Interview with Kontejner, part 3: Art can be a field of risk!

May 1, 2011

This is the third part of the interview with Kontejner. Read the second part here: Technology and conceptualism walking along…


Poster for Extravagant Bodies by Dejan Dragosavac Ruta (c)
Photo taken from Kontejner

An important aspect of your whole approach is theory… During each festival there is a symposium… Actually, the entire range of artistic practices you are covering demands a very strong theoretical background… I find it very interesting in the context of technology, where people tend to play up to pure practice… Hence, since you are curators, what does it mean to you and what does it include?

SO: Well, we have discursive minds. When there is a lack of theory and a lack of discourse, certain problems are arising. Contextualization and the stimulating options in theoretical positions, whether from social or natural sciences, have to be presented. We can see huge differences in theoretical-critical approaches within our region. Hence, in our opinion, it’s undeniable that this is the part of the process, the curatorial process, and a part of the art itself, as well as a part of the art production. I think this is simply unavoidable.

There are actually a number of approaches that may go with it, and we tend to leave things open, especially when we are doing festivals. We don’t want strictly to define things, or take sides, but to simply provide a repertoire to see what happens, in which direction it can go, and why some theories are currently stronger, and where it all is heading to. So, no matter what, a critical attitude should be maintained to theory, either vis-a-vis what is happening in art, or vis-a-vis projects.


Ray Lee: Siren (c)
Photo taken from Kontejner

IB: These are definitely not two separate things, the critical artistic production and theory. While presenting a particular artwork, we are in a way also proposing one of many possible ways to read and interpret it, which is automatically a kind of mediation towards the audience and our younger colleagues, who might use it as an orientation, but will one day perhaps construct a completely different discourse.

I could again return to my experience with Kira O’Reilly’s performance, which was also presented in the form of a booklet with an accompanying curatorial text and ‘reading’ of this performance. Of course, I’m stating the obvious, as this is the usual procedure with any other curatorial practice, but often it is taken for granted. The importance of Kontejner’s contribution was not only in presenting the performance or the artist, but, maybe even more importantly, in initiating a broader discussion on artistic, philosophical and theoretical rethinking on the body in art and society.


Joe Davies: Polypticha (c)
Photo taken from Kontejner

In our specific context, this is even more relevant, since despite the legacy of artists such as Vlasta Delimar or Tomislav Gotovac, theorisations of body and sexuality in relation to art are poignantly missing from critical discourse, or are systematically ignored. This relates to the larger issue of the complex relations and significations of gender, body and sexuality in the context of socialist Yugoslavia, which is certainly a topic worth much more intense research and attention than it has received so far.

Kontejner is one of the rare curatorial and theoretical platforms revisiting these issues. Mainstream art institutions and discourses make it seem as if ‘body art’ was merely one of the historical styles of art making, almost an accidental excess that cannot disturb the ‘purity’ and ‘intellect’ of the museum. Even certain feminist art theories too easily dismissed women artists dealing with the body as merely essentialist etc.


Thomas Kvam & Frode Oldereid: Machine Project (c)
Photo taken from Kontejner

In this sense, I think that what Kontejner is doing is a relevant intervention, implying also that the space of art is not only a space of intellectual activity, but also of corporeality, materiality, that art can also incite pleasure, or discomfort, create an encounter between an artwork and the public through direct and not always a ‘safe and clean’ exposure. I think that people recognize this, I think that when they go to a Kontejner festival, they are aware that there might be some ‘danger’ there…

SO: … of being exposed to something and involved, of being touched by it… not superficially, and sometimes literally.

IB: Exactly. Usually, when we visit exhibitions, we think: Ok, now I’m going to see something here, and I will think about it. With Kontejner, as art critic Marko Golub once told us, most people don’t ask themselves what they will see but rather: what’s going to happen this time?

There is some kind of excitement and some kind of risk for visitors, actually an awareness that they are exposing themselves to a certain risk. Of course, not a life-threatening risk, but something that might involve them in a totally different way than any other exhibition. I think that’s very important because it disturbs the imperative of the cognitive as the only valid approach in experiencing both art and the world.


The Orange Dog and Other Tales (Even Better Then the Real Thing)
Photo taken from Kontejner (c)

For me personally, Kontejner is also an interesting platform for intervening in the local discourses of art history, or more precisely, the history of contemporary art. The project The Orange Dog and Other Tales (Even Better Than the Real Thing) that we did in 2009 is an example…

That was for the conference in Zagreb, right?

IB: …for the PSI#15 Conference, it was a deconstruction of the way art history approaches the historization of contemporary art and also an experiment in performative art history, which merges art historical research and fiction. The subtext of the project was the fact that the history of performance art is still an unwritten and non-existing narrative in the local context.

It’s sort of a ‘bastard’ child of the visual arts and drama arts, which neither of those two academic spheres has yet ‘adopted’ as a relevant research subject. There are rare individuals, like Suzana Marjanic, who systematically deal with the history of and writing on performance art.

SO: We have a lack of history. This history is not written. We must begin to write it!

IB: Yes. But then again, even when it’s written, this aspect of corporeality is being neglected, and the same goes for the performing arts. Kontejner’s intervention here should be viewed from the larger perspective of the critical and transformative role that curatorial practices can adopt today.


Oron Catts & Ionat Zurr: Who/What are the Semi-Livings Created
by the Tissue Culture & Art Project? (c)
Photo taken from Kontejner

SO: Art that we are interested in as curators, in that sense, includes corporeality, mind, intellect… It requires and affects the whole entity, the whole subject, not ‘only’ our brain. Haptic and emotional qualities have to be emphasized as well. It is an open field able to encompass various aspects and ways of experiencing and relating to the external reality and ourselves: from pleasure, fun to pain and danger. Art isn’t always a safe field; art can be a field of risk!

IB: And it’s a question of taking risks as part of a curatorial strategy, the methodologies of being involved in collaboration with certain artists and on art projects…

SO: … and with certain projects that demand a great amount of confidence in what you are doing, taking over large areas of responsibility. Therefore, art is a field of responsibility and curatorial practices are fields of responsibility.


Zoran Todorovic: Agalma (c)
Photo taken from Kontejner

Kontejner does care a lot about design, especially exhibition setups… Do you do all within your team or…?

IB: For each festival and exhibition, Kontejner always re-thinks and re-designs the exhibition space. Not a single Kontejner exhibition has so far been staged in some conventional gallery setting. We never had a situation of ‘packaging’ or ‘branding’ our ‘products’ as a result of collaboration with an outsourced designer, architect, or agency, etc. All ideas have first originated within Kontejner, and then in intense discussion with our regular team of collaborators (Dean Dragosavac Ruta, Marko Matosic, William Linn and others), who are in a way Kontejner’s expanded team.

Exhibition design is for us a space of experimentation, where the concept of the project itself is reconsidered and reconceptualised in different terms, opening the possibilities of rethinking the relations between the curatorial concept, the participating artworks and the architecture, space, the experience of the visitor while moving through the exhibition,…

Suncica and Ivana, Thanks a lot!

Proofreading: Graham McMaster

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *