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Gülsen Bal

Subsequent to BALKAN(S) NOW: A status seminar/workshop [1] that took place in Vienna, Ljubljana and Belgrade from October to December 2013, it became obvious that it might be worthwhile to generate ideas reflecting particular Balkan as well as post-Yugoslavian conditions, especially through the re-formulation of complex and unpredictable situations relevant to both their historical significance and contemporary displacement. With a special focus on the current Eastern European artistic reality in relation to new forms of creative engagement currently at work at the Balkan and the former Yugoslav countries, one of the burning questions in this search is if art is a means to speak out on politics, and which formats might be suitable in this context? However, there is a new generation of artists whose backdrop is not the (post)war or national ‘prefix’ situation anymore – rather those current social challenges that can be found all across Europe. Then more interestingly, the next question is how can we read the historical roots in exploring the changes in the consequently globalising capitalism? Is self-organisation a key to artistic and creative independence? How to position oneself in the fields of international artistic production by means of local interventions at the countenance of neighbouring European countries – Germany, Austria in relation to the aforementioned?

Subject to the situation indicated, a group member of IRWIN Borut Vogelnik addresses “how an ‘artifact’ became emancipated to such an extent as to formulate the Congress Findings, a text in which a high degree of agreement with the principles of its own coming into being is declared, and on the other hand, how the social body recognises, or at least seems to recognise, itself as an ‘artifact’ to a significant extent”. In the text From Neue Slowenische Kunst to the NSK State in Time the author explores the question what has changed in the consequent evolvement of NSK ‒ Citizens´s Congress ‒ the NSK understands itself as a ‟State”.

A group member of Kooperacija Igor Toshevski has several interesting readings on “the specific circumstances which have degraded Macedonia to the level of a populist and xenophobic authoritarianism, crucial issues such as distribution of power, freedom of choice, censorship, use of public space or the decentralization of cultural networks remain yet to be addressed” in his text Art & Politics? This examination leads to further explorations on the current socio-political discourse in Macedonia towards its reflections to the relation of ex-Yugoslavian countries and the European Union.

Miroslav Karić who is a group member of Remont – Independent Artistic Association brings the complexity of the Balkan contemporary art scenes to the surface in his text The Contemporary Art and Cultural Scene in Serbia after 2000 – Short Notes in the midst of the new existence of an intriguing zone.

In their articulation about the changes occurring in the organisation of life and labour in an urban environment, seeks to establish “the particularities of the processes of urban regeneration in Novi Sad” while looking into the role of art and culture in these processes through their interview Auto-critique as a Basis for Committing / Investing-Anew subjected to capital-relations as well as taking global crisis into account.

In the pressing need to highlight current conditions in an understanding of what emancipation could be, Lana Zdravković articulates that “art can be understood as multi-layered, dialogic, open form that is based on the principles of dissensus which at all times problematises any social reality as being self-evident, including the constant re-questioning of its own position” in her article Emancipation (of/in) Art on an almost paradoxical complication of this argument.

Barbara Borčić touches some other problematics as a director of the SCCA‒Ljubljana Centre for Contemporary Arts. Her article From Interdisciplinary Operation to the Critical Situation: SCCA‒Ljubljana results in setting many relevant questions in regard to what “we witness as a political and economic crisis […] in which the arts and culture do not represent a very important domain”, where every cloud has silver lining.

In this stance, the reader focuses on new kinds of creative connections as well as on all paths of production, in which the possible is engendered through which a mirror reflection of a world “yet-to-come” would become visible in meaning what Deleuze and Guattari often made a point for: “the State is built on what escapes it.”

Guest Co-Editor: Dieter Hammer

BALKAN(S) NOW: A status seminar/workshop started out as an attempt to determine the current situation of contemporary art on the Balkan with a focus on the countries of former Yugoslavia. Since the 1990s the region is on the move and undergoes constant socio-political changes. The former communist market rules changed, opening the borders towards the ‟western style” that created a shift of economic powers with a newly created private sector and efforts promoting investors with all pros and cons. The transition, however, is not easy – it is an ongoing process. Some states are already EU-members, while others are gradually on the way to join.

All the new states had to start from scratch either directly after the fall of Yugoslavia or at the time when the war was over for them and they had stabilised. Institutions and government structures had to be established or transitioned to new standards.

Contemporary art had no space under the communist regime. It was neglected and even suppressed. In the 1990s artists and cultural workers, too, started to build up and organise their own exhibition spaces, institutional structures and formed a contemporary art scene. They built up national and international networks. Especially the new independent art scene created self-organised and self-learning institutional structures to promote and empower their concept of contemporary art. Looking at this development from the outside, one can say that this self-organised art scene is a distinct characteristic and a cultural achievement of the Balkan region.

In some states the public art infrastructure is still not sufficiently established. Whatever happens in terms of contemporary art, happens mainly through the mediation of these independent organisations and many loose initiatives. Some individual artists and group movements raised substantial international attention already in the early 1990s. However, this does not apply to their own countries. The reason for this international success is certainly the fact that there is a large international Balkan community and many artists and other intellectuals have spent time studying abroad and took up the chance to form networks.

The topics of artistic research, practice and discourse have meanwhile transitioned and have arrived in the present. They deal with global topics, socio-political and philosophical discourses, as well as with regional and local issues.

