An illuminating interview with the Serbian aestheticist, art theorist and conceptual artist Miško Šuvaković
Nikola Dedić/Aneta Stojnić/ARTMargins Online:Recently, you have published the first volume of a book entitled The History Of Art in Serbia, XX Century.Radical Artistic Practices, which is the first detailed and historical study of Serbian art in the last century. How would you evaluate the importance of this project within both the local and the international context?
Miško Šuvaković: Your History Of Art In Serbia, XX century- is the first volume of a three volume series that guides the reader through the “long 20th century.” As the editor, I was lucky to gather an extraordinary team of writers and researchers of art: Nevena Daković (film), Vesna Mikić (music), Jelena Novak (music), Aleksandar Ignjatović (architecture), Irena Šentevska (stage design), Ana Vujanović (performing arts), Iva Nenić (pop culture), Ješa Denegri (fine arts), Nikola Dedić (fine arts). The first volume refers to an open history of radical, critical, and subversive artistic practices during the 20th century: the avant-garde, the neo avant-garde, conceptual art, postmodern art, the Yugoslav war; the transition; and finally globalism after 2000. The second volume will include discussions of art from WW II to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The dominant artistic and cultural practices of so-called “socialist modernism” will also be considered. The third volume will be dedicated to the art of bourgeois realism and modernism at the beginning of the 20th century.
There are three significant innovations implicit in The History of Art In Serbia, XX Century. First of all, this is a history that does not strictly deal with national Serbian art and culture, but with arts and cultures that were present during the 20th century within the territory Serbia occupies today. These cultures include: Croatian, Jewish, Hungarian, German, Slovakian, Albanian and so on. Secondly, this is an interdisciplinary history of art and as such it is not directed only at one discipline, (e.g. fine arts), but offers comparative insights into relationships between different artistic disciplines. Finally, this history of art is not historic, but theoretical. This means that the acts of certain histories of art have been broadened and worked out to enable the study of cultures.
Within the local, regional, even international context this book marks a change in the historicization of art and culture. Local art is not understood only as a simple replica of artistic practices of dominant artistic and cultural centers (Paris, Munich, Vienna, or New York); the planet is the sum of local cultures that exist in complex communicational relationships and exchanges. In other words, there is no longer a narrative about the vertical and the hierarchical history of art, a narrative that was based on identifying national and international works of art. It has also constituted a horizontal, critical narrative, which explains cultural differences, and aesthetic, artistic and political struggles in its time. On the other hand, probably for the first time on both the local and the international level, there now appears an interdisciplinary history of art used to establish relationships between different arts and their positioning within culture and society.
I hope that this methodology will stimulate the development of interpretative discourses regarding modern, postmodern, and avant-garde art and culture.
ND/AS/AMO: This project is based on the methodology of what is called “new art history”; in that sense it occupies a unique position in the local academic context. What is the position of art theory and interdisciplinary cultural studies in Serbia?
MS: If we talk about the Serbian context and about other contexts in Central Europe and South Eastern Europe that are not much different, we notice that there is a very traditional, academic paradigm in the study of art. This is based on two foundations. The first is the national, general history and theory of art. This foundation is hierarchical and it implies a binary opposition between a national culture and international art currents. The second foundation is based on the disciplinary history and theory of art; here the history of fine art is separated from the history and theory of theater, film, music, new media, architecture, and design.
Today, after the experience of post-media artistic and cultural practices, and especially after cultural studies, (i.e. the studies of performance, or the theory of new media), it has become clear that discourses on art should not be limited to narrowly disciplined contexts. This implies the theorizing of every discourse on and in art and culture, as well as the use of theoretical interpretations from different social and humanistic sciences within the field of art and culture. For example, political economy, bio-politics, cultural studies, psychoanalysis, cognitive theory, etc., weigh in on the field of artistic work and interdisciplinary artistic practices. By doing so, there arises a new theoretical situation of a permanent, problematic, and critical questioning of dynamic relationships between culture, society, and art.
I’m not speaking in favor of “the new history of art” as the key to all theoretical problems; on the contrary, I see the “new art history” as a starting point needed to get to a fully developed critical theory.
ND/AS/AMO: How do you see the department of Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies at the University of Arts in Belgrade, where you teach? It seems that it is almost the only place where interdisciplinary art theory can be taught academically.
MS: The department of interdisciplinary studies at the University of Art in Belgrade is a brave and extraordinary project that started back in 2001. After the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic’s political regime, a change in the leadership and the Board of The University Of Art in Belgrade took place. The new rector, Dr. Milena Dragićević Šešić, enabled the beginning of the reform at the University,(The University consists of 4 faculties: The Faculty of Music, the Faculty of Dramatic Arts, the Faculty of Fine Arts, and the Faculty Of Applied Arts), by founding The Center for Interdisciplinary Post Graduate and Master Studies. The Center began to function on the principles of interdisciplinary work and the principles of the Bologna declaration. The newly founded departments were the following: The Theory Of Art And Media, Management In Culture, Multimedia Art, Digital Art and Stage Design. The classes started on the level of Master Studies, in order to move more quickly to Master and PhD scientific and artistic studies.
The goal of these studies was to connect modern artistic and theoretical practices with modern, interdisciplinary education. It was an attempt to bridge the gap between the traditional academic divisions within artistic practices, on the one hand, and academic divisions within scientific practices, on the other. In the last decade, these were the unique studies that tended towards interdisciplinary academic work in the field of art and theory. That’s why these studies provoked numerous resistances within university’s administrations and traditionally committed clans. But the struggle for “the new school” is one of the most significant demands in this modern and transitional culture!