All Power to the People

Graphic Design

wretchedearth

This is a draft version of a short essay which will appear in a book accompanying ‘The Sixties: A Worldwide Happening’, an exhibition being organised by the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen in the Netherlands.

A new global consciousness infused the political poster in the 1960s. The fight for Civil Rights in the United States, decolonization in Africa, the Algerian War of Independence (1954-62), the Cuban Revolution (1953-9) and the Vietnam War (at its height between 1965 and 1975) threw up not only powerful images of societies undergoing dramatic and sometimes violent transformation but also heightened awareness of the injustices produced by various kinds of imperialism. Liberation movements in what is sometimes called the ‘Global South’ today provided inspiring models of action, as well as powerful critiques of Cold War order. In the most affluent consumer societies of the ‘First World’, political activists identified with ‘Third World’ revolutionaries. For many, Frantz Fanon’s 1961 study, Les damnés de la terre (The Wretched of the Earth) was a key text. Fanon challenges his readers to throw off the myths of progress which had been generated in the West since the Enlightenment: ‘Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions … The West saw itself as a spiritual adventure … [and] justified her crimes and legitimized the slavery in which she holds four-fifths of humanity.’[1] The challenge facing all liberation movements was, according to to avoid reproducing the social structures and illusory freedoms on which European humanism had been based. Violent resistance was a legitimate response to the overbearing violence of colonialism. And national consciousness – raised by artists and poets in the aftermath of colonialism – need not lead to nationalism, but to greater internationalism (an African or Arabic consciousness).[2] Looking beyond the West, Fanon – a member of the Algerian National Liberation Front – saw signs of the new world to come: ‘The liberation of Africa and the growth of consciousness among mankind have enabled the Latin America peoples to break with the old merry-go-round of dictatorships where each succeeding regime exactly resembled the previous one. Castro took over power in Cuba, and gave it to the people.’[3]

Time magazine, Jan. 1959

Time magazine, Jan. 1959

Fanon – like many left-wing intellectuals around the world – looked to Cuba with high expectation. Seizing power on the Caribbean island in 1959, Fidel Castro’s 26 July Movement had toppled the Batista dictatorship and promised to end inequality and bring social justice. Cuba’s hold on the imagination in the West and the East was perhaps greater than the size of the island or its population might warrant. But its proximity to the United States, and the extent of popular support for communists like Castro (unlike, say, in Eastern Europe where the seizure of power had been achieved in the late 1940s through murky machinations and menace) added much to its global importance. Moreover, the guerilla war to oust Batista exploited – like no other revolution before it – the power of the image. Castro’s revolutionaries, small in numbers, achieved the ‘media effect’ of amplification by performing horseback parades and gun salutes for the cameras of the world’s media.[4] And once in power, Cuban films, magazines and posters continued to trumpet the values and the achievements of the revolution abroad, in forms which were no less vivacious even when reporting sugar cane harvests.[5]

Although often screen-printed on cheap paper, Cuban posters of the mid-1960s drew enthusiastic praise around the world for their vivid fields of colour and uninhibited designs. They were generally created by designers on the books of official agencies such as Comisión de Orientación Revolucionaria, the publicity wing of the Communist Party and Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos which issued posters to promote films. Printed in large numbers (more than 5 million posters in one year, 1972[6]) and in a great plurality of styles (from portraits of workers in the socialist realist manner to fashionable Op Art aesthetics), they formed the visual environment of post-revolutionary Cuba. They also travelled well: Cuban posters were shown in galleries on both sides of the Cold War divide and reprinted in large format anthologies within a few years of the revolution.[7] The diversity of poster styles, it seems, was living proof of Fidel Castro’s promise to cultural workers made in 1961 to withdraw from questions of artistic form, in exchange for party control of content. Although writer Susan Sontag argued that undisciplined aesthetics lacked the rigour required to be truly revolutionary, she traced the contours of freedom in their hedonism: ‘These posters give evidence of a revolutionary society that is not repressive and philistine … a culture which is alive, international in orientation and relatively free of the kind of bureaucratic interference that has blighted the arts in practically every other country where a communist revolution has come to power.’[8] In other words, these posters were proof that Cuba was not the Soviet Union, with the paranoia, conservatism and despotism that Brezhnev’s rule entailed.

Alfredo Rostgaard, poster marking the 10th anniversary of ICAIC, 1969

Alfredo Rostgaard, poster marking the 10th anniversary of ICAIC, 1969

Castro presented the Caribbean island as the friend of small nations living in the shadow of aggressive neighbours and a sanctuary for revolutionaries around the world. Black leaders in the United States were drawn, with Havana’s encouragement, to Cuba, particularly after the explosive Watts Riots in Los Angeles in August 1965. Black Power activists including Stokely Carmichael and Eldridge Cleaver left the USA for Cuba in 1967 and 1968, before being given passage to Africa to agitate for their visions of pan-Africanism there. In 1966 Cuba hosted the Tricontinental Conference in Havana to promote ‘solidarity with the Third World people’s struggles, claims and most precious desires.’ Under a neon sign of fist clenching a gun fixed above the entrance of the Havana Libre hotel, representatives from more than 50 countries gathered to express their opposition to imperialism and neo-colonialism. There was little consensus about what to do next, except perhaps to express solidarity with the people of Vietnam. In his concluding address, Castro drew attention to the resistance being encountered by half a million well-equipped American troops fighting in Vietnam: ‘To the amazement of the world, the people of Vietnam are furnishing the most extraordinary example of heroism the history of any liberation movement has ever seen, because a liberation movement has never had to face more powerful forces. The people of Vietnam are reversing these forces and defeating the might of the Yankee imperialists’.

Following the conference, OSPAAAL – Organización de Solidaridad con los Pueblos de Asia, África y América Latina (Organisation of Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America) – was formed. Engaged in various forms of propaganda activity, OSPAAAL was a major publisher of posters with messages in Spanish, English, French and Arabic. Opposition to the influence of USA was a mainstay of OSPAAAL designs, as was support for indigenous peoples and left-wing governments in the three continents.

Perez and Ernesto Padron’s ‘Day of Solidarity with the Peoples of Puerto Rico'

Perez and Ernesto Padron’s ‘Day of Solidarity with the Peoples of Puerto Rico’

Faustino Perez and Ernesto Padron’s ‘Day of Solidarity with the Peoples of Puerto Rico’ (1968), for instance, marks an objection to the Americanisation of Cuba’s near neighbour, with a precolumbian trigonolito (carved three-corner stone) – perhaps representing a Taíno deity – putting well known corporate logos to the torch. Such posters were folded into copies of Tricontinental, an OSPAAAL magazine which was distributed to libraries and other subscribers in more than eighty countries around the world. A supplement to the magazine, these designs were less attempts an attempt at persuasion than, perhaps, a matter of confirmation for its readers. The idea of revolution had high currency around the world in the late 1960s, not least in the West. There, the conviction that society could be dramatically reorganized at a stroke – motivated a new generation disenchanted with the divisive effects of post-war affluence. Revolutionary images were adopted in the modish fringes of consumer culture. In ‘Street Fighting Man’, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, for instance, sang about his excitement of witnessing demonstrations around the world from the perspective of ‘sleepy London town’. Posters promoting liberation movements and their leaders – not least Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara[9] – formed backdrops for fashionable lifestyles in the West. As Sontag noted, consumption in capitalist societies is based on appropriation: ‘counterrevolutionary societies … [have] a flair for ripping any object out of context and turning it into an object of consumption’.[10]

Cuba was not the only communist country which issued posters protesting against American involvement in Vietnam. Chinese and Soviet authorities did the same, often in images which stressed the unbreakable bonds of international solidarity and other clichés. Rather more compelling were those anti-American images produced in the United States by artists who identified with the emergent counter-culture.

Ungerer, EAT, 1967

Ungerer, EAT, 1967

In a much reproduced 1967 poster, celebrated graphic designer and children’s book illustrator Tomi Ungerer depicted the symbol of welcome to the United States, the Statue of Liberty (a figure who announces to the world, ‘give me your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free’), as a symbol of violence. A Vietnamese figure is compelled to consume this American gift with the bold injunction ‘EAT’. The emphasis suggests a second critique of American foreign policy: in asserting freedom around the world in the face of the spread of communism, Washington was demanding the conditions in which people would become free to consume American commodities. Making a clear opposition to the actions of the Pentagon and the White House in Indochina, the poster has been criticized for representing the people of Vietnam as victims, when, in fact, the Vietcong (North Vietnamese forces) were – as Castro had argued a few months earlier – proving to be very difficult to overcome.[11]

Art Workers' Coalition, Q: And Babies, 1970

Art Workers’ Coalition, Q: And Babies, 1970

Another anti-war image produced in the United States also emphasized the victimhood of the Vietnamese. In 1968 a troop of US soldiers massacred the population of a Vietnamese village, Mai Lai.[12] The 106 people who died in this brutal episode were initially described by a US army spokesman as a Vietcong unit. The evidence provided by the Army’s own photographer revealed, however, that men and women, old and young, had been killed indiscriminately. The images of the dead, as well as other shots of peasants recoiling from the menacing GIs, found their way into the American mass media. They were shown on the major news broadcasts without commentary, such was their shocking force. The images appeared at a time when American attitudes to the war were already changing. And for the anti-war movement, here was brutal evidence of indifference and violence done to the very people America was claiming to protect. The Art Workers Coalition – an alliance of politically-engaged artists in New York – published ‘And Babies?’ a poster based on an image that had caused a storm of controversy when it had been broadcast on American television.[13] What is more, the artists returned this image back to its mass-media home by parading for the world’s media in front of Pablo Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ (1937), one of the most compelling anti-war images of the twentieth century, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1970. Here, the process of what Sontag called ‘ripping’ an image was put to critical effect.

