Andreja Kulunčić: Art can Create Tools for Change

Nada Beroš


Interview of Nada Beroš publi­shed on the NOVOSTI web portal

I lear­ned a lot abo­ut the way of self-orga­ni­za­ti­on of the com­mu­nity, abo­ut the strug­gle for wor­kers’ rig­h­ts, abo­ut the effort to pre­ser­ve the indi­ge­no­us lan­gu­age, cul­tu­re, and natu­re, wor­king on a pro­ject with four dif­fe­rent com­mu­ni­ti­es living on the out­skirts of Mexico City. One of them is a com­mu­nity of libe­ra­ti­on the­olo­gi­ans, who live with the wor­kers, work in the mines empowe­ring the wor­kers in the fig­ht for the­ir rights.


After com­ple­ting scul­p­tu­re stu­di­es in Belgrade (1992), and then in Budapest (1994), Andreja Kulunčić deci­ded to take a dif­fe­rent path. She oppo­ses the cha­otic and dark nine­ti­es in our regi­on with a dis­ci­pli­ned and deman­ding artis­tic work that in many ways was more remi­nis­cent of sci­en­ti­fic rese­ar­ch than her basic pro­fe­ssi­on — scul­p­tu­re. While at the end of the nine­ti­es, the majo­rity had just mas­te­red the basics of inter­net lite­racy, she bra­vely explo­red not only new digi­tal tec­h­no­lo­gi­es, but also new topics such as gene­tic engi­ne­ering (‘Closed Reality — Embryo’, 1999 – 2000), soci­al jus­ti­ce (‘Distributive jus­ti­ce’, 2001; a pro­ject which, at the invi­ta­ti­on of the selec­tor Okwui Enwezor, was pre­sen­ted at Documenta in Kassel in 2002, the most pres­ti­gi­ous exhi­bi­ti­on of con­tem­po­rary art in the wor­ld), dealing with the­se poli­ti­ci­zed topics con­ti­nu­ous­ly and dedi­ca­ted­ly with the help of nume­ro­us col­la­bo­ra­tors-experts in the­se fiel­ds, which she con­si­ders equ­al co-aut­hors. Although she was often invi­ted to nume­ro­us inter­na­ti­onal pro­blem exhi­bi­ti­ons, Kulunčić, the foun­der of the MAPA asso­ci­ati­on, shows by her exam­ple that one sho­uld not wait for ‘cus­to­mers’, but that one sho­uld self-orga­ni­ze and ensu­re maxi­mum fre­edom in the idea and exe­cu­ti­on of pro­jec­ts. Deeply beli­eving in art that can sti­mu­la­te soci­al chan­ge, she con­ti­nu­es to work on seve­ral mul­ti-year pro­jec­ts at the same time, among which she is just star­ting the one on Goli otok, which focu­ses on women poli­ti­cal camp.


In a new pro­ject-in-pro­gress, you are dealing with a lit­tle-known story — the suf­fe­ring of women on Goli otok, and you are plan­ning one of the workshops/performances for July 21. in the for­mer women’s pri­son on that island. The very title makes one shud­der: ‘You betrayed the Party just when you sho­uld have hel­ped it’. Women’s tra­uma is often the focus of your work?

