On "Art with Relation" at "The End of the Century". The Macedonian Situation 1985 - 1997.
How does 'the end of the century' begin and what is the relationship of the artistic attitude toward the surrounding, toward 'the external as reality of the artist' (as opposed of the non-reality of the artist`s inner world, manifested in the metaphor 'studio'), of the Macedonian fine-arts scene?
'The end of the century' poses this question considering that the aesthetic 'form' should become only a medium for transmission of the views, one of the constituent components, but not a constituency, and not to remain an autonomous appearance, self-satisfied by the categories which define it. The provocation of the material, its aesthetics (perceived in its negative or positive articulation) and self-satisfaction, is transformed into a carrier of meanings with which, under the condition to be used unambiguously - without their metaphysical settings or without redirecting, speak, with the reality language, on the real. The material becomes a stereotype of its kind that cannot, or even more - may not be treated as primary or dispensed for the aims of the artistic shaping, exactly because under the latter is understood something completely different; artistic shaping today is shaping of a concept, more precisely shaping of the standing of the artist toward reality. In other words, not only the term 'material' has been widened, but also that the standing and reality become or are transformed into a accessible, but above all priority artistic bricoler material. With that, the specificity of the approach to the artistic articulation of 'the end of the century' is established on basis of the attitudes to the following aspects: artist - stance, artist - reality, and artist - society or artist stance toward reality and society.
The overview of the types of creating of 'an art with relation' (art relative to taking a stance outside of the fine-artistic, more exactly the purely aesthetic) in the Macedonian fine arts in the last 15 years notes manifestations which are grouped under several determinants, led mainly through the syntagmas that follow. But, if the approach to the artistic production is set toward the most essential part of the syntagmas 'art with relation', one of the most topical items will be differentiated out, and that is the attitude toward the social reality. Posted in such way, the overview recognizes the initial manifestations in the mid 80`s. It is strange that these initial appearances, that would be expected to surface even in the 70`s, on the Macedonian fine-artistic scene appear so late. The absence of the conceptual art in the true sense of the term and the manifestations, that are defined closest to it, speak of one pro-conceptual direction exactly because of the avoiding of the more comprehensive treatment of the social reality.
Having such pre-setting, the fine-artistic scene in Macedonia only in the 90`s would be struck by such reality and more seriously and more notably would be treating it. As opposed to the rigid modernistic one, the latent or pro-postmodernistic discourse of the second half of the 80`s (defined in the syntagmas "art of the 80`s") resolves the situations and opens the free approach to problems of 'the end of the century'. From here start the inquiries that lead to 'the stepping outside' from the medium, the mixing of mediums, conquering of space by giving space to the work of art (in the manifestations to the installation, the ambiance, the space as a work of art) which adds also the predetermination of the space-location, narratives as shaping process, completely until the throwing out of the conceptuality of the work from the modernistic background into the foreground of the recent times. And finally, speaking of the whole art scene, the representation of the concept 'art with relation' notes maybe not a single permanent or coherent line of presence, but many-pointed diversity, singled out in the following correlation:
'Art with relation' as an attitude to the current.
This attitude relates to the current happenings and their reflection in the sphere of the artist`s interests. It is symptomatic that the numerous happenings in the region, and especially those in the last few years, are not found as very interesting by the Macedonian artists. In this stance, the daily-politics involvement of art in the society is not accounted for, but rather inadequate presence of generalizing extracts out of the complexes and the complex events. 'The absence' of themes of the independence of the Republic (together with all previous and consecutive events), the constituting of the institutions, various elections, the non-recognition of the state and national entity by the international factors, the Balkan crisis and the wars, the blockades and the sanctions, etc., have been substituted by 'some other' themes. Only in 1996., Ismet Ramičević with his installation 'Angle and Numbers' (from the exhibition 'Čifte Amam 2') treats the aspect of the problem of Bosnia through a very personal story, concentrated around the phone number of his friend in Sarajevo. The artistic expression in the case of this installation uses the direct approach, stated through the strength of the iconography elements: a contour-target in parallel activity with the phone number. Within the framework of this attitude, one could also place the installation 'Pantheon' of Blagoja Manevski (from the exhibition 'Image Box' of 1994/95.) where 28 TV sets in eight lines broadcast programs of local TV stations: the criticizing of the media cacophony with the inflow of opening of private stations, puts them on the pantheon pedestal; by this very act, the critique is widened also to the mass media of the average public, to the home atmosphere appearing when installing the TV sets on the frequent household four-legged handy wooden supporting stools.
