Milena Dragićević Šešić:

Transmediality, artivism and contextual dialogues in the work of Vesna Pavlović

September 29, 2018





Ovaj štapić čini čuda,

ovaj štapić može svuda,

ovaj štapić vrda, mrda,

du-da du-da du-da-daaa.

Kupite čarobni štapić,

neka se nađe, zlu ne trebalo.


Documenting counterpublics artivism in Serbia of the 1990s should be the work of an institute devoted to the culture of memory of the rebellious movements. As there were no such endeavors, this essay will attempt to show to what extent the work of Vesna Pavlović represents fruitful encounter of art and activism and stands in itself as a document, as a memory and an art piece. Interplaying with sound art that was created in the same period (by radio B92 with which Vesna closely collaborated), photographs and projects of Vesna Pavlović embodied civil society actions and creates networked memories.

Artist Vesna Pavlović started her career as a member of an artivistic group Škart together with two students of architecture, Djordje Balmazović and Dragan Protić. Although a student of camera at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts, her contribution was much more than simple photo journalism. It was a photo activism including self-performative actions enabling not only visibility but a self-production of memory of the actions of Škart group, that comprises public art performances and events.

It was a deeply critical practice “made in Serbia” of the 1990s, part of culture of dissent, culture of rebellion, culture created by the new generation that was not a part of recently created Yugo-nostalgic counterpublic (Fraser, 1990 i Warner, 2002) dealing with war and dissolution of the country. This was the work of the generation that matured in that period not having previous links and networks among former Yugoslav art community.

Belgrade of the 1990s developed a rebellious form of life within Urbazona programms of the radio B92 so that counterpublic was not an intellectual ghetto but vivid art and intellectual scene with high feeling of responsibility both toward citizens of Serbia and citizens of other Yugoslav republics. Those artivist actions created new spaces of possible existence in the society polluted with nationalism and hatred. Photographs of Vesna Pavlović do not represent just memories of marginal and invisible; those were memories of the most critical and important societal action that produced new public spaces, that embodied traumas.

However, those groups quickly linked to other civil society and artivists movements (Women in black, Led art, Mikrob, Center for cultural decontamination, etc.) creating dialogical and polemical work within the scene of dissent.

The group started with the project Sadness (Tuge), creating small poems printed on thick cardboards and distributed during weekends in public spaces such as green markets, railway stations, children playgrounds, city squares…

Šta misliš o cenama?

Super! Super! Super cene!

Cenjeni potrošači, sve je na prodaju!

Mada, gol Mihajlovića protiv Bajerna, četvrti album Discipline kičme i šišanje na Bulevaru kod majstor Bore stvarno nemaju cenu.

Samo normalan život ima visoku cenu.


Her work relates to that time social conflicts and dialogues, peace movements, feminist battles, showing various references in her work to different areas of possible transcultural encounters, from Hyatt Regency hotel to artistic actions executed within civil society protests or pointing to lacks of social justice and social inclusion.

Before Vesna Pavlović’s engagements with her camera, societal power relations were mostly photographed by media of documentary photography. It was her approach that made photography an equal part of the artistic action. Photography of performance art and series of visual essays are the central media of her creative practice.

“Ne putuju samo oni koji žele da se obrazuju, ili koji žele da steknu neko iskustvo. Putuju i mnogo zgađeni i mnogo očajni – zbog njih i ima toliko putnika po svetu… Ko pristaje na ono što jeste, sedi mirno kod kuće. Samo, kome nije muka od onog što jeste?“ Jovan Hristić, Čemu putovati?


Vesna Pavlović personal, affective geographies are new geographies of counterpublic, of civil society movements that desperately was in search for new public spaces as spaces of encounters with inhabitants often unaware of societal and power forces that are impacting their lives.

Keeping and transferring social movements’ memories, as photography is the best media of memory transmission but also of transgression of what seemed to be everyday life events (encounters on the children playgrounds, on the markets or the railway stations, parks or in tenants’ apartments), her serials of photographs were artistic testimony of new efforts of civil society groups to link with artists and create new “free” public spaces, deriving them from social margins [2] to the major crossroads of that period.

