In 1975, the Yugoslav neo-avant-garde artist of Hungarian descent, Katalin Ladik, performed an action entitled Identification (Identifikacija) on the stairs of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. The occasion of her visit to the Austrian capital was a group exhibition presenting Yugoslav avant-garde art, in which she figured as one member of the Vojvodinian Bosch+Bosch group (1969–1976).The documentation of the piece took the form of two photographs, the first one shows her standing in front of a long Yugoslav flag hanging from the first floor, above the stairs, leading to the entrance of the prestigious Viennese institution, the second one presents her behind the flag.
The first position obviously questions the broad and general concept of historical, political and social identification. “I was playing with a possible scenario, with the idea of representing something that I would assume or not, like a role play, questioning the political, or any recognized and accepted schema, while I was there representing a country, in a position in which there were a lot of expectations, and the flag of this country was weighing on me as a burden” — she explained to me on the phone, in Hungarian. The Cold War situation, in which a Yugoslav artist visited a Viennese institution, certainly placed a playfully bitter emphasis on this geopolitical scene and its power relations. “These stairs, they were the road to the world” — the artist specified, underpinning the immense — today somewhat stereotypical — opportunity she saw in having an exhibition in Vienna, the gate of Western Europe.
Katalin Ladik, Pseudo-presence. performance, 1972, Zagreb. courtesy acb Gallery
The second position, on the contrary, discomfortingly points to a specifically regional gender-related situation: the bottom of the flag covers the face of the artist, leaving only her body visible and transposing the question of identification in the troubling realm of physicality. When I questioned her about this second photograph, and shared my unease with her, she developed her view: “In this common block, in this common conscience, individuality and thought disappear… By being a part of a group in a collective exhibition, I disappeared as an individual. Having my face covered by the flag, I also lost my individual identity as a woman by becoming an average Yugoslav woman. This led to numerous questions and dilemmas”.
On an individual level, the action scans layers of identification ranging from the citizen’s general status as political entity, through their relation to state power, institutional authority, a culture or a higher social class, especially the 19th century bourgeoisie, to their belonging to a political block in a Cold War situation. It also touches the politicization of the woman and her body as a biological, social entity and national property, or simply the condition of the artist as a woman in a highly patriarchal system. On a broader scale, the piece forecasts how societies of the (not only post-communist) Eastern Bloc countries shape their contemporary identity, relate and identify with their past and/or present in the luring light of Western Europe and the European Union.
This series of field exercises aims to decline and explore contexts and practices of identification — as an individual or collective process — through the work of five contemporary women artists from Central-Eastern Europe, who are inherently embracing this concept in a broader and more subtle way, and are developing, in their contexts and processes, distinctive narratives reflecting the specificities of the region. These contexts and practices will be voiced by Katarina Šević (Serbia/Hungary), Šejla Kamerić (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Tatiana Fiodorova (Moldova), Jasmina Cibic (Slovenia) and Luiza Margan (Croatia/Bulgaria).