Umetnost na kraju veka

Serbian (Latin)
Serbian (Cyrillic)

Project Rastko


Branislav Dimitrijevic
(as an unplanned manifest)

Neša Paripović, Europa / Europe, 1995.

Metaphysical systems do not "fall", but fade, seep away, stagnate, become boring, old hat, unimportant, and improbable.

Peter Sloterdijk[1]

In contrast to history, I liked geography, although I never succeeded in comprehending it completely. Geography was a state, a shorter or longer moment of enrichment: history was a diagnosis, the night. And the night did fall, as always, concealed the sky and nothing could be seen. I went into the kitchen and switched on the light.

David Albahari, The Snow Man[2]

In the first sentence of the Introduction to his book on postmodernism (one of the most complete and "sober" discussions on this topic), the American theoretician Fredric Jameson gives concise instructions for understanding the notion of postmodernism: "as an attempt to think the present historically in an age that has forgotten how to think historically in the first place".[3] This definition encompasses the span from the simplest recipe for postmodernist art (citations, uncritical appropriation from the past, and the like), over the question of its political reactionary quality, all the way to the question whether such a diagnosis allows one to consider the phenomenon of postmodernism as a new epoch, a result of the linear, teleological history of progress, etc. In the texts of some theoreticians (Benito-Oliva, for example) "postmodernism" is caught in a narrative flow despite the statements of its vanishing. History is taken as an object of play for the artists who have cynically rejected all the naivetй of utopia and used the advantages of the financially structured power, and who were ironically named by Ive Alain Bois as "yuppi-punkers". In that respect there have been discussions on the end of ideology, what, in fact, is a symptom that the ideological mask has been accepted and recognized, and sustained in spite of that. A cynical mind not only considers the recognition of the ideological mask naive, but it also deems it naive to reject it. Therefore, the "epoch" of the end of history, the end of ideology, the end of utopia...

Since this rhetoric of "end" was established in the eighties (including the end of art, as well) one should wonder if we have completely understood the morals of the eighties, or have literally understood the time we still connect with the problems of postmodernism literally, that is outside the metaphorical structure it has permeated as its artistic space, and the space of its theoretical, discursive, field in which the great epistemological reversion was articulated. As Arthur Danto reminds us, the idea of the end of art is not a phenomenon of our epoch. It was explicitly inaugurated by Hegel: "Art no longer represents for us the highest mode which provides truth its existence" (one of the shortest definitions of art, at least the art whose end Hegel was lamenting).[4] Furthermore, when one talks about the autonomous field of artistic creation, the statement coming from John Stuart Mill is even more melancholy, because he believed that the end of art was inevitable, since, for example in music, everything would have been exhausted at one moment because there was a definitive number of combinations of the final number of tones, and all tunes would be used with nothing left to compose. A similar sentiment was shared by an artist from the end of the seventies who concluded that all combinations and variation (clean-smudged, thick-thin, simple-complex, big-small, circular-square) had been spent.

In such a rhetoric of end, the role of art is 'finished" from a very simple reason: it is the end in a narrative sense, that is, the end of art is defined as the end of a kunsthistrische story, and in a broader sense, a philosophical master-narrative where art is only an episode in the great history of mind. Some witty theoreticians used a word-game to suggest the turnover in the paradigm of "the time of spirit" to "the spirit of time" as a feature of postmodernism.[5] However, what I plan to suggest here is an outline (a manifest) for reviving of a less (mis)used angle of looking which contains the theme of the visual arts between its lines (although it only sporadically and "unillustratively" refers to it) and which is present here as an assumed support for a purely theoretical treatment. So, instead of temporal metaphors ("time of spirit" and "spirit of time") that are still governing the discussions of many critics (and which, purposefully or not, point to a progressive and linear exchange of epochs) we will use spatial metaphors. Instead of the spirit of time (Zeitgeist) we will use the spirit of place (genius loci).

