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Selman Trtovac, Sanja Latinović – Until Death Do Us Part

Dialog: Sanja Latinović ― Selman Trtovac

During the preparation of the exhibition “Dok nas smrt ne rastavi” by Sanja Latinović i Selman Trtovca at the NGVA Gallery in Belgrade, authors engaged themselves in the dialog during which through a unique process of self-reflection and joint reevaluation, they exchanged observations on the current social situation, the position of artists and art nowadays and the topics of interpersonal relations, life paths, fear and conflicts.

The conversation between Sanja Latinović and Selman Trtovac started with the statement that “the genesis of the joint artistic opinion” between them has lasted for more than a decade. Who follows the work of these authors may recall their activities within the artistic group The Third Belgrade, as one of innovative forces of artistic scene during 2009-2014, which not only developed the space of artistic activities on the left, that is Banat bank of the Danube, whose urbanistic title was used as its name and opened it for many authors, but also established the concept of cooperative work and thinking about art. Some of their group works remained, such as: Kolektivni san (Collective dream), Toplo mesto (Warm place) and Ručak na travi (Luncheon in the grass). Moreover, through the forum Tranzitorne mreže (2011), held in the hall of the Contemporary Art Museum in Belgrade, they initiated the discussion on overcoming the gap between theory and practice. Simultaneously and after this experience, they continued with the activities of gathering of participants and cooperative activities within other projects and initiatives. Selman did it within Gallery Menjačnica of Goethe Institute in Belgrade (since 2015) and independent exhibitions, among them Unutrašnje migracije (Internal migrations) (2015 – 2016) and Nove tehnologije – Tehnologije mišljenja (New technologies- Technologies of thinking) (2017), as well as the activities within the project Migranti mentalnih prostora (Migrants of mental spaces) (2016).

Sanja did this through the development of cooperation projects, such as performances with Ranko Đanković Movements: White (2012) and Ptica (Bird) (2014), as well as at the reunions of her colleague students from the sculpture class of studies in Belgrade in joint performances and audio and visual portrait THAT WAS IT (2018), video piece which through life stories reveals the position of an artist after graduation and indicates to the devastated status of art and artists in Serbia.

The last co-curator project of Selman and Sanja is Smrt umetnosti, živela umetnost! (Death is art, long live art!), Biennale in Pančevo (2020), with Ivana Bašičević Antić and Stevan Vuković. The need for dialog, partner work, open and free exchange found the natural ally in the New Gallery of Visual Arts in Belgrade. The concept related to the current social situation and the position of artist as well as with the possibilities of work offered by the Gallery to artists through the model of opened, temporary ateliers and residential programs inevitably imposed itself. The initiative for the exhibition therefore stemmed from the need to present the segment of many works realized by Selman Trtovac in their workspace, but also from the aim not to speak about it alone, but through the interaction with Sanja Latinović, by introducing another important perspective.

The corona virus pandemic indicated to the possibility of sudden and unexpected global change, which made suppressed problems present in the management, value system and power relations both in international and local politics and in art and culture where these processes had a direct reflection more visible. The differences in positions, financial and institutional security of art in different social systems became noticeable, as well as the level of social awareness, solidarity and freedom. The age of physical closure, isolation and (in)accessibility of art and increased digital communication and the return to everyday, fundamental life topics and issues of individuals, the issue of health, nature and coexistence with own environment came to focus. Whereas the marginalization of independent artistic scene is also noticeable in the region of so-called Western Balkan, the increased politization, dissatisfaction and permanent mutual comparation gained global prominence so future development, connections and preservation of the cultural space became even more uncertain.

The authors perceive social and psychological changes caused by the pandemic by quarantine imposition, isolation and physical distance among people, as well as more and more prominent digital manifestations which replace the realistic ones. During more than one year this forced situation gradually resulted in modified state of consciousness and “and fear of another person who crawled into the subconsciousness of the being”. The topic of fear became the benchmark of the exhibition with great presence also in the title “Dok nas smrt ne rastavi”. The sentence spoken at the end of the wedding ceremony, life-time vow between partners, behest of two brothers in arms or epitaph from headstone, which contains certain paradox, refers to community, love and closeness, but at the same time to separation, distance and death. The contrast between the “dark omen and optimistic statement” apparent in the title, involves the question of duality of life and death, which is what the authors of the exhibition deal with. Does the fear of death increase the will to live, is death necessary and natural, the point of ending or new beginning? What is the vow and to what extent is it related to religion? Do people need religion, wondering at the same time if it is crucial for the existence of a religious subject. Authors consider the presence and relativization of the truth, the phenomenon of the religious context through personal and collective narrative…

In the imposed system of the interrupted closeness and immediate exchange with another person caused by the current pandemic, various individual doubts and dilemmas are present. Selman Trtovac believes that it is important to introduce everyday routine, abandonment of the personal space in order to think and the process of becoming disciplined in the continued artistic work. “I had the need to draw much more”, he says, which resulted in hundreds of drawings to the topics of life, spiritus movens, solitude and unknown (Life, Spiritus Movens, Powerful Place, Mass Solitude, Exploration of the Unknown, Nightmare…). It is “the manner how as an individual I may overcome my own fears, to make the balance between my body and spirit” as a unique “suggestion for others how to face the drama we live in”, says the author.

What is dominant in the selection of Selman’s drawings for the exhibition is the video performance realized as the final act of “the process of thinking about the time where we live and work”. Named the Spirit of the Body, the work consists of one great drawing and video work realized in cooperation with Nebojša Vasić and Vesna Grba, which shows the process of creation of a drawing when in the total dark, just to the light of headlamp, by powerful, fast movements, black lines the author fills the white paper. “It is the initial activity, the beginning of the process of transformation, effort of will and the beginning of timeline which would be completed in a year with another performance and video”, explains the author. The contextualization of the line, as a symbolic idea and guideline, is the primary part of the artistic opus of Selman Trtovac, both in formal, time and space sense. The element of personal strategy, the line, emphasizes the search for infinite possibilities of learning the truth in art and the need for the expansion of own knowledge and nature of relations toward art and environment.

If we were to observe the contemporary age as a complex process of changes caused by corona crisis, we will notice a series of problems getting more complex as the time goes by. Sanja Latinović analyzes the increasing endangerment of the state of human during these processes, not only physically but also mentally. Every day, the media feed the fear with cruel news and the encouragement is invisible. We are aware that we need to keep the distance from each other. Sanja explores the notion of distance, the space that exists among people and which at different ages and cultures always had certain rules and laws. It is now imposed to everyone. By creating certain aids, the author requested from the audience to be at the distance while watching the exhibition, but at the distance which connects simultaneously. “It is the distance that brings awareness of the presence of another person, but it does not detach it and deepen the deepest fear we have”, she says, the fear that the entire humankind is on the road to total alienation. Sanja thematizes fear, but at the same time indicates to the importance of care for others, mutual connection and community. The concept of work includes the movement of the audience in pairs around the space during the exhibition with the assistance of specifically created modules/ objects, which she plans to document in the bird’s eye view video footage by creating a unique drawing of oscillating lines in space.

Sanja Latinović and Selman Trtovac examine – whether art is a form of the search for truth, meaning, love, the path of perseverance, dedication or is it the space of freedom opened for experiments, processes, interaction and joint thinking… They analyze the status of artists in the contemporary society and discuss their own attitude towards creation, creativity and spirituality. The exhibition at the NGVA continues their earlier artistic practice, indicating to the current social context and the changes caused by the pandemic crisis.

Sanja Kojić Mladenov, April 2021