SULUV, Novi Sad, Serbia
The Body Book project MP_exp_19 BODY BOOKS represents a complex artistic enterprise. Its uniqueness lies largely in the fact that the work is made up of two “chapters”, the first one realised way back in 1975, as an original work conceived by Predrag Šiđanin, while the other is being carried out through mutual efforts in the present moment (2011) by the members of the art (pseudo)group – MP_art, Maja Budžarov and Predrag Šiđanin. Thus the project produced an effective synthesis of the two autonomous concepts, in which the artists merge the differently coded time periods of the world and art.
The original Body Book emerged during the 1970s, in the midst of those neo-avant-garde events in Yugoslav and European art that cultivated the self-reflexive, analytical, critical and theoretical explorations into nature and art. At the time, the then young conceptual artist Predrag Šiđanin examined the relationship between art theory and media in culture and the art world, as well as linguistic definitions within his own work/practice that conclude with a typically semiological “result”. Page after page, Šiđanin’s book tautologically, in a monotonous repetition of the same iconographic pattern, persuades in the logic of the idea of a book as an art object. The layout of each page is identical: in the photograph of a seated (headless) female nude, between her crossed legs, there is a book with a visible front page. In such a setting Šiđanin sees “syncretism of symbols” since he relieves the nude female body in these photographs of its sensuality in an attempt to see it “stay on the margins of symbolism and as a static entirety (that repeats itself as an entirety) expand into an architectural exteriority and a foundation to be built upon, while joined with the other symbol (display) of the semantically defined existing titles, constitute a semiological union“. However, due to the evident time distance, one should bare in mind today that the female body in these photographs, although “stripped of its sensuality, was strongly associated with the process of liberation of sexuality at the time when this series of photographs was shot; and accordingly with the specific sensibility that was brought to the entire art of the seventies and to Šiđanin’s work by this emancipation. Furthermore, the titles of the books (Kunst ↔ Praxis Heute; Kunst ist Utopie, Leben und Kunst, Il corpo come linguaggio – la „Body art“ e stori simili…), names of the authors (Karin Thomas, Germano Celant, Heinz Ohff, Udo Kultermann…) and the art concepts recognizable in the titles of exhibition catalogues of the time (Video by Artists; Projecte, Concepte & Actionen; Visuelle Komunikation) discreetly point to the nature of interests and designations of a conceptual artist in the 1970s… The “use” of photography is another focus of interest in this work: that was the time when photography was appropriated into the then contemporary art, that was the moment when photography was regarded as a “new medium” (in art), a specific phenomenon that overpowered and suppressed the then domination of “Gutenberg galaxy” and an occurrence that foreshadowed the emergence of “visual communications” and foresaw technological hyper production of images of today’s “iconosphere” (M. Porempski)…
In any case, this work by Predrag Šiđanin, Body Book (1975), is a representative example of conceptual art. The entire idea was carried out consistently, rationalistically, cerebrally… Šiđanin’s book-installation, like other representative achievements in Yugoslav art of that time (Černik, Bogdanović, Pogačnik, Radovanović and Martek among others), with its shape, visuality and theoretical content, represents a synthesis of the book-object and the book-medium. With its constant analytical problematizing of artistic discourse and mental representations in art, and its three-and-a-half-decade-old patina, this book unexpectedly exceeds its own analyticity and delves into the space of subjectivism and atypical nostalgia… After all, it is still a work of art and an artistic document about the world and art…
The decision to continue the work on Body Book arose from Predrag Šiđanin and Maja Budžarov’s artistic collaboration and the nature of their art practice on the art scene of the first decade of the new millennium. This couple’s art activism is based on joint expressions embodied in physical (performance) and meditative manifestations (picture/text/object). This primarily conceptual understanding of art, as well as self-reflexive investigation of artistic processes, has proven effective in the present-day context as well. The discreet restoration of modernism in Serbian and Vojvodina art that took place during a truly severe crisis period at the now already completed turn of the millennia (wars, exclusion from the international community, record inflation and continuing economic crisis, NATO’s bombing campaign, constant political ferment, painful and debilitating transition), pointed to the importance of the “artist-specialist who like an expert acts in his own field, art” (J. Denegri), offering a “recipe” for surviving the epochal crisis, since “art has a right to uniqueness – not in order to isolate itself, but to set an example to other learnings and other practices” (F. Mena).
In their performances initiated in the space of personal intimacy, MP_art most often assume the role of an outspoken critic of numerous manifestations of the world and time in which they work. Some of their “live” works (performances, actions) and exhibitions were transformed by the couple through postproduction into books: MP_book_01 DECLARATIVE ART, MP_book_02 non><EROTICA cyber reality fiction and MP_book_03 body book in which this text was published. These new books are again placed in the very same position in which the books from 1975 were placed. However, the nude, that was in the previous Šiđanin’s work “a static entirety repeating itself as an entirety and expanding into an architectural exteriority”, is no longer a photographic representation, but a painted (acrylic on canvas) seated nude replicating the exact same pose from the 1975 photographs. And if the nude photographs in the original book could have been regarded as representations devoid of sensuality – this time that simply could not be said. The reason is that a painted picture possesses and emanates expressiveness; it in itself represents an echo of the artist’s sensuality… At this moment in time painting has regained its privileged status since it preserves the human origin of art in the midst of global hyperproduction of mechanical, electronic, onscreen and other non-handmade pictures. This hitherto unseen and unexperienced competition of pictures has lead to the situation Yves Michaud characterizes as “art in a gaseous state”. Art no longer strives toward metaphysical messages about the meaning of existence but engages with existential questions of the multicultural, global, technologically advanced world that is also threatened by many crises. Thus art focuses on the issues of identity, and that very “identity assumes to itself constraints of the body, progress of its artificialisation and manipulation by the media, as well as its own instrumentalisation (doping, aesthetic surgery)”… Clearly not by accident, MP_art address the subject of the body and thus “attune” their production with the latest art tendencies. However, the project of merging Šiđanin’s photographed “nude with the book” from the 1970s with the painted nude produced by MP_art in the first decade of the new century¹ – is not only directed toward assertion of a single concept/conceptual proposal. The project rationally perceives, reflects upon and expresses the consequences of social processes. And thanks to their complex temporal and spiritual scope, to all the suggestive interpretations and synthesized meanings, these artworks by Maja Budžarov and Predrag Šiđanin are fully capable of preserving and stimulating artistic and human dignity at the heart of a truly epochal crisis of the society we live in.
¹ Pictures produced by MP_art were painted by Maja Budžarov. Paintings of the nude with books used in this project come from this multimedia artist’s impressive series of painted (auto)nudes.