If utopia is something characteristic of the "project" of modernism, than the symptom of the crises of this project is the vanishing of the utopian impulse. The diagnosis of the state as a "fear of utopia" (the title of the first version of this text), or, more precisely, an apprehension of utopia, departs from the rejection of the modernist expectations that the task of an artist is to accomplish the given role in a big narrative (the task frequently related in modernism to its political role). Today, in such an environment, in a broad political spectre, there emerges the rhetoric of a "return to values", among which one should find the lost models in order to subjugate schizophrenia, purposeless fragmentation, by reenacting (not to say "simulating") the very utopian model. In other words, as Heidegger once said: "When a kind of thinking is on its decline, then it turns to values in order to compensate its losses". Values are so disguised as thinking: family values or traditional cultural values ("back to basics") in the conservative circles of the Western world, national values in Eastern Europe, or, on the other side of the political spectre, certain values in art that should point out the "path of recovery", and postpone the end of art, the end of its narrative. Utopia is conceived as a normative project with a superimposed temporal dimension which utopia itself does not contain: in socialism, one always speaks that communism (the crucial utopian model) will arrive in the future; it has been expected as a consequence of a "logical" sequel of historical periods. The question: "When will communism come?" obliterated the question "Where will it come?" (Marxism has always had difficulties with geographic positioning, and Marx himself did not even dream that the first socialist revolution would take place in Russia, when he located it in Britain.) This is understandable, since utopia in itself is a negation of place, but at the same time it is a powerful spatial metaphor and as such can serve as an appropriate starting point for suggesting an other, different, theoretical contextualisation (maybe also conceptualization) of art. And so, utopia, as More's coinage of the Greek ou and topos, is no-place.

* * *

Damien Hirst, Pogodno okruženje za monohrome / A good Environment for Colored Monochrome Paintings, 1994.

"Our epoch is, above all, the epoch of space" Michel Foucault concludes in several instances, saying that for us the space in this epoch is shaped in the form of relations between localities, or "patterns of distribution".[6] What represents the connection between space and theory, from the structuralist diagrams to the "active fields" of post-structuralist "difference" is an exchange of the axis of temporal explanation (developing in the direction source-fulfillment) by a model of the distribution of positions and intersection within the spatial network.[7] This, of ourse, does not assume a denial of time, but a way of reconstructing our attitude toward time and what we call historical. Put simply, obliteration of time is manifested in an erasing of continuity and coherence by discontinuity and total heterogeneity. However, this eradication is the right food for the rhetoric of end, treading on the heels of the rhetoric that insists on the return to "illustrious values". Because of that, it is possible to comprehend time and history to a lesser extent as a temporal succession, but as related to the idea of alternation on the spatial axis. Of course, such a space is not a void waiting to be occupied by beings and objects (not strictly a Kantean space that could be imagined without objects) but a "network of points defined by relations, series, intersections and other models of arrangement". It is a space constructed in the relations of localities which cannot be reduced to one another nor overlap one another. And this is the reason why one cannot talk (and people do talk) about some kind of "deterritorialization" of art[8], since territorialization is not a simple "operational taking up of space", and drawing of maps does not direct one to "simple binary oppositions", but to perceive the relations and vectors, to the representation of an individual space within a complex global system, so "dispersed" that it can no longer be interpreted by the standardized measure units on the temporal axis.