Viktor Koretzky, 1964

Viktor Koretzky, 1964

Another indictment of the United States frequently-made by its enemies concerned the segregation and discrimination against black Americans. Viktor Koretzky’s 1363 poster, for instance, combined the historic symbol of American freedom, the Statue of Liberty, with a scene of licensed brutality. A group of uniformed officials — perhaps police officers — appear to be lynching a black man, a fate suggested by the ominous presence of a noose. Produced during the height of Civil Rights protests, the Soviet poster pointed out the failings of American democracy (and was, as such, a direct riposte to Washington’s claims that the Kremlin denied fundamental human rights to the citizens of the Soviet Union).

Emory Douglas

Emory Douglas

Civil rights and international solidarity combined in the posters issued by the Black Panther Party which was formed in the USA in 1966. Founders Bobby Seale and Huey Newton professed deep admiration of Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.[14] Advocating armed patrols to monitor and challenge Police brutality as well as other public services such as free meals for poor children and opposition to the military draft (which called up a disproportionate proportion of black Americans), the membership of the Black Panthers grew rapidly across the USA. Eschewing the non-violence of earlier civil rights activists in favour of what it called ‘self-defense’, and styled in uniforms of berets and leather jackets and bearing arms (legally), the Black Panthers attracted considerable publicity. In fact, the Black Panthers were skilled communicators – issuing a manifesto (aka ‘The Ten Point Program’), publishing a newspaper (reaching a circulation of 250,000 copies) and of course, leaflets and posters. In ‘Afro-American Solidarity with the oppressed People of the World’ (1969), designer, Emory Douglas, made a clear connection between the interests of African-American people and those living in the Third World.[15] Produced at a time when the leadership of the Black Panthers wanted to put a halt to common sexism in its ranks, this revolutionary — displaying her black pride in her Afro hair and militant posture — carries both a rifle and a spear, and like a superhero, lines of light radiate from her body. With typical ambition, Douglas is identified as the Minister of Culture and the publisher as the Black Panthers’ Ministry of Information on the poster. And, as if to fulfill this dream of statehood, Black Panther delegations visited marxist North Vietnam, North Korea and China in 1969 and 1970.

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Poster issued by the Committee to Defend the Panthers.

radical-chicUnsurprisingly, the organization seen as a threat by different branches of the state and the legal system in the USA, not least the FBI which mounted a campaign to discredit the organization. Numerous attempts to prosecute Black Panthers failed,[16] a fact which drew high-profile liberal supporters to the group. Most prominent among them was composer Leonard Bernstein who held a fund-raising party in 1969 for twenty-one Black Panthers accused of ‘conspiracy to murder New York City policemen and to dynamite five mid-town department stores, a police precinct, six railroad rights of way and the New York Botanical Gardens.’ This event was lampooned by Tom Wolfe in a biting account in New York Magazine in which city’s glittering elite rubbed shoulders with leather-jacketed revolutionaries over cocktails and ‘little Roquefort cheese morsels’.[17] Artists Donald Judd. Frank Stella, Nancy Spero, James Rosenquist and Roy Lichtenstein amongst others gave works for a fund-raising auction in a Manhattan church. In spring 1971 John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band released ‘Power to the People’, a variation of a Black Panther slogan which featured on this poster issued by the Committee to Defend the Panthers. Designed by Richard Earl Moore (Dhoruba al-Mujahid Bin Wahad), one of the defendants and a member of one of the most active and socially engaged Black Panther chapters in New York. When the eight-month trial concluded in May 1972, the Panthers in the dock were acquitted after the jury deliberated for less than one hour. The testimony of three undercover police officers had been entirely unconvincing. With its raised fist and broken chain, Moore’s design trades in clichés but it also holds rare authority as the creation of an artist who lived the experience it depicts.[18]

[1] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2004), 252

[2] Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 199.

[3] Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 76.

[4] See, for instance, Lee Hall, ‘Inside Rebel Cuba with Raul Castro’, Life (21 July 1958), 29-35. See also Richard Gott. Cuba. A New History (Yale University Press, 2005) 160-4.

[5] For a survey of Cuban posters see Lionel Cushing, Revolucion! Cuban Poster Art (Chronicle Books, 2002).

[6] David Craven, Art and Revolution in Latin America, 1910-1990 (Yale University Press, 2006) 95

[7] See Cubaanse Affiches (Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1971); Dugald Stermer, (ed.), The Art of Revolution: Castro’s Cuba, 1959–1970 (London, 1970 ).

[8] Susan Sontag ‘Posters: Advertisement, Art, Political Artifact, Commodity’, in Stermer, The Art of Revolution, p. xxii.

[9] See David Kunzle, ‘Uses of the Portrait: The Che Poster,’ in Art in America, 63, n. 5, (Sept-October 1975) 63-73.

[10] Sontag ‘Posters: Advertisement, Art, Political Artifact, Commodity’, in Stermer, The Art of Revolution, p. xvii.

