Captured State

7 October – 30 November, Sciennes Gallery, Summerhall

Opening 6 October (performance, 1830 : main opening, 1930)

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OPA (Obsessive Possessive Aggression) Keep Calm and Eat Chocolate

Captured State features the work of six contemporary artists from the Republic of Macedonia, all exhibiting in Edinburgh for the first time.

In the last decade, Macedonia has found itself under an unprecedented level of scrutiny from the international media, as a politically volatile, troubled borderland in south-eastern Europe; caught between the competing agendas of different geopolitical actors, and engulfed unwittingly in the refugee crisis that has consumed Europe from 2015 to the present, as well as negotiating a tense two years of anti-government street protest, and a recently resolved political deadlock.

In terms of visual culture, debates in Macedonia have been dominated since the beginning of this decade by the “Skopje 2014” project, a megalomaniac re-imagining of the nation’s capital through Baroque and neoclassical idioms. Intended as a scheme to overwrite the Yugoslav character of the city of Skopje, the previous government spent over €660 million on this transformation, since 2010/11- this in a country with 28% unemployment and middle class salaries of barely €400 per month.

 

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Igor Toshevski Territory Skopje, 2009

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Ephemerki Context vs. Discursor, Belgrade Oktobarski salon, 2015

Independent artists, such as the ones chosen for this exhibition, have had to fight hard to maintain a space for their independent and robust individual practices to endure. Culture in Macedonia is only just emerging from what has been a very difficult period; a newly elected government finally signalled its intention to cancel the Skopje 2014 programme, in May 2017.

This is a snapshot of contemporary cultural production, from the opposite corner of Europe; from a country enthusiastically embracing a Euro-Atlantic path just as ours seems intent on departing from it. The artists, through the new works that they have prepared for the show, have all responded creatively to the idea of a “captured state”; not literally in terms of politics, but more broadly, in terms of the difficulties non-EU cultural actors have in travelling, the agonising choices of exile and diaspora, the difficulty of facilitating idea exchange, the capture of individual subjectivities in competing and conflicting ideas of identity, gender and nationhood; cultural invisibility in broader narratives of globalisation; the relationship to the idioms and ideologies of past avant-gardes.

The chosen artists for the exhibition are Igor Toshevski (one of the representatives of Macedonia at the 2011 Venice Biennale), OPA (Obsessive Possessive Aggression- the artistic duo Denis Saraginovski and Slobodanka Stevceska), Verica Kovacevska, who did her artistic training in England and is now based in Zurich, and Ephemerki, a collaboration between Jasna Dimitrovska (Berlin) and Dragana Zarevska (Prague).

This exhibition, through installation, video and live performance, shows how a diverse cross section of critical artists active in the Macedonian context, have responded to notions of state capture, socio-political upheaval and a keenly critical response to recent histories in the country. This is the first showing of work by all of these artists, in Scotland, and continues the long tradition, begun by Richard Demarco, of Scottish engagement with the countries of the former Yugoslavia.

The exhibition has been organised and curated by Dr. Jon Blackwood of Gray’s School of Art, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, in collaboration with Summerhall. The show will be accompanied by a 64 page catalogue featuring essays by Jon Blackwood and Macedonian independent cultural activist, Bojan Ivanov, illustrated in full colour.

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Vera Kovacevska Colour Caller, Bradford / Skopje, 2006

3 Generations of Women Artists :Horsecross Art Space, Perth, 8 March

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This coming Wednesday, there will be a rare opportunity for gallery visitors to engage with contemporary video art from Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Horsecross Arts Space in Perth.

Highlights of the afternoon will be a showing of six video works by key artists currently active in BiH: the works of Adela Jušiċ, Lana Čmajčanin, Irena Sladoje, Borjana Mrđa, Nina Komel, and Selma Selman, will be presented in Scotland for the first time. Meanwhile Bosnian performance and sound artist Maja Zećo will present her latest work One Thousand Pomegranate Seeds for the very first time.

