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Time, World and Raša Todosijević
I was born in Belgrade on September the 2nd, 1945 R. Todosijević
In one of his lectures1 Raša Todosijević pointed out that only as a mature and an accomplished artist did he realize to what extent he had been exposed at school to the repressive mechanisms of education which had even at that time produced his natural reaction towards dogmatism and creative conformism in any shape or form. During the art classes at school he was forced to make sketches on themes from the Battle of the Popular Liberation Movement of the Second World War, and afterwards, during the studies the Belgrade Art Academy he was confronted with the aesthetics of a provincial and purely artistic modernism cherished by most of his professors which dominated the Serbian art scene of the sixties with the full support of the cultural establishment and the Communist Party bureaucratic apparatus. The process of mythologizing the Battle of the Popular Liberation Movement which was most intensively executed during the primary education, along with the institutionalization of late modernism, which the writer Sveta Lukić would later call a “socialistic aestheticism”, were parts of the same strategy of an ideological programming of the society, routinely carried out by the bureaucratic apparatus under the supreme control of the Communist party of Yugoslavia. A Slovenian sociologist Rastko Močnik observes in one of his essays that “the limited sovereignty of the sphere of the spiritual and aesthetic production” was the basic feature A lecture entitled “Time, world and Raša Todosijević” was given on February, 17th, 2000 in the School of the history and theory of art of the Center of the contemporary art, Belgrade.
2 of the “mild“ communism of Tito’s style 2, that is to say that the freedom of the artistic expression was allowed only when it did not question the ideology in power. In other words, Tito’s regime was, under the mask of the autonomy of the cultural sphere, integrated and adapted critical art discourse by building up the partnership of the cultural and party bureaucracy through the mechanism of “shared power”, which, as Močnik observes was both ideological and institutional.
Such the socialistic aestheticism was
institutionalized because it produced “neutral works” (S. Lukić), that is a highly artistic, formalistic art (which was equally recycling the traditions of the late modernistic abstractions and the intimate bourgeoisie art during the two World wars), that is, an art which was isolated from life, and openly antagonistic towards all forms of avant-garde or critical discourse. 4 Now is perfectly clear that the socialist aestheticism had the similar ideological function as the socialist realism that it gradually dethroned and finally succeeded at the position of the official art, in spite of the resistance of the strong-minded party dogmatists and violent public disputes. With the gradual ebbing of the postwar revolutionary enthusiasm and social reforms after the five-year period of the “revival and rebuilding, the social realism had, accordingly, lost its propagandist function so that it was quite logical that the already present socialistic aestheticism should be adopted for the purpose of effectuating the cultural policy of a regime which was at the time intensely opening to the cultural exchange with the rest of the world. As Bojana Pejić emphasizes the emerging generation of artists started at the beginning of the sixties to win positions of museum directors and academy professors while the modernism itself began entering public sphere – most of the monuments which glorified the socialist revolution and the partisan battle during the Second World War belonged to the genre of the “babbling abstraction” (abstraction bavarde) that is to say that they were modernistic in form and ideological in meaning. 5
Rastko Močnik, Koliko fašizma (How much fascism), Arkzin, Zagreb 1998/1999, 46
2 3 4
Sveta Lukić, “Socijalistički estetizam” (“Socialist aesteticism”), in: U matici knji`evnog `ivota 1953-1983, Gradina, Niš, 1983, 67-69 Bojana Pejić, “Unmaking sex: Bodies of/in Communism”, in Wounds, Modern Museet, Stockholm, 1998, 64-75.
3 As Raša Todosijević himself once formulated, “in a space without gravitation, sensible judgment, analogies or daring compilations”, the historical avant-garde traditions were left unattended with the outcome in a middle, patriotic solution: “no Duchamp, but Bonnard; no Malevič, but [agal; no pop, but new figuration…”6 Even the inheritance of the Serbian historic avant-garde like zenithism, dadaism and surrealism – had for a long time long been left to oblivion historical awaiting its basic historically-artistic evaluation and for this reason the art community after the Second World War was deprived of the experience of meeting with radical forms of art discourse which once had presented an ideological opposition to the established values of the bourgeoisie society. This is why the Habermas thesis about the modernity as an incomplete project could be literally applied in the analyses of the local art scene: the technical and the social modernization in socialist style had perhaps archived some socioeconomic results, but speaking about the reception of modernism in art it becomes clear that the art scene was then characterized by the reception of a second-class modernistic abstraction or its diluted Parisian echoes.7 A liberating attempt of a modern Cartesian mind was, because other objective historical state of the events, a conservative spirit deeply rooted in the tradition, as well as the social turmoil emerging as an outcome of the socialist revolution left like a question mark suspended in the air as long as the artistic practice of the late sixties.8 The catalogue of Todosijević’s one-man show, The Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, 1982. 7 The outstanding artists like Olga Jevrić, Petar Lubarda and Zora Petrović should be exempted as they represent the most authentic examples of modern formalism of that time. 8 I am using the term “new artistic practice” as Ješa Denegri defined it after taking it over form Catherine Millet and using it for the first time for the exhibition New art practice 1966-1978 which was held in the Gallery of Contemporary art in Zagreb 1978. Explaining the reasons for the use of this term Denegri says: “The neologism new art practice enhances the following meanings in its constitutive parts: the term new reveals that we deal with an innovatory avant-garde phenomenon which is substantially different from all previous currents in our society (moderate modernism, art informel, new figuration, neoconstructivism); the term artistic tends to removes every doubt that we deal with art (not the non-art or anti-art); finally the term practice underlines the fact that we deal with processes, operations, doing, acting, executing, caring out of artistic actions and artists’ behavior , rather then with the fine and final aesthetic objects (pictures and
ART AND REVOLUTION Conceptual art is the nervous breakdown of modernism. Art & Language In such sociocultural ambience in the late sixties Raša Todosijević forms an informal artistic group with a number of friends of a similar sensibility (Marina Abramović, Era Milivojević, Neša Paripović, Zoran Popović, Gergelj Urkom) at the same time when similar groups were formed in Subotica and Novi Sad (Boch+Boch, Kod,∋, ∋-Kod), and together they would lay the foundations of a new artistic practice in Serbia. Until 1973 these artists would act together congregated in the Gallery of the Students Cultural Center in Belgrade (open in 1971) when they would continue their separate artistic careers. The appearance of the informal Belgrade group of artists would be important as a liberating turning point on the Serbian art scene, which is not visible only in the radical change of artistic opinion and behavior, introducing new media (photography, film, video, performance, installations, etc.), but the essential revaluation of the concept of art object which, as Alexander Albero observed in connection with conceptual art, reflected in the “expended criticism of cohesiveness and materiality of the work of art”9 and the questioning of the definition of the artistic practice having been only visual and representational one. This radical break with the tradition was followed by misunderstanding, denial and discrimination by the official art circles so the activities of the new artistic practice were generally limited to the space of the Students Cultural Center and other similar institutions in Serbia and ex-Yugoslavia having the support of a sculptures) as the untouchable techniques and genres in the formerly ruling art disciplines”. Ješa Denegri, Sedamdesete: teme srpske umetnosti (The Seventies: the Topics of the Serbian Art), Svetovi, Novi Sad 1996, 23. 9109 Alexander Alberro, Reconsidering Conceptual Art 1966- 1977”, in Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, edited by Alexander Albero and Blake Stimson, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts/London, UK, 1999,xvi – xxxvii.
5 few art critics who did not have any important influence on the cultural policy of the hegemonic art institutions. Special emphasis should be given to the fact that sociocultural and ideological ambience in which acted the protagonists of the new artistic practice in Serbia was completely different from the one of their colleagues from Western Europe and the USA, which defined fields of their interest and the forms of reception. As Joseph Kosuth formulated in retrospect that conceptual art in the USA could be understand only with regard to the new social movements of the sixties and the general spirit of the Vietnam War era10 the new artistic practice of Serbia of the late sixties could not be understood out of the specific local context. Zoran Popović openly supports the idea of politicization of art in his article “For the self-ruling art” for the purpose of fighting bureaucratic apparatus of state administration which he called “the class enemy of the proletariat” 11 implying that the critical art discourse should be located inside the boundaries of the Marxist criticism of society with the criticism aimed at the institutions of the official art which themselves hindered the proclaimed self-managing socialism and the freedom of creation. This was not about the auto censorship of the protagonists of the new artistic practice in fear from the repressive state mechanisms, but their original belief that the disguised recurrences of bourgeois habits and aesthetic values the greatest obstacle for the liberalization of artistic creation as an area that helps to revolutionize social practice. While Western conceptual artists saw their main enemy in the liberal ideology and the function of their repressive mechanisms, their Serbian colleagues did not show antagonism towards the fundamental (Marxist) principals of the ruling ideology, but react against ideological contraindications inside the state-dominated art system. What singles out Raša Todosijević from other participants of this informal art group, the fellow-artists from Vojvodina and the next generation of Belgrade conceptual artists (Goran Djordjević, Grupa 143, Grupa A 3), is a persistent, uncompromising and radical Joseph Kosuth, “1975”, The Fox, vol. 1, no. 2, 1975, 87-96. Zoran Popović, “Za samoupravnu umetnost” (“For the self-managing art”), in: October ’75, The Gallery of Students Cultural Centre, Beograd 1975.
