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De/re/construction: space, time, memories

Aneta Stojnic & Nikola Dedic »

Participating artists:

Marina Gržinić
TkH (Walking Theory)
Danilo Prnjat
The Culture of Memory and Andrea Palasti
The Monument Group
Four Faces of Omarska
Jelena Vesić
Dubravka Sekulić
The Context Collective
Center for New_Media

The project De/re/construction: space, time, memories was initiated as the main program of 15th Biennial of Art in Pancevo, (Serbia) in September 2012.[1] We see the transformation of this exhibition into a new online format for the ARTSLAB 3 as an important new step in our work towards rethinking the contemporary ex-Yugoslav society in the light of the distinctive process of transition from self-governing socialism to neoliberal capitalism. With this exhibition we tried to critically deconstruct the causes of the brake-down of the "Yugoslav project" and to re-think the politics of memory relating to that historical event. We find this aspect crucial as the power over memory is the power over identity, the power over the fundamental ways in which society seeks evidence of what its core values are in what they used to be, whilst memory space becomes a space in which social power is negotiated, where it is challenged, denied or confirmed. This could be constituted in the context of the present time which are necessarily ideological. This is why the space of memory always has to be critically re-examined, deconstructed, and reconstructed anew. Therefore our intentions are not aimed towards nostalgia over some "concrete utopia", but towards "re-reading" Yugoslavia in the light of the current national-capitalistic consensus and its consequences. Today, Yugoslavia as well as the class nature of the Yugoslav project function as a traumatic, "suppressed" point of the neoliberal consensus. In this exhibition we present artists, projects, initiatives, platforms, activist collectives and informal groups that use art to articulate political thinking about the past and present of the former Yugoslavia, as a specific kind of re-politicization of the Yugoslav narrative. We assembled this seemingly heterogeneous group of participants around our two main theses:

1. the thesis about art as a (counter)public sphere;
2. the thesis about rethinking Yugoslavia as a narrative that can open a path towards critical action in the current historical moment.

One of our main intentions in this exhibition is to try to think art as a public sphere. As an initial point of reference we took Habermas' concept of the public that understands it as the space for the correction of the state government.[2] However, as a member of the Frankfurt School Habermas recognizes a significant lack of the traditional liberal conception of the public: the democracy of a certain society depends not only on the degree of (the lack of) knowledge, and the (un) awareness of the citizens, but also on the economic and political system of power, i.e. the redistribution of social wealth.

This problem was recognized by Marx, who had an ambivalent view towards the bourgeois concept of the public. It is the moment when informing is replaced by the production of goods (particularly the so-called products of the "cultural industry"), and when the political decision-making process is replaced by the principle of the generation of the market: what we have there is the privileging of the reproduction of surplus value at the expense of the democratic political decision-making process which involves the process of the commercialization of the media and the spectacularization of the public sphere with the aim of the reproduction of class relations of power. Marx recognized that the public sphere and the capitalistic state are constituted in one and the same act, that is, within the capitalist system of production, politics is integrated into the realm of consumption and the public sphere is transformed into ideology.

The specificity of the capitalist transition in Serbia is a process of privatization of the state by political elites, which is characterized by a symbiosis between the political parties and large, monopolistic capital (the "tycoons"). Thus the transition is characterized by the systematic usurpation of the state by parties and big capital. The consequence of the neoliberal transition in Serbia is the creation of particracy instead of democracy, a dysfunctional state and, most importantly, class stratification and formation of a meagre transitional bourgeoisie, with the parallel pauperization of the majority of the population. In the transitional circumstances, the current political and economic elite functions as a new class, while the dysfunctional public sphere is an element in the reproduction of capitalist relations of power.

