Stevan Vuković

Maj 75’ and ‘Prvi broj’in the Framework of Infrastructural Activism

 

Maj 75 in the Lineage of Experimental Magazines Published by Artists in Yugoslavia

Magazines made by independent artists, art groups and collectives in Yugoslavia in the times of the Avant-gardes, Neo-avant-gardes and Post-avant-gardes make a specific historical lineage that is still to be thoroughly researched. Selected examples from that lineage, ranging from the Zenit magazine (published in 43 numbers in 34 volumes in Zagreb, from February 1921 to May 1923, and Belgrade, from June 1923 to December 1926), to Mentalni prostor (published in Belgrade, in four thematic issues, from 1983 to 1987), were described and intepreted Darko Šimičić in his contribution to the Impossible Histories texbook, published by IMT press. So far, it was only him to consider them both as “independent and complete works of art, executed in the layered form of collages consisting of textual and visual elements”, and as being “of crucial importance in building a strong network, thereby establishing the effective communication system of art, primarily among artists but more broadly among the cultural centers of Western, Central and Eastern Europe”i. The scope of such network was made quite visible frequently on the back side of Zenit magazine, advertising for other Avant-garde magazines, or, for instance, of the Ma magazine, published in Budapest, and later in Vienna, by Lajos Kasák, that featured similar adds.

Photo 01 – backside of Ma magazine, year VIII (1922), issue 1

 

These Avant-garde, Neo-avant-garde and Post-avant-garde magazines were mainly experimental in content in design, and usually made in ‘D.I.Y.’ manner (or ‘do-it-yourself’), which was defined by Robert Jude Daniels as "an ethos or a style", whose main feature is the desire of those practicing it to "be independent, or at least ‘self-reliant’’ii. Maj 75 magazine was a typical example of that – printed in A4 format, fixed with a stampler, with no International Standard Serial Number (ISSN), no publisher nor editorial board mentioned, so the only contextualizing data was the year of publishing. The first issue, which came out in the summer of 1978, featured a statement of his ‘authors’, saying that it was meant to be the “alternative to contemporary trend of forming an artwork through the division of media, and presenting it through institutions only”iii. It was printed in Zagreb, in the studio of Vlasta Delimar and Željko Jerman, edited by the Group of Six Artists, comprising of Boris Demur, Željko Jerman, Sven Stilinović, Fedor Vučemilović, Vlado Martek and Mladen Stilinović. It was an extension of their artistic work which had as medium “the public, open and informal space, as the space for communication and intervention in which remain the signifying traces of processes and behaviours, authorial gestures in the exchange of the possible world of art, culture and life practice”.iv The first (A) issue of Maj 75 magazine featured only their works on paper, but already from the second (B) issue other authors from Zagreb joined, such as Goran Petercol, and from the third (C) also from Belgrade, such as Jovan Čekić. The eleventh (F), published in 1981, was fully dedicated to female artists from the region whose works could be “placed into the problematic of New Artistic Practicesv, as Vlasta Delimar, the uncredited editor of the issue wrotevi. The full list of authors whose works were presented in that issue is the following (in the order of appearance in the issue): Breda Beban, Rada Čupić, Vlasta Delimar, Sanja Iveković, Jasna Jurum, Vesna Miksić, Vesna Pokas, Bogdanka Poznanović, Duba Sambolec, Edita Schubert, Branka Stanković, and Iris Vučemilović. The total number of issues was seventeen, plus one issue published later, in 1990, as EX-Maj 75.

Photo 02 – MAJ 75 A, Zagreb, 1978-1

 

In order to decipher the position of Maj 75 magazine in the lineage of experimental magazines published by artists in Yugoslavia, it is important to mention the participation of Mangelos in the second (B) issuevii. He was a founding member of Gorgona group, whose main collective work was the magazine which was also named Gorgona, upon a poem written by Mangelos, and that group was considered to be the direct predecessor of the Group of Six Artistsin the concept of the Other line of art in Croatia by art historian Ješa Denegri.viii The members of the Gorgona group were: Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos, Miljenko Horvat, Marijan Jevšovar, Julije Knifer, Ivan Kožarić, Matko Meštrović, Radoslav Putar, Đuro Seder and Josip Vaništa. It has operated in Zagreb and internationally from 1959 to 1966, but the first retrospective of their activities was made by Nena Baljković (later Dimitrijević), in 1977, in the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, and, subsequently, in the Gallery of the Student Cultural Center in Belgrade, and the Municipal Museum in Monchengladbach. This participation of Mangelos in the Maj 75 magazine is one of the reasons to state, as Ivana Bago and Antonija Majača did, that those self-organising artistic initiatives in Croatia did “organically and chronologically follow upon one another not only through mutual affinity and recognition, but also by means of a direct connection through the individuals that make up the cores of many different groups: from Gorgona (1959–1966), to one-day exhibition activities in the doorway of 2A Frankopanska Street in Zagreb, led by Braco and Nena Dimitrijević (1970–1972), the Group of Six Artists (1975–1979) and their magazine May 75 (1978–1984), to the RZU Podroom (1978–1980) and the PM Gallery (1981–)”.ix That kind of direct connection between poroponentes of such emancipatory projects was lacking in other art centers in Yugoslavia at the times, especially in Belgrade, where the protagonists of the New Artistic Practices felt that they are in complete discontinuity with such projects in the past.

Photo 03 - Josip Vaništa, Gorgona no. 1, 1961

 

The Podroom Exhibition Space and the Maj 75 Magazine

Davor Matičevič stated that the generation which took part in New Artistic Practices “considered that galleries should become experimental and open workshops for the creative participation of artists and spectators and believed in the possibility of designing and enriching parts of the town”x. The Podroom [Basement] exhibition space (1978-1980) was initiated by Sanja Iveković and Dalibor Martinis. They have transformed their art studio in Mesnička street 12 into an exhibition space, in collaboration with the Group of Six Artists. The first exhibition has opened in May 24, 1978 with the group exhibition titled For Art in the Mind. The title was proposed by Josip Stošić, and the participants were: Boris Demur, Vladimir Dodig Trokut, Ivan Dorogi, Ladislav Galeta, Tomislav Gotovac, Vladimir Gudac, Sanja Iveković, Željko Jerman, Željko Kipke, Antun Mara i, Vlado Martek, Dalibor Martinis, Marijan Molnar, Goran Petercol, Rajko Radovanovi, Mladen Stilinović and Sven Stilinović, Josip Stoši, Goran Trbuljak, and Fedor Vuemilović. The invited artists could exhibit whatever they wanted, and there was no thematic frame to it, in difference to the exhibition titled Lines, curated by Branka Stipančić in December 1979, which was conceived explicitly as a didactic exhibition, including works which had only a single element: a straight line drawn on a flat plane. As Branka Stipančić wrote in the catalogue preface, “by selecting artworks that resemble one another, what is revealed is the absurdity of the attempt to read the ‘new artistic practice’ by means of the existing formal, aesthetic, value-based criteria of traditional art criticism and theory". The didacticism of the exhibition was focused on showing that new art requires new intepretative methods, since simply sticking to the old ones "here we would find ten (and more, because these are merely examples) of the same visual contributions, i.e., a multitude of plagiarisms, pointing to a troubling tendency among young artists, who would seem to have found their expression in drawing and exhibiting lines.”xi Participating artists were: Željko Jerman, Željko Kipke, Antun Maračić, Marijan Molnar, Goran Petercol, Darko Šimičić, and Raša Todosijević. Maj 75 magazine was closely linked to the artists exhibiting in Podroom, and with activities that took place there, but was mainly signed in the editorial sense, by the members of the Group of Six Artists. It was defined as a magazine-catalogue, a “supplement to the oral informing, which was a work that was going on continually from May 1975, from the their first joint exhibition-action”xii. It continued to be published even afer the end of activities in Podroom, following a letter by Sanja Iveković and Dalibor Martinis to all artists involved with the Podroom, on February 26. 1980, stating that since there was no consensus on the value of some of the programs that took place there, or were about to take place, they will simply reclame it as a living and working space. Most of the artists from that group will simply shift their activities to the gallery that will open on January 25, 1981, on Starčić square 6, under the name Galerija proširenih medija. The reasons for the dissolution of the Podroom as exhibition space were reflected in a talk that was published in a magazine titled Prvi broj (First issue), in 1980:

