Copyright © Ana Adamovic

On Awaiting the History in the Work of Ana Adamović, Ana Bogdanović

For the last six years, the artistic research of Ana Adamović is dedicated to the examination of childhood experience as a politically and culturally constructed practice that originated and was nourished in a specific social system of the socialist Yugoslavia. In the works My Country is the Most Beautiful of All (2011-2012), Fiery Greetings (2013-2015), Two Choirs (2013-2014), Choir (2014), 46 Plant Pots (2015), including the exhibition Two Choirs, presented at the Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade in 2014, by making use, as its starting points, of archival material and historical documents―photos from albums given as gifts to Josip Broz Tito and written accounts―the artist creates spatial settings constructing or pointing to the childhood as a representationally organised process of introducing children into social relations, i.e. she approaches the childhood through an image created so as to present the experience of growing up as a form of becoming ideologically determined subject within a broader social structure. However, the primary focus of the artist’s research is related neither to the sociological research of the phenomenon of growing up, nor to the critical reconstruction of the historical model of a childhood in the SFRY. In her works, Ana Adamović deals with archival images and their status within the process of creating history; she investigates the documentary nature of the image as a space of knowledge, elucidation and exhibiting past experience which in this case is not only the artist’s social, in the broadest sense of the term, but also his personal experience. This space for understanding is, at the same time, the space of an intimate and historical reexamination in which, through photographic and documentary traces, the past is imposed as an unfinished aspect of contemporaneity. Ana Adamović speaks about this when explaining her intention to deal with the potential of archival material in relation to growing up in a country where she spent her own childhood:

It seem to us that precisely this institutional childhood image of the socialist Yugoslavia was the site where one can see what this country wanted and strove to be like. Nonetheless, so it seems, not only Yugoslavia, but also the whole world after the WWII. Which neither of the two ever succeeded at.1

The interest for the particular subject of childhood and growing up in the socialist Yugoslavia thus represents an incentive for launching a more universal inquiry into the relationship between the image and the history, into the need to use the image as a vehicle in the search for an understanding of the past and its currents and processes that the present and the historiography give us no clues about.

The past is not a novel subject in art. In various forms and aspects, it is discovered and reactualised through the history of artistic explorations, imposing questions that remained unanswered in the ongoing, official processes of translating the past into the history of the present. Thus, the issue of the past reemerged once again as a subject of a heated artistic interest worldwide after 1989, when, as put by Jan Verwoert, the history “came to life again” as a result of the collapse of the rigid bipolar world order.2 At the same time, for the former Yugoslav social and art space the issue of the socialist past grew more pressing, developing as a form of a critical reflection about the present.3 The artistic drive for the examination of the past, drawing on the archive as a field from which one constitutes the knowledge through the insight into and the study of the materials, is close to the intention of historians, although instruments and results of artistic and historical research are different. Otherwise than historians, artists treat found images and documents mostly non-hierarchically, rearranging them through spatial settings, and not textual narratives. Furthermore, the artists are attracted by those data from the past that are marginalised or left out from historical researches, so as to provide these with a physical presence through an elaboration in the field of art, as opposed to historical valorisation.4 For this reason, the art is attracted to those fragments of the past belonging to unfinished projects or unfulfilled onsets, that thereby can offer potentially new starting points for further investigations.5 The work of Ana Adamović confirms all of these premises of the so-called archival impulse in art: it is realised through spatial settings created from staged archival materials composing a sort of a modern theatre of memory of the (socialist) past.6 What do thus created theatres of memory point to, and what are the questions they initiate about the present?

The act of creating such constructed settings in an exhibiting space can be understood also as an indirect commentary or a reaction to the act of writing history, i.e. to performing historiographical operation (l’opération historiographique). As stated by Michel de Certeau, the writing of history unfolds as a construction of an imagined space of a gallery where walls are painted with different images as fragments of a future narrative of some historical event.7 De Certeau’s analysis of the historiographical operation introduces an interesting observation that the past can be understood in a spatial sense, i.e. that creating history goes on as a process of transmitting the past into the symbolic space of the present, into some kind of a scriptural gallery where the events from the past are situated in specific positions in space.8 The function of thus performed historiographical operation is to provide society with a present from which it is possible to locate the past at a particular place in history, or to produce an imaginary space that clearly defines the relationship between the history and the present through historical text. With her works, by indirectly referring to the need for performing historiographical operation that would translate into a spatialised historical narrative her experience of the past and the experience of the past of the society she grew in, Ana Adamović creates in mise-en-scènes in the exhibiting space based on archival documents which, as images of the past, still wait to be given precise coordinates in the symbolic space of the present, and thus to become history.