Therefore we invited those artistic platforms that open suppressed questions within the "official public sphere": the distribution of social wealth, the privatization of public goods, as well as the class power relations in the process of neoliberal transition. These are the projects that relate to the space of art as a form of counter-public sphere, which means that marginalized societies are acting within the space of art by creating communities that transgress that which is allowed and depoliticized in order to interfere in the capitalist public sphere abused by the élites.[3]
One typical example of the "contamination" of the public sphere within contemporary national-capitalistic societies is the narrative about socialist Yugoslavia and the class structure of the Yugoslav project. It is possible to distinguish several models of, if not the direct exclusion, then at least a discrediting of the concept of Yugoslavia within the current political, ideological and public spheres.[4] A typical example of excluding the Yugoslav from debates about the present is the process of its trivialization, ritualization and commodification by its inclusion "in the 'industry of the communist experience.' The basic premise of these procedures is the depoliticization of this experience and practices of memory: they are restricted to the sphere of the private, personal and sentimental, or reduced to objects of popular culture and mass consumption. The reduction of the Yugoslav experience to depoliticized stories, trivial sentiments, a kitschy collection of objects from the socialist era and bizarre commemorative practices establishes an understanding of affect and emotions as obstacles to legitimate political action."[5]

Another model of the "disqualification" of Yugoslavia within the current public sphere is the handling of the memories of Yugoslavia as a kind of utopian, and therefore unproductive, "naive" political opinion: reminding of Yugoslavia is seen not as a yearning for a lost past, but as an invocation of the past that never existed, therefore - a utopia. This disregards the experiential, lived-through relationship with Yugoslavia of its still well-alive people, and they are deprived of referring to those aspects of the experience that can function today as an alternative to the current social relations and prevailing values.[6]

So, what does it mean to consider Yugoslavia in art and through it, or rather through the practices of the modern "immaterial production"? It actually means a "breakthrough" of the suppressed (traumatic, non-symbolized) place within the space of the current transitional consensus. As Zizek shows, to build current politics from the position of the "suppressed place" is to define the principle of the new politics – not a national, "abstract" one, but of a liberating, class-understood "particular universality": universality grounded on an exception does not mean “that the letter does not cover all particulars, that there is a ’rest’, a remainder, while radical universality ’really includes all and everyone’; the point is, rather, that the singular agent of radical universality is the Remainder itself, that which has no proper place in the ’official’ universality grounded in exception (...) ’it is those who are excluded, with no proper place within the global order, who directly embody true universality, who represent the Whole in contrast to all others who stand only for their particular interests'.“[7]

In other words, to actualize the discourse of Yugoslavia within the current public sphere does not mean to establish a new kind of social harmony and a new kind of utopia. On the contrary, the memory of Yugoslavia is a gesture of rejection, establishing of differences, drawing a dividing line which undermines the neo-liberal-national consensus within the current political space. To actualize Yugoslavia means to define a position that transforms our view of the transitional order and point to its interior, which is to say – class antagonisms.[8] In that way art functions as a form of subversion in relation to the existing public space, through a combination of the two instances today diametrically separated within the public sphere in transition: politics, on the one hand, and ethics (class) of universality, on the other.


1. For more info see
2. Jirgen Habermas, Javno mnenje. Istraživanje u oblasti jedne kategorije građanskog društva, Kultura, Beograd, 1969.
3. Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge, Public Sphere and Experience: Toward an Analysis o f the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1993.
4.Tanja Petrović, „Misliti Jugoslaviju u današnjoj Evropi“, grupa autora, YUROPA: Jugoslovensko nasleđe i politike budućnosti u postjugoslovenskim društvima¸ Fabrika knjiga, Beograd, 2012; tekst dostupan i na
5. As above.
6. As above.
7. Slavoj Žižek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts/London, England, 2003., str. 109.
8. Terry Eagleton, “Marx, Freud and Morality“, New Blackfriars, vol. 58, issue 680, January 1977, pp. 21–29.

Supported by:

ERSTE Foundation
Stadt Wien - Kulturabteilung MA 7
MA 7 - Interkulturelle und Internationale Aktivitäten
Stadt Wien - Film, Kino, Neue Medien

Collaboration with:

Istanbul Bilgi University

grafisches Element