Perfect Strangers

Triple Canopy in Sarajevo with Azra Akšamija, Adela Jušić, Mladen Miljanović, Radenko Milak, and Muharem Bazdulj

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina June 21, 2012 
 
Between June 21 and July 6, Triple Canopy editors will work with five artists and writers from Bosnia on a series of workshops and discussions dealing with idiosyncratic sites, figures, and objects with ambivalent relationships to the region’s traumatic recent history and concurrent forging of national identities. Triple Canopy editors and participants will choose places, things, and images whose meanings have not yet congealed but instead lead in contradictory directions. Rather than turning to emblems of entrenched narratives, rather than marking or restoring parts of the landscape in order to memorialize victims, preserve memories, or reveal a path to national rejuvenation, we’ll attend to the meanings that cannot so easily be recouped and repackaged, that resist easy interpretation, much less definition. Among them: the Olympic bobsled track turned front-line barricade in the mid-90s; the popular Serbian Zastava 101 automobile; rejuvenated Bosnian black markets; the extra J that transforms a word from Serbian to Bosnian and Croatian; nascent national beverages, fashionable typefaces, suburban mosques, prominent branding campaigns. 

These objects of inquiry will provide the basis for installations, performances, walks, and talks around Sarajevo; public presentations and discussions with invited guests; and contributions to Triple Canopy’s online magazine. Additionally, they will be represented in a book produced under the auspices of Triple Canopy’s Volume Number series, which provides a variable space for thinking through—and collaboratively enacting—the practice of publication and instantiating the public spaces magazines purport to produce in the world. This book, Perfect Strangers: A Catalogue of Ordinary Icons, will be published in the winter and will include documentation of public programs as well as elaborations of the projects discussed and conceived in Sarajevo. The materials—artist projects, prose, poetry, fiction, photography, transcripts, documents, emails, screen shots, coupons, receipts—will be organized as alphabetical entries, resulting in a subjective, selective lexicon of the Balkan imaginary, and of an imaginary Balkans. Contributors will include the participating artists and writers, attendees from Bosnia and Serbia and abroad, Triple Canopy editors, and a number of commissioned respondents who will not be present in Sarajevo. 

Perfect Strangers will develop original ways of thinking about how the work and identities of artists in the region circulate among the myths, misnomers, and misunderstandings that so often mark the context of international reception—and thus inevitably shape the conditions of production, and lead to the calcification of the symbolic repertoire. Triple Canopy editors and participants will discuss how artists and writers might productively evade and intervene in these discursive systems; misuse or abuse familiar, staid symbols and adopt new and defamiliarizing ones without sacrificing the social and historical complexity of their work. These problems will be reflected in the content of the work as well as the forms of its publication. 

Perfect Strangers is organized in collaboration with NO(W), the Sarajevo Center for Contemporary Art/pro.ba, and Collegium Artisticum, with the support of CEC Artslink. Special thanks to Pierre Courtin, Asja Hafner, and Branka Vujanović. The dates and locations of public events will be announced by June 15. 

*** 

Azra Akšamija is a Sarajevo-born artist and architectural historian and is currently an assistant professor at MIT’s program in art, culture, and technology. Akšamija’s work investigates the ability of art and architecture to facilitate transformative mediation in cultural and political conflicts, and in so doing provide a framework for researching, analyzing, and intervening in contested situations and places. Her recent projects have focused on the representation of Islamic identities in the West, spatial mediation of identity politics, and cultural pedagogy through art and architecture. 

Muharem Bazdulj was born in 1977 in Travnik, Bosnia and Herzegovina (formerly Yugoslavia). He has published several novels and award-winning short story collections, including Druga knjiga (2000), which was translated into English and published as The Second Book in 2005 by Northwestern University Press. Bazdulj’s work has been featured in international anthologies such as The Wall In My Head, published on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Best European Fiction 2012, published by Dalkey Archive Press and edited by Aleksandar Hemon. His short stories and essays have appeared in World Literature TodayCreative NonfictionHabitus, and Absinthe, among other literary reviews. 

Adela Jušić is an artist working in video, installation, and performance and living in Sarajevo. She is a founding member of the Crvena Association for Culture and Art. In 2010 she received the Zvono Award for best young artist in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her work has been exhibited at Manifesta 8, Kunstmuseum (Bonn, Germany), El Parqueadero (Bogotá, Colombia), Espace Appolonia (Strasbourg, France); the Goethe-Institut Los Angeles, and Gallery P74 (Ljubljana). 

Radenko Milak is a painter and curator based in Banja Luka. In 2005 he co-founded the Protok Centre for Visual Communications, an alternative art space in Banja Luka that is active throughout Bosnia and the region. From 2008 until 2010 he was the director of SpaPort, an annual international art exhibition. He is currently a professor at the Faculty for Information Technology and Design in Banja Luka. 

Mladen Miljanović is an artist working and living in Banja Luka. In 2007 he received the Zvono Award for best young artist in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He has exhibited at the National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina; Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien (Vienna), and Smack Mellon (New York). In addition to his performances, new-media productions, and research-based work, Miljanović deals with the social and therapeutic aspects of art by organizing workshops for the disabled.

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