6 critically political discourse that he has not abandoned until today. This makes Raša Todosijević a unique figure in contemporary Serbian art; he is an example of a politically emancipated man and a socially responsible artist who have not produced even a single work without a critical connotation of some sort. As he himself has put it, “in ethical, political and social clashes art underlines its meaning by sharpening its view.”12 Was ist Kunst? Art object is the mode in which an artist poses a question about art. Raša Todosijević
In a serial of performances under the title Was ist Kunst? (Held in the period 1976-1981 in various cities, settings and situations) Raša Todosijević incessantly repeated the above mentioned question to a feminine model in an authoritarian tone of voice parodying the repressive manner of the police interrogation until his voice failed him. The literal meaning of the question was confronted with the absence of its impact in performance (there is no answer) by way of repetition, indefinite recurrence of the same question which in Teodosijević’s despotic speech stood for a (elocutionary) verbal act related to the question which, however, exceeded its limits. The transmitter received his own message from the passive receiver – the other decentralized the place of the subject of speech, the medium for creating the circle of repetition, the mirror, which reflects the Cartesian suspicion in fundamental principals of art institutions. The silent model who courageously submits to the torture brings to memory the pasivly-mazochistic attitude of a citizen who in a totalitarian regime loses his will thus contributing to maintaining the repressive apparatus. On the other hand Was ist Kunst? literally perverts the traditional relationship between the artist and feminine model (or muse) which he has turned into the victim of torture meaning that Todosijević playes here with the female stereotype as an object of male manipulation, which serves as a general metaphor of a totalitarian “Umetnost i revolucija” (“Art and Revolution”), October ’75, Beograd, The Gallery of the Students Culture Centre, Beograd, 1975.
7 submissiveness and the narcissistic reflection of a powerful ego in the echo of his own voice (Derrida’s ”to be heard-to-speak”). Bringing into connection the totalitarian discourse and art institutions was to become one of Todosijević’s constant preoccupations. Was ist Kunst?, remains his emblematic work and certainly one of most important works in the Twenty-century Serbian art, which still waits for a proper historically critical (re)valuation. About that particular performance Todosijević said: “My performance is not based on the wish to demystify anything, it rather seeks to irritate an individual by addressing its negative side in order that he becomes aware of it – your anger after the performance is that negative side of yours.”13 The aggressive behavior and the irritation of the audience marked as well other Teodosijević’s performances which were focused upon violent (torturing fish in Decision as Art and Water Drinking) or sadistic actions (staking on the table with a metal bar in Vive la France – Vive la Tyranny), body excreta (vomiting in Water Drinking) and dirt (Washing clean feet with dirty water), etc. Contrary to Marina Abramović whose performances from the Belgrade period are based on (masochistic) acts of self-injure and body exhaustion thus provoking an empathic reaction of the audience Todosijević directed his aggression towards other protagonists or objects of his performances that constituted a kind of masculine, non-aesthetic “theatre of brutality”. As the artist himself explains in regard with the Water Drinking physical elements like the paint, relationships, body condition and mental sensations are not descriptive, symbolical, metaphorical or ritual by nature because the work itself constitute an artificial, intellectually organized demonstration of the idea by means of a number of inversions and essential contrasts. Mentioning the “theatre of brutality” in the context of Todosijević’s work is rooted in Artoo’s request that One should feel in theatre that “brute creative force” since only this could free it from its artificiality, superfluous aestheticism and decoration and confront the viewer with the “tragic knowledge” instead of saving him from it.”14 For this reason we could not agree From: An interview with Raša Todosijević by Dragica ^akić-[oškić, in: Fra Yu Kult (cat.), The Museum [iroki Brijeg, 1990, 161. 14 Antonen Arto, “Pisma o surovosti” (“Letters on brutality”), in: The theatre and its double, Prometej, Novi Sad 1993, 137-140.
8 with Ješa Denegri when he claims that Todosijević “carries along the simulation of violence as a resistance from the real violence” and that this resistance is presented “trough the application of reduced and symbolic acts of violence.”15 Todosijević’s performance is the work which is deeply rooted in the objective nature of the physical action, in the production rather than simulation of violence in that which an American artist Adriana Piper called “index present”, the immediate “here and now” relationship between the work and the viewer; “Political meaning could be mutually created trough the interactive process in which the object openly confronts the viewer with his own condition, while the viewer reacts to this challenge by an interpretation which reveals his own particular level of political self-awareness.” 16
Political Body Our sole treasure is our bodies and our ideas. R. Todosijević In the center of this process there is the body of the artist or the model that in Teodosijević’s performances functions as the locus of the event in which the body, in a sort of a dialectic relationship between the subject and the object, reciprocally produces objects of the action and synchronously serves as the object itself. In regard to this principle Christine Stiles claims that the action art “makes the mutual projection between the subject and the object tangible”, which is the reason why “the relationship between viewing and meaning, being and acting appears to be visible.”17 Socially coordinated techniques of handling the body – which shape individual physical manifestations and gestures – are to be destabilized trough the performance because the dualism between the so-called “objective” body inscribed in the “objective” space of social environment and Ibid, 134. From: Christian Kravagna, “Political arts, aesthetic politics and the little story about the Nachtraeglichkheit of experience”, in: Things we don’t understand, Generali Foundation, Wien 1999, 95-102. 17 Christine Stiles, “Uncorrupted Joy: International Art Actions”, in: Out of Actions, Thames and Hudson, New York 1998, 227-329.
9 that which Merleay-Ponty calls “our own or phenomenological” body becomes in the planned action of the performance capable of transforming itself into a self-sufficient psycho-physical engine. Absurd Todosijević’s actions like painting a tree, torturing a fish, vomiting (whose individual original meanings remain hovering inquiringly between the structural relationships of the performance and its interpretations), demonstrate a liberating strategy and techniques of managing the body which are equally rooted in the materialistic realism of physical action and the mental realism of Todosijević’s artistic concept devoid of symbolic, spiritual, ritual and all similar connotations. Calling to mind a well-known fact that Raša Todosijević has never believed either in the social neutrality of an artist or the ethical innocence of art, Bojana Pejić in her taxonomy of body art in Serbia places Todosijević’s performance under the heading of political body.18 Bojana Pejić does not explain this definition further, but if the body is to become the generator of political intervention, the internal grammar and syntax of the particular body language should be created first and then the body could be transformed into a sign or signifier. In performances and early actions (Sculpture-action, Sign-action, DA) Raša Todosijević uses his own skinny and awkward body following the principal of “index present”: all variations have in common a body so arranged that it lacks “every outside meaning and expression” (R. Todosijević), extremely rudimentary activities and the building up of the body of the artist as an artifact in itself and for itself. In other words, contrary to the official, political representations of body Todosijević, an artist from the margins of the Serbian art system – inaugurates the “proletarian” body of an artist who, having not been in favor of the cultural-bureaucratic elite, could only use his own body both as the material matter of his work and the instrument for the sociocultural intervention.
The Separation from Performance
Bojana Pejić, “Body-based Art: Serbia and Montenegro”, in:Body and the East. From the 1960s to the Present, Modern Gallery Ljubljana 1998, 72-78.
10 The world is full of more or less interesting objects; I do not want to add new ones. D. Huber
The objectivity of the physical action and body arrangements directly corresponds to the usage of organic and inorganic materials, trivial and perishable objects in installations and early (post)object and the course-of- action oriented works.19 At an exhibition Frippery Land (1971) – where Belgrade artists were called to exhibit some non-artistic object dear to them – Todosijević exhibits among other things his wife Marinela Koželj (this was the first tableau vivant in the Serbian art and the beginning of Ko`elj’s participation in Todosijević’s performances); in his works Bread and Bread YES he employs a loaf of bread; Homo Ars had been made from jars full of water and hygroscopic cord; In the installation Invisible sculpture – indefinite music he employs transistor receivers which he built up in gallery walls; in a series of installations Gott Liebt die Serben – that he performed all round Europe during the nineties – Todosijević uses objects that he picks on the spot (wardrobes, hospital bedside tables, suitcases, restaurant tables and the traditional Serbian meal), itd. Regardless of different origins and kinds of objects, or the specific context in which the work was shown along with the verbal message attached to it Todosijević conscientiously produces non-aesthetic, visually unattractive (sometimes openly iconoclastic) situations and structures marked by the same sort of “proletarian dissonance” (J. Roberts) which would distinguish his calligraphy up until now. While at the beginning Todosijević was influenced by “poor art” (Arte povera) and then popular tendencies of dematerialization and an antiformalistic approach to art he later develops a special dialectics of values that could be explained in terms of Lucan’s distinction between the “reality” that is represented/fabricated and the “real” that rejects symbolization and has to be composed and demonstrated in order to explain the distortion of symbolical/representational structure. The idea of placing the art production in empirical reality is based on the conception of the real which locates itself on the other end of the ability to represent, that In the installation For All Dead Artists umetnik employed the elements which he had used in the performance Vive la France – Vive la tyranie.