[11] See Jeffrey Walsh and James Aulich, Vietnam images: war and representation (London: Macmillan, 1989) 115.

[12] See William Thomas Allison, My Lai: An American Atrocity in the Vietnam War (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2012).

[13] See Francis Frascina, Art, Politics and Dissent: Aspects of the Art Left in Sixties America (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999) 160-208

[14] See Stephen Howe, Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes (London: Verso, 1998) 77-78.

[15] See Danny Glover and Kathleen Cleaver, The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The Art of Emory Douglas (New York: Rizzoli, 2007).

[16] An article in the New York Times (21 December 1969) listed 23 significant arrests and raids by the police on BP leaders and offices in 1968 and 1969 which did not result in successful prosecutions – see Charter Group for a Pledge of Conscience, The Black Panther Party and the Case of the New York 21 (New York, nd).

[17] Tom Wolfe, ‘Radical Chic. That Party at Lenny’s’ in New York Magazine (8 June 1970)

[18] Dhoruba al-Mujahid Bin Wahad’s freedom was shortlived. He was arrested again within weeks of his acquittal and prosecuted for the attempted murder of two police officers. He served 19 years in prison before being released in 1990 when a judge agreed to a retrial. In 1995 the Manhattan district attorney’s office stated that it would not pursue the case. With evidence that he had been the subject of a FBI smear campaign and that the prosecution had withheld evidence in the original trial, the FBI and the City of New York agreed to pay Dhoruba significant damages.

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The Future is Between Your Legs: Sex, Art and Censorship in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Eastern Europe, Sexuality

This is a draft version of a text which will be published by Nottingham Contemporary in 2016.

 

 

Katalin Ladik, Zagreb 1970

Katalin Ladik, Zagreb 1970

In spring 1970 a small audience gathered in a church in the Old Town in Zagreb to watch a performance by the poet, actor and artist, Katalin Ladik. Dressed in nothing but a loose fur, Ladik performed a piece which she called ‘Vabljene’ with a traditional Hungarian bagpipe, a small skin-covered drum and a traditional bow. No recording of this event exists, but in the same year she was invited into the television studios in Novi Sad, her home city, to perform for the cameras. Reciting her poems in her native Hungarian – a language which few outside the multi-ethnic Vojvodina region understood – she stretches and extends her voice in the footage, sweeping across what seems to be unnatural sonic spectrum from high-frequency trilling to low rumbling tones. Interviewed by an Italian journalist, she said ’I do not do anything strange: peforming naked I expose the nakedness of my soul, and my inner reality … The public does not have to accept me for what I say but they must accept me for who I am, as I am, with my hips, with my breasts exposed. … I am naked and they too are stripped of their preconceptions. When we reach this understanding, this is the moment in which the audience and I achieve the necessary means to perform together the great ritual.’[1] She was, it seemed, engaged in the discovery of a sensual language – perhaps originating in prehistory – for new rituals which would escape the social conventions which managed desire, not least in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) in the 1960s.

Ladik was invited to perform in Zagreb by the organisers of GEFF 69, an experimental film festival which for this, its fourth meeting, took ‘Sexuality as the Way to a New Humanism’ (Seksualnost kao mogućnost za novi humanizam) as its theme. The slogan captured a new mood in the country, or at least a new boldness on the part of the Yugoslav counter-culture which had been stirred into life by student protests in 1968, the arrival of rock music and psychedelics, as well as a cocktail of esoteric philosophy and new left politics. For four days in April 1970 (a few months after the original planned date), films, performances and talks reflecting on various kinds of sexuality drew large audiences to Zagreb’s cinemas, theatres and even the old town church. One reporter wrote, ‘Sex – an evangelical word – was an overwhelming call for the audience to join a orgiastic visual adventure (without danger). Although the films only partially fulfilled expectations, the screenings and associated events took place in crowded halls.’[2] Screenings included Carolee Schneemann’s ‘Fuses’ (1965) – a overpainted diary-film which sought to capture what ‘one feels during lovemaking’ – and two homoerotic Warhol movies (‘Flesh’ and ‘Lonesome Cowboys’, both 1968).

Mila Budisavljević, ‘Neobavezni pogled na svijet 4', 1969

Mila Budisavljević, ‘Neobavezni pogled na svijet 4′, 1969

A prize-winning film in the festival competition, Mila Budisavljević’s ‘Neobavezni pogled na svijet 4’ (Optional View of the World, 4’, 1969) presented a close-up view of a woman’s lips and tongue, seemingly pressing against the lens of the camera, making the smooth, seductive mouth which appeared in so much advertising and cinema seem fleshy and real.

Celebrating uninhibited sexuality and other pleasures, the organisers of GEFF 69 were at pains to stress high-minded aspirations, perhaps to head off accusations of exploitation: ‘The sexual plan is just as important as the social and political ones … GEFF sets out to explore what this kind of movie can be when it is an experiment outside the bourgeois frameworks of pornography and kitsch: … We want to know whether in this field it is possible to something more than merely reflect things (so often, it comes down to the picturing the sexual act), we are interested in whether the filmmaker can escape this passive position.’[3] In this way, sexual liberation – then being trumpeted with loud horns in the West – could be harnessed to have real effects in Yugoslavia. Revolution, so often presented in terms of deferral in Eastern Europe (the utopia over the horizon), was within grasp of the individual: all he or she had to do was to revolutionise his or her thought and lifestyle. After all, a new humanism – predicated on a conception of a community of creative , equal and self-managing individuals – had been promised by the regime but remained little more than an imprecise slogan. GEFF 69 promised to put flesh on Tito’s bones.

The festival was organised as a critique of conservative attitudes, whether those held by society or by the authorities. Sexuality constituted a new front in which humanity could be liberated from various forms of repression, not least the ties of marriage, the laced-up conventions of dress and the fetishism of commodity culture. GEFF 69 juror, Dušan Makavejev, made this the subject of his remarkable film, ‘WR: Mysterija organizma’ (WR: Mysteries of the Organism, 1971). Ostensibly a documentary on the life and work of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and in particular, his ‘discovery’ of ‘Cosmic Orgone Energy’, Makavejev’s often-funny movie is a meditation on sexuality and violence – the latter seeming to erupt when the former is repressed. A collage film, it offers a catalogue of scenes from the sexual revolution in the USA, as well as the story of allegorical love affair between Vladimir Ilich, a celebrity ice-dancer who represents the Soviet Union around the world, and Milena, a Yugoslav partisan and sexual revolutionary. Critical of socialism’s repression of sex as well capitalism’s commodification of it, Makavejev’s film achieved international notoriety and plaudits for the candid treatment of the subject, but it was not the only expression of what one champion of GEFF 69 called ‘our revolution’.

Lazar Stojanović’, ‘Plastični Isus’, 1971

Lazar Stojanović’, ‘Plastični Isus’, 1971

Lazar Stojanović’s ‘Plastični Isus’ (Plastic Jesus) (a graduation project made the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade in 1971) shared not only Makavejev’s collage technique but also his interest in sexual and political taboos.[4] And at the same time, the OHO collective of artists, poets and writers made sexuality one their principle themes of their activities in performance and proto-conceptual art before fully embracing the hippy fantasy of disappearing into nature when in 1971 they formed the Šempas Commune. In fact, the group’s retreat from modernity was prefigured in Naško Križnar’s Beli Ljudje’ (White People) film made in 1969-70 with the full resources of the Neoplanta Film Studio in Novi Sad.[5] [3] With two distinct halves, the first part of the film shows a group of twelve men and women – OHO and their friends – playing various kind of sensual games in a white space. They eat and kiss, roll naked in what look like white feathers and reproduce the movements of the mice and sheep that share their closed space.

Still from Naško Križnar’s ‘Beli Ljudje’, 1970

Still from Naško Križnar’s ‘Beli Ljudje’, 1969-70

The men and women are sometimes undressed and the scenes occasionally turns orgiastic, though never sexually explicit. In the second half, the community moves into natural landscapes and the scale of their gestures expands: they leave trails of white powder on the coastline and fill the air with coloured smoke.[6] In 1970 writer Bora Ćosić identified in OHO’s works, the deployment of ‘sexuality as a transgressive, critical and subversive instrument of confrontation with the opportunism and hypocracies of the real-socialist society.’[7] Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 12.58.23Such confrontations were in fact rare: in 1970 OHO’s Andraž Šalamun, for instance, published a series of photographs of a couple in positions from the Kama sutra in Problemi which caused a ripple of protests from its readers.[8]

The programme of sexual liberation was not just a marginal interest of the counter-culture in Yugoslavia after 1968. The appearance of pornographic magazines on newsstands at the time was also explained in terms of Yugoslav exceptionalism, the claim that socialism was not organised according to either the Soviet model or by the dictates of capitalism in the SFRY.

Chic magazine cover, 1969

Chic magazine cover, 1969

Interviewed in 1972, Ljubisa Kozomara, editor of Čik magazine – one of a new wave of pin-up mags which appeared at the end of the 1960s, said ‘Sex magazines are just another way in which Yugoslavia is socially and economically more free than other Communist countries’.[9] Yugoslavia’s embrace of ‘market socialism’ offered tangible incentives to publishers to find mass audiences. Čik, like other prominent titles Start and Adam i Eva, featured centrefolds alongside political and social reports, as well as interviews with public figures. These colourful magazines treated sexual pleasure with a degree of seriousness: the editor of Adam i Eva said ‘I believe I’m doing some very human work. We publish letters from homosexuals, who are still arrested and jailed in this country. We give advice to village girls too ashamed to take their problems to a doctor.’[10] Likewise, in its early years, Start featured informative articles on birth control and artificial insemination, as well as a running a full length illustrated feature on childbirth.[11] The paradoxes of a magazine which promised public enlightenment whilst trading a limiting vision of femininity (the pin-up) are clear: nevertheless, Kozomara and his colleagues were sincere in their belief that they were breaking repressive taboos.[12] Adapting the clichés of Titoism to its cause, Start editorialized: ‘The epoch of the rule of the youth is coming – sexual liberation cannot be separated from the other individual and social problems, but it can contribute to solving many of them.’[13]

Whilst such magazines thrived in the 1970s, official approaches to images of sexuality were inconsistent and often censorious. Adam i Eva’s editor was taken to court on the grounds of obscenity in 1971 but acquitted. Moreover, censorship was applied differently in different republics and shifts in power between conservative and liberal factions in power meant that was tolerated at one moment might become pro­hibited the next. Nevertheless, sexuality was invoked throughout the history of the SFRY as grounds for censorship.

Still from Makavejev’s early short film, ‘Spomenicima ne treba verovati’, 1958

Still from Makavejev’s early short film, ‘Spomenicima ne treba verovati’, 1958

Makavejev’s early short film, ‘Spomenicima ne treba verovati’ (Don’t believe in Monuments’, 1958) which depicts the attempts of a young woman to make love to a sculpture of a reclining male figure in a park was criticised and shelved for being too erotic.[14] Twenty years later, the editors of the youth magazine Polet (Enthusiasm) were taken to court for publishing a profile of the Dinamo Zagreb goalkeeper, Milan Sarović. The accompanying images recorded Sarović emerging naked from a pool. The case provoked outrage, not least among feminists who saw hypocrisy at work.[15]

Tellingly, it was often the admix of sexuality and politics which attracted the strongest responses from the authorities. ‘WR: The Mysteries of the Organism’ was shelved, after being screened in a film festival in Pula – thereby adding greatly to its status as ‘forbidden fruit’.[16] And when Katalin Ladik appeared nude on the pages of Start and other magazines as well as in her public performances, her membership of the League of Yugoslav Communists was withdrawn for violating the ‘moral image’ of organisation.[17] Ladik was by no means an underground figure: in fact, her high visibility owed much to the support of state-licensed institutions – theatres, student centres and publications.[18] Perhaps her principal misdemeanor was not to to have put sexuality at the centre of her creativity, but to have become a popular figure, thereby escaping the marginal zone of the neo-avant-garde.

When editors of pornographic magazines or the organisers of GEFF 69 made the case for liberal attitudes, they couched their arguments in terms which aligned with state ideology: if desire was liberated and a far wider spectrum of sexual experiences recognized as ‘natural’, the result would be greater happiness, a condition which was, after all, the professed ideal of Yugoslav socialism. But at the end of the 1970s, a number of developments set the grounds for a radical and sometimes controversial rejection of this ‘theraputic’ view of sexuality. The vibrant Punk and New Wave scene (which penetrated deeply into performance and video art) as well as the ideas of group of Neo-Lacanian philosophers including Slavoj Žižek and Mladen Dolar were focused on far darker and sometimes morbid drives governing desire than the humanists of the 1970s. Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 12.59.56These two worlds merged in three ‘punk’ issues of Problemi, an important intellectual forum in Slovenia since the 1960s and then under the editorship of Dolar. In its punk issues (1981-3), Problemi identified closely with its subject, adopting the cut and paste aesthetics of the fanzine, and reproducing the lyrics of many of the most openly critical bands including Pankrti (Bastards) as well as darkly distopian comic strips. [5] So dramatic was the change from a sober journal to fanzine, that perhaps Dolar and his colleagues were engaged a particular and early version of what Žižek famously characterised as ‘overidentification’ in his later discussions of Laibach/Neue Slovenische Kunst.[19]

The second issue drew an official response. When the anti-socialist lyrics of bands like Gnile Duše (Rotten Souls) and photographs depicting lesbian sex in the second Punk issue were censored, the editors decided to overprint blocks on the offending material. This gesture did little to assuage the authorities, and Dolar was accused of having allowed the publication of pornographic material, and fined.[20] Despite this penalty, the third Punk issue (1983) was no less provocative in its hyperactive treatment of sex and violence. Spreads included illustrated features on erotic asphyxiation (a translation of an article from the Italian magazine, Fridigaire); the sadomaschostic lyrics of tracks by Borghesia, an electronic music group (see below); and a set of photographs by Miki Stojković of a man and topless woman playing with a large five-pointed star, the primary symbol of Titoism, under the title ‘Revolution is a Whore’.

Photos: Miki Stojković

Photos: Miki Stojković

Many of the authors of this material in Problemi were associated with FV 112/15, a theatre group established in 1980 by Neven Korda and Zemira Alajbegović. Abandoning the stage, FV 112/15 evolved rapidly into something like a multimedia platform for the production of alternative forms of culture, much in the DIY spirit of punk. It released records and audio cassettes through its music label; in 1982 it established a regular club night in Ljubljana, Disko FV, in 1982; it organised the Magnus, a festival of gay and lesbian films in 1984; and in 1982 four members (Dario Seraval, Aldo Ivančić, Korda and Alajbegović) formed a band, Borghesia, which achieved international success on the electronic music scene in the late 1980s. [7] According to Korda, VF 112/15 was not interested in shifting mainstream cultural practices and values: instead, the group staked out a zone where the conventions of Yugoslav life did not seem to apply, though happily drawing resources from state-funded institutions when needed (for, instance, borrowing the cameras owned by ŠKUC-Forum’s video section).[21]

One of the defining features of the videos made by FV members like Korda and close associates Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid was the way they fused sexual and political images, a caustic zone in Yugoslav culture. Babara Borčić notes that much of the material that the FV artists snatched for their video projects featured ‘recognisable political personalities, rituals and manifestations including Tito’s funeral, or popular Yugoslav music stars’ as well as ‘shots from pornographic movies recorded from private Italian television programmes’.[22] Whilst early video works like Korda’s ‘Obnova’ (Renewal, 1983), compiled from clips emphasizing the industrial rhythms of sex in pornography, and Alajbegović’s ‘Tereza’ (1983) which TV footage of socialist ceremonies is intercut with popular melodramas, could be filed under the voguish category of ‘appropriation art’, another way of understanding this material is to see it as a queering of Yugoslavia socialism. FV videos and performances sought to unsettle the normative effects of state media, sometimes by eroticizing its heroes and sacred symbols. Recalling her activities at the time (particularly the video works made with Šmid), Gržinić writes: ‘queer positions – every form of non-heterosexual positioning we understood, exclusively and entirely, as a political stance. This queerness – and the word queer means literally “not right/not quite” – demands, of us and of the viewer, a rethinking of the conditions of life, work, and possibilities of resistance.’[23]

In 1984 Borghesia – a FV 112 /15 offshoot – created a multimedia performance with the provocative title Lustmörder (Love Murder) in the Student Centre in Zagreb which it described as ‘a metaphysical process of discovering which is hidden by repression.’[24] [8] Eschewing the conventions of the rock concert, short videos – FV 112/15 productions – looped on eight TV screens standing on the stage and tableaux were performed by members of the group. In one, two men – wearing S&M garb – performed a disturbing ritual in which the first smeared and stretched bloody liver on the chest of the other before cutting into it with a knife. Two women dressed in shining plastic also took to the stage with whips. All the while, electronic music added menace of the performance (as perhaps did the lyrics, ‘He prefers hard sex and authority / iron-handed / jackboot / blood on the altar’). Emphasising denaturalization and excess, little about ‘Lustmörder’ was designed to encourage emotional identification. All was staged, as the emphasis on-stage screens made clear. (Roleplaying is, after all, the ‘unnatural nature’ of S&M). In her review for Start, Drakulić Ilić equated equated the ‘sex, perversion, violence, militarism’ in the performance with fascism.[25] This indictment hardly troubled the FV artists and their associates. Writing in Problemi in 1983 Gržinič and Alajbegović had presented their interest in transgression as a mode of critique: ‘The power of Ljubljana’s subcultural production lies precisely in the fact that it is not “high” art but, by using the creative operations of mass culture … and introducing content that [usually] serves the ideological function of the mass media (sexual repression, social control and manipulation, the use of banned symbols …) so that they are meaningfully radicalized, the dark side of a set of norms can be exposed, like “grafitti of the walls of a prison”.’[26] In other words, what is judged obscene or unnatural is not only a political matter but those ideological judgments become visible when the lines which have been drawn – whether consistently or not – are transgressed.

A poster by Dušan Mandić – a member of NSK/Irwin and designer of the third punk issue of Problemi – appeared on the stage of the Lustmörder performance with the words ‘1968 is over. 1983 is over. The future is between your legs’ (‘1968 je prošla. 1983 je prošla. Budućnost je između vaših noga’). The poster made it clear that Borghesia and other members of Ljubljana’s subculture rejected the progressive and universalising rhetoric of sexual liberation which had been announced so boldly at the end of the 1960s. Sex in subcultural Ljubljana had to be freed not only from the petit-bourgeois morality of the League of Communists but also from the humanist libertarians. Of course, the FV 112/15 position was not without its own contradictions: the organization of gay / lesbian nights at Disko FV and homosexual film festivals has been interpreted as brave acts of public advocacy at a time when homosexual sex was still illegal in parts of Yugoslavia and underground elsewhere; yet at the same time members of the group embraced queer alterity. And despite eschewing the common project of libertarian humanism, the FV 112/15 artists still approached sex and its repression as a social and political symptom. Writing about punk in Problemi 1981 Žižek had described it as a ‘symptom [that] reveals an intrusion of the suppressed “truth” of the most calm, most normal every life, of exactly that life that is shocked and annoyed by it. Symptom returns our suppressed truth in a perverted form …’.[27] After being promised as Yugoslavia’s remedy for more than a decade, sex in Ljubljana in 1984 was claimed as a sign of its defect

 

[1] Katalin Ladik interviewed by Aldo Bressan, ‘La poetessa che recita nuda sulla scena’, in L’Europeo (3 December 1970) 36–41 reproduced in Miško Šuvaković, Moć žene: Katalin Ladik retrospektiva 1962 – 2010 (Novi Sad: Muzej savremene umetnosti Vojvodine, 2010) 90.

