In the city of Belgrade, there is a museum that exhibits many of the gifts received by Marshal [Josip Bros] Tito while he was the head of state [1945–1980] in what was then called Yugoslavia. There are ivory carvings, silver cutlery, and typical artisanal objects from distant countries; there are even fragments of lunar soil, offered by the United States government in 1969. There are also hundreds of photo albums that every school dedicated to the president on his birthday, year after year.
Ana Adamović (1974, Belgrade, Serbia) could be in some of these albums. She belongs to a generation of Serbian artists who were born under Tito's government and who lived, in childhood or in adolescence, through the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Many of the works by these artists deal with the final years of the republic that no longer exists: its values, its customs, its imagery. Such is the case in Two Choirs and My Country is the Most Beautiful of all, the two video installations that Adamović will show at the 34th Bienal.
Two Choirs begins with a photograph found in Adamović's extensive research into the albums that the children gave to the president. The content of the albums is repetitive: there are always scenes taken in the classroom, on national holidays, in sports activities and, in almost all the collections, there is at least one photo of a choir depicting the children singing songs that the black and white photo doesn't allow us to hear. In the case of the album made by the I Institute for the Education of Deaf Children in Zagreb-Ilica in 1962, there is a photograph of a choir where the children sing songs that they themselves cannot hear. The question the artist poses is: was the system so inclusive that it allowed even its deaf citizens – historically excluded – to sing or, on the contrary, was the system so authoritarian that it forced them to sing?
That image was the origin of Two Choirs. But, unlike what is pictured in the photo, Adamović's video shows deaf children performing a 1960s patriotic song in sign language. What we see is a silent group, moving its arms and hands simultaneously, like in a choreographed routine. If in a choir each voice contributes its timbre to create a single mass of sound, in this video we see how the same gesture gains unique characteristics when inhabiting each body.
My Country is the Most Beautiful of all also begins with the image of a children's choir, the Kolibri, founded in 1963. It is the documentation of a concert in Belgrade in 1987, in which ex-choir members joined the children to sing the song that titles the work, a song that exalts the landscapes of spring and winter, and speaks of glory and heroes. In reference to this moment, which brought different generations of the Kolibri choir together on stage, Adamović, another 24 years later, gathered some of the children from 1987 to sing the same song in the same city – but in a different country, where a recent war had left 130,000 dead. The landscapes might have been the same, but speaking of glory and heroes evoked other memories. In both the works Adamović presents here, there is an element of history repeating itself, although in this recurrence differences are also revealed.
Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).