Biennale curator Natasha Ilic expressed her regrets for the removal of Albert Heta's art work
Podgorica - Natasha Ilic , curator of the fifth Cetinje Biennale, said today that she is sorry because of removal of the installation of Albanian artist Albert Heta from the building of ex-Serbian embassy.
Ilic told Beta news agency that the organizers of Biennale - National Museum of Montenegro and Prince Nikola Petrovic , were not acquainted with all the art works exposed at the Biennale, which was the her authority and of the other curator, a well known European art critic Rene Block.
She said that she did not know about Prince Nikola's apologizing to the Montenegrins, which followed after several harsh reactions regarding the installation, and said that everyone is entitled to have its own opinion.
The installation was removed yesterday, and the director of National Museum , Petar Cukovic in a statement for newspaper 'Vijesti' accused the Albanian artist for removing the notice from the building of ex-Serbian embassy that this was an art work, and thus abusing the institution of Biennale.
Ilic rejected the accusations of Cukovic that the instalation had a political connotation, except 'the politics in the space of art', adding that although the issue has to do with very sensitive questions, an artist has the right to deal with them.
'Biennale is being organized in three cities of three different states: Tirana, Cetinje, Dubrovnik , and it doesn't have to do only with the geographical closeness of these cities but also with the sensitive relations of these countries. We can also ask ourselves how people of Dubrovnik felt that Cetinje Biennale is held right in their city,' said Ilic.
She added that art should provoke dialogue regarding these issues and that the aim was to open the topics which are politically the most problematic ones.
'If all the works would provoke such reactions, art would have a much greater importance,' concluded Ilic.
CETINJE - For three days now, the building of the Ethnographic Museum of Montenegro, former Embassy of the Kingdom of Serbia, has been 'graced' with a black double eagle and red Albanian flag placed above a sign reading 'Embassy of the Republic of Kosovo, Cetinje'!
Under the guise of a 'performance' held as part of the Cetinje Biennale, this unprecedented incident was caused by the Albanian artist Albert Heta. He does not hide that his intention was to set up a proper embassy of the 'Republic of Kosovo' in the Montenegrin capital, at least during event, the embassy which, according to Heta, exists. The scandal provoked violent reactions of some, while others virtually showed approval.
President of the Cetinje Biennale and its founder, Prince Nikola Petrovic, yesterday made a public apology for the scandal.
I'm shocked by this art installation, said Nikola Petrovic. In the current political context, it is inappropriate and dangerous. Unfortunately, I had no means of participating in the Fifth Biennale and I discovered the installation, like all other visitors, only after the opening.
Petar Cukovic, director of the Biennale and the National Museum of Montenegro says for 'Novosti' that 'the case shouldn't be politicized'.
Cukovic says the performance will remain where it is until September 19 th , as planned.
While there are people who are of opinion that art and politics should be separated and against 'censoring' artistic freedom, Jovan Marku?, former Mayor of Cetinje, today an official of Narodna stranka (People's party) expects the Minister of Culture, Vesna Kilibarda to resign.
The building of the museum, former Embassy of the Kingdom of Serbia has been desecrated with the blessing of the Ministry of Culture. The perpetrator is an Albanian from Kosovo who has sent a clear political message to the residents of Cetinje, Montenegro and Serbia reminding them of the aim of the movement for a Greater Albania, says Marku?. - It would have been more appropriate if the flag, sign and coat of arms had been put up in the offices of DPS (Democratic Socialist Party) and SDP (Social Democratic Party), not on the honourable home of the dynasty Petrovic-Njegos and the Karadjordjevics.
Aleksandar Aleksic, Mayor of Cetinje is also exasperated by the fact that a purely political message has been sent from the town he is the head of.
