Review of the manuscript: Branislav Jakovljevic, Alienation Effects: Performance and Self-Management in Yugoslavia, 1945-91, University of Michigan Press, 2016
This unique manuscript is an attempt to explore unfamiliar aspects and nodes between artistic and economic performances in Yugoslavia, such as self-management, socialist aestheticism, conceptual art, theoretical Marxism, performance art and political performances. What Branislav Jakovljevic has accomplished is to shed a completely different light onto a tragic Yugoslav history: starting with the rebuilding of the country after the World War II by huge collectives of voluntaries and people punished for enemy propaganda; proceeding through various aspects of self-management and performance art; to the aftermath of Yugoslav war(s). It is a detailed, thoroughly researched, well documented and smoothly written, at the same time astute and engaged in explaining every single detail to make it comprehensive even to those who might not be so familiar with this part of the world and its recent history. In B Alienation Effects, Jakovljevic traces the main cultural, political, social and economic currents that went into the making of Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, a strange and short-lived multicultural country and its subsequent demise (1945-1991).
Jakovljevic’s aim was also to test performance studies as a post academic discipline (Joseph Roach), by asking what does this discipline, its methods and procedures, and its focus on efficient and non-efficient performance has to say about this unusual country. The book surpasses its original notion of trying to explain Yugoslav destruction and becomes a comprehensive guide to the new performance studies methodology. Here the performance spans over a wide spectrum of meanings, from industrial productivity (of workers, but also machines), through the efficacy of aesthetic event, to the function of theatre of war and its results (the rampant inflation and psychopathology of war crimes). Departing from two notions of performance, as defined by performance studies scholars, Richard Schechner and Jon McKenzie, both as a specific set of behavior and/or, technology of power, Jakovljevic meticulously analyses different kinds of performances in Yugoslavia, not as mutually exclusive but as tied together through a number of political, organizational, and conceptual practices.
Throughout the book, Jakovljevic focuses on the inquiry of the specific mechanisms of the organization of labor (managerial performance) and forms of its representation (aesthetic performance). His aim was to demonstrate deep connections between specific performance works and cultural and ideological structures from which they emerged. What impresses me the most about this book is the fact that it was written from the point of view of a performance studies scholar, but it could be also considered an excellent excursus in economic and political history, a very complicated deed.
The complex federal structure of Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, which was composed of seven officially recognized nations, six federate republics and two autonomous regions, was always difficult to grasp. Furthermore, since the power shifted back and forth between the communist party’s conservative and liberal factions, there were frequent changes in the political climate. The federal structure of the country and increasing rivalry between Party elites and their bureaucratic bodies in the six federal republics, led to varying interpretations on ex-Yugoslav reality and none of these accurate. However, the unbeatable fact remains: the so-called “soft socialist” regime in Yugoslavia was more oppressive for its citizens than it is remembered and described nowadays, which is caused by the nostalgia for its multiculturalism and partial political and social freedom. For many people, it is still hard to accept the fact that lack of freedom and democracy contributed to unresolved political problems and the unrecorded civil war in Yugoslavia.
In Jakovljevic’s in-depth analysis, one finds out that the truth was way too complex and multilayered – there are different meanings in whatever survives of the country that disappeared. Therefore, instead of following a high road of usual account(s), Jakovljevic’s inquiry leads to unmapped territory of the country’s uncommon history, from self-managed labor to conceptual art, perhaps two most original and/or prominent Yugoslav constructions. Furthermore, instead of tracing usual path of nationalisms and intolerances that lead to the war, Jakovljevic discovers lesser-known aspects of Yugoslav political situation(s), such as the failure of the self-management and Slobodan Milosevic’s blatant economic crimes that also contributed to the war(s) and bloody dissolution. Jakovljevic rightly points out that self-management, as official doctrine of Yugoslav political economy, is rarely, if ever, mentioned, even in the waves of nostalgia for former Yugoslavia; however he sees radical changes in the status of self-management as the heart of Yugoslav demise, actually, he goes even further in concluding that the destruction of both coincided!
Furthermore, with the triumph of neoliberalism, the discourse of Yugoslav self-management, as a model of alternative economy, moved from international policy-making forums, where it was a regular agenda item during the Cold War, to alternative art exhibitions and publications. In the introduction of the book, Jakovljevic cites many artistic projects as indicative of a “social turn” in making and exhibiting art that has taken place in Europe and the United States since the beginning of the 21st century: This “socially engaged art” (SEA) is highly participatory and performance-based form of artistic practice and considers art and its institutions as uniquely positioned to address social issues and generate solutions to local political and economic problems. It is a hybrid, multi-disciplinary activity that exists somewhere between art and non-art and depends on actual social action.