'Art with relation' as an attitude to the existential.
The concern from the existence in the wider social corpus and the expressing of its presence in the artist`s world and consciousness, manifests its appearance through the introvert attitude of the artist. Turning around toward one`s own world as 'a territory of escape' has been noted as an esoteric proliferation of sign systems that speak of retreating, more exactly closing from reality. Thereby, the installations and projects, led by these premises, acquire a look of relocation of the everyday residing of the artists (which includes not only the studios, but also the living spaces). Thus, in treating this attitude, the installation of Zlatko Trajkovski, 'qui sait, lorsque le ciel nous frappe de ses coups, si le plus grand malheur n`est pas un bien pour nous.' d.a.e. de sade of 1994., in the Museum of the City of Skopje, becomes a public expression of these worlds with the transformation of the personal into the public. This 'other space' is relative also to the re-location which is performed by Igor Tosevski by exposing his 'Drawings' (1994., the Museum of the City of Skopje), when the intimacy of the recordings-psychographs becomes a penetration into the conscientiousness of the recipient.
'Art with relation' as an attitude to the primordial.
Treating the philosophical premises on the aspects of the primeval as an attitude that is made current nowadays, constructs the contrariness toward the techno-culture whereby the roots and the primordial things become neglected. The choice that contrariness is to be realized by changing the digital (as a metaphor of the simple binary coding) with the complexity of the ritual and ceremonial, rigidly established order, brings about the re-creating of 'the act' or 'the performing of the act' as a metaphor for man as author, and not as user. From these reasons, Iskra Dimitrova includes the body both as a beginning and as an end. In her 1991-1994. performances, she engages herself in the concrete presence of her own body as a medium through which the ritual character is accomplished. In the virtual performance/installation, 'Magna Mater Deorum', she leaves the physicality of the body and the role that she has in the ritual and artistic act. Whereby, with the work, 'Thalamus', from the exhibition 'Čifte Amam 2' in 1996., and since then, the artprint of her own body has become the main part of the ambiance concept that she works on. The conceptual line, which lines up all these transformations of the formal aspects of this operation, even in a stronger way strengthens the topicality of this creation, bearing in mind that it elaborates the aspects of the feminine.
'Art with relation' as an attitude to the political.
This attitude is one of the most essential penetrations into the social spheres of action as a field of interest also for the artistic action. The presence of the political and of the politicized leads to taking a discourse stance toward it. The artistic action in and from such situation may bring about a change of the very essence of the art, whereby the engagement in this segment enables definition of the production as a reference of the times. The elaboration of this attitude is exactly signified in the three-part installation, 'Macedonian Social Sculpture', by Žaneta Vangeli of 1996., installed at the exhibition 'Liquor Amnii 1' in the Čifte Amam. The clear-murky photographic juxtaposition of the three representatives of the spiritual, of the alternative and of the political sphere, the video juxtaposition of the alternative and of the conceptual, i.e. the juxtaposition of the narrative and of the metaphysical in placing the 10 flags of the Republic of Macedonia with its symbols (the poppy seedcase, lead and gold) direct the permanent absurd coordination to the very absurd itself, but at the same time to the perfect artistic syntax that places the political into a situation of criticized subject.
'Art with relation' as an attitude to the natural.
How could the approach to the natural, as referential and urgent for the global situation of mankind, be provocative also for the Macedonian artists? That is, why they are not adequately such, when their marking is found from place to place? [One should make a distinction here between the working with the natural and working with natural materials.]
Tome Adzievski, for example, in the project 'The Great Step Backward' of 1996/97., in the Skopje Museum of Contemporary Art elaborates the fascination by the cleanness of the natural that, as an element of the project, is in supplementary correlation with the sculptural undertakings. He is not engaged in the problem of the destruction of the natural (what one might expect), but he elevates it on the level of the majestic, and in this manner, relevant for the artistic transposition. With this, he substitutes or avoids the critical tonus, and draws the attention toward an optimistic stance.
'Art with relation' as an attitude to the religious.
