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Synchronized Swimming (2008)
Oil on Canvas
82 x 146 in
Courtesy of the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington
Question: Do we sometimes prefer to keep our eyes closed to the more unfortunate things that are happening in our cities and towns and
in countries around the world? Most people do.
It's easier that way. We tell ourselves as long as I am happy and my family is happy then everything will eventually work out.
But at what cost?

The New York Optimist is a place for entertainment yes, but it is also place for awareness. Many times the art we display is beautiful
and fun to see, however if you look closely you will see more than pretty pictures. Stories are being told through the art we present;
these stories can be whimsical or dark in nature, they can represent the beauty
of the body, the face and the soul, but we will always try to challenge our viewers minds.

Our friends at The Austrian Cultural Forum gave us a private viewing of a disturbing and provocative show, "Serbia: Frequently Asked
Questions", which left us with many questions. In this feature story, the director of The Austrian Cultural
Forum, Andreas Stadler,  answered some of them. So sit back, enjoy the interview, and try to get to the Austrian Cultural
Forum to see this show in person.
The Austrian Cultural Forum New York Is Currently Showcasing
"Serbia: Frequently Asked Questions"
Can you tell us what this exhibition reflects upon?

This is a showcase for artists reflecting escalating stereotypes, nationalism and fascism. The contemporary tragedy of Yugoslavia is a sharp
warning that fascisms can still happen, everywhere, in Europe, but also in the United States. There is no cure other than our artistic reflection
and democratic activism.

Serbian president Slobodan Milošević, who took power in 1989, has almost unanimously been identified as the main culprit and the reason for
Serbia’s reputation as a pariah state. The image of the war in Yugoslavia is one of brutal ethnic conflict thatwas widely explained by historical,
cultural, as well as religious differences both within Yugoslavia and abroad. These differences were overemphasized and instrumentalized in
order to create sharp-edged new nationalistic identities on the presumption that coexistence in one state is “impossible by nature.” What we
witnessed could be called the “culturalization of political and economic conflict,” a situation where
power struggles and socioeconomic conflicts are transformed into identity politics

Whom are the eighteen contemporary artists currently exhibiting works in "Serbia - FAQ" and what do each bring to this exhibit?

The fact that the eighteen featured artists are not only from Serbia, but also from other countries of the former Yugoslavia and Austria, adds a
variety of dimensions to the exhibition. Each tackles the conflict from their own point of view, highlighting different aspects with different tools
and different tones.

In his video Naturalmystic,
Anri Sala documents a man from Belgrade who uses his voice to imitate the sound of a Tomahawk missile, which
he heard all too frequently during the NATO bombing campaign over Serbia in 1999.
The piece is a strong statement on desensitization. Raša Todosijević, an influential artist active in the conceptual scene in 1970s Belgrade,
responds to the nationalist rhetoric in post-1980s Serbian culture in his mixed-media series, Gott liebt die Serben (God Loves the Serbs), a
platform for an ironic appropriation of the absurdities of any nationalistic project.
Naturalmystic (tomahawk #2) (2002)
Digital video projection
2:08 min
Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York;
Johnen + Schottle, Berline, Cologne, Munich; Gallery
Hauser & Wirth, Zurich, London; Galerie Chantal
Crousel, Paris
Milica Tomić’s video shows just how easy it is to go unnoticed while carrying an AK-47 through the streets of Belgrade in plain
sight. The work is doubly ironic, since the armed artist visits principal locations of the 1941 rebellion against Nazi occupation.
Marko Peljhan was commissioned to present a compact version of his 2009 Istanbul Biennial installation, Territory 1995. The work is based on a long-
term research project about the technological and legal circumstances of the Srebrenica massacre. With her painting Synchronized Swimming, Biljana
Djurdjević comments on the relationship between power and violence in the patriarchal social order as well as on adolescent sexuality. Intrigued by
the emotional and cultural power that is Tito’s heritage in former Yugoslavia, Slovenia-based Austrian artist Walter Steinacher’s painting addresses the
general process of selective, post-conflict remembrance. Conversely, works on paper by Johanna Kandl, one of which she created for the exhibition,
use the quotidian language of advertising to examine the causes and consequences of capitalist transformation.