Although cardboards had only few verses and no photos, the photography and later posters created by Vesna Pavlović were a form of a more adequate contemporary “poetry verses” that would help citizens to survive evils and hardships of everyday life.

Personal artistic archive of Vesna Pavlović defines geographies of counterpublic in Serbia and Montenegro of the 1990s. Selecting ten serials that marked not only artistic interventions but all important persons and spaces that were agents of dissent in this period, her work will be explored and interpreted.

Starting with “documenting” work of Women in black she created symbolical art pieces that till today are symbol bearers of this movement. In her photographic contribution she recognized in their performances the playfulness, the unusual, the amazing serial of sequences; it was her adaptation, “an acknowledged transposition of a recognizable other work.” (Hutcheon, 2006: 8) It offers a specific pleasure to a viewer, to start with recognizable modalities but to found in every piece of work Pavlović’s contribution that demands engagement in a viewer’s gaze. Vesna Pavlović understood very well performative politics of street protest, she shared feminist values and contributed to the final result of these events as socially invested performances, performances that had its political, social, artistic, educational and, finally, its material practice. It was exactly art of performance that helped civil society to engage wider audiences and to help them “to think otherwise about politics and political action” (Sikes, 2018: 285).

The collaboration of Women in black with artistic groups such as Škart and Dah Theatre contributed to the performativity of their actions that used different forms and symbols in making explicit their demands and statements. Thus, the photography The Circle (the third International conference “Network of Women’s Solidarity Against War”, held in Novi Sad in August 1994) represents circle of sunflowers already used in seminal project of the group Škart Sadness (“Sadness of the fields”) that creates border around women’ bodies that were also making a circle. Held on the main public square in front of the cathedral, the photography of Vesna Pavlović documents at the same time emptiness of the public space and reluctance of incidental passer-bys to join the action.

The photographs from different performances-manifestations of the Women in black have the strength to be later used as powerful symbols of the resistance and warnings, such as the one without title showing two persons hands holding same black canvas – permanent sign of their presence in public space (every Wednesday), sign of solidarity and sign that will be used as the symbol of resistance (Otpor) at the end of the 1990s.

More than 700 performances of the Women in black can really enable the subaltern to speak (Spivak, 2007) as Women in black took on themselves the role of eternal subaltern: of women victims of wars, of mothers of Srebrenica, of women of Kosovo, but also of women from another side of the world, Iraq, etc.

Sadness is a serial of photographs representing the most iconic and critical action of the group Škart, held throughout 1993 in different spaces that became places of encounter. In March 1993 they created an action, the “Sadness of (potential) Pan”, distributing the poem among children playing alone in the park, as the god Pan was rejected by both his mother and society of gods. “Sadness of belonging” questioned search of identity while “Sadness of friendship” was mourning all unsaid words, unsent letters, unrealized travels, to conclude with “Sadness of a bullet” that ends with the words “Rifles are sad as they always lose someone”. Photographs of actions that disseminated those cardboards in parks, stations and markets are testimonies of fear that paralyzed Serbian public space. The only “humor” that appears in those photographs was coming from performance artist Saša Marković Mikrob (Radosavljević, 2013) who have joined the group Škart on the green market. Only there we can see people smiling and reacting without fear as Mikrob usual decorative and colorful mask break with grayness of everyday Serbian life in 1993. However, “innate aurality” (Kendrick, 2017) of these performances represented in photographs of Vesna Pavlović puts on the stage of Serbia 1990s common people that, in touch with a poetry, that a performance brought to them, opened better side of themselves in this encounter.

