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World of Art

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SCCA, Center for Contemporary Arts - Ljubljana
Metelkova 6, SI - 1000 Ljubljana
Tel.: +386 (0)1 431 83 85
Fax: +386 (0)1 430 06 29
e-mail: info[at]scca-ljubljana.si



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World of Art WORLD OF ART, School of Contemporary Arts
Year 2008/09
Seminar for writing
Workshop No.3

Branislav Dimitrijević
Interpreting and Situating Contemporary Art: Observation, Participation, Motivation, Research and Empathy

May 15-16, 2009
SCCA Project Room, Metelkova 6, Ljubljana

Application date prolonged: May 13, 2009

"Art is what makes life more interesting than art." One of those catchy sayings that we feel will bring us closer to the 'essence' of what we want to say or what we want to do with the fact that we want to say something about and do something with what we consider art. I am not sure where I read it, but I may recall that it relates to the work of the performance artist Gina Pane, or maybe to someone else of that generation, because in general it has that air of the 60s and 70s when the question "What is art?" not only mattered, but was asked to the point of obsession, ending up in ironical violence as in the seminal work from 1977 by Raša Todosijević : Was ist Kunst?

Nowadays, the question is no longer what art is, but what can we do with it. It seems that the answer to the first question has become obsolete, unnecessary rhetoric, something to keep silent about. As one curator recently maintained in his "curator's statement": "I think that if you are constantly pointing out where or what art is, you may underestimate the spectator's ability to relate to it."

It is a symptom of contemporary art which tends to champion (real) experience over interpretation. But, a certain overvaluation of "personal experience" is evident everywhere. Only-in-direct-experience-we-trust!, may be a slogan of the times; experience becomes the basis for true, reliable and authentic knowledge about culture and the self. Contemporary art is just one of the manifestations of this overvaluation, with the most apparent ones to be found in the confessional mode of the popular media - from television talk shows to big brothers and trauma drama. There is therefore an established ideological connection between "experience" and "voyeurism", between a desire to be an active participant in the world-at-large and an ultimate commoditization of experience. How does one handle this without reinstating established types of media critique or reverting to the evident recognition of the standard logic of developed capitalism? Debord cannot help us any longer.

Cities on the move, artists on the move, transitional spaces, transitional societies, mobility, exchange and direct participation: here is how the contemporary art world is usually described. The type of artist created here does not belong to any fixed circumstances, but is dedicated to mobility, globetrotting, to discovering differences, to a constant contextual flux. "Artists must be tourists in our society to stay alive," says another curator's statement.

Mobility comes out of a need for individual self-organization outside of institutional confinement. Yet that mobility is linked to the governing mechanism itself of developed capitalism. The capitalist entrepreneur and his critical "other" are on the same mission of permanent mobility. As Brian Holmes remarked, "The whole ambiguity of capitalism, in its concrete, historical evolution, is to combine tremendous directive power over the course and content of human experience with a structurally necessary space for the development of individual autonomy".

  • Where does one stand in these circumstances?
  • Do we travel just to gain new experiences or do we travel not to stick to the old ones?
  • How do we situate ourselves in this transitory condition? How do we gain meaning in this "everything goes / everything moves" condition?

It is the ethnographic impulse which at stake here, with its double edge of curiosity and colonialism, of direct experience and structural thinking, of observation/description and understanding/interpretation. In our culture everything may become an object of ethnographic inquiry: it is not only moving "between cultures", but a "perpetual displacement" of the object of inquiry in which specificities, localities and situations are less and less distinct. The useful concept here may be the concept of "participant observation", which we borrow from James Clifford. This concept "encompasses a relay between an empathetic engagement with a particular situation and/or event (experience) and the assessment of its meaning and significance within a broader context (interpretation)".