With regard to this, one may find helpful Jameson's idea on the esthetic of cognitive maps, suggested in his already mentioned book on postmodernism. Jameson relates to the book by Kevin Lynch The Image of the City (1960) which defines the inability of big city inhabitants to make an imaginary map of their own positions in an urban totality, nor a map of the totality itself in which they find themselves.[9] Cognitive maps, suggests Jameson, permit a situational representation of an individual within a broader space which, as a whole, de facto cannot be represented in any other way than as a map encompassing localities and spatial relations. For the artistic practice the question of "mapping" is the key sign for diverting attention from the historicistic narratives toward a "state of affairs" that can be located only by "social geography". Instead of a "historic projection" one can talk about a "geographic projection" as much more open toward the "otherness", more extensive toward the simultaneity of events, more flexible to the "non-narrative" theory. (In the narrow context of Belgrade, the awareness of the significance of "locality mapping" has marked some new exhibition places like Cinema Rex and the Veljkovic Pavilion, and induces creative 'spacing" of artistic undertakings.[10] It is symptomatic that a series of exhibitions called Experiences from Memory in Belgrade's National Museum (1994-95), a locality not inhabited by an inspirational genius loci, nevertheless brings interesting models of "spacing" within a certain concept based on the historic projection of the relationship of the old and new art.[11]). Among the works in this series of exhibition was an installation of Mrdjan Bajic, where paintings by Gauguin, Chagall, Mary Cassatt, Mondrian and others were juxtaposed to a map containing the localities of their migrations, while other parts of the installation suggested the "exile" of Bajic himself. One can "classify" and evaluate such a work only through the issues of "social geography". As James Clifford, the anthropologist, says: "'Location' here, is not a matter of finding a stable 'home' or of discovering a common experience. Rather it is a matter of being aware of the difference that makes a difference in concrete situations, of recognizing the various inscriptions, 'places' or 'histories' that both empower and inhibit the construction of theoretical categories like 'Woman', 'patriarchy', or 'colonization', categories essential to political action as well as to serious comparative knowledge. 'Location' is thus, concretely, a series of locations and encounters, travel within diverse, but limited spaces."[12]

The example of Belgrade exhibition Map Rooms (Youth House, November 1995) is very important for the new possibilities of theoretical and practical implying of the "geographical models" at the current artistic scene. Many works made a step further toward the problem of mapping the activated locations (maps of personal positions in urban localities of Branko Pavic) toward the questions of distribution and the arbitrary character of toponemes (Europe by Nesa Paripovic), or toward a "solidification" of the space and an ironic demystification of its measurability (Boulevard by Zdravko Joksimovic), while the exhibited installation of Zoran Naskovski, Kamikaze, represents a general "awareness of difference" treated by Clifford. Cultural, but also sexual transgression in some works by this author, receive in Kamikaze its purified "diagramatic" result: in the flight of kamikaze the space is mapped in such a way that the point of perspective and the vanishing point overlap, and combine in it the final reaches of the painted illusion and death. The question of fanaticism is interesting in view of the author's interest in the radical rituals of Japanese culture (always combined with stereotypes that are constitutive elements of "geo-anthropological" interests), but also in view of the artistic status of a "hand-made" element of installation, a miniature drawing in ink, framed and indicated by a magnifying glass placed so that the dense lines suggest a closed lens of a camera - the blindness of an optical instrument. It also represents the focus that corresponds, like in an aiming apparatus, to a yellow filter, the upper part of the installation, thus establishing the locality of the nucleus of the artist's personal fanaticism, sucking into it the surrounding space. Like Jovan Cekic, whose "computer collage" The Advance of Polar Cartography reveals the impact of chronometry on cartography (i.e. the impact of time on the representation of the space eye cannot see), Zoran Naskovski brings to the radical extreme not only the basic idea of geographical art as a suggested theme of the exhibition, but also his own creation. In a static localization, Naskovski encodes a series of directly suggested or implied dynamic spatial relations, thereby also cultural-anthropological narratives, although he does not use the narrative "overleaps".

* * *

With regard to this, the space of theory is not the constant or unchangeable space of the "critical distance", nor the imaginary space of authoritarian views. In the mentioned essay, Michel Foucault defines some spatial significants in the time when the "world is put on probation, not as a great life predestined to develop in time, but as a network that connects various dots and creates its own disorder".[13] The arrangements that are of special interest to Foucault are those endowed with the unusual quality of being connected with all other spaces, but in such a way that they either abolish or reverse the groups of relations they shape themselves, mirror and reflect. Foucault recognizes two types of these arrangements. The first are utopias, arrangements without a specific space, arrangements that get into the relations of direct or reversed analogies with the real space and society. Foucault uses the metaphor of mirrors to visualize this no-space: utopia is a location without location, in it we see ourselves where we are not, in an imaginary space that opens, potentially, on the other side of its surface, in it we are where we are not, and, even more important, we see ourselves where we do not exist.

