Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Art in BiH

"...the general current social environment in Bosnia and Hercegovina, a country which a press article by Clemens Ruther has described as 'the last yet undead living part of the corpse of Yugoslavia' and as 'being kept alive in an international intensive care unit', a country where post war trauma, everyday nationalist political madness, corruption, a catastrophic economic situation with an average unemployment rate of 50%, demonstrations of power instrumentalising religious confessions, homophobia and macho structures meet, where a feeling of powerlessness, demoralisation and disatisfaction prevails and which seems to be trapped in a dead-end street of depression, lethargy and complaining, without a critical mass believing itself ready to actively address these conditions..."

This stark quote forms part of the exhibition guide to the DEAL WITH IT show, made by members of the German Porschismus collective, at Duplex 10m2 in Sarajevo. This little space, alongside the ARS AEVI collection, is one of two main spaces covering contemporary art in the Bosnian capital. 10m2 was established by two French curators at the end of 2004. The gallery claims an international perspective, with an obvious focus on contemporary Bosnian art. The current show features nine artists who have some connection with BiH, even if they don't actually live there. There is no sense of self-pity or introspection about this show; rather, it seeks to present the creative response of artists dealing with a virtually impossible set of cultural circumstances, yet still managing to keep making work and have it discussed and seen.

DEAL WITH IT group exhibition, gallery 10m2
Across Europe, since the beginning of the credit crunch in October 2008,there has been a deepening gloom about the status of the arts and arts funding. In the UK, the I Value the Arts campaign has used a mixture of public advocacy by well known creative figures, and a relentless social media campaign, to raise awareness of the challenges that the arts face in a climate of dramatically reduced public funding. Newly graduated students have had to adapt to a changed cultural climate where the money that may have been available before 2008 has suddenly gone; they have had to be far more resourceful, ingenious, and co-operative in developing careers. Across Europe, governments have selected the creative arts as an easy early casualty of a supposedly necessary "austerity" package in response to a fiscal crisis entirely the making of incompetent bankers, venal speculators and spineless, regulation-averse politicians.

Serious though the problems facing arts and arts education funding in the UK may be, they seem frankly trivial compared to the problems facing the various sectors of the shrunken Bosnian art world. This is a country where the government currently does not put a fenig towards the National Gallery and its serious collection of BiH, Yugoslav and European paintings, sculptures and photographs; this is the principal reason for the current indefinite closure of the facility. Shockingly, the new BiH government failed to take on the responsibility of maintaining the National Gallery after 1995, and this major collection has had to subsist on money from abroad for the last sixteen years. That the institution was open and maintained a reasonable programme, until recently, is in itself something of a minor miracle and a great tribute to the hard pressed staff there. Only once since independence- with Braco Dimitrijević's show in 2009- has Bosnia-Hercegovina been represented at the Venice bienale, a miserable record by comparison with all the other former Yugoslav republics.

On top of this institutional paralysis, BiH is home to no fewer than four art schools- churning out graduates into a domestic art market which only barely exists. Those who do manage to fashion some sort of career for themselves usually do so by either selling their work abroad, or by moving away from the country altogether. The well developed art world in BiH prior to 1992 was a casualty of the civil war, along with so many other aspects of society; many artists simply left, and the few that remained have had to cope with a catastrophic collapse in both government patronage of the arts, in the private art market, and indeed in the audiences for art; so many Bosnians now have to focus on sheer survival, that the leisure time available to go to an exhibition is a rare, luxurious commodity that not many can afford. Add to the permanent ethnic division of the territory of Bosnia-Hercegovina-Republika Srpska has its own art academy and national gallery based in Banja Luka- and the small crumb of the Bosnian art world is atomised even further.

