Print | Arts

Letter from the editor

By - 09.10.2013

Exploring the conflicts and tensions of arts in the Balkans.

From the outset, art has been an indispensible part of the Kosovo 2.0 magazine. We have continually ensured it presents a discussion of the way contemporary art examines, provokes, and is a part of intricate societal topics — whether they be image, corruption, religion, sex, or public space (the themes of our previous issues). However, three broader reasons motivated us to publish this arts issue.

The first is grounded in the observation that, too often, today’s mainstream media and politics treats art as a private activity, as if it occurs outside of our political and social environment. In such discourses, art is often seen as secondary or irrelevant to understanding societal transformations and political actions. We notice this happening today across European centers, with major cuts in culture funds, a consequence of financial shriveling; here, austerity includes attempts to diminish independent critique.

Similarly, in our region, a bidding logic in financing the art system — along with diminished institutional and almost nonexistent private support — is subject to nationalist aesthetic politics. Efforts to set up and maintain alternative art venues are seen as the battle for and of “those others,” while voices of critique and dissent are increasingly channeled through polarized politics. As such, the relationship between art and democracy, the extent to which a sense of free critique can or does exist, and the role of an artist to provoke — also offer compelling entry points to discussion.

We challenge the tendencies to locate and define arts from the region as predominantly and exclusively having to be shaped, produced and understood within the constellations of our recent troubled history or our “exotic” present.

This is the second reason we focus on arts and why we choose to focus on the experiences of Albania and the countries that were once part of Yugoslavia. Because in the midst of “uncertain transitions,” we find a generation of artists speaking to and challenging the narratives of how we’ve come to learn and interpret our recent histories, how we understand our ongoing and conflicting change. Whether through theater, film, literature, performance, or visual art, these individuals also document and offer a new analysis of emergence, both local and global. So this magazine collects the experiences and stories of individuals and practices from the region that, through art, shape or challenge political thought and action.

We have also cooperated with the Swiss-based foundation Culturescapes and its 2013 Balkan program, which is enabling exchange between Switzerland and the Balkans, but which is also creating a space for further exposure, examination and collaboration among artists in the Balkans. (see “A Different Light,” p. 125). This issue also serves as a contribution to the forms and content this dialogue generates.

Thirdly, our take is based not on the assumption that an excavation of the past will reveal in this region some shared cultural sphere or a singular political identity, nor on the idea that it ever existed. With all the indisputable similarities, contentions of all kinds animated the realms of politics and art. We emphasize the need to acknowledge that communist and socialist ideologies encouraged different power relations in these various spaces, and that this was not separate from how the art community organized, from what it produced, from what alternative movements emerged, and from how these were altered in the 1990s (see “Conceptual Art and Communication Relay,” p. 17, and “Modernization in Kosovo’s Visual Arts,” p. 24).

In fact, we intentionally employ Balkart as a concept in need of confrontation. We challenge the tendencies to locate and define arts from the region as predominantly and exclusively having to be shaped, produced and understood within the constellations of our recent troubled history or our “exotic” present — that is, an understanding in which notions of identity, war, ethnicity, and conflict, dominate the discussion of or even determine what art from the region should convey. We do explore the relationship between arts and such notions, but we do it by offering readings and exposing the specific mediums, forms and language of different artists: artists who embody, question and provoke narratives produced within their political contexts, as well as those prescribed to them.

Such debates, of course, still occur, but mainly in academic circles and on the platforms of art groups and centers, exhibitions and discussions, journals and catalogs. However, particular to our region, we identify the need for a more encompassing and inclusive discussion, one where our medium plays a firmer role in joining the aspirations of art as an engaged and transformative practice.

Without the explicit aim of establishing an opposition, we hope our jar of pickled vegetables – of ready-made, home-made, mass-produced preserves – and the white box — inscrutable, yet confining — inspires these discussions.