Tobias Putrih – Internal Affairs
October 1st, 2021 – January 15, 2022
Opening: October 1st, 2021 – 4 to 9 pm
Tobias Putrih: I realized it would be too complicated to ship the cardboard works to Italy. They are simply too fragile without a frame… so I decided to frame them all here. But most of all, I would also like to revise the concept of the show a bit. I have been digging through Slovenian newspapers archives from the ‘50s and collecting images. Mostly around 1950-1953 when a couple of politicians in Yugoslavia decided to brake with Russia and build their own hybrid system between socialism and market economy, they called workers’ self-management. I can write a few paragraphs about it. The title of the show right now is Internal Affairs. But I’ll think about it. My fluorescent work from the late ‘90s would be the central piece in the show. During the last month I also made some wooden sculptures that go along with it and have photographs (actually they are offset printing plates) attached to them. The same plates will be used to print v few page “artist book” in a size of a newspaper. The cardboard pieces will come extra – you can show them in the back. I’ll send you images of the works in the next days and you can tell me which ones you want. All together there are nine of them.
Pinksummer: Did you see Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia 1948-1980 at MoMa and Architecture. Sculpture. Remembrance. The Art of Monuments of Yugoslavia 1945-1991 at Dessa Gallery in Ljubljana? It is Tito who decides in 1948 to brake with Russia making of Yugoslavia, SFRY the leader of not aligned nations, isn’t it? This kind of Yugoslavian Socialism made that modernist architecture in Yugoslavia became so special. When you write about utopia you mean this kind of abstract peculiar language? Utopia is always an island? Yugoslavia has something of Huxley island between the Eastern culture and Western one between NATO and URSS.
TP: Yes, Tito and the rest had to brake from Soviets because they were afraid to take all the land from the partisans who fought during the war and without nationalization of the land Soviet system simply was not viable. So later Kardelj and Kidrič came up with the new social and economic program that was somehow propped up with extensive American funding. Meanwhile Tito was baking apple strudel with Sophia Loren.
PS: On October 3rd, 2011, Slovenian Constitutional Court declared the dedication of Ljubljana’s new road to Josip Broz Tito unconstitutional, because it could be interpreted as a recognition of the previous non-democratic regime and in contrast of the respect and human dignity according to the new Slovenian constitution. It was the first decision made by a judicial body of a democratic state of the former Yugoslavia on Tito’s inheritance. Socialist Yugoslavia represented a sort of prosperous anomaly in the world map, choosing to back out of the Cold War and drawing an alternative path that is somehow uchronic as well as utopian to the two existing power blocs. The starting point of utopias is to identify a single or multiple evil, guilty of a negative social asset against which an alternative was going, outlining a new identity. Did the history of the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia build its first prospect of happiness around the anti-fascist partisan struggle? Was it for this reason that Yugoslavia was never part of the Warsaw Pact like all the countries of NATO? Although history is always much more complex, is it possible that Tito’s Yugoslavia has always remained a post-war country that continued to identify evil in fascisms and good in liberation from fascisms? Was it a mistake not to identify a new true enemy?
TP: As you mention, talking about Yugoslavia’s so called “third way” you have to put everything in perspective. First of all, after the war Tito realized that he simply can’t go forward with Soviet idea of land nationalization. Land was everything what was left to the boys and girls who joined the partizans and fought on his side. So agrarian reform in1948 was a glass half full. It left Stalin angry because the Soviet directives were not followed and as the cap on the land ownership under new reform was relatively small, farming of countless small lots simply became unsustainable. So, they had to invent something new. And this “something new” was a slight turn back towards market economy. It was a pure experiment, imagined by Tito’s right-hand intellectuals Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Đjilas. Of course, Americans were delighted to get on their side someone like Tito able to poke Stalin in his eye, so they pumped money into Yugoslav economy and put Tito on the cover of Times and Life magazine. And of course, Tito played both sides. Soon after Stalin died, Khrushchev realized that Soviets can’t let Yugoslavia slip into American hands and suddenly the country was awash with American and Soviet loans. This was exactly Tito’s main legacy – building a country between two superpowers and inventing in-between economic and social system. He might be able to get it his way if Yugoslavia wasn’t such a fragmented place – different religions, languages and huge difference in economic development between north and south. It worked till 1968, simply because majority believed in the idea of better future. Peasant girl could suddenly go to school and finish university. The economic expansion till mid-sixties was simply amazing. As Bosnian-American writer Aleksandar Hemon described his mother – she believed in the idea of Yugoslavia, beyond nationalism, beyond corrupted West and autocratic East. Yes, Tito was a dictator, but was the one who won the war and said no to Stalin and besides, he was one of them, a locksmith from a small town on Slovenian-Croatian border. The photos of him dancing with Elizabeth Taylor and baking apple strudel with Sophia Loren didn’t hurt. He was a glamorous dictator who had a dark side, but people simply didn’t mind. So, Yugoslavia was something she and many, many people really believed in. But then came disillusionment of 1968, where the old guard simply didn’t understand that to keep nationalism at bay, the idea of progress and constant economic and social alignment was crucial for the country existence. You are maybe right that the old guard who saw the world from the war’s perspective simply didn’t let it go. And from there on it went downhill. Hemon’s parents emigrated to Canada after the hell broke loose and Yugoslavia fell apart. They joined their rebellious son, who after all realized that his parents had something he will never have – they had a belief in the idea that was much larger than individual, a belief they are building better society. No matter how misguided or naive this sounds from today’s perspective, it was probably quite special.
