These stark obelisks dominate the skyline of Belgrade’s residential districts. Concrete-clad and gargantuan, they serve society not only as ascendant hives, but as monuments to the human condition.
Irrespective of its size or locale, any space, provided it has been inhabited or maintained by humans, will carry a trace of their values and history. Architecture is an absolute medium, a physical and structural projection of the designer, and as such it will carry the sentiments of the cultures they originate from. Belgrade is no exception to this rule, and its history seemed to be quite literally constructed around us, to the point where it was inescapable. Perhaps the departure from our native spaces played a part in our stark observations, I would argue that our pre-departure research and fixation on Serbia may had also had some effect on our perception, but ultimately traces of history and ideology manifest themselves everywhere: Sometimes it is the more abstract forms of representation, a building or a street for example, that bear the most explicit marks.
It was the final stop on our itinerary, having already visited a previous cultural space, as well as the University faculty of political sciences, and Broadway-inspired Terazije theatre, not to mention conducting a number of successful interviews with best-selling Author Uroš Petrović, B92 executive Veran Matić, and the nationally adored journalist/talkshow presenter, Olja Bećković. But for me, the Mikser house had been the one venue I was most excited about, and I had been ever since I made contact with them a month or so prior to our departure. Considering my own personal and professional interests in visual content and creative enterprises, I found myself drawn much closer to the cultural centers than other areas of our research. We had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Maja Lalic, the creative director of Mikser Beograd. We talked politics, arts and the origins of the Mikser House.
The moment we stepped into the Mikser House we were greeted by an eye-catching array of artistic exports, friendly faces and the smell of fresh coffee. As we waited to meet our host I couldn’t help but marvel at the genius of the place. Comparable to a small warehouse in size, but with an interior design much like a studio or venue hall. Stylish and self-sufficient, it could only be described as a modular space which could suitably accommodate for just about anything a cultural centre would have wanted, be it live music and theatrics, to the production and distribution of all things artistic and desirable.
Despite the peaceful atmosphere, I sensed a total lack of stillness, its occupants worked tirelessly from every corner of the room. Groups of people moved from table to table, presumably managing creative projects, whilst others swapped between the bar work and shop keeping. There was a lot of physical work to be done, stage-prepping, camera setting and sound-checking, but all done so quietly, peacefully carried by the familiar sound of Alt-J in the background.
In an effort to mobilize the arts as a greater source of cultural, social and economic capital, several spaces have been constructed to serve as central hubs for local creatives. Primarily located across Stari Beograd (The cultural and tourist region of the capital, more commonly referred to as ‘Old Belgrade’), the likes of Mikser House and similar venues are independently funded, having acknowledged the futility of the old state funding. This socialist heritage, which Maja describes as “A badly managed policy” still operates within the Balkans across a range of institutional programs, such as theater and broadcasting media, and as such has been directly challenged by adopting a more rugged individualist approach to business.
“we try to be politically correct but then a new strategy is reinforced… if you try to create money instead of waiting – it’s a hypocritical situation! Not only art but people need to provide for young people of design and we need to pay wages here.”
Considering the financial instability of the region, those responsible for the upkeep and development of the Mikser House have quite literally had to rely on their entrepreneurial smarts, practical skills and an exceptional sense of purpose. As I learned through speaking with Maja Lalic, their enterprise had gone through countless hardships before it became what it is today. But to see the space when I did, and to hear of its stories and undertakings was nothing short of moving.
There was a lot I wanted to ask Maja when I finally met her, above all else I had a genuine curiosity for the story of Mikser, to know what they had gone through and where their artistic backgrounds lay. But perhaps most important of all was the question ‘why? What did they hope to achieve in casting their net to rally the artists of Belgrade, and how successful had they been?
Her answers were steeped in Mikser’s history and her own personal experiences. With a political backdrop as tumultuous as Serbia’s, it was evidently clear that one of the most prominent losses to the country (as a result of the late Yugoslavian crisis) was a national identity, a cultural brand if you will. Maja proceeded to talk passionately of the need to reinvigorate the arts as the first step towards reconstitution and recovery, as it fills the void that such a history of warfare and isolation creates. She explained the entrepreneurial prospects of the Mikser House and like minded spaces. The venue itself generates some sort of revenue through the selling and distributing of local artists’ goods, such as clothing and publications, and the system had gone through a rigorous process of trial and error sales to focus on the most profitable and successful goods. She told me candidly that it is necessary not to be too idealistic or ‘utopian’ when trying to generate an income from artistic goods, and that not everything will sell. I saw for myself the benefits of such a black and white approach, the quality of the goods was incredibly high as a result of this premium mindset, and the artists who were involved with Mikser (either through collaborations or distributions) were pushed to be the best they could be.
But she stressed the importance on employing an open, multi-disciplinary orthodox. Mikser’s financial health could not be sustained alone on sales, but on the house’s potential as a bonafide venue for live events, festivals and markets. The space itself regenerates much of its overhead through its rates as a venue for hire, not just for artists but for NGOs and social initiatives, but does so in relation to its surroundings as opposed to outgrowing them, ensuring it remains an accessible part of society for everyone.
“In addition to this, prices have been scaled to fit the needs to the people. The very core of a business should be creative content then the periphery of the core should be adapting to the priorities, not to marketing but to emotional and social levels”.
As we discussed, this ultimately gave Mikser a peculiar position of power: The capacity to generate a social income, if you will, by generating interest and pulling a larger demographic of people to the venue. Maja emphasized the power to inform and influence large numbers of people, by breaking up the daily habitus with something new and exciting. She went on to explain the chain reaction one venue, if used correctly, could have on a local area. Creativity, entrepreneurialism and hard work can generate revenue, but it can also give something back to society, a sense of purpose and belonging, and eventually this can influence politics. To think that all of this has been essentially founded through creative thinkers, artists and their work for the sake of everyone is nothing short of staggering, as Maja put it, “we are everyday heroes.”
The interview begun with a brief revisit of the Yugoslavian history and addressing our own understanding as researchers, and considering our positionality. Jovana provided us an insight on the culture of Serbia through her own representation of the present:
“You know more, since those wars and end of communism and countries ‘made up’ there has been a mass difference; … you have your life plan so you travel and … Then we like to complain and not structure things… And definitely people become kind of lazy and – here (in the UK) you give the impression of trying and there wasn’t much passion for trying.”
Already this begun to ignite a further interest in the culture and lifestyle of Belgrade and how it had changed since the conflict. However, considering Jovana mentioned that she found her own culture as ‘lazy’, perhaps it is interesting to consider how technology and media has influenced this as it has become globally integrated within various lifestyles. Social media became a narrative for Jovana to recover details of the conflicts, as she gave us an insight on her own understanding of the representations other countries have illustrated of Serbia.
“For me, I … well, this media thing like facebook and different newspapers you can see young people who were born at war time or even years after, fighting and calling each other – for example Croatians against Serbians! Or… or Bosnians against Serbians – calling each other bad names…” The media clearly still matters though in a form to fuel conflict and representations that have been constructed on meta narratives previous to the war. Considering the temptations that the media faces, and the prosumers who create some of the content, to leave certain details out for a reason. This could be done unconsciously though it is still done for a reason. The media, for Serbia in particular, has conformed to a surveillance culture (Foucault) that enables young adults who have been told through politicians, families and mediated contexts to survey others from neighboring countries, such as Bosnia.
This alternatively relates into structuralism, the interview’s preliminary purpose was to understand Serbia’s culture before travelling to Belgrade, and as a change to the previously established Utopia, which Jovana suggested had now become so separate and divided. In terms of power, Engles (1880) points out that extreme revolutionists did not recognize any external authority of any kind whatsoever when considering Utopia Socialism of which he defined as: “an ideologically driven system that can provide hegemony and attempt to provide a solution to a perfect vision and a ‘new world’”.
Curran (2009) considers that the higher levels of news consumption contributes to a smaller ‘within-knowledge gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged’. Of which I found interesting to acknowledge during our interview with Jovana of media representations of their own celebrities and celebrity culture. Jovana introduced us to Turbo Folk inspired artist: Ceca, who’s husband fought in the war against Croatia though was killed in 2000. She was one of the highest paid female artists in Serbia and consequently inherited FK Obillic football club from her late husband, Arkan. Considering her media presence, as a female artist, she provides a sexualized response for young female Serbian followers of which they appear to look up to as a fashion icon.
