The Austrian Cultural Forum New York is pleased to present Normalities, a show starring artists from the Western Balkan region (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia), Croatia, as well as from Austria and the United States. Artists include Flaka Haliti, Armando Lulaj, Damir Očko, and Irena Lagator Pejović, whose works were featured at the 55th and 56th Venice Biennials in 2013 and 2015, respectively.
For philosopher Slavoj Žižek the very name “Balkans” is almost synonymous with “otherness” and deliberately used to distinguish oneself from one’s very neighbor. In the past century, the region was a laboratory of extraordinary political circumstances, and still is by all means a place in constant transition. In recent times, Southeastern Europe has gone through a massive transformation in an economical as well as political sense. Migration has made Vienna the fastest growing European capital, the city with the third-largest Serbian population, and home to many emerging artists. The integration of the Western Balkan countries into the European Union is a clear goal, but still an ongoing process. Apart from these political aspects of normalization, the concept of “normality” becomes all the more attractive within various different theoretical frameworks and disciplines, from philosophy and psychology to sociology and, of course, the arts.
The works showcased in Normalities go beyond art of a post-conflict society. They range from print, collage, and sculpture to photography and video, support the approach of constantly questioning normality. Some artistic positions deal with overcoming the past: Cvijanović, Lulaj and Hasanović’s artworks deal directly with history as they choose an event or person of great historical importance and manage to create a new reading by shifting symbols. Others address the friction between private and political. In his series of staged portraits Muja, for example, depicts aspects of national identification. Knebl uses her own body as a projection surface in her sculpture dealing with hate speech. Haliti, Jureša and Stanojkoviќ focus on sociological and cultural topics such as de-masking of mechanisms of male bonding, questions of migration or the death of cinemas—dimensions in which issues of normality pervade through and guide society. Prvački’s video At the Tips of Your Fingertips is a performance which literally shows the “laundering” of one dollar bills. Lagator Pejović, Brown and Dražić’s pieces could be described as investigating modes of perception, but all of them also engage with the materiality of the artworks and associations evolving out of a certain choice of material or format. Von Gabain’s work—a plaster cast of a Starbucks cup—can be seen as ironic comment on industrial norms. The analysis of architecture, especially driven by an interest in gender topics, is part of Sagadin’s installation. In TK, Očko investigates human shivering as a mechanism of resistance in a time of global insecurity, anxiety, and fear.