However, Foucault finds another type of arrangement even more essential – heterotopias, the forming of which largely defines the spatial metaphors of the artistic practice and the critical theory. Heterotopias are real, actual spaces that represent a kind of reversed arrangement in relation to utopias: location outside all locations, whose position can be determined. In the mirror we see ourselves where we are not, but this effect has its feedback because, while seeing ourselves there we also see that we are absent from the place where we are. In order to use this idea as metaphor that points to an artistic space unsympathetic toward utopias, we can single out two from a few of the existing principles of heterotopias. First, heterotopias are connected to the fragments of time, and some of them accumulate infinitely and bring about temporal overcrowding at one single space. Museums belong to these heterotopias. Museums are in themselves oppressive institutions, fostering the historicism of the victors and, in the long run, they cause collective amnesia by their monumentalizing and antiquarian historical discourse. Such a history strives toward memorizing the monuments of the past and transforms them into documents in order to endow them with language. (The other possible process is the history that transforms documents into monuments.)

The second principle of heterotopias can be illustrated by the garden as a location (the example relates to the title of the already mentioned exhibition in the space of Cinema Rex), The garden is certainly a heterotopia because it has the power to put into direct relations, in an actual location, different spaces and locations mutually not joinable. The garden is a microcosm that ought to represent symbolic perfection in its heterogeneity. In Nam June Paik's video-installation TV Garden television sets showing infinitely repeating short and unsynchronized sequences were arranged in the setting of voluptuous vegetation. To concentrate on one TV set would have no sense, and to all of them at one time seems impossible within a temporally defined esthetics (if you are not the mutated David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth, able to watch fifty seven screens at one time). TV Garden is as much about the "leakage" of the time continuum, as about the placing of art in a heterotopia. After all, while talking about a garden as heterotopia, there is another interesting and more recent installation done by the British artist Damien Hirst who put monochrome pictures in the conditions of a hot-house with live butterflies. The title of the installation is An Appropriate Setting for coloured Monochromes (1994).

Zoran Naskovski, Kamikaze (detalj / detail), 1995-

The anxiety or fear of the utopia considered here is, in fact, the fear of utopia as no-place, the fear of the undefined territory the artist wants for himself. Litanies about the nomadic spirit, although spatially defined, turn out to be inadequate because they put accent on traveling and not localities, that is, the territories activated by traveling. To be located is the bases of an unhistoric critical relationship toward reality. Such a position about art abandoned or misinterpreted by historiography (the historiography that defines art as an episode of the time of spirit) requires a different consideration of art, and our profession, sealed in teleological narrations should be reconstructed in order to exchange the history of art for the topography of art. There are no marginalities on a map, all the drawn spots are there, and as the feminist theoretician, Donna Haraway, says, "the issue in politically engaged attacks on various empiricisms, reductionisms or other versions of scientific authority should not be relativism – but location."[14]

The theory using spatial metaphors does not want to abolish the historical, but to point out the agoraphobia of history and time. The root of the word theoreion contains the idea of the "place from which one observes". Of course, this place cannot be defined by Alberti's relation toward the static observer and a homogenous, isotropic space defined by perspective. And it was modernismn (so glorified by these temporal metaphors as the crown of the great "history of spirit") that reformulated this space, made it heterogeneous and its artistic manifestations turned into the "diagrams" of these changes. As an aspect of the iconic sign, these diagrams, as Peirce says, do not reproduce the "simple qualities" of its referents but the "relations between the part of an object represented by analogous relations within the parts of the icon".[15] Representation is Foucault's "pattern of distribution" and contemporary art becomes ever more transparent in its new capturing of the sense of place, the articulation of that place and the creation of new itineraries which drive its ability to "disalienate". If there is also the expected requirement for social conceptualization (and for its political engagement, although the term has become "hateful" here, due to its wrong articulation), it is the esthetic of "cognitive maps" that opens up the sense of somebody's place within the global system. The question of heterotopography of art is not preconditioned by the obliteration of the historic, but by an emphasis on the possibility of topographic memory. As Virilio reminds us, in order to "consolidate" his natural memory, Cicero invented the "topographic method" in which the material to be memorized is coded in the chosen places (the technique of memorizing a speech when walking around the room and relating parts of the speech to certain places and objects).[16] In the new informative and cognitive regime, spatial relationships of theory and the iconic signs (images, metaphors or maps) can realize new creative patterns of distribution, arrangement. Such patterns can lead to the sketching of a theoretical scene connected to the events on the artistic scene, but would neither be its servant nor its dictator. (1995)


1 Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason, London 1988, p. 356.

