There are many paradoxes that define the visual art scene of Belgrade. One could say that the most striking one is the following: Although artistic production is defined by many disadvantages, firstly financial, but also several deep-rooted system dysfunctions; it nevertheless doesn’t cease to exist. judging by the number of exhibitions taking place in some of the most important private, independent and official gallery spaces of the city, and by the number of students graduated from art schools, there is no lack of artistic activity in the Belgrade scene. However, it is apparent that artistic life also doesn’t persist in such an unambiguous framework.
Similar statements can often be heard from nearly all participants of the artistic community. They are mostly connected to the financial deprivation in which gallery life strives and the characteristic social ignorance for the exhibiting practice. We are actually very often confronted with the statement that an art system is literally inexistent in Serbia. Certain art theoreticians have attempted to explain and articulate dominate tendencies that have marked Serbian art throughout the nineties, stressing that the Serbian scene can’t be even treated as one, having in mind that an art system is necessary for its establishment (a broad network of institutions for critical valorisation and representation of art) which was completely lacking. Nowadays when this question is raised again, it is often not clear whether the syntax in question is perceived the same. Most stressed is the lack of developed, organised and networked institutions of the system. Furthermore, the collective lament for the absence of strategically thought-out cultural policies has accustomed itself as well as accentuating the absence of an art market and powerful private galleries. In conversation with a large number of actors in the scene, the question of the sense of further artistic engagement remains dominant, as a result of the absence of an audience (exhibitions are largely visited by relatives and friends of the artist, and a small professional crowd), public opinion with an interest in the local scene and finally art criticism and the critical thought itself. Everything is, of course, followed by the inevitable narrative of the non-functional leading museums. As a consequence, the way out is often seen through the departure to “developed” European centres of art and culture. In spite of this, one will rarely hear that the institutional framework of artistic engagement has immensely changed throughout the last decades and that the state no longer has the interest or economic power to invest significant amounts of resources into culture or art. This leads to the necessity to reorganise from within and maybe redefine the concept, status and function of art in society and public, political life. It appears that a powerful system with large donations and budgets is still expected or even anticipated, which would provide support to artists and the art system as a whole. Uncritically emphasising the international (European) framework which is recognized as an attractive regulated “space” for professional engagement, actually “provincializes” the scene from the inside and each consecutive attempt to seriously question the deeply problematic relationship of the centre and periphery is upfront suffocated in the light of authoritative western art. What is perhaps lacking the most, on which one of the most present paradoxes is grounded from the beginning of the text, is that artistic engagement and practice (with a few exceptions) do not reflect the present state, but ignore the context and directly reproduce the maladjusted, in the wider public still invisible and inefficient (non) system. As a possible modality of resistance, reaction and attempt to rearrange the framework and strategies of practice in the Belgrade scene of the last years, a number of different forms of self-organisation appear. One of them is the project of a group of artists formed around art space U10.
This space was founded in 2012 and is currently in its second year of art related activity. These artists have in their initial, formative phase identified themselves at a generational level that also wanted to become visible and present on the scene immediately after finishing their studies. Without being able to find an adequate mode of affirmation of their concepts and ideas, they decided to fight for their own, autonomous space, standing out from already established modes of promoting contemporary artistic production. At stake is an independent artistic organisation which doesn’t function on the principles of the exploitations and logics of the cultural industry. Its concept includes the “socialization” of recently formed professionals and actively involving them in artistic production by supplying an exhibition space, a guiding or talk open to the public, and offering them curatorial and production assistance. The core of the program and organisation is comprised from artists that are “new in the field” (M. Ćirić). Their approach accomodates the formation of an alternative model of constructive engagement, with a potential to include, animate, motivate, bring together and guide their colleagues to confront and deal with particular matters concerning the scene. Their model, characteristic by an informal approach, changes the image of common institutions through a general simplicity, flexibility and personality, voided of any conventionality or bureaucracy.
The activity of the U10 group could in this way further be formulated as a process of generating a specific place whose coordinates step out of the surface outlined by the vectors of dominating exhibiting practices of the Belgrade scene; thus gradually establishing a platform for critical thought that deals with the conditions that define the impaired (non)system. It’s up to the group to attempt to somewhat clarify and define their program and exhibiting policy in order to delineate and articulate their standpoint.
*The text represents a segment of the on-going curatorial project with U10 conducted by a team of authors: Simona Ognjanović, Miloš Zec, Sima Kokotović and Rade Pantić.
After years of studying the art history they decided to start investigating the concept of art in the context of social relations that define their material reality. They still strive to pursue this investigation.