The activities of artists should, in principle, demonstrate ideas of reconciliation, goodness, freedom, something that builds good relations between people, regardless of their origin and religious beliefs. Having all that in mind, I find that this is a continuation of the policy adopted by state officials, the policy that has always followed the most shameful and bloodiest examples from Montenegrin history - says Aleksic for this newspaper. On the other hand, while this is happening they are robbing the people of Montenegro - from usurping natural resources to the privatization of KAP, 'Telekom', Elektroprivreda' and all other Montenegrin companies which are soon to become property of the best man of the head of the current regime. Therefore, we believe this performance to be a shameful affair and such an idea shouldn't have emerged from Cetinje. Aleksic maintains that 'pure politics and something that has nothing to do with either art or good neighbourly relations between countries be it Albania or Serbia' is behind the scandal.
I'm completely sure that this Albanian artist is not nearly as much to blame as is the man who allowed such a thing to be done. This decision was made at the top; it is a political decision par excellence, harmful to good neighbourliness and interpersonal relations in the municipality. They intended to tarnish everything that Liberalni savez (Liberal Alliance) and Cetinje authorities have tried to achieve over the last two years with the aim of finally forgetting the divisions and turning to the future which should bring benefits and satisfaction to all of us. Obviously, this does not suit somebody's purposes and we know exactly who that is, concludes Aleksic.
The Mayor of Cetinje says that the local authorities cannot do anything that would lead to removing Albanian emblems from the building of the former Serbian Embassy, because municipal authorities are in no way connected with the Biennale.
We can write an official letter, but then, public expression of our opinion had, in a way, the same effect. We can lodge a protest, but we know this will meet with indifference from the people who are doing their best to create a total backwater, which is ideal only for them, since, naturally, they grow richer every day by laying hold of the Montenegrin spirit, tradition and cultural and material wealth, says the Mayor.
Yesterday, we tried to contact the Minister of Culture, Vesna Kilibarda. Mobile phone call was answered by her secretary. After we asked her to tell Mrs. Kilibarda that we would like her to give us a short statement regarding the 'Kosovo Embassy' scandal, no one answered the phone any more. There have been no other reactions from the authorities.
The Cetinje Biennale has a history of scandals. At the exhibition 'New Icon' held in 1997, the picture of Mother of God, patron saint of the town of Cetinje was displayed smudged with human faeces. The audience could see other icons too, including that of Christ, Saint Nicolas and other saints with 'accessories' surpassing the worst pornographic images.
Everyone who wants to can see for himself: it's enough to see the exhibits in Vladin dom. There is no doubt that atheism of the Cetinje Biennales is slowly transforming itself into anarchism. In the end, the final stage is pure and unadulterated Satanism, retorted archbishop Atanasije at that time.
Two years ago, a provocative, almost pornographic sculpture was again exhibited on the main square in Cetinje. Somebody destroyed in under the cover of night, while the destiny of wicker dog houses that 'artists' put all over Cetinje, as part of their 'performance' was exactly the same. People still remember that during one of the Biennales, Prince Nikola came to see an 'artistic performance' starring a poodle having an erection!
Following the decision of Petar Cukovic, director of the Cetinje Biennale, scandalous performance by the Kosovo-based Albanian artist Albert Heta has been removed from the building of the former Serbian Embassy, although it should have remained there until September 19 th .
Cukovic says that he made the decision that the sign reading 'Embassy of Kosovo in Serbia and Montenegro' and the Albanian flag must be removed because of the 'unacceptable behaviour' of Heta himself.
Heta moved the sign put in front of the entrance to the building which served to let people know that an artistic event is taking place there, says Cukovic. - When I saw that the artist had hid the sign under a tree, I immediately decided that his work must be removed and informed the organizers of the Biennale - custodians Rene Blok and Nata?a Ilic who both agreed... He denied information that the performance was removed only after a violent act of an individual who did not like the work of art.
Unfortunately, this performance has obviously inflamed passions that shouldn't have been aroused to that extent in Cetinje. I think that this work is not worthy of so much attention. Its only strong point lies in the fact that it successfully provoked people to react and thus outshone other works that are truly brilliant, Cukovic points out. - Heta abused Montenegrin hospitality. I cannot imagine that such a thing would be possible in any of the neighbouring countries.
