Omitted History 2005
This case study is focusing on utopia from reverse, historical perspective. It is actually a follow up of the project led by New Media Center_kuda.org (Novi Sad), in cooperation with Playground production (Novi Sad), and is dedicated to revealing, analyzing and preserving cultural and intellectual heritage of former Yugoslavia, based on discussion of history in the former Yugoslav states, especially of left-oriented movements, intellectuals and cultural production and their relevance for current politics and society. The case study will comprehend several conversations/film interviews in between leading intellectuals from socialists Yugoslavia and later period.
The discussion “Omitted History” held in November 2005 in Novi Sad at the opening of the exhibition “The Continuous Art Class, The Novi Sad Neo-Avantgarde of 1960’s and 1970’s”.
By Branka Ćurčić
How ready are we to learn from our mistakes from the past? How important is it to position positive historical elements as a model for the future, especially when we speak about the freedom and progressive cultural and social practices? These are just some of the questions initiated during the discussion which was intended to throw a light on crucial events on the political and artistic scenes at the beginning of the seventies of the twentieth century in former Yugoslavia, yet on the other hand, to offer the proposals for a model on how to critically read and write new history of the Yugoslav socialist times, connecting it to the present situation. One year after the Exibition “The Continuous Art Class” and the discussion “Omitted History” in Novi Sad, the transcript of the discussion is published in new, bilingual publication edited by Center_kuda.org, as a part of long-term research “The Continuous Art Class”.
The biggest part of the publication is dedicated to the transcript of the debate “Omitted History”, where speakers were Želimir Žilnik – movie director and debate’s moderator from Novi Sad, Miško Šuvaković – art theorist and professor of aesthetics and art theory at the University of Belgrade, Latinka Perović – historian from Belgrade, Zvonko Maković – art historian, chief of art history department at the Zagreb Philosophy Faculty, Balint Szombathy – multimedia artist from Novi Sad and Budapest and Lazar Stojanović – movie director from Belgrade and New York. The debate itself was, on one hand, very emotional since it gathered people who were activits, artists and friends among each other during 1960’s and 1970’s. On the other hand, which is much more important, it came out as a quite succesful discussion, which brought to the light different and some of the crucial references that are leading to the further reading of Yugoslav socialists times and art practices within it. One could say that there were several streams, positions taken in this debate. In the attempt to analyze art practices during socialists times, there is a position that predominantly tries to link those practices to the main streams of European and world’s conceptual art scene, which, if we are talking about the begining of the 1970’s, was already institucionalized and it became desirable part of art market. In this light, Šuvaković position is very important saying that “Novi Sad neoavangarde belonged to the last big wave of international late-modernistic utopian and actionists art just before apperance of postmodern… Conceptual art was the discourse which gave international meaning to this production…” Luckely, there were other readings of those practices as well, mostly observing them from political, economic and socio-philosophical stand points of those times; from the position of “international culture, new left, underground culture, post ’68”, of Praxis group and Korčula Summer School, etc. stressing that exactly those movements were crucial for apperance and development of political practices in Yugoslav art.
In that sense, one of the important remarks stressed both by Žilnik and Stojanović was that there was an attempt “to find a solution that would clearly distinguish Yugoslavia from Moscow, from the Eastern Bloc, the camp, but which would preserve all the values that were pointed out as the values of the revolution, and which would, also, clearly distinguish such a country from a capitalist state and from the standard multi-party democracy and civic democracy.” Stojanović thinks that there were two parallel tracks. One was developed on the basis of non-alignment – if you are in neither block, there is a chance to create a third block, and so it led to the Non-aligned Movement. The other track was self-management. Trying to find fundaments (and justification in the same time) in early marxism was important step in searching for a theoretical basis of defining the identity of the new Yugoslavia, where culture belonged. As a crucial event in that sense, Stojanović observes economic reforms which took place in 1965 and which became exceptionally important, because among other things, borders were suddenly open and people were allowed to travel. “The decision to let people travel freely was not based on the standpoint that somebody wanted to give the people freedom to freely go abroad and say something that the authorities could not control, but to solve the problem of latent unemployment or the fictitious employment rate. The entire Eastern Bloc suffered from this, even Yugoslavia.” This also meant opening of the whole country, espeacially liberation of its culture where free press, cinematography, art production, limitless fashion styless started to happen publicly. This was the period when culture in former Yugoslavia started to flourish, when the most progressive art practices, magazines, movies, intercultural cooperations and exchanges took place. According to Stojanović, this was the time of clear liberalism of political ideas,” but primarily because of the economic liberalism, because these people stood for the freedom of running a business and respecting the professional values and norms and legal procedure. So, this democracy had a certain form that was not authoritative but liberal, and liberals involved culture there. But, this period ended, in a way, with a second break, which was decission at the political high-level structures to stop those reforms and the most visible consequence taking place was fireing from their positions of all the people who opposed to this break, wheter they were actors of political or cultural scene.
