Looking for a husband with an eu passport
Tanja Ostojić

Fortress Europe
Želimir Žilnik

Looking for a husband with an EU Passport
Tanja Ostojić
Fortress Europe
Želimir Žilnik
Andreja Kulunčić




Looking for a Husband with an EU Passport
Tanja Ostojić


Personal Space — Public Body

Spiritual square

Personal space was the first significant project with which Tanja Ostojic reflected the legacy of the avant-garde, radical performance and body art, focusing at the same time on the artist's inner being, the space that it occupies and its psychological dynamics. It came after a series of classical objects modeled in regular geometrical shapes with the accent on the formal qualities of materials such as bronze and especially stone. The process of work on marble sculptures comprised contemplative, dedicated shaping and polishing to get to the perfect surfaces emphasizing the textures, veins of the material. Nevertheless, more important than an aesthetical perception of the objet d'art was the need of the artist to channel her energy and express her mood and inner processes in the material form. The further necessary step in this development for Ostojic was to start using her body as a medium of expression and it almost seemed that in her performance she absorbed the firmness and motionless of the marble. Standing on the square of white marble dust, her body emanated a solemn space of inner calmness reserved for the artist, evoking at once the 'auratic' space of Malevich's Suprematism. Her work was at the same time one of introversion and extroversion - while trying to mark a private, even intimate space, she was exposing herself, her naked, shaven body to the eyes of the viewers. To claim the right to the impenetrable personal space which determines an artist's identity, she needed to enter into a silent communication and dialogue with the audience. Once established, this ambivalent shifting between the dichotomies of inside/outside, introvert/extrovert, and private/public will keep appearing in her further projects and in this case is best articulated in this statement by the artist:

When I deal with stone, I start from its inner structure moving along towards its surface texture. When I work on my own head I move from the outside to the inside. I fall deeply into the space of my own spirit. So what is physical remains only the texture of my surface. [1]

The performance Personal Space was first presented at the Biennial of Young Artists held in Vrsac, in 1996 [2] , at a time when Serbian society had just undergone a period of most severe isolation due to the sanctions by the UN. The circumstances under which the artist worked were underlined as the paradigm of art in closed society where the most frequent strategy was the withdrawal from the social sphere and dedication to the introspective work and reflection of the aesthetic issues in art. The mid-nineties were a crucial phase when some of the most prominent Serbian artists started to shift the emphasis of their work towards a more critical and engaged reaction to the socio-political framework that was so strongly determining the conditions in which they worked. In this context, Ostojic's project was one of the rare ones to make a more radical statement, though still within the framework of artistic problems that had strong heirs within the circle of conceptual artists formed in the Student Cultural Center in Belgrade in the 70s, with Marina Abramovic being one of the globally most acknowledged artists of this circle. Without any doubt the need of the artist working in a country economically collapsed and torn by wars was to define her own position, her own identity and her own attitude towards the social reality. However, as the artist claimed, the dynamic of this work was, above all, internal. With the standpoint of always making a strong statement with her work, one small step was needed to get from the realm of the introverted meditative treatment of her body into its more engaged placing in the social and political sphere. The work of Ostojic from this point started to be engaged more actively with the issue of blurring and crossing of the social, political, economic boundaries

Social square

Another segment of the project Personal Space was the photo album done with Saša Gajin. It recorded the different inscriptions of the square onto Ostojic's body, from white positive and black negative on her shaved head to the shaved square on her mons veneris. The same black Malevich square reappeared again in the projects Black Square on White and I'll Be Your Angel conceptualized for the Biennale of Venice in 2001. Taking up the role of an escort, a "guardian angel" of the curator of the Venice Biennale - Harald Szemann, Ostojic again used a twofold strategy. She was exposed the whole time to the audience, and actually received all the public attention by being constantly en par with the "most wanted and desired" person of the Biennale but another part of her project, the Malevich square on her mons veneris, was reserved only for the eyes of Mr. Szeemann.

Through the lens of feminist theorizing on women in urban settings, the exposure of the feminine body to the male gaze was one of the key issues for criticism. For Susana Torre, the construction of bourgeois femininity in the cities of nineteenth-century Europe was based exactly on the fact that women are seen as extensions of the male gaze and as instruments of the emerging consumer society and its transformative powers at the dawn of modernity. [3] The correct spot to problematize this context in the art world would be at the Venice Biennial whose constitution coincided with the growth of the Modern bourgeois societies.

Ostojic deliberately uses her body to position herself exactly in the place reserved for women in the way social hierarchy is expressed in the public space. If she was not bound to the premises of secret privacy of the home, she should be in the shadow of the dominant powerful male figure, finally as his accompanying person or escort. When playing her role, she used all the prerogatives of women's seductiveness, wearing haute couture dresses by Lacroix, high-heeled shoes, and assuming lovely and charming attitudes in addressing the public. With this role, Ostojic became present at ceremonies, press conferences, cocktails and parties, and was even the subject of gossip by the untouchable elite that gravitates around the art world and witness of its power games. One aspect of this artistic position was that it offered her the possibility to transgress the pyramidal disposed strata of social status within the art world, and put herself right at the top, a place hardly reserved for an artist, especially from her region. She appropriated the position that symbolized the prerogative of power, and which was always marked by exclusion and restriction. In this situation, to paraphrase Torre, she took the most effective standpoint to construct herself as a transformative subject, altering the perception of all participants of the world of art with regards to the "space of public appearance" (a term by Hanna Arendt) and placing her own persona and finally her artwork into the glamorous elite circles, and even more so, making them all part of her performance. In order to assume and construct an identity of this kind it is essential to define your own space and experience it. An interesting problem here is that while in modernism the universal subject excluded women, in the poststructuralist underlying of otherness, women are often given the role of the means of constructing the identity of the men. [4] In taking up this problem it can be said that Ostojic managed to reverse this situation and to use a man, and indeed, the person in charge - the curator of the Biennial - Mr. Szeemann - to construct her own (artistic) identity.