While in the former Yugoslavian state compliant artists enjoyed some basic income mainly through state commissions, they had to make do with a limited freedom of expression. Today, artists principally enjoy freedom of expression to a high degree, but as entrepreneurs they run a high economic risk being dependent on the ‟taste” of some that often see art as a mere commodity for their speculation purposes. Economic success to make a living as an artist in this game is a matter of chance and marketing mechanisms. If art only depends on the conditions of what the market may absorb in view of the risk of a likely market failure, the full cultural potential cannot unfold. This is especially the case when there is no substantial art market. Another important aspect is that many contemporary art practices are by their nature non-commercial and do not produce commodifiable ‟art-works” in a traditional sense. The adoption by a “market” is neither intended nor wanted. Creating higher value beyond the only commercial one is the goal of these creative practices.

Can a modern society afford to neglect the development of contemporary art in the long run? What could be improved? Is it legitimate to subsidise a failing market through public funding? What regulatory standards should be decided upon? The full answer cannot be given here. One suggestion shall be to have a look at one regulatory principle designed to mediate support between institutional levels.

The principle of subsidiarity is one of the core principles of the EU, anchored in the Treaty of Lisbon and a regulatory principle of many other federally organised states. Above being an institutional legal concept it is in its core and historically a social ethical principle: ‟As history abundantly proves, it is true that on account of changed conditions many things which were done by small associations in former times cannot be done now save by large associations. Still, that most weighty principle, which cannot be set aside or changed, remains fixed and unshaken in social philosophy: Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.” Quadragesimo Anno, 79, Encyclical of POPE PIUS XI, 1931

For the EU and for national and local governments the understanding and proper implementation of the principle of subsidiarity on all governmental levels, not only with regard to contemporary arts, is still a challenge. Dealing with the independent contemporary art institutions is a question of the interpretation of this regulative principle according to the particular local needs, ideally in an unbureaucratic and, as such, subsidiary way. One argument comes from a, maybe, unexpected source. F. A. v. Hayek: ‟… there are fields in which the desirability of government action can hardly be questioned. To this latter group belong all those services which are clearly desirable but which will not be provided by competitive enterprise because it would be either impossible or difficult to charge the individual beneficiary for them.” The Constitution of Liberty p. 223, University of Chicago 1960. Provision of the described cultural services fall into this category. Hayek also stresses: ‟… it is by no means necessary that a government engages in the actual management of such activities; the services in question can generally be provided, and more effectively provided, by the government's assuming some or all of the financial responsibility but leaving the conduct of the affairs to independent and in some measure competitive agencies.“ Hayek p. 224 This clearly advocates the support of the mentioned art infrastructures due to factual market-failure.

Contemporary art can be seen as a very sensible seismograph. The Balkan region as a whole is reciprocally linked with the EU. It would surely be wrong and a historical mistake not to promote, harvest and listen to what contemporary artists among other cultural actors catalyse and express as, in their view, questionable and wrong social, economic, political and ‒ not to forget – cultural developments. The articulation of debatable alternatives is also part of this discourse. The economization of the cultural sector as some kind of ‟profit center” is certainly the wrong way to deal with the high social value of contemporary art that cannot simply be left up to the market. Solving the financing dilemma in a legitimate and sustainable way surely is a challenge to be tackled.

The unique ‟Balkan Model” of self-organised, independent non-profit art institutions can also be seen as a valuable and beneficial impulse for other countries to overcome stagnation that can be observed in the field of contemporary art where the sole market orientation is dominant and the actual value of art as an expression and end of human dignity is underreflected.

The undertaking of BALKAN(S) NOW cannot be regarded as finished or fully reflecting the whole spectrum of contemporary art and related discourses in the region. However, it must be seen as a start of an ongoing monitoring and networking process.

At this point I do thank all the initiators, organisers, participants, curators, artists and art NGO´s, supporting institutions and the authors of this publication for their contributions.


[1] Project Curators: Gülsen Bal; Marlene Rigler

Vienna, 10-13 October 2013
Venue: Vienna Art Fair - ‘VIENNA Live’, 12.00 - 14.00

Vienna, 11 October 2013
Venue: Depot, 19.00 - 21.30

Public panels: "The extended Balkans –Vienna as a platform for artists from Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro" by Ivan Jurica, Ivana Marjanović, Walter Seidl

Moderation: Suzana Milevska

Public panels: "“Balkans” and “Post-war” – artistic empowerment beyond those labels" by Vasja Nagy, Aneta Stojnić

Moderation: Jens Kabisch

Ljubljana, 25-26 October 2013
Venue: Mestna galerija

Public panels: "Art and the realm of politics: contemporary artistic practice and politisation of civil society" by Albert Heta, Igor Toshevski, IRWIN, Lana Zdravkovic

Moderation: Dieter Hammer

Public panels: "Cross-border artistic and institutional networking; the ex-Yugoslav context as a model for Europe" by Barbara Borčić, Miroslav Karic, Zoran Pantelić

Moderation: Dieter Hammer

Belgrade, 11 December 2013
Venue: Remont, 18.00 - 20.00

Film and Video screening: Yane Calovski, Nemanja Cvijanović, Ibro Hasanović, Astrit Ismaili, Alban Muja, Vladan Jeremić and Rena Rädle, Milica Tomić

Supported by:

ERSTE Foundation
Allianz Cultural Foundation
Stadt Wien - Kulturabteilung MA 7
MA 7 - Interkulturelle und Internationale Aktivitäten
Kulturfonds der Stadt Freising

Collaboration with:

Istanbul Bilgi University
Kunstverein Freisinger Mohr e.V
Europäisches Künstlerhaus Oberbayern

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