Thursday, January 01, 2004

Lejla Hodzic / south ... east ... mediterranean... europe

Between December 14 and 16, Platform organized south ... east ... mediterranean... europe, a conference and conversation series. The project was within the context of "In The Cities of the Balkans", the 2nd part of "The Balkans Trilogy", a project initiated by Kunsthalle Fridericianum, with writers, critics, curators and artists from Sofia, Skopje, Jerusalem, Cairo, Belgrade, Beirut, Zagreb, Istanbul, Tirana, Pristine, and Sarajevo. The meeting focused upon rethinking artistic production, cultural geography and possible future collaborations in South-East Europe and the South-East Mediterranean, otherwise known as the Balkans and the Middle East.The participants were, Rene Block, Natasa Iliç, Vasif Kortun, Suzana Milevska, Jack Persekian, Shkelzen Maliqi, Luchezar Boyadjiev, Eleni Laperi Koci, Migjen Kelmendi, Lejla Hodzic, Christine Tohme, Mai Abdu ElDahab, Katerina Gregos, and Boris Buden.
It was funded by Förderung aus Mitteln der Kulturstiftung des Bundes and organized in collaboration with Kunsthalle Fridericianum Kassel.

Great Expectations
Lejla Hodzic

For more than one year, from October 2002 to December 2003 < rotor > association for contemporary Graz became the Balkan Konsulat. Project Balkan Konsulat, consisted of a series of 6 exhibitions, featuring the art scenes of Belgrade, Prague, Istanbul, Budapest, Sarajevo and St. Petersburg as special guests, in the year when Graz was the Culture Capital of Europe. Invited young curators from those cities (Stevan Vukovic, Olesya Turkina, Michal Kolacek, Erden Kosova and Basak Senova, Judit Angel and Lejla Hodzic) involved in the development of contemporary art in their environment, composed multi-layered projects for Graz. Apart from the presentation of visual arts in the gallery space, where curators showed through selected artworks the environment of their art scene in an atmosphere corresponding to the spirit of each city, a number of exterior locations were also used. The exhibition openings were accompanied with events, such as workshops and artistic interventions at Celery’s_the juice bar and DJ/VJ events with music and screenings at the bar Vipers at Thienfeld by the artists by the respective cities . In collaboration with Museum in Progress Vienna, works of two artists from each city were presented on billboards in a public space, in front of the National Theatre in Graz as well as being published in Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard. Finally, a selection of short films and videos from each city was presented in the Mediatheque of the City of Graz.
What makes this project different from the recent series of exhibitions which explore the thematic of the Balkans is that the Balkan Konsulat project went further in playing with the notion of the Balkans. While other exhibitions were searching for the Balkans in that specific geographical and cultural point, where western view usually expects to see images, or 'ghosts' of the Balkans, the 'black hole' of the Europe, the curatorial team which made a conception of the Balkan Konsulat (Margarethe Makovec, Anton Lederer and Lejla Hodzic) decided to play with the relativity of the borders which define the Balkans. Where do the Balkans start, where do they end? It is not easy to trace the Balkans’ borders. The attempt to locate its mentality leads to never-ending discussions. Every country interprets the "Balkans" differently. From a German perspective, they start in Austria, from there in Slovenia, from Slovenia in Croatia, from Croatia in Serbia etc. Balkans is always somewhere else, there where our view does not reach, or like philosopher Slavoj Zizek says: „The Balkans are always the Other."
That is the reason why in the frame of the Balkan Konsulat it was possible to find, on the first site, a bizarre choice of the cities whose art scenes were presented, cities which from a geographical point of view cannot be considered as a part of the Balkans. Besides Belgrade, Sarajevo and Istanbul, as a typical Balkan capitals, in the frame of Balkan Konsulat the art scenes of Prague, Budapest and St. Petersburg were presented. (In the original concept of the project it was planed to feature Vienna and its art scene, as the last exhibition in a series of seven. But, during 2003 unfortunately it became clear that the realisation of this Vienna exhibition would not be possible due to the financial difficulties in which , together with many other Graz based art institutions were found, because granted year budgets for the institutions were cut off in favour of funding for the realisation of the Cultural Capital projectIn this way the notion of the Balkans was deprived of this expected essence. That's why it is not strange that the sign of the Balkan Konsulat is in fact a symbol of a state without any standard symbols, ornaments or colors. An empty form which can be filled with wanted contents.
The other specific of the Balkan Konsulat is in its approach to curatorial practice. Balkan Konsulat is in fact a continuation of activity - dealing with contemporary art from the south-eastern part of Europe over several years. In the mid nineties, Margarethe Makovec and Anton Lederer, curators from , became aware of the influence from South-East Europe to the culture of their city - Graz. They started to work intensively with artists from that region, including their works in a number of exhibitions together with the works of western artists. The result of this work is an extensive network of artists and art institutions, reaching from the Czech Republic to Turkey and from Slovenia to the Ukraine. (Entering the gallery in October 2001, during the opening days of the Steirisherbst Festival and seeing a lot of artists from 'balkan' region, Serbian artist Uros Djuric said: ' you are the real Balkan Konsulat'.) In 2003, when Graz was the Culture Capital of Europe, instead of curating their own exhibitions Makovec and Lederer, offered their space and premises to curators from various regions to create a program for this very important year, presenting inner views of specific art scenes.
Similarly, to the unexpected choice of 'balkan' cities, presentations of specific art scenes in the frame of the Balkan Konsulat projects, were always what was expected. Michal Kolacek presenting the Prague art scene featured artists from Poland, Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The intention of the Sarajevo part of the Balkan Konsulat project, was to present this new art scene which developed after the war, including Bosnian artists living in the country or abroad whose works reflected the social and political situation, and artists from the region who are connected in different ways with Sarajevo, both influencing the scene and influenced by it. The creation of this new scene is closely connected to the activity of the Sarajevo Center for Contemporary Arts, founded in 1997. The works of the artists presented at the exhibition deal with different issues which were at the same time specific for the country and its experience of war as well as being relevant on a global level considering problems such as; displacement and notion of a home (Sejla Kameric, Sarajevo; Lala Rascic, Sarajevo/Amsterdam); consequences of the war (Vanda Vukicevic, Sarajevo/London); closeness and fear of death (Aleksandra Vajd, Maribor/Prague); fears and feelings caused by living in urban surroundings (Danica Dakic, Sarajevo/Dusseldorf); isolation and impossibility to integrate to the domestic (Slaven Tolj, Dubrovnik) or foreign (Kristina Leko, Zagreb) society. An archive presented in the Balkan Konsulat's café comprised a selection of video works, films, catalogues, and artist's documentation from and about Sarajevo.

Beside the exhibition in < rotor > gallery space, a group of young graphic designers intervened in the Celery space of the, representing another characteristic of new artistic practice in Sarajevo - coming out from the art institutions to the public spaces and creating a direct contact with the wider public. Their graphic works were realized on everyday objects used in the restaurant, for example the plates. Dubioza Kolektiv, who performed a live act on the day of the exhibition opening, represented the Sarajevo music scene. They create a music which combines traditional ethno with contemporary electronic sounds. In October a selection of videos from Sarajevo was shown at the Mediathek Graz.

In a similar way to the Sarajevo exhibition, which was exploring post war problems in Bosnia through the works of artists from other countries, the Balkan Konsulat project explored problems of Balkans in a different way, changing the essential cliché image, of the Balkans.