However, while most critics and scholars, who write about recent social art practice, tend to privilege its historical precedents in Western Europe and the United States, Jakovljevic offers a more inclusive and balanced account of participatory and socially engaged art in former East Europe and Yugoslavia, contextualizing it not only with the prevailing social climate but also with other artistic movements in Western and Eastern Europe. The manuscript, Alienation Effects blurs the boundaries of dissident art in the former East and critical art in the former West. Finding itself on the margins of the Cold War geopolitical, economic, and cultural fault lines, the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia became an important focal point for understanding art practices of the late twentieth century, not only as an exception from a generalized divide between capitalist West and socialist East, but as “a prism for discerning fine-grained structures of artists’ engagement with the ‘social’ that escape broad ideological divisions” (Jakovljevic). Even more so, in this book, the author is not concerned only with past forms of representational, or “symbolic” art, but also with “actual” artistic practice. In other words, “art as a social product is inseparable from art as a social relation”.
Departing from “challenging and most rewarding aspects of Foucault’s analysis of mechanism of power”, Jakovljevic manages to analyze various social processes in Yugoslavia beyond an ideological framework and points out how self-management was more important than considered: it was the instrument of Yugoslavia’s transfer from a disciplinary to a security society. Because the system was never completed, over the years it turned from a primary security apparatus into a crisis generator. As the author rightly points out, all governments that emerged from Yugoslavia’s ruins, that is seven new states, regardless of their differences, have one thing in common, their disdain for self-management. They ruthlessly destroyed and cancelled it, in order for their security societies to survive and prosper.
Even though, Jakovljevic starts with Foucault’s investigation of governmentality, his manuscript is not Foucauldian analysis of Yugoslavia and its demise, but a performance studies approach to a large-scale historical events, concentrating on performances of great magnitude ranging from mass spectacles, through macro-economics, juxtaposing them with small-scale performances from the early semi-illicit performance works, to body art of the seventies, to other original and less original artistic movements in Yugoslavia. Because the history and functioning of Yugoslav alternative economy of self-management is so rarely discussed in historical literature of Yugoslavia, Jakovljevic engaged himself into a detailed explanation of its nature, using it as a conceptual frame from performance broadly construed that emerged outside of the narratives of post-industrial capitalism that are by now very well developed within performance studies. Thus, Jakovljevic’s attempt to talk about “Europe’s other” using the same methodology has its full justification.
It should be also noted that Yugoslav self-management was not initiated by workers themselves but by political elites. According to Branislav Jakovljevic, “by employing mechanisms of desire, typical for security societies, self-management was integrated into all aspects of the society”. With the introduction of self-management in 1950, the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia started its long and never fully completed transition from a disciplinary to a security system. Yugoslavia was the first state ever that, through a governmental decree, introduced workers’ self-management as an official form of industrial organization, and as an integral part of its economic and political system. It evolved over decades into a complex socio-political system of government, and because it was established within a single-party political system, it could be defined as socialist self-management.
Numerous reforms of Yugoslav economic and political system undoubtedly left traces on the very structure of the society. To this we can add a common opinion that the situation of arts and artists in Yugoslavia was totally different than in the rest of the socialist world: everything evolved in very special social and political conditions, such were self-management, non-alignment, and internal internationalism. Seen from this perspective, the state that supported the Student Cultural Center (SKC) in Belgrade, as well as the Student Cultural Center in Ljubljana (Študentski kulturni center, or ŠKUC), had the power to create the impression of an “avant-garde” society so lasting that it outlived the country itself. Therefore, it is particularly interesting the case of Belgrade’s Center (SKC) that was a secluded area for experimental and avant-garde performances between 1960’s and 1970’s. When it comes to SKC and other similar institutions in the former Yugoslavia they were part and parcel of the sweeping institutional reforms implemented at Belgrade University in the wake of June 1968. The emergence of conceptual art in Yugoslavia, took place within the culture of socialist aestheticism marked by the unspoken agreement between artists and authorities to uphold to the boundaries between the political and the aesthetic.