For a better understanding of the process of creating history, one should introduce here the manner of perceiving history offered by Reinhart Koselleck. This historian claims the understanding of history is established around a pair of metahistorical categories: the space of experience (Erfahrungsraum), and the horizon of expectations (Erwartungshorizont), that set in motion the conditions for the realisation of history.9 Each historical operation, according to Koselleck, is predicated on experiences and expectations of those included in its course, whereas the present develops from the tension that originates between these two historical categories. Since the experience is a state that has to be generationally mediated to become history, there is a necessity for a generation shift to come about so as to give rise to a historical dynamics, enabling the constitution of linguistic frameworks which would regulate the creating of history.10 In other words, the prerequisite to creating history is that the space of experience and the horizon of expectations, the past one puts behind and its imaginary future, find their place in the present within the structure of a semantic framework (an articulated narrative). In the case of the space of the experience of growing up in the socialist Yugoslavia, which is the very subject of Ana Adamović’s research, the horizon of expectations is suspended, the projected future offered through a carefully constructed and institutionalised image of childhood remained unrealised, unuttered, and what persisted in the present is a tension between the dominant, static semantic framework, and the dynamic experience which is still unallowed to have its say as history. Without the ambition to carry out a historiographical operation that would enable the past to obtain its place in the present, and transpose the experience and its expectations into a regulated linguistic framework, Ana Adamović stages settings which, through static and moving images and their spatial relations, make visible those fragments of experience that, though still untranslatable into history, ask the questions necessary to address with their presence in the present.

(English translation: Djordje Čolić)



    1. Ana Adamović, “Plameni pozdravi”, Plameni pozdravi. Reprezentativni portret detinjstva u socijalističkoj Jugoslaviji, Kiosk, Beograd, 2015, 16.
    2. “When the superpowers could no longer hold their breath and the wall was blown down, history sprang to life again. The rigid bipolar order that had held history in a deadlock dissolved to release a multitude of subjects with visa to travel across formerly closed borders and unheard histories to tell.”, in Jan Verwoert, “Living with Ghosts: From Appropriation to Invocation in Contemporary Art”, Art&Research. A Journal of Ideas. Contexts and Methods, Vol. 1, No.2, 2007, 2.
    3. Compare to the views of Viktor Misiano vis-à-vis the past in the artistic research in the former Soviet space in relation to the exhibition Progressive Nostalgia. Contemporary Art from the Former USSR, in Ivor Stodolsky, Marita Muukkonen, Aleksei Penzin, “An Interview with Viktor Misiano”, framework, No. 8, April 2008, 68.
    4. On heterogeneity of approach to the use of archives in contemporary art, see Hall Foster, Bad New Days: Art, Criticism, Emergency, Verso, London/New York, 2015, 31-60.
    5. Hal Foster, Op. cit., 34.
    6. On the notion of archival impulse in contemporary art, more details in Hal Foster, “An Archival Impulse”, October, No. 110, 2004, 3-22.
      On the concept of the theatre of memory that deals with the examining of the past, see in Svetlana Kazlarska, “Contemporary Art as Ars Memoriae: Curatorial Strategies for Challenging the Post-Communist Condition”, Time, Memory, and Cultural Change, eds. S. Dempsey, D. Nichols, IWM Junior Visiting Fellows’ Conferences, Vol. 25, Vienna, 2009, http://www.iwm.at/publications/5-junior-visiting-fellows-conferences/vol-xxv/contemporary-art-as-ars-memoriae/ (accessed on 4/20/2017).
    7. Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History, trans. Tom Conley, Columbia University Press, New York, 1992, 100-101.
      On the issues of artistic treatment of history in the context of the historiographical operation, more details in Ana Bogdanović, Ulrike Gerhardt, “New Perspectives on the Socialist Past: Notes on the Potential of Generational Experiences in Dialogue”, Art in the Periphery of the Center, eds. Christoph Behnke et al., Sterberg Press, Berlin, 2015, 198-208.
    8. Michel de Certeau, Op. cit.
    9. Reinhart Koselleck, Vergangenge Zukunft. Zür Semantik geschichlicher Zeiten, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1988, 349-375; Reinhart Koselleck, The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing History, Spacing Concepts, trans. Todd Samuel Presner (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 126.
    10. Reinhart Koselleck, “Linguistic Change and the History of Events”, Journal of Modern History, Vol. 61, No. 4, 1989, 652.