A further aspect was that she problematizes the place of the artwork and the role of the artist in such a manifestation, the phantasm of his/her success and power games of artist/curator relationships. A new extreme dual situation was that while hiding one part of her artwork from the eyes of the audience through the second part - the performance - she made it more "visible" and her concept and message more loud in the turmoil of the vernissage when the rules of the highly commercialised art market prevail.

Gendered square

The same situation from the performance Personal Space, with the artist's naked body, shaven in the still, static position, offered a new reading of the project Looking for a Husband With a EU Passport. This ongoing work started as an interactive web project with an online advertisement by Tanja Ostojic where she declared her quest for a husband with a EU passport. With the act that made public Ostojic's idea to transgress the given political constraints to the individual having a non-EU passport, the former 'physical' body inscribed in the personal space gained the connotation of a social body communicating to the broad audience on the web. She used her body as a mediator, a tool for questioning and for raising issues in the public sphere in a different manner than in the project I'll Be Your Angel. Her naked body made public was deliberately presented without seductiveness and sensuality in the bare physicality of her flesh, taking a position of written invitation, but visual repulsion [5] , and was thus performing the role of the political message.

The constant shifting between the dichotomies of private and public that was noted as one of the main characteristics from the beginning of Ostojic's work, finally appeared in the performance Crossing which took place on the lawn in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade. This was the site of her meeting with German artist Klemens Golf, who was the chosen one from the many 'candidates' to respond to her advertisement, and with whom she had a six-month long correspondence. This first encounter of Tanja Ostojic and Klemens Golf was public and it lead to a secret and private wedding. With this act the project entered another and more challenging phase where all possible problems appear: from the bureaucratic and administrative regulations of the German country regarding a non-EU wife of a German citizen, to the interpersonal relations between the two artists, two projects that crossed their paths, and finally the interpersonal relations of the legally bound "married couple".

The official witnesses - artists, but also a married couple, Jelica Radovanovic and Dejan Andjelkovic - offered an interesting document of this ceremony, and of the project itself.

They introduced a Lacanian psychoanalytical reading of Ostojic's (women in general) position in marriage where the man takes on the role of the active factor in the public sphere and the woman is prevented from speaking directly but through the man, allocating herself the role of the object of men's desire and of the phantasm of men's lack. Their crucial argument is that with her project Tanja Ostojic publicly presented her photo as an object of desire but a non-stereotypical one, and by making a selection of the offers by men she is subverting man's domination in the relationship and his violent position of public speech, and gaining the signifying position, i.e. in psychoanalytical terms threatening by castration. [6]

I would consider taking into account another perspective, i.e. a certain body of feminist theory that set as its target the questioning of the classical distinction between private and public and which tried to disrupt the idea of a centered subject. The strategies of those feminist theories, often highlighted in the famous feminist slogan the personal is political. [7] , were to critique the limited definitions of gendered space and to deconstruct the separate spheres of the polarized binary term male/female.

They elaborate on the idea of Jacques Derrida to expose the ways in which binary systems function only through positive and negative reference to the dominant category. The first step in this process of deconstruction would be to reverse the binary terms so that the one occupying the negative position in a pair replaced the one in the positive, which could be seen here in the project that criticizes and deconstructs the mechanisms which marginalize and exclude women from public life. [8] Implying that this line of theoretical argumentation could be used to support the artistic strategy of Tanja Ostojic, it would be possible to finally emphasize that her work consists of continuing alterations from the disposed 'negative' to the 'positive' position with the aim of deconstructing and transgressing the given gender, social, political constraints.

[1] Tanja Ostojic, and Saša Gajin, " Personal Space ", published by Gallery 12+, Belgrade, September 1996. (p. 63)

[2] The performance was presented for the second time at the exhibition "Manifesta 2" Young European Biennial, held in Luxemburg in 1998. It comprised of a modified setting, i.e. Ostojic stood for one hour in the elevator Museum of History of the City of Luxemburg.

[3] Susana Torre, "Claiming the Public Space: The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo" in Gender Space Architecture, Jane Rendell, Barbara Penner and Iain Border eds. Routledge, London New York, 2000. (p.140)

[4]   Mary McLeod, "Everyday and 'Other' Spaces" in Gender Space Architecture, Jane Rendell, Barbara Penner and Iain Border eds. Routledge, London New York, 2000 (p. 186)

[5] As Suzana Milevska remarked in her text " Spectacle of Invisible", NU, Nordic Art Review, VOL. III  No. 5/2001  (pp. 60-61)

[6] Jelica Radovanovic and Dejan Andjelkovic's text on the occasion of the wedding, to be published in the catalogue of the exhibition UNCERTAIN SIGNS - TRUE STORIES Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, Germany, April 2002.

[7] See Stuart Hall's text, "The question of cultural identity", in The Politi Reader in Cultural Theory, (pp. 119-125) Cambridge: Politi 1994.

[8] For an elaboration of these feminist theories see Jane Rendell's Introduction: 'Gender Space' to the publication Gender Space Architecture, Jane Rendell, Barbara Penner and Iain Border eds. Routledge, London New York, 2000; and the publication BODYSPACE, Destabilizing Geographies of Gender and Sexuality, Nancy Duncan ed., Routledge, London New York 1996.

Tanja Ostojić (YU)
Artist based in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and Düsseldorf, Germany
Umjetnica, živi i radi u Beogradu, Jugoslavija i Düsseldorfu, Njemačka

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