Miodrag Šuvaković: A Positive Subversion or The Examplary Logic of the System

The Ideology of an Exhibition (Theoretical Scheme)

The ideology of an exhibition is not a collection of profiled and fully rationalized intentions (aims) of selectors (curators, concept authors, art-critics, managers, producers, professors, financiers, theorists, cultural workers, micro/macro political workers). The ideology is an uncertain atmosphere, a changeable environment of conceptualized and non-conceptualized possibilities, choices, symbolizations, solutions, proclamations, omissions, erasures, cancellations, bracketings, random choices, selections, propositions, distinctions, judgments, unspoken insights, censorships, effects of public and private taste, justifications, desires and social functions that form an acceptable/unacceptable but visible reality of the exhibition.

The ideology of an exhibition or a series of exhibitions is not the order (text) of the messages that authors project and proclaim in their introductory texts, it is, rather, the difference between intentional and unintentional, between acceptable and unacceptable in the relations of the public scene and the unspoken scene: the difference between the conscious and unconscious, that is, between the literal and the fictional. The ideology of an exhibition is not in what is intended to be praised by public opinion (doxa), but in what paradoxally forms micro- or macro- doxa and serves as its expression (particular example) in some kind of exchange of ‘social values’ and ‘social powers’. Today, that exchange of social values and social powers is not taking place in late-socialist or post-socialist, but in dramatically apocalyptical and entropic para-transitional Serbia.

About the ‘System’

The items (projects, documents, installations, performances, objects) exhibited within Flu_ID show 2004 are characterized by the turn from art as a practice of creation or production of completed works (pieces) toward a practice of ideation, construction and realization of potential items of the cultural system (cultural potentials) at the expected position of artworks. For Example:

Danijela Bogićević (Family Album, objects) exhibits a system of family.
Ivana Smiljanić (I Spoil Everything, video) exhibits a system of gender identity.
Slavoljub Zajić (Performance) exhibits a system of regulated and deregulated behaviour.
Srđan Nedeljković (Guillotine, 3D model) exhibits a system of machine engineering.
Vladimir Vinkić (Portraits, photographs) exhibits a system of presentation.
Vojislav Klačar (Koreta Kingdom, web project) exhibits a system of presentation of social system.
Vojislav Radovanović (From the Artist’s Diary, postcards) exhibits a system of artist’s discursive identification within culture/society.

It is all about fascinations with systems in society that is entropic and anti-systemic. The negative dialectics of Serbian para-transitional autodestruction is confronted by oppressive localized artists’ systems. It is a positive subversion: of a family territory, of one of gender horizons, of a normed behaviour, of a possibility of totalizing rationalization, of a media presentation, of facing the performativity of actual/fictional social system, of the power of discursive identification of artist’s ‘self’. Neither of these works is negative in the context of Dada, Neo-Dada or the alternative art. Moreover, all of them are rendered with simplicity, media consistency and conceptual precision. But the ‘precise positivity’ of these works directly and obviously confronts the negativity of the actual society. They offer paradoxes or subversions which we have to deal with in transitional or para-transitional societies.

A Possible Interpretation

The history of transfigurations from art to culture can be presented through/by/in the characteristic point de capiton (upholstery button)![1]

In his diary notes from mid-sixties, John Cage wrote these notions (anticipations): ‘To know whether or not art is contemporary, we no longer use aesthetic criteria (if it’s destroyed by shadows, spoiled by ambient sounds); (assuming these) we use social criteria: can include action on the part of others.’[2]

Cage indicated an uncertain distancing from modernist essentialist autonomy of art towards anarchic effects of cultural mediation as the artistic ‘matter’. That switch has been quite expected and possible since Duchamp, Bataille, Benjamin, Wittgenstein, Lacan, and even Cage himself. Art became a matter (object, situation, event) of ‘culture’ in a shift from ‘the possible world’ to ‘the possible world’. The aura was lost, remaining only as a residue, a memory, a sediment/deposit…, or perhaps a différAnce.[3]

Two decades later, while promoting the conditions of postmodernism, (condition post-moderne), Victor Burgin wrote about the end of art theory: ‘Art theory, understood as those interdependent forms of art history, aesthetics, and criticism which began in the Enlightenment and culminated in the recent period of high modernism, is now at an end. In our present so-called postmodern era the end of art theory now is identical with the objectives of theories of representations in general: a critical understanding of the modes and means of symbolic articulation of our critical forms of sociality and subjectivity.’[4]

