Text by Aneta Stojnić
Tempo Project by citizen artist Danilo Prnjat is very specific militant work that originates in cultural and historical context of Serbia 2008.¹ in corpus of Serbian contemporary art. Project consisted of set up bomb false signaling in supermarket “Tempo” that is in Serbian investor ownership, by which author tried to recontextualize number of attacks on foreign investors’ supermarkets thus presenting a problem on relation between capitalism and nationalism (concerning the “burning” problem of Kosovo) as well as the role of media mechanism in creation of public’s political consciousness.
In this text I will focus on media manipulation as a method of activism in Tempo Project work, and on media aspect of its critical influence. Also, I will try to direct attention to significance of this specific artistic activity related to some of the problems which artist and cultural labors, who are operating in domain of activism on modern internal scene, are confronted to.
About activism and art in Serbia
Although, one cannot say that activism in Serbian contemporary art is dominant practice, nowadays on our scene there are significant number of individuals, groups and institutions operating in different domains of cultural and artistic activism.
In our turbulent, paradoxical, chaotic, aggressive, phobic society anyone who tries to fight for respect of human rights, more social justice, freedom of artistic expression etc. is still at risk of being proclaimed as a betrayer, antipatriotic, terrorist, blasphemer and as such to be intensely attacked.
¹ Project arose in February 2008. in the moment of the worst media tensions due to announcement of Kosovo independency. At the time Slovenia, which was European Union chairman, was positively disposed toward succeeding independency of Kosovo province. At the same time, large number of “Merkator” supermarkets in Serbia owned by Slovenians were caught on target of anonymous bombing signals and attacks. As Prnjat states in statement of the Project: Due to these complex circumstances, different forms of radical, anti capitalistic demeanour in public sphere, mediated by media, were exclusively seen in context of narrow national and political interests and were attributed to certain nationalistic organizations in the country.
In so far remarkable role of engaged art is more important, as well as positive trend of more and more omnipresent engaged activity in public that can after all be observed. Finally, selection of this year’s October Saloon and also public presentation of Tempo Project just upholds this tendency.
Whether it is an activism as ideological-methodological approach to work of art or it is cultural and artistic work as method of militant activity, in transitional society engaged functioning of citizen artist, in certain sense, almost becomes self-implying. However, the problem of possible domain of art and of activism as well , propounds many questions of formal and ideological complexion. First of all, there is a question of manoeuvre space for artist/activist’s activity who found himself between “fascization” of society and liberal capital inflow.
In just passed year we have been witnesses (among the rest in art and culture domain) of large number of nationalistic-fascistic incidents, like making impossible for Kosovian artists to hold an exhibition in Kontekst galery.² However, public dispute over exhibit prohibition or prevention of gay parade happening, hasn’t resulted in creating conditions for these events to be carried out. This, certainly, makes Serbian elite’s rightist ideology³ explicit, but at the same time makes available methods of militant approach in fascistic social atmosphere supported by media problematic.
On the other hand, nowadays we are confronted with entry of liberal capital into art and culture institutions which consequently leads to particular art workers’ self- censorship. In such circumstances engaging remains in domain of political correctness or some kind of socially acceptable “poser activism”.
When this observation gets analogically carried forward into mass media sphere, we can easily notice nature of interdependent connection between political and media system.
Danilo Prnjat’s Tempo Project represents highly risk action that puts new light on current intervention work with conventional and modern mechanisms of local cultural praxis. Author provides media manipulation via problematic (terrorist) intervention
² On February 2008. in Belgrade, opening of exhibition Deviation/ Contemporary art scene of Pristina in Kontekst Galery, was forcibly prevented by members of certain ultra rightist organizations.
³ Knežević, Marjanović (2008). (He Artist) second rate citizen (She Artist) second rate citizen, Social context and contemporary art, in Catalog 49. October Saloon Belgrade: KBC
in reality as radical method of critical operating.
In order to become an event it needs to be told
Even in the 8th century A.D. ancient poet Homer ( constructor of following centuries who probably never existed) said: In order to become a hero one has to be sang of. Much later Jean-Paul Sartre wrote: In order to become an event it needs to be told (4). Nowadays, media presentation, without doubt, creates our reality. Virilo says:” Owners of our flesh and its image as well, our fruitful audiovisual surroundings dragged us away long ago from being occupied with complex outness of ourselves, which is being taken away, hidden, questioned and manipulated without our knowledge”(5). Tempo Project is actually provoking this fact by using media manipulation as a militant model.
Act of false signaling is a particular manipulation in reality. One can say this action actually has a character of happening as a symptom that provokes participants, and specific unexpected, uncontrollable forms of behavior and everyday situations as well. None the less demeanor of performance audience (and in this case those are employees and visitors of Tempo market, police, media and through them publicity as well) with their points of view and values get involved in artistic event as ready-made. So, the whole publicity via media mechanism becomes a partaker of the performance.
Number of tip offs and attacks on supermarkets “Merkator” owned by Slovenian investor were mediated by media and put in firmly defined political context of national discontent because of Kosovian independency recognition, and attributed to some of nationalistic organizations in country.
Author of Tempo Project makes variation in well known pattern – he sends a signal to Tempo supermarket that is in ownership of domestic investor. Then, one really interesting phenomenon occurs. Media mechanism gets perplexed with the event that goes beyond its established frame and confronts with inability and refusal to explain it. Namely, when we look at press clippings on this event we can find that the news is mostly presented on a level of neutral information. There isn’t any attempt for the news to be interpreted in context of, for instance, anti capitalistic activity.
We can say that author of the project here uses the fact that there is no more hegemony of certain political point of view on certain strategy of representation(6), and by his manipulation he breaks in media system almost as a hacker and for a moment he manages to confuse it. That way he achieves to unmask, “see through”, the fiction on which social links of existing structure of power are based.(7)
Conceptually, for this project very important fact is that artist acts absolutely anonymously. Beyond the project there isn’t any institution, party, media, NGO, foundation…Danilo Prnjat acts as a citizen artist and maybe that is the very fact which gives him liberty for such radical gesture. His work has a terrorist character i.e. arbitrary and unexpected slip out in social and cultural normality (8). Politicking of this work reflexes equally in the topic it elaborates- relation between capitalism and nationalism-and in the manner it acts. This work, extreme and to certain extent ethically problematic, exists as excess on our modern art scene- excess that examines the space of artistic (political) operation, therefore relation between art and life as pervading of real and artificial. This is more than significant issue in times when we recognize something as real, and it is actually a media construction.
6 Giving the example of one Slovenian party Aldo Milohnic writes: Whether that specific instance of “aesthetization” of politics was part of rightist or leftist representative strategy completely depends on how we see LDS in political spectrum; for many it was leftist’s party but at the same time it had some of characteristics that are traditionally attributed to rightist parties. Milohic (2005). Artivism http://www.eipcp.net/transversal/1203/milohnic/en acc. 2nd November 2008 at 11.25 am
7 Žižek (2008) Interrogating the real (transl. Brdar Milan) Novi Sad: Academic literature. page 271-272
8 Šuvaković (2006) Discursive analysis Belgrade: University of Fine Arts in Belgrade. page 86-87