Jusuf Hadžifejzović, Trophy's Depotgraphy, 1995
 One artist still based for most of his time, in Sarajevo, is Jusuf Hadžifejzović. His contribution to the show, along the back wall, is intriguing; he presents a series of prints, each of which have a disquieting effect on the viewer; a coat hanging from an AK47; a deer's head; a stark bottle opener. Each of these objects provoke individual responses within each viewer, from imagining the role that these may play in the artist's life, to the contemplation of them as purely aesthetic objects. The Italian artist Diana Righini intervenes in a sensitive piece about Macedonian national identity; she has framed a 1978 academic magazine, featuring an essay discussing the nature and origins of Macedonian identity; of course, these are key issues which form a fault-line down the middle of contemporary Macedonian (and, more broadly, Balkan) society. Skopje's Edo Vesjselović contributes a floor installation, with the floor of the gallery transformed into a cityy map of the world, underlining the display's universal as well as local appeal.

Diana Righini, 1978-2011

This is a really thought provoking and interesting exhibition. Contemporary art either from or dealing with Bosnia-Hercegovina is, in spite of the absolutely abysmal circumstances in which it has to be made, is challenging to the viewer and contains many interesting insights into present day creative life. Together with the rich and well curated exhibitions, based on colour, in the National Gallery, both should form key parts of the face that Bosnia-Hercegovina presents to the outside world. After all, cultural tourism- in spite of the economic difficulties faced by the arts Europe-wide- should be a key facet of BiH's attempts to re-build for the future. That is is not, and indeed seems to occupy a marginalised and near-subterranean position in the stagnating, ethnically divided society, is one of many national tragedies. Sadly, until things are fixed at the level of high politics- and there is no end in sight to the permanent state of deferred crisis which has choked Bosnian re-development since Dayton- nothing will be fixed for Bosnia-Hercegovina and its artists, either.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


Valley behind Jajce

 Today saw a trip to the Central Bosnian town of Jajce, about 80 miles north-west of Sarajevo. Roads are customarily narrow, winding and tricky throughout this moutaninous land, and most of today's route was no exception, featuring long, slow ascents up hill (for long periods behind heavy, antiquated lorries carrying half a felled deciduous wood) and then darting like a falling flash of light down an uncoiling spring, on the other side.

[British Rail Voice]We Apologise for the Disruption to your waterfall. Normal Service will be resumed as soon as possible [/British Rail Voice]
 Jajce is a town not much bigger than somewhere like Pitlochry (though without the tea rooms and array of Edinburgh Woollen Mill knitwear), but is famous for three things. Firstly, a spectacular natural waterfall, the confluence of two Bosnian rivers; normally, water from one river tumbles fifty feet down a sheer cliff-face in a gigantic white streak, into a tumultuous meeting with the other down below. However, at the moment, there seems to be some kind of environmental engineering going on. The river at the top is blocked up with some flimsy looking driftwood, and the huge torrent of water diverted down a metal chute on stilts. This is to allow some workmen to do some shoring up and digging of new foundations at the bottom of the waterfalls normal course, by the looks of things. Several of the town's older residents were keeping a close eye on them as they went about their work this afternoon, and will probably continue their vigil, as Jajce's waterfall is as defining for Bosnia-Hercegovina as Loch Lomond is for Scotland. There was a mechanical digger (goodness knows how it got down there) doing something or other, and men labouring away with the roar of the water in their ears.

AVNOJ in Jajce, November 1943. Tito is fifth from the right in the front row.
 The second thing- and most important for my project- was the little AVNOJ museum, housed in an old Sokol (Bosnian youth movement) building at the end of a small lane, about 200 yards from the waterfall vantage point. AVNOJ stands for "Anti-Fascist National Liberation Council of Yugoslavia", and it was here, on the 29th-30th November 1943, that the leadership of the Communist partisans met to discuss the shape and nature of a post-war Yugoslavia. AVNOJ had an initial meeting at Bihac, some 100 miles away, in 1942, but it as the second meeting in Jajce that was regarded as truly significant- as major decisions were taken that were immediately put into effect after the end of hostilities in May 1945. The museum itself is almost apologetically tucked away, but inside, it is well worth it.