The newly created social phenomenon of greater involvement of the Church (as an institution) in the social life (or reinstating the lost involving) and the appearance of the so-called 'new religiosity' separates this attitude from most of the previous and spontaneous utilization in the art. In contrast to those Macedonian artists, whose romantic approach and fascination by the tradition and spirituality of the Christianity end up in the utilization and the treatment of 'the religious (Eastern Orthodox - Christian) iconography as sceneric', it is requested from the contemporary artist to make a critical approach toward these phenomena. 'The iconography' demands to be reshaped not only as tautological replications of the iconography designs of the past, but as finding out contemporary expression tools, compatible with the times. In her long elaboration of the Christian iconography, Žaneta Vangeli, through her work 'The Revelation of St. John' of 1993., penetrates into the complexity of apprehension of the Christian truths, especially placing it on the account of the superficial 'new religiosity' of the today`s believers and on the neglecting of the primary role that the Church should have. The selected quotations from 'The Revelation' and the messages hidden there are totally referential to nowadays, and with them and by that the author at the same time concludes that under these circumstances they remain still hidden and out of the interest of those who are responsible for it.
'Art with relation' as an attitude to the social.
Social events and their reflection and presence in art seemingly more and more preoccupy the interest of artists. The current socialization of the artistic act not only involves a critical or engage approach, but also a benevolent attitude of 'the art in service of the society', or 'art as a favor, in service' of the social community (the minority, ethnic, political, religious, marginal, ghettoized, racial, feminist, homosexual, etc.). Such one preoccupation marks the project of Igor Toševski performed during 1996/97. Named as 'Dossier `96', the project addresses the manifestations and the consequences of the period of transition in Macedonia. Selecting enterprises that on purpose make products with flaw (reject, defect, refuse), so that they could later go bankrupt and be privatized, and the placing of these products by proper artistic procedure in the gallery premises, does not bother only the enterprises. This project problematizes even the very artistic procedures, i.e. their sense, and in its own way makes a proposal for the manner of the artistic approach to the social deviations that in their final instance treats also the seriousness of the position of the artist and of art in such one society. The project, aware of the impossibility to resolve, only makes the attempt to point out to the conditions.
'Art with relation' as an attitude to the artist`s own.
Treating the position of the artist who decided to face the social and its institutions on one hand, and the perceptiveness of his work on the other hand, guides this relation through the narrow roads at which the artist asks himself of the purpose of his own creation or engaging as an author in the complex force of the circumstances outside of him. Stanko Pavleski, for example in his work 'Metal Anatomy' 1996., in the text put on a brass plate, has included the idea of the irresponsible attitude of the art institutions toward the sensitive world and attitude toward the work of the artist. In his work 'The World in Cube or Circle · Energy Transfer - Everything is Part · Everything is Transparent' (1996/97.), he is in advance prepared for the hardship or even for theimpossibility of the posterior thought to grasp the subtle finesses that the artist fights with. Therefore, he writes: 'Do we see that which is? · Further from that very 'is'? · l am scared if we see at all ·' Further follow the preoccupation of the artist by the attitude from the outside, by the attitude toward the institutions of the artistic action, by the further destiny of his work. His perception is very often skeptic concerning these issues and because of that, as if he tries to further explain these processes as an attempt in advance to remove the misunderstandings.
The choice of these thematic blocks of realizations, based not on the aesthetic and fine-art assessments, but rather on the performative features of the choice, the act and the work-out of the current concepts/stances/commitments of the artist further can be included in the following general differentiation of the specifications of the criticism of 'the art with relation'.
'Art with relation' as a latent comment.
This aspect of the artistic activity excludes, or more precisely makes dull the sharpness of the comment on some social event. Liljana Gjuzelova, in her installation 'The Eternal Returning ... Forgetting, Facing, Returning, Migrations, Roots' arranged in a private house in 'Kej 13. Noemvri' St., no. 92 just for two days (31 March - 1 April 1997) speaks of a very personal side of her life. According to the very author, the pile of photos of her family scattered in the metal sarcophagus that is partially open (or by chance forgotten to be closed) should not represent any request for the rehabilitation of her father. But, the carefully selected dozen of photos, that are copied on slides and projected within the framework of the installation, undoubtedly lead to the accenting of this act. In other words, regardless of the intention of the author, the codes determined to carry the structure and the conceptual foreground of the work include the latency of the comment in its base.
'Art with relation' as pseudo-critique.