It is the stress on the former which has recently been of much more ethnographic and artistic interest, but here instead of either we may stress the word "relay" in order to express a concern for activating dynamism between a motivated and a situated position. So, how can we think about the concept of "participant observation" in art which functions as a relay between empathy and meaning? We will speak about the issues involved in our general inclination to share the world from the position we find ourselves in, or in which we tend to situate ourselves in order to "be with" the others, and to speak about notions as unrelated or conflictual as empathy and laughter, cynicism and naiveté, observation and interpretation, the humanitarian gaze and the ethnographic gaze, hard facts and flexible idiosyncrasies, and just a little bit about football and Socialism.

Branislav Dimitrijević

The workshop will be conducted in Serbian language.

Branislav Dimitrijević will prepare an introductory lecture for general public and participants of the workshop on Thursday, May 14, at 8 pm in SCCA Project Room.


Friday, 15th of May 2009

Morning: 10.00-13.30
10.00: Greeting and introduction. Interpretation, its traditional models and its faith (lecture)
12.00: Discussion on "famous cases" of misinterpretation in art history (Is misinterpretation also a valid interpretation?). How to interpret abstraction? Contemporary art and the supposed end of interpretation?

Afternoon: 15.00-18.00
Case studies
15.00: "Zašto ne govorim Srpski (na srpskom)", Film by Phil Collins, screening and discussion.
16.00: Comparative analysis of Johanna Billing's video "Magical World" and Katarina Zdjelar's video "Everything is gonna be". Discussion
17.00: Interpretations of "East-Europeanness" in Contemporary Art, discussion

Saturday, 16th of May 2009

Morning: 10.00-13.30
10.00: Preparation-discussion on the content of proposed essays. Ideas, suggestions and agreeing about topics.
12.00: Writing of essays

Afternoon: 15.00-18.00
15.00: Presentation of essays and discussion.


Branislav DimitrijevićBranislav Dimitrijević (1967) is art historian, critic and curator. He received his degree in Art History at the University of Belgrade and received his M.A. in 1995 in History and Theory of Art at the University of Kent, under the mentorship of Professor Stephen Bann. He publishes texts on contemporary art and politics in Serbia in local and international magazines and catalogues. In 1996, he edited Pop Visions, a book on the interpretation of popular images. He writes essays for catalogues of numerous artists, among other, Zoran Naskovski, Milica Tomić, Zdravko Joksimović, pRT. Together with Branislava Anđelković, he was curator and catalogue editor of numerous exhibitions: among other, A Room With Maps (1995), Murder1 (1997), Beauty and Terror (1998) and Overground (1998). He is one of co-founders of the School for History and Theory of Art in the Contemporary Arts Centre-Belgrade. He was director of the Department of Education and Documentation of the Contemporary Arts Centre in Belgrade. From 1999 on, he teaches on conceptual art and image perception. He also taught at the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade and the Michaelis School of Arts in Cape Town. He participated in conferences and discussion in Canterbury, Stockholm, Innsbruck, Ljubljana, Skopje, Oslo...


The price for the workshop is 25 EUR for individuals and 35 EUR for representatives of the institutions. The workshop will be conducted in English.

Application date prolonged: May 13, 2009

Attach to the registration:

  • a short biography
  • a short text about why you wish to participate

The registration should be sent to the address svetumetnosti@scca-ljubljana.si or brought personally to the address SCCA-Ljubljana, Metelkova 6, 1000 Ljubljana by March 15, 2009 (office hours: 11.00-15.00).


SCCA, Center for Contemporary Arts - Ljubljana
Metelkova 6, 1000 Ljubljana
Contact persons: Petja Grafenauer
tel.: 041 367 425, fax: (01) 430 06 29
e-mail: svetumetnosti@scca-ljubljana.si

The World of Art is supported by Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia, Municipality of Ljubljana - Department for Culture and European Cultural Foundation.



In Focus

At some point,
in some place

(video screening from
DIVA Station archive)

Short Film Night:
21 Dec. 2017, 10.30pm

Slovenian Cinematheque
Free entrance!


Contemporary art
and art theory

Focus: curatorial practices and media & video art

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Zavod SCCA-Ljubljana
, Metelkova 6, SI - 1000 Ljubljana,
Tel.: +386 (0)1 431 83 85, Fax: +386 (0)1 430 06 29 e-mail: info@scca-ljubljana.si