Interview with Mirza Dedac

Hi Mirza, your last exhibition was a video installation entitled ‘Evening programme’. It presents a pornographic film with descriptive subtitles for the blind. What is the meaning of pornography here and how did the audience react?

Pornography is a part of culture, now present more than ever before. Given that I am interested in the visual, I wanted to examine this phenomenon. What is interesting about pornography is that consumers always seek new content. However, in this artwork, the most prominent feature is the sound, which was contributed by the radio host Sava Ristovic. His voice creates a certain ambiguity because it is more reminiscent of documentary programmes. The interaction of such seemingly unconnectable formats problematizes the role of the media today. Regarding the issue of the blind people, this work has no intention to provoke them, as it is conceived purely as an experiment with different media content. The audience was quite divided, I should add.

Your artwork ‘Identity’ was recently exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb. ‘Identity’ presents a lucid and thoughtful review of your personal understanding of identity. To what extent are there parallels to be drawn between the family history, which you portray, and the developing modern history of the surrounding wider society?

Part of a group exhibition entitled ‘Transformation of Image’, ‘Identity’ comprises two works that tell a biographical story and raises questions of cultural, religious, national and ethnic identity. My family originates from Kosovo, a territory of unresolved political status, which still provokes many opposing opinions. My grandfather was an Albanian Muslim. He was born in 1886, at which time Kosovo was part of the Ottoman Empire. When the territory was restored to Serbia in 1915, he joined the Army of the Kingdom of Serbia. As a proof of that period, there is a photo in which he is wearing army uniform; this photo was the starting point of my work. I framed it, hung it on the wall and wrote next to it his personal information, from which, little by little, his identity began to be revealed. This practice of leaving a record on the gallery wall carries echoes of street graffiti or other messages of protest in public spaces. The first of the two pieces that make up ‘Identity’ is entitled ‘Across Albania’. It recalls the difficult retreat of the Serbian army and civilians in Albania during the First World War. The second piece consists of two photographs and is entitled ‘Dichotomy’. The first photograph is from my military service in Serbia and Montenegro and in the second I am wearing an Albanian national costume. These works examine national, ethnic and religious identities, which are highly distinct to the point of being almost mutually exclusive. Such competing identities are characteristic of post-Yugoslav states, and I am not aware of that degree of separation between identities anywhere else.

Dichotomy

Can we separate the critical art practice from politics?

Art has always been closely linked to politics and this is best illustrated by looking at art movements of the 20th century, from Picasso’s Guernica to the emergence of Dadaism, and more recent forms of activism. My practice reviews the main political ideologies, which are related to a range of cultural and social contexts. I approach them through provocation; I believe that art should tackle social phenomena. By doing so, and by adopting a more avantgarde approach, art can generate some rather dramatic reactions, which in return confirm its own relevance.

In your work ‘The Game of Visual Elements’ you touch upon various stages in the development of an artist. What is the meaning of the word ‘inspiration’ in this work?

This work is based on my final year of studies and it challenges a dominant belief about the process of creating a piece of art – that is, the belief in inspiration as a special state of mind in which the artist must find herself/himself in order to be creative. Such a belief belongs to the romantic perception of art and is promoted by the majority of art schools. The idea – that inspiration comes from the artist’s soul with the end result of a painting which speaks for itself – is in my view a distorted understanding of art. Applying a similar logic, but using my own sperm instead of traditional methods, I masturbated on paper for almost twenty days, every time I felt the inspiration. A video camera was fixed just above the paper to record the confluence of sperm. The framed paper was placed next to a screen (of the same size) showing the process of creating the work.

Your earlier works are concerned with the position and status of the image today. How would you link the artistic practices of earlier periods with what is loosely described today as ‘new media’?

There is no single medium I am particularly interested in but, rather, it is the ideas that interest me. An artist has many more opportunities when open to using a variety of media. Given that I graduated from the Department of Painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade, it is quite natural for me to explore questions in relation to the meaning of painting today, as well as opportunities it offers. After some time I realized that such questions had already been addressed through the artistic practice of the 1960s and 1970s and that today there are more important and topical issues in the world of art. However, I believe that there is a clear motif which characterizes all of my work – i.e. a certain degree of provocation, of challenging conservative ideas, whether in opposition to traditional attitudes of propriety in art or in an effort to provoke a reconsideration of my personal conceptions of identity.

Untitled

How have global changes influenced today’s art scene and where do you see yourself?

Global changes provide artists with opportunities to react to, and challenge, emerging social phenomena as well as opportunities to collaborate with scientists, for example, in the fields of bio-art and bio-engineering. Such forms of art are often highly complex and may require funds that are unthinkable in my surroundings. I cannot really tell you where I position myself, given that I am interested in a range of social phenomena. My interest in art started with drawing comic strips, so, in the future, I may do just that.

How do you perceive ‘the Western Balkans in European landscape’ discourse? 

Many artists from the Balkans are still expected to deal, as a specific focus of their work, with the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and with the related refugee crisis. I acknowledge that these are important issues, but this has also become the only lens through which we are perceived. Unfortunately, it seems that we cannot escape this blinkered external perception of us and understanding of our situation.

What is the responsibility of an artist in society and what does it mean to be a ‘cultural worker’?

The job of the artist is like any other job, meaning that we often remain indifferent towards the time and circumstances we live in. My position is similar to that of many others who cannot make a living from their art work alone and depend on additional jobs. In countries with severe economic and political problems, art is often seen as something unnecessary; as something that should not be publically funded when there are more pressing priorities. In this respect, artists are left to fend for themselves. Accordingly, if they are unwilling to compromise, it is very difficult to preserve the status of a freelance artist. The situation in the education sector and other cultural institutions is certainly bad. It could be said that, because we each form part of the culture of the country we live in, every person is a cultural worker, whatever their occupation.

Soon, your work will be exhibited in London as part of a group show, organized by CoBA (Contemporary Balkan Art). What do you think about this type of cooperation and promotion?

I am really looking forward to the exhibition, mainly because of the great artists from the region whose works will also be there. The exhibition is very well conceptualized, as we are interested in similar issues and themes. In this respect, it is a kind of overview of some truly fascinating art.