“Sanja [Ivekovic´]: For then it didn’t seem enough to us that this space exists where we can exhibit our works, create our catalogues, etc. . . . And besides, it was also because the character of our work had changed, along with the sense of what constituted the role of artist today; in a way, we ceased to be merely “artists,” and are starting to be something more than that. . . .

[Mladen] Stilinovic´: Less.

Sanja: More or less. In my opinion, it is more, and when I say more I mean that it is not only important for us how do we make our works, but if we have an awareness of the fact that we are working in a specific context, and that artrists are some constituents of a culture, and that we, therefore have a right to critically address it, and also to create some cultural policy …xiii

Photo 04 - Catalogue of the exhibition Lines, Podroom 1979

 

Prvi broj was articulated as a “catalogue of the Radna zajednica umetnika Podroom (Working Community of Artists Podroom)”, and it was clearly stated in it that Podroom is not a gallery, but “a form of artistic activity”, and that it was the case because a great number of the works of the members of that community “cannot be realized in a gallery context, because they are it’s negation”xiv It presented a very conflictual attitude towards the system of public institutions in art, and was made to rise awareness of artists of the institutional framework of art production and distribution, and of the character of artistic labor, in contrast with other types of work in the field of art. The text by Mladen Stilinović, on page five, has pointed towards a number of manipulative acts by the staff of different galleries and by the members of the press, stating that what he and his fellow artists just wanted was to controll the means of production, as well as of distribution of the artworks they were making. The text by Sanja Iveković and Dalibor Martinis has offered a solution to that, pointed towards the necessity to introduce contracts on the conditions of public presentation of an artwork, and have produced a sample of such contract, asking artists to use it in their negotiations with museums and galleries. The contracts were meant to formalize the relations between official exhibition spaces and the content providers. But that was not the whole story. As Antonia Majača and Ivana Bago have concluded, they were aware that “the dematerialisation of the art object and the (imagined) impossibility of reducing the product of artistic labour to a commodity that might produce a surplus of value/capital generate an additional need to valorise artistic labour as an idea, above all institutionally and socially”. On the other hand, related to the local socio-political context, “of the socialist project, led by the idea of the common good and the abolition of private property, it is precisely ideas (art) that must fight for their material status and prove their (social) value”xv. What the members of the Podroom community have realized and reflected upon was that, in the final instance, artworks and “their respective producers do not exist independently of a complex institutional framework which authorises, enables, empowers and legitimises them”.xvi That makes the process of distribution part of the co-dependence of different participants in the art scene, which is not contrary to the fact that within thprocess of production, artists are placed “in the center of a network of cooperating people, all of whose work is essential to the final outcome”xvii. Pierre Bourdieu’s ‘structural’ field of cultural production meets here Howard S. Becker’s ‘interactionist’ art worlds.

