What is Balkan? Where is Balkan? Does the Balkan even exist?
There is no doubt that such a place as the Balkans exists, although the highly pejorative associations that the word invokes, combined with the lack of any political or cultural unity, make the region easier to identify as a state of mind or cultural condition than as a place on a map. The geographical, linguistic, and ethnic borders of Balkania have always been contested, and this ambiguity and resistance of classification is in fact one of the first signposts of Balkan territory. In some ways, the Balkans are a considerably more defined region than Central Europe; the geopolitical fate of the Balkans is indeed quite complementary to that of Central Europe in that both share the fate of undefined and unconfined geopolitical space, consisting of various small language groups, nations and states which exist on the periphery of larger nations, language groups and civilizations–between West and East, Christian and Muslim, Latin and Arabic.
Almost everybody has some idea of what “Balkan” means. If we take just a few of the criteria that are most widely used to define the Balkans, the list would probably include definitions such as: place of ethnic tensions, place where old traumas are replayed again and again, place whose inhabitants fear dangerous neighbors across the border, place full of problems which refuses solutions.
A mixture of horrific and exotic qualities has hunted the Balkans from Middle Ages right down to our Modern and Post-Modern times, giving it its stereotypical image. This stereotype is however constructed as an ultimate ambiguity including both: positive-romantic as well as negative-barbaric aspects. As Vampire, a Balcanic type of eternal being thirsting for blood and death represents the ultimate evil which at the same time inspired many writers and film makers to create deeply challenging narratives endowing this subject-character with universal meanings and qualities.
Searching for and imagining the Balkans, we have to acknowledge the complexity of a subject that is not only full of creative potential, historical contradictions and cultural prejudices, recently made infamous throughout the world due to the tragic wars in former Yugoslavia. It is this explosive set of conditions and promises that has recently made the idea of “finding the Balkans” fashionable again in Western Europe, especially in the German-speaking countries where a large number of cultural events dedicated to the Balkans have been held during the last two years.
The exhibition BALKAN VISION, which opens on September 5, 2003 in the Arge-Kunst Galerie Museum in Bolzano, will offer select glimpses into the mystery and phenomenon of the modern Balkans as articulated by the ten artists and video makers presented in the show.
ATHANASIA KYRIAKAOS will execute a //”Coffee performance” to the visitors on the opening night, cooking and serving a real “Turkish” or “Greek” coffee and telling the future from the coffee grinds to those interested in having their futures read or their secrets told by a practioner of an ancient Balkan art. Bulgarian performance artist and fashion designer MARIELA GEMISHEVA will take the viewer into her own vision of fashion and femininity, unlike anything seen in the fashion centers of Italy. Croatian IVANA KESER will display her bold critical statement about the relativity of the borders between the so-called civilized and barbaric worlds. Serbian TANJA OSTOJIC will show the documentation of her radical and provocative work in progress “Looking for a husband with EU Passport. Macedonian //TOME ADIJEVSKI will show us a critical view of European humanitarianism during the former Yugoslav wars. Video by ANDREI UJICA will show us the fall of Nicolae Ceaucescu in Romania. ANRI SALA’s film //Intervista will present a very personal and emotional view of the young Albanian artist’s attempt to come to terms with his mother’s political coming of age under dictator Enver Hoxha Albania. KRISTINA LEKO’s film “Sarajevo International” presents stories of the foreigners who for various reason decided to stay and live in Sarajevo during and after one of the biggest bloodsheds of the last years of the 20th century. If New York is known for homeless people, then Bucharest is known for homeless dogs, whose lives form the touching subject of the film “Dog’s Life” by Romanian cinematographer and film director ALEXANDRU SOLOMON. Finally, the video installation //”Hey You” by Kosova artist ERZEN SHKOLOLLI tells us a poignant story of displacement through the lyrics and images of a local folk singer. Together, these BALKAN VISIONS are intended to create a composite picture which will encourage visitors to think about the Balkans not as a world unto itself, but as a mirror onto all selves, and to recognize the Balkans as a source of archetypes and symbols out of which cities, wars, experiments, ideas and visions have been and still are being composed, irrespective of boundaries or nationalities.