My Experience in a Notebook
The fifty years of the Fine Arts Gallery of the Cultural Centre of Belgrade at the time of an explosion of artistic trends and a fantastic development of new technologies... and in these parts, where history unfolds so fast – in the course of those five decades: five states, two social systems, one war... – they certainly deserve, and require, to be the object of interest of art historians and culture theorists. For, only such an analysis, a multidisciplinary one, could deal with all the culturological, social, historical and phenomenological aspects of the activities of an institution within the framework of which more than a thousand artists have exhibited their work.
The exhibition My Experience in a Notebook, therefore, is just a homage to the Gallery. Its ambitions are rather more modest than to provide a display that would be a worthy presentation in honour of an important anniversary of a specific and important gallery institution in Belgrade. One should not expect of its content to encompass everything of real importance that has occurred within the framework of this exhibition space, nor should any omissions that inevitably occur when any personal selection is made be subject to interpretation.
But even as such, this exhibition, in its own way, reflects all the modifications of artistic views characteristic of the period in question, making it possible to trace the changing of artistic generations, that is to say, the appearance on the scene of new young artists and their concepts of expression. “My Experience in a Notebook” provides a kind of cross-section of the dynamics of artistic life, conditioned by changes in sensibility, culture, politics and, first of all, the very manner of living.
Five decades in the life of a gallery is a long enough period to make note of both dismal failures and splendid triumphs, of numerous and inevitable oscillations of artistic concepts and the quality of their realisations, and also to broaden the circle of participants in artistic life that it has hosted to such an extent that the history of the Gallery has become an irreplaceable segment of the cultural history of Serbia, Yugoslavia and the Balkans. It is indisputable that, at its best, the Fine Arts Gallery of the Cultural Centre of Belgrade has gathered a lot of energies, ambitions, initiatives, been the stage of great undertakings and the initiator of high-level achievements. For a great many authors, an exhibition at the Gallery has represented proof of their professional maturity, a recognisable poetics and a successful artistic career.
The authors who have been invited to participate in this exhibition have already had their presentations at this venue – be it in the course of solo exhibitions or as participants in important authorial projects, group exhibitions... which serves as another confirmation that, over the last fifty years, the Fine Arts Gallery has been functioning as an up-to-date, tolerant and stable professional stage dedicated to the affirmation of various generations of artists, irrespective of their specific linguistic and media characteristics.
Why a notebook?
Because it contains the behind, before, around… of a work of art, which – each in itself – represents an artistic model created spontaneously as a unique experience of the author, as well as an art object in itself.
Whether it contains intimate notes, travel diaries or notes pertaining to work, an artist’s notebook is an inseparable part of him/her, of equal importance for understanding the artistic process and the artist’s personality.
The notes contained in the notebooks were not intended for an accidental observer, unknown to the artist. What has been included in-between the covers is deeply personal and, as such, devoid of vanity, posing, recitals, exhibitionism... far away from the vanity fair of the outside world.
And what can the space in-between the covers – painless and pliant – accommodate: a meticulously realised composition of a carefully written text and an even more carefully created drawing; a week in Venice and a month in Paris, or a sandy summer on a Slovenian beach, with picture postcards written to oneself, or to someone who knows the author better than him/herself... and right next to it interplay of paper and empty space on every sheet, only for them to become a specific art object, and yet a notebook... Or a game of questions, wherein both the artist and the observers participate. What also gets placed in-between the covers, voracious and yet solicitous, are failures, works that got discarded in the first phase of the selection process, only to regain their right to live on with subsequent interventions, as well as authorial prose that does not aspire to being highly regarded by fine arts critics – the author uses it to listen in on and review him/herself. In these insatiable notebooks, there are also, standing alongside artistic sketches on an equal footing, notes that reveal the practical side of work, financial plans for the realisation of an exhibition, the names of collaborators and technical staff, assistants... and as chance would have it, this exhibition completes certain cycles: some notebooks contain sketches and materials for works that were, at one time, exhibited at the Fine Arts Gallery... Or the actual covers, empty of drawings but full of trauma... a space that can be described as anything but insensitive.
Containing, as they do, material ranging from casual sketches drawn in a notebook placed on the author’s knee to serious drawing studies, these notebooks represent a reflection of a time which, paradoxically and with good reason, has a reputation for negating the personal.
Being an inseparable part of the artist in question and his/her creation, none of the notebooks exhibited could resemble any of the others in any way. Dating from various periods, filled up quickly or over a period taking years, for a particular reason or to fill the author’s free time, they constitute individual examples of “homework in diligence”.
In the light of the markedly personal character of the works exhibited, the least important function of the white gloves on the hands of visitors who will be browsing through these notebooks is to protect. To a much greater degree, they represent an expression of politeness and respect for the author’s willingness to unfold him/herself together with his/her notebook.
Does any other colour except that of innocence deserve to mediate between My Experience in a Notebook and the experience of a well-meaning observer?
Svetlana Petrović, art programme manager - curator of Fine Arts Gallery