ESTEAP Conference Paris – Theatre and migrants










THEATRE CONFERENCE ON MIGRATIONS- Decentering the vision(s) of Europe, October 2018.

Théâtre et Migra(tio)nts

Théâtre, nation et l’identité : entre Migration et Stasis

Nina Živančević

Université Paris – Sorbonne, Université Paris 8


Alors que je marche parmi des corps ensommeillés de réfugiés Syriennes dans la gare routière de Belgrade, en essayant d’adresser mes efforts humains envers l’Autre, ma vie soudainement est apparu devant moi comme si elle a été posée sur un…Et la question « si j’avais jamais quitté cette ville où ma grand-mère avait créé la filière de la Croix Rouge en Serbie et où mon grand-père avait caché les Bakuninists sous son toit pendent leur voyage migratoire de la Russie vers les États Unis » Ici, les questions comme « L’art, est il encore possible ? » ou « C’est quoi sa dernière forme mourante ? » ne me parviennent pas.. Et de même les questions sur la signification de la « résistance », sur le pouvoir migratoire du peuple ou sur la présence de ce pouvoir ou bien son absence dans la vie quotidienne du peuple.


Réfugiés, territoire ,filtre, peau, phénoménologie, membrane, E. Husserl, Théâtre corporelle, Pablo Posada Varela, the Living Theatre



As I’m walking among the sleepy bodies of the Syrian refugees at Belgrade’s  bus station park, trying to address all my human and performative efforts towards the Other, my whole life appears suddenly in front of me as “ on a stretcher” :  have  I ever left this place where my grandmother founded the Serbian branch of the Red Cross, and where my grandfather was hiding the Bakuninists under his roof, on their way from Russia to the United States ? Here, the questions such as “Is art still possible?” and “what is its current dying form?” have never occurred to me, nor the questions about  the true meaning of resistance, the migrating power of people and its dying absence or presence in everyone’s life.


Refugees, Territory, Filter, Skin, Phenomenology, Membrane, E. Husserl, Corporal Theatre, Pablo Posada Varela, the Living Theatre.


Theatre, nation and identity: between Migration and Stasis

A:Idea of a migrant could be incorporated into the saying by Ovid : in this place I AM a barbarian  because men do not understand me.

B:As to an idea of theater, any theater, for me personally the idea had to be extended (not reduced to) to the idea of the corporal theater, theatre which treats body as such, for what it is. The theater which tends to body and all its aspects, body being the basic unit of any theatrical activity.

It is interesting to notice that wherever I lived, I have always felt as a refugee: an artist in an inner, as much as an outer exile. True, no one has ever forced me to leave my homeland, former Yugoslavia as I had left it out of my own free will that distant 1980. I was neither Nabokov, nor Joseph Brodsky or Soljenitsyn. However, the merciless hand of High Capitalism  tattooed with certain Stalinist slogans, has  ruled my country, our schools and our artists and intellectuals . All of us have felt its rude consequences even under the reign of Tito. As I’m walking among the sleepy bodies of the Syrian refugees in a Belgrade’s bus station park, trying to address all my human and performative efforts towards the Other, my whole life appears suddenly on a stretcher in front of my eyes, and here comes a question: have I ever truly left this town where my grandmother founded the Serbian branch of the Red Cross, and where my grandfather was hiding the Bakuninists under his roof, on their way from Russia to the United States? Here, questions such as “Is art still possible?” and “what is its current, ‘disappearing’ form?”, have never occurred to me, nor the questions about the true meaning of resistance or its absence or presence in everyone’s life. The answers to these questions would impose themselves on me quite naturally. Let me dig into some fitting examples of the artistic practices concerning the Migrant theater and the Theater of the Migrants that will help  illustrate my quandary.

As I’m trying to sort out some basic terms operandi let us have a look at the notions of « migration » , migrants and « the migrating forms of theatre ».

 As I worked with the Living  Theater for a long time, for me personally the notion of LIFE, ALIVE and the LIVING have always meant Theatre and it included its various subterms. « The term migration is  closely linked to the construction of the Other, the figure of the foreigner in our everyday realities, in the media, and on stage.  The uprooted person, the migrant figure, whether political, economic or spiritual, often triggers tensions between the familiar and the unknown, native and foreign, us and them.  Within the current global political climate, marked by the increasing rise of the right and of xenophobic sentiments, the term migration prompts us to grapple with a variety of contradictions of hospitality and hostility, of solidarity and security, of activism and passivity, of movement and stasis. “

In the interview (2015) focusing on hosts, migrants and hospitality in general, a leading anthropologist and politico-economic anarchist-activist David Graeber , founder of Occupy

Wall Street movement, who also exiled himself, had a couple remarks to make on the notions of real and ambiguous hospitality:

We are witnessing an incredible global control of the territorial borders and laws which govern their borders. Although we know that the technology has advanced a lot, we are still confronted with an incredible quantity of walls and of frontiers being imposed on us, virtual or non-virtual ones, the walls which cut our planet into a million separate pieces- until recently this was a sort of an abstraction to us and now it’s becoming our physical reality….   in the era of feudalism, people travelled from Africa to England, I don’t mean here the slaves, these travelers were not slaves, they would only enter another country physically, no one prevented them to enter some country. 

 The interesting thing is that they were welcomed pleasantly and warmly by the local inhabitants, the system of hospitality was highly developed and the host felt a moral obligation to welcome a stranger- he would bring the best food to him and feed him for three days. Perhaps if this guest overstayed the host could turn him into a slave-  we will not enter here the psychological aspects or reasons for someone’s hospitality! The Austrian anthropologist Franz Steiner had written a lot about this problem, he wrote a doctoral dissertation, “On nature of slavery”, where he developed the thesis related to his personal experience- he himself was a refugee in England but at that time an already famous professor who had always said that people had been inviting him to visit them, wined and dined him, asking him to read his interesting work- only to ask him all sorts of favors in the end, for instance- to wash the dishes! “ Further along, discussing the notion of the Other and his presence in a new environment Graeber remarked: “It seems that in so called Western Europe- the administration and the government started to calculate how many refugees they could accept and which jobs these could eventually get, and where they would feel the best. Oddly enough, they came up with the calculus that the first and the best country for the refugees was Hungary!! …It seems that the National Front and their anti-immigrant politics are to be found today in those small towns and villages where the refugees would not land anyways. In France, for instance and in some other countries where the National Front is in action, their representatives live in those forlorn places spared by the immigrants. In London, for instance, the representatives of the National Front have never met the immigrants in person- as they live in those posh suburbs where the immigrants never go, and- if they were to meet some of them they wouldn’t even know what to say, what to ask, how to present themselves.. The Germans seem all of a sudden more tolerant in treating the refugees who arrive there now. I would like to emphasize the fact that the Germans had not entirely created all the forms of torture or behavior towards the minorities during WWII- all these forms had already existed in the big colonial empires: the concentration camps, the bureaucratic consensuses and lists of special citizens in Holland and in France, as well as the systematic avoidance of laws, and the double standard for the application of these laws to different groups of inhabitants, as prescribed by the Geneva convention when it was signed- these were not applied in their colonies. This is to say that in a conflict between the empire and say, the Zulu tribe, or in Ecuador, the laws from the Geneva convention were not respected in these territories. The arms that the empire used there were not even known as such in Europe, like those “dum-dum bullets » for instance.  However, the Germans pushed the farthest the war terror as they decided to use the most drastic forms of armament over the population which they declared not white, though these people were seen as “white” by all other nations but the Germans.” In discussing the relationship between the current politics towards the migrants and the Arts in general (here we’ll focus on Drama Studies), Graeber commented on Jacques Ranciere’s remark  that politics and art build a fictive relationship, and that something that we see and what we do is just a part of that relationship. So  what we do and what we could do in future is another part of that relationship.  What kind of relationship could be built between the refugees and the countries where they arrive? 

Graeber agrees that there is a fictive, imaginary relationship between them – and he says that people project all sorts of desires when they meet with the foreigners; we observe here strange and perverse desires as they find these foreigners different from them, however we know that the precondition for building solidarity with the refugees is the feeling of equality and togetherness. Another thing is that people like to see the refugees as victims, they sympathize with them until the certain moment, they imagine themselves in a similar situation which causes them to have empathy, until the moment when these poor refugees start feeling good. Then their hosts’ feelings change, they start having certain doubts in regards to these refugees, now the question is- how do we overcome this feeling?”

Graeber also elaborates on  the term migration  which immediately invokes one of the central political, social, humanitarian and cultural issues of our time.  It conjures images of people on cramped boats approaching the Italian island of Lampedusa and of people trying to jump on board lorries to cross the English Channel; images of dead bodies floating in the sea and of places left behind, turned to rubble; images of refugee camps from Dadaab in Kenya, the size of Minneapolis, to the infamous ‘Jungle’ in Calais. The notion of migration is intrinsically linked to questions of mobility and access as it evokes various performances of borders—for some they are porous, almost flexible, and for others they are impenetrable. The fences erected along the US and Mexican border and the India and Pakistani border, the checkpoints and walls separating Israel from the West Bank, the razor-barbed wire the Hungarian government installed on the border with Serbia to stop the influx of refugees: all these elements map the most extreme aspects of migratory geographies, playing out over and over again the Derridian hospitality/hostility paradox. Here, I’m quoting David Graeber again:

The notion of Other does not include only fear but also the attraction which we feel towards the Other. Whenever I’ve read the Levinas observations about the face, human face I was hearing him, in a paradoxical way, as we are all the same, in the sense that we all come from mankind, that they are all different. Levinas wishes to point to the absolute uniqueness of each of us, of each face which we cannot entirely assimilate, which causes certain pain but also an awareness in us that everyone is unique and special. And that it forms a part of the humanizing process, makes us human, this sort of constant appropriation of awareness that every human being is unique. As an anthropologist I am in a constant process of studying the Other and I am constantly aware that the Other is different and that we are constantly of the verge of an abyss of not understanding other culture, and the so called  Other- we are reaching here the point of limitation in us- I often do not understand my own brother who is a great unknown to me.”

When asked to  reflect upon  Karl Marx’s economic postulates which would ultimately claim that the refugees and the migrants are not such a weight or burden on Europe,Graeber explained that these  could be a source of investment for Europe which needs a greater working force.That force is neither physical nor ‘intellectual’ , and it represents “the force of immaterial labor” as Tony Negri called it. Graeber further continues :.” if I could draw a certain parallel- in North America the situation is clear: until recently all immigrants without papers there had a status which was worse than any pariah’s- they were not allowed to vote nor they had any other rights.  They did not have a syndicate which would allow them to speak out, and only recently there started a movement for civil rights which allows for these people to speak out. At the same time the immigration coming from Mexico becomes ever prominent in the US, and the politicians on the top are constantly reflecting whether they should throw them out of the country or not- they cannot agree on this issue- and what these immigrants are today is exactly what the capitalist class has always been fighting for: to have a group of people who have no legal rights and who don’t have a workers’ syndicate capable of defending their rights.  As they don’t even have a right to have a syndicate, these people are in a legal limbo.  So here we are talking about work which is legally outlawed. These illegal workers have no rights and they swim in the waters where everyone can throw them out at any moment and this is exactly what the capitalists want. “

 This problematic is widely explored in Silvina Landsmann’s experimental film HOTLINE which describes a daily work of a NGO in Tel Aviv, the agency which fights for human rights of the migrants coming from Sudan and Eritrea to Israel.The questions of right for the asylum and the feelings of non-hospitality in the nation composed entirely of refugees are raised here. But not only domain of film treats the problem of migrant workers- the medium of theatre  always treats the problematics of the Double and has started recently conceiving its role as the major mediator between the Double and the Other. Several issues are at stake here. As Graeber again pertinently remarked, one of

the problems starts when “ the migrants who move into someone’s territory want to take leadership over the territory where they have just landed- if the Syrians wanted to take leadership in European countries where they have just arrived,  that would be a problem. After the II World War the Europeans thought that they had to do something, at least partially for the Jews, and as it was not possible for them to give the Jews a part of the European territory, they decided that the Jews should be directed towards Palestinian lands. You see how that thing got totally complicated as the Jews were originally Europeans as well. This is all a very sad story- when I moved to London in a quarter called Bethlehem Green one could still find numerous synagogues. However, through certain municipal decrees by the end of 1990s, the Brits started moving Muslim refugees into this quarter, telling them “this is the area where you are going to feel at home”. This is just one of the examples which show how the Zionist politics has done the most harm to the Jewish population itself.” And again, beyond its immediate, topical invocations, the terms migration and migrants implies, more broadly, a body of persons or animals migrating together. These moving migrating bodies range from the political to the economic and to the spiritual; from refugees and asylum seekers to tourists, guest-workers, and visiting scholars; and they even stretch beyond human migration to include other kinds of migrating bodies—inspiring us, perhaps, to think of migration as a kind of a performative ecology that involves a wide variety of agents, processes and geographies.

       Migration understood as an act—a form of being/doing—unfolds within different socio-political scenarios and through a repertoire of performative and affective gestures making possible for both individual and collective aspects to emerge. Dictionary definitions also describe the term ‘as movement from one part of something to the other’ — which includes both spatial and temporal dimensions, individuals, communities, animals, but also forms, ideas, aesthetics, and conventions. Thus, migration emerges as ultimately a relational category. In chemistry, it means a change or movement of atoms in a molecule. In physics, it means diffusion—the intermingling of substances by their natural movement. Applied to culture, these attributes of migration also suggest the spreading, mixing and remixing of forms and ideas. Hence, migration does not unfold in a straight line; it is rather a process of moving from one point to the other that necessitates meandering, wandering, changing of pace, transformation, negotiation, and adaptation.

The contemporary theater is highly aware of all the different problems which rise with the relocation of migrants to someone’s territory. There was a conference recently given in April 2018 at la Sorbonne which tried, through the work of the current contemporary theater companies to answer some of the following questions  such as :how have theatre and performance responded to the issues of exile, displacement and Otherness both historically and in our times? How has the process of migration been shaped and reshaped through various political, social, cultural and artistic scenarios? How can the notion of migration be employed to grapple with issues of cultural cross-fertilization, transfer, appropriation and mutation?  What does constitute ecologies of migration in theatre and performance (and beyond)?

Within the scope of the seminar VALE , Elisabeth Angel-Perez, Kerry-Jane Wallart and Jeanne Schaaf gave a report -summery on the work of the companies of the “Theatre of NON-LIEU”. The report was notably on the work of the virtual and nomadic Scottish National Theatre which moves from one city to another virtually and allegedly occupying the same mental space within the spectator as other  companies physically do.

Another company worth mentioning here is ERRINA company founded by Anastassia Politi, a Greek director whose brother drowned in Italy doing his activist work on the migrants’ boat near Lampedusa island. ERRINA is a completely nomadic, migratory enterprise in terms that it employs theatrical settings, props and scenery on the spot, whenever it gives performances as it moves from Greece to France, from the north to the south performing the thematic units related to the migrants’ life, and is always on the move.

The visual artist Judith Barry is displaying her work entitled Global Displacement in the memory of the Lampedusa’s boats at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the states. She conceived her work in an inflatable boat, somewhat similar to the one that was drowned near Lampedusa filled with the collages of asylum seekers and followed with the artist’s words « nearly 1 in 100 people worldwide are displaced from their homes ». In this particular case boat is seen as the stage for daily life, that is living performances given by the asylum seekers. Looking up, the asylum seekers greet the effortlessly hovering drone with the mixture of relief and elation- even though the drone is not human, and even though the resulting encounter is no guarantee of a rescue or of entry into another country. There are hundreds of these images circulating online, says Pieranna Cavalchini, Curator of Contemporary Art. The refugee crisis is on-going and shows no sign of abating.

According to Pablo Posada Varela, a contemporary philosopher of phenomenology, the question of frontier is very old and profound as it touches the essence of human being. What is a frontier anyways ? Is it something that distinguishes our interior from the exterior in a human being ?; By definition it is not an impenetrable wall but more of a filter. A human being is above all an animal, a living being which moves and that’s ?the first quality which distinguishes it from an inanimate object. The man recognizes its exterior by the limit imposed by his skin ; this membrane and this frontier saves his interior from spilling to the outside world. But this membrane is never conceived as the rigid wall, it is porous whose function is to protect, to assimilate and to evacuate, Varela says.If we exposed this frontier too much, it would be destructive for our interior, but an excessive closure would lead the body to natural death. This frontier, our skin, defends our interior which is, according to the philosopher « transcendental » and which is also different from the man’s « visceral » interior. A man, as an animal, has a constant need to move, to conquer his territory outside himself, but his own territory is designed by his skin which guarantees him certain serenity and defends him from climate, and from other animals, but the man seeks an exterior territory which is secure and  which the animal counts on in order to survive. When basic security of his territory disappears, the man as an animal moves in order to find another territory and in this basic instinct lies the phenomenon of migrations. The skin as the protective denominator does not always protect the body, that’s why we put additional clothes on it, in order to save the energy of our interior. We add to the clothes protection provided by the house, then the roof, a city and then the country, a supplement of the « membranes » to protect our interior. But these membranes, as we have seen have a double sense, they are just the filters. Our body has bladder and openings on it, the house does not consist only of  walls, it has windows, doors and other openings. The body itself if it wants to survive, it has to be able to « go out ». A space without openings is either a tomb or a prison ; thus humans build these transitional places where they grow up, where they can retreat and the frontier conceived in those terms is visceral and already included into the bio-topology of man’s nature. However, Varela says that aside from this so-called visceral determination of man’s interior/exterior, there is a transcendental interior of a man, the sum of his experiences which he lived phenomenally. The man moves in his thought through the past, his presence and his future, his interior here has no frontiers and he moves his interior transcendentally, ignoring borders, now supported by the technological crutches, that is, by the virtual equipment. But here Varela says that despite the intricate specifics which we get today in technology, and regardless of all the prosthesis and mediation given to us by the virtual , it cannot replace the living experience of a certain subject. This sentiment of the experience lived here and now puts the idea of the virtual theater into an abyss if not garbage. The idea of   phenomenology teaches us that the spaces that we mark by our presence and our experience are also the spaces that mark our interior. Therefore the migrants’ theater can be  seen as an osmosis of frontiers, our inner frontiers as well as the exterior ones which shape our experience, as much as we shape them by crossing them constantly. The presence of a human body is quite important in a theatrical experience, although, the virtual experience either in theater or in a psychiatric session via Skype is an experience highly acceptable and belongs to the realm of something which Marc Richir, a Husserlian scholar would name « a perceptive phantasia ».

There are two theater companies which follow Richir’s philosophical investigation, both of them work actually in Paris . They presented their work within the scope of the thematic festival EXILE which took place in LA MAISON des Metalos in the third week of May. The first show entitled simply Crocodiles or the Real History of  a Youngster in Exil follows the original story of the author Fabio Geda contained in the book « There are Crocodiles in the Sea ». Here, the excellent performance by a young Remi Fortin reveals a story of a young Afgani boy , Enaitollah, whose mother, fearing the massacre commenced by the Hazaras, first smuggles the boy into Pakistan. Here the boy is left alone and during the five years he tells his story of a 9 year old who  crosses the borders of Iran, Turkey and Greece all alone, until he finally reaches Italy. This piece in a form of monodrama (one -man person) is  directed with a really great sensitivity by the French directors Cendre Chassanne and Carole Guittat. Although The directors are not themselves the displaced people,  they skillfully manage to find  both the intimate and universal words for Enaiat to address the audience so in the end the public can affirm that this humanist show  transcends tragedy in its final message as it makes us believe in a possibility of true human openness and hospitality.

The second play entitled « Countries of Misfortune and Sorrow », and directed by Charlotte Le Bras is much less encouraging that the Crocodiles. It was mainly realized after the book written by Younes Amrani and Stéphane Beaud , the book which retells the « dark matter » or the problematic part of the recent French history, the one of their colonization, and the so called « assimilation » of the North African families who came to live and work in France. Very few authors would tackle this subject, and rightly speaking, they certainly avoid  this particular thematic which has, from Camus up  to recently Tahar Ben Jalun, provoked many authors to think about this complex issue. However, it seems that we have never had enough of this particular theme in France as the wounds are deep. Younes Amrani is a sociologist who worked in a public library in 2002 where he started rethinking the social issues, notably the suffering through which the generations of his parents- migrants to France, had to go through.  Two actors and an actress in this play represent different voices of Younes who had listened in his youth the underprivileged voices of his cousins and friends living in a ghetto while fighting for human rights. The children of the immigrants are often more split apart in their fight for justice than their elders ; they love the notion of the ancient country where their parents came from, but they also love the « new » country adopted by their parents which they  call their home. Here, again, the migrants’ story is different from the story of the migrants fighting for « bare life », they are fighting for the recognition and an access to social privileges guaranteed to everyone in the democratic society. They all agree that « el ghorba »(exile in Arabic) is a condition which is utterly unfavorable, but it could be overcome but the willful means. In the play there is a voice of the Maghreb kid who has seen a lot, just by growing up in his ghetto, in this « country of misfortune » as he calls it. He prefers prison to growing up in « freedom » where he is constantly humiliated and reminded that he does not have his real place in it. In 1996 the Maghreb encounters religion, becomes a « good Fundamentalist ». The director and her company, les Papavéracées, magnificently explain throughout the play how the terrorism comes to be conceived and born in the West or in the « countries of sorrow and misfortune ». In other words, as much as the Maghrebans , or the involuntary work force, present or are viewed as « a misfortune » to the Westerners in their lands,  the same goes for the North Africans who view their hosts as the inevitable misfortune which fell upon their shoulders through the acts of colonization.