...and as it is today, almost unchanged. Tito's chair was positioned right before the lectern.
 The room itself is little more than a large church hall, but it is preserved almost exactly as it was sixty-eight years ago. There is a truly remarkable replica of Augustinčić's portrait of Tito, in, er, gold-painted styrofoam. Alongside such kitsch, however, is a genuinely interesting historical account of the partisan war as it affected each of the Yugoslav republics, and some interesting photographs of the meeting in progress. Pencil portraits of the Allied leaders- Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin, as well as one of Karl Marx, are arranged around the hall alongside the obligatory Tito portrait, in establishing a close link, visually, between the partisan leadership, its political tradition, and its contemporary expression in the fight against the Axis occupation.

The building, subsequently, became a central focus of the partisan legend, and its status as one of the main legitimating factors of Tito's leadership in peace-time. A trip here was a very common experience for Yugoslav schoolchildren, and the name and legend of Jajce was imprinted on their minds in history lessons. A very enthusiastic elderly guide showed us around the place, and there wasn't quite the cloying sense of sadness that I had found at Tito's mausoleum in Belgrade. Yugoslavia may be dead and buried, politically, but there is still the sense of important and significant history- for the whole region- having taken place here, even if the museum's visitor numbers have declined dramatically in the last twenty years.

Looking west-by-north-west from the fortress walls
The third thing that Jajce is well known for is the ruined mediaeval fortress, standing on top of a very steep hill, with commanding views of the town and surrounding valleys. In the brief period of Bosnian independence in the middle ages, Bosnian kings were crowned in this fortress, the last coronation taking place in 1461. After the Ottoman take-over of Bosnian territory, the fortress slowly fell into ruin, although the irregular outline of the walls and ramparts are still very clear today. The views of the surrounding valley and the town (even if someone's bonfire seemed to be somewhat out of control, cloaking the centre of the valley in thick white smoke) were absolutely incredible, on a clear, crisp autumn afternoon. Remarkably, too, I found a patch of wild thistles growing within the fortress walls. So, if, in future years, you hear of a new team called "Jajce Thistle" storming the Bosnian leagues and then papping out one of the Old Firm in the Champions' League qualifiers, whilst you're on your summer holiday, I'll probably have had something to do with it.

Jajce Thistles
In more recent times, Jajce featured as an outriding venue for the '84 winter Olympics, and launched a campaign to be recognised as a UNESCO world heritage town, which is still ongoing. In the 1992-95 war, the town suffered a good deal, and was the subject of intermittent fierce fighting, being eventually captured by Serb forces. However, the Dayton agreement awarded Jajce (not without some controversy) to the Bosnian-Croat federation, and it remains within this part of Bosnia today. Tourism, winter skiing, and agriculture keep the inhabitants here going.

The drive back through Travnik, the town made famous by Ivo Andrić's Bosnian Chronicle, in the gloaming, was memorable. Bosnia is softly, gently fading from summer green to autumn gold.

Tomorrow it's Mostar: then, I had an e-mail saying I could go and visit the closed National gallery and see the collection on Monday. Happy days!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Bosnian Gobbets

The word gobbet is usually a terrifying one for undergraduate historians. They are a staple diet of modern history exams, where one is presented with a text that can be as short as six words, and on that basis write a 1, 500 word critical essay, in exam conditions. A brutally exact and contextualised knowledge is needed to be successful; the text can be something as feeble as " I saw Chamberlain today. PM very gloomy". No flannel or padding is possible with such scant material.

It's the historical equivalent of 20-20 cricket, where one has to go in and immediately start biffing the historical white ball all over the park, or get out quickly and hope that someone else can do better. So gobbets here is meant in the gentler sense, in just being short observations about this week, viz.

1. Why are French sporting teams so damned lucky? Sarajevo went very quiet on Wednesday night, as the BiH football team took to the field at the Stade de France, knowing that a win would see them qualify for a major football tournament for the first time. And, for an hour, the Bosnians dominated a shockingly poor home side, who did a good impression of having met for the first time in a Métro carriage half an hour before kick off. Dynamo Moscow's Misimović, surely the most under-rated attacking midfielder in Europe, passed the French off the park and was the electricity in the Bosnian dynamo.

Sadly, much of the ammunition he provided fell to Manchester City forward Edin Džeko. The big no. 9 was doing a very good impression of Tony Cascarino on Wednesday. He was absolutely terrible, missing two or three really easy chances, before, in typically mercurial fashion, making and scoring the brilliant goal which saw Bosnia lead at half time. Džeko has terrific upper body strength and is quick, but in terms of skill and temperament he's still a bit of an unguided missile in my view, and is very, very frustrating to watch.

Sadly, France equalised with about twelve minutes to go through a penalty, and the Bosnians had run out of steam by then, leaving them to rue their profiligacy in the first half. With typical abysmal luck, they have now been drawn with Portugal in the play-offs, the worst draw possible, as this is the team that eliminated BiH at the same stage before the 2010 World Cup. If only Bosnia could have a bit of self belief, they could gain revenge, but it seems unlikely. The spirit of the old Yugoslavia team hangs around this current BiH team; they are wonderful to watch, very gifted technically, and flatter to deceive, never quite prevailing in games where it matters. Sarajevo was twelve minutes away from an amazing party on Wednesday night; instead, the pubs had emptied half an hour after the full time whistle, as folk dissipated away in bitterly disappointed silence.

France are better organised under Laurent Blanc, after the utter shambles and scandal of the Domenech era, but they are still a deeply mediocre side who won't make it beyond the group stages of Euro 2012 next year; a side extremely fortunate not to be facing a play off. I can think of only two of the current French group of players, who would have got near their all-conquering squads of 1998-2000.

Let's not even start on the rugby world cup semi-final today. I heartily detest rugby union for reasons for too numerous to mention, and will loathe it to my dying day, but I really wanted Wales to win today- and it sounds like, yet again, France were extremely lucky to progress to the final. Almost certainly, however, a righteous vaporising awaits them at the hands of the Kiwis or the Australians. Nonetheless, no one has heard of rugby here in Bosnia, so it's been bliss to be spared the egg-chasing "world cup" (British Commonwealth plus one or two exotic others, more like) in its entirety.

2. It's been largely poor stuff from the ex-Yugoslav countries in qualification. Alongside BiH, Montenegro have been the team to really stand out, qualifying from a difficult group behind England. The doughty Montenegrins- lacking a genuine goalscorer, but very, very determined and hard to break down, particularly in Podgorica- face a winnable tie, against a poor Czech side, for a place in Poland and Ukraine next year. Croatia face the Turks in another difficult to call tie, the men in the red and white chessboard shirts have had a very quiet time, since the heyday of Slaven Bilić's team leaving Steve McLaren cowering under his umbrella, in a Wembley monsoon. Both sides seem to be in transition although I think the Croats are marginal favourites.

Serbia and Slovenia cancelled one another out in a very bizarre qualifying group, won easily by Italy but, surreally, seeing Estonia make the play offs. Having spent some time in Estonia in the last 3-4 years and seen them play on many occasions, I am absolutely astonished at their transformation. This was a team that went winless for over a year in 2007-8; the last time I watched an Estonia international, they were a sorry, dis-spirited shambles, routed 7-1 in Sarajevo by the Bosnians. However, their unsmiling head coach Tarmo Rüütli, who nearly lost his job after that humiliation, has transformed them into a hard working team much greater than the sum of its little-known parts. Back to back wins against an ageing Northern Ireland team for the Estonians, left Serbia needing to beat Slovenia in Maribor; Slovenia prevailed 1-0, being cheered on not only by their home fans but by a capacity crowd of cornflower-blue clad loons at the A le Coq. stadium in Tallinn, watching on a giant screen.  In the three days that followed, both Vladimir Petrović, the deeply unpopular Serb head coach, and Noerthern Ireland's Nigel Worthington, have paid with their jobs for Estonia's success.

It was such a strange group: Estonia won in Belgrade last October, and suffered a catastrophe in Torshavn at the hands of the Faroe Islands just three months before this high point of their footballing history. Their qualification is a wonderful story, but I suspect it will end before Euro 2012 begins; I really cannot, even with my most optimistic glasses on, see them beating the Republic of Ireland over two legs in the play off.

Finally, to no one's surprise, Macedonia's John Toshack has the biggest job on his hands. After his promising start against the Russians in Moscow, Toshack has subsequently overseen an excruciatingly dull 1-0 win over the mighty Andorra in Skopje, followed by a tumble down the slippery slope to a 1-4 disaster in Yerevan. Tuesday's home draw with Slovakia restored some deeply wounded pride, but worryingly for the Macedonian FA, the stadium was virtually empty for this meaningless final game. Toshack needs to unearth some new young players from somewhere, and improve their morale, if they are to make an impact in the 2014 world cup qualifying group.

As for Scotland? It would have bee typical if we had gone over to Spain and won, but the reality is that the damage was done by abysmal, negative, fear-filled showings away in Kaunas and Prague. Craig Levein has failed to convince a significant minority of Scottish fans that he has the necessary attributes to make Scotland competitive and challenging seriously for qualification again. The 2014 group- featuring the Croats, Serbs, Belgians, Gary Speed's resurgent Wales, and Macedonia, looks very difficult for us again.

3. I've finally got some research underway at the faculty of fine art here in Sarajevo. Nonetheless, in terms of art, there's been slim pickings. The National Gallery, supposedly re-opening on 11 October, remains absolutely closed, and the question as to when it will re-open usually just produces a shrug of the shoulders. The reality is, however, that since the 1992-95 conflict here, art has been a mobile and temporary phenomenon in terms of its display; initiatives like the small duplex 10m2, run by two French curators, are one of the few still points in a continuously changing small scene. 10m2 has been closed all week, but there is an opening of the contemporary Porschism collective there tonight, so I think I shall be sneaking along to that. Other then 10m2 and the extremely itinerant SCCA, which I have yet to find, there is not really much other than the Fine Art academy, constituted as such in 1972, and a few small commercial galleries of very varying quality. It will take time to uncover what seems to be a very fragmented and ephemeral contemporary arts scene.

4. I think I'll have another week of pretty intensive work in Sarajevo, then will spend the week after next travelling to a few places outwith the capital. I need to go to Konjic, a small town which was home of Tito's bunker, now a major exhibition of contemporary art; Mostar; and Jajce, home to a Museum of the Partisan struggle. So there should be quite a lot on here in the next couple of weeks.

5. Google Maps for Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia is pathetic. Seriously, the information is so scant, poor, and misleading, they might as well not bother.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

I live in a cloud on the mountain

I open my front door and see all this.
No, I haven't gone guru, it's actually true. Since pitching up in the Bosnian capital last Thursday, I've been billeted in a house, about a half hour walk from the Baščaršija, the old Ottoman market and tourist magnet just to the east of the city centre. And, almost as soon as I got here, winter suddenly turned up. Two weekends ago it was 23 degrees in Skopje, even as the autumn leaves were beginning to fall from the trees; this weekend, it fell to three degrees here, without even an acknowledgement of autumn. Locals are expecting snow on the mountain anyday, and, until today, when the sun re-appeared sheepishly and dramatically lit up the craggy ravine stretching below my place, I was literally living in clouds and mist. 

Tara National Park, just before the BiH border
Some of you are probably getting a bit bored of my sub- Revd. WS Gilpin discourses on the landscape, but to hell with it; the drive to here from Kraljevo last Thursday was nothing short of amazing; from the man made lake in between Čačak and Užice; the former hero city itself, emerging from the deep valley that surrounds it like a clenched fist imagined by El Greco; then, tumbling down the twenty miles or so of narrow road, through Tara National Park, that last part of Serbia before the geographical territory of Bosnia-Hercegovina begins. Whilst not quite matching Mavrovo in terms of wilderness, there was still enough to make me stop several times and take photos which only give an approximation of just how beautiful the place is.

The Bridge over the Drina at Višegrad
 If the use of the words "geographical territory" seem a little bit odd, there, then, welcome to this incredibly complex and nuanced part of the Balkans. The territory of Bosnia-Hercegovina, along with eastern Croatia and, later, Kosovo, were the main battlefields during 1991-95 and 1999, as the old Yugoslav federation clawed its own face off. The current state of BiH preserves in aspic the state of play as the conflict here ended in 1995, according to the dictates of the Dayton agreement; a treaty aimed at ending, at almost any price, the horrific conflict that devastated this land for three and a half years. 

The result, whilst welcome in the short term, has in the medium term ensured a situation of permanent instability. The territory of Bosnia-Hercegovina is now split between two entirely separate political entities; the Bosnian-Croat federation, which controls 51% of the territory, including the vast majority of Sarajevo; and Republika Srpska, the Serb entity, which controls the remaining 49%, together with a small corner in south-eatern Sarajevo. Whilst there is no Berlin Wall-style situation, and it is possible to move from the Federation to Republika Srpska and back, without noticing, the current outcome is one of political deadlock. Bosnia has a colossally bloated political class and attendant bureaucracy; it has three presidents, one each from Bosnian, Croat and Serb ethnicities; those presidents have been unable to agree on anything for the last year, resulting in damaging paralysis. Effectively, at present, BiH has no functioning or recognisable government and looks unlikely to have one for the foreseeable future.

Then, the layer of EU oversight has to be added, with the EU high representative in BiH effectively acting as some kind of viceroy, with wide ranging powers to intervene in political disputes, and to make decisions in the current absence of government. In the absence of a working government, BiH becomes, more than ever, a de facto EU protectorate. The future, with constant to-ing and fro-ing between separate political classes still bitterly divided and resentful, appears very uncertain, sadly. This in a country where the unemployment rate is estimated at 42%, with most of those in work reliant one one of the BiH political states for employment.

Entrance to the Sarajevo tunnels
So far, so dry, but the disfigurations of the war are much more obvious here than in any other part of the Balkans. 100 yards from my front door stands an abandoned house, windowless, with tall grass growing all around, slowly going back to nature, riddled with heavy machine gun fire. It's probably been empty for the last twenty years. Such houses can be seen all over the country; whole villages lie empty in the territory of Republika Srpska, like rotting teeth in a beautiful mouth. In Višegrad- the city made famous by perhaps the best known work of Yugoslav fiction, Ivo Andrić's Bridge over the Drina, the bridge is still there, but the city itself now something of a ghost town, populated only by Serbs; the rich mix of Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Turks and Habsburgs in that novel, is nothing more than a fantastical memory now.

I'm using this as an example, and I'm not meaning to take one side or another. There are as many stories of what happened here, all of them contradictory, some overlapping. If one is determined to pass judgement on one community or another for what happened here and elsewhere, then one is doomed to only ever understand partially the course of events; and quite likely to end up hating everybody. 

However, in BiH more than anywhere else, the shadows of events in the last fifteen years continue to blot out many hopes for future stability. The current impasse also humiliatingly reminds international political institutions, and western governments, of their abject failure here; of their shaming and disgraceful misunderstanding of this part of the world, based on books written 70-100 years previously; and the loathsome mix of self-interest, doublespeak and hypocrisy which has perpetuated the situation of 1995 here. The embarrassing shambles that was the UN / EC response to the Bosnian crisis during the 90s stands alongside the pitiful, supine hand-wringing concerning the Rwandan genocide in 1995, as events that to this day have undermined, perhaps fatally, confidence in the integrity and capability of supranational political institutions to intervene meaningfully in situations of civil war and ethnic conflict. Ironically, these very tainted institutions are still the ultimate guarantors of security here.

For more detailed discussion of the current situation in BiH from a legal and political point of view, see Matthew Parish's blog.


