Text, Ljiljana Nedelkovska, curator
“You can not write poems about trees when the woods are full of policemen”
“I think that the tree is a regenerating element which is in itself the concept of time”
In circumstances of reign of vulgar, reactionary, anti-creative forces, it seems impossible to escape the vicious circle of cultural relativism and institutional voluntarism. These conditions, where the cultural and social spaces are “reactionary, artificial and paralyzed” are, according to Gilles Deleuze, even worse than the rule of censorship. “It is far worse than censorship. Censorship creates ferment under the surface, but the reaction tends to make everything impossible.” (1) The project “Skopje 2014”, promoted, financed and completed by the governing institutions of the time, was and still is a space that accumulates an incredible quantity of retrograde and anti-creative energy. As a place of vulgar, false backdrop of the mythological dream of the seeds of the Macedonian identity, this project triggered an avalanche of critical reactions. Of course, the criticism and the resistance were, and still are only a democratic accessory of the partisan and official state policy (both the policy that had completed the project and the actual one that promised to revise it).
The avalanche of criticism afflicted an artwork that has nothing to do with “Skopje 2014”. The work “Faith, Hope, Love” (Three Willows) by Iskra Dimitrova, completed during the period of building “Skopje 2014”, has been ever since seen in the context of the former government’s megalomaniac appetites for spending money on accomplishing their quasi-imperialistic construction ambitions. But no one found it convenient to consider the artistic and eco-esthetic message of this work. This is an apparent example of the deep crisis of the cultural and social system.
The latest project of Iskra Dimitrova is a hard criticism of this particular way in which certain attitudes, opinions and values are being articulated and distributed in our culture. Two aspects of perceiving her “infamous” artwork are opposed here: the one of the deafening redundancy of the refrains installed in the media which infect the public opinion and the one of the empty seat of criticism, of an actual critical mass opinion.
Anyhow, it is symptomatic that this particular work was subjected to such fierce criticism. If it weren’t for the “living” willows, but for some sculptural project implying willows or some other topic (historical or social), would the attacks be more balanced or even omitted (like in the case of some artist, active in the field of the contemporary art practices who, despite their own artistic convictions, participated in the ornamentation of “Skopje 2014”)? It is possible that these attacks were incited by opinions similar to those of Henri Cartier-Bresson when in the distant 1930 he denounced Anselm Adams for photographing rocks. “The world is going to pieces and people like [Anselm] Adams and [Edward] Weston are photographing rocks!” (2) Translated into our circumstances, this denouncement would sound quite prosaic and extremely banal: “The world is going to pieces and Iskra Dimitrova spends public money on planting willows.” It was obvious that Cartier-Bresson’s denouncement was in favor of his supporting the socially and politically committed art, while the criticism of the “three willows” by Dimitrova was part of a refrain that was constantly repeated in order to point to the absurdity of spending money on the so called project “Skopje 2014”, yet ignoring the very work, its contemporary context and environmental commitment. (*)
The artistic concept of “Faith, Hope, Love” is radically opposite to the “concept Skopje 2014”. It can actually be interpreted as its negation and criticism: the three willows are set in the river bed of Vardar (a river extremely polluted, turned into a construction site and debris dumping ground), are an affirmation of life and its transformations against the policy of its brutal exploitation, pollution and destruction.
Following in the footsteps of the land art of the 1960s and 1970s, the work “Faith, Hope, Love” by Iskra Dimitrova was conceived as a “monument to the urban vegetation” (3) with the procedure of treating nature and the natural processes as active agents of the work and incorporating the idea of the inseparable bond between culture and nature. In the past few decades we’ve been hearing growing criticism of the traditional model of the opposition culture/nature, a model that Bruno Latour referred to as the Great Division. It turned out that this division, where nature is given only instrumental significance and value now delivers its Great Results: global climate change and environmental crisis of horrifying magnitude. In conditions of deep ontological concern, the project of Iskra Dimitrova calls for redefining of our attitude towards nature, as well as towards our social life through reinvesting in three basic spiritual values: faith, hope an love. But not in their theological of metaphysical meaning, but in their environmental dimension: as a particular ecology of love, faith and hope, (**) as an ecological spiritual gear which will help us adapt, “by facing Gaia” (***), to the new living conditions. Same as the Three Willows in the muddy and polluted waters of Vardar, we should create sustainable, hybrid ecosystems in the world we are permanently losing.
(1) Gilles Deleuze, Pregovori:1972-1990, Loznica: Karpoš, 2010, p. 49.
(2) Quoted from: Heather Davis & Etienne Turpin, Art & Death: Lives Between the Fifth Assessment & the Sixth Extinction, in: Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies, London: OPEN HUMANITIES PRESS, 2015, p. 3.
(*) But today it’s more than obvious that the social, economical, political and ecological problems are questions of the same rank and that the art can not ignore them. Or, as Heather Davis & Etienne Turpin formulate it in the preface to the selection of essays “The Art of Anthropocene “: “It is remarkable that in less than a century we should find the terms of this debate uncannily entangled: what does it mean for art to encounter the Anthropocene? If art is now a practice condemned to a homolithic earth – that is, to a world ‘going to pieces’ as the literal sediment of human activity – how can aesthetic practices address the social and political spheres that are being set in stone?” Heather Davis & Etienne Turpin, Art & Death, p. 3.
(3) Artist Page, https://iskradimitrova.wordpress.com/
(**) While talking to Iskra, she pointed to me the ironic connotation of the title Faith, Love, Hope: if the myth on the heritage and roots is still conveying this irresistible appeal, then is it expected that the idea of love, faith and hope, through their superstitious resonance, would also find a fertile spiritual-mental grounds. But, if we think deeper, we’ll see that ecology, taken as an activity for the protection of the environment, is nothing else but a kind of an irony: irony of the progress. It is permanently in a state of being pressured to apply a certain acrobatic skill and balance over the huge abyss that stands between the awareness of the common values and their everyday application.
(***): Bruno Latour, Facing Gaia. Six lectures on the political theology of nature, Gifford Lectures. Edinburgh, 2013.