Volcic (2010:104) describes Ceca as, “a version of comodified femininity based on the marketing of a promise of personal empowerment” however it must be noted that Ceca’s national identity of being originally a ‘Serb’ has been overridden, claims Volcic (2010) by her personal identity that has become, more recently, to conform to westernized values. Ceca and Turbo Folk’s image has become represented as western by conforming to ‘sexy’ and tightly dressed clothes that would be similar to established western pop music singers. The difference, perhaps, is that Ceca remain to be a female artist that has become empowered by triumphing over previous hardships. Sandvoss (2005:105) suggests that the media and cultural studies should focus upon the ‘multiple meanings to address “neutrosemic” texts’ which becomes an abstract understanding of boundaries that often become symbolic when represented to a global audience.
In terms of empowerment, Ceca has various values of wife and mother that illustrates her conforming to traditional and normative roles of a woman though arguably she is also conforming to modern (western) values as she is conforming to more than one value through her identity as successful artist and role model.
Volcic (2010) identifies Ceca as a local, “…and rose from local to national celebrity…” (2010:107) Of which conforms to one of the three temptations of the lure of the marginal. Fanon suggests that the voices of the local contain postcolonial identity and self-mutilations of the local voice. This may be one of the many reasons behind the respect and love for Ceca and fellow Turbo Folk artists, because of their recognition of the roots in which they originated from. Fanon continues to suggest that the local provides a space for this once oppressed voice and that it can be common for the discourse of the oppressed to still talk in the register of the oppressor and to consider themselves in that voice. Ceca’s power can be identified, not only by her visually noted beauty, established rural origins and (presently westernized) urban style but when her first recorded album was recorded in 1987 and exposed to fans, mainly situated in the Balkans. Resulting in Ceca’s national identity growing globally thus luring her to the value of the Cosmopolitan. When considering methods of research, Hannerz (1990) distinguishes the cosmopolitan from the tourist through state of mind, an interest for tolerance and for ‘otherness’. The cosmopolitan space is the most attractive to be situated in and viewed from. Here, Ceca can be identified as conforming to the cosmopolitan lure because she is a part of the local and has previously encountered the local which has shaped her knowledge and understanding of what the audience desires from her in Serbia, and surrounding Balkans.
As the interview progressed it became clearer that Jovana depended on the representations previously constructed and whom she was able to trust, though this appeared to vary from family members to mediated documentaries:
Adam Teighe: Did you say … obviously this is difficult for you because this is going back (historically) for you, but do you think people were happy before the war and before communism?
Jovana: Yes. Again, what I have seen from documentaries, and what I hear stories from older people and my parents that it was hard but communism tried to make everyone equal. But now, that gap between poor and rich is bigger. In that time we are all brothers –
Adam Teighe : Comrades…
Jovana: Er – I think people were happier, as people would have job and if you didn’t have job then you would get some help. Yes. Now you cannot count and that country is miserable and cannot survive …
In terms of representation of culture and globalisation of western values imposing upon once Yugoslavia combined countries, Curran & Seaton (1981:299) suggest that there is a “utopian projection”. A projection to the future when considering technologies and how we understand a culture when it is based upon a series of representation, of which for Jovana Serbia has become to a degree. Curran & Seaton (1981: 299-300) identify that; “information has been manipulated in different places for different purposes from broadcasting or telephones”. Which reminds us, as an external audience, that we have learnt or understood our representation of Serbia only by the information that has been predominantly exposed though we have not considered as highly the information that has been neglected because it is not as easily available.
Conclusively, Tarlac (2003) comments on the propaganda tool that Turbo Folk singers provide, to the ‘battlefield’ serving as a ‘motivational force for the military” (2003:107). Which can arguably provide the superiority of its kind in Serbia because of its respected ‘sound track’ to the conflict that was so intensely experienced, despite Ceca disliking the phrase ‘sound track’. It is interesting to consider the serious connotations Turbo Folk is recognised as being collaborated to because Volcic (2010) recognises that during early 1990’s the “turbo folk culture” were an important part to new commercial television stations such as TV Pink that tends to be ridiculed by Serbians for its name. Pink carries the connotation of immature and ‘laughable’. Though Volcic shapes this research understanding as this being the true birth of the celebrity status recognition for the Turbo Folk singers, such as Ceca, who reportedly became “celebrities of the culture of criminal acitvities combined with an aggressive embrace of the good life, mob style…” (2010:107). Ceca remains to be a highly respected idol for young adults in the Balkans, more so on a global scale now that she has become to adopt western influence considering her ‘sex appeal’ image.
Tuesday – Saturday: 13:00 – 19:30
Sunday: 17:00 – 19:30
Chicago – Balcony 900 Din, Partner 1300
The Producers – Balcony 900 Din, Partner 1300
Head Strong – Balcony 900 Din, Partner 1300
Zorba The Greek – Balcony 900 Din, Partner 1300
Some Like It Hot – Balcony 900 Din, Partner 1300
Grease – Balcony 900 Din, Partner 1300
Cabaret – Balcony 800 Din, Partner 1100
Two Smell The Roses – Balcony 800 Din, Partner 1100.
- The three temptations on how we approach this international research project: The local, the marginal and the cosmopolitan.
- Considering this will enable us to position our mind set in a specific way of thinking about the research we will be carrying out: what exactly will we focus upon and why? Will these interests determine what is priority?
- Each temptation is problematic, it is only a mere thought process in order to begin an objective thought process but not to be given into.
- The Local:
- What is the reason why we are studying and researching Serbia ?
- What is at our disposal in Serbia such as museums but what can we uncover ourselves? Such as already we have been able to uncover not only a student who lives locally to Novistad but also an academic who has worked and research and lived in Belgrade : both will provide huge assets to our growing understanding of Belgrade and Yugoslavia countries.
- The local will remain to be “a subject of sympathy” as their voices are ultimately de valued or ignored/ subordinated under regimes of (often) political power. This is the centre has pushed the local voice into the margin, the question of the local cannot be separated from the question of cultural translation itself.
- The best way of thinking of contextualising these issues is to turn to Fritz Fanon have pointed out to the psychic mutilations and self mutilations of the local voice. (post colonial identity). Giving space to the local voice, we are drawn to the voices that have suffered. Colonial past of oppression. The notion that this voice of the oppressed once liberated in a post colonial space is not a liberated voice; it is common for the discourse of the oppressed to still talk in the register of the oppressor and to consider themselves in that voice.
- Fanon identifies going to a post colonial country that has been under post colonial force and then to discuss the local and discover the people after the oppressor has been forcibly removed.
- Temptation of the Marginal:
- Post modern condition, strategies for resisting the master discourses, scientific and legitimated. Lyotard has framed the research for post modern conditions. Central to his proposition here, drawing upon the proposition of the post colonial spaces as interesting spaces for identity, is this strategy: resisting the master discourses.
- This proposition that there are legitimate truths that govern and competently dominate our way that we think about the world eg the way in which we are taught about Serbia (historically we are not educated formally about Yugoslavia and certainly not in depth) but what we know about Serbia has been told for a reason what has been left out (and un mediated) is for a more specific reason.
- These master discourses for Lyotard are hugely problematic so the focus should be on the marginal. Not his ‘story’ but we should look into the marginal for local knowledge and narratives in order to form grounding. These certain discourses, acc to Lyotard are occupied by the privileged. Colonial past is absent in educational history. The frame work for Lyotard is what he is putting forward in a variety of research methodologies in a variety of disciplines: focusing on the margins, the purpose and position of the researcher.
- The issue of who will (and has been) targeted to be interviewed –
- Marginality is avant-garde romance of researchers. How is it defined who is marginalised? Thus hugely problematic.
- Baudrillard (1982) suggests the Beauborg Effect: implosion and deterrence.
- By focusing on the margin the centre can acknowledge and thus diffuse the marginal, we as researchers run the risk of acknowledging the marginal as a mere token, by labelling it we are simply conforming to a social construction. The margin is in some way an oppositional voice to the centre which has been presumed that there will be something different – why wouldn’t it be the same? These presumptions have become culturally and socially constructed.
- Baeauborg Effect : a form of deterrence that re confirms the centre as the centre, not a form of resistance or movement elsewhere – Baudrillard suggests that this movement is not progressing but is debilitating and that the marginal is stuck in stagnation, therefore the argument remains in stationary until progressive position. To stagnate the margin.