As with any exhibition, is very hard to judge whether or not it is art, Heta said. The building formerly housing the Serbian Embassy, today is officially the Embassy of the Republic of Kosovo. That's the reality that no one wants to recognize. As a man I speak, think and exist and so does the Republic of Kosovo.
Reacting to Heta's performance, Aleksandar Aleksic, Mayor of Cetinje said 'It is primarily a political decision of Montenegrin authorities which are responsible for it and always find ways to divide residents of Montenegro'. Rene Blok, organizer of the Biennale said that Heta's performance should be viewed only as a work of art. The opinion of the director of the Biennale, Petar Cukovic was similar.
However, Želidrag Nikcevic, writer and Gojko Perovic, Dean of the Seminary in Cetinje expressed a different opinion. The former said that Heta's exhibition was a shame for Montenegro and the latter believes that the majority of works shown at the Biennale are 'beyond reason'.
The trouble with conceptual art is that you cannot be sure whether something is a public toilet or an art installation until your art critic tells you. It is not clear whether a drunkard urinating in public is just that, or if it is a performance of a famous artist, until the organizers of the event in which an artist is performing by urinating tell you. But, that is the essence of conceptual art: since the painting has been sidestepped, knowing that it is obviously art, now we have to take the word of the critics who are able to tell the difference between urinating as a physiological need and urinating as an act of art. The line is obviously thin, and art critics are wise people worthy of admiration.
Everything that happened around Heta's work is, indeed, a shame for Montenegro . But, it is a shame because of reasons totally different from those cited by furious Montenegrins, who are 'shocked' by the Embassy of Kosova. It is a shame because Heta's work brought to the surface the scale of deceit, lack of freedom and inequality existing in Montenegro . Reactions to Heta's work showed that elementary human stupidity in Montenegro is easily winning over human reason and freedoms. Heta tested our stupidity, primitivism and inability to accept a reality that goes against our wishes - the results are defeating for us. The confines of human stupidity are like the confines of space: unreachable. The Mayor of Cetinje, Aleksandar Aleksic, a liberal and by definition a defender of human rights, established that the Montenegrin Government is to blame for Heta's work, since it is 'sowing disarray amongst citizens ' via the Kosovan Embassy.
In every town in Montenegro there is at least one building with the graffiti 'This is Serbia ' written on it. You can hear the same slogan shouted in every Montenegrin square. Montenegrin sportsmen compete cheered on by Serbian flags with four S's. No one is shocked, even though these are not works of art and there are no information signs telling us about them. When the artist put an Albanian flag on the Serbian Embassy, he unleashed a hurricane of fury. One has to be corrupt to the core and not realize that the problem lies in the fact that it was an Albanian flag that was raised, and not a Serbian one. How come one can be raised any time and anywhere, while the other, if raised outside of the town of Ulqin, exposes the person who did it to being lynched.
King UBU, the great hero of the surrealist drama, expert in ruling by means of jokes and puns, in one of his inspired speeches addressed his remaining followers in this way: 'Long live Poland for if there were no Poland , there would be no Poles!' Acting as if he were addressing the Polish crowd, the king of Poland asked them to express their support for Poland otherwise even they - Poles would no longer exist. In other words, in spite of everything he managed to achieve during his rule, he came up with an idea to present his people with an alienating, impossible choice of EITHER POLAND OR POLES. Following the logic of the joke, Ubu reversed the common order of address of the Master to his people. In the normal circumstances, the king - master should first show respect for the people he rules by exclaiming 'Long live the Polish people' so that he can, in turn, be recognized by them as a ruler worthy of their respect - 'Long live Poland ! Long live the Polish king!' In the Ubuesque upside down world, the ruler of the state does not praise the people but the State, meaning himself, threatening that if he is no longer king, his subjects will no longer exist either. As a result, the people frightened out of their wits by the impossible choice they have been given, end up choosing Poland without Poles.