Maja Zećo Performance Preview

The afternoon will start with a presentation from co-curator Iliyana Nedkova and will be followed by a lecture from Jon Blackwood on contemporary cultural contexts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the role played by women in framing debates in art and wider society.

The afternoon begins at 1500hrs and the performance will begin around 1700. If you are unable to come on Wednesday, you will be able to see the videos on display at Horsecross until the 11th April. Both the performance and the lecture will be made available online, after the event…details will be posted when they are to hand.

Look forward to seeing you all there!

3G: Three Generations of Women Artists Perform beings at 1500 on International Womens’ Day, Wednesday 8 March. Advance booking is essential through Horsecross Arts Box Office. The screen performances are limited to over 16s due to graphic content related to conflict. For tickets and info for Three Generations of Women Artists Perform click here or call 01738 621031.

Archipelago, Summerhall, Edinburgh

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Opening at Edinburgh’s Summerhall in January, a show of contemporary Scottish art entitled Archipelago, runs until the 17th March.

David Blyth contributed two rooms full of new print works, The exhibition also features the work of painter Derrick Guild, from Perth, and Dunfermline’s Alan Grieve.

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Alan Grieve’s work at the entrance to Archipelago

The exhibition came about from preliminary conversations at Gray’s around the work of the German biologist and illustrator Ernst Haeckel, and his semi-legendary two volumes of botanical illustration Kunstformen der Natur done in 1899-1904. From these early discussions the artists began to think of the idea of an Archipelago as a metaphor for independent art practices that take place away from the familiar venues in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

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David Blyth Philtre (detail), 2016

The contributions of each artist can be read as a solo show, but the exhibition is better followed when the viewer consider the parallels between the three visually different but subtly inter-linked practices on display. From Alan Grieve’s scabrous humour, derived from observations of everyday life and legends from the worlds of football, clubbing and music in Dunfermline, to Blyth’s subtle, beautifully produced new suite of prints focusing on an imaginative response to landscape, symbol and material, to Guild’s cannily arranged visual tricks and puns, orientated around a passionate engagement with the history of art and the natural world, this is a show which is a statement of attitude as much as anything else. It is an exhibition that offers a view of art practices taking place in the so-called “peripheries” of Scotland and suggest that such practices will become ever more important in a rapidly changing landscape of cultural funding and consumption.

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Derrick Guild Ural Owl (Brecht’s Journal), Acrylic on Linen, 2016

 

The exhibition  can be seen at Summerhall’s Meadows gallery. The show is accompanied by a full colour 48 page catalogue, with an essay by Jon Blackwood and representative samples of all the artist’s work. It is published by Summerhall and TP Sandinista, Skopje. This can be obtained from Summerhall, whilst a high quality .pdf version is accessible from RGU’s Open Air research repository.

Archipelago: New Work by Three Contemporary Scottish Artists is on show at Summerhall, Edinburgh until March 17th.

From November 2016 : Imaginarium : Contemporary Video Art from Macedonia

Imaginarium : Contemporary Video Art from Macedonia

The UK’s biggest exhibition of contemporary video art from the Republic of Macedonia was on display in Aberdeen in November. 

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OPA (Obsessive Possessive Aggression), Eternal Body, 2013. Video Installation

‘Imaginarium: Contemporary Video Art from Macedonia’ ran at Gray’s School of Art from  November 4 -18, featuring work from 12 artists who provided a representative cross-section of contemporary artists active in the European country.

Divided into three broad themes, the exhibition features a section on activist video art based on the work of artists who consciously adopt ironical or directly political critiques of contemporary trends in Macedonian society.

The exhibition also focusses on the documentary function of video art, which engages in the process of making or exhibiting art, as well as documenting aspects of contemporary Macedonian life and mutating Macedonian identities.

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Aleksandar Spasoski, Colour Revolution video still, 2016

The final section features work by artists who retreat into the imagination and use video as a means to explore parallel or alternative realities.

Dr. Jon Blackwood, a lecturer of critical and contextual studies at Gray’s School of Art who is the exhibition’s curator, said

“Imaginarium engages with another reality at the other side of the European continent, showcasing contemporary trends in Macedonian society. Macedonian art is not so well known in the UK so this exhibition is important in building bridges between local and international art scenes.

