Zoran Todorovich, Warmth, 2009, installation view at Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Arts, Belgrade. Photo by Mirjana Boba Stojadinovic.
How does national identity influence the interpretation of an artwork? Is it possible to make artworks that exist beyond these identities, to create unmediated experiences? Zoran Todorovic’s 2007 piece Gypsies and Dogs showed video footage from cameras slung around the necks of begging Roma children and stray dogs, creating a public nuisance in the streets of Belgrade. The title disambiguates the content; Roma have a long and complicated history in the region. They are loved for their music but maligned for their supposed refusal to integrate into European society. The title of the piece could also be interpreted as a larger statement about Serbia: in Croatia during the Second World War, posters on public establishments read, NO SERBS, JEWS, NOMADS, OR DOGS ALLOWED. The juxtaposition of the randomized, anonymous video footage in Todorovic’s Gypsies and Dogs and its racially suggestive title proposes a recontextualization, a loaded one.
Todorovic represented Serbia at the 2009 Venice Biennale with the installation Warmth. In fact, his was one of two installations chosen for the Serbian national pavilion (the other was by artist Katarina Zdjelar). Spurred by curator Branislav Dimitrijevic’s discomfort with selecting one artist to bear the burden of representing the country’s cultural and artistic identity, these two artists exhibited their dissimilar works together. Warmth is comprised of three tons of human hair collected from 288,000 individuals at salons, military barracks, and jails in towns throughout Serbia. After collecting it, Todorovic arranged for it to be felted into rugs for sale to the general public at the cost of 100 euros per square meter. Hyperspeed videos document the stylists cutting and sweeping the voluminous amount of material and the factory producing the rugs. At the Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, the videos are installed in the gallery alongside nine pallets stacked with hundreds of these rugs. While the curatorial essays accompanying the Belgrade show suggest that Warmth is primarily about bioethics and more abstract questions about the activities of the human body, it is impossible to overlook the reference to the collection of bodily relics like gold fillings in Nazi concentration camps. On another level, the work alludes to a larger economic, artistic, and cultural dialogue about the value of Serbia itself (Serbia remains one of the last countries in continental Europe still uninvited to the European Union). In Venice, the context also included the economics of the art market: how much is another country’s artwork worth per square meter, for instance? While a less specific national representation was the curatorial focus for Serbia’s pavilion in the Biennale, it was precisely this content that made Todorovic’s work so compelling.