I was coming to Belgrade since I met Katarina. It was my first abroad, incidentally and ironically the most out of my European comfort zone and the travels of my childhood. To speak about the bruises of a city without the authenticity of life shared among them is voyeuristic. But pointing out humbly one’s own radical difference through privilege is no better. It leaves everyone uncomfortable.
When I came for the second or third time, it was the first time I ventured out without friends as guides to translate and still a while before I learned the alphabet. I tried to buy a ticket for the tram. After a long procedure the people that appeared to me as employees of the public transport, ushered me into the train without having me pay. I don‘t know if the system was down or if I didn‘t have the right change. A lot of the people I talked to complained about the condition of the public service. I was thinking of the sink at my university classroom back then. When it got too filled up with dirty dishes - there always was a breaking point - a pile started to grow. It wasn‘t that nobody had ever done the washing up. It was the progressed state of collective neglect - each one who had not cared - that appalled people.
When you walk to the center of the old city towards Kalemegdan there is a popcorn vendor, called Pećina (cave). For me this was no small surprise. Popcorn as I came to know it growing up was firmly linked to a) cinema b) carnival and feasts. To be able to eat fresh popcorn as a street snack in Vienna you‘d have to buy it in the cinema and take it out into the streets. In Belgrade my friends and I strolled. Maybe everyone had more time then, maybe non of the people I knew had jobs. The popcorn renders the strolling through a town that looks so much like my own but with less international tourists, fictional. A film. Like yet another Godard persiflage only with the link between representation and life unhinged for everyone to witness. Sve je kao san. Or: Live in your world, play in ours.
A new piece by Anna-Sophie Berger, A Sign in Decline, applies itself candidly to the relations between the signifier and the signified. A street sign with a face is shown in sequences, shrinking and changing its expression as it disappears into a thin line. While referring to the fragility of these relations, it also speaks to a period in which what things mean gets more obscure by the day. That we all speak a shared language (English, contemporary art) does not necessarily mean that we really understand each other.
The ambiguity of language and of gestures is potentially dangerous, so what I find germane in Anna-Sophie Berger’s practice is the precision with which words and objects are communicated. There is little wiggle room when it comes to their interpretation or even misinterpretation. With language as with sculpture - and this time also with an audio piece - she works through and about the foreign and the familiar.
A Sign in Decline belongs to the show called Time, which easily translates to the exhibition site in the former tax-free zone in Belgrade. The biggest piece in the show combines a storage shed appropriated from an island society and a candy sold in Serbia. The candy is called Time and it comes in different flavours. The Shed keeps Time protected, Time is building and filling the Shed. Structures in public spaces are based on the premise, that no one would take more than they need.
Anna-Sophie Berger understands her foreign environment through storage and transport, two basic functions in industrialized society. Both of these, as well as any encounter with the unfamiliar, assume (mutual) trust and respect. What strikes me is that there should be nothing decorative about trust and respect and that modesty is a show of good taste - speaking of signs but also of Berger’s objects. Excessive consumption is potentially harmful both with time and candy.
On our way from the airport, Anna-Sophie says that corn crops look different in Serbia. It’s not this ripe yet in Austria; in Switzerland, Jan says, it’s just a different type of corn, the leaves are always green. We pass through the fields and the highway takes us to the city.
The glow that Belgrade has, she says, reminds her of New York City. It might just be the pollution.
Courtesy of Eugster || Belgrade, Emanuel Layr and Anna-Sophie Berger
Photo by Ivan Zupanc