[2] Ivo Lukas, ‘Intimna Nega’ in Sineast, 11 (1970) 41

[3] Mihovil Pansini cited in Lukas, Sineast, 40.

[4] See Sezgin Boynik, ‘Contributions to a Better Apprehension and Appreciation of Plastic Jesus’ in Život Umjetnosti, no. 83 (2008) 80-91.

[5] See Ksenya Gurshtein, ‘When Film and Author Made Love: Reconsidering OHO’s Film Legacy,’ in Kino!, no. 11–12 (2010) 128–54.

[6] On OHO’s engagement with land art see Maya Fowkes, The Green Bloc. Neo-avant-garde Art and Ecology under Socialism (Budapest: CEU Press, 2014) 65-110.

[7] Ćosić cited in Miško Šuvaković, The Clandestine History of the OHO Group (Ljubljana: Zavod P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E., 2010) 9.

[8] Ibid, 104.

[9] Kozomara cited by David Spurr, ‘Liberal Magazines Abound in Yugoslavia’ in The Montreal Gazette (26 July 1972) 17.

[10] Cited in Spurr, ‘Liberal Magazines Abound in Yugoslavia’, 17.

[11] Biljana Žikić, ‘Dissidents liked Pretty Girls: Nudity, Pornography and Quality Press in Socialism’ in Medij. Istraž, v. 16, no. 1 (2010) 59.

[12] It is noteworthy that Kozomara had been the scriptwriter for one of the major films of the Black Wave, Živojin Pavlović’s ‘Kad budem mrtav i beo’ (When I am Dead and Pale’, 1967), in which a number of women characters enter willingly into casual sexual relations with the central male character. See Branislav Dmitrijević, ‘Suffragettes, Easy lays and Women Faking Pregnancy’ Bojana Pejić, ed., Gender Check. Femininity and Masculinity in the Art of Eastern Europe (Vienna: Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, 2009) 46-52.

[13] Start editorial (1975) cited by Žikić, ‘Dissidents liked Pretty Girls’, 64.

[14] Daniel Gerould, Liberated Cinema: The Yugoslav Experience, 1945-2001 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002) 60.

[15] Slavenka Drakulić Ilić, ‘Muški su nešto drugo in Polet (2 April 1980) 13. This essay is also reproduced in her anthology Smrtni grijesi feminizma. Ogledi o mudologiji (Zagreb: Znanje 1984)

[16] Ibid, 142.

[17] Cited by Miško Šuvaković in Moć žene: Katalin Ladik retrospektiva 1962 – 2010 (Novi Sad: Muzej savremene umetnosti Vojvodine, 2010) 85.

[18] In fact, many of the works discussed in this essay were funded indirectly by the state, often through organisations like Neoplanta Film in Novi Sad (the producer of Križnar’s Beli Ljudje’ and Makavejev’s ‘WR: Mysterija organizma’). See Gal Kirn, Dubravka Sekulić and Žiga Testen, eds., Surfing the Black. Yugoslav Black Wave Cinema and Its Transgressive Moments (Amsterdam: Jan Van Eyck Academy, 2012) 63-8.

[19] Slavoj Žižek, ‘Why are Laibach and NSK not fascists?’ in Inke Arns, ed., Retroprincip (Frankfurt am Main: Revolver, 1993) 49-50.

[20] Dolar interviewed in Jones Irwin and Helena Motoh, Zizek and his Contemporaries (London: Bloomsbury, 2014) 93-112.

[21] Neven Korda, ‘FV and the “Third Scene” 1980 – 1990’ in Liljana Stepančič and Breda Škrjanec, eds. FV Alternativa osemdestih (Ljubljana: Mednarodni grafični likovni center, 2008) 312.

[22] Barbara Borčić, ‘Video Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism’ in Dubravka Djurić, ed., Impossible Histories. Historical Avant-gardes, Neo-avant-gardes, and Post-avant-gardes in Yugoslavia, 1918-1991 (Boston: MIT press, 2003) 514

[23] Marina Gržinić, ‘The Video, Film, and Interactive Multimedia Art of Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid, 1982–2008‘ in Marina Gržinić, Tanja Velagić, eds., The Video Art of Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid, trans. Rawley Grau (Vienna: Erhard Löcker GesmbH, 2008) 48

[24] Cited by Slavenka Drakulić Ilić, ‘Fašizam na alternativnoj sceni’ in Start (28 July 1984).

[25] Ibid.

[26] Marina Grzinič and Zemira Alajbegović, ‘Ljubjlanska subkulturna scena’ in Problemi (October-November 1983) 26.

 

[27] Žižek (1981) cited in Irvin and Motoh, Žižek and His Contemporaries, 114.