2 David Albahari, Snezni covek (The Snow Man), Vreme knjige, Beograd, 1995, p. 85.

3 Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, London 1992, p. ix.

4 Arthur C. Danto, "Approaching the End of Art", in The State of the Art, New York 1988, pp. 202-218.

5 An example of an original approach to postmodernism here is, by all means, the book by Sreten Ugricic The Unrepeatable Unrepeatable (Beograd, 1988) which uses a specific literary-theoretical form apparently very appropriate for the "spirit of Time" the book describes.

6 Michel Foucault, "Mesta", Delo 5-6-7, 1990 (translation by J. Milicevic), pp. 277-286.

7 For spaces of "discoursive fields" see John Tugg, Grounds of Dispute- Art History, Cultural Politics and the Discoursive Field, London, 1992.

8 That is, it can happen only if one speaks in the Deleuze-Gattari schizo-analytical sense, although itself has deep roots in the intellectual climate of the seventies. See Jules Deleuze, Felix Gattati, Anti-Edip (Anti-Oedipus) Sremski Karlovci, 1990.

9 Jameson, op. cit. p. 51.

10 The space of the Rex movie theatre has a theatrical esthetics that joints in alternative artistic activities as a "pleasure in locality": starting from the first experiments like the Art vrt (Art Garden) exhibition (1994) to the luxurious "mapping" at the exhibition Scene pogleda (Gaze Scenes) – October 1995. The awareness of the new spatial paradigms is the reflection of the awareness of "time leakage" within the idea of the extreme intensity of the present, interestingly summarized in the quotations of horoscope definitions for the Libra sign, in a very good work of Jelica Radovanovic and Dejan Andjelkovic, also at the "Art Garden" exhibition: "persons born in this sign unwillingly live in the present".

11 The exhibits were primarily installations (the expected medium for spatial models and metaphors) and brought the "old" work in a spatial relation without an expressive historical or narrative reference. Some works actually involved spatial jointing of the work from the past (A Trap for Space by Dragoslav Krnajski or Passage by Vera Stevanovic), some just marked or ironically treated the false possibility of masking the conservative locality like the Museum by transforming it into a paradoxically obscene space (the work of Zoran Naskovski and Dobrivoje Krgovic – in a dialogue with a painting by Mondrian they suggest a stratified desacralisation of modernism by introducing one of its pioneers into the world of fetishes and libidinous standards), and some took a 'kynical' position toward the rift between the direct environment and the request for a 'normal' artistic production (the work of Zdravko Joksimovic whose accompanying essay contains an ironic remark on the "low" prices of individual elements of the work, and says: "the classical mode of composing is doomed to its utopia – like when children engrossed in play carefully build their sand castles not remembering that in the evening they will go home and the castle will be destroyed".

12 James Clifford, "Notes on Travel and Theory", in Clifford, Dhareshwar (eds.) Traveling Theories, Traveling Theorists (Santa Cruz 1989) p. 182.

13 Foucault, op. cit., p. 277.

13 Foucault, op. cit., p. 277.

14 "Situated knowledge" is responsible for what it can or cannot see, contrary to "unsituated knowledge" of the transcendental discourses of domination which therefore are not responsible for their "inapplicability"– Donna Haraway, quoted and interpreted in John Tagg, Grounds of Dispute – Art History, Cultural Politics and the Discursive Field, London 1992, p. 21.

15 C. S. Peirce, Philosophical Writings, New York 1955, p. 105.

16 Cf. Paul Virilio, Masine vizije (Machines of Vision), Novi Sad 1993 (translation by F. Filipovic), p. 10.

// Project Rastko / Art / The art at the end of the century /
[ Serbian (Cirilic) | Serbian (Latin) | Search | Map | Contact ]