It is interesting to note that Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi became popular in the 1930s, at the time when Poland was absolutely certain to have finally won independence. In Ubu's paradox, by choosing Poland , Poles choose to lose independence and support the state which is named after them but still condemns them to death. In other words, they give up their desire for independence. Instead of saying 'Down with the king who does not respect the Polish people!' Poles cheer 'Long live Poland!' saying, in fact, something quite opposite to what they really want: 'We don't want freedom; we want to submit to the hollow authority of force - but not just any form of submission but an occupation, what is more, an occupation by a non-native, foreign force' - a scenario which proved to be realistic in the light of actual historical events. Later in the twentieth century, Poland suffered its biggest national defeat. In a short space of time, the country was occupied twice by two delirious masters - Nazi and Stalinist regimes.
'Embassy of the Republic of Kosovo, Cetinje, SCG' - the installation by Albert Heta shown at this year's Cetinje Biennale focuses precisely on the Ubuesque paradox and alienating choice of either State or the desire for independence. Namely, the claim to a state does not necessarily entail the wish to be free and independent. It means that the desire for independence in the relations between nations have the shortcoming of having to be made a reality through a state, which can, at the same time, be an expression of freedom and the desire of a nation to be independent, as well as a weapon of terror and suppression of independence i.e. easy prey for the occupying forces. How did Heta achieve this? He used the simplest and most economical method possible, similar to the logic of King Ubu's joke: he set up an embassy of the non-existent, unrecognized state of Kosovo at an exhibition of contemporary art in Cetinje, i.e. on the territory of a state that does everything in its power to ignore and suppress the desire of the Kosovar Albanians for independence. So, it seems as though, through his installation, Heta exclaimed 'Long live the Embassy, because if there were no Embassy there would be no State', judging that it spoke both to his people voicing its desire for independence and to the outside world which is unwilling to recognize that desire. The reaction to the work was panic in the entire media apparatus of Montenegro and Serbia , the town where the installation was shown, as well as the entire state machinery of Montenegro , from the representatives of the biennale and politicians to clergy. The work was banned and removed!!!
Since the wish of the Kosovar Albanians to gain independence and have a state of their own has been ignored up to now, the fact that the act of proclaiming a new state by opening its embassy, a mere representative of the state in the outside world, did not go ignored is all the more interesting. Namely, where the desire for independence gets ignored, a mere demand for a State to be set up appeared. But it is a murderous, Ubuesque State which threatens anyone who tries to express his wish. Therefore, such a state can be given any name and exist in the name of anyone, it nevertheless remains a mere apparatus of occupation, terror and sadism. Those who ignore the desire for the independence of Kosovo are representatives of a murderous state whose embassies are mass graves and terror. Heta offered a joke as a tool for absolution of the excluding relationship between the Terror State and desire of people to gain independence, which touched a raw nerve by exposing the essence of infantile desires for a State of Terror, the one that cannot take a joke. In fact, Heta's installation communicates the message 'A joke should take the place of tragedy', meaning that only then can we say that we have freed ourselves from the State of Terror, the one that cannot take a joke and is ready to kill art or the artist over a joke.
(Article published in Daily Newspaper KOHA Ditore and Weekly JAVA)
The mobilization strategy of the actual potentials of 'Balkans in the Balkan,' as presented by the Cetinje Biennial V, was a meaningful attempt to reposition the specific 'otherness' of the Balkans in the context of its wider thematicization--one which often characterizes the Balkans as the semi-wild, semi-tame exotic inverse of Europe.
The specific social prism of the Biennial resulted in sometimes painful confrontations with local communities, handling delicate social issues which have been swept 'under the carpet' for decades now. The process of working off these problematic traumas achieved its distinct manifestation in one of the 6 Cetinje venues for the Biennial, in the space of the former Serbian embassy. This space was used to present a series of works by artists who directly question the series of negative side effects of the collapse of Yugoslavia.