“You betrayed the Party just when you sho­uld have hel­ped it” is a sen­ten­ce of Marija Zelić, the first mana­ger of the women’s poli­ti­cal camp on Goli otok. They say that she was par­ti­cu­lar­ly cru­el to fema­le pri­so­ners, but also that she was put in that posi­ti­on for that reason. Namely, Goli otok and Sveti Grgur were pla­ces of repre­ssi­ve de-Stalinization. It is known that they were cre­ated in 1949 as the Party’s res­pon­se to the split betwe­en Tito and Stalin with the inten­ti­on of “re-edu­ca­ting” unfit mem­bers of the Party. Tito’s idea that infor­ma­ti­on bure­au offi­cers sho­uld be bro­ken, not kil­led, led to the intro­duc­ti­on, in addi­ti­on to the esta­bli­shed camp met­hods, of a seri­es of spe­ci­fic cha­rac­te­ris­tics of the Goli otok poli­ti­cal pri­son island, espe­ci­al­ly towar­ds women. According to the rese­ar­ch of Renata Jambrešić Kirin, the violent, des­truc­ti­ve and misogynis­tic biopo­li­tics in the camp, which sys­te­ma­ti­cal­ly attac­ked the repro­duc­ti­ve heal­th of fema­le pri­so­ners, exclu­ded the­ir gen­der spe­ci­fi­ci­ti­es and at the same time tur­ned fema­le pri­so­ners aga­inst each other, resul­ted in deep tra­uma and long-term silen­ce of women abo­ut the expe­ri­en­ce. Society tre­ats women’s tra­uma in a patri­ar­c­hal way, and the pri­so­ners them­sel­ves felt asha­med of what they had gone thro­ugh, so, accor­ding to seve­ral rese­ar­c­hers, they are not even pre­sent in the public dis­co­ur­se abo­ut tota­li­ta­ri­an violen­ce in Yugoslavia. That’s why, at the invi­ta­ti­on of Darko Bavoljak and the Ante Zemljar Association to make a pro­ject on the the­me of Goli otok  I tur­ned to women. There were much fewer of them, but that does not dimi­nish the impor­tan­ce of the topic and the need to record the­ir suf­fe­ring. For the sake of illus­tra­ti­on, on part of St. Grgur, whe­re the women’s pri­son used to be, can only be disem­bar­ked in calm weat­her, and when you suc­ce­ed, the only info-board you will come across is that you have come to the “deer hun­ting gro­un­ds”. Together with the col­la­bo­ra­tors on the pro­ject, eth­no­lo­gist Renata Jambrešić Kirin and psyc­hot­he­ra­pist Dubravka Stijačić, we pri­ma­rily want to pla­ce infor­ma­ti­on panels in front of both women’s pri­sons (both at Grgur and Goli), then to rese­ar­ch as much as possi­ble in the arc­hi­ves and exis­ting tes­ti­mo­ni­es, and then thro­ugh the pro­ject to open up dif­fe­rent for­ms of dealing with spa­ce of dehu­ma­ni­za­ti­on. A per­ma­nent part of the artis­tic inter­ven­ti­on will be the visu­al pun­c­tu­ati­on of a dozen points of fema­le memory/trauma on both islan­ds, which would not be visi­ble in the lan­d­s­ca­pe, except when you as visi­tors are fami­li­ar with whe­re the ‘tra­ces’ are loca­ted, and on the ope­ning day of the ins­tal­la­ti­on, in July 2020 ., we are plan­ning a live per­for­man­ce at the inter­sec­ti­on of spa­ce, move­ment, ins­tru­men­tal and vocal arti­cu­la­ti­on. That is why, on July 21 this year, we will hold an inter­na­ti­onal ins­tru­men­tal-vocal impro­vi­sa­ti­on wor­k­shop in the women’s pri­son on Goli otok for pro­fe­ssi­onal musi­ci­ans. The leaders of the wor­k­shop are Annette Giesriegl, a jazz sin­ger and vocal impro­vi­ser from Austria, and Jasna Jovićević, a jazz saxop­ho­nist and com­po­ser from Serbia.


Sharing of authorship


You sign many pro­jec­ts in co-aut­hor­ship with nume­ro­us col­la­bo­ra­tors from artis­tic and non-artis­tic fiel­ds and dis­ci­pli­nes. What does it mean for you to sha­re co-res­pon­si­bi­lity with your col­le­agu­es today, and what was it like when you started? 

The ‘geni­us’ of artis­ts, more rarely fema­le artis­ts, and the art of expre­ssi­on with cer­ta­in artis­tic tec­h­niqu­es is no lon­ger an exclu­si­ve fac­tor, so sha­ring aut­hor­ship with phi­lo­sop­hers, dan­cers, acti­vis­ts or Bosnian wor­kers is not as fore­ign to the muse­um-gal­lery esta­bli­sh­ment today as it was 25 years ago, when I star­ted. For me, col­la­bo­ra­ti­on and sha­ring of aut­hor­ship are an impor­tant part of the pro­cess, I don’t see myself as some­one who leads and deter­mi­nes everyt­hing wit­hin the pro­ject, but rat­her as some­one who ena­bles and con­nec­ts, opens up and sha­res his with the tools, met­hods and knowled­ge of others. It is valu­able to hear and take from others and work to har­mo­ni­ze all dif­fe­ren­ces into an artis­tic work that com­mu­ni­ca­tes well, cle­ar­ly, ope­nly, demys­ti­fi­ed with the audi­en­ce. In the last two years, I pushed the boun­da­ri­es of sha­ring aut­hor­ship and taking res­pon­si­bi­lity wit­hin the pro­ject even fur­t­her, so I foun­ded the EQUALS col­lec­ti­ve with a gro­up of women from Zagreb of dif­fe­rent eth­nic, reli­gi­ous, raci­al and sexu­al iden­ti­ti­es. Our goal is to warn abo­ut the pre­sen­ce of dis­cri­mi­na­ti­on in Croatian soci­ety and raise awa­re­ness of the impor­tan­ce of accep­ting diver­sity. We focu­sed pri­ma­rily on the pro­blems that mino­rity iden­ti­ti­es face on a daily and ins­ti­tu­ti­onal level, which are the result of dis­cri­mi­na­tory for­ms of beha­vi­or and dis­cri­mi­na­tory legis­la­ti­on. For exam­ple, from the­ir fear of passing thro­ugh cer­ta­in parts of the city beca­use of the­ir skin color or reli­gi­ous featu­res (hijab), thro­ugh dis­com­fort due to the use of the­ir own lan­gu­age, to the impo­ssi­bi­lity of adop­ting a child in a same-sex uni­on or obta­ining asylum. We desig­ned a public cam­pa­ign in which the men­ti­oned pro­blems are mani­fes­ted as a symp­tom of soci­ety, and not only as pri­va­te pro­blems of a cer­ta­in gro­up (https://isteonline.wordpress.com/)


