If dissatisfaction with the state of the cultural scene is the main trigger for the establishment of self-organized spaces, as was the case in 2012, then I can’t shake the feeling that there should be at least a dozen new ones emerging every day in the current climate of 2018. It is a great relief that we will not be adding to lamentations on the current state of local culture in the third edition of U10’s biennial publication, but will instead celebrate the fact that this group of seven artists, together with art historians, has already successfully battled the drought in Belgrade’s cultural scene for six years and, along with a few other initiatives, is one of the most valuable platforms for strengthening artistic networks.
Reading through some old interviews with the members of U10, I encountered some inconsistency. Although the idea was that the project itself should be ongoing and unpredictable in terms of how it presents itself spatially, it has been taking place consistently in one space for the last six years. I was only able to understand this further after conducting an interview with them myself, which answered more questions than I even asked. The answer I received was that the continuity was due to financial support, which meant that the collective could maintain an art space and produce biennial publications. However, it seems to me that its survival has much more to do with a sense of responsibility felt by U10 members towards the broader cultural scene in Serbia or, as Iva stated: “responsibility to start things.” How this start begins is not prescribed and goals are found along the way. However, it seems that the primary aim of U10 has always been to give to the community.
As with all beginnings, especially when the guidelines are unclear, your best friend is chaos, and your most vaulable tool, improvisation. So logically, when we look at the U10 program over the last six years, we see exhibitions by artists from “the family circle”, who at the same time established the ideological foundations of one of the most important art spaces in the country, as well as forming one of the most well-known collectives in our cultural scene. The maturation of the members, who I daren’t say are no longer young artists, grew out of the work of U10 itself, as well as associated developments. For U10 members themselves, it was a portal enabling them to make the first steps towards artistic independence, but it later became a springboard for several other developments. What may have seemed to them at first like a great jump into the unknown, from our point of view today seems like a significant and coordinated leap. Connecting with initiatives from around Europe with similar characteristics/aims (artist-run spaces, off-spaces) provided further fuel and validation of the founding principles of U10, and contributed greatly to the building of individual members’ artistic careers.
The vast experience that they have invested and developed throughout the project has been translated into the leitmotif of U10 Art Space: working with artists who lack exhibiting experience and having the courage to take the first step, which can sometimes seem impossible. What seems to represent the defeat of institutions is actually more the victory of independent initiatives (U10, Ostavinska Gallery, Kvaka 22, Baraka), which in our culture fill the gaps left in the almost non-existent public sphere, and are the only catalysts to recognize and support contemporary creativity and bring silenced voices to the fore. I’ve been introduced to many new names at U10 Art Space and have seen a lot of harmonizing of artistic practices. Freedom is born in these types of spaces, which give us the opportunity to experiment, make mistakes, have fun, get to know one another and share our resources and experiences. Or maybe it’s enough to say that it simply offers us a chance.
The greatest novelty of U10 Art Space is probably the annual open call, which was created as a practical necessity in order to determine the annual program and gain better insights into contemporary practices; but also as a moral necessity to strive towards greater openness and inclusiveness. As much as it may seem like a strict method of selecting the exhibition program and participants, it actually represents an attempt to call upon young artists and curators to empower themselves and engage with the exhibiting process. In the last year and a half, this has resulted in a large number of group exhibitions and visiting exhibitions from international artists. This has not only brought new perspectives into the mix, but has also enabled many first experiences.Special mention when speaking of these new opportunities should go to the long-term and fruitful collaboration between U10 and art historian Kristina Grebenar, which developed across several innovative program additions created from a curatorial perspective.
In its six-year existence, U10 has developed from an experiment with a very uncertain future to an invaluable space for the exploration of contemporary art theory and practice in Serbia, a sort of information desk that selflessly provides guidance and support that extends beyond the borders of its space at Kosovske Devojke 3. It is an initiative built on friendship, will, sacrifice and dedication to defeating the image of a strict, controlled white space to open its doors to share available resources. My advice to everyone would be to make the most of this opportunity.
In closing, I would like to thank Lidija Delić, Iva Kuzmanović, Marija Sević, Nina Ivanović, Isidora Krstić, Sanda Kalebić, Nemanja Nikolić and Sava Knežević, who, when asked whether they had ever thought of leaving the U10 collective, all replied: NO.