Photo 05 - Contract, first two pages, in Prvi broj, 1980

Photo 06 - Contract, second two pages, in Prvi broj, 1980

 

Ethical Values and Infrastructural Activities

Pierre Bourdieu has stated that “for something to be considered a ‘work of art’, it needs to have a place in the art world”xviii On the other hand, if an art world is a production system comprised of producers, distributors, and consumers "whose cooperative activity, organized via their joint knowledge of conventional means of doing things”, makes that system to produce “the kind of art works that art world is noted for"xix there is a constant danger of the art world simply reproducing itself, erasing, or at least rendering invisible all non-coventional practices. Curator Hou Hanru has for that reason stressed the importance of alternative art spaces, and has pointed aut out that “resistance needs new forms of actions and organizations and art events, which means more initiatives or collectives that are consisting of artists and also other cultural producers, researchers within a transdisciplinary, trans-cultural way.”xx Gabriele Detterer has conducted numerous case studies of artist run spaces based in Canada, the USA, Hungary, Switzerland and Italy, and has subsequently argued that, in spite of them following mutually very different agendas and having very different organisational structures, they mainly do share a common culture, which embraces “ethical values, convictions and attitudes, goals and strategies that influence the selfunderstanding and self-image of all associations and their members.”xxi That kind of shared culture, among even geographically and historically distant collectives, can help to avoid reducing the self-defining activites of their participants to “haphazard individual claims to particular artistic statuses”, and bring them closer to “mutually interdependent claims produced through the coordinated and interdependent organization of artistic activity."xxii In order to nurture that kind of culture it is required to develop specific types of interactions among the actors on the art scene, which are non-exclusive and non-hierarchical. That would, for sure, rely on “debunking of the romantic myth of the socially isolated artist, struggling alone to produce his or her work in a cold, barren garret”, which is, unfortinately “part due to the artists themselves, who describe their alienation from mainstream society in biographies and autobiographies,which argue that one becomes a great artist by using one's inner resources to rise above social and institutional constraints”.xxiii The other myth to get rid of is the one of the omnipotent curator, who is able to freely redistribute cultural capital through his project, and make remedies for all the historical injustices done to specific artists and art movements. That myth is a residue from “the era of the curator”xxiv, the 1990s, when it was strongly believed that the free lance, and so called independent curators can be really fully independent in their influence on the art world. Since the ‘New Fairism’ took over all major aspects of ‘New Institutionalism’, what one can encounter today among many of the singular free lance curators is not only working as advisers to rich art collectors, but also getting involved with art fairs in order to transform them into “part market, part meeting point, part laboratory, part pedagogical workshop and part curatorial platform”xxv. Once we get rid of those myths, what remains as just hard work on producing infrastructure which has a capacity to legitimize new forms of art and cultural activism and can be freely used by all those who try to avoid instant recuperation of their work by the main stream.

Photo 07 - Mangelos - Truth - Maj 75, issue I, 1982

 

Shift from the Curatorial to the Infrastructural

Defining ‘the curatorial’ as a technical term, Jean-Paul Martinon and Irit Rogoff have contrasted it with ‘curating’, and wrote that if “’curating’ is a gamut of professional practices that had to do with setting up exhibitions and other modes of display, then ‘the curatorial’ operates at a very different level”, in the sense that “it explores all that takes place on the stage set-up, both intentionally and unintentionally, by the curator and views it as an event of knowledge."xxvi For Maria Lind, in contrast to curating, the curatorial has “a more viral presence consisting of signification processes and relationships between objects, people, places, ideas, and so forth, that strives to create friction and push new ideas”.xxvii The more this difference was insisted upon, the more it paved the way to the concept of the ‘paracuratorial’xxviii, which was publicly discussed upon for the first time in a 2011 talk between Maria Lind and Jens Hoffmann. On that occasion Jens Hoffman has defined the paracuratorial as a set of activities encompassing “lectures, screenings, exhibitions without art, working with artists on projects without ever producing anything that could be exhibited”.xxix Paul O’Neill has extended on that analyzing the prefix ‘para’, as pointing to “something ‘other than’, ‘beside’, ‘outside’, or ‘auxiliary’”, and “operating at a distance from the main act”, which produces “a binary between primary and secondary curatorial labor.”xxx Terry Smith has gone one step further, claiming that up to today “the curatorial has expanded beyond the paracuratorial to become what might be called ‘the infrastructural’”xxxi. Commenting on Terry Smiths statement that infrastructural activism became a major way of curating contemporaneity, Okwui Enwezor said that it is not a novelty, since “there were times in the West, during the 1970s especially, when artist-run spaces and alternative galleries played this kind of role”. Artists have then been “trying to bring different constituencies within societies together, to meet each other, to speak to each other, to find a point where a shared experience of co-existence can be explored”xxxii. Podroom was such as meeting space, run by artists, and both Maj 75 and Prvi broj have provided frameworks for intervening into the main stream procedures for presenting artworks, allowing for temporary communities to be constituted.