PS: Internal Affairs is the title you gave to your fourth solo show at Pinksummer. Referring to the “Druga Yugoslavia”, it immediately made us think of Heisemberg’s uncertainty principle and the fact that it is impossible to know the details of a system without disturbing it. Certain pairs of complementary physical quantities (external image and internal reality) are not measurable at the same time. In this exhibition you have privileged the measuring instruments to determine the position and the internal electric charge of the former Yugoslavia in those first metabolic and very hybrid 50s. But the outsider cannot be produced by the structure of utopia, just as the foreigner is tolerated only for short periods, the time necessary for them to be able to witness the wonders of the trendy utopia elsewhere, in the case of the former Yugoslavia, more constructive that escapist. Doesn’t every perspective of utopia happiness always gets bogged down on the difficult terrain of social inclusion?
TP: Yugoslavian case is highly idiosyncratic. In 1951 couple of former partisans simply got the task to implement the new system of self-management, the cautious turn back to the market economy. There was no blueprint how to do it, they didn’t know what to expect or where the whole experiment is taking them. For this sort of shift into unknown, you need certain consensus within the society, certain element of fear, even repression, but also hope, expectation of better life, and brighter future. You could say it’s a utopia in terms Édouard Glissant used – utopia as trembling, a state of a constant flux. But question developing this project was perhaps more directed towards nostalgia, nostalgia in a productive sense of exploring side alleys and lateral potentialities of modernity. Svetlana Boym described at length this “off-modern” re-use of the past, sometimes tortured but poetic, and by no means straightforward. Viktor Shklovsky’s metaphor for this sort of approach was a knight’s move in chess, where modernity, is never a state of facts, but constant replay of “what if” scenarios. In that sense an object becomes a marker of a conflicted, state between fear and hope, a narrow line between emptiness and fulfillment, but most of all, a feeling of belonging, being part of communal experience, brighter future. When I was still in Ljubljana, I was close, but never really part of the artists’ community that occupied former army barracks at Metelkova in the early nineties after the fall of Yugoslavia, so for my project “1:1” at Metelkova in Ljubljana in 1999 I had a freedom to ask the same question I’m asking now – could an object reflect such “what if” tension? In the case of Metelkova I was focused on a brief period of social transition of the early nineties, a time of hope and energy, that was never meant to last and in fact it did in part already collapse by the time of my show in 1999. The object in the show was, as you mention, a measuring instrument, a foreign object that didn’t belong there. It was a part to some parallel “what if” universe. The current show is continuation of the same experiment, in this iteration focused further back, in the early 1950s, when the energy was similar, maybe just more amplified, and in both cases, it was a time of a rift that produced enormous collective effort that’s in the center if my interest. So, if you ask me what this show is about, my answer would be – it’s like reenacting a time of belonging. As such it’s masked as a narrative, where viewer has a chance to approach and understand it.
PS: That new society that believed in a better future and knew how to get out of the individual sphere also involved women, the partisans had earned the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia with gun shots together with men. The first post-war constitution of Yugoslavia in 1946 granted full citizenship to women, the right to vote, special protections in the education process. In 1962, just under half of the graduates of the Zagreb Faculty of Architecture were women. Branka Tagik Novak designed the first prefabricated kitchens Svetlana Kana Radević collaborated in Tokyo with the metabolist Kishō Kurowawa. It was believed in the egalitarian distribution of wealth and attention to the female condition was implicit. The condition of Yugoslavia after Tito’s death in 1980 was relatively peaceful in the 1980s; in the 1990s, those who intended to divide society according to ethnic and religious criteria prevailed and heinous crimes such as mass rapes were perpetrated during the wars in the Balkans. Don’t you think that the extreme capitalism in which we live, where wealth is in the hands of a few destined to be less and less can only lead to divisive conditions, including gender, and to a gloomy vision of the future? Don’t you think that a more egalitarian distribution of wealth can herald brighter visions of the future, beyond any sense of belonging to a specific community?
TP: The fact is that Yugoslavia strived to be egalitarian society, but the problem and one of the causes for its eventual downfall was exactly the failure to achieve this goal. Similarly to Italy, income and productivity gap between north and south was enormous in the 50s and in an ethnically and religiously diverse country this was a really hard problem to solve that eventually created resentments on both sides. So, on one hand you can say that the system created relatively egalitarian middle class, but the existence of the middle class was a work in progress, because the industrialization of the country was highly uneven. Looking from a broader perspective, these openings, the states of “trembling” are most of the time triggered by a traumatic event. In Yugoslavia this was a Second World War and later collapse of the country in the early nineties. I’m not sure if such braking points that eventually balance society towards egalitarianism, can be result of a policy or political will. It’s a much rawer, bottom-up force needed for such a seismic shift. Perhaps today during globalism’s push towards uniformity, standardization, and optimization the task of a cultural producer is to nurture a disorienting state of diversity, endless chain of “what if” scenarios, to reimagine and reenact the state of trauma and hope, to remind us on different modes of coexistence and keep us sane.