11 is, in body and materials, objects and processes, action and energy, or, as Robert Smithson formulated: “I am for the art that deals with the immediate actions of elements, in the way they exist in day-to-day reality separate from their presentation.”20 Just this “separation from their presentation” is in the center of Todosijević’s concept of art as a productive and socially responsible discipline whose aim is not to create the work of art as an isolated aesthetic object, but to open an immediate dialogue between art and living reality through a material production which emerges right out of this reality and attends to it in the critical manner. The Mirror of Production My art is not visual, but visualized. I. Wilson
In the cycle Not a single day without a line (which he carried out in private spaces, hotel rooms, galleries and museums) and the “elementary” (monochromic) pictures, Todosijević makes mental and working process the substance of his work, which, as he himself noted down in relation with the pictures represents the “reflex on mental mechanics” as the elementary painting “deals with the nature of the painting act and the physical and spiritual status of the work while the components of its matter seize to constitute only media for expressing a literary or emotional meaning and become objects of research.”21 Todosijević interprets the meaning of the cycle of lines which have been created according to the catalogue of rules that the artist himself has declared and executes obediently as a cynical speculation about the traditional practice of “hand exercise”, that is to say as an attempt of demystification of the act of creation through a Robert Smithson, “Omedjivanje kulture” (“Limiting Culture”), Selacted papers, ed. Zoran Gavrić, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Beograd 1983, 39-40. 21 Raša Todosijević, “About the elementary or post-aesthetic art. (Elementary painting)”, Gallery Happy Nerw Art, SKC, Belgrade, 1975. Todosijević’s reflection that the objective constituents of the material of a painting cease to be mediators in expressing a literary or emotional record but become the material for research” takes us back to Duchamp’s intention to “place painting back in service of mind”.
12 controlled realization of previously imposed tasks. This project brings to memory one of Joseph Kosutha’s thoughts that the only task of artist is to study the nature of art and which Arthur Danto sums by a quote from Hegel: “Art requires intellectual contemplation not for the purpose of the recreation of art, but for the philosophical understanding of what art is.”22 This segment of Todosijević’s work could be named with the phrase non-visual abstraction that Ian Wilson uses to define the conceptual art practice in general having in mind the adopting of principals of modernistic visual abstraction for the purpose of reexamining linguistic premises of art.23 Although such acts of auto-reflexive interrogation of linguistic and procedural structure of art lay in the center of various operational models of the new artistic practice Teodosijević’s claim that drawings deal with the valuation of the work itself (the number of drawn lines is in direct correlation with the meaning of space, gallery and the exhibition where the work is being presented) makes his contribution a unique one. A drawing on the wall is a “mirror of production” and presents only the trace of the process of production, the visualization of the production code, and consequently Todosijević speaks about line rather than drawing, that is, about a mental-mechanical activity instead of the formal structure which is the result of it. On the other hand, this brings to mind the work cult and the outstanding working results which was one of key elements of Titio’s sociopolitical programming where the production fetish (“exceeding of the production quota”) is not an economical, but ideological urge, that is a form of ideological mystification of socially useful work. This ideological concept of the de-alienation of work avoids speaking about the real economic effects of work, but puts the accent on the ontology of work per se (as Marcuse put it work is an ontological concept of human existence) so that becomes an absolute value which does not operate in the economical but in the political sphere.24 The situation is completely reverse in the art system where the product of work is being mystified – the art object as well as Todosijević’s inverted Arthur C. Canto,After the End of Art. Contemporary Art and the Pale of History, Princeton University Press, 1997, 14-15.
Ian Wilson, “Conceptual Art”, in: Conceptual Art: A Critical anthologyt, edAlexander Alberro and Blake Stimson, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts/London, UK 1999, 414-417.
13 values from other ideological positions aim at the return of authentic value to the working process which becomes exhausted in itself and which could be put into correlation in an art system only trough speculation about the idea and act of realization by way a visible trace on the gallery wall or trough photo documentation. In fact Todosijević reexamines Marx’s dichotomy between the ”ethic of work” and “aesthetic of non-work” (play) by considering the quantitative value of work the qualitative value of art concept. In other words the reification of working ethics serves as an instrument of the general idea of conceptual art expressed by Atkinson’s dictum “no more the art object, but the work of art”. However, the art system succeeded in objectification of the conceptual works through the commercialization of the available artifacts (objects, photographs, videos and other documents) or the reconstruction of performances for purposes of permanent collecting thus making it one of the technical categories in the nomenclature of art works while the term conceptual becomes a stylistic and genre identifier. On the other hand, the new artistic practice in Serbia has remained isolated from market demands and museum strict regulations that could dull its critical self-awareness trough the attractive request for repetition and decoration because of the absence of market for this kind of art (apart from the sporadic purchases of ex-Yugoslav museums) and the uncompromising dispositions of artists themselves. Paradoxical as it may seem this art thus maintained its full creative autonomy for which artists themselves (apart from M. Abramović) paid a high price, cynically put by Raša Todosijević in an interview saying that he failed to accomplish his wish to become a “rich and fat artist.”25
The famous miner with outstanding results Alija Sirotanović was made a national hero and the icon of the socialist work although the qualitative results of his work remained overshadowed by the quantitative ones.. 25 A caricature of Todosijević tells a bout this topic as about the general market and financial position of the East-European artists after the fall of the Berlin Wall showing an artist (in front of whom there is an inscription “Serbian Artist”) talking to a woman-art collector with the following inscription: “No, madam, I am not a Serbian artist. I am only a part of a conceptual art work called ‘Serbian artist’”.
14 The Mystification of Myth We should take over the job of creating the history. R. Todosijević Some critics interpreted Todosijević’s gradual accepting of the traditional visual media and conventional iconic expressions (at first it was drawing and water color, then sculpture) as the artist’s response to the (postmodern) spirit of the age marked by the general tendency of returning to iconography and the critical revalorization of the heritage of modernism. Although this change coincides with the appearance and establishment of a so-called “postmodern paradigm” essentially it does not deviate from the basic principals of the political preoccupations of art which have been set at the beginning of his career, although it is clear that after the revolutionary enthusiasm of the seventies Todosijević entered a more mature phase when, after having abandoned utopia he continued to act in an uncompromising fashion (this fact is specially reflected in his stories about art which were written in a close conceptual correspondence with the drawings and watercolors). As the focus of Todosijević’s attention was moved to the research of myth and history he duly turned to historically verified media of art production in order to demonstrate the causative relationship between the established art techniques, formalistic styles and the cult of genius on one hand and the mechanism of ideological mystification in the process of production and reproduction of history (art) on the other. The deconstructive habit of attaching new meaning to history through the play of the signifiers, and the decentralizing of the focus of the meaning are not the essence of this problem; it is rather the use of art presentation as a rhetorical figure that unmasks itself as a tendentious ideological construction. This technique was best demonstrated in the cycle of paintings and drawings “following Picasso”, where Todosijević employed the technique of a parodic simulation of Picasso’s calligraphy with an aim to tackle the matters of authorship and originality as key elements in constructing the axiology of art history. The humanistic myth about artist-genius from which originated the modernist
15 myth about progress in art is confronted in this project with what Roland Barthes called the “mystification of myth”, that is, the inauguration of the “artificial myth”, the “second rate myth” which pointed at the original myth its own weapon: ”If the myth robbed the language, why should not the language rob the myth?” 26 The drawings and paintings from this cycle are conceptualized by the story “My name is Pablo Picasso”, written in the first person in accordance with one of Barth’s dictums: Todosijević speaks on behalf of Picasso (Picasovich) and “robs the myth” producing a sort of dialectic movement between the myth about the great artist and his clownish usurpation using the genre of fictional autobiographical record, which at the same time tackles the problem of the relation between the center and periphery in the axiology of hegemonic Western discourse of modern art. In other words in the story and drawings Picasso is symbolically “forced” to laugh at himself reflecting Foucault’s thesis that the author is an ideological figure who does not come before the work but presents the functional principal of placing an individual inside the system of conventions, rules, norms and grammars that de facto give him the voice of an author or “speak” in his place. 27When Todosijević argues that spreading the story about someone’s greatness contributes to his “fame”, what he has in mind is the modalities of articulation that can take many forms the authoritarian discourse of history and fictional modification to the popular mystification. Slavko Timotijević observes in an article about Todosijević’s sculptures that these works are mainly directed “towards a whole lot of local mannerists who have the habit of imitating in every respect the success of their idols in order to become successful and the audience which is fascinated mostly by that direct link with the idol.”
The reference to
According to Barthes, myth is a semiotic system of the second grade, because the sign from the first system becomes signifier in the second. See: Roland Barthes, “myth Today”, in: Mythologies, Vintage, London 1993, 109-159. 27 Michel Foucault, “What is an author?” in Art in Theory 1900-1990, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, Blackwell, Oxford UK & Cambridge USA 1995, 923-928. 28 From: Slavko Timotijević, “Permanentni sukob originala i kopije” (“A Permanent Conflict Between the Original and the Copy”), in: Raša Todosijević. Sculpture, Happy Gallery, Students Cultural Centre, Belgrade 1994.
16 mythical figures and stylistic formations of modernism, as they are canonized in the local art community can also be seen in the sculptures, drawings and watercolors which are characterized by the same stylistic and expressional logic with the clear echoes of Giacometti, surrealism, modernistic associative abstraction, morphological symbolism, etc. It is certain that the drawings and sculptures carry a specific meaning directed at the local art circles in which the roumer spread for many years that “Raša Todosijević made performances and anti-formalistic works because he did not know how to draw and paint”. In this respect Todosijević demonstrated high skills in dealing with the traditional art disciplines making at the same time a conceptual divergence from the aims of their usage; while in the line cycle he conceptualized the production process itself, he now moved the accent to the conceptualization of the presentation which in response indicated the field of its own articulation where the treads of myth, history and politics became entangled. Contrary to his Belgrade colleague Goran Djordjević who tackled the problem of originality of artifacts by way of direct repetition making true copies of modern art masterpieces, and the Slovenian commune Irwin who in a cycle of paintings Was ist Kunst (directly inspired by Teodosijević’s performance) deal with “the creation of repetition of –isms which make the Slovenian art history”29 Todosijević uses the strategy of a “clumsy repetition” which by satirizing and caricaturizing the original removes from the vision screen every direct likeness with it and its authority of masterpiece. This is not about the difference between the strategies of reconstruction and deconstruction as it appears at the beginning but about the difference between the critical affirmation and the critical negation of the original and different conceptual models of revaluation great mythical concepts and their authors. I-speech The work of art is fiction, I do not lie anyone. See: Marina Grid`inić, “Was ist Kunst”, Republic, no. 10/11/12, Zagreb 1985, 266-277.