 

Stevan Vuković

i Šimičić, Darko: "From Zenit to Mental Space: Avant-garde, Neo-avant-garde, and Post-avant-garde Magazines and Books in Yugoslavia, 1921-1987", in Đurić, Dubravka and Šuvaković, Miško (eds.): Impossible Histories, Cambridge, Massachussetts: MIT Press, 2003, p. 316.

ii Daniels, Robert Jude: “'Shit-Good' and Doing it Myself (With a Little Help From My Friends”, in: Daniels, Robert Jude (ed.) D.I.Y. Chichester: University of Chichester, 2014, p. 7.

iiiMAJ 75 A, Zagreb, 1978, p. 2.

iv Briski-Uzelac, Sonja: „U auri avangarde – glasovi razlike“, in: Vukmir, Janka(ed.), Grupa šestorice autora.Boris Demur, Željko Jerman, Vlado Martek, Mladen Stilinović, Sven Stilinović, Fedor Vučemilović, exhibition catalogue, Zagreb: SCCA, 1998, p. 84.

v The very term „New Artistic Practices“ was coined by Ješa Denegri, art historian and critic, who was at the time, in 1960's and 1970's curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, to name the profile of art production he has considered relevant on the local art scene for that period. It was first used for the title of the exhibition on art in Yugoslavia from 1966 to 1978, which took place at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, Yugoslavia (now Croatia), in 1978. Denegri has appropriated it from the title of a chapter of a text by Catherine Millet on Conceptual Art, and used it to differentiate the profile of some samples from the local art production in Yugoslavia (that he was advocating for) from Conceptual Art proper, stressing the heterogeneity of those practices, which were influenced also by Arte Povera, Fluxus, Postminimal Art, Process Art, Body Art, etc. „New Artistic Practices“ were, according to Denegri, installing a radical break with all traditions in local art production, except the early avantguards and, perhaps, some neo-avantguard practices from 1950's, relating more to the international art scene of the times, and producing, therefore, the first generation of local artists „without deferral“. These artists were referring their works not to the works of previous generations of artists from the local art scene, but to the works of artists of their generation from other places, in an attempt to debate the role of art in societies of the times, outside the frame of reference of local art histories. In defining „New Artistic Practices“, Denegri wrote that the word „NEW“ in that expression meant that it was to name an neo-avantguard pehonomenon, which has significantly differed from the previus ones on the local art scene (such as Moderate Modernism, Informel, New Figuration, Neoconstructivism), the word „ARTISTIC“ was to eliminate any doubt on the legitimacy of those practices as art proper (not Outside Art, Non-Art or Anti-Art), while the word „PRACTICES“ was to stress that they were related to processes, doings, performings art actions, not to producing finalized aesthetics objects such as paintings or sculptures.

vi She was subsequently credited for that in the catalogue titled Vlasta Delimar: To sam ja / This Is I, made for the occasion of her solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb in 2014.

vii He contributed also to the issue I, in 1982, with a text titled “Truth”.

viii Denegri, Ješa: Prilozi za drugu liniju: kronika jednog kritičarskog zalaganja, Zagreb: Horetzky, 2003

ix Bago, Ivana and Majača, Antonia: “Dissociative Association, Dionysian Socialism, Non-Action and Delayed Audience: Between Action and Exodus in the Art of the 1960s and 1970s in Yugoslavia,” in Bago, Ivana, Majača, Antonia, and Vuković, Vesna (eds.): Removed from the Crowd: Unexpected Encounters I, Zagreb: BLOK and DeLVe, 2011, p. 278.