Some of the works deal with more universal processes which cause or parallel violent conflict. Ahmet Öğüt looks at paranoiac and random aspects of
surveillance in the context of power struggles. As a foreign artist based in the Netherlands, Katarina Zdjelar uses her own experience of dislocation in
her video work to explore the promises and failures of cultural translation. Like Zdjelar, Vlatka Horvat also deals with displacement: in her video This
Here and That There, the rearrangement of chairs in a shallow pond creates a metaphor for dealing with the replacement of one social community
with another. In a commissioned photo series, Austrian-born photographer Paul Albert Leitner makes a strong statement about the impossibility of
knowing your place. Leitner traveled Serbia, Austria and the USA and documented urban scenes without indicating for the viewer where each picture
was taken.
The exhibition presents two further newly commissioned works: a film by Marko Lulić and a mural by Darinka Pop-Mitić. Lulić’s performative work
pays homage to Bogdan Bogdanović, a leading anti-Milošević intellectual who shaped the tradition of modernist memorials erected in socialist
Yugoslavia. Pop-Mitić’s wall drawing, inspired by American cartoonist George Herriman’s character Krazy Kat, offers a tragicomic perspective on
the complex history of Austro-Serbian relations in the 20th century. Also on view is a selection of artifacts from the Kunsthistorische Mausoleum
Belgrade, a peculiar “institution dedicated to preserving memories of art history.”
Most will see this exhibition as not only educational, but also political.  What are your thoughts on this?
It is not only in the United States that the term “Balkans” is associated with a backward region in Europe in which more or less
nationalistic peoples fight for influence and supremacy. Yugoslavia enjoyed much respect as a Socialist experiment and as a leading
nation in the alliance of neutral and non-allied states in the times of the east-west conflict until 1989; however, during the war in the
90s, what are now the seven successor states of Yugoslavia came to be seen more as a problem in international relations than as an
asset. Primarily Serbia has a bad reputation. The former president Slobodan Milošević, likely to go down in history as one of the main
perpetrators of the destruction of Yugoslavia, serves as a metaphor for Serbia’s image. The siege of Sarajevo, the Srebrenica
massacre, the so-called “Western” military operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995 as well as in the Kosovo and in Serbia in
1999, have all left their mark on global memory. The more negatively and persistently such stereotypes develop and manifest, the
more interesting their deconstruction and analysis becomes. And that is a highly political act.

Of course, artists can only marginally influence a country’s image – let alone its realities. But even a small artistic influence is an
interesting and necessary, albeit insufficient condition for a democratic and pluralistic society like we try to achieve in light of the
horrific events of the 20th century and, not least, the war in Yugoslavia.
What moved me the most in this exhibition was witnessing three full trolleys of blankets made of human hair.
Can you tell us what this represents?
Warmth reflects the problem of “nationalism” and connects immediately to the European fascist experience.
In this project, originally produced for the Serbian Pavilion at the Venice Biennial 2009, three tons of human hair
collected at hairdressers and military barracks were used to produce blankets with an undetermined function. The blankets are offered in different
sizes and are sold for the price of $100 each. Time-lapse footage of the hair-collection and production process appears on video screens adjacent to
the artwork.
What is behind the poetic works of Vlatka Horvat ?
Horvat uses the media of photography and film to evoke the poetic sadness of moving and reorganizing chairs in a shallow pond,
which can be understood as a metaphor for grappling with the loss of geographic roots and social communities. Each arrangement
of the chairs implies a set of possible relations between their imagined occupants, evoking myriad possibilities and scenarios related
to human interaction: dialogue,encounter, communication, and conflict.
Here is what Vlatka Horvat has to say about the issues of memory and loss: “There was a widespread ‘misremembering’ of the past.
Anything that had anything to do with the past 45 years of socialism and Yugoslavia was on the chopping block at that time and had
to be ‘corrected.’ For people liiving there, the changes perhaps felt more gradual, but for me, coming back once a year, every
return felt like coming back to something you don’t really know anymore. Socialism is synonymous with childhood for me. It’s
impossible to separate in my memory the experience of childhood and the experience of that particular era, and things that made
up everyday life. For me it’s not about nostalgia, though – it’s about maintaining a perspective on what we did and appreciating
what we lived through in a way that refuses to forget about it and move on just because a capitalist system was instated. I don’t
yearn for the past… but I’m not interested in erasing it either.”
The Austrian Cultural Forum
Serbia Frequently Asked Questions
Territory 1995 Evidence (2006-2010)
Documents, sound reconstruction,
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist
Installation View at the ACFNY
Photo by ACFNY
Mama Tito (2008) (left)
Oil on Molino
3.15 x 49.21 in
Courtesy of the artist
Installation View at the ACFNY
Photo by David Plakke, NYC
Down and Out in New York (2010)
Photo collage
51.18 x 47.24 in
Courtesy of the artist
Installation View at the ACFNY
Photo by David Plakke, NYC
Ahmet ÖĞÜT
Things We Count (2008)
HD video, Single-channel
6:20 min
Courtesy of the artist
Installation View at the ACFNY
Photo by David Plakke, NYC
Warmth (2009)
Felt, palettes, video documentation
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the Museum of
Contemporary Art, Belgrade
Installation View at the ACFNY
The Austrian Cultural Forum would like to thank The Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade
as a co-organizer and Branko Dimitrijevic as a co-curator