BAČVA GALLERY – Between Worlds

Private / Public Memory and Private / Public Space

By using dichotomies such as private/public or individual/collective, the exhibition Between Worlds investigates the relationship between memory and public space from the viewpoint of temporal and/or spatial dislocation. By problematizing social topics such as forced migration, representation of the past and its traces, and monumental art, it raises the imposing question of the role of art in creating the public sphere. Alexander Kluge has defined the public sphere as the factory of politics, since it is the space in which political and social change is taking place.[1] In that context, he has used the term counter-public as opposed to the classical modernist public, which is the representational or pseudo-public sphere. As such, the counter-public modifies and expands the possibilities for a public articulation of experience, and when it is missing, the very concept of politics is questioned. Referring to Kluge and Negt, Simon Sheikh has adopted the term, but using it in plural form as counter-publics, thus emphasizing that the public sphere should be considered as a fragmented rather than homogeneous formation, whereby he has also used the term in order to define the public space which seeks to offer different ways of thinking sociality and its reflexivity from the dominant ones.[2] The exhibition Between Worlds uses public space in order to articulate those experiences that have been barred from the dominant public speech. By moving between private and public, individual and collective, and by using self-reflection and reflection, the artworks presented at this exhibition produce counter-publics within which it is possible to speak about suppressed or marginalized social experiences and problems.

Fragmenting the modernist public space as the uniform field where collective experience is articulated occurs almost simultaneously with the upsurge in memory.[3] One of the reasons for the increased importance of memory with regard to history is the critique of the official versions of history and the discovery of historical segments that were suppressed when creating great historical narratives. The concept of memory enables us to rehabilitate the past of those social groups that do not have their place in the dominant historical narrative. The artwork called Tank Man Tango by Deborah Kelly offers a memory of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. There is no material trace of the event on the site itself, and it is not possible to talk about it. On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the protests, Deborah Kelly made a performance in which some 400 people took part in twenty different cities all over the world, thus creating a temporary memorial in remembrance of all those who protested in Beijing and were killed, wounded, or arrested. Instead of being mere observers of a spectacle, the performers of the choreography participated in an action that restored their collective energy.[4] In this type of collective practice performed in public space, which fuses collective and individual, activity and passivity, distances in space, time, and consciousness, one can observe a desire to create space in which it will be possible to articulate the memory of a traumatic event.

Barbara Blasin likewise uses the relationship between private and public in her artwork called Brought to justice in order to create a sort of collective practice that confronts a memorial plaque with a collective action, resulting in a sort of temporary monument to struggle for public space. At the corner of Gundulićeva and Varšavska streets in Zagreb, some 150 people were arrested on July 15, 2010 because of participating in a peaceful protest against the systematic discrimination in favour of private investors by the municipal administration, to the detriment of public space, and against the exclusion of the public from making decisions about its use. Four months later, at the very same spot, the municipal authorities of Zagreb and Dubrovnik placed a memorial plaque with verses from Ode to Freedom by Ivan Gundulić to commemorate the breaking of the maritime blockade of Dubrovnik in 1991. Barbara Blasin has used this newly created situation to produce a video in which the formerly arrested activists stand in front of the memorial and recite verses from Ode to Freedom. Besides this ironizing act, the artwork includes a handmade map with scanned documentation regarding the arrests, with a stamp and the signature of an official person, as well as a protest book in which all those who support struggle for Varšavska and for the preservation of public spaces can sign their names or leave their fingerprints. In this way, through the dichotomy of private/public, or rather individual voice/voice of the public, the artists seek to investigate the current social relations and raise the question of who has the right and the power to make decisions about the spatial development of the city on the one hand, and the possibilities of memorialization on the other.

The relationship between the past and memory, and its manifestations in public space, are also the topic of The Lost Monument by Stefanos Tsivopoulos, in which the main protagonist is a statue of Harry S. Truman, set up in the centre of Athens in 1963. The statue refers to an important segment of recent Greek and European past, yet it has been the target of public discontent about the politics of power it represents from the moment it was erected. As the citizens of Athens find it impossible to identify with the monument, it has been rejected in the collective memory of the society. In this video, the statue wanders from one social group to another, and none of them is capable of identifying the person it represents. In this way, the artist has commented upon the historical events to which the statue refers, as well as the attitude of the society towards them, both past and present. At the same time, he has tackled the issue of the society’s collective identity, and the way it is constructed and/or deconstructed. In his artwork called Blue Wall, Red Door, Alban Muja likewise speaks about the dynamics of the past and the memory, deconstructing events from the past as manifested in the frequent changing of street names in Priština. This sort of self-reflection, both of the individual and of the society as a whole, produces transparency in the relationship between individual and collective memory, between private and public space, which helps us understand events from the past and their consequences for the present.

