- Goran Petrovic Lotina - Impossible Identity and Instability of Representational Forms
in the work of Dejan Kaludjerovic

text by Goran Petrovic Lotina
proofread by Sarah Jones and Theodora Adekunle

Questions about relations between art and politics, and possibilities for art to play a critical role in our post-political era, are again on the agenda today. Like Documenta, and the Berlin Biennial, a recent event “Truth is Concrete” - a 24/7 marathon camp on artistic strategies in politics, and political strategies in art (Steirischer Herbst Festival Graz - 2012) - brought together various artists and theorists to debate this issue, among others Chantal Mouffe, Oliver Marchart, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Charles Esche. Against the mainstream view which separates art and politics, political theorist Chantal Mouffe advocates constitutive and inevitable relation between them. Drawing upon Gramsci's notion of “common sense”, which is “thought through culture”, Mouffe (2012, p. 10) ascribes the arts a focal point in our construction of reality. Our discursively constructed reality, she says, implies power relations which cultural practices either sustain, or challenge by calling upon dislocation of the current hegemonic order (Mouffe 2007). In this regard, it is possible for us to conceive how cultural practice that starts from the non-conformist position, becomes a part of the dominant artistico-political system: it challenges particular hegemonic order and transforms it by creating new forms of subjectivity. It is precisely at this point that the political dimension of art is revealed.

Towards politics of agonistic pluralism
Kaludjerovic's oeuvre should be most likely envisaged in this light. His work possesses overall logic to challenge a given symbolic order through the recognition of eventual recurrences, and to try to reveal their (un)truth by questioning memory, power of capital, and stability of representational forms. In this regard, he references cultural exemplars from the 1970's onwards – within the specific socio-political condition of “bourgeois socialism” in former Yugoslavia – to raise time and again, questions about values of present time, for the generations to come. In the repository of childhood, that is the abundant symbolic register wherein our “impossible identity” appears, Kaludjerovic seeks those socially constructed objects we once identified with in favour of our present fantasmatic reality. He takes us on a journey through the world of cartoons, comic books, fairy tales, shopping magazines, toys and playgrounds, in attempt to recover his identity formation. Employing subversive visual methods, he locates the origin of the “inherent” character of the dominant power mechanisms of our present time and identity construction, as driven by the laws of capital. By illustrating how once dominant representational forms dislocated from their hegemonic position, that is partially detached from the dominant politics, may still challenge our reality, Kaludjerovic acknowledges that every hegemonic socio-symbolic order, although temporary, does not disappear by being dislocated. Its existence continues in contestation with other representational forms, that is, in Lefort's (1988) terminology, within “the regime” that confirms the plural, agonistic and transformative nature of the society. According to Mouffe (1993, p. 77), the identity of such a precarious society exists within a diversity of discourses, temporarily fixed at the point of intersection of multiplicity of subject positions and in continuous process of identification. This is relational and, I would suggest an even more precise term, contingent identity. In this regard, it is possible for us to envisage how Kaludjerovic “confronts the social untruth embedded in cultural artefacts in order to set free the potential truth that is also latent in them” (Ray in Stavrakakis 2012, p. 553), and that was subjugated to the dominant knowledge forms of economies and history at a particular moment. Thereby, he reassesses rearticulation of contingent artistic practices and ontology of the arts on the one hand, and identity construction on the other.

