Essay "Mapping of Social and Art History in Novi Sad"

Mapping of Social and Art History in Novi Sad
A Context

After breaking relations with Stalin and most communist countries in the end of the 40s and beginning of the 50s, Yugoslavia experienced a certain kind of democratization, which influenced the artistic and cultural scene which was dominated at that time by soc-realism. Moderate modernism became the mainstream cultural framework for the young socialist state in the fifties. In 1954, In Novi Sad the Youth Tribune was established as a cultural center that strongly promoted modernist art & culture, and free speech and dialog about contemporary social and political issues.

The Youth Tribune was influenced by international youth movements that culminated in 1968. Youth movements and radical artistic and social practice from Yugoslavia provoked a dominant discourse of moderate modernism at that time. The most radical demands for democratization of culture came from artistic and cultural circles in Novi Sad gathered around magazine on Serbian language Fields (Polja in Serbian), New Symposion (Uj Symposion in Hungarian), the student magazine INDEX, the film company Neoplanta and especially around the cultural center Youth Tribune. The character of these practices was multicultural, experimental, new leftist, international and linked with other cultural centers like Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade, Budapest, Berlin, Paris...

Significant protagonists of the artistic scene at that time were members of the KôD group (Slavko Bogdanović, Slobodan Tišma, Mirko Radojičić, Miroslav Mandiċ and partly Janez Kocijančić, Peđa Vranešević, Branko Andrić, Kiš-Jovak Ferenc, the group ((Čedomir Drča, Vladimir Kopicl, Ana Raković and partly Miša Živanović), and group (∃ - KôD (Čedomir Drča, Vladimir Kopicl, Mirko Radojičić, Ana Raković and partly Slobodan Tišma and Peđa Vranešević), who worked in the sphere of linguistics, performances, process art and conceptual art with strong emphasis on intertextuality and interdisciplinarity. They were all strongly influenced by Ludwig Wittgenstein, Marshall Macluhan, Malarme, Guy Debor, Duchamp, Malevich, OHO, Art & Language, Joseph Kosuth, Dejan and Bogdanka Poznanović. Strong influence also came from Vojvodinian film production (gathered around Neoplanta film production company ), which produced the so-called ‘black wave’ with names like Želimir Žilnik, Dušan Makavejev or Karpo Aćimović Godina. Slavko Bogdanović undertook linguistic analyses of arbitrarily selected words. One of his most famous works was Turnover tax (1970) in which he aestheticized an economic explanation of the Turnover tax. Slavko Bogdanović also made in his Magazine for development of interpersonal relations - L.H.O.O.Q, a comic about the group KôD (1971) where among other signs he was used the taboo sign swastika (both clockwise and counter clockwise) to present the history of the group KôD. In his work Mirko Radojičić analyzed the term conceptual art and aesthetical principles like in work Text 1 (1970). Miroslav Mandić made a parody of the gallery system and during one of the group February exhibitions he was openly provoking the state apparatus (Youth Cultural Center in Belgrade, 1971). Slobodan Tišma was exploring methods for constructing a verbal text, and under the influence of Stephan Malarme and Malevich he was analyzing and deconstructing systems of squares and cubes (1970). Significant and pioneer exploration in the new media or extended media in that time was made by Bogdanka Poznanović, who explored photography, film, video and who also established first intermedial class in former Yugoslavia. Bogdanka Poznanović was also exploring systems of communication and she was part of worldwide community of mail art (project Feedback letter box, 1973). Another artist that explored and used different media in its work is Katalin Ladik who predominantly worked in the field of performance and vocal expression (Phonopoetica, 1976). She was also part of group Bosch+Bosch, a group that was active in northern town of Subotica, near Hungarian border.

An important part of the artistic strategies that are a common signifier for these groups is reducing the importance of authorship that is strongly emphasized in the works of The January group, The February group and The March group. Members of KôD and (created these groups and worked, acted and performed so that during January they called themselves The Group January and during February, the group February. The strategy became quite interesting since during performances (like in Youth Cultural Center in Belgrade in January 1971) they created strong negative feedbacks from audiences and after that from the media. They were made assemblages with feces, openly and publicly attacking cultural and political establishment (Open letter to the Yugoslav public,1971). The Youth Tribune’s critique of Yugoslav society at that time came from a nondogmatic radical left position (there were a wide range of anarcholiberal, Marxist, situationists, Trotskyist and Maoist ideas) that imperiled the exclusive right of the state to practice Marxist and left ideologies. The state reaction corresponded with the victory of party hardliners (between 1972/74). Until that time, culture, media, and even politics and economy had been relatively liberated areas of culture. After the reaction of the state apparatus Slobodan Tišma cancelled his public art practice and together with Čedomir Drča created several works and performances that were dealing strongly with the death of utopian projects and the end of modernism. It was interesting that after the state reaction most of the artists sooner or later reduced their presence in the cultural scene, some among them stopped working or started to symbolically perform these attitudes as reactions new situations. There were works like Invisible art, Invisible band or Invisible artist that were part of a time –based performance called THE END that happened from 1972-1977. In that time Slobodan Tišma and Čedomir Drča drank American Coca Cola and Russian Kvas every day with friends in front of a local store. This performance presented a strong ideological political dimension for the desired autonomy of art declaring the avantgarde’s artistic aknowledgment of the defeat of art in the clash with the ideological state apparatus. This period coincides with the end of utopias and the avantgarde experience from one side and the appearance of popular punk and new wave movements on the other side (1972 -1977) that got these artists to start to work again in a somewhat changed cultural environment. At that time they were deeply involved in the subcultural scene and were spending time away from art institutions that were occupied by state apartchicks. Unfortunately, the local art infrastructure and critics at the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies did not have mechanisms and tools to process the rich artistic and cultural activities that were happening right in front of their eyes. This specific ‘cultural heritage’ vanished from the public sphere after the state’s intervention and became part of the local mythology.

These artists went into denying art in general, engaging in escapism and the symbolic death of utopia, which was a similar destiny to that of other utopian and avant-garde movements in the mid seventies. Group KôD and Group (∃ called into question moderate modernist values, and the defined boundaries between different arts as well as the boundaries between art, culture and politics. They were acting from inside of the mainstream cultural and youth state institutions, a position that was at that time, quite rare in Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe. Since the provocation of the state apparatus and ideology crossed the imaginary boundaries of the state’s tolerance, the state reacted, thus confirming its position in the hierarchy of power. The state apparatus completely replaced the editorial boards of institutions and magazines with agents and bureaucrats, which imprisoned some of the protagonists of the scene. They also banned the distribution of critical films1. The question of the so-called ‘new media’ today and exploration of media is quantitatively identical to the problems that the neo avant-garde of the sixties and seventies dealt with while conducting experiments with installations, video and electronic sound. These problems deal with the question of the relationship between the medium and the content, i.e. what is new in new media. Media research is the history of the research of communication and extroversion, while simultaneously seeking the channels to address the masses and send a message. The avant-garde's aspiration to penetrate society and lead it in a utopian project of creating a just society is closely connected to media research.

1. Because of its strong critical engagement and critique of the Yugoslav cultural and political establishment, Youth’s Tribune is stamped down in 1974. The editorial boards of Novi Sad's artistic and literary magazines Polja (Fields) on Serbian language and Uj Simposion on Hungarian language, the student's magazine Index and the film production Neoplanta, are completely deposed in the period from1972 till 1974. In 1971, Slavko Bogdanović and Miroslav Mandić are sentenced to one year in prison because of their artistic activity.

Zoran Pantelić and Kristian Lukić
New Media Center _