Dr. Ivana Ribara 113 / 3 | 11070 N. Belgrade | Serbia
INTERNATIONAL MEETINGS IN BELGRADE IN THE 70S
During the late ‘60s and beginning of ‘70’s Biljana Tomic organized a series of international programs within BITEF – Belgrade Theatre Festival, presenting some of then emerging and avant-garde artistic movements and its protagonists. Therefore were present or exhibited many artists from Arte Povera, as Pistoletto, Kounellis, Boetti, De Dominicis, Merz, Prini, Paolini, invited by critics such as Germano Celant or Achille Bonito Oliva, and also artists from Fluxus, minimal, conceptual, mail, land, body art like Andre, Ben, Baldessari, Barry, Buren, Christo, Chiari, Darboven, Dibbets, van Elk, Fabro, Flanagan, Hubler, Kosuth, Long, Latham, LeWitt, Weiner, Wilson, the Video Gallery of Garry Schum, and others.
As the Students Cultural Centre was opened, from 1972 started a program “April Meetings” which lasted till the end of ‘70s and which continued the same multimedia festival/event conception based on idea of “expanded media” (as a paraphrase of than cult book “Expanded Cinema” by Gene Youngblood). So within “April Meetings” parallel with Yugoslavian artists that were presented also before, such as group OHO from Slovenia, Dimitrijevic, Trbuljak, Martinis, Ivekovic from Zagreb, emerging group of six from Belgrade among which exhibited initially Marina Abramovic, were shown again many international artists: group Art and Language and other conceptualists presented by Catherine Millet, Gina Pane with one of first performances, Joseph Beuys, Ontani, Clemente, and many others as well as international and Yugoslav critics and curators.
In 1974 with Joseph Beuys started connections with Dusseldorf Academy, and in next years other artists, such as Katarina Sieverding and Klaus Rinke were in Belgrade making performances and presentations.
During the following period Gallery of SCC conceiving its program and activity also as the open laboratory and workshop presented young artists, students of artists that were in Belgrade... and so continued not only through the ‘80s but even through the ‘90s in spite of war and cultural embargo.
“Real Presence – Generation 2001” as first huge young artists and students meeting and workshop after a democratic changes in Yugoslavia, actually continues this kind of praxis. It is based in this historical background and in a long tradition of open multimedia programs conceived to be meeting point and place of free communication, presentation, collaboration and friendship.
Beginning of ‘90s, with war and dissolution of Yugoslavia changed radically art scene and its ways of functioning, provoking closeness, isolation and impossibility to maintain normal cultural exchange and activity. Even after the suspension of cultural embargo the “virtual enclosure” became a part of scene, a rule, a felling, a state of mind... So after ten years there was a need to underline certain “real presence”, to invite young and emerging generations of artists coming from different countries and cultural backgrounds, to be in Belgrade, to be numerous, to work and hang around together for some time... just as a first step of a still long process of bridging a gaps created during this long period... as some kind of new beginning...
Actually on this project we have been working for two years. It started when Biljana Tomic visited certain academies as guest professor and met some of the artists that were now in Belgrade. Others I knew, or we asked some professors and friends to help us and involve students and young artists which could be interested to come in Belgrade.
The basic idea was to invite people whose work we already knew, or who was before in Belgrade, but also to keep wide margin so who ever was interested could participate as well. We didn’t wanted to give any qualitative or judging criteria a priori, nor a theme or direction in which artists should work.
Rather we wanted to create situation which could permit to anyone to work, act or improvise as he/she feels like. And in any expressive media.
The program was imagined as permanent, with daily presentations, performances, actions, parties, and in the end of two weeks, with exhibitions in different spaces we had on disposition. As a workshop Real Presence consisted in two parts: 1) presentations of artists and groups through video, slides and other documentary materials, so that all present participants could meet and get to know each other through the work; 2) using museum, galleries, studios and other spaces first as laboratory and than as exhibition spaces, providing (as much as it was possible) with material and necessary equipment. One of its main aims was to give a chance to students from Belgrade to meet their colleagues, and to get real, direct information about life, studies, artistic expectations, perspectives, experiences...
The program started with collective action “Real Presence Plateau” – climbing to the roof of Tito’s Museum by all participants and taking photos – as an homage to Harald Szeemann, who opened the manifestation and to his “Plateau of Humankind”, but also as an action of affirming “real presence” of more than two hundred young artists and students from all over the world in Belgrade in a sunny late August morning 2001. In the evening followed two and a half hours conference and talk of Harald Szeemann with guests and students. And next days were dedicated to visits of spaces available for the work.