Towards ethics of the real
The main subjects of Kaludjerovic's work, are the conjunction between consumerism and childhood, through which identity formation and stability of representational forms are questioned. His paintings, drawings, objects, videos and installations, are inspired by children's books and cartoons, and advertisements that used to place children at the kernel of consumerism. For example, the series of carbon paper drawings on toilet paper (1997) illustrate scenes and characters from the novels, The Three Little Pigs, The Wizard of Oz, Hansel and Gretel and alike; paintings from the series Can I Change My Career for a Little Fun? (Love and Rockets, 2007; Stripe Boy, 2009) relate to contemporary products of pop culture, namely the Happy Tree Friends cartoon; children posing for underwear advertisements, from the cycle The Future Belongs To Us (Pinocchio Boy, 2003), find references in the 1970's and 1980's shopping catalogues; while, Oscar Wilde's fairy tale Happy Prince, subserved as a pretext for the series of drawings titled Fear, Selfishness, Power, Indigo (Power), Mud, Rich, Corporation (2012). These works show how children, through identification with objects from their childhood, are immersed in cultures of consumption in such a way that every aspect of their lives is touched by a buy-and-consume mode. Kaludjerovic finds it necessary to examine the impact of consumerism in order to assess identity formation and development in youth. Behind once carefree childhood, filled with funny games, tender stories and cheerful idols, he locates frightening and threatening forces, that are than disclosed in the titles, themes, tones and motives of his work. For example, while outlining Oscar Wilde's Happy Prince on six panels, Kaludjerovic highlights the words “fear, selfishness, power, mud, rich and corporation”, to draw attention to potential narratives and messages that may lay covert. Such collusive sensations that are often hidden behind attractively designed and popular products, reveal manipulating and coercive disciplinary power of a dominant universalist order, aimed at sustaining, through capital and consumerism, an image of a coherent and homogenous society. This practice shows how neoliberalism suspends differences through abstraction; by converting them into sets of preferences, that is taste, which judges what is good and what is bad (Chakrabarty 2007, p. 48). This way, neoliberalism employs moral imperatives that are not adequate for thinking about ethics and politics anymore, precisely because they engage antagonism by debating what is good and what is bad. Instead, the idea of dislocating and multiplying “good” rather than trying to reach a harmony of it (Stavrakakis 1999, p. 131), may provide an opportunity for the ethics of disharmony, a project which Alenka Zupancic (2000) elaborated in her book Ethics of the Real. Overcoming moral imperatives, which are a result of a traditional distinction between good and bad, these ethics strive to recognise “the lack” in the Other (Lacan) as a new bond among citizens (Zupancic 2000, p. 41), and recognize us as divided, heterogenous and agonistic subjects. This is what Kaludjerovic's work engages with. By evoking sensations of unease and discomfort, through the multiplication of attractive and seductive popular motives, and by stressing the ambiguous character of represented forms and objects, his “images” underline how innumerous material messages encourage purchasing behaviour and consumption, in order to sustain a unifying subject of the liberal hegemonic order. By pointing to these (sometimes) hidden, however deeply embedded conventions within our reality, Kaludjerovic calls for the dislocation of the existing political order, by moving towards a critic of the dominant symbolic order. This movement aims “to thematise our own attachment [...] to servitude”, to acknowledge precarious character of every symbolic construction (Stavrakakis 2012, p. 565) and recognise the other as a condition for a personal freedom. His work suggests a need for a transformation act to be undertaken already in the childhood, in order to “decolonize” it from the dominant politics and economic logic.

Kaludjerovic inquiry into the subject of identity and sociability, is not random or isolated from the specific socio-politic context of former Yugoslavia, where he spent his youth. For example, the print What Did Tomorrow Bring Us? (2001) shows the artist's parents, photographed in the 1970's, on a bridge, most likely taken during the time of popular journeys to the innumerous sites of 'natural beauty of Yugoslavia'. It actually consists of two pictures put together showing exactly the same place - on the left is a picture of the artist's mother taken by his father, who is to be seen on the right side, photographed by the artist’s mother. However, the subject of this photo-montage moves beyond a quest for the artist's origin, or remnants of a past that influenced construction of his symbolic identity and sociability. It makes us question those forces that lead to a break up of an idea, that is, a displacement of a specific social order. In this particular case, we are witnessing an instability of a social order once associated with the idea of a unity constituted on the basis of a ethnic, cultural and religious diversity in former Yugoslavia.

Towards a dislocation of neoliberalism
For his solo show at Galerie Van De Weghe in Antwerpen, Kaludjerovic has produced an installation that immerses an image of L. Frank Baum's, Tin Man, from the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), with a children's swing. In the manner of his previous projects, this piece too reflects the artist's inquiry into (in)stability, that is, the truth of representational forms. This installation with two arm-like beams, bearing a swing on one, and a video on the other, has the head of the frightening, although smiling, face of the Baum's character. Initially associated with the carefree childhood (interpreted by way of the swing), this installation, upon secondary reading, evokes the sensation of the lack of self-confidence and instability, typical for all the characters of this novel - for Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion as much as for Tin Man himself. This feeling is confirmed in the video Keine Angst vor kleinen Tieren (No Fear from Small Animals) from 2004, which is projected on a hanging panel and establishes a(n) (in)balance with the empty swing on the opposite side of the beam. In the video, almost in stillness, three kids are restaging the scene on a poster-advertisement for children's garments, visible behind them. The poster bears the same title Keine Angst vor kleinen Tieren originally published in the German fashion magazine Burda, at the beginning of the 1980's. On this poster, three kids are dressed up in rabbit, cat and dog pattern rompers. A boy and a girl are standing, and the boy is pushing a carrot into the mouth of a second girl who is sitting between them. This scene, once accepted as an appropriate image of commodity, restaged in a contemporary context, reveals explicit sexual allusions. Keine Angst vor kleinen Tieren emphasizes the instability of representational forms, by setting free a potential truth hidden under cultural artefacts, thereby revealing politics and economic forces that had once established a social order. In other words, it shows how art participates in representation's “submission of subjectivity” under modern structures of power (Foucault 1995). In this regard, it is possible for us to conceive that power lies in the constructed symbolic order of the dominant ideologies, rather than in the representational form itself. This argument is reminiscent of Lacan's writing on signifier. According to Lacan, a signifier is the locus of the power, that offers to the subject/object stable representation through identification. However, identification is to be established within unstable and transformative politics, ideologies and other socially constructed objects, meaning that the subject/object is constitutive of socio-political life that is temporary, uncertain and transformative. In accordance, the empty swing, hanging opposite the video, may suggest a signified place which appears as the locus of the power that, according to Lefort (1988, p. 17), remains an empty space only to be temporarily occupied, in order to challenge and dislocate a dominant order symbolized here, by the video projected on the other side of the beam. Several questions arise here: what is this empty place to be filled with and to what degree are we able to decide about its truth? Which representational form does it anticipate? The artist himself has already suggested a potential answer to these questions. In order to draw attention to it I will paraphrase the titles of one of the artist's pieces and one of his series, What Did Tomorrow Bring Us? and The Future Belongs To Us: it is the future that brought us, that (still) belongs to us; and it is to be anticipated in our present time, as a prospect of continuous re-institution and dislocation, which is to be an engine for a particular kind of sensitivity.

Most of Kaludjerovic's work employs a process of creating patterns, simulating mechanical reproduction; either when he manually outlines Oscar Wilde's fairy tale Happy Prince on 6 panels, repeats a single motif of Pinocchio to create a fond for a drawing (Pinocchio Boy, 2003), or records the song Je suis malade (2008 - ) time and again. Filmed in the same fashion, the Je Suis Malade videos, feature a child striking the same pose in front of a dark backdrop. A boy or a girl performs Serge Lama's famous song Je suis malade, from 1973. The song is always performed in the original French, although the children are not familiar with the language. This piece of art, produced through multiplication of “the same” audio-visual motif, does not only assert how “goods know no language”, it also tells the story about a childhood that anticipates adulthood, through the process of identification with the world of parents. The act of repetition and multiplication of motives that is often present in Kaludjerovic's work, just like in the video Je Suis Malade, indicates those forces that aim at sustaining a social concept of totality and homogeneity, embedded in popular culture and the constructed symbolic order. However, by introducing slight variations, within the process of reiteration of particular motives, Kaludjerovic asserts difference at the core of repetition.

Towards mobilisation of passions
At the heart of Kaludjerovic's work are sensations of unease and discomfort, that however, does not appear only as a result of repetition, but also as a response to the tone evoked by the empty playgrounds, lascivious and isolated children's portraits, frightening atmosphere, and old objects that were to be found in the playgrounds from the artist's childhood. Such provocative, and sometimes disturbing senses, are designed to mobilize passions, sentiments and language games, in order to provide the conditions for the political project, whose goal is to establish unity, out of conflictual nature and diversity. Such a project, advocated by Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau from their book Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985), acknowledges that alterity and otherness are irreducible, that society as a homogeneous totality is impossible, and that different forces are to be in contestation acknowledging the idea of a dislocated and multiplied conception of “good”. Kaludjerovic's work transforms the subjectivity of the observer by introducing sensations of unease and discomfort whilst remaining aesthetically enjoyable. The subject that Kaludjerovic calls for through his oeuvre is divided and dependent on various subject positions and therefore contingent. It struggles to understand its own attachments to the servitude, in order to never again become fixed in a closed system. Through recycling his own “painterly” motives, and indeed his entire oeuvre, the artist further accentuates this process.

Sources:
Chakrabarty, D 2007, Provincializing Europe, Princeton University Press.
Foucault, M 1995, Discipline and Punishment, Vintage.
Lefort, C 1988, Democracy and Political Theory, Oxford.
Mouffe, C 1993, The Return of the Political, Verso.
Mouffe, C & Laclau, E 1985, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, Verso.
Mouffe, C 2012, 'De kunst van kritische kunst.' in Rekto Verso No. 52. pp. 9-12.
Mouffe, C 2007, 'Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces', in Art and Research 1 / 2. Accessed on April 26, 2013. http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v1n2/mouffe.html.
Stavrakakis, Y 1999, Lacan & the Political, Routledge.
Stavrakakis, Y 2012, 'Challanges of Re-politicisation', in Third Text 26/5. pp. 551-565.
Zupan?i?, A 2000, Ethics of the Real, Verso.

Text by Goran Petrovic Lotina
Text proofread by Sarah Jones and Theodora Adekunle
On the occasion: Dejan Kaludjerovic, solo exhibition The Future Belongs To Us? @ Galerie Van De Weghe, Antwerp, January – March 2013

Goran Petrovic Lotina (Brussels) is a PhD researcher at the University of Ghent (Belgium), at the Department of Theatre, Performance and Media Arts. His research combines performance theory with a post-foundational political philosophy. Petrovi? has been working as a freelance curator and producer in visual and performing arts and film.