In Yugoslavia as elsewhere, performance art had already begun to emerge in the 1950s. However, Jakovljevic argues, it was at the beginning of the 1970s that it became a recognized and autonomous public art form. Unlike other instances of “global conceptualism” that gained prominence in the wake of 1968, the “new artistic practice”, as it was known in Yugoslavia, represented not only a new approach to art production, but also a new form of organization within state-supported art institutions. Among their activities, these institutions included not only the production and exhibition of art, but also the education of artists and critics, and the integration of art with social action. “Under conditions of Yugoslavia’s socialist self-management, performance art took on the task of the emancipation of labor, not from industrial exploitation and alienation, but from official discourse”. Jakovljevic recognized this as the main emancipatory project under Yugoslav self-management, intuited by a small group of artists, critics, and their audiences who were gathering in state-funded cultural and artistic centers. These institutions became platforms for new artistic practice in Yugoslavia and its representatives, such as Marina Abramovic, Rasa Todosijevic, Era Milivojevic, and Goran Djordjevic in Belgrade; Slavoj Zizek,Tomaz Salamun, and David Nez in Ljubljana. Braco Dimitrijevic in Sarajevo; Mladen Stilinovic and Sanja Ivekovic in Zagreb.
This is even more important because for a brief moment in the aftermath of 1968, and within the confines of state-funded art institutions in Yugoslavia, the protagonists and supporters of the “new artistic practice” saw process art and self-management as inseparable, thus bringing in the closest possible proximity two poles of a broad semantic range of “performance”. However, limited and short lived, this idea of integral social art practice did not emerge in opposition to the art market or state censorship; instead, according to Jakovljevic, it claimed industrial democracy at home and conceptual art practices from abroad as its dual origin. In this sense, particularly interesting is the chapter that deals with one of Marina Abramovic’s early performances, Flaming Star/Rhythm 5 and a visit of Joseph Beuys in Student Cultural Center in 1974. This action, performed in the backyard of Belgrade’s Student Cultural Center, quickly became one of the defining works of her career, and as such became a subject of a number of interpretations, many of which mystified the event. Jakovljevic’s aim here is not to correct interpretation or dispel mystification, but to take this iconic performance as a starting point for discussion of a complex web of cultural and historical relations in Yugoslavia of the mid-1970s. At this historical juncture, the ideology of self-management was going through the most dynamic period of its theoretical and legal reforms since the days of its inception in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Notwithstanding, the relationship between Abramovic and Beuys could be also red as paradigmatic, to what can be defined as so-called “second-hand knowledge” (Ana Vujanovic) of the mainstream political and artistic movements in Europe and the States that at the same time had an original imprint on it. Jakovljevic dedicates a special part of his book to the Yugoslav conceptual artist Goran Djordjevic, as one of the protagonists of the so-called analytic art and whose work on copies of modern art, offers an extraordinarily accurate critique of the fundamental problem of the Yugoslav (representational) economy and art that started in the late 1970s and then went out of control in the 1980s. Namely, Djordjevic’s concept about the “nonsense” of copying Mondrian, Malevich, and of his own “worthless” paintings points to an economy in which the false ground sets up its own logic of equivalencies. By declaring a copy more significant than the original artwork, Djordjevic expressed his indignation toward appropriation and commodification of art. The copyist art is specifically at odds with the capitalist market infrastructure of the art world: it does not fit well in the traditional collecting practices of contemporary art, and the prevailing cult of the individual artist becomes problematic.
This second-hand knowledge could be recognized in Yugoslav creation of self-management: On the one hand, Yugoslavia was the first state ever to introduce self-management as an official form of industrial organization and an integral part of its economic and political system; while on the other, self-management remained historically tied to a whole spectrum of political ideas associated with labor movements outside of Yugoslavia. As a result, attempts to define, historicize, and theorize self-management in Yugoslavia and abroad, primarily in France, have been intertwined and often contradictory. Jakovljevic accurately noted that significantly, both in France and in Yugoslavia, the idea of self-management was informed by experience of interwar avant-garde artistic associations, and carried forward either by former members of avant-garde groups or by their self-appointed heirs. The integration of artistic and social practice, characteristic for post-WWII continental Europe, emerged as the most feasible alternative to the doctrinaire socialism imposed by Soviet Union on its acknowledged and unacknowledged zones of influence. In France, the legacy of surrealism was particularly influential among such groups as Situationist International, and for journals such as Socialisme ou Barbarie, as well as for individual thinkers, among them Henry Lefebvre. Although not easy to discern, this same legacy propelled the establishment of self-management in Yugoslavia. During the 1920s and 1930s a prominent surrealist group was active in Belgrade. Unlike the French surrealists who, remained “revolutionaries without revolution”, many Belgrade surrealists joined the communist underground resistance, and some of them rose to the very top of the Yugoslav communist guerilla army. After WWII, and especially in the aftermath of Yugoslavia’s break with the Soviet Union, most of the former surrealists rose to high positions within the Party, state, and cultural institutions.