In conclusion : the problem of migrations and the migrants’ stories I already tried to tackle in my book « 11 Women Artists in Exile » which I published in 2011 in Paris. In this work, which follows the steps of Edward Said in his investigations, I tried to distinguish the phenomena of « bare life », bare existence and the « meaningful or the « thinking life », vita contemplativa, as Hanna Arendt would have it. The migrants have right to both. Often they are fighting for the first one only, and the presence of theater, of a theatrological situation attests to the presence of the second one. Walter Benjamin tries to distinguish both forms of living while discussing the notion of « the mythic violence’ : The application of mythic violence to life produces a very peculiar form of life , naked or “bare life”. Bare life is not simply natural or biological life but a product of legal violence: life as bare life is rendered as the natural bearer of guilt, a culpable life, which is, at the same time, the subject matter of the modern humanist “doctrine of the sanctity of life, which [the humanists] either apply to all animal and even vegetable life, or limit to human life” (SW 1, p. 250).

 Benjamin, however, dares to ask what is sanctified in such doctrine – a doctrine, which is also the foundation of the modern idea of inalienable human rights. For Benjamin, the abstract subject matter of human rights is bare life – a life deprived of its supra-biological properties. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, the sanctification of life as such leads to a life without

freedom, truth, or justice. From this consideration, Benjamin concludes

that the “idea of man’s sacredness gives grounds for reflection that what

is here pronounced sacred was, according to ancient mythic thought,

the marked bearer of guilt: life itself ” (p. 251). The invention of life and its culpability share the same origin, which is also the mythic ground of modern state violence, sanctioned and justified by the law. The theater which bases its praxis on these tenets has to take into consideration all the aspects of the living, the real, the symbolic and its imaginary issues.

 In “11 Women-Artists, Slavs and Nomads”, my book on the exiles, I also remembered Hal Foster’s notion of the “abject art” which discusses  the “vulnerability of our borders, the fragility of the spatial distinction between our exterior and the interior, as well as the concept of self in a crisis embodied in the cut of the dismantled body whose chopped off members now independently follow their own “game of chess”. Finally,  we  may conclude here that such a traumatic cut is productive because it evacuates and raises the subject, showing us that the totality is an illusion as it also confirms its existence only in multiplicity, in a dynamic interaction of the whole and its segments.


Jason Read : in Companion to Critical and Cultural Theory, Work and Precarity, pp.269-280, Wiley Blackwell Press (ed. by  Imre Szeman, Sarah Blacker)

Nina Zivancevic : 11 Women Artists Nomads and Slavs, NON-LIEU , Paris, 2010

Sami Khatib : Towards a politics of « pure means » :Walter Benjamin and the questions of violence,

 Interview with David Graeber, November 2015, London , conducted by Nina Zivancevic,

Judith Barry: untitled : Global Displacement:

Pablo Posada Varela: Le viscéral et le transcedental. Préliminaires phénoménologiques sur la frontière, Eikasia, revista de filosofia

Pablo Posada Varela: Le dedans entamé. Enjeux et paradoxes du frontalier contemporain,

Eikasia, 2018

La Maison de Metallos, Focus “Exil” du 4 au 24 mai 2018: deux spectacles, “Crocodiles” de Cendre Chassanne et Carole Guittat, et

Pays de Malheur” de la compagnie Les Papavéracées.



The integral text on Ira Cohen was prepared for the EBSN  conference and includes the comments on his Mylar photography.

7 th Annual Conference
Vienna Poetry School – Künstlerhaus 1050
October 3 to October 6, 2018

4. October

Room B: Beat Arts
Nina Zivancevic : Ira Cohen’s Art (‘Mylar chamber’ photographs and poetry)
Chair: Frank Rynne




I picked up the phone that day and learnt that Ira was gone; no more of his voice that made so many people laugh, so many people happy. I hated the fact that I wouldn’t be able to hear his voice again,

I put on “The Majoon Traveler”, “dedicated to Brion Gysin” , produced by SubRosa, poems and music recorded by Ira Cohen, Paul Bowles, Bryon Gysin, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, Angus Maclise, DJ Cheb i SABBAH, music recorded in Marrakesh in 1987.

These names, you could only imagine at your cousin’s Birthday party, in someone’s library and so on…for Ira, they were just a part of his reality. Some of them I met personally either with Allen or with Ira or with Huncke, but one thing was for sure- they were part of his daily experience, his own lifestyle, like Ira was a part of my life, and one thing I know: while some friends of his were taking time to write blogs, blurbs and obituaries- I was simply crying.

In his poem to Cocteau (and this I’ve heard accentuated on the tape), he said:

” Imagine whatever you will

But know that it’s not imagination but experience

Which makes poetry and that behind

Every image   behind every word  there

Is something I’m trying to tell you

Something that REALLY HAPPENED”.  (“Imagine Jean Cocteau”)

So, imagine Ira, imagine that day on which I called him from my small Suffolk street apartment in the city of Nouvelle York, and was ready to go quickly to my legal proofreading job, and Ira had kept me on the phone for hours, and I was laughing and laughing, laughing my job out loud…

He said he has just arrived from Amsterdam, and if I knew there Eddie Woods (they started the legendary Ins & Outs Press) and Louise LL and Simon Vinkenoog- that was a damn good start for our friendship.

“Hey, hey”, he said, if you had known all these people, although I am not on speaking terms with some of them any longer—nonetheless, that must mean that you are a VERY nice person!” He was able to keep me on the phone for hours; in fact, he was the only person who was able to keep me on the phone longer than 5 minutes; I say “I”, but this means, “we”, New York downtown community of a couple of friends, or Upper west Side community of actors including Judith Malina, or the Brooklyn community of musicians, and so on.

But Ira was not only a long distance telephone-chit- chat. He was real true blue, gave me a piece of gold when I was down and out in the street, and told me “Sell it! So that you can get your real apartment!” he had a photographic memory, not only a skill to make the incredible photos, great photographer as he was. Ira was a great traveller as well. Now, the journeys do not make any sense, Ira is gone- good-bye happiness, hello Dr. Nadar and other creepy creatures. Ira had said once “butterfly (meaning me) is small and meaningless, but still it knows how to get to Mexico”- three of us went to the airport and Ira who did not have a ticket literally slid through the door onto the plane, and then we had so much fun on this lovely trip to Cancun and Chichen Itza. At that time it was still possible- no terrorists, no big check-ups, just the journey in itself and pure joy of being alive…

Ira was a great traveller and I had a taste of all his travels that time in Mexico- he was staging his photographs carefully- “now stand over here, and stand there,” we all obeyed his whimsical arrangements- then later we saw ourselves on these beautiful, at times scary photos whose “meaning” was turned upside down to serve his artistic purpose. I saw once a marble pillar sticking like a dick, coming out of my head in the MOMA’s sculpture garden- all this on Ira’s photo of course. At that time I was angry with him for having created such a composition but now I say- there was Man Ray before Ira, and that was IT.

And he was truly international. He often complained of his loneliness. In one of his poems he said

“The way of the artist is lonely…, and people are afraid of them, even God created

People because he was lonely, so lonely must be the worst..”

Like all of us, Aquarians, he feared the loneliness the worst, and he would even go for the company of the silliest people on this Earth- just as not to feel lonely! He held the Aquarians in high esteem- he loved Mozart, he adored Henri—Charles Ford, he loved me (at times his muse and a favourite camera object) and many other Aquarians one would never think of befriending!! He trusted them so much that he never questioned their skills or loyalty, as on that trip to Cancun when he allowed me  to take him on that imaginary plane ticket to Mexico, the trip which was purely conceived with my Aquarian skill- and- manipulation- of- a –tourist- agent method, a lovely trip …but, all this belongs to a diary of a madman such as Paul Bowles, Ира Кохен , or..Angus Maclise. Ira had never liked Allen Ginsberg whom I adored, because he acquired “more fame than him in many ways”. Allen had fame, but he had no children.

The last time I saw the latter he said how much he envied Ira, for having sons; I was on the verge of tears- I was expecting a baby.

Ira came to Paris to be there with me for my delivery; I’ll never forget the day when he arrived in Paris- my term was overdue and Ira was taking me around Paris, making me laugh “so that we push the baby out, so that he can come of quickly”- he was placing different plates and objects on my belly and shooting photos, also reciting his poems from the Akashik  records “I am not a beat/ though I have performed with them all etc./ I am an electronic/multimedia shaman,/ a Naga hipster,/ an Akashik Agent, an Outlaw of the Spirit…

The flower of chivalry/with a sword for a leaf/& a lily for a heart…”

That time in Paris we went to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cryptic gathering, but later they had a big falling out. I wrote a poem about it much much later:

World Championship in Good Manners

I’m all dressed in black and silver

And I’m carrying Ira’s book of black and silver

There are not too many people in this world like Ira

And there are many people like Alejandro Jodorowski

I hear that once they were friends, now they are enemies,

And all these people around Jodorowski

Are just like him – but I won’t name them

I am at a Judo championship with my son and his father

His father and I used to be enemies but now we are friends..

We never got married but we always have to stay

Together through a lifetime – raising a kid

Is such a long job!

My life is full of incongruence; it’s just the other way

Of saying it’s in contradictions-

Like the fact that I am broke and that I bought

A ticket to London; the fact is

That I don’t like London and I don’t even know

Why I’m going to go there: I am going to visit

My ex-husband who does not love me any longer

But at least he was graceful enough to marry me – so

We don’t have to stay together…

It’s 25 degrees in Paris now, very sunny and

we’re eating pizza before the championship;

my son is a Judoka, a living Buddha who bows

before the adversary just as he gives him

the final blow…

he won a number of gold medals but the best

gift for him is my smile, I drink beer, leave the podium,

let go of him – he will have his own life

and his own loves to handle…

I would see Ira on and off, on our various travels, in London, Paris, New York and Amsterdam. His trip to London in 2007 stayed in my memory, he was very ill, came down with a bad flu, and the art dealers in his October gallery did not treat him correctly, thus I wrote the following:


BHUTO Dancers

(for Ira Cohen)

thread of light  this morning

old friends coming from nowhere

going to no place

we are old souls holding

by sheer wit and courage

our encounters repeat light

of multitudes

our repeated lifetimes

(November 2007)


In fact, the things turned so sour between him and the gallery owners that I started reflecting deeply on nature of art and the relationship between the artist and an art dealer. It seemed to me that the artist was always an underdog, neither loved or appreciated by the dealers but rather exploited all the way through. Here we had a major artist, such as Ira, seriously ill with high fever, and the dealers were ignoring his condition by setting more and more appointments with art collectors, not allowing his family to hand him a medication that we bought in a local pharmacy for him, so I wrote this angry poem:



the artist was there and he was happy

he was bright, temporary in his brio,

committed, uncompromising, the uncompromised one,

the gallery owner was nervous and eager to appear

generous, he started barking, showing his teeth and then

his goodwill, he said he was there to help the anonymous

he said he was there to improve the state of arts and

the state, he was not to deal with mental patients

he admitted that they were fragile

the artist saw this as a game of power

he said he disliked the master/slave dialectics

he said he wanted to leave and that he couldn’t care less

as usual, he said he did not care and basically he did not

the gallery owner said that he himself could not care less

he really could not be bothered, he said he was

surrounded by all sorts of artists,

it almost felt like in a mental asylum, he said

he could not give a damn, and why should he?

I said I could not write

this poem I said I could not write a poem unless

it was crystal-clear to me unless something

was so clear that it crystallised a word into an image

a shabby image into a word

I said I wouldn’t have written this poem had I not been

certain of my image   of this sentiment   of this

discomfort turned into words

I said I would not write unless I knew what they

were talking about they pretended they knew

the guttural was beyond the hearsay

the rhymes did not sit well

the sounds could not hold

the images could not stand any pressure

there was no meaning in all this but

in the very essence of things

the meaning of the “less”  prevailed.


Perhaps it was our Eastern European background, perhaps it was our “Aquarian Mickey Mauss club” where we both belonged, but I don’t think that anyone understood me better than Ira did, thus he wrote this truly enlightened words for me on a dedication page of  his Whatever You Say May be Held Against You:

“To do it without thinking, that is the best. & for you it is essential.”

I wrote this text without thinking.


“Not even photography will get you out of prison”

(Mylar Chamber works)


When I quote Cohen, avant-garde poet-cum-photographer-cum-film-maker, connoisseur of the dark sides of life as much as of Rabelaisian humor – I do it out of my “head”, or my subconscious, raking my dearest and nearest memories: I’ve been trying to liberate the space in my surrealist sub-consciousness invaded by Cohen’s images, light and dark, liquid colors stretched all over the brain’s plane for almost a decade – the artist “was here”, very much present, not so long ago.

Photography and the process of taking it used to be for Cohen an act of extreme liberty and an act of liberation, it was able to get us out “of the prison” of our own dwelling, subliminal or real. A Serbian surrealist poet, Djordje Kostic, once said: “Surrealism is not something way beyond the real; it is realism on square!” In one of his poems, Cohen says that he had always tried to say something real, “something that really happened”. His photography really happened, his Mylar chamber theater, his oneiric images happened, as did the act of holding his camera – be it a photo camera or a film camera (for Ira Cohen, the process of making a film was the act of extending his dreamy images into a prolonged movement, the way the best directors, such as Pasolini or Tarkovski, have always done).

We witness this process of ‘extending’ photographs better than anywhere else in Cohen’s long documentary of the Kumbh Mela festival entitled “Kings of the Straw Mats”. This massive gathering is a huge Hindu religious pilgrimage in which Hindus gather to bathe in a sacred river. It is considered to be the largest peaceful gathering in the world with around 100 million people expected to visit holy sites, so dear to Cohen’s heart. The quintessence of Cohen’s art – both in film and photography – may be observed in this film. However, unlike Pasolini or Jean Renoir who observe Indian society as the supreme documentarists (Pasolini in “Notes for a film on India” and Renoir in “Le Fleuve”), Cohen documents the location and transforms his vision into a high artistic experience. He becomes one with the vision of India as he is not a casual observer or just a tourist, a traveler, but absorbs this vast country as a dweller, as a sentient being who has really lived in the sub-continent. However, much like Pasolini, he is also a great visionary-humanist whose Indian themes – religion and hunger –remain forever printed on his celluloid. He sees the “misery of the world” as Pierre Bourdieu qualified the world of the underdeveloped underdogs – Cohen sees the lepers, the blind, the hungry, the religious, but unlike Pasolini, his humanism is complemented and nuanced with his surrealist humor. In his film, a hookah smoker, a leper, a toothless dancer with Death and his orphan – all these are people whose social world of “the untouchables” Cohen treats with his sense of humanity, and with his undeniable feeling for color and a zany, idiosyncratic detail that escapes both Renoir and Pasolini. And whereas Renoir talks about a bride with a husband chosen by her father, in Cohen we see it all – the bride, the ruined childhood, the father and the groom – as witnessed also in his moving photos from his trip to Ethiopia. And again, where the others document and describe the lives of the Indians, Cohen just shoots and records the essence of the Indian spirit expressed in the event of the legendary Kumbh Mela. By comparing Ira Cohen here with his European peers, I want to add that there’s something in favor of Cohen: Ira is a poet and master of contemporary letters, and these facts add to the miracle which was produced in his work. He trusted a 100 percent in the power of the visual. His Mylar photographs are his visual portrayals of people he used to know or did not know, they are speechless, silent, like the deaf parents he grew up with. His documentary, Kumbh Mela, is also silent – bereft of textual explanation it is as non-judgmental as its author –rather a non-judgmental, but critical observation of the world we inhabit, be it in the heart of Africa, Asia or in the midst of his 16-panel Mylar chamber where he was an alchemist, a sort of American Victor Brauner, concocting images out of the mirror-like reflections which emerge from his panels.

II b. October Gallery issue

Five years ago, for his exhibition at the October gallery in London, Ira Cohen chose so-called Mylar and surrealist photographs that were combinations of mimesis and mimicry, assimilation and adaptation of subjects to the semi-abstract forms and floating colors. Cohen studied literature and his observation of the literary world served as the ongoing project. His fascination with this world runs through Ira’s œuvre, though not strictly in a visual sense of the term. Let’s take his portrait of William Burroughs – it is adorned with an image of a cobra in it; it is a diluted Mylar collage which gives us a hint of Burroughs’s strange and idiosyncratic personality. However, In Cohen’s photos, the focus is not on winners and losers, but on forms of togetherness amounting to co-evolution. Central to these comparative observations of forms and colors, is also Cohen’s choice of working not exclusively with black and white photography, but rather with Mylar panels and/or sepia background stills. In doing so, that is, by using Mylar liquid color effects, the artist places another filter between the object and its photographic representation, allowing even for the quotidian to be seen in a new, splashing light. There are portraits of the Living Theater actors which float in front of us, Mary-Mary, then Pamela, followed by his own favorite partners, Petra Vogt and Caroline Gosselin…
In his black-and-white photos, thanks to their stylistic unity, he manages to make supposedly impossible pairings (like the one of a ravished Hans Bellmer doll and his beard) appear reasonable and self-evident. In some cases, as in his black-and-white dual portrait of Carlo Stephanos and myself (circa 1990), individual motifs enter into permanent alliances with other pictures (of a NYC E3rd Street’s mural with the words “freedom now” painted in the background). In some others, like in most of his Mylar photos, these motifs are placed within a succession of contexts.
In one combination, Cohen juxtaposes the face of a rock icon, Jimmy Hendrix, to a floating Mylar sensation of his curly, cloudy hair. What we see in a dialogue here is Jimmy’s fragile face juxtaposed with the structure of his hair as much as the structure of his red gown – these elements come to the fore as well as the slow build-up of Mylar-produced structures of colors. Not only did Cohen’s image combinations change over the years, but also the motifs of his photographs. Whereas initially he focused mainly on liquid, Mylar effect photos thus-producing strange, zoomorphic images of people and things, in the years closer to his death (2011) he increasingly shifted toward surrealist black-and-white settings and portraits. The settings had a message, with a surrealist twist. In the ninth month of my pregnancy, Cohen had staged me and Marc, the father of my baby – in front of a silly Parisian street poster which was entitled “Destiny”. His images increasingly resembled stills from a movie set and this special feeling for a collage, and a theatrical reality was largely picked up from Brion Gysin, that is, from Gysin’s sense for staging sound and light installations. He confided this to me this fact in the summer of 1994.

  1. However, not being a photographer myself, I never felt confident enough to discuss the very technique with which Ira produced his Mylar photos: how he was shaping those already taken images I would not know. The only certainty was my understanding that he fathomed the photographic event as something that could be reproduced (via the negative) or that he himself could even replace that event in the process of developing the image by the unique Mylar treatment of a non-repeatable event on the photo paper. This special treatment of a photograph though, produced a sensation in the viewer that a photograph created through the Mylar chamber was of the sort that was either super-imaginary or infra-real – real on square or phantasmagorical, certainly oneiric. And Ira Cohen himself was exactly like that: infra-real and at the same time oneiric as a person – and phantasmagorical. The intersection of literature and fine art on one side, and life on the other, was Cohen’s ongoing concern. Sometimes he addressed the links between life and its photographic visualization directly, whilst underlining the fact that direct insights into life could not be understood in isolation from the medium of their communication. His photography grants access to our immediate surroundings –it reaches them both as the aesthetic realms and the sites for experimental insight. And it shows that the world around us and the one inside of us are mutually dependent, somewhat shaped by the factors that make out of us simply the parts of a larger whole. This procedure, as such, is an example of the surrealist exercise in the best sense of that word – his art has been an intense, politically determined surrealist lesson in life. I often called his world of images  his own “theater of transcendence”, the theater of the essential human qualities which should neither be qualified as “Eastern” nor as “Western”. It may be seen as global and worldly, but for sure, it is the “theater of transcendence” as it is highly spiritual and cosmic. If we could possibly place such theatre somewhere, we would put it into that “nether” world of Ira Cohen’s Jewish tradition where his portraits appear as DIBUKs or ghosts embodying the souls of his disappeared friends and cousins. These emerged on his Mylar photos under different names and in different forms, but were essentially ancient, Jewish, Hebrew, the way Tadeusz Kantor was with his Cricket theater, or Victor Brauner with his own paintings.. For me, Ira Cohen’s Mylars are the sort of collages or cut-ups  with an esoteric sensitivity coming from Kabbalah, where the floating images drawn from the collective memory of his people spring up and grab us by the heart.

