in the game of "Chinese Whispers". Although this visit from Belgrade was received in Ljubljana with a lot of reticence, we can now be certain, from the vantage point of this distance in time, that representation was exemplary (Ljudmila Stratimirovic and Tanja Kuburovic – fashion, Slavimir Stojanovic and Milos Ilic – design, Stevan Vukovic – theory, Zograf – cartoon, Skart group – graphic design, Srdjan Apostolovic, Sasa Markovic, Mileta Prodanovic, Uros Djuric – visual arts, Playboy and DLM – rock-and-roll, Olivera Todorovic, Danijela Puresevic, Radio B92 – video and TV production, and others).
Led art / Ice art, 1993.
The theatre festival BITEF also took part – in the autumn of 1994 it provided space for an accompanying manifestation, the project called Aeroplan bez motora - Aeroplane With No Engine: – Era Milivojevic, Sasa Markovic, Djile Markovic, Miomir Grujic, etc.
In October of the same year, another interesting area was "discovered" – Paviljon Veljkovic (Pavilion Veljkovic). In the garden of the Veljkovic family private estate in Bircaninova street, a private museum was erected in the '30s for a collection of bronze sculptures, copies of Michelangelo's master pieces. The museum was emptied after World War II and from that time on periodically served as studio for several Yugoslav artists. Under the management of Borka Pavicevic the Pavilion was called Centar za kulturnu dekontaminaciju (Centre for Cultural Decontamination). The first public "decontamination" was in January 1995. Judging by its activities, Pavilion Veljkovic is somewhere between research projects in theatre, music and the visual arts. Like Cinema Rex, the Pavilion has had enormous problems with power, heating, lighting, chairs... The major part of its program is compressed to a limited period of time and therefore it hosted short exhibitions and performances whose authors were Dragoslav Krnajski, Nikola Dzafo, Talent, Dragan Dangubic, Dejan Grba...
During that turbulent autumn, the municipality of Belgrade finally opened one of the most provocative alternative spaces – Barutana (Gun-powder magazine). This cave, at the foot of the Kalemegdan fortress, was used as a gun-powder magazine by Austro-Hungarians. It was opened with a two-month project called Vizionarski Beograd (The Visionary Belgrade), financed by the city authority. After that the attractive space of Barutana has been used only sporadically.
That year the October Salon was conceived in a radically different way and immediately understood as an assault on the so called national-traditional current, which has regained the ground in the meantime.
The exhibition held in the Youth House on the occasion of its thirtieth anniversary, called Thirty Years of the Youth House Gallery, December 1994 – January 1995, confirmed that another "tradition" was present simultaneously all the time. This historical survey of the Gallery's activities (and it had never been "alternative") exhibited works of Bora Iljovski, Bojan Bem, Marina Abramovic, Era Milivojevic, Dragoslav Krnajski, Vera Stevanovic, and others.
The next stage in the temporary normalization could be related to the beginning of 1995, when Yugoslavia, Belgrade particularly, turned into an attractive territory for inquisitive foreigners.
The Students Cultural Centre that-had lost in the '90s its leading position in the most avant-garde production in the field of visual arts, acquired in the '70s and '80s, organized at the beginning of the year guest participation of foreign artists and theoreticians – 100 Days of Open International Cultural Communications.
In February, Cinema Rex organized the exhibition called Unbelievable. Unbelievable initiated by the Dutch artists S.J. Shanabrook, P. Vendel, J.B. Koeman, who had already realized a similar project in Russia. They wanted to experience themselves the authentic situation of an isolated European country and make contact with local authors. This was accomplished through a show done together with Sasa Markovic, Uros Djuric, Stevan Markus, Dejan Andjelkovic, Jelica Radovanovic, Skart and Talent.
The Meeting centre Pokret (Movement) in Novi Sad, organized a two-month (March-April) symposium "Moral i mitologija u savremenoj umetnosti" (Moral and Mythology in Contemporary Arts) with artists and critics from Yugoslavia, Germany, France, Spain...
The Cultural Centre of Belgrade, Cinema Rex, Pavilion Veljkovic, BITEF Theatre, Technical Students Club hosted the return visit of Slovenian artists called Kontradibidon (Counterdibdon).
An interesting project of Radomir Stancic and W. Becker was performed in Barutana. It was called Umetnost reke (The Art of the River) and exhibited works of artists from Germany, France, Spain, Argentina, Switzerland, Yugoslavia...
The second half of the year saw a number of mature exhibitions. For many years the October Salon used to announce a competition for author exhibitions as an accompanying programme of the Salon. This was preserved in the '90s and each October there are at least two good art-historian projects on display in Belgrade galleries.
Ljudmila Stratimirović, Kape za kupanje / Bathing Caps, 1996.
The first annual exhibition of SCCA, called Scene pogleda (Gaze Scenes) was organized in Cinema Rex and Pavilion Veljkovic following long preparations. The author of the concept was Dejan Sretenovic who treated the theme of view(s) and observation in contemporary visual arts. Departing from definitions of camera obscura and camera lucida he decided that each of the halls should represent one of the two rooms: Pavilion Veljkovic – the light one, and Cinema Rex the dark one. The following artists were invited to take part: Zoran Pantelic, Balint Szombaty, Zdravko Joksimovic, Zoran Naskovski, Darija Kacic, Era Milivojevic, Nesa Paripovic, Jovan Cekic, Sasa Markovic, Nina Kocic, Dejan Andjelkovic, Jelica Radovanovic, Talent, Ivan Sijak and Aleksandar Davic.
Maps have became in recent years symbols of the time we live in. As a natural reaction to the given situation, artists also took interest in maps. One of the responses to "maps" was articulated by art historians Branislava Andjelkovic and Branislav Dimitrijevic through their exhibition in the Youth House Gallery, in November of 1995. They chose thirteen artists (Cekic, Erdes, Joksimovic, Kocic, Krnajski, Milivojevic, Milunovic, Naskovski, Paripovic, Pavic, Talent, Prodanovic, Stevanovic) and asked them to react to the concept of maps. The result was the exhibition called Sobe s mapama (Map Rooms).
The last two exhibitions signified the application of new standards. By accumulating experience in organizing and producing projects like Urbazona, the photo-slide exhibition The Aliens (Vladimir Radojicic, Sebastian, December '93), Art Garden, Unbelievable, etc., Radio B92 had grown into an institution capable of producing even larger events and, in cooperation with its authors, produced Gaze Scenes and Map Rooms.
Finally, the "outfit" of an exhibition became one of the most essential items: each show had to have a catalogue, good quality photo documentation of all or part of the works, and it was important to make video or film recordings of each exhibition in order that the material could be edited into short films or spots for the exhibitors.
For a moment it seemed that we were making huge steps forward, into the World.
Ambitions and energies were challenged already at the beginning of the next five-year period. A new crisis was announced by new social and economic problems, by the cunning and unpredictable behaviour of the authorities, by a temporary, then definite, closing down of the Soros office (an important financier), by the loosening of tension and more frequent melancholy.
If we were to compare the '80s, marked in our case by an expansion of rock and roll, with the '90s, distinguished by the events in the visual arts, we should soon expect a reduction of the scene and the survival of only the best and most persistent ones. Let us hope that there will be sufficient energy to continue the begun, that there will be documents to prove it had happened, as well as professional interpretations of the preceding period,let us hope there will be a chance for us to compare rationally the experience acquired in the claustrophobic conditions devoid of information with the relevant developments in the world, to gain a relatively objective picture of the real values of our local culture. Don't make us start from the beginning again
(Belgrade, March 1996)