Artworks by Dzamil Kamanger, Dušica Dražić & Deqa Abshir, and Jonas Staal likewise focus on the dichotomies of individual/collective memory and private/public space, but from the position of being dislocated from the community, that is, from a nomadic-immigrant position. A change in the concept of memory has brought about a change in the concept of identity, and now there is no place left for the universalistic logic and for great historical narratives. Speaking about the European Union, however, we must keep in mind that it is largely composed of nation-states, which still operate according to the principle where nations tend towards constructing their collective identities through state institutions. Immigrants occupy the lowest position on the European labour market, as well as in the public sphere as the place of political and social change. InWorking in public space, Džamil Kamanger has investigated cultural interaction and the position of immigrant workers from his own viewpoint. In his art, personal is also political and private is public, and he uses self-reflection in order to speak about the refuge status of the Kurds in Europe and the (im-)possibility of their emancipation in their new community. In his performances, which he mostly stages in front of large shop windows with designer clothes in various European cities, Kamanger embroiders two motifs: a photograph that was taken at the time when he was a political prisoner in Iran, and visas of political immigrants. By using this sort of contemplation, he relates his personal experiences from his country of birth to the experience of living in a new community, using the field of cultural production as a site for the emancipatory extension of politics.

Private and public spheres are also interconnected in The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Dušica Dražić and Deqa Abshir. Individual memory embodied in an intimate object – a coat – refers to the problem of forced migration in Africa. The context of art has been used as a public space in which it is possible to articulate individual memory and thus indicate a broader problem that is present on the global level.

In his Monument for the Chased-off Citizens of Rotterdam, Jonas Staal has used public space in order to critically examine the issues of consensus, commemoration, and their political instrumentalization through dilemmas concerning public art, more precisely the monuments. He has juxtaposed two monuments: one representing immigrant workers and their contribution to The Netherlands, and the other autochthon Dutch workers. This juxtaposition has revealed the political instrumentalization and the ideological role and importance of public art in constructing national identity. By using this type of cultural subversion, Staal has in a way managed to deconstruct the debates about the decline of multiculturalism in Europe.

In questioning the relationship between public space and the construction of social or cultural memory, the exhibition Between Worlds also speaks about the role of the artist in the production of the public sphere, which raises the issue of re/presentation within art institutions. This is the topic of Luiza Margan’s Melting Ground. Regarding the fact that art is not an autonomous system, even though it often pretends to be one, Simon Sheikh has indicated, when speaking about the relationship between art and public space, that art is a public sphere in the form of a platform for various and even opposed subjectivities, policies, and economies, a place of struggle between different ideological positions.[5] Such a concept of public sphere and art entails a reflection on new institutional models, since the main role of museums and other art institutions in the modernist era was the (self-)representation of the bourgeois classes and their values. The modernist white cube has been replaced by a more commercial type of communication, that is, by cultural industries that function on the principle of demand and supply, while the term “public” has been substituted by “the market”. This amounts to a private appropriation of public space, with an aim of creating symbolic and financial capital. This leads us back to the importance of public space that is neither private property, nor the classical modernist type of public space, and which is as such of crucial value for the development of the community. Without it, the individual has no one to communicate with about the reasons for his discontent, no one to turn to, no base where social change could take place. Therefore, as Sheikh emphasizes, the artist as a public intellectual is not only engaged in the public sphere; his role is also to produce the public, or rather the counter-public.

Mirjana Dragosavljević


[1] Alexander Kluge, On Film and the Public Sphere, trans. by Thomas Y. Levin and Miriam B. Hansen in Raw Materials for the Imagination, ed. by Tara Forrest (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2012), p. 39-40.

[2] Simon Sheikh, “In the Place of the Public Sphere? Or, the World in Fragments” (2004),

[3] Pierre Nora, The Reasons for the Current Upsurge in Memory (2002),

[4] Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator, trans. Gregory Elliott (London and New York: Verso, 2009), p. 8.

[5] Simon Sheikh, Representation, Contestation and Power: The Artist as Public Intellectual (2004),