Nomen est omen

ANALYSIS  Zoran Gajić Published: 22. 02. 2024.

Restoration by crime

Political mood, diagnosis, and insult

Slobodan’s images may not require words. We, who look at them, do need them and share them as soon as we get a hold of them. As we utter one we want to send it to the other, which creates a series of mediators. Mediators, as Deleuze says, are essential: ‘I need my mediators to express myself and they’d never express themselves without me: you’re always working in a group, even when you seem to be on your own.’ (Negotiations)

This means that, even if they are not needed for the images, our words may mean something to Slobodan. They may or may not, which brings us to the question of meaning, which in this context is also a question of significance. Why would our words even matter to Slobodan and, vice versa, why would his images mean anything to us – why would they be significant or important? But being significant or important, relevant, is not the only meaning of significance. There is also a meaning of significance that can be pragmatically expressed by asking: what is the purpose and what do Slobodan’s images cause or move?

A-signifier semiology, which then makes it semiotics, could serve as a tool to understand the response to signs that is not necessarily interpretive. However, the stake of the entire newsletter is political intervention. With the Tenant, we pose political questions to people, and with images, Slobodan puts us in front of the art with which he participates in our action. Of course, some people think that the entire Tenant and the work of the Group for Conceptual Politics is one artistic intervention, and we saw a problem with that. First of all, as a reluctance to acknowledge us as political subjects, and then also our discomfort for the honor shown to us. We have already written about it, but let us repeat it to the readers of NIN who received this issue of our newsletter: Being declared an artist can be experienced as a sign of symbolic violence and disqualification when behind the intention of the declared there is no intentional-aesthetic act or intention to indeed be an artist.

The whole thing with collages, which as a working title we call illustrations, started with Roman Polanski’s Tenant, who was the first to enter Slobodan’s images and with them our space, the premises of the Group for Conceptual Politics. It was a time when we felt like Trelkovski, who is destined for the fate of every tenant who enters an apartment in which a suicide was committed: defenestration as the only way out of the paranoid situation in which the Novi Sad power has been pushing us and has been trying to place us, and this one extends even to the opposition-activist scene and the media, which are supposed to be free and critical. But since we are on the ground floor at 42 Pariske Komune, and not at 39 Kale Street, we continued with our work and montages with which we express our feelings, thoughts, and intentions.

The Kosovo Tenant caused the most reactions, precisely because of Slobodan’s images. The Serbian nazis were so furious when they saw the overlay of frescoes and human remains that they immediately and ever so bravely, as people on Twitter do, threatened with lawsuits. They declared our call for the recognition of Kosovo a call for the overthrow of the constitutional order, but the lawyer of the people, Vladimir Gajić, had already reasoned and comforted them. Freedom of expression protects us from patriotic justice, but not from the insignificance regarding the response to our call to recognize Kosovo and make a public speech about the recognition a legitimate political position in Serbia. Besides this, we also had as a response to the symptomatic public silence that chronically accompanies our work. But here we are again in front of Slobodan’s montages, and today they have a new solution for juxtaposing images.

The nazi painting depicts a life worth living, family and work life, and celebrates the victory over ‘degenerates’ who for the Nazis were not only artists

The realistic juxtaposition of a mantle and a gun, a cross and a rear-view mirror in a criminal’s armored car, or a rosary and the bloodied hands of a butcher are less shocking than the overlapping images of corpses and monastery frescoes, that is, the refrigerator and the Kosovar girl in the Tenant. This is because people adhere more to the form than to the values ​​they believe in: ‘The form has become an extraordinary object of moral enmity, aesthetic debate, and political conflict.’ (Michel Foucault) People, therefore, appreciate art and are aware of its importance as well as the importance of the meaning they can decipher and produce, and with new collages, Slobodan introduces us this time as well with the problem of technique as the key to interpretation.

