After a two-months delay, the Spring Exhibition at the Art Pavilion “Cvijeta Zuzorić”, entitled “Where does the future begin?” has finally been opened.
The curator, Mirjana Dragosavljević, who conceived the exhibition together with the Art Council of the Association of Fine Artists of Serbia (ULUS), broadened the initial topic of the exhibition to include the issues of the state of emergency and the coronavirus pandemic. This gave the whole setting an additional, equally important level in rethinking the relationship between nature and society.
Mirjana Dragosavljević writes about this in her curatorial text:
One of the starting points in conceptualising this year’s Spring Exhibition was to illuminate our everyday life in relation to nature: how much does the nature give us, how much do we give back, what are the consequences of alienation followed by exploitation of natural resources and how is all of this reflected in art.
The curator of this year’s Spring Salon poses a range of questions which relate to current art production by drawing attention to the findings of Mike Davis, from the University of California, Riverside (USA). Davis suggests that the coronavirus outbreak is related to capitalist agriculture and urbanism, and points out how deeply troublesome the capitalist mode of production and distribution of goods are. Be it the position of labour, which has been devalued on a global level, the problems local economies face, fresh water privatization, difficulties millions of poor people face in accessing drinking water, the unavailability of housing, or the collapsed health system, this pandemic has revealed the necessity for an urgent change in the mode of production and way of life of all living beings on our planet.
The curatorial intervention draws its conclusions from an insight into current art production, based on a problem analysis of contemporary art production, and pointing to its dominant paradigms and paths of development. It was made possible thanks to a public invitation to participate in the Spring Exhibition – through which most of the works in the exhibition were selected, and via a direct invitation of artists and art groups.
The central question of the exhibition – where does the future begin – will be developed through a range of sub-questions and related artistic reflections. They will tackle various forms of violence and their normalization – violence aimed at nature, the one present in interpersonal relationships, violence against the body. Artistic reflections will also deal with data flow, information circulation and their role in the way our notions of the state of affairs and possible alternatives are constructed.
The exhibition also asks where does nature stand in all this, and searches for one’s own position in such a reality; it wonders in what way can art, with its language and tools, contribute to the research of all these complex, socio-political dilemmas. Not without reason, special accent is placed on the feminist perspective of the global crisis, stressing that patriarchy plays an important role in reproducing capitalist relations of production. Thus, the invitation to the exhibition emphasizes:
Considering that artistic work is labour done by the artists and for the society, because art is, among other things, equipped with wide possibilities and tools for recording, contemplation, articulation, reflection, etc. artists, as socially engaged workers, have a responsibility not to turn a blind eye to the existing problems, but to respond to this challenge and make us see the new horizons of a potentially better future.
The performance “Orientation in 100 Revolutions”, authored by artists Siniša Ilić and Bojan Đorđev, will be performed by Đorđe Galić and Milana Matejić at the exhibition opening. The opening will be accompanied by a survey titled “How do artists live?” designed by Ksenija Đurović and Ana Vuković.
Artistic work is labour done by the artists and for the society
The Art Pavilion “Cvijeta Zuzorić” has been busy in the last few months. Ever since the new ULUS Board of Directors has been elected at the previous Electoral Assembly last December, together with all other working bodies of the association, artists have started a systematic struggle for the improvement of their labour rights and better working conditions within the cultural sector.
The efforts undertaken within the artistic profession have become particularly apparent to the general public over the past few months, during the state of emergency, when ULUS became one of the most important actor on the scene, leading and articulating pressures applied on cultural authorities to introduce measures to support to all those who work in the field of art and culture, and who were left without work engagement during the pandemic, and thus without income.
The mentioned pressures resulted in the Government of Serbia’s decision dating May 7th, to award non-refundable funds to independent artists. Thus, financial support of 90,000 dinars (766€) per person was determined for 2,353 independent artists, i.e. 30,000 dinars (256€) for March, April and May each.
Through their dedicated engagement in the recent period the artists managed to gather and organize more than the number of the representative cultural association’s members required for fundamental changes in its management. They also successfully raised awareness to the fact that artists have been facing constant prolongation of incertitude regarding their labour and status rights and unresolved tax debts – both not of their own making, but resulting from a lack of systematic support for their individual work and their activities in collectives, organizations and associations, as well as decades of degradation of the sector.
Therefore, they didn’t appeal for the return of the previous “normalcy”, but in favour of a search for a way to reconsider and overcome it. The upcoming Spring Exhibition will, as it seems, be able to contribute to that:
Instead of a possible return to ‘normalcy’, we express a deep need to produce a different ‘normalcy’ –one that will be based on just social redistribution and wider solidarity, in hope of overcoming the current crisis jointly and in cooperation with other sectors of socially significant work.
The future of the local art scene?
The exhibition “Where does the future begin?” could prove to be significant thanks to a review of the historic site of ULUS and the Art Pavilion “Cvijeta Zuzorić”, too. Namely, on several occasions during the “long” XX century it acted as the central place of artistic gathering: in the interwar period it represented the key scene where antagonisms and the artists’ struggle for better conditions in artistic work played out together with progressive artists’ organising ; during the times of modernist progress, on the other hand, the Art Pavilion at Mali Kalemegdan was a place for new artistic tendencies to be expressed, often hosting important Yugoslav exhibitions, such as the October Salon.
After decades of lingering, the Association has a newly elected Art Council. In cooperation with other members of the Association, the Council is rapidly announcing changes that are, when it comes to annual exhibitions, based on the introduction of progressive curatorial interventions. Contrary to previous exhibition formats, which perpetuated an outdated self-sufficiency distinctive of similar periodic displays, exhibitions such as the announced Spring Exhibition, and followed by the announced Autumn Exhibition, could cause tectonic shifts, not only within the Association, which has more than two thousand members, itself, but also on the wider visual art scene.
The mentioned guest curators’ task will be to “point out the dominant problem segments paradigmatic for current visual creation” and to reflect on heterogeneous artistic creation from different points of view. The aim is to give the necessary impetus to the raise of quality of artistic production and “re-establishing the credibility of these exhibitions”, which, according to the new management of ULUS, they historically deserve.
ULUS’s Spring Exhibition is announced to be opened under a new management, according to a contemporary curatorial concept, followed by the struggle of artists to exercise their basic labour rights, and under the slogan that the artist is a socially engaged worker. This raises the question of whether and to what extent this year’s ULUS art events can compensate for – or even replace – the lost significance of other important events in visual arts, such as the October Salon. The latter are deeply descended into a business model of cultural policy, into which public cultural institutions, long burdened by neoliberal cuts and austerity, increasingly sink, and which the global art world has been encouraging and reproducing for decades.
Translation from Serbian: Iskra Krstić
This article was originally published in Serbian on May 29, 2020.