One could say that cultural production in former Yugoslavia functioned in a kind of “reservoirs of freedom” which were created and maintained by the state decissions. Still, many great things happened in these reservoirs such were Student Centre in Zagreb, Tribina Mladih in Novi Sad, Student Cultural Centre in Belgrade and later on ŠKUC in Ljubljana, where youth culture and artists neo-avangarde practices flourished. One of the mechanisms of keeping the whole system functioning without major excesses is a kind of “cultural policies” that have existed in this specific cultural territory. According to Šuvaković, “the emancipating and free-thinking neo-avant-garde of the group ‘OHO’ was realised through its activity in Zagreb, Belgrade, and above all in Novi Sad, because in Ljubljana they were really subversive. By transferring it into other regions, it was becoming a good example of highly aesthetical art practice and production.” This was clearly sophisticated mechanism of cultural policies that was enableing artists to realise their subversive activities in another surrounding, where it would be realised but it would also loose its edge. It is mechanism of de-contextualisation of art activity.
“Political Practices of (post-) Yugoslav Art”
The main basis for the research named as “Political Practices of (post-) Yugoslav Art” is the fact that there was a strong cause-consequence relationship of the mentioned practices and the then official political system, which is the main reason for the overview of the wider social and political context of the time as an integral part of this project. As those practices existed in different parts of Yugoslavia, a need arose for their detailed examination on the entire Yugoslav territory. This fact is one of the reasons to initiate an over-research project named “Political Practices of (post-) Yugoslav Art”, commenced by the “Prelom Kolektiv” group from Belgrade, “What, How and for Whom” from Zagreb, “pro.ba/SCCA” from Sarajevo and New Media Center_kuda.org from Novi Sad, all of which are very actively analysing mainly local practices of that time.
The aim of this research work is to critically study the heritage of cultural, artistic and intellectual projects of former Yugoslavia as to extract positive and valuable aspects from it. Instead of practicing neo-liberal multiculturalism politics of folkloristic “getting to know the Other(s)” and live with them in a kind of peaceful coexistence – which obviously go hand in hand with the still prevailing nationalism and chauvinism, the research will be focused on the possibilities of reviving the creative and progressive experiences that existed on the cultural, artistic and intellectual scenes in former Yugoslavia. Therefore, in the research of historical and political, artistic and cultural processes in former Yugoslavia and how are those perceived and utilized nowadays, there is a struggle to exit the cul-de-sac of doubly bound discourses of global neo-liberalism and local ethno-nationalism. The usual post-Socialist discourse supports the dominant neo-liberal views on socialist Yugoslav modernism as unilaterally totalitarian and authoritarian. Also, local nationalist and chauvinist discourses present the Yugoslav socialist modernism as a mere tool of dictatorship and tyranny. This is exactly where post-socialist neo-liberal and nationalist discourses meet. The project “Political Practices of (post-) Yugoslav Art” is dedicated to re-discovering and setting the problems again regarding the political context of cultural, artistic and intellectual production as opposed to such simplifying and futile stand-points.
Common notion of both speakers at the “Omitted History” debate and actors of research “Political Practices of (post-) Yugoslav Art” is clear determination of abandoning derogatory attitude towards Yugoslav socialists past. This was exactly the reason why exactly members of those four cultural organizations from former Yugoslav territory were speakers at the promotion of the book “Omitted History”. Among other subjects, some important issues were raised, such are facing contradictions of Yugoslav socialists times, defyning socialists achievements as well as contemporary cultural practces from the position of East European cultural producers embracing the right to “produce universalities”, realizing why conceptual art practices are, in most of the cases, already parts of university education and museum policies, and here it is still something disturbing, unpleasant and unexeptable, etc.
“Yugoslavia as State of Exception”
Starting with the practice of inviting other researchers from similar fields to cooperate in this future research, this publication also has included the paper by Petar Milat and Tomislav Medak from Zagreb Multimedia Institute, which are a part of their more extensive research about “Yugoslavia as a Bio-political Experiment” where they speak about two essays – about the “New Class” by Milovan Đilas and about “Yugoslavia, an Unfinished State” by Zoran Đinđić – both of which, according to them “explicate social-philosophical issues that are tied to the destiny of a formation that used to be called Yugoslavia (…) Therefore, what is ‘Yugoslavia’ as a (social-) philosophical issue from the perspective of globalisation…?” This is where the authors discuss the need to analyse “Yugoslavia” as a social experiment, “which has probably … left us the legacy of a distinctive potential for emancipation” and in that sense they ask whether it is possible to re-philosophise the topic of “social revolution” outside the frame of bio-politics.
More about publication “Omitted History”
Title: Omitted History
Editor: New Media Center_kuda.org, Novi Sad
Languages: Serbian, English
Publisher and distributor: Revolver, Frankfurt, Germany, www.revolver-books.de
Year of publishing: 2006
Print run: 500
Free download of the book in the PDF format:
Publication “Omitted History” has been realised with the support of Daniel print, Novi Sad and European Cultural Foundation, Amsterdam and it is integral part of its art programe “Almostreal”.
Important further links:
Publication “Omitted History”:
The project “Political Practices of (Post-) Yugoslav Art”: