press release

The fifth international October Salon will present those artistic practices that have been called art-incontext for a number of decades. From the beginning of the 1990’s to the present day, contextual art has constituted an essential part of artistic production both on the international and on the Serbian art scene; therefore, I wish to stage an exhibition where works dealing with various “contexts” will be placed on the common comparative platform. The exhibition Artist-Citizen does not intend to proclaim contextual art, which has been known since the 1970’s (one of its forms has been institutional critique); instead, it will try to map the artistic and theoretical positions that question the notion of the autonomy of art in today’s democratic societies, where, irrespective of whether those are Western democracies that have existed over a long historical period or new post-Communist democracies, the existence and the activities of civil society are not taken for granted, but constitute an active work-in-progress performed day by day. Thus, the exhibition will rely on a theoretical reformulation of the notion of “context”, which is not understood as a backdrop or a static configuration to which artists relate or refer to; those artists who engage a context are actively producing it: “A contextual art practice need not only reconstruct and present a context but has to acknowledge itself as actively producing or fabricating the context with which it engages.” (Martin Beck)

What today’s theory calls “the social turn” in contemporary art (Claire Bishop) concerns the work of artists who practise their role of public intellectuals through art, like Pier Paolo Pasolini, “poet-citizen”, for example.The title of the exhibition, however, does not suggest the topic of the show, for the works featured in it deal with a great number of topics; the title of the exhibition should suggest that we shall encounter artists who position themselves critically – I would say, politically – towards the “given reality”, the given context: these are artists who bring into question the politics of representation, the relations of power, re-examine artistic and political institutions, as well as their own artistic production, which is created today under the conditions of a “relative autonomy” of art (S. Sheikh): this autonomy is relative in view of the fact that contemporary art, on the one hand, is dependent, even today, on the politics of representation implemented by instances of the state (the best example here are national pavilions at the Venice Biennial, for instance), and on the other, it is dependent on the art market and susceptible to commercialisation.

The 49th October Salon presents artistic and theoretical positions that visualise, that is, thematise those aspects of “the given context” that are constructed as invisible in the public space of democratic (and neoliberal) environments, such as the issues of privatisation, unemployment, refugees, homelessness, sex work, trafficking in women, human rights of minority groups, immigration, the surveillance society, censorship, current reinvention of religion, anarchism etc., or have been identified as belonging not to the public but the private sphere (such as violence against women or children, for example).

In view of the fact that the October Salon is held in a number of exhibition venues, I have tried to use those venues for the purpose of presenting several thematic wholes; the exhibition architect Slobodan Danko Selinkiç has been tremendously helpful in this. Such thematic grouping was carried out for the purpose of this exhibition; however, it should not be taken to mean that each of the works exhibited deals with one topic only. A number of topics intersect in most works. Having said that, it is still necessary to sketch out the exhibition structure here so that the visitors should know what awaits them at each exhibition venue. What is exhibited at the May 25th Museum are works by artists who, in some cases, are clearly feminist-oriented; institutional critique of the 1970’s; ideological critique formulated in the period of state socialism and/or after it. At the Cultural Centre of Belgrade the topic is sexual work and its various forms; the works exhibited at the “Artget” Gallery thematise queer positions. The works exhibited at the Legacy House examine the policies of collective memory and collective oblivion, nationalist ideology and religion. The Public Bath “Danube” is a venue intended for works dealing with capital, capitalism, globalisation, poverty, emigration, the EU policy, the effects of mass culture/media, etc.

The exhibition Artist-Citizen will not offer answers or instant recipes concerning what an artist should do as a public intellectual: this project will, hopefully, give rise to a series of questions: How are we to define the notion of “context”? How are we to define the notion of “the political”? Do there exist boundaries between social activism and a work of art and if so, where are they? Should art dealing “with” context and oriented towards the social fulfil the classical or usual aesthetic expectations (or not) in order to be recognised as “high art”? Doest the “ethical turn” (C. Bishop) in contemporary artistic production, criticism and art theory mean a deviation from or a negation of “the aesthetic”? Can feminist critique and critique of the artistic centre/periphery paradigm at the same time be witty art as well? Is the documentary approach, upon which most contextual art is based, the only possible method of deconstructing the social context? Is it possible to problematise trafficking in women and sex work in the soap opera format? Is the format of the musical convenient for speaking critically about nationalism? In cynicism the most adequate way of maintaining a distance from “dirty” reality?

The purpose of this exhibition, which I have prepared in close cooperation with my young colleagues Ivana Marjanoviç and Vida KneÏeviç, is not to offer any kind of “message” to the general and the professional public; still, this exhibition does have a motto, and an interrogative one at that: Do we need art to tell us what we do not want to know?

Belgrade, September 2008

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49th October Salon, Belgrade
Kuratoren: Bojana Pejic, Vida Knezevic, Ivana Marjanovic

Künstler: Ana Adamovic, Arizanovic Antea, Maja Bajevic, Yael Bartana, Danica Dakic, Braco Dimitrijevic, VALIE EXPORT, GirlsOnHorses , Kendell Geers, h.arta , Gülsün Karamustafa, Sigalit Landau, Mladen Miljanovic, Tanja Ostojic, Dan Perjovschi, Tadej Pogacar & P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E., Sanja Ivekovic, Oliver Ressler, Pipilotti Rist, Martha Rosler, Katya Sander, Judith Siegmund, Hito Steyerl, Mladen Stilinovic, Jelena Tomasevic, Ulay , Artur Zmijewski ...