Documenting an artistic process is difficult in itself but documenting ephemeral artistic process that demanded a lot of energy and complicated organizational negotiations, was even a bigger task. The work of Led art group (Ice art) that decided in 1993 to create art pieces in the cold storage (mostly unused in 1993 due to embargo) and to transfer and exhibit those works in a refer truck without much space for both works and audiences made a difficult task for Vesna Pavlović that she solved in an important serial of work focusing on Nikola Džafo fighting with ice in creating sculptures, and on pieces that were more like installations (aiming to provoke audience empathy for their own lives and lives of many people in former Yugoslavia that were frozen in that moment) and then left to melt down. Her photos also document interest of the citizens of Belgrade for such extraordinary art event as the period was so hard that in numerous cultural institutions of today these few years are just left to oblivion.[3]

Za sve vas iza spuštenih roletni, između četiri zida, između knjiga i ploča – za unutrašnje emigrante. B92.

Project X was one of the first autonomous, self-initiated complex students’ project that was happening in April 1996 in an old non used sugar factory in Belgrade. Since May 1992 when student protest occurred as a reaction to war in Bosnia (and dissolved in August of the same year) this was the first organized attempt outside of the institutional premises to create new, free space, platform for dialogue and discussions in situ artistic projects, film projections bringing (as embargo was just lifted) numerous foreigners in the heart of Belgrade and, among them, mostly students of architecture that emigrated after the failure of 1992 students protest bringing now back their professors and colleagues. The atmosphere was carnevalesque and Bakhtin was quoted by many, surprised to what extent his work has been known and used by Belgraders who were all aware that this Project X was a real chronotop to be performed and explored.[4] Camera of Vesna Pavlović was documenting all gatherings, in situ installations and events that went outside factory borders. New energy that occurred during this event was announcing what will happen on streets of Belgrade in 1996/97 but at the same time raised interest of powerful ones for this, unused postindustrial space that very soon will become a new, boycotted cultural space of the “authorities”. Her camera records use of styrofoam and other materials from garbage as marketing and information signs for this event, numerous signs of X designed by different people to mark their willingness to contribute to something very new and unexpected. The whole event succeeded in bringing together the youth that was already publically critically engaged and those that withdraw from the realities of the 1990s in the isolation of their homes. The real carnival will start soon, in November 1996. 

“Hodaj, kao Miroslav Mandić kroz Ružu lutanja.”

“Hodao sam prema brdu, bilo je već predveče, video sam jednu malu pomorandžu i staru kantu i onda sam posmatrao tu modru boju neba koja se spušta noću nad gradom… Neka me noge nose.”

Mislite u hodu – nećete zarđati.


Miroslav Mandić, artist that created his own poetics and style of acting inspired Vesna Pavlovic to create her photo-verses during several of his walks for poetry. Mandic documented his walks by poems and drawings, each year devoted to different landmarks: traces of his foots, grass leafes, three leafs, stones, etc. Vesna Pavlovic caught him in his movements, in his lonely walks in the nature as these circles of the Rose of wandering he was creating by himself. Political dissident of the 1970s, Mandic entered the 1990s completely devoted to his own art, at the first sight out of any context, except context of poetry, not belonging to the chronotop of the day. Photo dialogues are at the same time intergenerational dialogues as Vesna was only born when Miroslav was sent to prison. Thus, those photographs are just essence of the present, of the moment.

Free Yugoslavia from silence.

Free Yugoslavia from isolation.

Free independent media.

Free B92.

Within counterpublics of the 1990s community of political and artistic practice was mostly linked around radio B92 (closed several times during the 1990s or under the ban to broadcast information programme) and the Center for cultural decontamination. Vesna Pavlović had worked for both of them creating few distinctive serials. The director of radio B92, Veran Matić, during the time when there was no independent cultural centers in Belgrade used his own office for monthly exhibitions of Serbian contemporary artists[5]. The office in a squeezed space on the fifth floor of the House of Youth was probably the most visited gallery as this office was a central point for discussions and agreements for creation of new agencies within a counterpublic. Vesna Pavlović regularly photographed this wall and her photos were reprinted in the catalogue that followed the exhibition (Radosavljević, 1996).

Deep in my heart I knew that I would only give my life for love.


For film projects of radio B92 she acted as a photographer that went beyond the usual role of photographer documentarist creating such iconic photography of Miomir Grujić Fleka playing himself in the Marc Hawker’s film Zombietown or … film Ghetto (1996) by Ivan Markov and Mladen Matičević

Do you want to get high?

Anti status quo!


Transdisciplinarity happened much more within counterpublics of the 1990s than in institutional cultural system bordered by its routine and acknowledged disciplines. The radio B92 was a catalyzer of such events by its intentions and willingness to challenge status quo in every domain of cultural realm. Thus, one small local radio station became publisher, documentary video producer and feature film producer, at the same time inviting artists and intellectuals of different kind to collaborate and rethink possibilities of intellectual and artistic interventions in the public scene. Srdjan Valjarević was one of the key house writers of B92 (Men at the table, Winter diary, Diary of the second winter) and it is not astonishing that besides his step beyond towards journalism he makes one more in a collaborative project with Vesna Pavlović.

I po lepom, i po olujnom vremenu – ne spušta jedra i ne menja kurs – B92.

At the Center for cultural decontamination, called Pavilion Veljković, she acts as a resident photographer documenting serial of projects that this center was developing inside and outside its building. The serial of sight specific performances Listen little man! that were happening in September 1997 throughout Belgrade is the most representative for her engaged work within participatory agenda of the Center for cultural decontamination. Based on the book of Wilhelm Reich this project connected ten different physical and media places in Belgrade that were the sites of performative actions aiming towards subaltern, exploited, marginal or even invisible social groups. (Dragićević Šešić, 2018: 117-142). Today those photos are the only remnants of this action that was developing sense of solidarity, commons, common good, social justice, etc. rising capacities of counterpublics to participate in an open project without precise scenario (except basic text of Wilhelm Reich’s book) and at the same time raising awareness and critical skills of the deprived groups of population.

On the other side, photos of life and activities within the Center of cultural decontamination from Led art projects such as Art Cook Book or exhibitions of Soros center for contemporary arts – murder, room with a gaze and Pertej (exhibition of artists from Kosovo) mostly have focused on people that cared and that were committed to contribute to the creation of independent art scene that will regroup visual artists, theatre artists, writers, curators, independent publishers and movie makers.

As Deleuze (1995) is stating that repetition and resemblance are extremely different phenomena, we can confirm that, by referring to the work of Vesna Pavlović as in every serial she was repeating numerous scenes, but none of them resembled to each other. Every photograph was having its different mark, communicating different value information or emotion. Thus, it is only when we have in front of ourselves the complete serial of photographs following one performative action, the real understanding occurs and the complete narrative becomes clear.

Moj moto – dati sve od sebe.


L’oeuvre, transmedial opus of Vesna Pavlović contains serials of gazes: photos and photo-installations are sometimes just documents, sometimes testimonies but in most of the cases, it’s her own artistic work that, through eye of a camera, opens new perspectives to the understanding of societal challenges offering huge contribution to the aesthetics of civil society movements. Her research-based practice is a remix of empirical explorations with personal space of acting, creating at the same time photo-poetry with activist and documentary meanings. At the same time these works are the rich archive of performative practices of Serbian counterpublic in the 1990. This “armatura”[6] or woof that Vesna Pavlović and group Škart have reintroduced in Serbian counterpublics connected dispersed actors from the margins in creating more coherent, closely knit weave, where numerous actors have found their stable and meaningful place.  

Personal artistic archive of Vesna Pavlović is the best and maybe the only archive of the ephemeral, radical artistic action within the counterpublics of 1990s in Serbia. This archive was not done and developed within precise politics of memory of civil society that was not even aware of such a need. The artistic archive is the consequence of the fact that Vesna Pavlović through photography created her own auto biographical performative act that helped counterpublic to become interwoven in a strong fabric of people and organizations committed to bring changes in disintegrated and polluted Serbian official public space. 

Artistic activity of Vesna Pavlović was always developed in the function of radical societal changes although, on the first sight, her work is not directly sending political messages or any direct propaganda. Her narratives, even during citizens’ and students’ protests, were different from those of photo journalists of direct political orientation. Thus, both artists, acting as citizens, having their home mirrors in their hands turned towards policemen, and policemen, standing on the duty that was difficult for them to understand (to stand for 24 hours and block the city permanently for thirty days, just to prevent citizens’ protest walk that usually lasted only for few hours), coming usually from small cities in Serbia, looking at each other over those mirrors were showing in a metaphorical way to what extent Serbia was a closed, blocked society. Two photographs of Nikola Džafo’s action Return to them their picture, in which have participated great number of visual artists (Mikrob, Vera Stevanović, Krnajski..), is today remembered only by these two photographs with smiling artists and smiling policemen incapable to communicate otherwise.

Ova nedelja je nedelja dana borbe za povratak gradske vreve!

Tin Ujević, o futurističkom Beogradu 1920.: “To je čitav ovaj svijet koji požudno guta svaku novost i svaki nemir. To su svi oni koji nisu lešine i mješine na ovoj kaldrmi. Poezija brzine, ekspanzije, elektriciteta, sa šumom motora.”

Izađite u šetnju – stvarajte vrevu!



  • Asman A., 2011, Duga senka prošlosti, Biblioteka XX vek,
  • Deleuze G., 1995, Difference and repetition, Columbia
    University Press
  • Dragićević Šešić,
    2018, Umetnost i kultura otpora, Clio
    i FDU
  • Fraser N., 1990,
    „Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually
    Existing Democracy”, u: Social Text,
    br. 25–26, Duke University Press, str. 56–80
  • Hutcheon L., 2006, A theory of adaptation, Routledge
  • Kendrick L., 2017, Theatre Aurality, Palgrave Macmillan
  • Radosavljević D.,
    1996, A Look at the Wall : 1994-1996 :
    Artists & Critics
    , Radio B92
  • Radosavljević D.
    (ur.), 2013, Zbogom andergraund – Saša
    Marković Mikrob
    , Remont, nezavisna umetnička asocijacija, Beograd
  • Sikes A., 2018, “The Odeon is Open: Performative Politics
    and the Paris 1968 Uprising” in: Woodson and Underiner, Theatre, Performance and Change, Palgrave Macmillan
  • Spivak G., 2007, Can the subaltern speak?, Turia &
  • Warner M., 2002, Publics and Counterpublics, The MIT
    Press, Cambridge, London

[1] Radio B92 was a symbol and a key platform of artistic activism during the 1990s in Serbia. Among other forms of media expressions, they have used numerous jingles specially produced as a form of sound art activist actions. Throughout the text we have selected those that are complementary to the visual expressions of the Vesna Pavlović’s works. Although still present in individual and collective memories, those jingles have not been included in cultural memory (Asman, 2011), as the radio B92 has been sold out and today is functioning under the name “Play radio” neglecting its own institutional memory. These jingles resonate with Vesna Pavlović’s photos as a counterpoint of rebellious movements in Serbia of the 1990s. 

[2] Due to sanctions introduced by international community in the 1990s, railway stations stopped to host any international trains, including those coming from former Yugoslav republics. War brought militarization of society so all public spaces, including children playgrounds, markets and public squares, became unsafe spaces (extensive use of tear gas during demonstrations, gunfights of criminal gangs). Thus, actions of the group Škart offered different unexpected experiences.

[3] For example, chronology of Yugoslav Drama Theater does not mention any performance in the period 1991–94. (; visited on January 12th 2018)

[4] Bakhtin was translated in Serbia since 1967 and already in 1978 his seminal book Rabelais and His World was entering numerous academic courses even outside of humanities (notions of chronotop, carnival, etc.)

[5] This project culminated with an exhibition in a newly created cinema Rex independent cultural center called “The Wall” (curator: Darka Radosavljević).

[6] “Armatura” was the anthem of the group Škart created for one of their first projects at the Faculty of Architecture in 1993.