The pseudo-criticism of 'the art with relation' is seen in the transfer of the criticizing note of the work on the level of observation. Dissatisfied by the superficial and uncritical taking over of quotations and recent realizations and their processing from the fine arts scene of Western Europe, Tome Adzievski in his installation, 'Running After the West', staged in Salon 4 (The Museum of Macedonia) in 1986, creates multi-quotation structure of authors` poetics by non-Macedonian artists. But, the artistic procedure, selected to transfer this stance, goes beyond the necessary immediateness of the critical artistic speech and remains under the predominance of that of the fine arts. On the other hand, the cycle of 'Last Suppers' (1988-1991), or even more the cycle of 'Hitlers' of Aleksandar Stankovski, produced in the 1991-94 period, treat the non-expectancy of the turnabout of the motif and the lucidity of the approach that do not intend to criticize the totalitarian societies, but rather to offer an illogical plot of iconographs and ideograms, that can be solved through the disburdening from seriousness in the very act of their use.
'Art with relation' as 'art material'.
This approach 'with an attitude' treats the relations toward the social reality as 'art materials' through which speaks either the similarity of the state or the double meaning of 'the materials'. The iconography of past ideological situations in the example of the installation, 'On the ldeological Altar' of Venko Cvetkov (within the exhibition, 'Expression, Gesture, Action', of 1985 in the Museum of Macedonia), and even more at the exhibition, 'Xerox Art', in the gallery of the then '25 May' Youth Center in 1987, or the Turkish sword used as part of the installation, 'Untitled', of Ismet Ramičević at the exhibition, 'Order/Chaos', in the Museum of the City of Skopje of 1992, are used as 'art materials' that maintain conceptual backgrounds referential to the everyday.
'Art with relation' as conclusion.
The conclusive aspect of 'art with relation' includes the activities that directly are related to the social reality whereby the art speech or expression is not vague when communicating. Almost all the works of Žaneta Vangeli in the last ten years, and especially the recent works such as 'Postcommunist Sculpture' of 1996 or the project of Igor Toševski, 'Dossier `96', are critical involvements in the events of the Macedonian society. But, these critical involvements do not posses the sharpness of the modernistic criticism and do not promote a mode for resolving, but rather they are preoccupied by the concluding character.
These analyses treat the position of the artist in his efforts to determine and to artistically transpose the views on 'the external as part of his reality'. They show the position of the artist where any his engage activity is directed toward certain conclusive characteristic. Without any desire to change the world, the contemporary artist, through the field of his activity, almost does not have ambitions for a revolutionary change in that sense in which most of the art movements of the late 60`s and of the 70`s have established as their basic determination and course of action. The repeated manifestation that the artist take a stance on social events is an indication that he is coming out of the closeness of, and from the sure hideout in the world where he rules in a sovereign way - the world of his very atelier. This going out sets him in a position to note the changes of reality which is his surrounding - he thinks that his stance toward that reality and toward that society is part of the interest that should preoccupy him. But, what is the engagement of the today`s artist according to the analyzed realizations? The artist differentiates the manifestations specific for the present moment of the social structure (or social situation) in accordance with his credo. These present times are not those in which he only creates, but those in which he also lives. Being aware that neither through the engagement of his own works (as the avant-garde artists of the 20`s of this century who believed that through art they could change the world), nor through his personal engagement (as the conceptualists of the 60`s and the 70`s who believed that through revolutionary ideas could improve the world), today`s artist knows that he cannot cause radical changes. Such awareness is the product of accepting the situation in which art is determined as a posterior category in social happenings. With that, 'the projecting critique' of 'the militant' modernism is changed evidently into exclusive 'conclusive critique' of the disinterested postmodernism. The exclusiveness here is mainly reduced to the aestheticization of the engagement that compels the conclusion that the artist (placed in a position a posteriori) cannot anymore be a tool for social changes. (Another thing is the question if he ever was, regardless of what he thought of his activities!?) Therefore, 'the engagement' (now in quotation marks) in the recent art apprehends only concluding of the situations and relations, whereby the prior role of the artist in the social changes is changed with his posteriority.
The artist at 'the end of the century' does not have any more illusions that he will change or improve the world and hence, he accepts the world as it is, trying to use it artistically.
Within the framework of these determinations, as is evident from the aforementioned examples, one draws the image about the artistic production in Macedonia in the 1985-1997 period, analyzed and reviewed through the specifications of the thematic and critical presence of the term 'art with relation'.
Received on 2003-07-15