interviewed by Predrag Pajdic, February 2007
If you had to describe the Middle East with one word, what would that be?
The word would be 'nonalignment' (politics of non-alignment).
Could you explain?
Actually my association with the Middle East is daily news, but those from the past, TV news from the seventies, when I was a kid, in former Yugoslavia. Back then, the words I remember today, connected with the Middle East, were always: bilateral relations and nonalignment countries. I hope the world still remembers the politics of nonalignment as one emancipatory option between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Their country members were mainly from Asia, Africa and Latin America, from the so-called 'third world'. More then 100 countries were members, including Former Yugoslavia, which played a central role together with Egypt, Ghana, India and Indonesia as founders. They hold more than half the world's population and 85% of oil resources, but only 7% of global GDP (gross domestic product). Apart from the active politics of peace, the policy of nonalignment generated a clearly defined anti-colonial doctrine.
And what happened to the anti-colonial doctrine? What happened to peace? Coming back to the Middle East, there are currently more wars and conflicts happening than ever before: Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, which after last year's invasion by Israel is again in a state of tension. Not to mention Palestine. Now the West's attention is focusing on Iran and Syria. Can you understand any of this?
Yes, I wanted to ask you, if you could imagine today, that these ideas and politics connected all this countries. Yugoslavia is today a synonym, just another word for wars, violence. But I think the fact that anti-colonial politics of peace ever existed shows that the situation today is more complex and that this kind of a reference as a nonalignment movement, still exists in some form. It could be interesting to think about it in the field of contemporary art.
Could contemporary art even grasp complexities like these? Should art do that?
I even think that it is only possible in the field of art, to imagine, to show all the complexity of the relations in a certain situation, to find a way in which it can be transmitted. Art, or one that I'm interested in, is only about this!
Through your work you deal with extremely sensitive, or shall I say perhaps even for some, uncomfortable issues. 'Container' riddled with bullets, one of your latest works shown at the Sydney Biennial was one of those works, questioning almost unquestionable crimes committed now around the world. In the 'National Pavilion Yugoslavia' you talk about a nation deluded by its own existence. For 'Reading Capital', you asked the hardcore Texan entrepreneurs to recite from the Marx's 'Capital'. I wonder what will you show now for 'IN FOCUS'?
Yes, these issues are not comfortable. Themes are permanent, war, class struggle and how to think about it and detect it in the epoch of globalization; what are the consequences that we have to live with and how to deal with them.
Now, for 'IN FOCUS' I will work with Branimir Stojanovic who is an unavoidable partner in many of my works. We wish to intervene in the construction of the absolute other of the present-day Europe, in this case one which is stigmatized as: Muslim, Islamic, fundamentalist, terrorist etc. This way contemporary European relation (reaction) to a non-traditional European citizen puts us into the position of religious and ethnical war which reminds very much of the beginning of wars during the break-up of Yugoslavia. Our work intends to avoid both present European politics to victimize the European citizen who isn't traditionally European, as well as to avoid the minority identity politics of this accused/pointed group.
Why do you think this present Europe is scared of the other?
It is obvious that this fear is an outcome of how Europe imagines the other: homogeny, undemocratic, fanatic unit. A total opposite of this is recognised as European values. For example when, during the Palestinian democratic elections Haamas won, all Western political authorities negated the election's outcome. It wasn't democracy, they said. But interestingly they don't question the democratic parliamentary principles, they don't even consider that these principles could be in crisis. That is, a crisis of European traditional values, which doesn't relate to the contemporary world, or to say it in another way, to contemporary problems IN A DEMOCRATIC WAY. THEY DON'T THINK ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY THAT HAAMAS IS ACTUALLY A PRODUCT OF THEIR OWN EUROPEAN POLITICS.
Talking about democratic principles and the new enlarged Europe: just recently when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, here in the UK, the panic struck instantly and major politicians, papers and media went into a frenzy regarding a number of possible immigrants to the country who will endanger its safe and booming economy. Is the main purpose of the EU based on economy? Why would anyone allow new members in, but at the same time decline the entry into its own territory? What kind of private club is this? Was the EU constituted on the first place to share/exchange or is something else in question here? This sounds like a kind of postcolonial complex, doesn't it?
This reminds me of an experience I had, concerning art and politics of exhibiting. I had a performance 'This is Contemporary Art' in Vienna in 2001 as a part of an international exhibition 'you are the world', written in small letters, which meant: you are the part of the world, but you can't participate in the 'World', written with the capital letters. The subject of the show was about the strategies of globalization, global trends and its appearance and forms, which exists only very locally.
My work was an intervention consisting of a live stage appearance of Dragana Mirkovic, a Serbian turbo-folk super star. The stage on which a Serbian icon should perform was set up as an installation and placed in the central exhibition space of this international contemporary art exhibition.
The way through which global enters local is always one-way and inherently exclusive. My intervention, the dislocation one, functioned on two levels: the dislocation of local genre (turbo-folk) to the international scene, which opens that one-way street for a passage in both directions, and the dislocation of the pop culture in the field of the contemporary art.
But perhaps more importantly, was the question of minority population of more than 250,000 so called 'guest workers', Ex-Yugoslav emigrants living and working in Vienna, who are completely imperceptible to the general Austrian public. They are excluded but also they exclude themselves. But appearance of Dragana Mirkovic as a part of the contemporary art exhibition, in an art institution, was a breakthrough that worked both ways. For the first time, this minority group was invited and by that was made visible in the Austrian public domain. Besides, in this case contemporary art made the breach into the social field of this particular group.
While working on the exhibition we decided, as you do for a concert of a super star, to produce and hang all over Vienna, posters with an image of a turbo-folk super star, by which to 'invite' the ex Yugoslav minority group to feel free to visit the exhibition, something they are not used to doing, to visit institutions who have on offer 'high culture'. The star Dragana Mirkovic suggested we should print about 5000 posters, something she usually does for her concerts. But, the organizers got scared and panicked in thinking that 5000 posters will be equal to 5000 visitors. But not any visitors, but those who are not customary to art - the common invisible guest workers who will destroy the exhibition and perhaps turn the performance into a nationalistic event.
I always felt that the concept of 'du bist die welt' was a universal project that attempted to confront strategies of global segregation. I was surprised when In this decisive moment of the realisation of this project, when the former Yugoslav community in Austria, even in a symbolic way within the framework of the artistic project was entering the field of the universalistic politics, was seen as a rightwing populist action.
I'm afraid that in this case rightist discourse was only in the eye of the beholder. The unbearable thought, in this situation was only the entrance of the imaginary 5000 'aliens' in the sublime representative symbolical sphere of Austrian cultural production.
An artistic space is an ideal field for universalistic project, and should not be phobic towards 'the masses' and flee into exclusion. I refuse to believe that 'the masses' by themselves are necessary rightist and populist.
It is very similar to what you said regarding "the panic struck instantly and major politicians, papers and media went into frenzy regarding a number of possible emigrants to the country who will endanger its safe and booming economy", or what we talked at the beginning about the other. Now we are coming to 'IN FOCUS' and our contribution, which will also be about the dread circulating Europe relating to immigration, where Muslims seem to have the most frightening role, the role of the unheimlich. They will be present, but (at the same time) invisible.