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Conversation with Uroš Đurić and Zoran Naskovski

One of the concepts frequently used in the analysis of social and political processes of the second decade of the 21st century on the global level is populism. This concept was the subject of the international research project COST Action IS 1308: Populist Political Communication in Europe that included around 30 universities from 20 European countries. The Institute of Theatre, Film and Television of the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade was one of them. Its research results were presented in the compilation titled Media, Culture and Art it the Age of Populism, edited by Mirjana Nikolić and Milena Dragićević Šešić, jointly published by the Faculty of Dramatic Arts and Clio publishing house in Serbian and in the compilation in English titled Situating Populist Politics: Arts and Media Nexus in 2018.

Besides the authorial articles, the compilation included a series of artworks that in various ways deal with populism in its media and cultural contexts. Those are works by Ivan Grubanov, Tanja Ostojić, Mileta Prodanović, Saša Stojanović, Branko Milisković, Romian artist Dan Perjovschi, Austrian artist Christoph Schlingensief, Israeli artist Yael Bartana and others, including the works of the two artists we spoke to – Zoran Naskovski and Uroš Đurić.

In the compilation Situating Populist Politics: Arts and Media Nexus, Uroš Đurić was featured with the segment God Loves the Dreams of Serbian Artists from the Populist Project he started at the end of the 1990s. Zoran Naskovski was featured with his delegated performance Apollo 9, in which the singer Mašinka Lukić sang her proto turbo-folk hit Apollo 9 by Obren Pjevović thirty years later, in a different context, in front of McDonald’s restaurant at Terazije Square in Belgrade in 1999.

Populist Project

At the end of the 1990s Uroš Đurić started his Populist Project he would complete in the following years through the series God Loves the Dreams of Serbian Artists, Celebrities, Hometown Boys and Pioneers. The aim was to point to the relationships and interrelations between the system of stars and identity, their intertwining and mutual relativisation.

Đurić considers populism the last big ideological project of the 20th century. It outlived the so-called “end of history” brought by the end of the Cold War and, appropriating many totalitarian matrices, became the principal ideology of today. Through football, rock and roll music and pop culture, the lower classes fought for emancipation in the 20th century, whether it was a class, social or sexual emancipation, where what is left from that fight in the end is just an iconic presentation mediated through media, built into the ideological concept of populism that petrifies the social and political relations of power today.

As already noted by critics, in his Populist Project Đurić himself takes the role of the emancipator i.e. the protagonist. With his works of autofetishistic character he manipulates a little man’s wish to come closer to what seems to be the unattainable world of the celebrities, if only for a moment.

“To be close to the great stars of TV is a universal (voyeuristic) human need across the globe, and the act of being photographed with the favourite stars represents the apex of social existence for many”, observes Nebojša Milenković in the monograph Strategies of excess or: If you’re in a hurry, Đurić will slip you one.

“Đurić was photographed as a player from big European football teams, with various public figures, on the cover of the imaginary magazine titled Hometown Boys or with a number of the most prominent authors creating and interpreting art from the region once geopolitically labeled Eastern Europe, where all of them proudly sported the red pioneer scarf, in a pose taken from the iconography of socialist realism. With this project Uroš Đurić confronted the mainly stereotypical social and political and no longer art historical framing of his works.

While most left-oriented theorists in Serbia considered populism in the sense of its propensity to serve the right-wing ideology, he showed the social implications of populism were not articulated in advance.

His way of articulation was rooted in the antagonistic potential of all popular interpellations, connecting his Populist Project with the legacy of the populist anarchism, that in local circumstances appeared among ordinary people wherever the local population was to be transformed into members of a nation, political party etc. Instead of creating a depiction of all invisible parts of the society within the domain of the art, which is the prevailing paradigm of the socially-specific art, he directly entered the populist media to antagonise the attitudes towards the public image of the celebrities, including himself, using those media as he had used the canvas.”

Apollo 9

Zoran Naskovski marked the end of the 1990s at the art scene with his performance Apollo 9 on 7 September 1999 in front of Belgrade Mcdonald’s at Terazije Square. Apollo 9 was the first delegated performance in this region. The singer Mašinka Lukić sang her proto-turbo-folk hit Apollo 9 thirty years after its premiere on television. That TV show raised discussions and controversy, as it brought to question the issues significant to socialism, such as modernisation of villages and the position of workers/farmers in the circumstances of industrialisation and technological development. The same issues were again raised thirty years later in different social and political circumstances, after the civil wars, dissolution of Yugoslavia and transition from socialism to capitalism.

Complexly conceived as a happening, with the audience taking active part and the free homemade brandy, beer, cheese pastry and pork roast served, the performance Apollo 9 drew considerable attention and made a significant impact within the art scene.

Speaking of research that led to this project, Zoran Naskovski explained that due to the complexity of the subject of populism he didn’t deal with populism only, but rather used subversive methods present in a somewhat different way in the media happening/performance Media Burn by Californian artist collective Ant Farm, where social critique is expressed through spectacle and humour.

Though populism isn’t always easy to determine and define, it can often carry a hidden emancipatory potential within. In this case, in the folk music songs we see the relation of a so-called little man to the global events of the time. The song Apollo 9 showed the little man’s critical awareness of space technology and its immediate relation with his social environment and everyday. On the other hand, the song Džajo, Džajka shows the shift in thought of the rural youth about the media system in the making and the change of paradigm in popular culture.

These songs, authentic in their particular language and statement, directly demonstrate how deeply the populistic media narratives penetrated all social layers as early as the mid 20th century, shaping the society’s perception of the world and modernity, while provoking a specific ironic and critical response that holds an emancipatory potential within.

Zoran Naskovski spoke about the context of making of Apollo 9 performance and of his internationally known work Death in Dallas, in which he used documentary footage, found sound, found footage and rare TV recordings of the autopsy to revive the eponymous song by Herzegovian gusle player Jozo Karamatić about the assassination of President John Kennedy in 1963, recorded on EP 7’’ record two years later.

Speaking of his works in the context of populism in culture, Naskovski drew attention to various reactions and projections and a particular media follow-up of his work Death in Dallas. One Croatian portal published an article about Naskovski’s work that insisted on the fact that gusle player Jozo Karamatić was an ethnic Croat and called the Croatian public to stand up in defense of Croatian gusle tradition that was all too easily left to Serbian cultural appropriation, although the song Death in Dallas wasn’t written from a Croatian but Yugoslav perspective.

Speaking of this case, Naskovski pointed out to the multiplicity of populist matrix, first in the reception of a global event at a periphery and later, after the artistic recontextualisation of such reception, in the interpretation of such recontextualisation from the local populist premises.

Uroš Đurić (1964), visual artist, author and actor
Zoran Naskovski (1960), visual artist