The nazi painting depicts a life worth living, family and work life, and celebrates the victory over ‘degenerates’ who for the Nazis were not only artists. The undermining of values ​​was reflected in the experimental forms of life and creation, which with their ‘monstrosity’ provoked the way of perceiving and valuing things with which the Germans of the Third Reich built their ethos. Norse and ancient myths were to confirm their universality, although it had to wait for the uniqueness of the race that would immortalize it. Therefore, there is nothing banal in the virtuous head of a true Nazi artist.

With these images, Slobodan combines images that show the places of our criminal and felonious everyday life. These are both the places of crime and the places where they were commemorated: Jovanjica, the slaughterhouse in Ritopek, Savamala, and there will be more by the time the bulletin is prepared for the press. However, what he crosses them with, connects them, or collages them, is also an image, or rather a form, and represents something Slobodan was searching for as a third plane of the image he has assembled. I don’t know if he has found it, but he has told me what he has done.

The original idea was to overlap the images as if they were being torn, in a form that evokes tearing. It’s as if they are posters that are pasted over and torn so that both remain distinguishable. However, the artist gave up on that and opted for a slightly more subtle approach to the problem of the images at play, which began to unfold using the solution technique. The damage to canvases of the paintings by Nazi painters is shown by the form of damage on the surface of the fresco, which, however, does not play a semantic role in the creation, nor in the interpretation of the work. The frescoes from which he removed the forms of damage are of no importance, but the treatment of the damage is what now gives us the name of the technique of overlapping or collaging images, which with their meaning take part in the interpretation of the work.

I now call that technique tratteggio, which is just the name for a restoration technique that implies such a reconstruction of the work that in no way calls into question the entirety of the work that needs to be preserved. Copying or inventing is not allowed, but it is also not allowed to apply layers of paint that would create a surface susceptible to perceptual shaping. It is a retouching method that reintegrates the painted layer with a series of dashes of different tonal values ​​that cannot be seen from a greater distance because they blend into the shapes and surfaces of the damaged image. It is important to preserve the main shape, even at the expense of losing the shape of parts of the image. Well, Slobodan grasps the very shape of the missing part and places it on the image of a celebrated life – a life worthy of fame – but he lets in the image of the background, the inglorious reality which, even though we are not proud of it, we use to preserve the image of the values ​​we care about.

Here it is the reality of our crimes with which we defend the life we ​​consider valuable.

As I said, the monochrome background consists of places of crime and places of celebration of crimes and criminals, but they are no longer Nenad Racković in the work of Boris Burić[1], but rather an image and its deficiency, into which form the reality that will preserve it fits. That is why it is the form of a surface that has been restored and into which our reality enters as the content of the restoration. The environment or background is what usually destroys the work, the basis that emerges when the scene disappears – the real that returns when both the phantasm and the subject that resists it, more or less successfully, more or less fortunately, disappear – and here it is the reality of our crimes with which we defend the life we ​​consider valuable.

However, what we can conclude intuitively and from primary experience – the  kind we gain as ordinary citizens, which we may not even be in the territory ruled by a progressive mob – is that there is no life worth living in Serbia. Serbia is not a society. The captured state, which we spoke of a lot, called into question even that identity category, and now we can only talk about the territory we live in, which is like someone else’s property, where we can and do not have to stay and work, but even when we want to, it doesn’t come without being adopted to a criminal family which is the favorite model of reactionaries of all kinds. Reactionary investments of desire, folkloric and archaic, can also be revolutionary, that is, progressive, but this does not happen in our case, even though the name of the formation in question is the Serbian Progressive (liberal) Party. And it is not just an anthropological hypothesis, just as it is not moralism or elitism to say that people in this area are bad and dangerous: that here, as in Nazi Germany, people want fascism. Haven’t our territories been ruled by warlords and their mobs, which Mary Kaldor wrote about, a woman who is well familiar with these parts and on which she has developed the concept of the New War! I highly recommend her books.

There is neither society nor community, but only the organization of the power.