Habsburg fragments in downtown Sarajevo
Sarajevo is a long, narrow city, ringed by mountains. West of the tight warren of streets, stalls, hans, mosques and minarets that make up the Baščaršija, is the rectilinear centre, built by the Austro-Hungarians during their period of rule in this part of the world, forty years from 1878. More recent Titoist additions have sprung up in war damaged spaces, and along the former "Snipers Alley" of  densely packed towerblocks towards Ilidža and the airport. The lasting legacy of the Habsburgs, other than their trademark ornament-heavy apartment blocks and churches, is the tram system, which runs from Baščaršija to Ilidža, a stretch of about 11kms. On a guided tour on Saturday, our guide explained that the trams were tested out in Sarajevo; this city had the first functioning tram network in Europe; their success here saw them rolled out across the Habsburg lands around the turn of the twentieth century. It's as well the city is enjoyable to walk around and has good trams, as it's a pretty hair raising experience driving here; not in terms of psycho drivers (see entries passim.), but in terms of very steep, narrow streets that can barely accommodate tow cars in places. From Baščaršija, it's about a 2 mile stretch up a 1-in-5 hill; two long miles of whiny low gear cobblestoned struggle. 

I'll write more from here once I've seen some art to tell you about.  

Friday, 7 October 2011

Skopje again and 9. Biennial of young Macedonian artists

Installation view of the Biennial at MoCA
So, today's my last day of another very busy short spell here in Skopje. I have had good meetings and discussions every day since I've been here, and new possibilities do appear to be opening out ahead of next year.

I wound up my affairs in Belgrade last Thursday. The week flashed by very quickly after my lecture: I met some interesting private collectors in the Serb capital last Tuesday, who have a really representative and very broad collection of Yugoslav art from the 60s through to the 80s. I also had meetings with a couple of artists from that period.

Having bunkered down in Belgrade for three weeks, it felt a little odd to be leaving, but I was impatient to be back in Skopje again. As well as meeting various artists and pals in the last few days, there was also the opportunity to catch the Biennial of Young Macedonian Artists at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which was a varied exhibition of work around the politically neutral theme of still life.

Kristina Božurska, Zoomed Still Life, 2010 / 11
Two or three individual pieces really stood out in this show. Kristina Božurska's Zoomed Still Life was reminiscent of a late 80s Christian Boltanski, featuring over 300 little metallic cubes, arranged into a rectangle on the wall. Each individual cube is rusted away and is part of some crushed-up industrial debris; this piece, then, functions as the ultimate recycling of material in a post-object state; the rehabilitation of practical objects at the end of their lives, into a new and unexpected art-object phase: a kind of discarded readymade.

Filip Jovanovski, Still Life: The Cabinet of Professor Velimir Veličkovski: 24 Allegories to Explain the World, 2011

 Filip Jovanovski, whose work in progress I had seen on my last visit to the gallery,has made a real success of his "living still life", above. The installation is really well put together and has an intriguing range of objects, from a black and white portrait of Tito, through several of the professor's own paintings and books, to ephemera and tat from the 1970s and 1980s. It raises the question not only of the still life as object, but of the role of the still-life object in helping to build up a portrait of an individual. Of course, using the object to convey an aspect of the sitter's character, that cannot be conveyed by the image of the face and hands etc, has long been a tool of the portraitist's trade; this merging of portrait and still life throws up many interesting questions.

Sofia Grabuloska, Black/White Still Life, 2011
So, after meeting up with some friends later I have to pack up my stuff again tomorrow morning and set the co-ordinates for Sarajevo. It's about a ten hour drive so I'm stopping somewhere in central Serbia tomorrow night, as driving in the dark on unfamiliar Bosnian mountain roads would be an insane strategy. I hope to be in Sarajevo early Thursday afternoon, so my next update, with first impressions, will be from BiH probably early next week. It's the part of the trip I have most been looking forward to, as I have never been to Sarajevo before, and I also have plans to take in Jajce, Mostar, and Tito's bunker, now an art gallery, about 20kms south of the capital. As for Skopje? Well, it's a little bit sad to have to do a city I really enjoy in such short bursts, so I am very much looking forward to being a resident here next year, and writing up the great tome from a towerblock somewhere.

Crumbling Yugoslav-era "AutoMakedonija" sign in the city centre. Don't think the neon has worked since the mid 80s

I largely wrote this in Skopje, but never got around to finishing it so am putting it up now. Next update from SJ (where I am now) soon.