Art and Terrorism
Bosnian Herzegovinian artwork post 9/11
Observation, analysis, and interpretation of Bosnian Herzegovinian artwork through the prism of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 can be justified through a series of significant reasons. The most significant of these appears in the two-decade-old thesis of our eminent art historian, Aleksandar Adamović, who discussed the idea of contemporary Bosnian and Herzegovinian fine art. He said ‘’In terms of volume, this idea does not exist as a precisely defined theoretical category of an aesthetic type. However, even if it did not exist, this idea still circulated. It plays the rhetorical card of the importance of the term itself.’’1 It appears that the events of 9/11 brought Bosnian and Herzegovinian artists together around a problem, which, after years of dealing with the non-existence of stylistic and thematic homogeny, work in favor of the rehabilitation of the term Contemporary Bosnian and Herzegovinian Fine Arts. The thematic framework assigned to discourse on terrorism calls for responsibility in the search for a precise definition of contemporary Bosnian and Herzegovinian art. The second reason which gives us the right to examine our contemporary art in the light of the terrorist act which brought down the World Trade Center in New York in September 2001 is the connection of events in Bosnian and Herzegovinian history that had significance in a broader context. It is also an example of a terrorist attack - that is the Sarajevo assassination of 1914.
As a result of that, Bosnian and Herzegovinian art seeks a definition in conflict and war and at the end of the day in terrorism, as a miscommunicated pattern of conflicted parties. So we conclude that the Sarajevo assassination, as an event deeply rooted in our history, serves as factual coverage to the appointed thematic framework. And as a typical terrorist attack, the Sarajevo assassination gives us the right to observe Bosnian and Herzegovinian art through the layered prism of terrorism. Furthermore, a statement from N.Y. artist Laurie Anderson, “Terrorists are the last real artists”, although controversial still opens the possibility for discussion that in this case appears to be more than referential. 2
On the other hand, taking 9/11 as a timed determinant for analyzing contemporary Bosnian and Herzegovinian art emphasizes a new era in which a redefined term of terrorism has caused a proclamation of global proportions known as the war on terror (War against Terrorism). American politics defined the fall of the WTC as an act of war, which introduces a new paradigm in discussions on terrorism. A statement by the then American President, ‘‘you’re either with us or against us’’ has polarized the world, stressing a specific pattern, We-They. The national security strategy of the USA has enabled preventive military strikes on those countries that were proclaimed potential terrorist threats. 3 Croatian philosopher, Srećko Horvat, ironically connects the preventive war which is, and has been led by the USA, with the sci-fi film Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, 2002), which takes place in the pre-crime department, which is in charge of preventing and punishing crimes which have yet to take place. 4
The exhibition Art and terrorism-Bosnian and Herzegovinian art after 9/11 focuses on the work of Bosnian and Herzegovinian artists that by any means directly analyze the terrorist act of 9/11, terrorism in general, or even analyze some other themes such as assassination and insecurity that are connected to the events of 9/11, and have been re-actualized in the era of the war on terror. So among the works there is a broad spectrum of different stylistic characteristics, but thematically very homogenous tendencies. As most of these works have not yet been submitted for any expert analysis, the need for complete synthesis remains, which would, in the long run, determine the positions of contemporary Bosnian and Herzegovinian art. Interpretation of the collected works will result in new knowledge regarding contemporary Bosnian and Herzegovinian art, which is on the other hand, in the context of a lack of serious theoretical analysis, a source of misunderstanding and ignorance. The goal of the exhibition is to gather those works from our artists that analyze the actual reality of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian question. A characteristic that supports the thesis of the uniqueness of contemporary Bosnian and Herzegovinian art is the fact that some of the artists, due to specific situations in our country, have for years now lived in other communities, and are subject to the long-term and latent process of redefinition of personal identity. Some have, because of the long years of war in their homeland, found new homes in the United States of America, Canada, Croatia, or some other European countries, so their gathering for the purposes of this exhibition will highlight a specific character of our con-temporary art. At the same time these facts are being taken as the specialty of our art scene, which deserves expert attention and analytical objectivity in its understanding. Until now, along with the general difficult circumstances (material, infrastructure, creative, and other) certain artists have lacked the courage to ‘’come back’’ in the Bosnian and Herzegovinian context, which leaves us with a bigger responsibility in analyzing the framework which characterizes this exhibition. In a narrow field of interpretation that refers to questions actualized after 9/11 the exhibition gathers works that question the complexity of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian identity in its most complicated aspect that is historical, cultural, sociological, religious, political, and other. In that analysis 9/11 represents the main point of change in the interpretive paradigm and that’s why works of art created after that date were considered. The resonance that deter- mined the primary goal of the exhibition - Adamović’s objective thesis on the non-existence of Bosnian Herzegovinian art as a precisely defined theoretic category of an aesthetic type - seems to be ripe for redefinition. As a matter of fact, this exhibition emphasizes and points out specifics of our art as a coherent tissue, which can, through the prism of terrorist events since September 11th, undergo aesthetic theoretical analysis. While taking a look at the exhibition we see basic categories which create a structure of the displayed works, and those are: political tension, conflict, (in)security, danger, sense of endangerment, attack, occupation, hypocrisy, captivity, social action, altered identity, explosive vocabulary, and death. All that is a basic part of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian reality without being mythologized excessively brushed up, and hypocritically pleasant.
