Real Art Comes From Real Frustration
by Smirna Kulenović
“Bosnian Girl 2” by Smirna Kulenović is a performative action that happened on 22/11/2017 – the day of the late verdict arrival for war criminal Ratko Mladić by the UN tribunal. The photograph was taken in front of the EU Delegation to BiH building in Sarajevo; as a reminder of the discrepancy between an ideal of Europe offered to the post-war youth in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a reality in which no justice is served until all perpetrators and political participants involved in war crimes accept responsibility for their actions, until both old and new generations in the Balkans deal with their past honestly, together with international peace and security forces that remained silent and passive during war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The work holds a reference to the poster “Bosnian Girl” (2003) by Šejla Kamerić.
Real art comes from real frustration. It’s quite easy to be frustrated in this country. This is why I can’t leave forever: it feels like I wouldn’t be able to be frustrated enough anywhere else. I am only real when I’m frustrated to the edge, to the point of exploding, to the point of having just one survival choice: somehow let go of my stomach. And not in a romantic way. In a very human life shit way. Which usually runs on injustice, discrimination, poverty, extreme pain, complicated and unfulfilled potentials of love and drinking rakija while remembering how many people got killed for not having the right name in my neighbourhood.
There is an emptiness in perfection. I would rather die from a heart attack while remembering how horrible the Dayton Peace Agreement is, than ending up being molded into a perfectly shaped perfectly passive blood diamond individual living in a system that runs on Airbnb accommodation with spoons, killing others for oil and having a proper heating “system” in your gallery during winter. I rather freeze than ever make shapes and colors aimed at entertaining rich empty fascist smart Immanuel Kant perfections from the West, or the East, whatever, we are over geography by now. This is the time of genocidal geography. That’s why I would rather count the dead from the mass graves and dream of their smell than make shiny lights shine even more on thousands of euros worth 3D renderings. For what, just be true like Princess Nokia. When it’s inevitable to make money, at least make it with honesty. Make me shiver and I will pay, but I’ll still go home feeling like something in my system was radically changed.
—Here they told me that an average reader would just think how this text was written by a frustrated person and stop reading by now. They also told me that they could fix it with some interesting design. Let’s see how that works. I don’t really think that graphic design can save the world, especially if you’re not considering frustrated, boring, real-life forms. I also don’t know what an average reader is.
Enough with systems. They’re so present everywhere that even I just used this word without thinking, and my art and my life and my gallery all run on the radical non-existence of systems. Binarity terrorizes me, both in sexuality and while trying to explain myself to others. I wish my mom just told me to have enough courage to radically be myself, instead of telling me to clean my room all the time. If she told me I probably wouldn’t listen, so thankfully I found it out alone. And what else is there to do in these wingless right-wing times (or any other)?
What kind of times are these, when
to talk about trees is almost a crime
Because it implies silence about so many horrors?
(Bertolt Brecht, To those born later, 1940)
Now that is a quote, and I usually don’t like quotes because they repeat someone else’s thoughts pretending they’re more valuable than the ones created within the scopes of your own mind. But this one is just true and I embrace it. I make compromises sometimes, I just need to make sure it’s not fake and shiny, and this is exactly how I got to meet the Outline team.
Brodac gallery is a completely dirty space created by art enthusiasts who took shovels in their hands and removed 20 kg of empty bottles, strange underwear, fake condoms, suspicious needles and other peculiar items from an interior that once was a kafana, and some long time before that a jail for political prisoners. In the last year and a half it produced more than 25 exhibitions of both local and international contemporary artists.
On the other side, during the birth of Brodac - the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina was closed for three years, after 124 years of existence. It was left without either electricity, heating, or payments to the employees. This is not even the worst thing that happened over here, but just one of the obvious triggers also caused by the worst ever Dayton Peace Agreement failure Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
So as I was going through some new trash nudes by failed art students and trying to make promotional materials out of them, a group of unknown foreigners who I was told were Swedish entered our gallery. I really wasn’t interested in what they wanted, since they usually want to make money on the fact that people got killed here in the war, or at least tell me how exotic my Muslim grandma is. We have all had enough of that, so even I started being full of prejudices towards hipster-looking blond youngsters.
But they weren’t Swedish, the Swedish group of great individuals actually came later to help us raise 50 new books for our gallery library. They weren’t either trying to make money and were really honest with an incredible awareness of the whole situation here, including the differences that shape our life contexts. Two events later I actually started liking them, but the first meeting ended up surprisingly well - we had an agreement to let them create an event of sharing artistic practices in our gallery.
The event was a real success, they not only managed to make people talk about their artistic processes and share their latest work, but also connected the dispersed and egoistic hate-art community of Sarajevo in a single space. We even ended up staying too long and dancing on a pile of bricks, which resulted in yelling neighbours and me not being able to make any late-night gatherings in the gallery for a while. But it was worth it.
It was even more worth it during the last Outline Event. Again, the whole hate-art community in Sarajevo showed up in the same room, even though we’re rotten and falling apart for reasons I’ll try to elaborate later. The result: me dancing together with my ex who I avoided seeing for a year, a contemporary lover of an ex’s ex talking to him again after months of being blocked on Instagram, me hugging the ex of my ex with bubbles, and all of us laughing together after months of nothingness.
I concluded that this was the only possible method of achieving unification. Having someone honest and real to come from outside of Sarajevo, someone not involved in our tiny-huge love affairs, friendships that went wrong, social media blocks and other worthless issues. We needed someone to remind us that all we have left in here is each other and a failed government, so we better start cooperating again or otherwise both Brodac and Sklop and Duplex and ARS AEVI and JAVA will just remain empty and dead, constantly gathering the same three or four people coming from our small artistic family of non-lovers.
Sarajevo probably exists on a curse of being too small to actually be able to get over tiny human issues and artistically cooperate on a professional level, while at the same time remaining too big to understand that survival consists of embracing each other and co-creating through mutual respect and solidarity.
Thank you Outline for reminding us of this.
—PS: They just told me to edit my text so that I don’t end up with „a real noble positive thought“, but go back to being frustrated because that’s more circular. I don’t care about circles and I really don’t want to fake it, so I will once again say thank you Outline! And stop trying to make me frustrated when you make me happy. I’ve just arrived from a beautiful mountain escape from all the pretentious art talks, and I’m currently drinking my coffee, thinking about rakija and sliding down the snowy hill on a plastic bag.
Smirna Kulenović (1993, BIH), is an artist and curator at gallery Brodac, based in Sarajevo.
Gallery Brodac is a independent contemporary art gallery located in the center of Sarajevo since May 2016. Their main goal is to provide a space for young local and international artists to create and exhibit their work.