Post-Yugoslav Art: Beyond Social Utopia
Text by Jelena Petrovic
Publisher: Verein 'Springerin'
Different layers of the past, unreliable borders, and repetitive imaginations of the Balkans all reveal the problematic meanings of this geopolitical space in the attempt at redefining it in the post-historical and post-ideological geography of today’s neoliberal society. In her art-project titled Blank Maps (2016-2018), the above-mentioned artist Lana Čmajčanin visualises this issue, using 32 selected maps which defined the borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the last 551 years, since the Roman Empire until the signing of the last agreement for peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina known as Dayton Accords (1995). The point in which the artist’s project departs from previous readings and internalisations of geopolitical facts is the installation entitled 551.35 Geometry of Time. Contracting, overlapping, and summarising the existing geographical, military, educational, and other relevant maps, as well as applying the usual cartographic methods and techniques of engraving, drawing, reproducing and, generally, representing, Lana Čmajčanin allows for a completely new insight into the statically objectivised history of this geopolitical space. She calls into question the geopolitical historicising of Bosnian border, as well as the systemic fabrication of historical and geopolitical truths. Overlapped on a lit background these maps evidence border’s shifts, deviations and instability caused by colonial, imperial, conquering, migrational, martial, as well as ‘peace-keeping’ redesigns. Military and political inscriptions of statehood and sovereignty into the geographical landscapes of maps throughout centuries have become the most resistant and static loci of factographic history, which is never called into question despite constant changes in the dominant positions of power from which these maps are drawn. Monumentally conceived with a view to presenting “objective” borders, this installation makes incursion into the geometry of the course of history, since the expected and distinct borders are replaced with a palimpsest of previously subjugated and thus forgotten truths. Palimpsest as a metaphor, transposed from the textual into the domain of visual, questions the very linearity of historical time, as well as political and, above all, military strategies of geographical organisation, thereby highlighting the repetitive patterns of creating (dis)continuous history and cyclicality of war. Čmajčanin does not only lend us a critical insight into the factually objectified and stagnant history of those who draw up geopolitical borders, she also makes visible the ebb and flow of borderlines. All these borderlines leave in their wake blurred grey zones of overlapping, dissolving, and reconfiguring entities which now call for the construction of some new and resistant artistic narratives: the ones of perpetual struggle against the forces which objectify, control and confine us, simultaneously keeping us in positions of political oppression and social exploitation, or in the state of perpetual crisis, that is, permanent war.
The art of resistance to imposed geopolitical determination, as well as constant endeavours to reconsider, question, and subjectivise it through ideologically emancipatory social politics, has brought about a condition of exhaustion, not only of this post-Yugoslav zone, but also beyond. In other words, the inability to leave the vicious circle of the geopolitical redefining of our everyday lives leads towards a permanent condition of conflicting geographies, with all the meta-meanings they bear due to the turbulent past. And in the present post-Yugoslav space, as the given examples of art practices show – most notably, Lana Čmajčanin’s Blank Maps – this past continuously signifies war. The attitude towards war in the politically engaged post-Yugoslav art is today not only marked by the politics of memory, facing war traumas, and the consequences of social deterioration, but also by an attempt to articulate common truth about the war, that is, to articulate the common place of the political subjectivising of society. Post-Yugoslav art practices become a common denominator of what inevitably follows social utopia, which is resistance against the existing politics, which inscribe this geopolitical space with a dystopian world and its strategies of incessant identification between the conflicted, more or less significant, identities. These practices thus allow for the establishment of the new zones of revolutionary thinking and political consciousness of the liberated future society, at least within common meta- and counter-geographies, instituted through transgressive voices, visual inscriptions, aesthetic glitches, and other forms of artistic undertakings within and without the post-Yugoslav space.