II c.

IRA COHEN: From the Mylar Chamber- (and for the New York Arts magazine)

Retrospective show at October Gallery, London (November 2007-January 2008)


The press release for Ira Cohen’s retrospective of photographs contains a saying by Jimi Hendrix, Ira Cohen’s friend from bygone times « Looking at these pictures is like looking through butterfly wings. »

The major show devoted to this unusual American artist is an exhibition of photographs of « reflected human forms in fluid metamorphosis » created by Cohen in the late 60’s at his Lower East Side loft.

This show of photographs which also mirrors his poetry included in it, very much echoing the author’s very life, that is, the miracle that has never stopped happening, can be compared to a sort of white magic produced by an alchemist who turned his back on establishment and then turned towards God, art and poetry.

Ira Cohen’s life is like a well-kept, illuminated manuscript that consists of many internally and externally sparkling events, mythical voyages and legendary encounters which endows him with the real and also poetic privilege to call each and every important artistic and literary figure of the second half of the 20th century by their first names. The last poem in his book « Poems from the Akashik Record »evokes in an ancient Roman style the poet’s intimate relation to life and poetry, or, rather, an attitude underpinned by the radical freedom of his verse that feeds on the peculiar spontaneity with which he can exclaim : « Farewell Burroughs, Ginsberg, Huncke & Leary too/ we who are about to die salute you…/ Return to that light which once you knew/ before you wrote yourself out of this human zoo. »

Broadly speaking, one can say this recent photo retrospective could be seen as a meaningful dialogue with those ordinary, and less than ordinary people who shook the soul of the 20’s century’s intelligence. As a prolonged dialogue with oneself and with the others, it consists of visual recordings of  highly energized conversations, observations and monologues. Eventually, the photographs could be viewed as one long image which does not allow for further divisions. That’s why some of his books were largely divided into two large sections « Poems » and « Photographs » as if a great deal of subtlety were needed to convince the reader that the photographs were not Ira Cohen’s poems and vice versa.

These photographs were not taken by someone who had a revelation or a prophecy while thinking about the Two World towers to be destroyed soon after. They were taken by an authentic New Yorker who was born with the doom theory up his sleeve and has been seeing too much art, too much life, too much death and too much poverty in a single lifetime and who was at his best while describing the following situation in his book:

« On the 23rd Street waiting for the N train/ a black child sings to his robots/ I am going to see the IRIS prints & then to Soho Guggenheim…/ And now I see that Death will ride the N Train/ to the end of the line/ & for a moment I feel safe as feet pass/ over the blue gratings above Broadway.. » (« Akashi Revelation »)

A true artist always feels safe in the company of numerous other fellow human beings. As a matter of fact, it is his lonely quest for the Holy Grail that places him on a cloud made of dreams, poverty, but also of exceeded humanity. That frozen moment of revelation or epiphany is the only one left to him who has always had a lot to say but did not die young, that is to say, Ira Cohen. Nevertheless, he has left the whole fleet of admirable admirals, great visual artists, talented poetic captains and it seems that these huge Mylar photographs, long one-breath sentences were taken in a sigh and a prayer, quiet meditation of someone who knows, in this selfish age of ours, the true value of friendship. He counted among his friends John McLaughlin, William S. Burroughs, Paul Bowles, Brion Gysin, Jimi Hendrix, Vali Myers and Angus MacLise as well as some other members of « the interzone mob ».

Ira Cohen, a legendary poet, voyager and  ‘raconteur’ has known them all, and has known IT all with them and sometimes that « It » comes across as so overwhelming that we’d rather not even ask what it was ! What I find really fascinating about the photographs in this show is their steady Surrealist pace, autonomous and wild at the same time, but following on the other hand the best Surrealist tradition in this or any other country. We should not forget that Ira Cohen is someone who has showed his photography with Man Ray in Paris.

Cohen is the artistic director of Universal Mutant, Inc., a foundation established with the help of Judith Malina, Gerard Malanga, and Will Swofford in order to promote and protect the work of insulate/occult/alternative writers, filmmakers and interdisciplinary artists. In 2006 Cohen’s Mylar photographs were included in the exhibition « Summer of Love » organized by Tate Liverpool, touring throughout Europe and to the Whitney Museum in New York.



« Poems from the Akashic Record », and for the ABR

( Ira Cohen, « Panther Books », New York, October 2001)

« Poems From the Akashic Record » is a book of poems which also mirrors the photographs  included in it, very much echoing the author’s very life, that is, the miracle that has never stopped happening and can be compared to a sort of white magic produced by an alchemist who turned his back on God and then turned towards art and poetry.

Ira Cohen’s life is like a well-kept, illuminated manuscript that consists of many internally and externally sparkling events, mythical voyages and legendary encounters which endows him with the real and also poetic privilege to call each and every important artistic and literary figure of the second half of the 20th century by their first names. The last printed poem in the book entitled « Hail and Farewell » evokes in an ancient Roman style the poet’s intimate relation to life and poetry, or, rather, an attitude underpinned by the radical freedom of his verse that feeds on the peculiar spontaneity with which he can exclaim : « Farewell Burroughs, Ginsberg, Huncke & Leary too/ we who are about to die salute you…/ Return to that light which once you knew/ before you wrote yourself out of this human zoo. »

Broadly speaking, one can say this recent book of his poetry- alas, he has not had many of them printed along with his peers on the North American continent, could be read as a meaningful dialogue with those ordinary, and less than ordinary people who shook the soul of the 20’s century’s intelligence. As a prolonged dialogue with oneself and with the others, it consists of snippets of  highly energized conversations, observations and monologues. Eventually, the poems could be read as one long piece which does not allow for further divisions. That’s why the book is largely divided into two large sections « Poems » and « Photographs » as if a great deal of subtlety were needed to convince the reader that the photographs were not Ira Cohen’s poems and vice versa. Sometimes, there is a feeling with regards to both of the two artistic forms presented here that we might be mistaking one for another as, for example, in « Quevedo in New York : The Skeleton Key » (« into the dusk of another New York day/ in the doorway waits the ghost/ of Charlie Parker and down West Broadway/ hangs a neon moon ») and « Optical Time Delay »

( « How fast can you download/your free flight mirrors ? / Fasten the seatbelt & enter/the world of darkness forever. »). These lines were not written by someone who had a revelation or a prophecy while thinking about the Two World towers to be destroyed soon after. They were written by an authentic New Yorker who was born with the doom theory up his sleeve and has been seeing too much art, too much life, too much death and too much poverty in a single lifetime and who was at his best (somewhat like  Frank O’Hara) while describing the following situation :

« On the 23rd Street waiting for the N train/ a black child sings to his robots/ I am going to see the IRIS prints & then to SOHO Guggenheim…/ And now I see that Death will ride the N Train/ to the end of the line/ & for a moment I feel safe as feet pass/ over the blue gratings above Broadway.. » (« Akashic Revelation »)

A true poet always feels safe in the company of numerous other fellow human beings. As a matter of fact, it is his lonely quest for the Holy Grail that places him on a cloud made of dreams, poverty, but also of exceeded humanity. That frozen moment of revelation or epiphany is the only one left to him who has always had a lot to say but did not die young, that is to say, Ira Cohen. Nevertheless, he has left the whole fleet of admirable admirals, great visual artists, talented poetic captains and it seems that these long poems in prose, long one-breath sentences were uttered in a sigh and a prayer, quiet meditation of someone who knows, in this selfish age of ours, the true value of friendship. Among these texts, I found particularly captivating poems such as « For Jack Smith » , a great poet/performer and a filmmaker, « a Garuda on the Bardo wing », an « Elegy » for Brion Gysin, a mythical Surrealist American who lived in Paris and made cut-ups as legendary as Duchamp had his ready-mades, and « He Wears the map of Calabria on his face », a poem for Gregory Corso, the emperor of the Beats who has also expired recently.

Ira Cohen, a legendary poet, voyager and  ‘raconteur’ has known them all, and has known IT all with them and sometimes that « It » comes across as so overwhelming that we’d rather not even ask what it was ! After so many a voyage recounted through this book when one comes across  lines such as the following, one knows that Cohen has lived his life full to the brim and that just a small portion of all that experience has ended in a poem :« Must I read the Science Times to know/that the Monarch’s migration/is a fragile journey ?/…Goodbye Elephant Goodbye Whale/Hello Aids Virus/smaller is perhaps stronger after all/ My dreams were bigger than any whale& sometimes I dove even deeper » (End of a Line)

But what I find really fascinating about the « Poems from the Akashic Record » is their steady Surrealist pace, autonomous and wild at the same time, but following on the other hand the best Surrealist tradition in this or any other country. We should not forget that Ira Cohen is someone who has showed his photography with Man Ray in Paris. What I find really sad and even revolting is the fact that his complex and generous poetic voice has always been hushed or inadequately valued because of circumstances in his own native country that seems to suffer from a mild but constant publishers’ flu for decades. Clearly, this latest book of Cohen’s imaginative poems comes in as the best medicine  and antidote to the inanity of the suffering begotten in these insecure times of human folly, grief and oblivion.

Ira Cohen feature

Ira Cohen in conversation with Nina Zivancevic
New York, 2001

Ira Cohen’s life is like a well-kept, illuminated manuscript that consists of many internally and externally sparkling events, mythical voyages and legendary encounters which afford him the real and poetic privilege of calling each and every important artistic and literary figure of the second half of the 20th century by his or her first name. We tried to focus this particular interview not so much on these figures and the particular encounters that Cohen might have had with them but rather on his own poetic and artistic development that has consistently informed his own unique style.

Ira Cohen: It’s nice to be with you here on the 23rd street coming out of Chelsea Hotel, then reading this particular book and eating Japanese sushi —

Nina Zivancevic: Now that we are talking about all these ‘Japanese things’ — what did it mean to you, your trip to Japan?

Oh, it was wonderful: because first of all, to live in America, as an artist, especially if you are not some kind of a maniac, or some bogus academic creature propped by the media, you don’t get too many perks. Ok, you get some perks — perhaps some people’s eyes shine when they hear you read, or through knowing someone like you I meet somebody that I feel belongs to the same world I live in. Yet, being invited to Japan through a friend was just a lovely confirmation of a common bond and an opportunity to shine in another universe.

How was it different? Was the poetry world different?

Oh, I don’t think that I met so many people in their poetry milieu but many old Japanese poets were brought out. I did not meet Kazuo Ohno there but I met him later in New York and he’s a terrific friend, I photographed him, I hugged him, kissed him, went to his performance here. These were outstanding moments. I met a number of good people in Japan who came to my show and when they came they responded in such a terribly Japanese way by taking me somewhere to a special tea ceremony and then they would point out to me ‘You see, a peony that you have at the bottom of your cup is the same peony that the hostess has wearing on her kimono, which is a special thing, like saying a special hello to you’! That was terrific, you know.
Another person who lives in Okinawa and was a publisher invited me to his house many times. He was very gracious in a way that many people have simply forgot in the world we live in! Then, sometimes they would give you a cigarette without asking and you can ask anyone for a cigarette, people smoke there and true friendship, of course, is worth the price anyway. I was saying: Hey, it’s a beautiful camera and he said: do you want this camera? I said: No, I can’t take your camera! And then he was trying to push it on me — but just the idea and that feeling of generosity were special!
Then someone came to see my reading and left a note and a gift — some expensive japanese music that I was interested in. The cost of an LP could vary at that time from $10 to $60 and so it was an expensive gift. In the note that came with it, written in a slightly halting English, one could read ‘Now that I’ve seen your photos I can kill myself’! So, I’m just thinking of certain moments there.
Then, when I went to Okinawa I met with some university professors who invited me for a dinner in a special, very old inn in a traditional style — there was a Japanese woman taking me around, and we were drinking and any time we had another round, any time the glass was empty the duty of the person sitting next to that person was to fill the glass for him. So after a while the atmosphere became a little loose and I’ve heard one of the professors say ‘I have heard that you are the real thing and I can see that you are’!
This would be something unheard of in our society, if someone tried to say something like ‘Ira Cohen is the real thing’ people would immediately try to put you down after that. They always say in America: ‘Have you ever published anything?’ And I say, you see my beard, you think I’m sitting around like a kid saying things?’ Then I would say ‘I’m just a poet’, but I’d never say ‘I’m a poet’, I say ‘I’m a just poet’.


When did you start playing with words? Did your reading of poetry come first, or writing it?

You know that my parents were deaf — my mother was a saint and my father was a frustrated clever man, he was frustrated because he lost his hearing at the age of two and was a serious diabetic. But he had never satisfied some other longing that was in him, I mean, he had a capacity, he was a very smart guy. He told me when I was a kid that he was the only deaf guy in his deaf club with a ‘second emotion’. Anyway, growing up with the deaf parents and the idea that the relationship to communication is very unique sign language — which was a very important first language for me, although I never became a true master of that language except in the sense that Charlie Chaplin could be called a master of sign language, but I learnt the gestures, I learnt the visceral, the words that you’re trying to express, that you become the thing that you’re talking about…

Did this experience give a special dimension to your language?

My father was a wierd deaf person — he was a prankster in language, he liked punning, so a typical thing that I remember is that I liked baseball — then he would spell it out for me and say in his deaf voice, something like ‘baseballology’. He could make up words like that and make a joke like that. The punning came up easily in a sign language. The deaf person could be a man with a thousand faces and I feel relatioship to that. In all the mylar photographs (which I was doing before I started make only photographs), I was directing and playing different roles.

I think that you told me once that you first started writing and then taking photographs.

Yes, maybe. First I did not have a camera, but I was reading a lot — children’s books about dogs and horses, novels about Franky Flyer etc., when I went to college at the age of sixteen I began looking for other books, I went to the library and I saw Franz Kafka’s The Castle. I read the book and I started reading all the books that I could find of Kafka, then I found all the books of Thomas Mann and I read them..

So, that was a lucky incident that you ran into all these great ones!

Oh, my life is full of that — it’s not even lucky incidents, it’s just following the wind where it blows you — one thing leads into another, I mean when you read a lot of books you find that other people get mentioned in the introduction or in the poems, and these are the ones you read next. Although poetry is always more difficult than reading novels or certain other things.

Who was the poet who influenced you the way you said Kafka did, the one you said ‘wow’ when you read him?

When I was fifteen or sixteen I discovered Dylan Thomas, he was on the record so I could hear him read — I say that I used to read his poems out loud to friends and girlfriends — ‘Do not go gentle into that good night, but rage, rage against the dying of the light’, so I started reading my own poems like that but with a different rhythm, but that turned me on to the idea of reading… But there were so many other poets that I loved and was inspired by — I have the ability to read in French and in Spanish, a bit in German…

Yes, you have a penchant for Surrealism…

Yes, I love Apollinaire, but also Spanish poets, old poets such as Gongora or Quevedo, or newer ones —  Lorca, Neruda — they can give you an idea of how great a poet can be in that language. Speaking of my favorite poets such as Lorca and Neruda, you feel that someone like Neruda touches on the sentimental in a way that no one else does, you don’t find that in Dante… And Lorca is so decadent and so romantic and lyrical…

I find a lot of Rilke in your poetry…

Well, perhaps one should not speak of Rilke yet. Nevertheless, I want to say that in the works of the poets I mentioned there’s no ornamentation and that’s what matters in my mind when I sit down to write a poem. Also the essence of what they’re writing about, is deep and touching and meaningful to me. The subject matter is important to poetry — these are just ‘arpeggios’ and other things and that’s one thing that most of all I find lacking in many poets who have the reputation of being good poets.
There are millions of ways to make a poem, to make even good poems, and I know quite a few ways how to make them; these are called ‘tricks of the trade’ — ‘trick’ sounds like a word that one should be ashamed of using, but everybody uses something that you either call a trick or knowledge, and ‘collage’ more than ‘appropriation’ is the word that appeals most to me. ‘Appropriation’ seems ridiculous to me, and I could never understand the poet who uses 40 or 50 words from Ezra Pound’s and ends his poems with those exact words, but I commented to him on what he was saying in those lines — I took it so personally because his poem was dedicated to me and I said ‘those last lines — were those really the lines that you wrote directly to me?’ and then he told me that it was Ezra Pound, and that’s one thing.
But the ‘collage method’ is like there is million sounds and million voices, so the option is that you have a contemporary person who takes things from other sources, Shakespeare did it too, but you have the option to create something as if you were creating an opera, of all different voices which come from over the radio, the TV, from books from snatches, from lines in newspapers, from overheard conversations — I don’t express that as the main thing, but I am open to it, because everything that I use must be something that I’m feeling myself strongly and then I ‘tack it on’ as my sale, as my feelings that I’m having. And I love it all, wherever it comes from: Japan, the Serbian poets that I read in that anthology The Horse Has Six Legs. [Compiled , edited and translated by Charles Simic, Graywolf Press, 1992.] I was amazed how uniformly good I found all those poets and how close they were to my own soul, as compared to a book that I found coming out of the St.Mark’s scene, published in the late sixties where I saw that there was a uniform style, and I was trying to get on it to see what’s really there, and I realized that I just couldn’t care less for the world that all these people were expressing! Even when they got to see it!

So it means that the language of poetry is really universal — it doesn’t have to be limited to someone’s particular experience such as ‘I eat Sushi… and I understand only people who eat Sushi’…

Yes, it’s good to draw what your world is, but just to write poems about what happened while you were making trivial phone calls… I mean, I use stuff like that in my poems but I wouldn’t make that the whole body of the thing. When you finaly boil down certain poems of that style, sometimes there’s very little left in the end once you discarded all the personal references and all the ocassional stuff! I was reading several poems which were just lists of all what I do every day, and the things in them are so mundane. Things that we do every day: a Surrealist would make a rather different list and then it would be true, if it was good, and a challenge to his imagination — one could say like ‘I milk my giraffe in the morning before I have breakfast, then I take a shot of marinated clouds in my syringe, which I inject into my pineal gland’! Oh, I don’t know — I shoot insulin every day, so there is a way to mythologize and fantasize around, if you are a Surrealist, or have a Surrealist tendency, you’d be doing that.
I am neither of those things — I am neither Beat, nor a Surrealist, I am not a Dadaist — I am just Ira Cohen, and I’ve been open to every influence that comes on my horizon and some of these things — depending on how you absorb them — may take over and provide a certain style. Rilke, whom you mentioned earlier, talked about this beautifully in ‘Malte Laurids Brigge’ — he talks about something like taking in these words ‘but you have to let them become yours’.

What comes to you first — words or photographic images, or, in other words, what is the first thing that you grab in order to record something — a pen or a camera?

No, no, feelings are a little bit different; I have to search inside myself for something, I have to be a real pearl-diver to start working with a pen, I mean, it’s like pearl-diving. Photography is like throwing a net in the sea full of fish in a way. I mean there’s a million images everywhere. And it’s just a question of click, click! I mean somewhere along my eye there is, my choice too, but to choose in photography whatever it is, I’m making it work. And I like to photograph the things that are personal to me and sometimes it appeals to my eye but more often, it really appeals to something else in me that is looking for images.
Yeah, I mean if I see something interesting in an image I’ll do it, but sometimes I’ll photograph something in the apartment or just parts of the apartment realizing I put ten things in that space and that I can move one thing over and it’s some kind of collage , rephotographing one photograph of mine together with some other object, say a sea shell or the inside , the core of the sea shell which is like a sector of some piece of science fiction architecture which I got in Mexico when we were together, on the Isla de Mujeres, do you remember that?

Oh, who could forget that trip! But, Ira, you’ve travelled to so many places and also you lived in so many places — what really amazes me is your steady practice of reading and writing that you’ve kept on wherever you went! Could you tell me though, as you lived for longer periods of time in places such as India, Nepal or Morroco — once you landed in that particular place and culture, did you have a habit of reading the respective literary heritage of the country you lived in?

Yes, to a certain degree, but I read a lot of Pausanius while I was living in Nepal. I also read the biography of Lucky Luciano, because certain books turned up there. Reading Pausanius and certain Greek things were very special to me because in a way I though I was living in a world and the century that was not so far from what ancient Greece was. And that all of the temples described there in Greece that had skulls on them – that’s like the Nepali temples! And sacrifice and things like that. It was hard to get certain books there… but somebody came there and gave me the book Poet in New York of Federico Garcia Lorca, of course I loved Lorca and I started looking at the book and I realized that Lorca died when he was 37 or 38, that’s when they killed him, and that I was around 37 or something like that when I got the book, and that if he died a couple of years after I was born, two or three years. Technically, if he hadn’t been killed, he could still be alive and be 76 or 77 years old — I was about 38 years old, which would be almost the same, you know what I mean? So, give or take a year or two I had this model in my mind and as I started reading the poems I thought he could still be alive , I could be the extension,  so I decided in a certain way , I really opened myself up to the spirit of Lorca as if he could come into me so I wrote this poem in unison with Garcia Lorca.
If you write poems, I’m sure you’ve had these experiences in which someone’s spirit suddenly comes into you, or maybe it’s someone you’re addressing the poem to, so I felt that it was what happened there. There was my poem .I wrote that it takes its rhythm and spirit from Edgar Allan Poe, but I’m describing something in my own life – and that was Poe that came into me when I was writing this poem!
And there was a poem that I felt that Dylan Thomas was in me while I was writing it – something like ‘writing a requiem in the absence of eagles’, I can’t remember it but just the whole tone of it and the whole rhetoric and then I though: I could sort of feel that Thomas lived in me when I wrote that poem. There is even a Hebrew word, Cabbalistic Hebrew word for something that I just described: something like being invaded by a dead spirit.

Do you understand Hebrew yourself?

A little bit, when I was young — not as a scholar but as a kid who attended Bar Mitzvahs and things like that… (Ira starts singing a prayer in Hebrew)

Ira, if someone had to tell you: from now on you cannot perform poetry, you just have to write it down, what would you say? How would you react?

I’d say ‘it’s boring’.Because for me the biggest pleasure is reading poems out loud — I started doing that with the poems of Dylan Thomas before I had my own poems to read. And I know that this whole idea of giving poetry readings is something that is associated with something in our time, connected to the Beat movement — that poets get out and read their poems. There were poets like Vachel Lindsay and earlier poets who did that in the 1920s but this is not a typical thing for poets worldwide…Although I think they were doing it in ancient Rome, you know, and I can imagine that in the U.K. – Wordsworth and Coleridge did not necessarily sit around reading to each other, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they did.
I learn something about the poem every time I read it, I get more connected to the poem, I can play different notes on my saxophone when I read it on occasion, especially if the music is accompanying me and it’s good; and takes me into different direction. But if I don’t read a poem out loud, at least to myself — I’ll always do that — or read a poem to someone I’m talking to on the telephone, that’s the way that I see that a poem works.
Because if there’s something wrong with it, I notice it immediately when it goes through my mouth: that the word is an extra word, it’s not quite right — something should be pulled out, or that I am rushed through that part, or whatever. And also, I also build confidence in a new poem that way; I’ve written poems which in the end I think of ‘great’, or ‘very good’ and there’s a couple of poems in a new book which Romy and Foxy are bringing out, and I think when I look at them – they are worth reading!

Let’s take a look at your new book. Are the images, that is, your photos, in Akashic Poems  related to the poems the way they precede or follow the poems?

Yes, there is a relationship — first, they are part of my world — Mikki’s (Maher) name is mentioned in the ‘Dolphin text’, the book is dedicated to Gregory (Corso), there’s a poem written for Gregory by me and Allen Grubard together and there’s a poem for Gregory in the beginning, the text opposite, the Jack Smith is opposite a text written for Jack when he died, and there is some reference point that connects them up — I just chose the pictures and the connection points. Look at Brion Gysin — what’s opposite? — There’s a eulogy for him, and you see the footnote there? I said ‘This was written in Paris for Brion Gysin when I met him in 1961.’ I realized after he died that I’d written his eulogy the day I met him. That’s the kind of magician Brion Gysin was. There’s my mother, Lakshmi, Carolyn…Are they magicians?
I don’t know, if they are shamanic and magical that’s all the best — but I am interested in that power. In the power of transformation, I mean not just in power, I am not Henry Ford! Brion was a charming debonaire — he was an elegant Carry Grant of the underground, I’d like to say, and Jack Smith was the most audacious genius I’ve ever met, transmitting ‘by male fire inspiration to others’, which he did. Each of these people were kings, and magicians if you will.
And there’s my daughter — I could compare her to Kumari if I want to, but she’s my daughter. My mother, who was a saint, a deaf saint, and I have a lot of friends as you know and I could have put other people in here but this is the cast I chose for this book.
I think we talked about a lot of good things, about poetry that is germane. Once Gerard Malanga asked me what I thought was a rather uninteresting set of questions. But to one question I gave a really good answer. I was lucky because I could have fallen into a glib stupidity of my own. When someone says why do you write — what would you say? It is easy to say ‘oh, because of… blah, blah’, but I’d like to give a really good answer, not just a glib answer. So he was asking ‘where does poetry come from?’ So I said I thought of the book by Lawrence Van der Post which is called The Kalahari Bushmen and was about the Kalahari bushmen, or the lost world of the Kalahari, whatever, and it describes the Kalahari bushmen travelling all over the desert. And the way they conduct their whole life is by following lightning and thunder. That’s their whole life. Why? Because wherever lightning goes, water is sure to be found, and they are in the desert. So, if they see lightning down there and they see it in the desert on a probably clear horizon they follow that lightning and then they find water which is life! And I said to him that I would say that the poetry can be found in the same way. That’s how I feel about it. Whenever you follow the lightning, you’ll find a poem there.



Projekcije filmova Pjera Mereškovskog u Srbiji/Films of Pierre Merejkowsky


Četvrtak, 28. jun, 19:00, Mala sala DKSG

Dom kulture Studentski Grad, Bulevar Zorana Đinđića 179, 11070 Novi Beograd
Теl: +381 11 3191 108 Моb: +381 62 267 843

Naš gost – PJER MEREŠKOVSKI (Pierre Merejkowsky), Pariz

režiser, scenarista, glumac, kompozitor, tonski snimatelj

Učestvuju Nina Živančević i autor

Razgovor vodi Miroljub Stojanović

 I deo – projekcija kratkih filmova Mereškovskog

  • BILA JEDNOM JEDNA EKOLOGIJA (Il été une fois ecologie), 12 min. 
  • LE CASTING, 1min.

II deo- razgovor s autorom i projekcija dugometražnog LJUDI PROROCI (Les hommes prophetiques),108 min.

Petak, 29 jun, 19:00 Parobrod,

Kapetan-Mišina 6a, Beograd  Tel +381 11 4142163

  • Dugometražni film ČTO DELAT /Que Faire


Utorak, 3 jul, 20:00 Kinoteka, Beograd

Kratkometražni filmovi

  • POST VIEW 4 min, IN REGARDS TO Eric P.,6 min., i THERE WAS ONCE ECOLOGY (Il était une fois l’écologie) 12 min.

Dugometražni film

  • MALI RAT, 50 min. praćeno komentarom autora o njegovom filmu i savremenom francuskom filmu



Petak, 6 jul, 19:00 Muzej Savremene Umetnosti Vojvodine,

Dunavska 37, Novi Sad, Telefon:+381 21 526634

Dugometražni film

  • ČTO DELAT (Que Faire) i
  •  kratkometražni: IN REGARDS TO ERIC P. 6mn, DAWN 8mn,  POST VIEW 4 mn, THERE WAS ONCE ECOLOGY 10 mn  engleski titl 

Kratak komentar postprodukcije. Učestvuju Nina Živančević-Mereškovska i Autor




Uvek je tesko govoriti o bliskim osobama jer ono sto coveku prvo padne na pamet dok govori o nekom bliskom moze da bude vrlo banalno- ako bi me neko pitao sta sam ja naucila od Pjera Mereskovskog a sta mi prvo pada na um je uzasna radna disciplina koja je verovatno njegovo rusko nasledje, a tu je mozda i kljuc za delo njegovih predhodnika, pisca Dimitri Mereskovskog i Zinaide Ksipius, njegove bake i velike ruske pesnikinje koji su gotovo ceo zivot, nakon Ruske revolucije proveli u izgnanstvu. Ono sto je zanimljiv momenat jeste da su oni pobegli od Boljsevika, i od Lenjinovog komunizma, da bi mu se Pjer vratio kao veliki francuski autor i reditelj, militant levice koja se granici sa verom u individualno “ja”, stvaralastvom autora anarhiste.

A onda, ceo Pierov rad na filmu, oko 50 produkcija do danas, koji se zasniva ne samo na Godarovom nasledju, Godar njegov veliki ucitelj i inspiracija, ali tu su i  skole velikih ruskih prethodnika- LJUDI PROROCI kao i CTO DELAT ili Mali Rat su filmovi radjeni pod znakom Ajzenstajna, Medvedkina i Brehtovog teatra. Za Merezkovskog snimanje je pre svega metod preispitivanja slike, CTO djelat sa slikom? On preispituje publiku kao i temu, pravi sadrzaj filma, sto predstavlja tehniku blisku Brehtovoj metodi uspostavljanja objektivne distance. U CTO DELAT kao i kasnije u LJUDIMA PROROCIMA Maoisticki metod ankete ili preispitivanja bio je baza za stvaranje kinematografije  koja je bila u stanju da prikaze kontradiktornosti u svakodnevnoj stvarnosti koju je prikazivala. Ova kinematografija se bori protiv naturalizma, istovremeno pokusavajuci da odbaci ideju da je snimanje neke  revolucionarne akcije dovoljno po sebi da bi takav film nazvali “revolucionarnim”. Od pocetka svog filmskog opusa Mereskovski se zanimao za razlicite nacine  koji bi publici ne samo okupirali gledalacku paznju vec i koji bi ih drzali stalno u stanju angazovane aktivnosti ponavljajuci tvrdnju da je ambijentalni naturalizam neka vrsta drustvene igre koju igra drustvo  da bi nas nateralo da prihvatimo njegove postulate. On to cini, u procesu rezije, verovatno imajuci Brehtov postulat na umu koji tvrdi  “da nista ne bi trebalo smatrati prirodnom pojavom u smislu da bi svaka pojava ili dogadjaj mogli da postanu predmet drustvene promene”.

Jedna od aleatornih tehnickih metoda ponavljanja u  filmu je kvalitet zvuka koji se pretvara cesto u kakofoniju razlicitih glasova i razgovora. Na primer cesto se javlja asinhronican zvuk u filmu koji nas navodi da se zapitamo kako u potrazi za “radnickom istinom” reditelj dolazi do asinhronicnog zvuka. Mozda, ako kazemo da je ovaj zvuk proizvod tehnickog ogranicenja koji je posledica ekonomskog ogranicenja pri snimanju, opazamo da je proizveden neki drugi efekat koji se ne tice iskljucivo estetskog kvaliteta u filmu vec koji ima veze sa filmskom politickom akcijom koja zeli da ukine naturalizam i trudi se da probudi kriticku distancu  u citaocu. Prisustvo ovakvog zvuka u filmu dovodi nas do pitanja koje vecina militantnih filmova nakon 1968 postavlja u procesu rezije-: kako cemo zabeleziti na filmskoj traci marginalizovani ili cesto priguseni govor koji je negde zabelezen i koji verovatno nesto znaci? Odgovor Mereskovskog  nije jednostavan- on nas navodi da verujemo da takva vrsta prigusenog govora ne nastaje slucajno vec je prethodno konstruisan, usiljen i stalno u traganju za odredjenom sinhronizacijom.

Mereskovski ili kako ga kolege zovu “Merez” cesto insistira na trebljenju slika van njihovog obicnog i prirodnog konteksta da bi ih smestio u odredjeni millieux i specificni istorijski kontekst. Ako pod datim svetlom iscitavamo njegov film CTO DELAT pomislicemo da je reditelj “u sluzbi” revolucije, marksizma i radnicke klase, isto kao sto  kod Lindzi Andersona, donekle kod Slezingera  ili Andree Arnold  Merezove generacije, gledaoci veruju da gledaju nesto iz odredjenog kolektiva odredjene klase; pa opet, glas reditelja/snimatelja/ autora ce se glasno pobuniti protiv odrednica poput “beo” ili “crn” gde nema dublje mozda “politicki nekorektne” analize.

Moralno-pedagoska lekcija  dovodi reditelja do ludila i on od nje bezi. Svaka vrsta eksplicitnog politickog komentara, kao i formalno pribegavanje Brehtu, Ajzenstajnu, Vertovu i drugim ruskim pobratimima dovodi ga do ludila, kao sto ga i svaki naturalizam izludjuje , bilo kom kulturno-politickom periodu da pripada. Mozda je i to nasledje francuskog novotalasnog filma koje se nije plasilo Mao Ce Tunga i Che Gevare. U ovakvom pristup filmu podvlace se jasne crte izmedju takozvane intencije autora u pogledu filma koji pravi, izmedju kriticke recepcije publike i interpretacije filma. Tradicionalnom begu od naturalizma Mereskovski dodaje svoje strategije- on nam ne samo otkriva nacine koriscenja svojih tehnika , uvodeci pritom prolazne posmatrace (slucajni prolaznik Zerara Fromanzea i Brace Dimitrijevica) u svoj film, uvodeci takodje ideju (koja bese napustena od strane boraca protiv naturalizma) da film moze biti veran nekoj istini, da od istine ne treba bezati i ako je posmatraci ne cuju, da je treba nekoliko puta u tekstu ponavljati, variranjem jacine glasa od povika do sapata..

Merezovi filmovi su neka vrsta preseka formalnih strategija jer za njega film kao umetnost predstavlja pre svega pokusaj koji se krece ka vizuelnoj polifoniji (pri ovom zadatku  su mu muzicko obrazovanje i trening kompozitora  neizmerno korisni). Njegov film najcesce (ovde je akcenat na «  najcesce ») kombinuje militantni dokumentarac, epsko pozoriste, polifoniju glasova, neorganski i organski pristup tekstu, strategije komunikacije, genericka i formalna pomeranja oduhovljene slike , direktan  pastis  postmodernog francuskog  filma kao i veliku Sovjetsku skolu Ruskog formalizma.


Nina Zivancevic-Mereskovskaja


Few words about Merejkowsky Pierre

It is not easy to talk about the people we feel close to, whatever we say may appear banal- if somebody has asked me what I had learnt from Pierre Merejkowsky and that it does not appear banal is a very harsh working discipline and that probably goes way back to his Russian herritage, the very thing may be the key for understanding the work of his predecessors, the Russian writers Dimitri Merejkowsky and  Zinaida Xippius, who lived their whole life in exile. What’s really interesting is that they escaped the Bolsevics, Lenin’s Communism so that Pierre, as a French author and film director could only get back to it; he’s a militant of the Left which borders on the belief in the individual “I” which characterizes the creativity of an anarchist autor.

And the we have the entire Pierre’s work on film, some 50 films until today, work which is not only founded on Godard’s heritage, as Godard was his great teacher and inspiration, but in his film work we also find the schools of his Russian film predecessors: Merejkowsky’s films such as MEN PROPHETS , QUE FAIRE (CTO DELAT) and Small War , are films which come out of the schools of Eisenstein, Medvedkin but also Brecht’s theater as well. For  Merejkowsky the shooting as a procedure in film means, above all , the investigation of IMAGE, or “CTO DELAT”(what to do) with the image. He’s investigating the image as much as he investigates the theme,the real subject of the film,  the technique close to Brecht’s method of establishing  the objective distance.  In his own CTO DELAT as much as later in MEN PROPHETS, the Maoist enquette or the investigation was the base for creating the cinematography  able to show the contradictions in the contemporary reality which these contradictions tried to explain. This cinematography fights against naturalism as much as it tries  to reject the idea that the shooting of a revolutionary action per se is enough for us to call such film a revolutionary one. From the start  Merejkowsky was interested in different ways in which he could not only draw the public’s attention to the film, but also in the ways in which one could keep the spectator in the state of permanent active engagement. He had been repeating the fact that the naturalism of the athomsphere and landscape is more of a social game which society plays in order to make us accept their postulates. He entamed his own directing process probably thinking of Brecht who once said that “nothing could be considered a natural fact  as such,this is in order that we treat each phenomenon as something natural and  a potential subject to a new social change as well.”

One of Merejkowsky’s aleatory technical methods is the method of repetition which, when it comes to the treatment of sound in his films , brings us to the cacophony of different voices and sounds. For instance, there is often a asynchronic sound in the film which makes us often wonder as to how  the director who searches for the “worker’s truth” ,comes to the phenomenon of the asynchronic sound. Maybe we can understand this phenomenon, if we say that this sound is the product of the limitations imposed by the technicality which was further imposed by the economic limitations on the film; in his films we can also observe that as the spectators we have arrived  at something which is not only at some aesthetic effect . It is not only of the aesthetic nature but this effect  became a certain political action seeking to abolish naturalism, at the same time trying to awake the critical distance in the spectator. The presence of such sound in the film brings us to the question which most militant films after 1968 : how to record the inaudiable or often marginalized speech which is somewhere hidden but probably means something else? The answer of Merejkowsky is not very simple: he makes us believe that this type of faded speech is not a by-product but that it was carefully constructed prior to the shooting of the film; as such, it is constantly in search of a certain synchronization.

Merejkowsky or, as his friends simply call him “Merej”, often insists on the pruning of the images and placing them out of their natural context so that he would place them into their specific millieux or a specific historic context.  If we read in such light his film CTO DELAT  we are to think that the director is in the service of the revolution, marxism or workers’ class, the way we read it with Lindsay Anderson, Schlesinger or Andrea Arnold,( the director who is more of Merej’s generation). The spectators believehere that they watch the scenes which belong to a certain class millieux, however, the director/author/technician is likely to rebell against our labeling of the scenes; “are they “black” or “white” are they “politically correct” or incorrect? “

The moral and pedagogical lesson drives the director insane and he escapes from it. Any sort of politically ouvert commentary as much as the formal treatment of it by running towards Brecht, Eisenstein, Vertov or any other Russian cousin- drives him insane; any escape towards naturalism drives him insane, no matter which cultural or political period  it belongs to! Perhaps that fear belongs also to the heritage of the French New Wave, the films which were not afraid of the influence of Mao Ce Dung and Che Guevara. In such “political attitude” film there is a strong line drawn between the so called author’s intention and the critical reception of the public viewing this film; there is also the line drawn between the author’s work and the possible critical interpretation of the film. To the already traditional escape from naturalism Merejkowsky adds his own strategies : he not only directly shows us the manner of using his strategies, the one of introducing the casual passers-by (as Fromanger or Braco Dimitrijevic in their art work), but he also introduces the idea (formerly abandoned by the naturalists) that a film can serve some higher truth. We should not escape from the truth and if the spectators cannot see it or hear it we have to repeat this truth in the script, and vary the tonality of the actor’s voice from a very loud to a whisper.

Merejkowsky’s films are taking a form of the formal strategies as for him the film as art means above all other things- an attempt which moves to the visual poliphony (and in this respect the musical training and composer’s education come in handy for his  art). His film often combines (here we should underline the word « often ») militant documentary, epic theater, poliphony of the voices, organic and non-organic approach to the script, the strategies of communication, the generic and formal shifts of the spiritual image , the direct pastiche of the postmodern French cinema as well as the heritage of great Soviet school of Russian Formalism.


Nina Zivancevic-Merejkowskaya


Wrestling with the Sky: Mayakovsky Revolutionary Influence on Frank O’Hara’s Revolutionary Verse


“Does a literary work simply chronicle and accompany revolutions or can it change the world? Was each formal revolution which … ushered in a new phase of literary history just the reflection of a change in the way writers saw the world or did it create new ways of representing this change? What makes a piece of writing revolutionary? Is it its immediate impact?” Some of these pertinent questions I have tried to ask working on my first doctoral disertation”Mayakovsky and his influence on the contemporary American poetry” far back in 1982.

Marjorie Perloff warmly supported my research and gave me ‘green light’ to continue my investigation but the ultra-conservative team of professors at the American University in Washington,DC., did not approve of it as my theme was a bit too radical in those times. I’d like to clear some of these incentives at this  conference as many pertinent things have changed in poetry for the last 35 years, for the better we hope. Some of  these changes touch the very core of poetry writing in itself, a breath unit leading to an open, so called free verse. One of them is the question that Perloff discusses in regards to the American poets who underwent “the Revolution of the Word”, as Jerome Rothenberg would have it . More precisely what happens when the “natural speech” model inherited from the Modernists,comes up against the “natural speech” of the “talk show,” or how visual poetics and verse forms are responding to the languages of billboards and sound bytes. These questions  had been already raised by the Russian avantgarde writers of the Revolution in 1917.

What makes a piece of writing revolutionary, indeed? Is it because it  can be revolutionary in form, but it can also carry a political message, as is the case with Vladimir Mayakovsky? A renowned scholar of Russian literature and its  Revolutionary avantgardes,Caryl Emerson, tries to untangle some of the Russian Revolution’s brightest literary hours by presenting and discussing  an anthology of the early 20th century writing published in the TLS as of February 2017, and I would be more than honoured to extend and elaborate on some of his premises .

Another  burning issue here will necessarily imply the rich field of

translation,   being the torch bearer of the cultural and technical revolutions which shape our fields of study. However, if there is time and space for further discussion, I would love to tackle the issue as well of

a “translator as a rebel, an enemy of patriotism (Derrida)”.  At the time when the area of “translation studies” has revolutionized the university everywhere, it is clear that “the links between translation and questions of identity, political thought and the diffusion of knowledge,” have not yet been sufficiently discussed but we should strive  to do so.


In 1940, a great Russian theoretician and semiotician, Victor Chklovski had written about the great revolutionary poet Mayakovski: ” Mayakovski reorganized words in Russian in the way that their semantic value was changed. He penetrated the solid ice-sheet made of words and reconstructed them to form new poetry based on the experience of Khlebnikov, on the Russian folk songs and on the vast field of the street conversational language.” ( Chklovski, On Mayakovski ” Moscow, 1940)

Perhaps we should explain something here: Mayakovski , a young poet who was 33 in 1926 and who had already gained the stature of a great poet with his people , quite early in the 20th century, tried to write something quite pertinent in regards to the genesis of his unusual verse . He wrote a text ” How to write Poetry ” in which he showed the newly born necessity on the side of the form to convert and guide the content, and above all, the necessity of the verse to attain a more casual character in its essence. In 1926 the great Russian revolutionary acts were already behind and Mayakovsky was still trying, despite many personal disappointments, to believe in the powerful Revolution which shook his country nine years ago. In his text, Mayakovsky speaks of those revolutionary times and ideas which he wanted to extend naturally as he was one of the most illustrious participants of the October’s revolution. He has always believed that the poet had one special role in society – the one which implied not only the showing  the obligatory respect to the formal inventions in poetry, but that such role also implied the creation of the  committed and avant-garde content , the one which in turn would further help the readers understand their tasks in their new revolutionary society.The  real biography of Vladimir Mayakovsky was recorded several times by various biographers and in very different manners: all of them agree (Bengt Jangfeldt, Edward J.Brown, Ann and Samuel Charters, Patricia J.Thompson) that he was a teenager who happened to live through the Russian Revolution poor and disoriented- his father died and his mother was raising him by herself in the Moscow in the revolutionary times. As a member of a Social Democrat party he went to jail as a youngster and served a  5 year long sentence, only to return a party membership card after he gained his freedom. The books which perhaps preserve the best the elements of his theoretical work remain Poetic Culture of Mayakovsky, written in French by Nicolas Khardijev (L’age d’Homme), Mayakovski- I travelled Around the World by Claude Frioux and Mayakovski and His Circle by Victor Chklovski himself. Equally precious and moving testimonies of Mayakovski’s life were given by his fellow-poets such as Boris Pasternak, Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaieva and Guennadi Aigui as well as the poet’s long lost companion Lili Brik. Mayakovsky’s life was larger than a life of any other poet as it had so many violent notes in it and it ended quite violently, some claim that the poet committed suicide,and some better informed of his contemporaries maintain that he was killed by Beria and his KGB agents. At any rate much of this violence leaks into his verse  where we feel poet’s struggle to exit his inner jail that the revolutionary life had condemned him to, but most of his verse remains sunny and optimistic, despite everything and everybody and this quality of his verse is the best described by his biographer Philippe  Blanchon. He wrote a preface to Mayakovsky’s theoretical book HOW TO WRITE POETRY ( in the revolutionary times, we should add) where Blanchon pertinently remarks “In his castle where the poet is suffocating, he is putting his last force to change the air and to open the windows out. He is attacked by everyone and everything, from the inside and the outside and his solitude must had been the total one.” (p.3) Three years after having completed his tractat the poet dies. But the chapbook remains in which he explains his working method; he has accomplished a new cycle of poems after his long voyages in the U.S. and in Europe, and has explained most of his poetics in a part entitled Essenine . In the text which he considered as his working laboratory he explains his metric and phonic demands which suit his semantic explorations and his search for the inner rhythm of words which slowly untangles his creative process accomplished- in the age of the mechanical reproduction. A similar search for rhythm and meaning we also find in the verse of Mayakovski’s distant spiritual cousin and poetic descendent, the American poet Frank O’Hara who lived and worked a bit later in the 20th century in the U.S., but the observations and the possible parallels of the work of these two poets we are ready to share a little bit further down in this presentation.


In the beginning of his tractatus on poetry Mayakovski says that his intention was not to ‘destroy’ old poetry but to discredit its intrinsic value. He says that we should not quarrel with it- but rather study it carefully. Our criticism  and ‘hatred’ ( he uses these passionate words) should first of all go towards the “sentimental” in poetry which is “waiting for the poetic spirit to descend onto us straight from haven like a dove, a peacock or an ostrich”. Mayakovsky here is doing something that we,  children of the postmodern, can quickly understand, but for those times  it was a far and rare outcry of a brand new method in poetry; however, Frank O’Hara who had a poetic sensibility close to Mayakovsky’s got his messages right away, straight from the Russian source, and started applying them quite readily in his own verse. And what were Mayakovsky’s postmodern messages? Let us see them one by one

  • Introducing very trivial low register theme or expressions into a highbrow subject ((doves, peacocks, ostrichs)
  • Introducing an “extra” outdoor theme or story and sliding it into the relevant material (he compares old poets and their love of the pathetic to Tatiana’s love (a bit démodé, for Onegin)
  • By assuming a funny or humorous tone throughout the text, he is getting to the heart core of the scholarly or a difficult subject such as writing the creative verse

However, he says :“I am not giving you any rule which could make a poet out of an ordinary man, a man able to write poetry. Such rules do not exist. Every poet is a person who creates his own rules for writing poetry on his own and only for himself.” (p.11) And then he adds”I will emphasize: just to create the rules is by no means the goal of poetry- if that was the case, a poet would be no less than an office clerk who invents unnecessary rules for all sorts of things and non-existing situations.” And then he adds quite humorously in a jocose manner: “we all agree that it is futile to invent rules for counting the stars while we are riding the bicycle, right”. Further along the line, as he explains the revolution of “THE WORD”, that is the development of the revolutionary language in poetry he underlines the fact that the necessities of life always enter the body of poetry and observes that “the revolution has rushed and forced a foul and simple language of the streets , the language which belonged to millions of men – into poetry; the argotic expressions from the suburbs entered the city center and the week language of the intellectuals- effeminate words such as ‘ideal’, ‘social justice’ ‘divine origin’ and “the transcendental images of Christ and Antichrist”, as well as that refined murmuring happening in the restaurants- had been suffocated by a necessity.” (p 14) How do we introduce a totally new linguistic material into poetry?

Mayakovski had been asking himself that question in that long distant 1926, almost a hundred years ago, and we are more than ready to ask the same question today. Well, he did not know, Frank O’Hara did not know in the 1960s, and we do not know today, but in one thing all poets throughout the last century echo Mayakovski’s doubts in writing – one of these is whether we should apply old poetic rules and old prosody to  new subjects and new poetic themes, and the answer of all of them is in the negative. In his struggle for the new poetic language The Russian poet exclaims “It does not suffice to give examples of the new verse or rules of a verbal action to the revolutionary masses; it is necessary that action happens unanonimously and that it is enormously great in its support on the side of the whole social class.” (p.15) And he says also: “Novelty is indispensable in the creation of new poetics. The words as material have to be put in new combinations, if poet encounters them he has to rework their relationships. And if we use in new poems old and forgotten phrases, these should be used proportionately with the new material. However, the newness in a poem does not have to contain always new unedited truths. Iambics, free verse, alliteration and the assonance we do not invent every day. We can work in order to expand them, deepen them and elaborate them further. “ Also, he says that the description and representation of reality are not independent issues in poetry. This type of work is worthwhile but it should be considered as secretarial in a large assembly. All poetry, he says, starts with higher purpose and a hidden tendency.

He does not believe in the purposeless verse and thus he says:

“ I think that a poem “I’m travelling lonely on the road” is just an invitation to the girls to go on a trip with that poet. Ah! If a poem of that force had been only written to shake people and make them gather in cooperatives!” However, he was the one w<ho was able to write such a poem and shake people;Mayakovsky believed in future of the cooperatives. After all, he was a founder of the literary movement Futurism (1913) for which David Bourliouk, a member of the Futurist circle said that it was not a new movement in art but a new attitude towards everything in life. However,the movement gathered several poets of the same sensibility who later became famous such as Alexandre BlokVelimir KhlebnikovVassili Kamenski et Alexeï Kroutchenykh. The first  Futurist manifest  A Slap in the Public Taste, was published as early as 1912. But contrary to the belief that Mayakovsky’s poetry or of any poet from that group was heavy, modeled upon the need of the new society to be industrious and serious, one could easily remark that the poems of the Futurists were funny, full of revolutionary optimism and lighthearted. They were liberated from the chains of the traditional form and catered in their spirit the brand new society, people of the Russian revolution who needed hope and encouragement.

Let us take a brief  look at the principal  “revolutionary”poem of Mayakovsky’s, entitled “Ode to the Revolution”( beautifully translated by Rosy Patience Carrick) where he says :To thee/hissed at/mocked by the whole batteries/to thee/I rapturously render up../ send sailors/onto the sinking ship,/where/a forgotten/kitten miaows./And afterward!/You roar through the drunken crowd/.

Why would he address the revolution in his first line with the most romantic, reverent “thee”, unless he loved and respected it from the start, and while other poets disliked it, “hissed at it” and went to exile, like Marina Tsvetayeva and Zinaida Xippius, the poet Mayakovsky remained faithful to it. Nonetheless, he will admit further down in his poem that ‘his’ revolution sent sailors onto the sinking ship, therefore it made willful and  deliberate victims. However, his line that follows the former one explains this long metaphor by stating that there was a “ kitten forgotten on the board”and the “sailors”, otherwise called “the revolutionaries”, were probably sent in there with a noble task- to save a living being from the sinking boat, which was truly Russia itself in the feudal times, just before the grand October revolution. Very few poets, descendants of the 20th century had enough subtlety and tenderness to embrace the revolution and the revolutionary zeal in the same manner. In a way, Mayakovsky knew that the revolution  was killing him, but for the higher, humanitarian goals he had to embrace it; he did not mind Lenin and then later Stalin and Beria, he just “had to shine, no matter what”; his sunny stance is shared with Frank O’Hara, his American twin, unvoluntary disciple and eternal aesthetic-revolutionary rebel.

Born in Baltimore 1926, just 4 years before his Russian counterpart died in Moscow, O’Hara is considered nowadays a major participant of the so called New York School of poetry (together with John Ashbery, James Schyler and Kenneth Koch). He worked as a curator in the MOMA (New York Museum of Modern art) and also died young (in 1966) in a tragic accident, but he left behind a substantial body of poetry which was not perhaps so large in scope but truly substantial in its revolutionary  and innovative approach to verse that it formed the whole generation of successors-followers who have stared wide-open into the work of their beloved teacher of wild and funny postmodern verse many decades after O’Hara’s death.

In O’Hara’s short but ever- pertinent explanation of his verse, entitled “Personism-a Manifesto”, he jokingly teaches his Anglophone readers how to write, or even better, how not to write certain poetry.  He starts with his Mayakovshian reproach to the literary criticism: “Everything is in the poems.. so I don’t have to make elaborately sounded structures.. I don’t even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve”

As the result though.his revolutionary attitude in writing, and his verse got on many critics’ nerve though- America was not used to this sort of poetry, it did not have poets who would say like O’Hara “ I am not saying that I don’t have practically the most lofty ideas of anyone writing today…but they are just ideas. The only good thing about it is that whenI get lofty enough I’ve stopped thinking and that’s when refreshment arrives”. However, what the ‘resfreshment “ meant for O’Hara, we are just allowed to have a glimpse, an idea about it. Further along the line he would say “Only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the American poets are better than the movies.” And why he loved them and not the others we can only guess- he probably loved that long, river-like Whitmanesque line, meandering like a river, and that indented rough verse by Hart Crane,  and WC Williams- perhaps for his take on the ideas “no ideas but in things”, yes, we can guess but we can never be so sure as O’Hara quoted everything and everybody, then also nobody specific in his humorous sardonic pastiches. In his Personism “ a movement for only two people which is going to become popular” Frank O’Hara has already announced “the death of literature as we know it”. Of course, he was referring to the critical avant-garde movement in visual arts which was announcing ‘death of art’. O’Hara was making a take-off and he was laughing at his readers already, while they were beginning to figure out what he meant by saying that “poetry was quicker and surer than the prose”. Some of us are still trying to figure out whether he was right or not, but it is sure that the poet’s delivery was reaching the heart quicker that some long descriptions, O’Hara was a quick and sporadic writer who had no patience with the events, just like his predecessor, Mayakovsky, but was reminding us already in the early 1960s that the heart is there, hidden but open, and an artist has to reach out loudly and then simply grab it. He was not there to share with Mayakovsky his revolutionary zeal, but the echos of futurism are already with him , as early as in his “Memorial Day 1950”s poem in which he picks up something which could be named “the Russian proletarian call” to verse:

O Boris Pasternak, it may be silly/to call to you, so tall in the Urals, but your voice/ cleans our world/clearer to us than the hospital:/you sound above the factory’s ambiguous gargle./ Poetry is as useful as a machine!”

And yet, one of the best FO’H poems is dedicated not to Pasternak but to Mayakovsky, more precisely “in the memory of Vladimir Mayakovsky” in a subtitle, but nowhere in it can we say with certainty why the Russian poet was the object of his dedication. True, the poem is long, divided in 10 sections, and is rebellious in its nature- it is almost not a poem in genre, but a long hybrid text which only makes us think that Mayakovsky was more of a real and enormous inspiration in poetic musings for O’Hara, rather than a real down- the- line influence and predecessor who  determines the younger poet’s style. How could we ever deduct the O’Hara’s lines from Mayakovsky’s? “ Quips and players, seeming to vend astringency off-hours,/ celebrate diced excesses and sardonics, mixing pleasures/as if proximity were staring at the margin of a plea..”

A mere joke or an attempt to appear more Surreal that the acclaimed Surrealists of that time? We cannot understand, as the poem goes, neither the quips nor the player who was witty enough to flash them, and by all means we could not feel Mayakovsky’s style or intention in any of O’Hara’s parts, and yet! The Irish American gave us a superb lesson in something which was called ‘ a dedication’ of a poem. From that epoch on, it became trully possible for any poet to dedicate a poem in his true intimacy to another poet while writing something entirely different from his peer’s style and content. The revolutionary word was there and it came straight from Victor Chklovsky a Russian theorist and Formalist who collaborated with Mayakovsky on his magazine LEF (Leftist Art’s Front) in 1923 and who developed his famous “method of defamiliarization” in art, a method which justly claimed that the best way to speak about a fact was to ignore it completely and to speak all the time about something else (see Chklovski’s “Zoo or the Letters which do not speak of Love”.) If we are to speak of the new and revolutionary methods in literature, we have to go back to Chklovski who preserved his art from Stalin’s purges and died rather late in the 2Oth century (1984). Chklovski was also rather in favor of the cinematographic style, that is the technique of film-editing in literature, a method that both Mayakovsky and Frank O’Hara felt very close to.

Of course, in 1950s and 1960’s in the U.S. one could  relate this particular method more easily to the New York Pop art where we find O’Hara’s buddies Larry Rivers and Bill Berkson . We are not trying to direct the readers here to a possible influence of Mayakovsky on O’Hara in those terms, we are just trying to draw an incredible similarity, a serendipity on the side of O’Hara who must had liked Mayakovsky’s brief, oratory style suited to be posted in an imaginary Popish cartoon’s balloon. However, the balloon was Pop  and extremely fresh in writing,and both poets rejoiced in it. Or, what’s happening here ,according to Alain Badiou is the mere dissemination of a poem , as “its operation tries to overcome a certitude of an objective and pushes its inner action towards a void, towards a pure scintillation which  places its object in front of its absence or annihilation.” The philosopher says that such dissemination wishes to dissolve the object by its infinite metaphoric distribution, so as soon as the object escapes to a different meaning in a poem, at the same time it “disobjectivizes” itself and becomes something else. The object loses its “objectivity” not because it got lost but because it got multiplied by the means of becoming excessive, it became excessive in regards to other objects”. (p. 21) The active dialogue with the Russian poet becomes more visible in O’Hara’s poem entitled simply Mayakovsky. Here, O’Hara suffers a real “anxiety of influence” and writes a real response poem to Mayakovsky’s Cloud in Trousers which is not  Mayakovsky’s best and the most renowned poem but often it appears so. However, with O’Hara it becomes a vaudeville, a pastiche, a post-modern take off, a sort of a Monthy Python’s take on Tarkovski as O’Hara wants to escape his own flood of emotions, a pathetic bathos and he says: “I/ My heart’s aflutter!/I am standing in a bathtub/crying.Mother, mother who am I?/ If he will just come back once/and kiss me on the face/his coarse hair brush/my temple, it’s throbbing!

We see here that Mayakovsky’s verse is turned upside down in a comic manner, we have a comic relief to a sad situation of abandonment but is it really comic? O’Hara’s heart is also hurt but he would not allow the reader to cry with him, it’s unbecoming for a poet to be pathetic; however, his sincere questioning of identity comes through in the line “mother, mother, who am I?” as it becomes a tragic quest devoid of laughter. He keeps his mocking tone throughout the “epic”, as one of the primary tasks of every postmodern school of writing relied on the ancient quotes or sincere sentiment in the predecessor’s verse now being turned completely upside down- what was a high tone in writing now becomes a lower subject and the small, insignificant events- for the sake of the comical effect are being turned into high odes and quasi worthwhile themes. (see Marjorie Perloff, Postmodern Genres, UN of Oklahoma Press 1988)

“2 I love you. I love you,/ but I am turning to my verses/and my heart is closing/ like a fist./Words!be/sick as I am sick, swoon,/roll back your eyes, a pool,/and I’ll stare down/at my wounded beauty/which at best is only a talent/ for poetry.”

A “wounded beauty”, or a talent for poetry  at its best is quite visible in Mayakovsky’s long  poem

“An extraordinary Adventure which the Summer at a Dacha” written in 1920s: “Like one hundred forty suns blazed/as summer rolled into July;/the weather was hot,/heat shimmered and swam-/ this took place at a dacha./ The knoll of Pushkino hunched up/ against Akulova hill/was a village/ its rind of rooftops grimaced”. In this one the Russian converses with the sun- his equal  and personalized diety: “I shouted at the sun:/Hold it!/ listen up, goldilobe:/ don’t just drop idly/from the sky-/drop by/ my place for tea!” Once invited,the sun started talking to the poet who did not miss his opportunity to complain “ I talked of this/ and I talked of that/ said Rosta was really wearing me down,/ to which the sun retorted:/ Cmon, /don’t grieve-/just look at the things simply!/You think/it’s easy/ for me to shine?/..But here’s the thing:/you chose to go,/so you go-and shine wide open!..Let’s go, poet/ and blaze/and laud/in the gray rubbish of the world./I will pour out the sun that’s mine/and you, your own,/in verse./…To shine all-wheres/until the end of days,/to shine-/and that’s all there is to it!/My slogan/and the sun’s!”

Before we turn to Frank O’Hara’s immense response to Mayakovsky’s poem, it is just correct to remark that the poet who had written such verse, an ode to the sun, was more than unlikely to commit suicide. He was emotional, as poets usually are, and despite Shelley’s slogan that “the poets are the least poetical of all beings”, and despite the fact that he was emotionally ruined by his love affair with Lily Brick- hard to imagine such a poet committing suicide.

O’Hara, a sunny poet as well indeed, writes “A TRUE ACCOUNT OF TALKING TO THE SUN AT FIRE ISLAND”, the poem he wrote after having read Mayakovsky in translation of Kornei Chukovsky, an early translator of Whitman and a friend of Mayakovsky’s.However his translations were almost as excellent as the original- here is what McGavran, his larter translator says on translating the Russian poet “Translating Mayakovsky is a daunting task. The traditional impossibility of verse translation- maintaining poetic form and semantic content- is compounded in his case by Mayakovsky’s penchant for word creation and highly unusual, at times ambiguous grammar. Furthermore, form- which comprises rhythm, rhyme, all sorts of sound-play and other effects that rely on the phonetic or graphic make-up of words in Russian- is almost always a bearer of meaning, and it is often central to Mayakovsky’s work that to throw it out entirely would render a poem meaningless. There is also the challenge of conveying Mayakovsky’s frequent changes in tone and stylistic registar: from jeering to pleading, from vulgarity to eloquence (or mock eloquence), from bathos to pathos and back again.”

O’Hara starts his “True Account of Talking to the Sun” in Mayakovskian unique self-assured manner of a salesman who tries to barter a couple of verses for a piece of your heart: “The Sun woke me this morning loud/and clear, saying “Hey, I’ve been/trying to wake you up for fifteen minutes. Don’t be so rude, you are/ only the second poet I’ve ever chosen/ to speak to personally/so why/aren’t you more attentive?” Here the poet takes up on Mayakovsky’s revolutionary street language stance and continues in the same style throughout the poem “Frankly, I wanted to tell you/I like your poetry. I see a lot/on my rounds and you’re okay. You may/not be the greatest thing on Earth, but/ you are different./.. Just keep on/like I do and pay no attention. You’ll/find that people always will complain/ about the atmosphere,either too hot/or too cold/..And don’t worry about your lineage/poetic or natural. The Sun shines/on the jungle, you know,/ on the tundra/ the sea, the ghetto./..I was waiting for you to get to work.

In the first part of the O’Hara’s take off , the American poet speaks the same words of the professional encouragement as we had already heard them in Mayakovsky’s poem, but in the second part  he pushes the Mayakovskyan metaphor very far. Here we have O’Hara speaks Mayakovsky’s lines that his predecessor had never spoken, enlarging the spirit and the situation the way Mayakovsky would have done but he never did, so O’Hara anticipates the verses which Mayakovsky failed to fill in his poem and he says:”And always embrace things, people earth/sky stars, as I do, freely and with/ the appropriate sense of space./Sun don’t go! I was awake /at last.”No, go I must, they’re calling me”/Who are they?/ Rising he said, “Some day you’ll know.They are calling to you/too.”

One can rightly ask the question who the Sun is in O’Hara’s poem and the answer falls naturally- it is his peer, the Russian poet Mayakovsky, giving him the supreme advice  in  life and in his poetics which is larger than life. To me, these two poems are some of the best poetry ever written in the history of literature as both of them in their similar but also very different ways teach the artists how to fight oppression in the world and in themselves,  the opressive melancholy, or the dark Sun that the poets are often prone to. Both of these poems sing in the voice of the oppressed teaching the artists how to love the weak and how to embrace  misfortune by taking a stance larger than life, as both of them did. What could have Frank O’Hara  picked from Mayakovsky,being  a difficult poet to translate ? Mayakovsky was famous for his revolutionary, innovative form in poetry, but his content, inspired by the great October revolution was no less revolutionary than his fight for the new form in poetic language. And O’Hara followed, certainly in a different way, but what he recognized was the kindred spirit in Mayakovsky , the one similar to his own. Both of them believed in being faithful to the spirit of the times, that is of those unique, respective eras that they inhabited and which inhabited them , each poet  in his own times.

In conclusion,we should observe here that it is not an easy task to talk about the influence in poetry or about the legitimate heritage that one poet inherits from another who was his predecessor . Our task to understand one’s poetics is doubled here, as Badiou justly remarks that the nature of poetry, anyone’s poetry in our epoch tends to evade us. And he says that poem is an uncompromising , intrasigent exercise. It cannot be mediated and it avoids mediatisation. It is an act of rebellion in itself as it does not demand to be communicated. It is not a general action and it does not try to please; it gives itself to our ears as a thing in language which we always encounter as an event. It is a pure event which hides itself in its own tissue, waiting for us to take it out from its envelope.. and also it dwells in the essential silence, it is a “musician of silence” as Mallarme named it, or Rimbaud who called it “a thought sang in a song together with the singer”.

How can this song be transmitted from one poet to another and from that one to the masses, we do not know; what I am only trying to say is that Vladimir Mayakovsky and Frank O’Hara tried to do it, in their respective eras and in their different ways. And as Badiou pertinently remarks again, poetry happens to be the only artistic form to keep the thought alive in this “age of poets” when philosophy failed to keep the world together and only the poets are able to show their writing as an exercise of vigilance. Pessoa had seen their role as the great metaphysicians of our times who keep the flame burning, and Heidegger called them “the guardians of being”. Their role is to shine and to revolutionize the word, thus  to revolutionize the world that fell into some temporary or permanent darkness.

Nina Zivancevic



(p.8 the Selected Poems of F O’H, ed. By Donald Allen)


Alain Badiou, “Que pense le poème?”, NOUS,2016

Carrick, Rosy Patience,”Vladimir Mayakovsky: the Language of Revolution”, unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Sussex (British Library, London , 2017)

James H.McGavran, Mayakovsky’s selected poems, vol III, 2013 Northwestern University Press

Mayakovsky, Vladimir :Comment écrire des vers, adaptation Philippe BlanchonÉditions de la Nerthe, 2014.

Mayakovsky, Vladimir : L’amour, la poesie, laRévolution, trad. Henri Deluy, Le Temps des Cerises, Montreuil 2011

Perloff, Marjorie, Postmodern Genres, UN of Oklahoma Press ,1988


Bilingual poetry reading Ivy writers

discussion et lectures bilingues (en français et en anglais) avec les auteurs :

Lucie Taïeb
Kristin Sanders &
Nina Zivancevic

Le 03 avril 2018 à 19h30
34 bvd bonne nouvelle 75010 Paris
M°ligne 8 Bonne Nouvelle







For my dead lost and forlorn friends

You inhabit
That special hidden nook in my heart
From that unseen and never heard of space– you never depart
I placed you on the top of Pantheon
Where you’ve always dwelled from the beginingless time
Ahoy! Justly or unjustly so
You’ve been my eyes to see the world
My ears who had heard the nicest music of them all
You’ve been my mouth and my voice who spoke poetry all the time…
And to say that I ve always loved you so
Is just another way to say: without you, I’m completely fucked…
And the life goes on, and these words.

I’ve been kinda repeating them every couple of years or so
And Ira and Beba and Maya and Elio and Gera and Philippe and Radovan and Zoran and Luka
And now you- please. sail gently into that light,

you’ll join the best

and the rest will like you



Memory of Recent AVANGARDA, Does it Spell ‘Resistance’?

Memory of Recent AVANGARDA, Does it Spell ‘Resistance’?
It is interesting to notice that wherever I lived, I have always felt as a refugee: an artist in an inner, as much as an outer exile. True, no one has ever forced me to leave my homeland, former Yugoslavia as I had left it out of my own free will that distant 1980. I was neither Nabokov, nor Joseph Brodsky or Soljenitsyn. However, the merciless hand of High Capitalism has also ruled my country, our schools and our artists and intellectuals and all of us have felt its rude consequences even under the reign of Tito. As I’m walking among the sleepy bodies of the Syrian refugees in a Belgrade’s bus station park, trying to address all my human and performative efforts towards the Other, my whole life appears suddenly on a stretcher in front of my eyes, and here comes a question: have I ever left this place where my grandmother founded the Serbian branch of the Red Cross, and where my grandfather was hiding the Bakuninists under his roof, on their way from Russia to the United States? Here, questions such as “Is art still possible?” and “what is its current, ‘disappearing’ form?”, have never occurred to me, nor the questions about the true meaning of resistance or its absence or presence in everyone’s life. The answers to these questions would impose themselves on me quite naturally. Let me dig into some fitting examples of the artistic practices that will help to illustrate my quandary.
In a specific procedure of combining the modeled and “already-made” elements pertinent to his work, a sculptor, Zoran Joksimović combines a porcelain leg, a bath-tub and machine oil to form a sculpture (I Remember) which uses abjectness as a self-reflective act of a traumatic memory exploring its effects in a material and metaphorical image of a fragmented body. (Sretenović, The Journey Through the Pictures and the Phantasms of the 1990s) Was it Hal Foster who, discussing the “abject art” was also discussing the “vulnerability of our borders, the fragility of the spatial distinction between our exterior and the interior, bringing the concept of self into a crisis through the cut of the dismantled body whose chopped off member now independently follows its own ‘game of chess,’ towards its own path of disappearance instead of the subject. However, may we conclude that such a traumatic cut is productive because it evacuates and raises the subject, showing us that the totality is an illusion which does not hold in practice or that confirms its existence only in multiplicity, in a dynamic interaction of the whole and its segments?
I hesitate to say that the whole He-story of the so-called recent Eastern European art could be interpreted as an extended metaphor for the question which we have raised above here, however, some of its most illustrious representatives, the most resilient and the bravest ones, certainly attest to its existence, to the acts of humanity and inhumanity to which this art has responded at the very end of the 20th and the very beginning of this 21st century.
Let me take a look at a certain She-story: Before the Matthew Akers film with Marina Abramović entitled The Artist is Present (2013) there was Balkan Baroque (1999), a film by Pierre Coulibeuf where Marina, as the artist, was not present. As if her body remained in her filmed performance Biography, but her mind was certainly elsewhere, recovering from the political events in her homeland which happened during the 1990s. In the latter film, at a certain point she is laying in her white bed, her head covered with the snow of memories as she is asking a panicky question “And Neša? What is happening with Neša?”2 This profound worry for a fellow-artist, friend, cousin and the big Other, who stayed in the ‘Inner Exile’ reflected the traumatic cut which remained an unhealed wound in the body of the artists who left Tito’s Yugoslavia during the 1980s. Soon after, many of us were forced into the political exile during the Milošević’s “Serbian reign of terror” which stretched during the 1990s when the only sane artistic activities could be brought under the common denominators of political, subversive art and resistance. Many of the artists, writers, performers, film-makers, musicians and composers had transferred their bodies to the new, welcoming countries but their “head,” that is their spirit remained in their homeland, among the bombshells and under the acid rains formed by the broken uranium bombs.
I left Serbia in the beginning of the 1980s but I left my family, thus a part of my body, in Serbia where my nephew, Dragan Živančević, became a co-founder (with Nikola Džafo) of the most virulent resistance art group, LEDArt who performed numerous radical social actions, events and performances against Milošević’s regime in the1990s.3
In my “Outer Exile,” I was accompanied by a good crowd of fellow-artists who shared my daily dread in the very heart of neoliberalism. As a performance and poetry editor to the legendary East Village Eye (1982-1985) I encountered numerous examples of artistic courage and resistance to the last stages of High Capitalism in its revolting agony. The gallery space had become too small to house the expression of these deeply cutting historic times which made artists turn to the theatrical, thus showing their yearning for the brutal and the real that had paved the ‘street’ which accordingly became a new installational space for the artistic happening, event and action.
Dragan Ilić, Vesna Golubović and their Fashion Moda graffiti people were turning the city into their technological playground; Vesna Victoria, Zoran Grebenarović, myself, we were giving our post-punk performances “out on a limb,” and the flower of the Yugoslav music scene—Drak, the frontman of the Glass Bead Game and Ljuba Djukić of the Electric Orgasm, together with Firči and Beške (of Dirty Green) were giving improvised concerts at the CBGB’s and in various Brooklyn ‘dives’. The private and spiritual (as in Vlasta Volcano’s appropriations of Byzantine icons) had landed on leather jackets and became public property. Much later, in 1991, Volcano abandoned his Suprematist’s yearnings and produced “Shadows” a huge installational sculpture or the most moving testimony to the absence of the Other, exemplified in burnt truck tyres hanging from a ceiling and which evoked dead bodies in absentia, thus making all of us artists metaphorically speaking disappear in a common grave ( Živančević 1994).4
We were all mapped out as the “Aliens,” alien citizens in New York, by a LED ART photographer, Vladimir Radojčić who took photos of 72 artists in exile, all of us with naked torsos whereas the corresponding bodies, naked from the waist to toe, were supplied in Serbia, represented by those artists who remained in the country. We all formed one body, buried in some inner or outer jail. All these actions were executed much earlier before Marina Abramović came to town, and earlier than she showed her installational work and a performance «Cleaning of the House», presented at the Venice Biennale in 1997, in Germano Celan’s pavilion as she had no right to clean the ox’s bones evoking corpses as a former Serbian artist living in Netherlands, and later in New York, therefore a displaced person sharing an artistic non lieu with the rest of us (Živančević, 2010).5
The artist with whom I shared most of the local artistic and social awareness in those heavy times is Victoria Vesna whose art has always inspired a certain melancholy of thinking as its special quality brings us back to ourselves, to the innermost house in us, the dwelling of poetry. She grew up in New York City where she attended different art schools and where she, somewhat like Abramović, has become what we call a multidisciplinary artist. One of her performances that I saw last in New York in the late 1980s was her commentary on Freud, entitled “Sometimes the cigar—is simply just a cigar.” It was an anti-racist, pro-Cuban performance. Victoria has always known how to enter the core of a certain problem by placing it into a certain ethical-political frame. The musician who left the biggest impact on her was a punk artist Alan Vega from “the Suicide” who was pushing to the extreme his idiosyncratic, political and anarchist messages on his synthesizer. Back in New York in 1985, Victoria started doing very radical performances; angry at the general devaluation and commercialisation of art and artists in the East Village, she did a performance which condemned such politics. As the gallery “12 x 12 inches” was charging the artists who would exhibit their work there with 20 dollars per hour, she entitled her performance “12×12 inches = 20 dollars.”
For Victoria Vesna the awareness of space has always been a crucial element in her art as she sees it as a natural outcome of her work. She has always worked simultaneously on paintings and sculpture, but she has continuously been concerned about the showing space that was not just decorum but the matrix of a given project. In her own, natural way she has arrived at “the ambient performance” which she considers a certain category that she developed during the late 1980s. This specific theatrical and visual performance genre has helped her work go beyond the traditional scholarly and academic concepts which tend to burden art in general. Since the 1990s on, Victoria has been exploring a new artistic genre, an interdisciplinary section that borders on science and science fiction that is called “Nanology.” This artwork implies the creation of the multidimensional world, both imaginary and imaginative in the domain of nano technology. In the world of “nano” poetics, the art, science and technology meet in a virtual space and offer us a relational experiment that allows the public to participate and create their own reality out of the exhibited elements. And, although such an experiment is to be encountered in a physical space, the interaction between a spectator and the object changes the place in an imaginative way that invites everyone to create his own ‘Imaginary Museum.’ In her project “Bodies@Incorporated,” Vesna evokes the ethical role of a spectator/participant who ceases to be a simple viewer of an artistic and existentialist process but rather an active agent of change. Her works such as “Blue Morph” and “Water Bowls” represent a sort of existential outcry against the damage and destruction that our planet undergoes as Vesna tries to raise the desperate question, “where do we come from?” followed by the other inevitable one “where do we go from here?” The spectators are invited to watch in silence the bowls being filled with clear water, then with dirty water, then polluted with oil and petrol, then with plastic. Here a visitor is politically invited to join a virtual and futile game of the geographical and national identification – as he is asked to identify himself as an admirer of the Nile, of the Ganges or a fan of the Atlantic Ocean. This raises yet other questions that are extremely pertinent, namely as to which water do we belong to, or if we belonged to a certain water, would we find the same water in our body, the water which qualifies the essence of our being?

In one of my first performances which I gave in the early 1980s, I tried to raise a similar question which underlines the score of every humane artistic investigation: If we are to start cleaning our house and our cage from an overall influx of dirt and destruction, shouldn’t we commence doing it firstly with our planet, globally, and then slowly move into our own backyard (Živančević 1982)? Applying different artistic-philosophical and ecocritical methods which had come to us naturally, as all of us, the artists from so-called “Outer Exiles” and those who stayed in the country, in their Inner Jails, shows that we wanted to produce the worthwhile socially engaged answers to the Serbian despotic governmental orders and requests; the Frankfurt School located them outside of Germany, the Russian auteurs sort of found them in their eternal exiles, but what was happening with “Nesha”? What was happening in our homeland devastated by isolation, socio-economic troubles, and tarned by the ethical amnesia by the end of the 20th century when the wars had become virtual and quasi anonymous? In a situation when the entire social world is filled with an entropy process, that is, “collective disruption of vitality through which the energies of the vital stray into sympathy with the catastrophic, apocalyptic and violent-spectacular” (Sloterdijk, The Art of Philosophy: Wisdom as a Practice), the question of the relay of orientation of the artistic subject became crucially important, for there were no longer any social guarantees of existential safety and of the purposefulness of professional activities. The most vital factors of contemporary art meant that what is usually referred to as “the mainstream” abroad functioned in Serbia as an “alternative” to the hegemonic cultural paradigm, even though its protagonists were mostly academically educated artists, with the exception of a certain number of artists who belonged to the rock and techno sub-culture, alternative social movements, the digital demo scene etc. Also, this parallel field of art represented a part of the not-so-large civil counter-public front, but being socially and politically marginalized (which is also to do with the general status of visual arts in Serbian culture), it was not exposed to repressive measures, as was the case with non- governmental organizations and the independent media, but was largely ignored and subjected to media censorship, that is, journalistic self-censorship.
Finally, numerous exponents of this scene such as Raša Todosijević, Milica Tomić, Association Apsolutno, Uroš Djurić, Tanja Ostojić, Biljana Djurdjević, Balint Szombathy, Zoran Naskovski, LED Art, Magnet, Mileta Prodanović, Mrdjan Bajić, Neša Paripović—to name but a few—at the same time achieved a considerable reputation on the international scene, but this was barely registered by the domestic cultural public, so that it did not in any way contribute to a change in their social status. In other words, the relationship between what Pierre Bourdieu calls “the symbolic capital market,” which establishes a system of purely aesthetic, non-utilitarian exchange between the artist and the recipient, and “the economic capital market,” which commodifies symbolic goods (and provides artists with a social status), was not established at all, and even the very symbolic value of this art was denied by aggressive art market brokers who promoted small-town pictorial sentimentalism and the so-called “kitsch-fantasy” (as exemplified in ‘turbo-folk’ local scene) as the dominant code of the contemporary art production.
The place of art as a locus of symbolic differentiation could be exposed to the advance of the real only in those situations when it was exteriorized in the public space as a place of direct political contestation, thereby losing the prerogative of socio-political irrelevance. What I refer to here is the symptomatic example of the arrest of the artist and political activist Nune Popović (Magnet), who defended himself before the police saying that he was an artist, whereby he unconsciously stated the premise of irrelevance (the “innocence” of an artistic act), demonstrating at the same time the evidence of a personal stake when it came to the artistic tactics of occupying the public space. And though the public sphere, owing to the activities of many groups and individuals (actionist/ ‘Situationist’ tactics of political disturbance or real sabotage by the groups like Led Art and Magnet, distribution of printed matters by Škart group, site-specific projects by Association Apsolutno and others) represented an important domain of political statements of artists, most interventions operated on the level of the symbolic producing subversive signs without the excesses of political disturbance that would constitute a provocation of the imaginary of the regime.
What is said here for the artistic praxis and its strategies dominant in the 1990s, the most politically and overtly painful period for Serbia’s recent history, unfortunately applies to the current art activities of today; after the brief reign of Djindjic’s democracy, we find today the same ultra-nationalist and right-oriented government forces at work. As the result of such a situation, the very question whether the recent subversive avant-garde practices have taught anything of the emancipatory value both the social art practitioners and their public, remains still unanswered. The tendency of every society to close its doors to the so-called progress tends not to be a small negligible tendency of the contemporary world fed on austerity and greed for power. I am inclined to continue my own poetry performances as many other artists who feel that they have no place to settle but in their perpetuum mobile, just to go. Many of us have felt already, for decades, that we have been refugees in an art field of our own respective territories—the neoliberal world of high capitalism has been the one where the art sites host only the merchant, or a benevolent but powerful curator who has the last word in the “art game.” In such a situation, the issue of the real, geographical territory became secondary to many of us. However, many marginalized artists, be it the Eastern Europeans, the Americans, or the Palestinians, simply continue to create worlds of their own. In such a situation, I am wondering if we truly need to emphasize the term “resistance.” Does it need a new definition as a comprehensive term or have we been redefining it and coining it as we go along?
1. Here I am using the Serbo-Croatian term for the word ‘Avant Garde’ which also encompasses all the terms of the taxonomy or paradigms for recent and contemporary artists’ activities in that part of so-called Eastern Europe.
2. Neša Paripović, one of the most radical conceptual artists in Serbia who also started the New Avant Garde movement with Marina Abramović, Zoran Popović, Georgij Urkom, Raša Todosijević and Evgenija Demnievska in the Student Cultural Center in Belgrade during the 1970s, was also Marina’s first husband.
3. See Led Art, Documents of times 1993-2003, Multimedijalni centar LED ART, Novi Sad (Now under the auspices of Art Klinika) and Samizdat B92, Beograd 2004. The
7 Postcolonial Text Vol 12, No 3 & 4 (2017)
publication saw the light of day under Zoran Djindjić’s democrat government but as the political situation has been gradually deteriorating under the present government many citizens deem the experience of the LED Art collective still extremely pertinent as they hope that it continues to develop.
4. In the last issue of the legendary Belgrade magazine devoted to the visual media which I co-edited with Jerko Denegri I tried to map out parts of the then contemporary avant-garde East Village scene including the interviews and testimonies of the East European artists inhabiting the lieu.
5. In this short study I discuss the work of the exiled women artists from former Yugoslavia as the pillars of our new and contemporary avant-garde movements. These are Ljubinka Jovanovic, Kosara Bokšan, Marina Abramović, Evgenija Demnievska, Kirila Faeh, Vesna Victoria, Vesna Bajalska, Ljubica Mrkalj, Olivera Mejcen, Selena Vicković and Jelena Mišković.
Works Cited
The Artist is Present. Directed by Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre, performances by Marina Abramovic, Ulay and Klaus Biesenbach, Show of Force, 2013.
Balkan Baroque. Directed by Pierre Coulibeuf, performances by Marina Abramovic, Michel Butor and Paolo Canevari, Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA), 1999.
Sretenović, Dejan. The Journey Through the Pictures and the Phantasms of the 1990s, in: On Normality, Art in Serbia 1989-2001, Muzej Savremene Umetnosti, 2005.
Sloterdijk, Peter, The Art of Philosophy: Wisdom as a Practice, Trans. Karen Margolis. Columbia UP, 2012. Živančević, Nina, East Village (1980-1990), A Decade of Postmodern and Industrial Rococo. Moment, 1994.
Živančević, Nina (with Michaels, Abbe and Lerner, Eric): Our Ego of the Flowers, (homage to Jean Genet), Jo Papp’s Theater, NYC, 1982.
Živančević, Nina, Onze Femmes Artistes, Slaves et Nomades, Non Lieu, 2010.

Nina Živančević

Postcolonial Text, Vol 12, No 3 & 4 (2017)

Artwork by Evgenija Demnievska IN TIME 06; IN TIME 07



From conference K. A. T. Umetnost u obrazovanju: interakcije; Muzej savremene umetnosti Novi Sad, novembar 2017.

I started this conference with an excerpt from Jean Luc Godard’s film La Chinoise which discusses, among other things the problem of chopping off the idea of culture from its formal aspect which is its movement or action, culture in movement, which directly also implies teaching of culture and its presentation to people, to the masses. In Godard’s film two characters have a short dialogue on a train; one of them, the male figure declares that he would like to enable people to see the world the way it really is; he would not only like to enable them to see the world as such, but he would also like to make them able to act and react in such a world, in other words, he would like to enable the masses to contribute to the building, enlarging and improving the better world, which is , in a nutshell, the purpose of any form of school education. Godard’s character is situated in 1968 and he says right away that he would like to get away from his university job, that is, from the old notion of a university job where there is one omniscient teacher and the others are simply the “recipients” of knowledge. During their conversation the student and her philosophy teacher both conclude that there is something essentially wrong with the French university and that “something” is clearly the very system of education itself. (1:09:30, La Chinoise). The girl says that is is disgusted by the university courses as they are always presented in the manner of and following the rules of the ruling class. Thus the entire culture is seen exclusively through the eye-lense of the upper class and as such it is m ade to serve just that particular class. She suggests then to her professor to perform a terrorist action of setting the university on fire; they would bomb ank kill everyone in there, both students and teachers so that they would build a new university, some brave new world. There are few universities in the world which endorsed this Godard’s anarcho-Maoist vision of thefuture education , but quite a few had figured out that a lot of things should be changed both in education and in culture. The year was 1967 going to 1968.
However, quite recently someone hasd asked me to define culture. And to emphasize the difference between culture and savage behavioral practice. Of course, it is always hard to give answers to such complicated and vast questions, but I tried to give an answer, ad hoc. I said that anything which enlarges our
spirit, develops it and improves it, whatever opens up and widens our horizon
IS culture, and whatever makes us stupid, pushes us toward the mental straight
jacket and into the prison or an enclosure- is savage behavior and a barbaric act.
This statement could find its first and foremost application in arts; in the
institutions where people teach arts or where the arts figure as regular courses in
the yearly curriculum.
Everything that enlarges our horizons and introduces us into the very heart of
ARS-ARTIS, into its special realms/pockets, be it music, visual arts or
literature,every emancipatory movement towards ARTIS enlarges and educates
us, and all other movements are not able to do it. In fact, the problem that arises
here is that the art is TECHNE, something which we can teach to others but we
cannot teach it in the same way that we teach other scientific disciplines.
What we can teach to a group of non-initiated beginners or people interested in
an art is just history of that particular artistic discipline. We can interpret a
horizontal history of a given art, a certain geography of that history, as history
was also divided into different geographical regions- thus we can teach
“Spanish literature”, “Italian music” or some other field enhenced by the
vertical, chronological determining of that particular art (eg.we teach the Italian
Renaissance music, or Spanish Baroque literature). However, we do have
certain pretensions at informing the students of certain artistic practices which
were registered as such in certain regions in a given epoch or historic period.
What remains mostly imprinted in their mind is our effort to transmit the
knowledge which we believe corresponded to a particular epoch ; the process of
such transmission increases their artistic sensibility. Or, should I say- that is the
only work here- the teacher’s effort to heighten his students’ sensibility by
makeing them aware of the possibilities of a certain artistic practice, as we can
never be sure that our transmission would leave any other trace or result
At the Conservatory of Music- if you play samples of the Baroque music to
your students hoping that they would grasp the essence of the Baroque periodthis
practise seems the only valid one to pursue there, as, in fact, we can never
teach them how to compose a piece such as Paganini’s Cappricio. You cannot
even teach them how to perform Cappricios in the same way that their author
played them or the author’s contemporaries. The thing that they can grasp after a
long listening practise of the Baroque scores is that the Baroque scores are
always for a half tone or the entire tone lower than the scores composed in the
era of Impressionism. You can also invoke in the listeners an affection for that
music period or the awareness of the abandonment of certain compositional
norms in the Baroque compositions which follows an extensive listening
practise of Baroque music. You can also awaken their interest in Oriental scores
which are performed in the lower tonality system, in B minor, as we hear it with
Debussy or Bela Bartok. However, even if the students learn how to perform
these authors quite well, we cannot always expect their masterful interpretation
to attain the technical perfection and something that goes beyond it, an element
which soars above and beyond the technique and which people perhaps too
easily identify with “high art”.
Now I remember the day when I was preparing a poetry workshop for young
New York’s poets in mid 1980s. I asked a senior collegue, Charles Bernstein, to
give me his advice how to teach ARS POETICA to the students in the
workshop, he simply answered “You cannot really teach anyone the art of
writing; give your students the list of poets and writers who you liked to read
when you were of their age.” That was the best advice which I got from a
collegue in the domain of Art education but the advice was based on insisting
on the historic evidence of the written works of art. By insisting on the
historically oriented lists of the works of art, the beginner was able to discern
his own qualities from his insufficiences in the very act of writing (creative act
of any sort). The beginner was becoming aware not only of his own limitations
but also of his own abilities, of the necessity to imploy patience, this quality
being the foremost prerequisite to any artistic discipline. A German saying says
“Repetition (applied patience) makes the Master”, and aside from this, one can
attest the presence of extreme patience and militant discipline in all different
practises in arts, say like in the visual practises of our very own Marina
I moved all along in this discussion. I contemplated the option of a possibility
vs. impossibility of teaching arts a while ago; but today I know that is, I am
quite sure that one cannot teach art, just like that, ad hoc. Hic Rhodes his salta!
Or, as a renowened late poet Rasha Livada indicated in one of his glorious
poems “the teacher should never transmit the entire instructions to his student ,
that is- if he likes him.” Here, what he really meant was not only that he
believed in the total autonomy and ability of a human being to move on his
own, but also that a great quantity of any “transmittable”ARS-ARTIS material
is always veiled in a great Kabbalah-like initiation and secret thus it appears
more appropriate for the student to make an input and fathom the secret here by
using his proper strength. In a certain way, the teacher is there to announce the
secret and to indicate the possible paths of moving towards it, but his role
certainly does not consist of digesting the essence of the secret, handing it out
on a plate to his disciples. However, we are not talking about the matheme
formulas here, the “secrets” are beyond the formulas which we can learn by
heart. In fact, a greater part of that secret is left to an ocassional operation, a
guess or a serendipity which John Cage nicely named as chance operation.
I would like to emphasize the fact that for some good thirty-five years of
university teaching I have always avoided an opportunity to teach arts in their
creative learning outfit placed in an investigatory action. It is interesting to
notice that at the times when I was living in the so called West, that just in those
times these creative learning practices were coming into day and becoming
quite fashionable. As a former member of the Living Theater, I chose rather
teach the possible histories of Avant-garde theater(s), those European and the
American ones at the radical french university Paris 8, but I also tried some less
“avant-garde” universities where one could expect to hear teacher transmit the
legacy of Deleuze or Foucault rather than someone teach the straigth history of
the literary and theater avant-gardes.

However, for the final exam in the department of Theatrology I would persuade
my students to be extremely creative and include into their presentation of the
Avant-garde’s historical material their very own take on it. I insisted that for
their oral finals they perform an expression of their own, their personal
impression of an Avant-garde(s) by interpreting on their own the most
impressive moments which they treasured thus mastered in my course on the
Historic and the historical avant-gardes. I did not want them to recount the
stories about Antonin Artaud that we hear in special seminars devoted to his art
or the stories on Tadeuzs Kantor as I did not want- borrowing Kantor’s
expression here- to create a “dead class” neiother in theater nor in everyday life
which is the best stage indeed for any given creative action. As I was not
teaching them a specific scenic movement or acting techniques, I was retelling
them my own stage experience summerizing the historical body of theater. I
would physically illustrate my stories by performing certain examples from the
history of the avant-garde theater, thus showing them certain techniques which
would not necessarily be shown in their books. For instance, I would describe
the movements of Meyerhold’s training in Biomechanics then I would show
them how it went in practise which was something that the members of the
Living were transmitting through physical training from one generation to
another. The results accomplished at Paris 8 university were truly ipreszsive as I
often had the impression that the students were able to grasp the most subtle
meaning of my instructions just by watching me perform in their class; it
seemed to me that they were absorbing the very nuance of my Living theater
experience through basic transmissions easily and lightly “as if breathing in the
air”. I take that one has to teach writing in a similar manner- both unobtrusive
and subtle; some of these experiences in writing I had discussed in the preface
to my selected poems entitled “The Art of Catching a Boomerang” published by
Povelja in 2013.
I have realized that I have really meandered and went into a direction somewhat
different from our common theme which is “Art in Education”; my presentation
has slid into a different zone which could bear a title “The Art of Educating an
Individual” or the art of directing a potential , young artist towards his creation
in the most unobtrusive, quiet and almost invisible manner. There is so much to
say about Pedagogy in arts, as this type of pedagogy draws qualities from both
Art and science, thus it is different from other types, but it will suffice to say
that this could be discussed on some other ocassion. When I mentioned earlier
the art of teaching Art, I mentioned the bright examples of artists such as Nicolo
Paganini and Marina Abramovic, however, the idea or my wish was more
oriented towards mentioning some other names , less known to the general
public and these belong to the students sitting at their desks in classrooms and
who are certainly as important to me as the bright exemples who illustrate my
course. As I was preparing my teachings about a certain art and the artists who
perform it, I was constantly aware of the founding elements of any course or
cursus and these include the active participation in class of the students sitting
in front of me and the ability to stir their active awareness, then to keep their
presence awake- to name here only these fundamental factors which are basic
to any course. The teacher who takes on a heavy task of teaching students
classes in art, has to make them truly curious and concerned for the existence of
the given art field. We all witnessed the fact that after an initial interest that a
student has shown for a certain art- and the possession of that interest made
him/her sign in for that course to begin with- there comes a moment, a time
when we, their educators have to make a certain wizzardry of keeping that
interest alive throughout the course. In order to keep a student as an interested,
lively human participant in his class, a teacher himself/herself has to become an
artist of a sort, as his pedagogical approach, bordering on artistry and often on
real acrobacy, has to keep the disciples intellectually and spiritually awake
throughout the three-month long semester.
Whenever I call my students’ names at the beginning of my class at la Sorbonne
– and this experience lasts some good 10 minutes, I notice that this is probably
the most important part of our teaching hour, as it is exactly the time when you
either grab student’s attention so necessary for the rest of the course- or you
don’t. And when I had noticed that a student’s attention radically drops even
there if his name is not pronounced correctly, I realized that teaching any
subject in the academic cursus is an art in itself, art much higher than any art –
related subject that it has to treat. I became aware of the fact that the lecturer, no
matter what subject he’s trying to communicate to the others, has to approach
his listeners with the qualities of an artist; in fact, he has to become much of an
artist himself, or an acrobat. He has to walk that tight rope over an abbyss of
ignorance and prejudice, thus he has to be , perhaps less of a specialist/expert
who knows his subject the best and more of a communicator to transmit his
knowledge to younger collegues. An educator has to be more than just a
specialist and a high scientist – ideally, he should be a teacher-artist or an artist
of a taught matter and such experts are very few in all the schools throughout
the world. There is a long tradition at the university to not employ a teacher who
is at the same time a creative person, an artist, and this experience is especially
domesticated in the reagons of our “MittelEurope”. Here is the word of an art
historian, curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Budapest “what
characterizes the citizens of Mitteleurope is the permanent fear of anything new,
if there’s a creative movement forward, it backs off quickly and gives way to the
negative criticism favoring the annulment of the conceived project”. Rarely we
fully realize something which could be called a radical and thorough change in
our lands in the Balkans-however, what we often find here are the various
tactics of so called temporalization, which are, in fact Paralel Strategies
dragging along the so called deep restructuralization. New projects often get
devalorized , long before they are even presented and partially realized; they get
disqualified often for certain unknown, meaningless and personal reasons.
Perhaps this costant impossibility to realize their projects quickly is the moving
force that pushes artists, writers, philosophers musicians and poets develop their
aesthetic, political and social projects in small and intimate circles and not as
the part of the National Education program. The talated ones create their own
“private-public space “ and often live in their ‘inner exiles”. I partly discussed
the problem as well, in my study on “Eleven Women-Artists, Slavs and
Nomads” when I discussed the early Marina Abramovic’s Conceptual group in
Belgrade including Evgenia Demnievska, Nesha Paripovic, Zoran Popovic,
Rasha Todosijevic and Georgy Urkom. However, it’s never enough to discuss a
problem, examine it in a new light especially this one related to a psychological
block and so called self-shooting in the back, a phenomenon that the peoples
from Mitteleurope really got accustomed to; it really dates from feudal times
when “one new one’s place of a slave bogged down by his own destiny” and it
had to do with the unfair hierarchical system which did not allow people’s
mentality to freely develop for almost 500 years, but it Spain under the Arabs
this cultural hesitance lasted for almost 7 centuries. These cultural barriers are
being erased very slowly as we see some of them entirely disappear in the
beginning of the 21 century, however, one should give both the artists and their
instructors a bit of time to develop their learning practises and the projects that
need to be developed among them.


Otpoceli smo ovo izlaganje jednim iseckom iz poznatog Godarovog filma, Kineskinja, koji upravo govori, izmedju ostalih dtvari, o problemu odsecanja kulture od njenog pojavnog vida, akcije, koja je u izvesnom obliku i predavanje te kulture, javno predstavljanje umetnosti masama.u okviru kratkog dijaloga u vozu, muski lik izjavljuje da bi zeleo da osposobi narod da primi svet , da ga dozivi onakav kakav jeste i ne samo da ga vidi onakvim kakav on jeste vec i da se osposobi da reaguje u tom svetu da sam licno doprinese izdradnji sveta, sto je u skracenom obliku, cilj svakog obrazovanja.On kaze da bi zeleo da se udalji od univerziteta, od ustajalog pojma univerziteta kao mesta gde su svi samo primaoci znanja.U svom razgovoru ovaj par, studentkinja i njen profesor filosofije, zakljucuju da nesto strasno nije u redu sa francuskim univerzitetom a to « nesto » zove se sistem obrazovanja (1 :09 : 30, La Chinoise) ; devojka kaze da je zgadjena predavanjima, da se ona uvek izvode po zakonima i receptima odredjene klase, da je cela kultura vidjena okom jedne klase da pripada stoga odredjenoj klasi.Ona zatim predlaze profesoru teroristicki cin paljenja univerziteta, bombardovanja i ubijanja sviju postojecih, studenata i profesora, da bi  otpoceo novi univerzitet, hrabri novi svet. Malo je univerziteta u svetu koji su prihvatili ovu godarovsku anarhisticno-maoisticku viziju obrazovne buducnosti, ali mnogi jesu shvatili da u obrazovanju i kulturi dosta toga treba menjati, godina je bila 1967-8.

Nedavno me je, pak, neko pitao  « Šta je to kultura?“, zamolio da definišem razliku izmedju kulture i nekulture. Naravno, na  teška i razudjena pitanja komplikovano je odgovoriti, ali tada sam rekla da sve ono što širi naš duh i horizont, što nas unapredjuje i gradi, otvara vidike, da je TO kultura, a ono što nas sputava, oglupljuje, baca u unutrašnji mrak i zatvor, da je to nekultura. Pa tako i sa umetnošću i podučavanjem umetnosti i njenom mestu u obrazovanju.

Rekli bismo- sve što nam proširuje vidike i što nas uvodi u samo srce ARS-ARTISA, u njene posebne svetove, bilo da je to muzika, vizuelne umetnosti ili književnost, svako kretanje ka ARTISU nas obogaćuje i obrazuje, a sve ostalo…Naime, postavlja se tu problem da je umetnost TECHNE, nešto što teško možemo podučavati kao što podučavamo odredjene naučne discipline. Ono što možemo ipak podučavati grupu neiniciranih početnika, lica zainteresovana za neku umetnost jeste samo istorija te dotične umetnosti, možemo im interpretirati horizontalnu istoriju odredjene umetnosti, onu geografsku, podeljenu u geografske regione- kao „književnost Španije“, muziku Italije“ i slično…naravno, ispresecano vertikalnom, hronološkom istorijom te umetnosti- na primer, predajemo renesansnu muziku Italije, ili baroknu književnost Španije. Ono što se tada dogadja kod prisutnih koji vas slušaju i u duhu beleže umetničke prakse odredjenih regiona kroz epohalne jedinice ili vremenske periode jeste da ti učesnici ili učesnice vaše klase jedino i isključivo pooštravaju svoju osetljivost, njihov  sopstveni umetnički senzibilitet. Ako im puštate na muzičkoj akademiji, na primer, primere barokne muzike, vi ih ne možete naučiti da komponuju recimo Paganinijev Kapričo. Ne možete ih čak ni naučiti kako da ga odsviraju na način na koji ga je izvodio autor ili njegovi savremenici, ono što mogu nakon dugog slušanja baroknih partitura otkriti je …da su barokne partiture statistički uvek za pola tona ili za ceo ton niže od recimo, ičpresionističkih. Ono što sigurno možete u njima sigurno probuditi je ljubav ili svest o izvesnom odstupanju od norme u komponovanju muzike što je posledica upražnjavanja barokne muzičke prakse, ili im možete probuditi interesovanje za orijentalnu muzičku lestvicu koja se takodje izvodi u nižoj, bemolskoj skali, kao što je čujemo kod Debisija ili Bele Bartoka ali ih nikako ne možete naučiti kako da praktično izvode tu muziku ili kako da se otisnu i pomere od onog lako savladljivog do onog tehnički savršenog što olako nazivamo umetnišću.

U tom smislu, kada sam u oblasti ARS POETIKE, pre jedne pesničke radionice koju sam pripremala za mlade pesnike u Njujorku sredinom 1980ih, zapitala starijeg kolegu, pesnika Čarlsa Bernstina, kako da podučavam učesnike seminara, on mi je odgovorio „Ne možeš nikoga naučiti pisanju poezije, već im samo daj listu imena pesnika ili pisaca koje si ti kao omladinka volela i čitala“. To je bio najbolji savet koji sam dobila u domenu predavanja ili podučavanja umetnosti bilo kakve vrste, a to je upravo bilo insistiranje na istorijskom trenutku ostvarenog dela. Insistiranjem na ovoj vrsti istorijski orijentisane obuke, u novajliji ili početniku se budi svest o njegovoj vlastitoj mogućnosti ili nemogućnosti u  učešću u stvaralačkom činu. Njemu se formira horizont o njegovim vlastitim kreativnim ograničenjima i granicama, kao i o njegovim vlastitim mogućnostima istrajnosti koja je, ispostavilo se, ključna reč u stvaralačkim praksama. Nemačka poslovica glasi „ponavljanje čini majstora“, a tome nas podučavaju i najrazličitije vizuelne prakse umetnika, Marine Abramović, na primer.

Otišla sam daleko. Davno sam pomislila, a to i danas mislim i znam da je umetnost teško ili gotovo nemoguće podučavati. Kqo što reče u jednoj svojoj pesmi veliki i nedavno preminuli pesnik, Raša Livada „Učitelj nikada ne saopšti celokupno svoje znanje učeniku-ako ga voli“. U smislu da je velika količina svakog ARS-ARTISA koju treba preneti na učenika obavijena velom tajne i ostaje na učeniku da je sam dokučim na izvesan način učitelj je onaj koji je tu samo da nagovesti tajnu a ne da je sažvaće uče:s:niku Nije ovde reč,pak, o matematičkim formulama.