17 R. Smithson In order to depict a specific position of artist as regards speech in the new artistic practice Ješa Denegri has introduced the phrase “artist in the first person”, which explains the practice of artists’ behavior and expression based on individual and subjective patterns of self-reference, meaning of their behavior, body language, gestures and signs which have never been, as Denegri puts it “a language of forms and introverted material objects.”
One of distinguishing features of Todosijević’s art (performances, stories, drawings, installations, false adverts and false commercials) is the individualization of the role of the speaker: self - rousing is a form of symbolic introjection of power and an efficacious production of a subject who stands in opposition to the “folds of power” (M. Foucault), that is, outside structures of the creation of individuality according to previously defined nomenclatures of classification and identification. When Todosijević announces that “the way in which an artist asks a question about art is a work of art”, or when he calls the work of art the demonstration of the act of free-will on Duchamps square he does not only undertake powers of Logos of art institutions, but demonstrates the right to subjectively judge art – from “below”, that is, from daily life. Regarding the action YES that was printed as a picture postcard and sent to museums, galleries and various individuals, the artist was, according to his own words, motivated by the idea that “the work of art could not be detached from the personality of artist.”31 In verbal communication the word “yes” presents a short affirmative response to a previously posed question which requires unambiguous answer, but since the word is written here on the artist’s chest it visualize the size of artistic subjectivity suggesting that the distance between the body/personality of an artist and his work trough the realization of the index relationship, that is, between the act of creation and physical existence, Ješa Denegri, “Govor u prvom licu – isticanje indivudualnosti umetnika u novoj umetničkoj praksi sedamdesetih” (“Speech in the first person – the emphasizing of the artist’s individuality in the new artistic practice of the seventies”), in: New Art in Serbia 1970-1980, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade 1983, 7-13. 31 See the retrospective catalogue Todosijević Raša, Great Southern Images. Students Cultural Centre, Belgrade, 1980.
18 which we find in both performances and other kinds of actions, should be abolished. When in the performance Art and Memory for the artist (with the face covered with scarf as a terrorist announcing his request) four hours goes on uttering names of all artists from the art history which come to his memory at that moment he himself becomes the medium for the projection of his own memory which functions as a PR of the whole art history.32 Pronouncing the art history constitutes an act of creating an art history narrativeа by the artist who shaped his image as a terrorist coming into possession of institutions in a moment of a temporary autonomous zone” (H. Bey) inside the art system (in the gallery). This project brings to mind one of Sartre’s thesis that the emancipation of an individual means the reclaim of historical meaning from those who directly create it, while this act of repossessing leads to the dissolution of this meaning which, in the context of Todosijević’s story, means an epistemological anarchy.
“All history is storytelling” is one of the fundamental hypothesis of the contemporary theories of history, and this storytelling is in Todosijević’s stories personalized in cases when he speaks in the first person (“my name is…, I will keep it short…, I knew…”) or “objectified” by the use of the third person (“a long ago…, “it is said to be…”). This variation in the narrator’s verbal position means an intervention of subjective memory that is said to be fictional retelling or what Paul Recoeur understands as a “cross reference between the pretensions on truth of both history and fiction.”33 Didactic and satirical tones of stories suggest that the artist-narrator is in fact dead serious in his “secretive laughs” (a phrase from the story “My name is Pablo Picasso”) and that the stories are, according to his own words, “apocryphal parts of human conversations, stories and inventions from real life” which equally influence the evaluation of the particular art work as the theory itself.34 Behind this claims there is a concept of history as With regard to this matter Todosijević says: “The original of the work Art and Memory exists only in the mind and memory of the people who were present at the show”, that, “for me there is only the art history which dwells in my memory.” 33 Paul Ricker, Vreme i priča (Time and story), The publishing House of Zoran Stojanović, Sremski Karlovci 1993, 118-119. 34 Fra YU Kult, 63.
19 an ideological formation, that is, the land of cross references where is usually difficult to distinguish between objective historical facts and hermeneutical fiction/mystification which surrounds them. On the other hand pseudo-adverts and pseudo-commercials – which the artist created in the nineties in forms of posters, newspaper ads (the cultural guide Beorama) and radio jingles (Radio B92) – bring a different logic of a subject-oriented action based on selfironic personality cult: he is founding the “Great art academy ‘Todosijecić’”, advertising a kvas corporation ‘Todosiyević-Malevich” which produces Serbian-Russian drink kvas (the allusion on the pan Slavism of Serbian nationalists), celebrating the 150 th anniversary of “Dragoljub Raša Todosijević’s” school in Toronto (the allusion on the cultural traditionalism of the Serbian diaspora), and becomes the director of an imaginary movie “Murder”, etc. Todosijević employs formal pattern and advertising style in order to articulate his own voice as the “subject of mass persuasion” (I.Ramone) that speaks both from the viewpoint of an imaginary advertiser and personal charisma of an artist. While the speech “in the first person” was realized during the seventies through sending a clear and unambiguous massage which pierced like an arrow the flesh of art system, in his tales and adverts he employs an indirect strategy, what Vladimir Jankelevič calls pseudopseudology in order to point to the lie which is so obvious that it destroys itself at the moment of utterance.35 In the first case “the speech in the first person” is in service of the search for truth about art while in the second case that speech is in service of an apparent lie, a “clownish irony” (Jankelevič) which does not want to be believed in, but to be “understood, that is, seen trough”.36 “People esteem you better when you delude them, because lie is always more appreciated than truth”, claims Todosijević alluding both to the hermetism of modern art and the local mentality which is inclined to “believe in that what it cannot believe”, that is to comfortably submit its own reason to the structural authority of the verbal position that controls the meaning in the public sphere. Vladimir Jankelevič, Irony (Irony), The Publishing House of Zoran Stojanović, Sremski Karlovci 1989, 59. 36 Ibid, 60. According to Jankelevič irony means pseudology because it implies one thing and says another in a special way, while pseudopseudology means the highest degree of the ironic discourse which practically disperses here in an obvious exaggeration.
Despite the discursive variations of “I-speech”, the actual presence of the artist in the work is not the outcome of a narcissistic or egocentric attitude the already mentioned index necessity that involves the abolishment of the barrier between the personality of the artist and his work. In his essay about performance Todosijević emphasizes that the difference between an actor in a theatre performance and the performance artist is that the former acts in the second person losing its real personality in the theatrical illusion, while the latter is a parsona – he expresses his own will and ideas which are the production of his experience and viewpoint.37 The abolition of the illusion based on the speech in the second person (which is in the essence of the visual arts base on representation) paves the way for a direct address in which the viewer should speculate about the meaning of the massage in the context of his own experience, knowledge and belief…
In the knot of language and text The language is the reason for watching, not the opposite. I.Burn & M.Ramsden One of the special features of Teodosijević’s art is the combined work on the language and text, which is met in the titles, texts and phrases attached to particular works, as well as in the use of recorded voices and the auto-poetical declarations, critical and theoretical texts and tales about art, discussions and translations. Writing about art serves as a supplement to the visual communication, which enlarges its territory and power in order to overcome its empirical limitations. In this respect Raša Todosijević has never slipped into the field of the linguistic conceptualism of Wittgenstein type as he has never considered his art stories literary creation, but wrote them with the same motivation as other art works using all available registers of communication in order to promote his
See: Raša Todosijević, “Performance”, The third Channel, Belgrade Radio, no. 56, 1983, 57-61.
21 views.38 The dilemma if texts of artists should be classified by genre in terms of a classical art theory or they constitute “a part of the natural load of a conceptual artist”, advanced by Terry Atkinson could be solved only on concrete examples.39 In the case of Todosijević’s papers about art and the ideological and thematic affiliations we meet with the principle of connected vessels as regards the relation between the practice and critical theory: the experience and ideas combined in the art work become the object of analysis and critical interpretation in the text and vice versa. Texts like “What are lines”, “Art as the criticism of society”, “Art and Revolution”, “Edinburgh Declaration”, “From the Road: Before the Introduction into History” offer (along with Zoran Popović articles and the papers of some fellow-artists from Vojvodina) brilliant examples of a shrewd critical thinking from the practical standpoint that are of an equal or sometimes superior value compared to the articles of local art historians and critics who conscientiously avoid speaking of the political implications expressed in the works and views of the protagonists of the new artistic practice in Serbia. According to Todosijević , the title of the work of art is a “verbal correlative” with carries the reading of the work from the plastic into the mental sphere, although the title often seems to be more than a verbal correlative: it is a semantic anchor which gives full meaning to the work. For Todosijević’s lingual politics the usage of foreign languages (above all German) in titles and inside the works is specially suggestive. Todosijević consider German a masterful language per se that he has demonstrated most effectively in his work Was ist Kunst? where the hysterical repetition of the question in the German language presents the key element in the evocation of torture (it would be virtually impossible to imagine using Serbian or English in this work). Moreover, the German language used in this way evocate the traumatic experience of the Yugoslav audience reminding them on the scenes of Gestapo’s tortures from partisan movies of Tito’s era and the brutality of the German occupation during the Second world war. On the other In course of his career Todosijević occasionally undertook the responsibilities of a curator in following shows: “Art, Irony, etc”, “Art and Stupidity” and “Publice-Private”. 39 See: “Editorial introduction to Art-Language”, in: Art in Theory 19001990, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, Blackwell, Oxford UK/Cambridge USA 1995, 873-879.