Due to the fact that the topic is both serious and recent, the intention is to approach the works with expert objectivity and with a method close to art history. Analysis of the work itself has no ideological ballasts or political bias so a well-founded conclusion can be drawn. Through the example of certain works, the importance of September 11th is shown in the widest context not as an exclusively political event, but as an event that gave entirely new significance to art, culture, and social values in the most different communities, and in the end in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bosnian and Herzegovinian art can be systematically separated into a few thematic areas, which have to do with 9/11. First, it is important to mention those works that use cliché pictures of the burning towers by inserting scenes of the UNIS skyscrapers in Sarajevo, which were hit during the war. A direct connection between the burning WTC and the burning UNIS skyscrapers is determined by two facts. The first is the formal resemblance of the vertically constructed mega structures, which the New York and Sarajevo twins were, while the other is their shared doomed destiny. This visual, that is imprinted moment, overcomes geographic distance and sets Sarajevo’s local destiny into a global context. Through that connection, and thanks to “the event of all events” 32, Sarajevo’s case retroactively becomes a media spectacle, which was not the case in 1992. When the image of the Twin Towers getting hit became a planetary icon, it became much easier to reinterpret, a decade later, the twin towers in Sarajevo getting hit, and to redefine their value as images.
To avoid stereotypical conclusions, Andrej Đerković uses quotation - a play on signs of different origins and context. In the space installation ironically entitled The Beautiful occupation; the artist uses hypertrophied meanings of scented tree-shaped air fresheners. Aside from the visual domination of the air fresheners with the American flag, the scent becomes the man expressive mean of this work. Initially it is meant to spread a nice smell; in this Đerković piece the smell has the opposite effect. The overdose of quantity created an unbearable and unpleasant stink that forces the visitor to escape.
In his other work titled 9.11. Đerković directly analyses the destruction of New York’s Twin Towers. Of course the artist tells a local Sarajevo tale in global vocabulary and by using signs from the context of September 11 and the destruction of the WTC. It is almost impossible to avoid the fact that protective masks on the faces of the towers in Sarajevo would be the only real solution for visiting the installation The Beautiful occupation. The photo-documentary installation 9.11. represents a work in a wider field of interpretation: from being commemorative to critical, which by the power of artistic playfulness asks many questions.
Observing, reliving, and referring to September 11 and terrorism within the borders of Bosnian and Herzegovinian art, is obviously not at all a disregarded or sporadic phenomena. It seems that the one much bigger and significant event in Bosnia and Herzegovina - that is the war from 1992 to 1995 - has not influenced our artists as much as 9/11 did. Rationally and logically following and analyzing these facts results in the question why is it so? As if 9/11, by the power of its symbolism to redefine and change the ingrained meanings in the widest context finally succeeded in determining the complicated Bosnian and Herzegovinian identity. Issues of identity, safety, law, or aspects of terrorist aesthetic present current themes of contemporary Bosnian and Herzegovinian art created after September 11th. However a wider deviation of time will serve as pledge for objective and detailed analysis of the previously mentioned influences.
1 Aleksandar Adamović, Thesis on contemporary BiH art. Published for the exhibition Yugoslavian
2 Citation taken from: Heinz Peter Schwerfel, Ground Zero und Stunde Null. Kunst nach Ground Zero, pg. 10.
3 The National Security Strategy is a document published by the White House on September 20, 2002.
4 Srećko Horvat, Diskurs terorizma. AGM, Zagreb 2008. pg. 33.
32 “Other world events such as the death of Princess Diana, the World Cup, or violent events from wars to ethnic cleansing do not have the same meaning.” Jean Baudrillard, Der Geist des Terrorismus. Passagen Verlag, Vienna 2002