Curatorial text for the exhibition Blank Maps, SIZ Gallery
Attitude of the subject towards the object is the foundation of every theory and construction of knowledge, as the sum of knowledge through which reality is perceived. In that sense, there is a number of means of representation and creation of reality, and perhaps the most fascinating of them all is language. Wittgenstein thus states that language is the model of the world (reality) and that the limits of our language are the limits of our world. With her last cycle of works, titled Blank Maps, the artist Lana Čmajčanin moves away from the symbolic towards the real limits of our world, refers to the historical demarcations of Bosnia and Herzegovina and focuses on cartography as a specific means of representation of reality. Besides a unique metric system, cartography primarily assumes the consensus on the factography presented, its objectivity and scientific basis. Maps are regularly interpreted in the spirit of positivism, as places purified from subjectivism, ideologies and any conceptions beyond verifiable facts. Maps are interpreted as the truth. This discourse of credibility is what Lana Čmajčanin identifies as the segment of reality which should be appropriated for artistic purposes, while as the constructive fabric of her works she uses the historical cartography of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, the effect of Lana’s Blank Maps is completely unexpected, these maps are interpreted as the absence of truth.
Historical maps of Bosnia and Herzegovina, from Roman times until the Dayton Agreement, reflect the interests and geopolitical aspirations of their creators, European imperial powers. The maps of Bosnia and Herzegovina are not only the means of representation, but the means of creating and maintaining geopolitical power. They are the models of domination of specific empires, ideologies, nations, languages, cultures and male gender. They confirm Foucault’s claim that truth isn’t outside power. Lana’s Blank Maps lay before the visitor all the historical formations of Bosnia and Herzegovina territory and invite him/her to choose and create its borders as it suits him/her. By putting each visitor into the position of power, Lana takes the criticism of cartography to the extreme, opens up its apparent objectivity to the multitude of individual interpretations. She began this process in 2011 with the work titled Bosnia and Herzegovina - Tailoring and Sewing in which the visitors were invited to sit at the sewing table and, using scissors, tailoring meter and chalk, thread and needle, tailor and sew a custom-made Bosnia and Herzegovina. In so doing, Lana offered the map of Bosnia and Herzegovina shaped in the manner of sewing patterns that can usually be found in magazines like Burda.
Geometry of Place, work created in 2014, continues the practice of using historical cartography of Bosnia and Herzegovina territory as a didactic basis for the active involvement of visitors. This time around she uses the transparent foil to print the borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina, from the Roman Empire to the Dayton Agreement, taken from a textbook. She calls them Blank Maps, referring thus to the maps traditionally used as a part of geography curriculum in schools, empty maps with outlined country borders which students then fill in with their newly acquired knowledge about the geography of these countries. Using yet another didactic tool, overhead projector, Lana lights up those Blank Maps and allows interaction, allows the visitors to pair and fold foils at their own discretion, as the method of individual historical interpretation of the given area. By insisting on school instruments and didactic methodology, Lana Čmajčanin points to an important dimension of historical, but also contemporary cartography of Bosnia and Herzegovina – it exclusively belongs to the male domain. The position of a woman is not reflected in defining borders and creation of knowledge, but in its mediation and transmission through education.
Blank Maps also become the central motif of Lana's latest work (of the same title) which expands the transparence of the foil with the fragility of glass. Fifty-six glass engravings set in gallery space enable visual penetration through historical stratification of geopolitical structures, but also physical movement through the plurality of historical realities. The engraving process itself somewhat points to comemorativity, to the appreciation of existence but also to marking the end. The emptiness of Blank Maps can be seen in two ways, as the reflection of inner emptiness due to the lack of knowledge outside the centres of power, but also as a space for self-reflection with the potential to acquire new knowledge. The openness to interpretation, characteristic for Blank Maps, is in opposition to the determination of space suggested in the work 551.35 – Geometry of Time. Overlapping 35 historical maps representing BiH as a part of different state formations throughout the past 551 years results in information noise, too much stratified data, the epicentre of which can be found precisely in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Changed borders of BiH, sedimented through history, can be recognized in Lana's work as blackened zones that make each future intervention futile, whereas they make the reflection on territorial integrity of the country almost impossible. Lana's Blank Maps exist precisely on the relation of these extremes – openness to new interpretations, but also the impossibility of the same due to historical saturation, as well as all the attempts at considering statehood and sovereignty of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.