Looking in the Past of New Divisions: Art as a Living Archive in Post-1989 Serbia and Russia

    • Belgrade 2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • Iva Glisic, University of Tübingen, Germany
      • Biljana Puric, Independent Researcher, Belgrade, Serbia


    Divisions in Europe have a long and persistent history, and often create difficulties for those whose identity does not fit neatly inside lines drawn from cultural, religious, economic, national and political difference. Understandably, positions that have been rendered irreconcilable within the political matrices that replaced the collapsed socialist regimes across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have become an important theme in the work of many contemporary artists across this region. By focusing on the artistic output in Serbia and Russia after 1989, this paper provides a comparative analysis of how normative nationalist discourse created during and after the collapse of socialism in both nations has been challenged through art. Now just as then, selective memory and a tightly-policed public discourse mark identity politics in both countries; in these circumstances, art functions as a building block of both visibility and political agency for the marginalized, as well as a living archive of historical memory. Following Biljana Kašić’s concept of a living archive as ‘an open space that means and creates both dislocation and new location, visibility and presence of the invisible, possibility and freedom of experimentation’, post-1989 art in Serbia and Russia must be recognized as an important form of a living archive. Through an analysis of several prominent pieces, including Mirjana Đorđević’s Star and Shadow (1994), Tanja Ostojic’s Private Space (1996-98), and Petr Pavlensky’s Fixation (2013), Carcass (2013), and Separation (2014), this paper offers a new insight into social differentiation in both countries following the collapse of their respective socialist regimes. Focusing on creative strategies that have challenged normative discourses on national identity and national past provides a foundation for exploring how narratives of alterity have been created both from the inside and outside of both nations. In addition, this paper raises the question of what the rise of nationalist discourse, largely to the exclusion of any alternative, in post-1989 Serbia and Russia means today – an important topic, especially as the European Union struggles to keep this trend in check within its own borders.