Our forthcoming issue, Subjektiv part II, invites different artists, curators and thinkers to give us their recent critical perspectives on the issues at stake and on the status of the subjective as an artistic strategy in the current political climate. As a warm up, we'll share some statements here. Damir Avdagic: ‘The subjective as artistic strategy’ primarily brings two things to mind. The first is the use of material gathered from subjects, such as voices and gestures that are circumscribed by larger social, political or historical events and conditions. The second is the ‘subjective’ as the starting point from which all my research and production originates.
During my time as a student at The University of California, a key question we addressed was what it means for an artist to have a ‘project’. Commonly one understands this idea as the ‘red thread’ that runs throughout and unifies an artist's works, the underlying theme that connects them. But more specifically, a ‘project’ is an interrogation of an event, whether part of civil life, a political movement, a historical event, a social condition etc. An artist's area of inquiry isn't chosen on a whim or at random, but is constituted by impactful events and experiences from his or her past. My practice is informed by fleeing the conflict in Yugoslavia to Norway with my family in 1993.
My own practice is not about the experience itself in a direct way, but rather is informed by that experience. My work is about the negative space around the experience. For me, the experience itself brought about a variety of questions about the experience's aftereffects, questions that my practice attempts to interrogate further. How did this disruptive event affect the lives of those who were children when it happened? Why does the parental generation often refuse to talk about the conflict, while its offspring — namely, me and my generation — are often eager to ask questions about it? Why does my generation idealise the republic of Yugoslavia, a place in which few of them even remember having lived?
My whole project is rooted in a subjective experience. This isn’t to say that it literally deals with my childhood as it unfolded in the 1990s, but rather that the experience of fleeing a war changed me in such a way that I am compelled to interrogate its continuing effects in the present, not only on myself, but on the community that went through it as a whole. This approach to making art touches on the question of ‘contribution’ — in the larger sense. What can I contribute to the world? What aspect of my subjective experience makes my interrogation imperative? What experience was so meaningful that it has led me to dedicate my time to investigating its effects and sharing that investigation publicly?
In my work Reenactment/Process from 2016, I worked with three other participants in their early-to-late twenties who all shared the history of fleeing the conflict in Yugoslavia with their families when they were children. The piece includes a series of spontaneous conversations, focusing mainly on their parent’s generation – their relationship to the conflict and the affect that these attitudes have had on their children. This investigation continues with the piece Untitled in 2017, in which I work with four participants from the parent’s generation. In the video they perform a transcript of the conversation from Reenactment/Process and react to the material throughout the reading; they disagree, elaborate on the content and respond in various ways to what the younger generation talked about. Together, the two works identify a post-war condition, where trans-generational transmission of war-related traumas plays an important role and where the history of the conflict in Yugoslavia lingers intersubjectively in the present.
I like to think of my practice as a kind of archaeology where I excavate the kind of historical material stored inside living bodies. I believe that this content can offer an alternative to institutionalised forms of historical documentation, bring to light narratives that are either forgotten or institutionally and culturally repressed, and/or offer a new and different view of history itself. Then perhaps we can inspire new ways of processing past traumas in ourselves and in those who experience our work.