The specific social prism of the Biennial resulted in the sometimes painful confrontation with local communities with some delicate social issues which have been swept 'under the carpet' for decades now. The process of working off these problematic traumas achieved its distinct manifestation in one of the 6 Cetinje venues for the Biennial, in the space of the former Serbian embassy. This space was used to present a series of works by artists who directly question the series of negative side effects of the collapse of Yugoslavia.
In the Kosovar media, the participation of local visual artists in international events is reported either with total silence or by some sidelined information in which the events are put out of context--for example the misstatement of the importance, or the misplacement of the location of the event. The gap between the ever growing penetration of kosovar artists in prestigious international exhibitions, organized by eminent experts of modern art (Szeeman, Block etc.), and the lack of a realistic reflection on these events by the media is not a consequence of a simple lack of professional critique. The problem in evaluating the contemporary arts scene in Kosova rests in the fact that the ideas of contemporary art challenge the dominating worldview and taste of the mainstream cultural environment in Kosova. The dominant viewpoint of the cultural circles and the media editors is that contemporary art in Kosova is somewhat of a suspicious phenomenon, something that perhaps does not even deserve to be called art.
Only a scandal can raise some curiosity and cause reactions in the media. An example of such an exception is the interest that the kosovar media showed on an event that occurred at the Cetinje Biennale in early September 2004. The story was related to an installation that the kosovar artist Albert Heta exposed at the Biennale - a piece that was fiercely criticized in the Serb and Montenegrin pro-Serb press and was eventually damaged by vandals before the organizers decided to remove it from the exhibition entirely. Heta's installation was a provocation of its own kind: he had 'opened up' the embassy of the Republic of Kosova in Cetinje. To make his provocation more irritating, he had used for his installation the building of the historic Serbian liaison office from the age when Montenegro had been an independent Kingdom--a building which now serves as an ethnographic museum.
After finding out about these two refusals, the curators of the Cetinje Biennale, Rene Block and Natasa Ilic, invited Heta to do the installation in Cetinje. A place was appropriated for its realization: the historic Serbian liaison office in Montenegro.
In Cetinje - the bastion of Montenegro's independence movement - during the Biennale there was approval of Heta's piece even in its political context. Some people went even further by noting that the text should have stated that the embassy of the independent Kosova was located in the independent Montenegro and not in the Union of Serbia and Montenegro as Heta had written it!
The problems with the installation began when the Serb and the Montenegrin press with pro-Serb orientation alarmed the public about the double provocation--the artistic declaration of Kosova's independence and the placement of the installation in the building of the former Serbian liaison office. Orchestrated by Serb nationalist circles, a wide media protest was immediately launched with the ploy that the installation was 'a shame for Montenegro.' Then hooligans came and broke the embassy text-board and took off the flag from 'Kosova's embassy.' Surprisingly, and disappointingly as well, the organizers of the exhibition and public figures in Montenegro felt frightened by the campaign and stopped interpreting Heta's work as a piece of art and began looking for political alibis to remove Heta's work from the exhibition.
Later on, the scandal took on another direction, best described by the philosopher Andrej Nikolaidis in the Podgorica weekly 'Monitor': 'When, earlier in the Biennale icons painted with shit were exposed, there were authoritative explanations that this was a piece of art and that art cannot submit to censure. The Cetinje Biennale had exposed provocative works since its beginnings. (...)The Artist from Prishtina Albert Heta exposed his own piece of art: he turned the building of the Serbian liaison office in Cetinje into the embassy of the Republic of Kosova. Serbian political parties in Montenegro and the Orthodox Church immediately reacted. Since the technique used in Heta's work was not scandalous, and the piece did not get out of conventional frameworks, what was perceived and commented as scandalous was the fact that an Albanian flag was waving in Cetinje and that the former Serb liaison office was used by the author to indicate the existence of the independent state of Kosova. His piece of work was undoubtedly a success. What scandalized people was, in fact, the reality. Heta only penetrated beyond the line of Serbian self-deception by making visible something that realistically cannot be contested--the fact that Kosova exists independently of Serbia. And the fact that in the building where a Serb embassy stood once, tomorrow a Kosovar embassy can be installed' (Monitor, Podgorica, September 11 th 2004). Another philosopher from Belgrade, Branimir Stojanoviq, reacted in the same manner.