Finally, Jakovljevic brings in the “case” of Herbert Marcuse, one of the most prominent representatives of the Frankfurt school of critical theory, who had a distinguished role in the development of Yugoslav theoretical Marxism. In a talk entitled “The Realm of Freedom and the Realm of Necessity: A Reconsideration”, which he gave on the small island of Korcula off the coast of Croatia in 1968, Marcuse called for the “transformation of work itself”, which would come not only through a revolutionary change in production relations but through the “emergence and education of a new type of man” with the ultimate goal of creating a whole new humanity.
Marcuse’s presence in Yugoslavia during that summer, while his name resounded in protests on American campuses and on the streets of major European cities, was of seminal importance. (One of the slogans on the European streets was, Marx, Mao, Marcuse.) He had been associated with the Korcula Summer School since its first session in the summer of 1964. Internationally recognized leftist philosophers such as Henri Lefebvre, Ernst Bloch, Lucien Goldmann, and Eugen Fink contributed to the worldwide reputation and the prestige of the summer school, and to some degree, protected it from pressures at home. Organized by the same group of Zagreb philosophers who edited the journal Praxis during its decade-long lifespan (1964-1974), the Korcula Summer School became an annual showcase for the so-called “Praxis philosophy”, which, along with the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research (the Frankfurt School), ranked as one of the most prominent centers of critical and unorthodox Marxism in Europe.
Marcuse’s thought could be defined as fundamental for the performance principle of this book: According to Marcuse, the performance principle represents the very essence of alienated labor. The “modern individual” is reduced to an “instrument of alienated performance”, save for a few hours of leisure that offers a possibility of experiencing pleasure and happiness. However, if, as McKenzie argues, performance studies barely acknowledged Marcuse’s notion of performance, Jakovljevic is bringing him back in the main discourse of performance studies. Marcuse is given a particular attention in this manuscript, especially because, according to McKenzie, Marcuse was ignored by the performance studies: the formative years of this discipline coincided with the swing in the opposite direction. In the late 1960s, as it was in the early 20s (Italian futurism and Russian constructivism) the general perception was that aesthetic performance comes to inform and transform industrial performance, into un-alienated, authentic labor.
The most progressive thinkers in Yugoslavia during the 1960s identified this kind of labor not only with self-management, but also with an expanded notion of human activity they recognized as praxis (Aristotle). The major accomplishment of 1968 in Yugoslavia was to establish a clear distinction between “integral self-management”, which is to say, self- management as a self-organizing community of subjects, and self-management as a legitimizing discourse of an ideological state apparatus. Yugoslav authorities responded by choosing the second option, which resulted in a massive adoption of disciplinary techniques.
According to Jakovljevic, poststructuralist performance in Yugoslavia offers two insights into 1968’s aftermaths. The first one is local and specific: the nationalist subject of the 1990s that devoured Yugoslavia did not emerge from some medieval national identities (Serbian, Croat, etc.) that were locked for centuries in a state of dormancy, but from vulgar conceptualization of selfhood based on interest as the key concept of self-management as an ideological discourse. The second one is more general, and it expands on the first one: the disaster that capitalism inflicts on the subject is not in imposing a structure that is alien to it, but in appropriating its foundational property of compensatory sociality.
Jakovljevic is also investigating textual practices throughout recent history. Actually, this is a book that engages with history in its mode of approach to performance as an event, but also how it is narrated. This book deals with a so-called ‘eventalization’, because it deals with historical performance, but it is not a survey of performance in Yugoslavia, rather an evental analysis of several significant intersections between different kinds of performances and their interpretation within a historical context. Thus, each of this “evental imbrication” calls for a different methodology, combining archival materials and interviews, and also some personal experience. In a way, Jakovljevic started to write this book twenty years ago, when he was forced to leave the country in order to avoid military service and he was writing it all the time, collecting articles and different archival material, albeit without a clear focus in the beginning. Therefore, his methodology comes close to the way Eric Hobsbawm wrote his books on 20th century history, departing from a personal account to arrive to more general conclusions. Jakovljevic placed onto himself to write this book almost as his farewell to a country that once was, which obviously was not an easy task to accomplish but rather a heroic deed, which he performed with great compassion and high accuracy.
It is obvious, even at the first glance, that we are dealing with a very significant and impassioned book that is, in a way, long overdue. It should be noted that most concepts put forth in this book are meant to animate and inspire further interdisciplinary research. The book is intended not only for performance studies scholars but also to a more general public not only because it represents an excursus in recent history but also because it contributes to expansion of performance studies methodology. Therefore, I strongly recommend the editor to publish this manuscript as soon as possible first for its historical accuracy and then for theoretical innovation.
Aleksandra Jovicevic is a professor at La Sapienza University, Rome, Italy.