22 hand, the title of a series of installations, drawings and sculptures Got Liebt die Serben which began in 1989, at the onset of the disintegration of ex-Yugoslavia, when the ethnic confrontations were on the verge of eruption – mean, according to the artist’s own words an “ironic Germanization which perverts the same pathetic phrase of Serbian nationalists.40 The title of a series of works Schlafflage is an unmeaning phrase (literally, the sleeping flag), inspired by the inscription on a sleeping carriage (schlaffwagen), while Vive la France – vive la tyranie also brings the inversion of the meaning of great mythical slogans – what Todosijević calls “cynical polemics on ideals” Cynical deconstruction of famous slogans and phrases (for example You should love France as France loved Van Gog41) demonstrate the tendentious transformation of a slogan into a declaration by way of artistic re-framing. Slogan which is the possession of the collective knowledge turns into a subjective declaration which expresses its political unconscious trough various modes of inversion and dislocation: paraphrase, tendentious usage of a foreign language, upside-down writing, structural correlations inside the work, etc. The inscription inside the structure of the work was for the first time used in performances, which de facto form a complex absorption of a visual, body-gesture and verbal expression, where words and phrases written on the stage setting of the performance or shown on a board carried by a model function both as objects of the action and as the field of reference of the meanings of the performance correlated by way of motivation to its ideological premises (“Decision as Art”, “Presumption as Art”), with the instantaneous action (“fish”, water”, “measures”) the personality of the artist (the inscription “Raša Todosijević”) and the mythical figures of modern art (“R.Mutt”, Josephine Beuys”). Although the principal of osmosis of visual and verbal modes of expression is also found in paintings and watercolors, here it takes the form of the isomorphism of art expression and the phrase/title/signature, that are given as verbal In an interview Todosijević paradises M. Bećković’s thought that Kosovo is “the most expensive Serbian word” saying that “a lie is the most expensive Serbian word”. 41 The title of the work is the paraphrase of the inscription “Love France as France has loved us”, written on the monument of the gratitude of Serbian people to the French Republic erected in Belgrade after the First World War.
23 expressions incorporated in the art structure of the work. While in performances and installations text remains physically independent (either when it is written by hand or printed) of other elements of the structure of the work in a drawing it flows into the composition of the work as it is inscribed in the same manner and style following the curves of the drawing and its visual dynamics. Such practice of using a language tackles the problem of the very act of the pure visual perception because the verbal interpellation introduces the instance of reading as a justified form of the reception of the work. In other words Todosijević follows Burn and Ramsden’s thesis that in order to correctly understand linguistic operations in the field of conceptual art “one should comprehension the importance of the relation between the language we use and what (and how) we see.”42 The relation between the picture and text has been revised through a series of pseudoadverts and pseudo-commercials: not only has the artist employed the mass communication media for the first time in his career but like Hans Hackey, he has unmasked advertising as an essentially ideological act through the subversive imitation of its communicational and formative logic. Through the subversive imitation, Todosijević has both demonstrated and deconstructed processes of shaping the meaning in the area of mass communications, including the principle of the “cultural specification” reflected in the market dictum, “think globaly, act locally”. The promotion of imaginary products of a Serbian origin in a foreign language (Serboranges, Le fleur du cloaque) perverts the above mentioned dictum: the respect of the formal advertising conventions has not in this particular case served the purpose of mass persuasion but an ironical dissuasion, the open betrayal of the myth about the superiority of the Nation which was in these years – when the FR Yugoslavia was internationally isolated due to the economic sanctions of the United Nations – contaminated by governmental propaganda about the self-sufficiency and the ability of the national economy to fulfill the needs of the people. Todosijević literally uses the language as a system which both produces the meaning and the object of signifying which has been rotated in a nonsensical circle, of pseudopsedology, that is, Ian Burn & Mel Ramsden, “The Role of Language”, in Art in Theory, 879-881.
24 what Freud has called “the transformation of the function of signifying in the field of the language”, which could serve as a distinguishing feature of his lingual politics in general.
The Realm of Stray Symbols I am not a symbolist as I only use familiar symbols to create compositions of false symbolism. R. Todosijević The transformation of the job of signifying in the field of language stands in a close correlation with the use of familiar symbols (swastika, menorah, flag) and symbolic gestures (Washing clean feet with dirty water) which undergo a similar dislocating logic in which the original symbolical meaning is being renewed trough a dynamic interaction between its referential, structural and contextual value. The use of swastika – the emblematic symbol of totalitarianism - is specially suggestive in the cycle Gott liebt die Serben where where it is placed in juxtaposition with the other elements of the installation and the title of the cycle indicating the secret affinities of various historical formations of totalitarian conscience.43 Regardless of the sole meaning of the title of the Juxtaposing on the example of swastika and a Tito’s-era pioneer song, the swastika and the remix of the Serbian street music and Satiev’s piano compositions and so on. Also the use of a menorah in some works from the cycle Gott liebt die Serben alludes to the culturalracist character of the Serbian nationalism reflected in the belligerent blut and boden Milošević’s politics as in the anti-Semitism that at that time spread some of the Serbian right wing intellectuals. At the Seventh Exhibition of Yugoslav Sculpture in Pančevo Todosijević exhibited the flag of the Tito’s Yugoslavia (1993) in the scope of the installation Gott Liebt die Serben in combination with the noise of a sexual intercourse recorded on the tape. As regards the fact that the show was opened by the Minister of Culture of that time the tape recorder had to be turned off in spite of the artist’s protests, but the Minister was forced to give his speech in front of the flag (placed on the central gallery wall) of a country to whose disintegration the regime in power, that he himself represented, greatly contributed.
25 cycle, Todosijević again starts from the principle of “cultural specification” considering the historical, sociopolitical and cultural specifications of the environment in which he places his work. This principle is most clearly reflected in ironical messages written in local languages following the installation Gott liebt die Serben in various European cities; so in Berlin the work was followed by the message “Let us express our gratitude to Raša Todosijević. The citizens of Berlin” while in Ljubljana the artist himself has expressed in the same manner his own gratitude to the citizens of that city. 44 The cycle Gott liebt die Serben reached its perverse culmination at two shows- in ^ačak and Belgrade (1998)45 where Todosijević arranged ordinary restaurant tables in the shape of swastika on which the traditional Serbian meal (bean, bread and beer) was served at openings. This happening (after which untidy tables remained on the display)- which brings to mind – the totalitarian slogan “bread and games” (“bread and art”, in this case) – induced a unique Eucharist which placed the consumers of that meal in the position of taking a voluntary Communion with sacraments arranged on a totalitarian table. In other words Todosijević enacted the ritual of a “repressive de-sublimation” (Marcuse) by demonstrating live how the unrefined instinct could be put in service of the repressive apparatus by becoming dependent and unconsciously becoming an accomplice in totalitarian games through the loss of identity in collective rituals. For this reason a loaf of bread, which was also used in earlier works, is a symbolic object par excellence whose meaning vary according to the inside structure of the work and the changes of social ambience. While a loaf of bread was the symbol of a guaranteed existential minimum in the socialist Yugoslavia, that is, as a symbol of the proletariat who “never starves” in the
Showing swastika at the show Focus Belgrade in the Gallery IFA in Berlin (1998) , he ains at the confrontation of the local community with its own traumatic past. Altough it is forbidden to publicly show swastika in Germany the Directress of the gallery, Barbara Barsch , took that risk, not without fearing the possible reactions placing it on the wall right opposite the front door, visible even through the window of the gallery. 45 The shows were held in the “Memorial of Nade`da Petrović” in “Nade`da Petrović’s Gallery” in ^ačak and “Four-leaf clover” in the Museum “May 25th” in Balgrade.
26 Serbia under Milošević it signified the desire (hunger) of the population living in poverty and a general social pauperization. On the other hand, Todosijević has also produced original signs as in series of installations Schlafflage where in various materials, picked objects and compositions a visual sign has been created taking various forms from the minimalist tautology (threedimensional elements of painted wood, or black pictures), via constructions (sticks stuck into plaster) which bring to mind the “eccentric minimalism” of the late sixties to the “still nature” (live carp placed in fresh plaster which started stinking after several days so that the installation had to be dissembled). This hermetic sign, which has some from nowhere without bringing in almost any meaningful associations produces the sense of alienation in the viewer who remains virtually puzzled in absence of an interpretation and the abilities of the artist to create a completely private semiotic land or as Todosijević himself has explained, “a completely free territory”, “the only free area where a man could fully experience his own completeness.”46 In another article Todosijević puts forward a most radical attitude that it is not possible to entirely understand his work and that one should have the same kind of artistic experience in order to comprehend his ideas. On the other hand, the lack of clear indicators for deciphering signs opens space for a wide range of possible associations, so that some people in the very form of the sign Schlafflage – which introduces certain heraldic voices – recognize the symbol of totalitarian power which reflects the absolute control of meaning through abstraction.