Jon Blackwood launched his book entitled ‘Critical Art in Contemporary Macedonia’ at the exhibition’s opening night. Published by Mala Galerija in Skopje, the book was funded by a research incentive grant awarded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland in March 2015.

Jon Blackwood adds: “The book is the first in English written about this subject. It draws not only on my interpretation of what is going on in Macedonia, but is based on the first hand accounts of twenty three artists, writers and curators active in the scene.”
Dr Blackwood’s book will be launched at 6.30pm during the exhibition’s opening night.

Imaginarium will open on Friday, November 4 and will run until Friday, November 18 at Gray’s School of Art on Garthdee Road. It will be open to the public between 9.30am and 5pm Monday to Saturday during the period.

Critical Art in Contemporary Macedonia

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My book Critical Art in Contemporary Macedonia will be published this Friday, the 9th September, and will be launched at Menada in Skopje.

The book is based on several years of participatory observation and research into Macedonian visual culture and contemporary art practice. I have tried to be as open and democratic as possible in the writing of the book. Whilst the book features a long introductory essay, I have tried to give the Macedonian artists, writers, curators and cultural workers the space to express themsevles and their sometimes (contradictory) points of view on recent developments in Macedonia, in terms of society, politics and culture. In short, I have tried to give interested readers an overview of the “ecosystem” of contemporary art practice in this context.

The book’s major focus is on those artists who adopt a “critical” stance not just towards the Skopje 2014 programme, but who offer more broadly a questioning stance towards cultural instituions in Macedonia, the role of art in neo-liberal transition, and the responsibility of the artist in contemporary society. Vexed questions such as how to make a career as an independent artist, the relative isolation and low profile of Macedonian contemporary art and artists, art and activism, and the future of contemporary art in Macedonia, are all tackled carefully in this book.

The book is the first iteration of a series of research outputs related to my work on contemporary art in the ex-Yugoslav space. In the next eighteen months, I am curating two shows of contemporary Macedonian art. One, entitled Imaginarium, will focus on video work from Macedonia and will run at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen from 4-11 November 2016.

The second, a group show of six contemporary Macedonian artists, will run at Summerhall in Edinburgh in autumn 2017, and more details will be provided in due course. In between these two shows, I will be presenting new research on Macedonian art and political upheaval as part of the session on Radical Art in Transition, that I am co-chairing with Dr. Jasmina Tumbas, at the Association of Art Historians Conference at Loughborough University next April.

Critical Art in Contemporary Macedonia is 350 pages long and is illustrated with over 100 full colour images. It is published by mala galerija in Skopje, with the support of the Carnegie Trust for the Universities in Scotland, and Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen.

Critical Art in Contemporary Macedonia will be available to purchase on-line shortly via amazon, in either e-book or hard copy format. Readers wishing a review copy or who wish to make enquiries can do so at jonblackwood@hotmail.com.

You can read an excerpt from the book here, or hear my lecture on the subject delivered in Ednburgh last October, here . Screenshots of selected pages feature below.

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Critical Art in Contemporary Macedonia

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Plotsad Makedonija, September 2011

I first went to Macedonia in 2008, and it is a land and a people that I quickly grew to love. In my work on the art of the former Yugoslavia, I found a huge amount of interesting material, on monumental Yugoslav modernists such as Borko Lazeski, and the dynamic architectural and sculptural duo, Jordan Grabulovski and Iskra Grabulovska, whose most remarkable building, the Makedonium in Krushevo, is a remarkable contemporary document, first opened in the early 1970s.

Growing out of a show at duplex 100m2 in Sarajevo, in February 2014, and a trip by Gray’s students to Skopje in February 2015, I have for the past year been working on a project, interviewing contemporary artists active in Macedonia and working on a book based on these findings and my own seven years of research on Macedonian art.

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Although Skopje has been in the art-news a lot, for the hugely controversial Skopje 2014 scheme which has “transformed” the city, critical independent artists, and the structures of independent art practice, have remained relatively under-reported in the English language. It’s a story of persistence, and the maintenance of an uncompromising criticality and dark humour, in really difficult circumstances.