You have wor­ked on com­plex, mul­ti-year art pro­jec­ts in very dif­fe­rent envi­ron­ments, from South and North America, thro­ugh Great Britain, Luxembourg and Switzerland, to India. Where and from whom did you learn the most? 

The pro­ject ‘Conquering and Constructing the Common’ is par­ti­cu­lar­ly impor­tant to me, beca­use I wan­ted to do a pro­ject in Mexico whi­le still studying scul­p­tu­re in Budapest in the nine­ti­es. However, I was deni­ed an entry visa on two occa­si­ons, so I tra­vel­led aro­und South America for a year, but I was una­ble to enter Mexico. I final­ly mana­ged to reali­ze a pro­ject in the peri­od from 2011 to 2013 in Mexico City. I lear­ned a lot abo­ut the way of self-orga­ni­za­ti­on of the com­mu­nity, abo­ut the strug­gle for the rig­h­ts of mine wor­kers and the­ir fami­li­es after the death of wor­kers, abo­ut the long-term effort to pre­ser­ve the autoc­h­t­ho­no­us lan­gu­age, cul­tu­re, and natu­re, wor­king on a pro­ject with four dif­fe­rent com­mu­ni­ti­es living on the out­skirts of Mexico City. Two are very poor, than­ks solely to the­ir self-orga­ni­za­ti­on they mana­ged to cre­ate a nice set­tle­ment of dig­ni­fi­ed life, as they like to say, from a fave­la set­tle­ment. The third is a very well-orga­ni­zed indi­ge­no­us com­mu­nity to which the city has gra­du­al­ly expan­ded, and the four­th is an extre­mely inte­res­ting com­mu­nity of libe­ra­ti­on the­olo­gi­ans, who live with the wor­kers, work in the mines with them and empower them in the fig­ht for the­ir rights.


You have been advo­ca­ting ‘art for soci­al chan­ge’ for a quar­ter of a cen­tury, era­sing the boun­da­ri­es betwe­en life and art, the boun­da­ri­es betwe­en dis­ci­pli­nes, betwe­en actors… Do you some­ti­mes doubt the­se ‘foun­da­ti­ons’?

I still beli­eve that art can open up real ques­ti­ons, pro­vi­de dif­fe­rent ways of looking at soci­al situ­ati­ons, reali­ze dialo­gue on other gro­un­ds, design and offer tools for change.


Many of your pro­jec­ts are self-ini­ti­ated and do not go thro­ugh the bure­aucracy of the ins­ti­tu­ti­on, so it seems that you can con­trol everyt­hing, from the con­tent and met­hods of work, to the par­ti­ci­pants and sour­ces of funding.

Doing com­plex col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve pro­jec­ts on your own means cons­tan­tly looking for fun­ds and dealing with quite a lot of bure­aucracy. I have been doing this con­ti­nu­ous­ly sin­ce 2001, when, with a gro­up of co-aut­hors on the first two major pro­jec­ts, I foun­ded the asso­ci­ati­on MAPA — Multidisciplinary aut­hor’s pro­jec­ts and acti­ons — for art, sci­en­ce and tec­h­no­logy. On the one hand, it gives you fre­edom and some pro­jec­ts have been cre­ated solely beca­use of it. But on the other hand, end­less new roun­ds when applying for fun­ds lead to fati­gue beca­use you are expec­ted to be more and more a pro­ject mana­ger and less and less a cre­ati­ve per­son. It is actu­al­ly a ‘good’ bure­aucra­tic tac­tic to dull the edge and rele­van­ce of artis­tic pro­duc­ti­on in the Western wor­ld. It seems to me that sin­ce we ente­red the EU, the ques­ti­ons and res­tric­ti­ons in appli­ca­ti­ons are more and more nume­ro­us every year, and the fre­edoms wit­hin the cre­ati­on of pro­jec­ts are more and more limi­ted. In any case, maybe it’s time to find new tac­tics if we want to stay rele­vant, free and keep up with what’s hap­pe­ning aro­und us, and not just when somet­hing beco­mes a ‘keyword’ or ‘tar­ge­ted out­co­me’ of the application.