What Would Be the Way to Tell the Truth? The art that celebrates the victory abandons the fight. R. Todosijević
Fra YU Kult.
27 The key question for the historical evaluation and critical interpretation of Todosijević’s art concerns relation between the art language and political engagement. It seems that Raša Todosijević himself offered in the article “Art and Revolution” a plain answer to this question when he wrote that the “role of art in society is inseparable from its own practice.”47 In other words he advocates here the “dialectic mechanism of self-analysis and self-criticism” which excludes every dichotomy between form and substance and understands art to be a unique form of empirical experience, an “integral part of the social practice”, that is, a revolutionary mechanism aimed at its qualitative transformation.”48 A typically avant-garde endeavor of Todosijević to organize a new artistic practice (P. Burger) bring along Marxist tones that reflect the spirit of the age when the critical discourse of art and philosophy (Praxis) in ex-Yugoslavia was aimed at correcting anomalies of practice of the social and art institutions and when it was generally believed that the system could be regenerated by critical interventions that would not question the essence of the ideology in power. So the idea of revolution in art language and the idea of revolution in society were for some time in a causative relation, but when after Tito’s death (1980) began the process of a gradual dissolution (and then a planned political demolition) of Tito’s ideology as a cohesive factor of the sociopolitical stability of the exYugoslav society the verbal position of an artist was changed because he started acting in the space of general polyphony that would lead to the bloody disintegration of the country and the rise of nationalistic ideologies. That is why Todosijević’s political engagement moves towards criticizing collective myths and their ideological agents that will indispensably result in changes in the language and tropes of communication. While the standpoint of an active cynicism” (J. Denegri) has marked the artist’s position at the time of the new artistic practice, the verbal position has gradually, and above all through the installation Gott liebt the Serben turned to something that could be called an active “kinism”49. The moment that the ideology in power itself becomes cynical (which was the case with Milošević) when, as Slavoj @i`ek observes, being aware of the space
“Umetnost i revolucija” (“Art and Revolution”). Ibid. 49 A variation of the word cinysm used by Peter
Sloterdajk, in Kritika ciničkog uma (The criticism of a Cynical Mind), Zagreb, 1992. In the text which follows would be spelled “kinism”
28 between the mask with which it has strategically covered the real and the reality itself still it can still find reasons to keep the mask on the cynical element of the opposition becomes irrelevant because the freedom of rotation becomes only a rhetorical play.50 That was the reason why Todosijević turned in the direction of a kinic position that could be explained in terms of Sloterdijk’s definition of kinism: “the classical kinic procedure means to confront pathetic phrases of the ruling ideology and its serious style with everyday banalities in order to show them as being ridiculous. 5150 If by the word cynic we understand a critical individual who “wants to be a scoundrel and chooses the politics of wrong-doing” (V. Jankelevič) then a kinic is, as Sloderdijk points out, a genial dialectic materialist who gives a new turning point to the fundamental question: what would be the way to tell the truth? Traditionally kinism is the instrument of the plebian, unintellectual mockery of the cultural values of the ruling class, that is, an act of pulling it down to the mud of the plebian daily existence, or “pissing in the opposite direction of the idealistic wind” (Sloterdijk). Rregardless of his own intention, Marcel Duchamp was the first great kinic of modern art whose act of bringing a pissoir into the gallery determined streams of future kinic operations in the twenty-century art. Todosijević’s undertaking is much more complex, closer to the carnival and comic type of kinism, because through techniques of juxtaposition, quotation and renaming creates a dynamic structure in which we again recognize the application of a cognitive method of dialectic materialism based on the convergence of the principal of dialectic analysis and synthesis. According to Lenin’s interpretation of Kapital, the causative relationship between these two methods causes the method of presentation (emphases by D.C.) which should trough presenting the “concrete truth” about each subject indicate its position in the total material reality.52
Slavoj @i`ek, The sublime object of Ideology, Verso, London/New York, 1992, 28-30. 51 Peter Sloterdajk, Kritika ciničkog uma (The criticism of a Cynical Mind), Zagreb, 1992, 108-116.
V. Lenin, Filofofske sveske (Philosophical note-books), Beograd, 334335.,
29 In the already mentioned article “Art and Revolution” Todosijević speaks about his conviction that the greatest art emerges in the most conflicting situations, but, we would add, even when the situation is not so antagonized an artist like Raša Todosijević would provoke a conflict of his own (not only with his works and articles, but by being ready to always say what is on his mind), a habit which has secured him the epithet enfant terriblea of the Serbian art scene. The key question “What is art?” imply that other equally important question, “What would be the way to tell the truth?” and they both define the space of Todosijević’s critically political art which has established itself as a singular epistemological model unprecedented in the twenty-century Serbian art.
INTRODUCTION, TWO STORIES AND THE FOOTNOTES
30 INTRODUCTION With regard to our superior knowledge of physical laws it would not be blasphemous to say that no particle of the infinite Universe can be at two places at the same time. An ordinary dead-man, limited by general physical laws and particular features of his posthumous being could lay in the same place for years. That very same body as a physical entity in the broadest sense could not lie simultaneously in thirty religious establishments, as the case may be with certain remarkable saints. Our dear God, who is omnipresent and has the power of overlooking the Universal landscape thanks to his unique substance which he has possessed since the day time immemorial along with the ability to be present at millions of places simultaneously and to carry out millions of heterogeneous tasks and mutually conflicting activities at the same time. Knowing this old hierarchy we understand that a small dead-man, a so-called mors minor, is at the bottom lowest grade and thus most negligent; his negligence gives him the opportunity of fast decay, and as regards saints, an advantage in time in their incessant race for speedily reach the gaseous condition. As the above-mentioned rules are clear to everyone and present the truth for which no evidence is necessary the reader could accept them as an axiom, or God’s thought which is beyond questioning. However, the undeniable existence of the “world paradox” where the famous Unsuspecting is the generator of all suspicion a door opens for doubt leading us to conclude that with a neat combination of moral principles along with general physical laws one could easily deny the exactness of the mentioned axiom. In short: in space of the general axiological causation of the Universe we claim that all the answers to secrets of nature lie in our belief, and by no means in supernatural phenomena. SIR MORGAN If, for instance, Sir Joseph Morgan come home late and tipsy, his wife Lady Morgan will immediately ask where he was. Sir Morgan will tell her that he was at the
31 cinema. He will tell her that he got drunk at the cinema while he was watching a melodrama in which the director tried hard to accurately represent historical facts. If you ask Amalie fon Leithner, Sir Morgan’s lover, where Sir Morgan could spend that evening, she will at once swear on the Bible that that particular night between nine and eleven thirty Joseph was at her apartment (Bassett Rd. 7), or more precisely, in her bed. She will also confirm that they listened to the second broadcast of the Coronation of Elizabeth of Windsor, drinking beer that Joseph had bought on the corner in KPH (Kensington Park Hotel) while a little later they moved on to her reserves of gin, but this minor details go beyond the borders of our topic. Every impartial, mature and reasonable person, someone who is not affected by Sir Morgan’s sexual adventures, and even less by the immeasurable wealth of the ugly and bonny Lady Morgan, cold as Swedish iron, will understand that the honorable Sir Morgan was on that night simultaneously in two far away London quarters. That person will remind you, just to prove that she is educated as Mr. Umberto Ecco – that in that respect the United Kingdom and the Anglican Church are not an exception. She will point to the case of Lenin’s Arc about which once there were numerous accounts in Petrograd papers before that Revolution in Russia. Many people saw Lenin flying like a bird in cabin of a ship, which was one of the famous dreadnaughts. Witnesses saw two Lenins, it was most probably double-acting, and one of them had the mitra from Constantinople on his head and a shepherd rod in his teeth, while the other Lenin, the one who was closer to the crowd brandished with an axe as if he was fighting with a bear. Everything is clear now. While Sir Morgan was rolling in bed with Amalie fon Leithner, that same Sir Morgan, his integral version, an existence no less self-aware and revered than the Sir Morgan who indulged in Amalie’s charming body was confortably sitting during that same two hours and thirty minutes in a red plush seat of the cinema “Rex” (tenth row, middle, seat no. 5) and drinking old English gin (swallowing the liquid directly from the bottle) was shedding bitter tears over the destiny of the heroine in the movie “The orphan-girl from Lowood”.
Sir Morgan’s simultaneous entertainment at a number of places (Sex, movie, alcohol) and an unpleasant home argument (Lady Morgan) still remain and disperse inside the distinct boundaries of his family life without any obvious consequence on the environment, class dynamics, political system, economic growth, or finally, the place of Britain in the post-war Europe. This is a story about, as you have correctly guessed, respectable middle class people, Joseph’s infidelity, and a banal triangle, a situation to which even the stale charm of an aristocrat ambience could not add importance. In the next example, the case of the double existence of a Solomon Rozenquist where we witness an unmerciful battle for the “power at any cost”, where the intellectual discourse and religious fanaticism have descended to the underground and sewerage becoming a rude hooligan jargon of mad peasants, double existence has turned into mortal danger, something which muddles reason, stops the clock and induces millions of spirits to fight until extinction. A declaration of an anonymous patriot who announced in front of the grocery shop “Beca”, “I do not need either a pistol or a gun I like breaking their necks with axe” serves as a very accurate illustration of this sub-human darkness. Let us put things in order. Contemporary historians tend for unknown reasons to either neglect or hush or lump together with unimportant, decorous trifles and unconfirmed adventures the little known Petrograd anecdote from the life of Vladimir Ilič Lenin, recorded in books under a confusing heading Lenin’s Arc. The main characters of this story are the already mentioned journalist Solomon Rozenquist, his boss and the editor of the Petrograd Gazette, Petar Ivanovič Je` (Hedgehog), and certainly Vladimir Ilič Lenin, the angry Vlad, the nasty Simbirsk tongue, a revolutionary, economist, sociologist, philosopher, prophet, inspirer, pioneer, leader, Messiah, road sign and the cultural hero of the October Revolution, the personality which many people consider even today to be the true God of the deprived proletariat. According to Solomon’s account recorded thirteen years later on the occasion of his police hearing during May and June 1927 it happened as follows:
33 “At twenty to eight on the morning of January 12th, 1915 a handsome young man unexpectedly came to our office carrying a white coat over one arm and a letter from comrade Vladimir Ilič. I knew comrade Vladimir Ilič from before. Vladimir Ilič liked the company of artists and could sing very nicely gipsy songs in the journalists club. He promised the gypsies an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of the Gypsies, naturally only after the beheading of Nikolaj and the other Romanovs. He even showed me in confidence a small American razor with which he could carry out with his own tender, feminine hand this bloody deed. I clenched my teeth, looked him in the eyes and said: “Let us make a toast!” Comrade Lenin informed me in the letter that he was going to make a performance for masses at ten o clock, “at the familiar place”, by the Neva, so that it would have been nice if I could have come along and make the account of the event for my newspaper. I offered tea and a roll to the courier. He put the roll into his pocket and left the tea untouched. Knowing that Vladimir is a universal figure, somebody like Carrucci, I went to the indicated place at the mentioned time. I told Sejmon Pavlovič that I would not be back in the office before twelve. It was snowing but I gave up the idea of hiring a fiacre because I was very poor in these days. When I got there I saw comrade Lenin standing a little away from the mob and feverishly explaining something to the gathered crowd. In spite of the fact that it was quite cold outside, fifty degrees below zero, a little more than seven hundred thousand people, mainly from the working class and peasant descent, gathered there. Vlad (as Solomon called Vladimir Ilič) stood with his back towards the crowd. It seemed to me that he was wriggling his bottom while pointing with his right hand at a barge which was anchored right by the bank. Next to me the famous Vladimir Vladimirovič Majakovski was standing, or, to be accurate hopping. It was not Vladimir Vladimirovič Majakovski, the poet, but Vladimir Vladimirovič Majakovski, a prose writer and an agriculturist, in his own person. Then the comrade Vladimir Ilič walked slowly and carefully the narrow and slippery plank, previously scattered with ashes, holding hands on his hips like a Spanish dancer and stepped into the boat. Some people applauded. He stood on the deck for exactly two minutes. I consulted the big watch on the wall that futurists brought from
34 somewhere. They carried that watch about as a coffin. “Inside this watch lies the old time”, said one of them, “so I am going to bury it. When the new time arrives you can suck my cock.” He put weights between his legs and started moving them as if they were testicles. I think that that man was that crop eared Vladimir Vladimirovič Majakovski, the poet. Ilič turned to us calling out that he would enter trough one door and go out alive and unhurt trough other. All noises died down but for a hushed cough which occasionally broke the silence during which fear crept into everyone’s heart while above our heads several ominous ravens went on flying in the gray sky of the Russian Empire. Then comrade Lenin, head bent, entered the front door, and an hour later went out on the back door, joyful and unhurt. I saw everything with my own eyes since I pushed trough the crowd right to the front row using my journalist pass. Everybody was dumbfounded. The guy left the cabin alive and well. Someone shouted, and I am now certain that that person was comrade Zinovlev: “A miracle! Have you seen the miracle, men?! Can’t you see? Comrade Lenin brings miracles!” There was pushing and tossing, an unbearable din and dangerous squabble, but the police was nowhere to be seen. Noticing that there was no one on the barge while the horrified people were still on the bank, taking the advantage of a general confusion, a real futuristic pun, comrade Lenin started to fill a big sack with small pieces of coal as if it was pure gold. To make a resume: I am strongly convinced that what happened was a real, actual miracle, not a trick or illusion. I saw comrade Lenin entering trough the front door and leaving trough the opposite one, on the river side. I saw him smiling and stroking his beard. He was obviously satisfied by the outcome of the drama. I also saw two police agents dressed in white angels robes, but the devils, as they were, quickly disappeared in the mist. I did not dare think at that time would could have happened if comrade Lenin had not left that black hole of the ship. A bloody revolution would break out, or the Doomsday would come. Russians would start killing their brothers. The Revolution and, consequently the creation of the Soviet Union would not be possible without comrade Lenin. I think only that the name of the ship that was at that time owned by Aleksandar Aleksandrovič Remizov was not “The Arc” but simply the barge no. 17. I worked for
35 three years in the company Remizov and that is why I knew very well how his barges looked like. The old Ramizov instructed his men to paint all the barges in blue, the Greek style…” Contrary to Solomonov’s sharp eye for detail and brilliant writing skill comrade Hedgehog, whom his collaborators called Fat Hedgehog, claimed before the investigator at a separate hearing concerning the same event, that on that particular morning Solomon had not moved his lazy journalistic ass from the office before twelve and for this reason he justly doubted everything what Solomon had said. Ivanovič was convinced that Solomon was an incorrigible liar. Nevertheless, Petar Ivanovič did not doubt that what had happened with comrade Lenin was the truth, or that it had happened just as Solomon said. He was sure that Solomon told only the truth, from the beginning to the end, but he knew that Solomon Rozenquist lied whenever he opened his mouth. Ivanovič said that Solomon was not an eye witness since he did not see the event with his own eyes because at the time of Lenin’s brave endeavor he dozed by the stove, complaining about the headache and hangover. Petar Ivanovič expressed the opinion that every story would lose some of its authenticity by retelling. First, all those events happened in August, not in January and the steamer did not belong to old Remzin but to [iškin. Second, Solomon mentioned some seven hundred thousand people. That was not true either. Ivanovič was certain that there had been much more, perhaps two million. Third, the police massacred people by sabers, the fact which Solomon had hushed up mentioning some angels and some squabble in his article. As for himself, Solomon declared in writing that it was not a surprise that Fat Hedgehog said what he said because on January 12th, 1915 he was away on a funeral feast of a late Andrej Hitrov, which was, in fact the funeral feast of Andrej’s brother in law Aleksej, and for this reason the fellow could not know who among the employees were leaving the premises on that particular morning. Solomon added that he never celebrated Christmas nor had the habit of getting drunk on religious holidays like comrade Hedgehog. ***
36 The essential meaning of this document, which is a text full of insertions, upsidedown images, anachronisms and inventions, whose unrefined seams and thick, clumsily woven treads reflect someone’s haste and the work of a slovenly and careless mind, warns that one should stop and carefully separate a bunch of awkward falsifications from the original spirit of the message. Perhaps someone considered it important to lead the reader to conclude that Solomon, whoever he was, managed by his pace through the time/space disorder to bring from there (God knows where from) a grain of sense, a red hot particle of truth while the stout Hedgehog, who was not at all inclined towards poetry, lying as he would, vanished in this muddle. Petar Ivanovič put the hand on his chest swearing that what he said was true. Petar Ivanovič drank the stale water from a green glass rubbing the dandruff on the crown of his head with his fingers and sniveling so as to persuade the police interrogator that he was an honest Soviet citizen because he did not and would not have other country apart from this. Why would he change all this beauty for some Finland? Ivanovič swore that he had seen comrade Lenin hovering above the Neva. He was convincing the interrogator that he was innocent as an unborn child and for this reason he would not like, for his children’s sake, his name being dragged about Courts of Law. While Solomon Rozenkquist who was certainly unaware of his supernatural powers, was dozily sitting by the stove and while at the same fatal hour that same Solomon was pacing along the icy river with empty pockets there came our second Lenin drinking vodka on the deck of Leonid Surikov’s red yacht biting pickled cucumbers, singing patriotic songs, peering trough the window and bringing about inconceivable miracles. Millions of USSR people could say the same starting from that hesitant Grigorije Jefesejevič who declared for Pravda that he was not sure if he himself was on that particular day in Leningrad, or even in Russia, for that matter, but he was certain that comrade Vladimir Ilič traveled a lot and was in Geneva on that day, and then briefly stopped at Zimmervald and perhaps he was, why not, secretly in Petrograd about which every curious reader of Pravda could find information in every local encyclopedia. Beograd, September 2nd, 1997 R. Todosijević
1) A real and outstanding record in multitudinousness of simultaneously dwellings at different locations beat an already diseased virgin and martyr Philomena. Not so long ago, in the fifties, the fact was revealed that St. Philomena rested in fifty places. Some people said she succeeded in beating the record due to the hard labor and great diligence of a certain prior, while others said, perhaps justly, that the prior’s archeological amateurishness, in fact the early stage of the archeological science of that time, along with the unforgivable scanty knowledge about complex symbolism of the Western Christianity were fundamental for Philomena’s record. According to the available records, which we can only partly rely on, Miss. Filomena’s tomb was found in the catacombs of St. Priscile in 1802. Philomena’s miraculousness, full of attractive details, was first known in the parish Nole and from there it quickly spread worldwide. One could not blame the mentioned prior; he was deeply and truly convinced that Philomena deserved to be proclaimed Saint because he believed in the reputation of his own faith about which he could not say that it was in any way better than faith in general. So, according to the legend, if the prior’s daydreams could be called a legend, Philomena was a Christian and a virgin who Roman soldiers, threw into the Tibar because of her conviction that Jesus Christ was the only God, which was not a rear case among the religiously fanaticized Romans. If those same Romans were, God forbid, a little more broad minded in matters of faith, and allowed Philomena to believe what she would she would never become a saint nor would the prior have a reason to create the story about her unhappy life. Philomena was portrayed in art works as a young girl by the river holding several lilies, an anchor and three arrows. Her cult was officially confirmed and approved in 1838. Exactly one hundred and twenty years later several independent research groups found that a great number of books had been published in various languages about her pious life. It was finally confirmed that St, Philomena had never existed and that her
38 sacred life story, full of exciting details about the religious persistency of the first Christians, was an entirely invented creation brought great and very concrete benefits to the monastery of Munian. When the Pope Paul VI learned about this case of doubtful sacredness, or, to put it diplomatically, for the blunders of others on the papal throne, he issued a decree by which Philomena, along with two hundred more names, was to be erased from the list of the acknowledged saints of the Roman Catholic Church. How did it all happen? The Pope publicly announced that previous Popes had occasionally made mistakes which was contrary to the dogma about the Papal sinlessness. Consequently we are all sinless until the reverse is proved. Contrary to us, mortals Papal purity can be questioned only posthumously since during his lifetime he would not and could not accept a judge other than God. By a single gesture the Pope annulled the former sacred substance of the nonexistent Philomena, leaving the total of eighty ordinary remains of anonymous women of unknown descent and biography behind. The power of a Pope, as the outcome of the reputations of all previous Popes as far back as St. Peter, had enough magic to turn eighty simultaneous existences of St. Philomena into eighty secular deceased women who were less important for the foundations of the Church and the Christian religion in general. The act of faith created and elevated St. Philomena. Her sacredness was abolished by that same act of faith, without hesitation and she was “personally” returned into nonexistence by the Pope’s magic where she had come from. The case of Philomena in which only one word could create and annul someone’s sacredness is fairly clear, although it is not clear who will give the money back to the worshipers who were investing it for a hundred and thirty years in the vain hope to be healed. Blind men gave money in order to have their sight back, sterile women in order to conceive and the crippled in order to walk again while Philomena did not even existed. If one counts the money and adds the one-century interest to the total sum one can get a really big amount of reputation. Some call it faith, some call it patriotism and the money goes to someone else’s purse. However something has to be done quickly so as to protect St. Nikola and Marcel Duchamp from the irresponsible Popes, Roman curia and Russian Masons.