The book will feature interviews with a broad cross-section of contemporary artists, curators, writers and thinkers on Macedonian art. It will be published by malagalerija in Skopje and further details of the launch, planned for mid-April in Skopje, will follow soon.

In the meantime, you can read more detail on the project, supported by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities in Scotland, as well as Gray’s School of Art, Robert Gordon University, here.

Want to know more? Have a look at the powerpoint and listen to the lecture on contemporary Macedonian art, delivered at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh, last October.

 

 

Without Pity or Sentiment : Conflict in the art of Adela Jušić


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This exhibition of Adela Jušić’s work brings together key pieces from the last eight years. These are artworks that trace the contours of a national trauma, framed in an intensely personal lens. In a world of seemingly perpetual neo-liberal resource wars and competing propaganda, it is forgivable for a 2016 audience to lose the thread of past conflicts, to have the details of individual battles and atrocities run into one another without differentiation. In an era of the perpetual present, where the unremarkable personal anecdote and life-event is given relentless significance on social media, we could be forgiven for a gentle indifference to an art practice based on personal biography.

But these works act as a sharp corrective to the disinterested and jaded Western gaze, and as a provocation to our blunted sense of empathy.

Born in 1982 in Sarajevo, Adela’s generation, and the ones before her, were and are still profoundly affected by the experience of living through the siege of her home city; lasting 1,425 days from April 1992, to February 1996. Starting with intense personal memories, this body of work gradually moving towards a more universal understanding of the complex lived experience of conflict, and consequences that result. Most recent work uses the experience of war, now twenty years in the past, as a means of critiquing the shortcomings and hypocrisies of Bosnian-Herzegovinian society in the present.

The earliest work on show here is one of Adela’s best-known, The Sniper of 2007. This video details the individual experience of her father, who was a sniper in the Bosnian Army before he was killed in action on 3 December 1992. The piece is a profound reflection on mourning and loss, set in the context of the “losses” of individual lives on a daily basis during the early years of the siege. Individual deaths are intoned in a matter-of-fact way, with lost human lives reduced to impersonal numbers on a list.

Similarly, the video performanceWho Needs DRNČ? develops programmatically; her cleaning of her father’s rifle with soot. At one level, this shows the adaptability of people when faced with material shortages and everyday items; there is a poignant intimacy in cleaning a weapon for someone who is no longer able to use it; a challenging ritual of memory, based on the disruption of normality, symbolised by the involvement of children in the everyday chores of a frontline soldier, when not on active service.

Jušić’s work is disarmingly honest and candid, be it dealing with family stories or broader political narratives. When I Die, You Can Do What You Want is another video that focuses on the mixture of the everyday and the distant past, in the last years of an old lady’s life. The subject is the artist’s grandmother; those who have already seen The Sniper can find out more details of the subject of that video in the spoken narrative.

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When I Die, You Can Do What You Want (detail), 2011

We are left with the impression of a fiercely determined and intelligent woman whose life was marked firstly by the National Liberation War in Yugoslavia (1941-45); broader memories offset by humdrum recollections, half-forgotten arguments, the joys and disappointments of children and grandchildren, the revelation of long-nurtured opinions on people and family property; the memories of two wartimes and a long, quiet struggle in a patriarchal peace. It is nothing less than a portrait from all angles; we see the old lady’s face in many different expressions as the artist herself colours her hair, and acts as a silent witness in the film.

If the works to 2011 deal closely with family and immediate family experience, then since then there has been a wider view employed, to try and illuminate the place of these narratives in local and international geopolitics and contemporary turbo-capitalism. Ride the Recoil of 2012-13 is a polemical installation that effectively challenges the commodification of war experience as entertainment by the gaming industry.