- Temptation of Cosmopolitanism:
- Drawing upon the work of Hannerz (1990) who distinguishes the cosmopolitan from the tourist – a state of mind, an interest and toleration for otherness.
- An interest and toleration of the other, Hannerz suggests that we live within a age of “one world culture. The issue with this is that it is slightly ambiguous. Hannerz suggests this one world culture is marked within a cosmopolitan space.
- For example a cosmopolitan space: New York.
- Universalism sees all culture in one in a utopian assertion of equality. World culture (globalism) is not the same as one culture. The cosmopolitan space is the most attractive. This proposition that it is the most tempting of all that we start form a space where we believe that we are in some way part of the local and part of the marginal because we have already previously encountered it. The cosmopolitan could typically be “bag packer”. Who becomes more than a tourist because they have engulfed their selves into the culture and welcomed it by adapting to it by remaining their own culture.
- Gibbon – the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
- A critique on writing history. Gibbon identifies the a “falsifier”, the tourist and a nationalist, they focus upon the post colonial. Sometimes things that are at the centre can be very difficult for these (people) to identify and to see. These things are not always made the most of.
- Additional: Gillette –
- The inventor and pioneer of the safety razor (America) ‘King Camp’
- The Human Drift (1894) Gillette contrasted this in order to describe his position and world view
- Utopian Socialism : term by Marx and Engles in “The Comunist Manifesto” (1848) Gillette has been pigeonholed as a utopian socialist. The Razor Represents the ideology of Gillette – progress and making life better for the citizens and the people the drive, easier. Architecture and inter connected, contextualised by modernity of looking to the future – this is how the razor has been designed. Integrated for productivity and for speed.
- Originally found in Italy at the turn of the 20th C. Which is completely connected to the work of Gillete – a social, political and artistic movement.
- The cityscape replaces the landscape as a space for artistic movement, design and invention. Each subsequent generation is expected to build their own city rather than inheriting the architecture of the past. Futurism suggests machine culture and efficiency, that everything should be progressing and now stagnate. Rejected the romanticism of the past.
- Future led directly to Fascism (Italy).
- Russolo (1911) ‘The Revolt’ – Fascism is a mass movement of the bourgeoisie that serves the interests of imperialism and monopolies. Though in order to enlist the support of the masses it must disguise itself with radical and socialist demagogy.
- The effects and influence becomes progressive in a style that becomes represented in art but can also be seen in an alternative way – workers become abstract. Faceless with no identity and no individualistic tendencies. The worker is glorified as an ideal machine. The worker itself becomes a machine. But can it really be viewed as that? Similar, in a way, to Hasinoff (2012) research suggesting sexting as a media production and how we become more dominate upon having a ‘faceless’ identity online. Projecting ourselves, perhaps, in a misunderstood way.
- This proposition of futurism and utopian socialism linking into Fascism can be seen how it places through the space within a city – through architecture and the way in which individuals engage socially. Aesthetic within the future. As researchers we must approach what the ideology is behind this.
Born and raised in Belgrade and having spent his youth within 90’s Serbia ‘under Milosevic’s leadership, Vladimir Milivojevich developed a career as a street-photographer influenced by his local surroundings and the changes they went through. Now based in the states as a commercial photographer, Boogie often returns to his routes in Belgrade as a source for inspiration.
In my search for a more aesthetic representation of Serbia, I searched through Flickr and other photo sharing sites to see the country through the eyes of its homegrown photographers and visual artists, Boogie is one of several artists that has gained recognition as an influential member of the photographic community.
As an enthusiast for photography myself I’ve grown to appreciate his and similar works on a number of levels. Initially I was drawn to them for their technical expertise and distinct image, but as I learn more about Serbia I start to see these photos as an honest and indigenous portrayal of what they see. As Bazin and Vertov emphasized in their works, the camera and the image reflect the user’s perspective and mindset, creating not only a visual artform but a snapshot in time.
Boogie updates the blog on his official website frequently, largely consisting of his inspirations, and shots from his returning visits to Belgrade. Having come across his portfolio I intend to find additional photographers that showcase what might be considered ‘centre’ life in contemporary Serbia.