Meanwhile, the most scandalous comment in the kosovar media, in response to Heta's installment, and on the relation between politics and art in general, was made by Mehmet Kraja - the editor for the culture section in the otherwise most liberal daily in Kosovar daily 'Koha Ditore'. Kraja belongs to the nationalist and conservative cultural circles and had often written against the contemporary art movement (represented in Kosova by Sokol Beqiri, Erzen Shkololli, Sisli Xhafa, Jakup Ferri, Dren Maliqi, Driton Hajredinaj, Lulëzim Zeqiri etc) by classifying it as 'foreign meat'. In his article entitled 'Arts and politics', Kraja expressed how intrigued he was with the harsh campaign of the Serbian and Montenegrin Press against Heta's work. In fact, what impressed him the most was the rapid mobilization of politicians and orthodox clerics against Heta's work. Simultaneously, he expressed distress over the lack of such mobilization among kosovar politicians and media in cases when something similar occurs in Kosova.
In arguing his case, Kraja does not stand in support of Heta and contemporary art (he continues to doubt whether his installation can be classified as art!). In fact, he slowly moves to his main concern: why wasn't the decision of a jury at the Documentary film Festival in Prizren 'Dokufest' followed with similar criticism when the Serb film 'Pretty Diana' was awarded the first prize. Kraja makes the parallel: while Heta's work is destroyed by Serb fascists in Cetinje, in the Prizren festival the movie by the director Boris Mitic is awarded first prize. Furthermore, Kraja complains, the director was allowed to give an 'offending' speech to Albanians when he came to receive his award.
During the debates on the matter, it turned out that Mehmet Kraja did not even attend the festival and was speaking 'blind-eyed' - based on gossip and personal prejudice. Even though, in principle, he was against the interference of politics in matters of art, he himself could not keep minimal distance from politicizing the problem he was discussing. His prejudicing construction was as follows: 'Dokufest' is a worthless event and an improvisation, and the fact that it was sponsored by the OSCE proves that the values promoted there are doubtful and anti-Albanian. In his text, Kraja treats the OSCE as if it was an enemy organization that came to Kosova to promote 'multiculturalism' and cosmopolitan ideas that threaten and ruin Albanian culture and its national values. To award a Serb film at a time when Heta's installment in Cetinje is destroyed is, according to Kraja, a gesture that signifies submission and a loss of identity--it is something that resembles national betrayal. Kraja did not even consider the possibility that the movie and the jury's decision had some kind of artistic and cultural motivation. Without even seeing the film and without showing interest on the jury's justification for giving the award, Kraja declared a conservative and nationalist anathema.
In the monthly supplement 'Arta', (financed by the Bundes Kultur Shtiftung as part of the Relations project) a critical editorial was published that opposed Kraja's discourse, titled 'Politics and Art.' The editorial stressed that if the autonomy of art from politics should be guaranteed by the unconditional respect for the freedom of speech, then any cultural discourse and any comment on the relation between art and politics should begin with an analysis of cultural and artistic values, not with prejudice. A cultural approach lacks entirely in Kraja's discourse. His writings and the writings of other extreme and xenophobic nationalists of his kind, in the context of the current historic moments that Kosova is going through, can be understood as an emotional manipulation with the Albanian-Serb conflict, by essentializing and eternalizing the conflict. On the other hand, easy logic and previous historical experiences prove the opposite. They are witness to the fact that conflicts and the hatreds between nations are not eternal. The current Albanian-Serb conflict should be only considered as an event limited in time. Because Albanians and Serbs are simply first neighbors who cannot remain eternally hostile to each other. Any enemy should be given the opportunity, at least principally, to 'improve' himself. And if someone today has a vision to improve and test the acceleration of contacts and reconciliation, what bad exists in that?