In Ride the Recoil, we are confronted with a series of paintings of a little girl, in red shorts, taken from a site on top of a Sarajevan building, from where snipers used to operate. These works are related to the video game Sniper : Ghost Warrior 2. One scenario in this game is set in Sarajevo in 1993, with the player cast as part of a “crack American team” sent in to neutralise a ficitional warlord named “Marko Vladić” (clearly based on the real-life Ratko Mladić). Particularly difficult to watch is the callous gaming instructions on how a player can kill more effectively, with a robotic female voice instructing the gaming sniper on how to make the most of their shot. This is offset by instructions from the artist to the viewer, on how to avoid snipers, based on her wartime experiences.

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Ride the Recoil (detail), 2013

Of course, the scenario of the video game is at variance with the historical reality; 1993 was the worst year of the siege of Sarajevo, characterised by spiralling violence and atrocity, counterpointed by repeated gruesome blunders in the response of the international community. The idea that a “crack American team” would have been sent to Sarajevo in that year, let alone be able to influence events, is simply laughable.

Nevertheless, profit rather than realism commands the attention of the game’s designers, who remained completely unrepentant. The callousness of the contemporary imagination, the derivation of cheap thrills from suffering and murder, the sociopathic profiting from the painful lived experiences of conflict, are indicted ably here.

The most recent work, Silk Lavender Shirt, is a durational performance dealing with the consequences of the 1992-95 conflict, for some of the key actors involved; in this case, Biljana Plavšić, a key figure in the Pale regime of Radovan Karadžić. Plavšić, on the basis of a subsequently retracted “confession” and, it is suggested, on the basis of her academic past as a biologist, received eleven years for her crimes, of which only eight were actually served.

This sentence considerably shorter than for many in a leadership role in Republika Srpska during this time. This work seeks to present the facts of Plavšić as a woman, in order to allow the audience to engage and form their own conclusions on the basis of court evidence, statements and photographs. In this work, the artist unveils the subject as providing a bogus “scientific” rationale for the attitude of the Pale regime towards Muslims, as somehow being defective genetic material; simply, a kind of latter-day fascism.

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Silk Lavender Shirt performance
 2015

Four key strands underpin the work Adela Jušić. As will be seen, these are personal biography; conflict and the politics of conflict, a steely commitment to feminism and institutional critique, and a practice based on collectivism and solidarity. The continuing appeal of these works, however, is much greater than the sum of these parts. Taken as a whole, these works mark a reflection on her personal development in times of war, which is presented to us without pity or sentiment; recent works suggest a slow processing of the lessons of these early works into a broader dissection of the consequences that that conflict has had.

The best art from BiH has recently made this leap, from reflecting on the war to reflecting on the current post-conflict BiH society as damaged and warped by developments since that war. Seen in this light, there is much evidence that the work presented here is amongst the most compelling being produced anywhere in the former Yugoslav countries, at present.

Adela’s exhibition, I DID NOTHING WRONG, curated by Joakim Hansson, opens on Friday Janaury 29 at Gallery GRO, Campus Allegro, Jakobstad, Finland, and runs until 5th March. All images courtesy the artist.

Between Two Worlds: Early Russian Modernism c. 1907-20

Missed this event? Click here to have a look at the powerpoint slides; you can download the lecture and listen by clicking the link.

 

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Natalia Goncharova, Rabbi with Cat, 1912, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh

I will be giving a lecture this coming Monday, the 18th January, at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The subject is the development of early modernism in Russian art. I will be focusing particularly on the work of Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov, but will also consider Lyubov Popova, Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky.

It is a fascinating period in the history of Russian art and society. It is not just a lecture about the end of Tsarism and the dawning of the Bolshevik era, but also a series of much broader debates that still animate contemporary Russian society; the battle between East and West; between Slavophiles and internationalists; between competing utopian visions of a future society’s art; of the role played by “popular” art forms such as the lubok and the religious icon, in the development of a new marketplace for new and experimental forms of painting.

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Kazimir Malevich, The Knife-Grinder 1912-13. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.

 

The lecture is free to attend and begins at 1245 in the Hawthonden lecture theatre. I will add a sound file and the powerpoint slides on here afterwards if anyone would like to hear this talk, but can’t come.

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Join the Red Cavalry!
Propaganda Poster c. 1918-19