At about the same time, in Mid-Eighties, David Carroll, one of those not quite consequent followers of Derrida’s thought, tried to name the situation of boundary relations between theory, fine art, literature, philosophy and culture by the term paraesthetics. Paraesthetics indicates a fascination with the boundaries of the possible worlds. In other words, paraesthetics does not aim to resolve the problems of ‘boundaries’ of art, theory and culture, but to initiate the game of displacement, advocating, convergence and différAnce of the possible inscriptions of discursive identities of art, theory, and culture. He speaks of events that get inscribed in the process or of behaviour that gets inscribed in a broader discursive matter. Again: ‘The task of paraesthetic theory is not to resolve all questions concerning the relations of theory with art and literature, but, rather, to rethink these relations and, through the transformation and displacement of art and literature, to recast the philosophical, historical, and political ‘fields’ – ‘fields’ with which art and literature are inextricably linked.’[5]

Carroll’s notion of paraesthetics as a theory of boundary syndromes of theory, art and culture is a kind of pre-text for a promise that Manifesta 3 makes today, indicating a fascination by ‘boundaries’, ‘boundary-ness’, or ‘relativity’ in the relations between center and margin.

Then, during the late Eighties, in a certain, quite distinctive moment of European history: the function of art was re-constituted. Art again became ‘the possibility of culture’ with defined functions of mediation and projection. This time, that is, between western (liberal or social-democratic) European societies of integration and post-political (pre-transitional, transitional or ‘conformed’) fragmented and segregated societies of East Europe.[6] After the fall of Berlin Wall, art once again became political or, maybe, anthropological while not necessarily being thematically political, ideological or representational. Since the fall of Berlin Wall, European art does not ‘reflect’ social contents thematically but directly, ‘in the organization of the signifying economy itself, with its thematic only as a secondary effect’.[7]

Art is thus identified not as a ‘pre-human chaos’, as an undefined abyss of nature, but as a particular practice, that is, as a signifying practice within evident social demands, expectations and achievements.

In the other words, the flux of European art from ‘modernist autonomies’ and ‘uninterestedness of eclectic postmodernisms’ toward gaining social (cultural) functions of mediation between ‘the possible worlds’ (centers, margins, transitional, non-transitional formations) influenced the very material practice of art and consequently the possibilities of its material formulations. The formulations of painting and sculpture are replaced by the formulations of open informatic work[8] which is an erased trace of culture at a site-specific place, or which is an ‘inscription’ of cultural sediments ‘of’ some particular place, or which is a projection of systemic order in the place of social disorder. Therefore, the ontology of these ‘contemporary’ works is not aesthetical but it is social: it is ‘of’ culture. The ontology is not the presence of form but it is the resistance (entropy) of form: ‘The presence is far from, as it’s believed, the meaning of a sign or the indication of a trace, the presence is the trace of a trace, the trace of the erasure of trace.’[9]

  1.  Slavoj Žižek, ‘Od prošivenog boda do nad-ja’, from Birokratija i uživanje, SIC, Beograd, 1984, p. 39.

  2.  John Cage, from: ‘DIARY: HOW TO IMPROVE THE WORLD (YOU WILL ONLY MAKE MATTERS WORSE) 1965-67’, from Eliot Weinberger (ed), American Poetry since 1950 - Innovators and Outsiders, Marsilio Publishers, New York, p. 140.

  3.  Valter Benjamin, ‘Umetničko delo u veku svoje tehničke reprodukcije’, from Eseji, Nolit, Beograd, 1974, p. 119.

  4.  Victor Burgin, The End of Art Theory. Criticism and Postmodernity, Humanities Press International, INC, Atlantic Highlands NJ, 1986, p. 204.

  5.  David Carroll, Paraesthetics: Foucault Lyotard Derrida, Methuen, New York, 1987, str. 188.

  6.  Compare: Frederic Jameson, ‘Kulturna logika poznega kapitalizma’, from Postmodernizem, Problemi-Razprave, Ljubljana, 1992; Mikhail N. Epstein, After the Future. The Paradoxes of Postmodernism and Contemporary Russian Culture, The University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 1995; and Aleš Erjavec, K podobi, Zveza kulturnih organizacij Slovenije, Ljubljana, 1996.

  7.  ‘Umetnost, družba/tekst’, Razprave Problemi No. 3-5 (147-149), Ljubljana, 1975, pp. 1-10. Transl. to Serbo-Croatian in Polja Nr. 230, Novi Sad, 1978, p. 10.

  8.  It is characteristic that during the late Nineties and at the beginning of the 21st century the ontology of the work of art is re-defined according to the notion of the work of art as information in Conceptual art during Sixties and Seventies. The difference is that in the Nineties the ‘artwork’ is realized within the massive media infrastructure of the late era of transitional globalisms.

  9.  Jacques Derrida’s words as quoted in Nenad Miščević, Bijeli šum. Studije iz filozofije jezika, Dometi, Rijeka, 1978, p. 20.

Flu_ID exhibition catalogue, Dom omladine, Belgrade 2004. | catalogue pdf


Works at Flu_ID exhibition 2004, Dom omladine Gallery, Belgrade.