39 If 50% of Orthodox Serbs and twenty millions Ortodox Russians celebrate even today St. Nikola’s day regardless of the fact that he prosecuted those nasty restaurant owners who, for money’s sake served for dinner children roasts instead of expensive lamb to their customers we should keep in mind that the superintendent of one of the four pillars of the Vatican intelligence service called Pro Deo was a man called Monsingor Giovanni Montini, the archbishop of Milan and later the Pope Paul VI, who, building a sacred protective wall before the Communist advance, the so-called Peter’s wall, a contemporary equivalent to the Great Wall, denied on his own free will the sacredness of Nikola of Bari, that is, our St. Nikola. From the bucket of true faith the Pope threw, along with the dirty water of unfaith, also our St. Nikola. Since the Orthodox people who were on the other side of that virtual wall thought that the Pope’s battle against the Communism and the Communist dictatorship was in fact the battle against the Orthodox religion it would be interesting to discover where that conclusion had come from. Now the bishop of Mire, the late Nikola, is for some people an ordinary mortal man although once a high-ranking church official, and for others he is still a saint, the protector of sailors, chauffeurs, travelers and roasted children. A Mr. X, an old man and a scientist, the writer of the multi-volumed European History, a man of the world, a sworn bachelor, a lonely, almost isolated man in his vain belief in humanity and the honesty of advertising, bought at the market in his native Lurd, the most recent Polish invention, a magical powder for washing carpets. As soon as the next day Mr. X realized that the box with the inscription “Magical powder” written on it contained ordinary washing powder not an inch better than the one which you could buy in any profane Polish supermarket. He, a man from Lurd, of all people should have known what miracles and wonders were. The miracle and the faith lasted as long as an old carpet by its irrefutably proved dirtiness did not in an instant dispersed the miraculous reputation of the Polish washing powder and along with it our old dream about an easy and quick road to purity. That was all about M. Duchamp.
40 2) In the Russian Empire as far back as the Kiev times and the age of old dukes it was a common habit among the Orthodox people to be simultaneously at a number of distant locations. The Federal Republic of Serbia is also full of examples, seasoned by the special Balkan charm, of those multiple existences. A gentlemen known by his pseudonym Zeppelin, an ex-high ranking official of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, claims that he, along with about two million of the like-minded people was a victim of criminal activities of the members of the Communist Party that he also belonged to. As time went by he was all the more convinced in his martyrized as well as tyrannical past; in fact, Mr. Zeppelin thinks that he existed simultaneously at two physically, spiritually, legally and politically different places. This is the reason why Mr. Zeppelin has two pasts today, that is to say, two life stories, two biographies, two reputations that he can use at will. He uses one of them in order to emphasize his unmerciful battle against tyranny, and the other to remind people that there has never been and never will be more a worthier guardian of Socialistic values than him. While in Russia, due to its immense Eurasian areas, a person can simultaneously be in Moscow and a hundred kilometers away, which clears every doubt about the double existence in the victim/tyrant, or notorious case of Mr. Zeppelin one deals with moderate, centimeter distances. This is a matter of bars and their thickness. A hairsplitter would worn you that in case of double existing one should not worry if the person is duplicated at a ten-centimeter or ten thousand kilometers distance. He or she would argue, that the act of duplication is what matters not the empty space between those ideally made duplications. There are certain Balkan particularities. Contrary to the Russians who can stand beyond their own horizons due to the excessively wide bosom of their mother-Russia, and that due to natural curves of the planets everyone could be on the other side of the horizon, Mr. Zeppelin who has been indispensably squeezed by the spiritual/geographical limits of the small Serbia has always been forced to look himself in the eyes from the viewpoint of a victim and from the throne of a cop at the same time.
41 According to Mr. Zeppelin theories, not far away from the most recent scientific learning, every political program that does not pay enough attention to the celestial laws is inevitably sentenced to failure. To prove his observations Mr. Zeppelin points to gravitation – the force of mutual attraction between people in - and its fatal effects on our sociopolitical situation. 3) “at ten o’clock, by the Neva, ‘at the familiar place’… Here we deal with the almost classical problem of the complexity of temporary-symbolical coincidences. In the radio broadcast “On Sunday at ten” on the first channel of Radio Belgrade (June 1997), listeners could hear an interesting one-hour scientific-political reportage about sixty frogs of the artificial lakes near Bela crkva. According to the accounts of an anonymous reporter, those sixty frogs of Bela crkva submitted a request in the written form for membership in the Serbian Socialist Party. Amphibians (Rana esculenta) referred to Lenin and his famous Ark in which, as in the Noah’s there was enough space for all kinds of beings, even for their distant Russian relatives. No one believed in that pseudoscientific invention, here where like in a fable some green frogs allegedly speak Serbian, write in Cyrillic alphabet, have political opinions and even refer to important historical precedents. But, there were those shrewder listeners who knew from the experience that they dealt here with the case of a hidden meaning of an encoded message. The confusion was due to the similarity in names between the Russian river Neva and the shallow river Nera which crosses the Serbian-Rumanian border in the vicinity of Bela crkva. As the Nera is not a navigable river and that could be forded in summer months it served as a common crossing for political dissidents during the occasional disputes between the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Later the Nera proved to be a popular smugglers point of the political heirs of the two Communist Parties – of Russia and of Yugoslavia. The assembly of the presented documentation narrows the space for suppositions and leads to the conclusion that the encoded message of the story in the radio broadcast “on Sunday at ten” could mean a panicky call for a so-called frog’s jump, or, which would be equally probable, “an agreed smugglers sign with the following meaning: “At ten o’ clock by the Nera, at the familiar place, we are taking across
42 sixty trunks with Frogs1!” To remove every possibly doubt about the meaning we would add that the word “Frog” or “Froggy” in the Serbian political jargon mean a kind of low Italian shoes.
Dejan Sretenović Born in Belgrade in 1962. Graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy at the Belgrade University, the department of Art History. In the period of 1988-1994 worked as the curator of the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Belgrade. The Director of Center of Contemporary Art in Belgrade (2000-2001). Currently works as the main curator in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade. He was a member of the editorial team of the magazine for visual culture New Moment (1993-1997). Prepared the edition Art in Yugoslavia 1992-1995 (1997), collected papers New Reading of Icons (1999) and a volume of collected articles of Lev Manovič Metamedia (2001). Published a great number of articles in home and foreign periodicals (Delo, Moment, Culture, Košava, Vreme, Reč, Moscow art magazine, etc) catalogues of one-man and group shows and collected papers (Pop vision, [etnja u mestu, East-West Internet, etc). He organized a number of exhibitions at home and abroad.
a Frogg – an Italian
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