“Dashes” abo­ut tourism


Do you also try to enco­ura­ge the exc­han­ge of expe­ri­en­ce and the pro­duc­ti­on of knowled­ge on a local, micro-level, such as the rese­ar­ch pro­ject ‘Creative Strategies’ (2010) in which you inclu­ded resi­dents of the famo­us Mamutica, ‘housing mac­hi­nes’ from 1975 in the Travno neig­h­bo­ur­ho­od of Zagreb?

This pro­ject deals with the ori­gin, deve­lop­ment, meanin­gs and impac­ts of cre­ati­ve stra­te­gi­es, both on the indi­vi­du­al and on the wider soci­al com­mu­nity. It con­sis­ts of three deve­lop­men­tal, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly imple­men­ted seg­ments: the­ore­ti­cal rese­ar­ch, artis­tic pro­duc­ti­on and cri­ti­cal reflec­ti­on on the very pro­ce­sses and resul­ts of the pro­ject. I orga­ni­zed the artis­tic pro­duc­ti­on by modu­les, each modu­le has a spe­ci­fic appro­ach to the topic, and thro­ugh prac­ti­ce, dif­fe­rent met­ho­do­lo­gi­es and ways of analyzing the resul­ts are deve­lo­ped. So far, three modu­les have been reali­zed in which a lar­ge num­ber of par­ti­ci­pants have been invol­ved from the very begin­ning. The first modu­le on Zagreb’s Mamutica was rela­ted to topics of public spa­ce, the second to under­pri­vi­le­ged com­mu­ni­ti­es in Mexico City, and the third, Toolkit for joint acti­ons, dealt with the cur­rent issue of self-orga­ni­za­ti­on of wor­kers and other civic ini­ti­ati­ves in the Croatian con­text, con­si­de­ring a wider ran­ge of cur­rent soci­al topics.


In addi­ti­on to the­se com­plex, often ‘dif­fi­cult’ topics, the­re are also occa­si­onal ones in which you touch on domes­tic soci­al reality, most often tourism, in a humo­ro­us, some­ti­mes cyni­cal way, such as the acti­ons on Trešnjevac mar­ket cal­led “Sun’s inco­mefrom 2010. With the­se pro­jec­ts, you also try to ‘hide’, to be invi­si­ble as an artist. How do you see the posi­ti­on and fun­c­ti­on of artis­ts in the future?

In the case of long-term col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve pro­jec­ts, the work pro­cess requ­ires me to “hand over” a lot of what I pre­vi­ous­ly desig­ned to others for addi­ti­on, use, design — until the fina­li­za­ti­on of the work or as the work itself. In this sen­se, ‘invi­si­bi­lity’ is dic­ta­ted by the logic of the pro­ject. In the case of short “dash lines” from our tourism, this is not nece­ssary, in all the­se wor­ks I am also pre­sent as the per­for­mer of the acti­on, beca­use they con­ta­in a note of humor, cyni­cism, a kind of role reversal.

If I look back, the chan­ges in the posi­ti­on of artis­ts in our coun­try over the past twen­ty years have been very small. At the end of the 1990s, we belon­ged to the inte­res­ting “Eastern block”, which had its own audi­en­ce, col­lec­ti­ons, exhi­bi­ti­ons, cura­tors… and now we are beco­ming a much less inte­res­ting perip­hery of the European Union. The for­ty years we spent out­si­de the West made us unique — now we are in a situ­ati­on of ‘Western’ colo­ni­za­ti­on, both in ter­ms of eco­nomy, natu­ral reso­ur­ces, wor­k­for­ce, and cul­tu­re. Instead of argu­ing abo­ut the geopo­li­ti­cal posi­ti­on we have, I think it is up to all of us to posi­ti­on our­sel­ves smar­tly wit­hin the given fra­mework if we want to rema­in relevant.


ZAGREB, July 23, 2019.