Nikola Dedić/Aneta Stojnić/ARTMargins Online: As someone who works in the domain of culture, and particularly in the field of performing arts, what would you designate as specific for the scene in Serbia after 2000? How do you see the scene in a wider, regional context?Nikola Dedić/Aneta Stojnić/Art Margins Online

Ana Vujanović: I’ll focus Belgrade, from a regional perspective (Belgrade-Zagreb-Ljubljana-Skopje), as I don’t feel competent enough to speak about the scene in Serbia. Firstly, I wouldn’t say there is one scene. We still have this antagonistic social force that stratifies the scene(s) into the institutional one and the one called independent or autonomous, meaning that it is not established by the state or the cities, nor is it on their annual budgets. In the 1990s, the antagonism was mostly between the late socialist and nationalist regime of Milošević and the cultural institutions that served the state governed by that regime on one side, and the alternative scene that opposed the institutional one, mostly from pro-democratic and pro-European positions. And what is characteristic for the independent scene of the 2000s is that it has gone left. We indeed didn’t have leftist positions on the scene in the 1990s, probably as the left was too corrupted by the regime, while today it’s stronger and stronger as the society is more and more capitalist without ceasing to be nationalist. Here, I refer mostly to the Other Scene initiative. The other characteristic is that the very independent scene has become more complex. So, apart from this self-organized, critically-oriented, and (pro-) leftist segment that pleads for art as a public good, it comprises creative industries and tertiary sector proponents – be they private or NGOs – who by “independent” mean “self-sustainability” and “freedom on the cultural market,” like the Cultural Centre in Grad, for instance. This part is economically independent, but politically close to the new mainstream neo-liberal cultural policy promoted by the liberal and democratic political parties and their cultural fonctionnaires. However, as you might have already concluded from this, the mainstream is not univocal either anymore, and beside the creative industry agenda, there is still a conservative nationally driven cultural policy agenda that now stands clearly on the right.

ND/AS/AMO: How do you see the system of education in Serbia, considering the arts and especially performance?

AV: As far as I’m familiar with, artistic education in Serbia is still predominantly based on the 19th-century idea of art as expression of human creative will. From nowadays’ perspective, it’s maybe interesting to think about how this basically bourgeois paradigm – present also in socialist Yugoslavia – resisted socialist realism as it was promoted in the former socialist countries; and about what it left us with in terms of artistic freedom. But today, I wouldn’t say it’s interesting in any sense. Through the ideas of talent as a natural gift that characterizes certain persons; of the artist as a genius; and of art practice as driven by an individual’s creative force, this approach is in a wider social perspective merely complicit with neoliberal individualism, which is the ideological side of personal interests and private property. And within the frame of the Artworld, it directly leads to the “immaterial civil war” (M. Pasquinelli), where art students and artists compete for the status before that rare, outstanding figure of genius. Hence, it comes as no surprise that the Bologna declaration hasn’t change this system fundamentally; it is only updating it a bit, to make it catch up with new international artistic media, themes, jargons, and market efficiency.

I don’t think performance – or “dramatic arts,” as it is called in Serbia – as a study field is an exception from this concept. Luckily, there are always artists who hold a wider social perspective, choosing rather to (self-) organize independent and alternative initiatives that provide the infrastructures for critical thinking, research, experimentation, and sharing.

ND/AS/AMO: Do you think that the work in the field of (alternative) education can open a new space for subversion, and how?

AV: I don’t think we can speak about subversion when speaking about alternatives. Alternatives – and it is what we mostly do in Belgrade when we want to be pro-active and not only critical – can open new, parallel spaces and cause some small corrections in the official educational and cultural system, and that’s it. I’m not saying that they are delusions or useless because of this; no, the alternative spaces are very important. What I’m saying bitterly is that the power over the whole culture, education, and public sphere in transitional Serbia is in the hands of political parties, and the alternative initiatives cannot subvert or influence it either way, as they are outside this system of political organization. And this smoothly operating system doesn’t communicate, it doesn’t enter public discussions, so all crucial decisions are made in private (of the parties). It is crystal clear, and we have to face it openly, that we need to understand our limits and/or to fight the whole social-political system in order to break it.

ND/AS/AMO: You are known as someone who acts within the so-called independent scene. What are the advantages and what are the lacks (disadvantages?) of choosing this position?

AV: For me, who on the one hand tries to be free to act and on the other has never been attracted by the institutional promise of security, there are no lacks, only advantages. But many people are conformists and prefer to make compromises and to compete for their small quasi-secured slices of the institutional cakes. I’ve never understood them. I’m proud of being an actor of the independent scene in the region; it’s a zone (a TAZ maybe) of critical thinking, solidarity, and free acting in this wild-capitalist context.

ND/AS/AMO: How would you compare the work on the independent scene in local and international contexts?

AV: First of all, how to distinguish the local from the international? From the beginning of my work, I’ve been active in different European contexts, from Belgrade and Yugoslavia, to Paris, Vienna, Berlin and Germany, Madrid, etc. They are all local, and they all have their specific independent scenes, more similar to each other than to what is known as the international scene. And I notice when I go there to work, I’m considered the one who comes from the international scene. So I bother everyone with my socio-political and cultural background in the Belgrade and Yugoslavian contexts, trying to emphasis that there is no a universal international scene. On the other hand, it’s also not a sum of the local scenes; we know it well. Probably the international scene is a Western European–US abstraction which covers the local specificities, placing its own locality as the international. And this might be an explanation why it is the (only) context which doesn’t have “its” independent scene, though many actors of the independent scenes take part in it. I would say, they we should start to claim the international context, acting in a radically naïve, Brechtian manner, “as if” we didn’t see it didn’t belong to us; then an independent scene could appear there.

Ana Vujanović is a freelance cultural worker – theorist, researcher, writer, lecturer, organizer and dramaturge – in the field of contemporary performing arts and culture, based in Berlin, Paris, and Belgrade. She holds a PhD in Theatre Studies. She is a member of the editorial collective of TkH (Walking Theory) platform in Belgrade, and chief editor of TkH journal for performing arts theory. Her particular commitment is empowering the independent scenes in Belgrade and Yugoslavia (Druga scena). She publishes regularly in journals (like TkH, Maska, Frakcija, Teatron, Performance Research, etc.). She is the author of the books Destroying Performance Signifiers, Doxicid, and An Introduction to Performance Studies, with A. Jovićević. In recent years, her research interest has been focused on the intersections between performance and politics in the neoliberal capitalist societies.