This kind of judgment is not an expression of some kind of evolutionism that treats the other as overdue, backward, or immature. Infantilization is a global phenomenon, so we are not even talking from the position of the center, which sees immature and unfinished countries and people on the periphery. There is no telos against which to determine the degree of accomplishment, although the intensities we are dealing with are facts worthy of contemplation. This is a political frame of mind, a diagnosis, and an insult. Therefore, an action. Politics is neither culture nor culturalization, but politically it can be said that in these parts there is neither society nor community, but only the organization of the power. I think that even those who are in it (the power) and manage this territory with it (the power) do not think of considering that formation as a society, but as a fortification from which one goes to Europe when they want services and products of social division of labor. This territory is ruled by a formation of power, and organization, but that power is not even a police one, but an outlaw one. Is there a criminal in this territory who does not want to be a cop and is there a cop who does not have a thing for criminals and robbers? Do Serbs want to be outlaws?

The images in this issue also contain more than two and are joined by imitation or image, icon or form, and restoration techniques. The technique itself disappears in front of the form that it was supposed to deform, form, or disform. Slobodan takes the form of a surface that is for restoration and which in the image is an image of a form: an image of what is missing in the image, an icon, which is whole because it is an oil painting whose reproduction, digital, he takes into processing. Simplifying the relationships means immediately jumping into the idea: a fascist mother (Karl Dybich) at the scene of the crime and the destruction of the body as evidence and a clue that would lead to it (“Slaughterhouse” in Ritopek).

The values ​​that our new, modern fascists abide by, are nurtured in the society of crime and are often fighting for them together – fascists, cops, and criminals.

But why is the mother a fascist? That’s why fascists think that only they have a mother and that only theirs is worthy of love. That there are mothers in Serbia not worthy of compassion is evidenced by the mother of Aleksandar Halabrin, a murdered young man without a criminal record who we consider a criminal, even though we feel reverence for his killers and masters. Yes, Mrs. Halabrin was the topic of conversation when the construction of not only this image but also other ideas began. The values ​​that our new, modern fascists abide by, are nurtured in the society of crime and are often fighting for them together – fascists, cops, and criminals. All the rest of us are degenerates and parentless. We leave our jobs and days, home and family life to them – they are there to defend it from us.

There, that’s what we wanted to say and show with an image, so it was also said in the text you’re reading. And was it necessary to explain what was seen and is the explanation redundant? The text and image are not only provocations, they are attitudes and an expression of courage to say something publicly, which means to say it to you – to you as well as to all of us. Slobodan’s and our works indicate what is important to us. To propose one work to one’s judgment of liking, aesthetic evaluation means only to wish that the work is liked because of the importance attached to it by its creators. It is the meaning or meaning of the word meaning in the case of the meaning of a work of art. What this work means is not only what it represents, but what it speaks of. Figuration, and shaping, are inevitable when we are dealing with content, but why something is important – it is the aesthetic and ethical capacity of the work. Why we have to pay attention to something and why that is what we have to pay attention to is the meaning of a work of art.

The significance of the work should therefore be freed from any value and reduced to liking, which is the basis of evaluation. Values ​​are suspicious because they invite comparisons and police weighing up, and the work is about criticism and creation, or, as Deleuze wrote about Nietzsche: “Evaluation is defined as the differential element of corresponding values, an element which is both critical and creative. Evaluations, in essence, are not values but ways of being, modes of existence of those who judge and evaluate, serving as principles for the values on the basis of which they judge. This is why we always have the beliefs, feelings, and thoughts that we deserve given our way of being or our style of life.”

Does this mean that a work of art that is not worthy of someone’s love (liking) is unworthy? Let’s conclude with the continuation of the quote: “There are things that can only be said, felt or conceived, values which can only be adhered to, on condition of ‘base’ evaluation, ‘base’ living and thinking. This is the crucial point; high and low, noble and base, are not values but represent the differential element from which the value of values themselves derives.” (Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy)

[1] ‘Rhythm of Crime’, a series of photographs by Boris Burić and Nenad Racković, 2018.

Translation to English: Ivana Purtić

The text in Serbian is published in the Bulletin TENANT 20&21

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