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Natalija Vujošević

Podgorica / Montenegro

Hasena, Milan, Lenka, Ivan...

Both Lenka Đorojević and Ivan Salatić grew up in the Republic of Montenegro, in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Both belong to the last generation of Pioneers, who were at the same time the last generation to be educated with stories of the “NOB” (The Unitary National Liberation Front of Yugoslavia), the anti-fascist struggle and the legacy of the partisans. They are also members of the generations that have matured in the ruins of the Yugoslav idea, which have at the same time become the ruins of anti-fascist memories. These generations are witnessing the return of ominous ideas, a perfidious rehabilitation and reinvention of fascism, which is born of the increasingly aggressive pressure of global neoliberal imposition.

In his films, Ivan Salatić deals with memory and the abstract duration of time in memory and emotion. The characters of his films are mostly people from the margins (of capitalism), stuck in a clinch of existential and geopolitical vacuums. By depicting slow, condensed situations of non-movement, muted and often painful decay, he creates clouds of emotion and empathy that engulf the audience and draw them into the dark realities of his heroes. Ivan’s heroes are almost always victims, people imprisoned in circumstances that clearly chart the never-wished-for maps of their lives. Through the interweaving of archival materials and a poetically documentary approach, he emphasizes the movement through burdensome historical, geopolitical and economic choreographies in which his heroes dance. These were precisely the reasons why I urged him to confront the subject of forced labour in German camps during World War II. While exploring this topic, in conversation with his grandmother Katarina, Ivan learns that his grandfather, Milan, was a prisoner in one of these camps, and not only that, but that he also took part in a horrible bloody march in which a group of prisoners crossed a 23-kilometer-long route in 4 hours, which means that this distance had to be run and the weak and those who were behind in the column were shot dead, about 120 of them.

The title of the artwork “We Wanted To Forget” was taken from Ivan’s grandmother’s answer to the question of how he could only be hearing this story now and how come no one had ever talked about it before.

Ivan puts together a small archive of memories of his grandfather, an archive which consists of two types of material, one being documentary – family photos and video footage, while the other part of this work is video material recorded for this piece. This semi-archive starts with two photographs of his grandfather, pre-war photographs where we see a handsome young man whose beauty is otherworldly, his frame so full of enthusiasm. In the photos, he performs disciplined acrobatics, giving us the impression of brimming life potential, ready for the future. In addition to the photos hanging on the wall, in white frames, we see a video on a small screen, a kite fluttering on a screen with a blue sky in the background (a family story says that Ivan’s grandfather died in a car accident on his way to buy a kite for Ivan).

In a separate video projection, we see uploaded footage from a Super 8 tape, family gatherings, the seaside, the footage includes Ivan as a boy and his grandfather among other family members. Instead of the story of his grandfather, of his stay in the Nazi camp and the horrors he experienced in the war, Ivan uploaded a video of a landscape, a summer afternoon in 2019 and swimmers on the Great Bačka Canal. Here, a piece of landscape is inserted into the personal archive, into the empty space of the missing memory, as a part of a common body, a collective experience.

The art installation called “Exit”, by Lenka Đorojević, reconstructs a speculative historical echo created asymmetrically around the story of “Vučjak” (“The Alsatian”), the work of Radovan Vujadinović, written in memory of Hasena Sulojdžić-Terzić from Pljevlja, Montenegro. The “Vučjak” story describes Hasena’s surreal memory from the Ludwigsfelde camp, where she was imprisoned during the war, and worked at the Daimler-Benz aircraft factory (today’s Mercedes-Benz). The story recounts Hasena’s memory of a horrible night of torture in the camp and of an Alsatian that was tasked with attacking her but spared her death and was therefore executed by a German soldier. We hear the story as an audio recording, the voice of a young girl speaks, and the text is simultaneously displayed on the screen placed in the centre of the installation.

The whole work functions as a speculative archive, placed on 5 disassembled substrates that are cut into the isotypes of the Pljevlja area (Hasena’s birthplace). On the substrates around and next to the central screen on which the story is presented we see precisely cut openings in which objects are laid; the metal emblem from a Mercedes car bought at a flea market, a remnant of a ceramic tile with sculpturally added stones, a book – Daimler-Benz in the Third Reich, a poster with a sunset labelled Work Until You Die (a slogan transformed by Yugoslav prisoners in the Mauthausen camp from the original Arbeit macht frei (Work Sets You Free)), a shot of the camp – made with Google Earth, framed in a seemingly rustic frame, another poster with an idyllic landscape with the inscription The Best Or Nothing (today’s Mercedes-Benz marketing slogan), a paper wrap with a hidden message… This speculative archive around the central story gathers information and objects from different backgrounds and times, suggesting hidden, unexplained and unexplored causal relationships that make it impossible to store this tragedy in the past. The name “Exit” highlights an event in the story, an almost magical event in which Hasena’s certain death,  appearing in an absolutely cruel form when the German soldier orders the Alsatian to attack her, transforms into a last and complete surrender to life; inserted into a place of screams, horror and fear is a place of love and tranquility. Her tenderness deprogrammes the animal that ends up in Hasena’s arms instead of instigating a bloodthirsty attack.

Lenka collects and forms an array of evidence and symptoms to alert us to the perfidious mechanisms of reproducing the experience of fascism, in various forms and times, scattered to this day. Hasena’s terrible experience, and victory, once part of a narrative that represented a key compass in the orientation of the societies of the future, today stands unsafe on a table among other objects as if in a lost-and-found department.

What is common in the works of Ivan and Lenka, in the Missing Stories exhibition, is a record of impaired memory, both personal and collective, of its dismemberment by the loss of the ideological membrane that held it in a clear picture. Also, there is similarity and importance in the way in which they tend to solve this problem. They both approach the damage holistically, through the process of repairing, gathering and assembling a torn image. These artworks remind us that individual stories and the tremendous sacrifices suffered by their actors were once woven into the defense and restoration of the collective body. They also send a warning that the conditions that led to these horrors, at a moment like the one we live in today, a time of free fall, can easily pass from the past to the present or the future using the broken bonds and oblivion which are fuelled by the same force that corrodes our common body. We can’t forget.



Natalija Vujošević is a contemporary artist and curator based in Montenegro. As an artist, she has been exhibiting locally and internationally since 2003; she was also twice selected to represent the Montenegrin Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2005 and 2011). Natalija is the founder and director of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), an independent art association. As part of the association, she works on curating educational programmes and exhibitions, she organizes the Young Visual Artist Award in Montenegro (the Milčik Award) and in cooperation with The National Library of Montenegro she is working on creating a collection of materials on contemporary art theory, philosophy, and the humanities (Corner for Art and Reading).

Recently, in 2017 and 2018 she curated the exhibitions “COMRADES”, on the Women’s Antifascist Front in Montenegro (1943-1953); “Why Have There Been No Great (wo)Men Artists?”, with works from British and Montenegrin contemporary female artists (the exhibition is part of the “Perceptions” programme, initiated by the British Council Collection and realized in collaboration with five Western Balkan museums); “Unprofessional / how to create nothing from something” about the ~transition~ of the former Yugoslavia and 41st Montenegro Art Salon 13th November/ Nobody Asked Us Anything, with focus on socially engaged art and artists.