Volela bih da naglasim da sam za isvesnih trideset i pet  godina univerzitetskog i šire, predavačkog staža uvek izbegavala da predajem umetnost kao kreativni čin i akciju, u vreme kada sam živela na takozvanom Zapadu i to u trenutku kada su takve prakse na Zapadu bile u najvećem opticaju. Kao nekadašnja članica LIVING TEATRA predavala sam istoriju avangardnog teatra, američkog i evropskog na francuskom univerzitetu Paris 8, kao i istoriju književne usmene i pisane avangarde, ali sam uvek za završni ispit na teatrologiji nagovarala studente da pristupe lično kreativnom činu i da pri pravljenju opšteg osvrta na istorijsku avangardu takodje nama prikažu i nešto svoje da nam predstave na usmenom ispitu svoj izraz, njihovu ličnu predstavu, lični utisak i interpretaciju  onoga čime ih je istorija drame podučila. Nisam želela da mi prepričavaju, recimo, šta je sve radio Antinen Arto ili Tadeuš Kantor i da se poslužim sad Kantorovim rečima, nisam želela da stvaram „mrtvu klasu“, ni u pozorištu a ni u životu koji je pozornica svakog kreativnog čina. Pošto ih nisam podučavala pozorišnom pokretu, specifičnim glumačkim tehnikama, već im prosto prepričavala, sažimala istorijsko pozorišno tkivo, prikazujući im na odredjenim primerima iz istorije avangardne dramske tehnike kako je, na primer „Mejerhold uvodio biomehanički trening“ i pokazala im praktično kako se to odvijalo, naši rezultati na univerzitetu Paris 8 bili su veoma plodonosni. Studenti su hvatali najsuptilnija značenja mog znanja i iskustva tako reći „u vazduhu“. Mislim da tako, nenametljivo i suptilno treba predavati i pisanje, otuda moj mali traktat o poeziji, objavljena zbirka „Umetnost hvatanja bumeranga“.

Medjutim, sada primećujem da sam se donekle udaljila od zadate teme „Umetnost u Obrazovanju i vidim da sam neosetno skliznula u jednu drugu oblast koju bi možda trebalo da naslovimo „Umetnost obrazovanja“ ili kako nenametljivo, nečujno i skoro nevidljivo obrazovati potencijalnog umetnika. O umetnosti pedagogije koja je i umetnost i nauka, odista bi trebalo da se dosta toga saopšti, možda ipak neki drugi put. Kada sam se osvrnula na umetnost predavanja umetnosti, pomenula sam u ovom kontekstu Paganinija i Marinu Abramović, a želela sam da naglasim i nešto drugo, da pomenem neka druga imena koja sede u studentskim klupama a koja su takodje veoma važna . Pripremajući predavanja o umetnicima i o nekoj umetnosti, bila sam svesna činjenice da je možda najvažniji elemenat u predavanju bilo koje materije ili umetničkog predmeta- aktivna budnost studenta ili budjenje njegove pažnje, njegove zainteresovanosti za datu umetnost. U pristupu studentu i materiji koju student sluša, svaki predavač, bez obzira na predavani predmet trebalo bi da se stavi u ulogu umetnika ili da postane umetnik. Kada sam prilikom prozivanja studenata na Sorboni, a ovo iskustvo traje nekih celih pet minuta na početku svakog časa, kada sam primetila da je u ovom kvalitativno najvažnijem trenutku našeg časa koji relativno kratko traje a najvažniji je jer od njega zavisi da li će momentalno ugrabiti učenikovu pažnju, kada sam dakle primetila da studentu Hasanu radikalno opada interesovanje za predavanje ako mu ime pogrešno izgovorim kao „Asan“ a ne Hasan, shvqtilq sqm u tom trenutku da je predavanje bilo kog predmeta, a pogotovo onog umetničkog- umetnost po sebi. I da predavač treba gotovo uvek da bude mnogo više umetnik, budni akrobata koji spretno korača po zategnutom konopcu iznad ambisa svakojakog neznanja i predrasude, a manje neki izuzetno visoki specijalistam koji „najbolje na svetu“ poznaje tu naukum taj predmet koji će predavati začudjenim studentima. Predavač mora biti više od visokog naučnika i profesionalca- idealno, on bi trebalo da bude predavač-umetnik ili umetnik predavanja, a takvih stručnjaka je na svim školama u svetu relativno i nažalost, jako malo. Tradicionalno- vecina skola i dalje ne zele da angazuju predavace koji su istovremeno umetnici, kreativci, narocito u nasim oblastima, takozvane Mittelevrope. Evo sta kaze Laurend Hegyi na tu temu: „ono sto karakterise stanovnike Mitelevrope je permanentni strah prema svemu novom, kreativni istup se ubrzo povlaci i ustupa mesto kritici i odbacivanju projekta. Retko u tim zemljama mozemo ostvariti potpunu promenu, radikalnu i celovitu- cesce tu nalazimo taktike temporalizacije tkzv Paralelne Strategije koje odugovlace sa dubokom restrukturacijom. Novi projekti se cesto devalorizuju, pre no sto su iskazani i ostvareni u celosti, njih diskvalifikuju cesto iz polovicnih, beznacajnih, i licnih razloga.“ Mozda ova stalna nemogucnost ka brzom osvarivanju, kaze Hegyi, i navodi umetnike, pisce, filozofe, muzicare pesnike da ostvaruju estetske, politicke i socijalne projekte u njihovim licnim i malim krugovima a ne u javnom obrazovanju; oni stvaraju njihov „ privatan javni prostor“ i zive u nekoj vrsti unutrasnjeg egzila. O tome govorila i ja u mojoj knjizi 11 Umernica slavenki i nomadkinja, o trajanju konceptualne grupe Marine Abramovic, Evgenije Demnievske i naravno Paripovica, Popovica , Todosijevica i Urkoma.


Nina Zivancević


Budim se sa teskobom u srcu – Politika 17. 2. 2018.

Čini mi se da je svako putovanje u neki kraj istovremeno i najbolje putovanje u našu unutrašnjost, jer svaki čovek tek na distanci najjasnije vidi svoje mesto, mesto svoga naroda i svoje kulture koju ponekad isuviše vrednujemo ili, kao u našem srpskom slučaju, premalo cenimo, kaže Nina Živančević povodom svoje nove knjige „Ono što se pamti” (izdavač „Kornet”), zbirke putopisnih eseja za koju je dobila podršku francuskog Nacionalnog centra za knjigu koji joj je dodelio stipendiju namenjenu stvaralaštvu „izuzetnog pisca”.– Ta stipendija pomaže piscu da živi i piše nekih godinu dana i dodeljuje se odista piscima izuzetnog statusa koji imaju puno knjiga iza sebe. Naravno da ja nisam spadala u tu kategoriju, ali dobila sam je i osim novčane pomoći, ona prija našoj duši. Kao da te neki stariji kolega potapše po ramenu i kaže: „Mali, na pravom si putu, samo nastavi” – kaže autorka 20 knjiga poezije, 3 romana i 3 zbirke priča, koja od 1981. godine živi van Srbije, najpre u Vašingtonu, zatim u Njujorku do 1994, a posle toga, već gotovo četvrt veka, u francuskoj prestonici.

U ovoj knjizi ima dosta ličnog, utkanog u večno i univerzalno. Snaga misli prevazilazi žanr putopisa i uvodi nas u esejistiku. Šta je bio najjači podstrek da napišete ovo delo?

Donekle komercijalan žanr putopisa, koji vulgarno opisuje ljude i mesta kroz koje prolazimo, nikada nije bio deo mog spisateljskog interesovanja. Mislim da tu foto-aparat ima mnogo bolju prođu. A i istini za volju, iako živim u gradu „impresionizma”, impresionizam ili opisni pristup slici, događaju, nikada me nije zanimao.

Ja sam dete suštinskog pristupa stvarima ili ekspresionizmu, nekom krvavom osećanju koji vas tera da se ujutro probudite sa teskobom u srcu. Najveći podstrek da napišem ovu knjigu bio je poriv da objasnim sebi i drugima ono što na nekom putovanju stvarno vidim. Dakle, u Africi vidim nemaštinu, divljinu neoliberalizma i leporozne, a manje mahanje repa lavova u safariju.

Dajete paralelu između Mišoovog doživljaja Indije i vašeg? U nečemu se slažete snjim, a u nečemu ne?

Slažemo se u mnogo čemu! Anri Mišo je moj veliki učitelj, evropski pesnik nadrealista ogromnog kalibra koji me je pre svega „posavetovao”, nekada davno, da treba da nastavim da se izražavam u vizuelnim umetnostima, jednostavno rečeno da svaki pisac treba i da crta i slika, i obratno. Mišo je verovao u sinesteziju i totalnu umetnost, negde kao Vagner. Ali ono što mi je zasmetalo u knjizi „Varvarin u Aziji” jeste njegovo kolonijalno, odnosno donekle kolonizatorsko oko kojim je gledao, pogled kojim donekle i mene danas gledaju Francuzi. Mislim da je on, mada čovek širokog duha i kulture, ipak bio žrtva svoje epohe, kao donekle i Andre Malro.

Knjiga obuhvata i putovanja u Egipat, Italiju, Španiju, London i Peru. Šta je zajedničko za sva ova mesta u vašem svetu?

Zajedničko svim ovim zemljama bila je moja potreba da tumačim velikog Drugog (po meni, a ne po Žižeku i po Lakanu, taj Drugi, bilo koji je Veliki Drugi, a ne neki mali „objekat A” kojim tumačimo sebe!). Nekim od ovih zemalja zajednički imenitelj je bio hotel, kao suštinsko okupljanje karakteristika svačijeg karaktera, manifestacija svakog spoljnjeg putovanja. Da, kroz hotele sam prolazila, još uvek prolazim – i mrzim ih, jer su bezlični. Kažu da je Bob Dilan uvek stavljao neke svoje marame na prozor svakog hotela u kom bi boravio da ga podsete na dom.

Posle dugogodišnjeg življenja u inostranstvu, kakav je danas vaš odnos prema Srbiji u koju, uostalom, često dolazite? I šta biste prvo napisali kada biste pisali putopis o našoj zemlji?

Osećam se izazvanom ovde i reći ću ono što stvarno mislim, iako se plašim da ću skočiti samoj sebi u usta: patetika, plač i naša kuknjava da smo istorijske žrtve oduvek su mi bile odvratne, ali plašim se da podaci nisu bili neistiniti, jer smo u onoj velikoj seobi naroda i Slovena, uvek izvlačili karte koje nikako nisu ličile na pobedničke džokere. Naravno, to što ja intimno mislim da se ne treba žaliti na usud i plakati nad sudbinom samo je deo moje ćutljive budističke prirode. Ali čini mi se da ni Ukrajince niko ne čuje kada laju na mesec. No dobro, kažu da smo svi bili jedan isti narod, stari Sloveni, što sam opisala u priči „Vasilisa Prekrasna”. Dok prolazim Srbijom osećam uvek tu praslovensku blagorodnost koja prevazilazi pojmove pronicljive i široke gostoprimljivosti. Ja se ponosim činjenicom da potičem iz naših krajeva! Jednom sam se, čak, osetila kao Đoković: kada sam 2013. u Peruu predstavljala srpsku poeziju, Srbiju, na stadionu u Limi pred 5.000 ljudi!

Politika 17.2.2018.


Ono Što Se Pamti – Uvod

Indijski dnevnik 


decembar 2014 januar 2015.

Pariz , Rijad, Koći, Džeda, Pariz


Misao o barbarogeniju proganjala je avangardu, neobične ljude poput Micića i Anrija Mišoa.

U praskozorje 1931. Mišo rešava da ostavi iza sebe duh kolonizatora, odlazi u Indiju i piše tekst Varvarin u Aziji. Osetio se kao varvarin probuđen nadohvat jedne drevne civilizacije, kao što se možda osetio Antonen Arto nakon velike kolonijalne izložbe, u Parizu, početkom dvadesetog veka, koja mu je promenila shvatanja o životu i umetnosti.
Mišo: „Video sam čoveka na ulici. On me je ščepao, i nisam više nikoga primećivao osim njega. Vezao sam se za njega, sledio ga, ubeđen da na svetu postoji samo on; on i flautista; i čovek koji se bavi pozorištem; i akrobata na žici koji gestikulira; u trenutku sam ih sve snimio, sve shvatio.
Mišo će zatim reći da ni Indija ni njeno društvo i narodi ne treba nikada, baš nikada, da podlegnu uticaju Zapada, što je velikodušno osećanje jednog zapadnjaka koje ja, biće sa Balkana, nikada, baš nikada, nisam mogla da osetim.
Varvarka sam upravo ja, ili Titova rođaka, onog Tita koji je sa Nehruom i Naserom pravio ’treći’, to jest nesvrstani svet.

Na kraju svog putovanja Mišo će reći: „Posmatrao sam sebe na tom putovanju kao da posmatram nekog drugog, nekog ko gleda emotivno i seća se jedne imaginarne zemlje u kojoj ne živi. Ja nisam bio u njoj, ja nisam bio tu.”
Ja sam pak, za razliku od Mišoa, stalno živela varvarski, bila sam deo te zemlje, videla sam je, bila sam tu i kad sam obitavala drugde.




Ujutro, pre polaska na put, upalim televizor i šta vidim – strašne posledice cunamija na plažama Kerale koje su me opominjale da idem u neku posebnu ’zonu’, već viđenu okom Tarkovskog – bio je to neki njegov, sasvim poseban interplanetarni svet. Pitam se kako se život mogao nastaviti nakon cunamija, kako mu stanovništvo nije izbeglo, zašto se predalo, zašto su tu ostali svi oni koji su ostali i zašto nisu otišli u neki novi svet?

S pogledom izlomljenog ogledala, koji ne pada ni previše nisko niti se pak isuviše uzdiže ka nebu, prekrštenih nogu, hindusi meditiraju tela podeljenog u sedam čakri, u lotosu, pri nebu, u ranojutarnjim i večernjim molitvama boginji Kali, sa postojanošću i uživanjem, što na sanskritu znači bav. Usmereni na večnost, udubljeni u sebe, usporeni, samokontrolisani i dostojanstveni, hindusi se nikada ne žeste niti nerviraju, kaže Mišo, tako da onaj ko ima želju da zapeva, taj peva, onaj ko želi da se pomoli, on se moli. Najviše veruju životinjama poput krave, slona i majmuna, svetim životinjama koje su kao i oni, mirne i naizgled bezbrižne, u svakom slučaju ravnodušne prema spoljašnjem svetu, koji hindusi nazivaju iluzija ili maja. Krava se, na primer, najede trave, nikako deteline, da bi zatim varila po nekoliko sati ono što je progutala.

Pitam se da li ću ja, koja živim od iluzije (svakodnevnog teatra barbarogenija) i od žvakanja deteline, videti sve ono što je Mišo tamo video. Jer svako vidi ono što mu je dato da vidi, ono što već zna o nekom predmetu ili čoveku. I neće videti ništa što već nije čuo, video ili naslutio ranije.

Hindus, kaže Mišo, voli životinje koje nisu odveć zahvalne čoveku, znači ne voli naročito psa i mačku jer njih ne privlači odviše mudra meditacija, zbog prirode njihovog uznemirenog i dinamičnog bića. Hindus mora da promišlja, onakav kakvog ga vidimo u ranim indijskim filmovima, daleko pre Satjađit Raja, kada su i besni vojnici nekog radže najpre odlučivali (po nekoliko minuta u filmu) da li da se razbesne ili ne. I na kraju bi ih ipak razbesnela data situacija. A danas je Indija jedna od najvećih svetskih sila koja je izašla iz recesije i uspešno žvaće detelinu najsvežijeg neoliberalizma. 

Što se konja tiče, Mišo smatra da je u životu svih hindusa konj, onako lud i dinamičan, u daleko manjoj prednosti od kamile, jer kamila retko galopira i trči – ona stabilno i promišljeno stavlja jedno kopito pred drugo, zabavljena sopstvenom sporošću, koju mnogi nazivaju dromedarstvom. Hindus, dakle, poštuje sporost i stabilnost, što se ogleda u njegovom osećaju za jezik. Hindi, spor, grgurav jezik, sav je sastavljen od konsonanata koji se spopliću i teku, teški i hrskavi. Na tom jeziku su spevane – a i dalje se pevaju – najviše religiozne himne naspram kojih evropsko stvaralaštvo izgleda smešno i bahato. Indijska misao je magična – ona ima magijski karakter i bliska je svojoj orijentalnoj filozofiji, koja se uvek obraća Biću ili Brahmi. Mišo duhovito kaže da zapadnjački filozofi promišljajući svoju muku gube kosu, a da orijentalci muku skraćuju tako što puštaju da im kosa raste. Njihove misli upućene Brahmi donekle su različite od naših, uslovno rečeno evropskih, jer smo mi bića razdvojena od Apsoluta, što kažu Upanišade: „Oni koji odu sa ovoga sveta a nisu otkrili atman i spoznali njegovu suštinu neće dostići oslobođenje NI U JEDNOM SVETU”.

Da bi se približili toj suštini, hindusi recituju mantre i – dišu. Jedna od varijanti božanskog udisanja-izdisanja, takozvani udžaj, odvija se na sledeći način: četiri udisaja kroz levu nozdrvu, zadržiš dah, pa zatim šesnaest izdisaja kroz desnu nozdrvu. Njegova molitva boginji Udisanja–Izdisanja, stvaranja i razaranja, majci Kali, može da otpočne.

Hindusi više veruju majci, boginji materinstva, nego boginjama ženstvenosti Lakšmi, Radi i Sarasvati, koje su čulni avatari ili avatarke Šive, sveopšteg stvaraoca. Ako postoji pojam sveca kod hindusa, onda je to majka, kao simbol požrtvovanosti, žrtvovanja za druge, za generaciju koja dolazi, jer o prošlosti ne treba razmišljati, prošlost je akašik – traka koja teče i upravo se manifestuje u sadašnjem trenutku. Majka je Velika MA, i ona održava poredak svih stvari neophodnih za produžetak vrste i opstanak, a za hindusa je generacija koja dolazi, koja produžava porodicu i vrstu važnija od njega samog. Pojam žrtvovanja kao procesa izuzetno je važan ovom narodu koji se prvo žrtvuje za delove tradicije i prošlosti, zatim se skromnim bivstvovanjem žrtvuje u trenutku u kome živi, a docnije se žrtvuje za potomke. Sve pojave indijskog panteona su čulne jer slave život i Apsolut na najočigledniji način, ali u tolikoj meri da mi, zapadnjaci, naspram njih izgledamo kao puke posledice oplakivanja Hrista, žalosti za Bogom; u našim crkvama ili katedralama osećamo se tako mali i mizerni u susretu sa Apsolutom, koga se plašimo.

Veliki asketa Ramakrišna oblačio se – kako neki kažu – u ženu, jer je kao žena želeo da ga voli Bog koji je sišao sa panteona da bi živeo među ljudima. Hinduistički molitvenik je praktičan i sprema vernika da se izbori sa snagama zla u životu: Rigveda je puna konkretnih i praktičnih saveta. Mantre i ponude u obliku insensa, sveća i hrane pomažu verniku, na nadasve praktičan način, da se približi Apsolutu, a lepota dekora ili ponude tu i nije važna. Kao i u najmističnijem delu katoličanstva, hindus se idolatrijskom askezom približava Apsolutu i obožava u ekstazi.

On mu se klanja, prostire se ničice pred njim, mada neće nikada povikati kao naš hrišćanin: „Iz dubine vičem k tebi, Gospode!” (De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine.) Neće vikati na ovaj način jer se hindus oseća jakim pred svojim bogom, a ne kao crkveni miš, jadan i bespomoćan pred licem bede. On će prisiliti svog boga da mu pomogne, neće drhtati pred njim od straha ili od tuge pregoleme. Glasno i sa puno bava on će otpevati svoj AUM; postići će smirenje, dobiće snagu u molitvi, pljunuće na sve demone koji ga okružuju, neće im samo zapretiti da ustupe sa: „Natrag Sotono”, on će ih ispljuvati i izlupati, uništiti moralno i materijalno, i Sotona se (bar neko vreme, u njegovoj glavi) neće pojavljivati.

A sve ovo se odvija polako, u ubrzano–usporenom svetu Indije, veoma polako, jer hindus nikada ne žuri, ne trči. Molitve izgovara lančano, 38.000 stihova Ramajane, kao i 100.000 stihova Mahabharate, koji teku polako, bez ijedne vidljive (r)evolucije u epovima, koji ni sami nemaju neki određeni centar ili vrhunac radnje… Ovo nam sve kaže Mišo, kartezijanac, koga nije mrzelo, još onda, te daleke 1931, da prebrojava drevne stihove na sanskritu. 

Nina Živančević

Isečak iz knjige Ono što se pamti; Kornet 2017