IT’S ABOUT ILLUMINATION, STUPID—THE POLITICS OF ART IN BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
By Damir Arsenijević
The works presented in Šejla Kamerić’s exhibition ‘Is it rain or is it a hurricane’ can be explored as an act of witnessing to the social trauma, problematising further the way we make meaning of it. Together with her work RED, which investigates ‘marks on the wall’ left by explosive devices, “Is it rain or is it a hurricane” investigates marks left on plants—idle inscriptions of people’s names on cacti. And yet, the latter act of delving a mark into the flesh of a plant, though may seem destructive at first, is an act of remembering. The former is an act of remembering as well—but the question is—these traces are left for what kind of politics? The names inscribed on cacti evoke absences of people as individuals, with their histories. Shrapnel marks evoke horror of biopolitical violence in its full expenditure of a human.
“Is it rain or is it a hurricane” is framed in the story of its title. The title comes from a line of a song by Darko Rundek.* On the referential level, the song is an expression of one lover’s desire to say to another lover: “I don’t know / I don’t know” ‘[w]hen she’s trying to know / Do you love her’.
I don’t know is it rain or is it a hurricane
I don’t know
Baby I don’t know
Il y a autre chose
Si tu oses
Si tu oses
Rouler hors des rails
The question that is posed is: what is that un-expressible in “autre chose”—in that “another thing”? Confronted by female desire, the lover is faced with a personal lack. This is a ‘doubting’ lover who has realised—this is not it, there is something else, there’s another thing. The dialogic song ends with a goodbye rendered in two different languages: to one’s bye, bye, the other lover replies with a mirror-image message, yet differently transcribed, pointing to the fact that this lover is a non-native speaker of the first lover’s language. This is a point of lovers parting their ways, the point when lovers stop speaking to one another. “Between two subjects there can be either speech or death”, as Moustapha Safouan says. Yet, this work precisely testifies to the moment of “death shall be no more”—of the continuation of dialogue through inscription and evocation of names.
Carving names into cacti is an act of addressing the absent other. This carving is an attempt to fill the void that this absence leaves, an attempt to cover up the absence. What is the fundamental void we are trying to fill, which just keeps returning to haunt us in the image of gaping scabby scars which carry the stories of the materiality of pain inscribed in them? Is the fidelity to these scars the fidelity to the pain and suffering and at the same time the fidelity to the possibility of imagining an alternative, a different way of living and being?
The message inscribed into these scars comes back to us in order to tell us something about us. Now, we must be ready to listen and to be disturbed. The alternative of being and living differently always-already exists—what is important is the act of recognition that this way of life is “non-all”.
It is 24 June 2008, and the hungry, the disenfranchised youth, the families of over 13 500 missing persons, the yuppies, the mafia, the political elites and the international community members create the memory of Bosnia and Herzegovina day in and day out. The question is—memory for who? To do what? The most hopeful and most productive memory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, nowadays illuminated through isolated artistic practices, is yet to be fully articulated—by a new political subject who can establish and carry out an emancipatory transformative project.
The subject, who is to produce a different kind of illumination, is now in the making.
*Darko Rundek is well known singer, songwriter and composer from ex-Yugoslavia.