As a curators we decided not to impose anything and to leave free to artists to choose space and situation that suits them better. In this free choice artists themselves could decide and negotiate how to place the works and interfere one with other. Actually from this came out most interesting situations, because different works were mixed, artists interacted with spaces and works, creating special exhibitive dynamics... on which public in the end added its contributions as well...
...SOME HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
BEGINNING IN 2001...
I remember when I prepared Biennale in Venice in 1999, the bombing of Belgrade stopped the evening before the opening. We all were relieved.
Now assisting to the opening of “Real Presence” – another lucky initiative of Biljana and her meanwhile adult beautiful daughter Dobrila – I saw the night before the opening what the intelligent and the stupid bombs did in 1999 to the city.
What Biljana and Dobrila wanted and achieved wasn’t an addition to the already overloaded art agenda, it was a piece of given life to the capital of an improved nation.
It was fantastic to see how hundreds of students and young artists from all over the world approached the Tito Museum near his mausoleum with their bags and rucksacks, ready after a first meeting to spread out in the city taking it over, in many locations as an ideal territory for their works, actions, performances, events.
I was lucky to be there.
The oldest Biennale in the world, the Venice Biennale is nowadays not only an art exhibition but an occasion and possibility for many new and old nations to show their interest in a complex and many layered Europe. But the Biennale cannot just passively wait for the others. It has to go where the Real Presences are and be part of their energies..
Thank you Biljana and Dobrila for what you gave to 300 young artists and showing them that Belgrade is alive.
THE NEW TYPE OF ART MANIFESTATION SHOULD BE LIKE A POWER PLANT: A PRODUCER OF NEW ENERGY
Based on this conviction “Real Presence” shaped its character as open and dynamic platform for upcoming generations of artists coming from different cultural backgrounds and working in a wide variety of media and expressive languages. “Real Presence” set off in 2001, when Serbia undertook the path of democratic changes after ten years of crisis and cultural isolation. Parallel with processes of democratization, this manifestation acted with the goal to sustain the value of culture as a field of coexistence of differences, as well as to open up channels of communication and artistic exchange between Serbia and other cultural contexts and encourage post-war generations to articulate and express their creative visions, ethical attitudes and positions towards reality in the multitude of its aspects.
In 10 years “Real Presence” involved more than 1500 young artists from 59 countries, from more than 100 art academies and therefore can be considered the biggest international workshop currently operating in the Balkan. With its activity it contributed that Belgrade become again an active link within cultural network of the region and it stimulated great number of collaborative artistic projects that dealt with issues of identity and diversity, urgency for the communitarian engagement and most of all, preciousness of direct, personal experience in the process of knowing the other.
This is the legacy but at the same time the starting point for every next edition of “Real Presence”, that seeks to re-edit its inner dynamic but also remains coherent to its basic conceptual and organizational guidelines that shaped its originality and uniqueness. “Real Presence” is focused on the concrete artistic practice and functions as permanent laboratory in which cross-cultural dialogue and art production are closely interlinked. As annual event “Real Presence” maintains its basis in Belgrade, but it also seeks to expand the radius of action and interact with institutions and manifestations in other European cities. In 2002 it was one of the organizational partners of Staedelschule in Frankfurt for the “Gasthof” – encounter of European art academies that gathered about 200 students and professors in the occasion of Manifesta 4. In 2005 “Real Presence” was realised as parallel event within official program of 51° Venice Biennial in collaboration with FDA - IUAV, in 2007 within 10° Istanbul Biennial and in 2008 it was hosted by Castello di Rivoli – Museum of Contemporary Art and within its program was presented the 7th edition of European Biennial Manifesta held in Trentino / Alto Adige.
“Real presence” means being aware of “here and now”, and for artists it means being receptive and engaged in the surrounding context, functioning as a sensor capable of capturing inputs and contents, experiences and stories that can be analyzed, elaborated and narrated through different artistic media. Therefore, different context and cultural / geographical provenience of participants provides different content of the workshop, and in this case, specific geographical constellation of involved partners furnish additional sources for thematic articulation of the project. Notions of borders and boundaries, openness and closeness, inclusion and exclusion were as a subtext, interwoven in the core of this manifestation from the very beginning, since it is originated in a country which is struggling with its recent past and uncertain political present, still on the borders of EU. Overcoming the sense of closeness and exclusion is still an urgent issue in Serbia, that matters especially for young generations. Overcoming barriers and boundaries is still intellectual and existential need. Encounter of young artists coming from different cultural backgrounds, stimulated to share ideas and engage themselves in collaborative projects, is an antidote to this condition.
"Real Presence" was ended in 2010 when visa regime was withdrawn in Serbia.