x Matičevič, Davor: "The Zagreb Circle", in Susovski, Marijan (ed.) The New Art Practice in Yugoslavia 1966-1978, Zagreb: Gallery of Contemporary Art, 1978, p. 23.

xi Stipančić, Branka: Lines, exhibition catalogue, Zagreb: Podroom, 1979.

xii See, for instance, MAJ 75 Đ, Zagreb: samizdat, 1980, p. 3.

xiii Untitled discussion, in Prvi broj (First Issue), Zagreb: samizdat, 1980, p. 1.

xiv Unsigned text titled “Prvi Broj” in Prvi broj (First Issue), Zagreb: samizdat, 1980, p. 2.

xv Bago, Ivana and Majača, Antonia: "Prvi broj (The First issue) / Acting Without Publicising / Delayed Audience", in Cvejić, Bojana and Pristaš, Goran Sergej: Parallel Slalom - A Lexicon of Non-aligned Poetics, Beograd and Zagreb: Walking Theory ‒ TkH and CDU – Centre for Drama Art, 2013, p. 266.

xvi Johnson, Randal: "Editor’s Introduction" in Bourdieu, Pierre: The Field of Cultural Production. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993, p.10.

xvii Becker, Howard S: Art Worlds, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1982, p. 25

xviii Grenfell, Michael, and Hardy, Cheryl: Art Rules: Pierre Bourdieu and the Visual Arts, Oxford: Berg, 2007, p. 43

xix Becker, Howard S: Art Worlds, Berkeley: University of California Press. 1976, p. x

xx Hanru, Hou: “Initiatives, Alternatives: Notes in a Temporary and Raw State” in Hanru, Hou (ed.) How Latitudes Become Forms, Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2003, pp. 36-39.

xxi Detterer, Gabriele: “The Spirit and Culture of Artist-Run Spaces” in Detterer, Gabriele, and Nannucci, Maurizio (eds.) Artist-Run Spaces: Nonprofit Collective Organizations in the 1960s and 1970s. M. Zurich: JRP |Ringier, 2012, p. 21.

xxii Gilmore, Samuel: “Art Worlds - Developing the Interactionist Approach to Social Organization”, in Becker, Howard S. and McCall, Michal M.: Symbolic Interaction and Cultural Studies, Chicago and London: University Of Chicago Press, 1990, p. 15

xxiii Gilmore, Samuel, op. cit, p. 153.

xxiv Brenson, Michael: “The Curator’s Moment,” Art Journal 57, no. 4, winter 1998, p. 16.

xxv Barragán, Paco: The Art Fair Age, Milan: Charta, 2008, p. 48.

xxvi Martinon, Jean-Paul and Rogoff , Irit: “Preface”, in Martinon, Jean-Paul (ed.): The Curatorial: A Philosophy of Curating, London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013, p. ix.

xxvii Lind , Maria: “Performing the Curatorial: An Introduction”, in Lind , Maria (ed.): Performing the Curatorial: Within and Beyond Art, New York: Sternberg Press, 2012, p. 20.

xxviii The term ‘paracuratorial’ was coined by Jens Hoffmannin and elaborated upon in the fourth issue of The Exhibitionist magazine, in 2011, to be commented upon also in the subsequent issue.

xxix Hoffmann, Jens and Lind, Maria: “To Show or Not to Show,” Mousse Magazine, no. 31, November 2011.

xxx O’Neill, Paul: "The Curatorial Constellation and the Paracuratorial Paradox", in The Exhibitionist 6/2012, p. 55.

xxxi Smith, Terry: Thinking Contemporary Curating, New York: Independent Curators International, 2012, p .253

xxxii Okwui Enwezor, “World Platforms, Exhibiting Adjacency and the Surplus Value of Art”, interview published in Terry Smith, Talking Contemporary Curating, New York: Independent Curators International, 2015, p.102