Interview with Bojana Pejic (Berlin/Belgrad)
Curator of the exhibition "After the wall" in the Moderna Museet Stockholm
Alexander Sokolov: What was the original idea behind this exhibition? Did the idea develop while working on it?
Bojana Pejic: Everything, in fact, was developed in the process of work. Only the title "After the Wall" was set at the beginning. When the director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm invited me to curate the exhibition two years ago, it was clear that it was not going to be a national presentation since a thematic exhibition was being planned, not a Biennale. The detailed formulation of the themes were only developed later - during the preparations for the exhibition. In the course of one and a half years of research, I visited 22 countries, trying to be open to new ideas, speaking to artists, theorists and art critics. It was only in March of this year (1999) that the final selection of participating artists was made.
A.S.: There are four central themes in this exhibition. Could you give us an idea of what these are?
B.P.: The first theme is called "social plastic". I used this term because the artists themselves use this terminology taken from Beuys. The artists are concerned with the present, the Now and its related problems such as nationalism, hatred of foreigners, xenophobia, etc.. They also deal with new phenomena such as the collapse of the economy and the revival of religion in the post-communist world. Koka Ramshwili, for example, is concerned with developments in Georgia where, just after achieving independence there are already many new embassies. Nikolos Lomanshwili, one the other hand, deals with terrorism by artistically reworking the attempted assassination President Shevardnaze.
The second section deals with the "re-invention of the past". Here the past - the Second World War or Totalitarianism - are investigated. Here the artists are not necessarily of the older generation: there are also younger artists such as, for example, Zbigniev Libera from Poland.
The third theme of the exhibition deals with the question of artistic subjectivity. This is manifested in the works, either in a deconstructive or idealising sense. The Bosnian artist Nebojsa Soba Seric lived through the war. His works are concerned with the past and the present situation in Bosnia, while investigating the question of subjectivity. In this section, I am also showing the work of a group of artists working on the critique of the ego.
The fourth section "Man and Woman", is dedicated to the questions of gender-identity and gender-construction: femininity and masculinity, homosexuality, the body, etc.
Georgien. Georgische Partisanen in Abchazia. 1998
A.S.: What are the elements which constitute identity today?
B.P.: They are always the same. Everyone wants to be a genius. There are very critical, but also ironic works on this subject, works dealing with the artist as genius or big artistic egos. These are often based on self-presentation - a kind of self-portrait in the form of video, photography or sculpture.
A.S.: In Russia, one can divide artists in two groups. There are artists that are oriented towards the Western market, and there are those which work for the inner market. By the latter I mean artists such as Zurab Tseretelli, who works for the Moscow Government. Is this phenomenon also present in other countries?
B.P.: Not that I know. The Russian works which I have taken into the exhibition are critical. They deconstruct the new construction of national identity. Artists who stand in a positive relationship to this national identity and glorify it, belong to traditional art. They found no entry into the exhibition "After the Wall". I do not know anyone in other countries, who makes this form of state art.
A.S.: This seems to be a relict peculiar to Russia. At the moment Eastern Europe is building an internal market. The new rich are the ones to buy the artwork. How does this internal market differ from the external market?
B.P.: There is no difference. The best galleries of the post-communist European countries are represented at international art fairs, as for example Aiden from Moscow, Zderzakaus from Cracow, or Jiri Svestka from Prague. They are galleries in the Western sense, that are trying to sell contemporary art. Galleries in Russia also have to sell antiques in order to be able to organise exhibitions of contemporary art. In order to sustain a gallery with a contemporary profile, one has to sell other works, avant-garde or modernist work.
A.S.: What are the aesthetic preferences of the new rich in the Eastern European countries?
B.P.: They certainly don't acquire any installations. I think that they are mainly interested in traditional works. I am only concerned with contemporary art.
A.S.: Is there anything that can be said about artists in Eastern Europe in general - is there something specific to them?
B.P.: Many visitors (to the exhibition) didn't see a difference when comparing their art to Western artists - the same media, the same themes. There is only one difference: artists in the East have to invest a lot more energy in order to produce a good video, for example, since the structure of sponsorship is under-developed. I am not talking about the Soros Centres.
I once mentioned in another interview - since I was asked this question by many people - why I also took artists of the older generation, and not only the young generation of the nineties. My idea was, not to create a gulf between the generations. I also did not want to exclude artists that are working in conceptual art in former Jugoslavia, which are now around 50 or so years old. They are a presence in the scene, they are productive, and they are interesting - such as Irwin from Slovenia, Mladen Stilinovic from Croatia, or also Nedko Solakov from Bulgaria. Nedko is a phenomenon of the eighties, but he still has something to say.