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Sonja Jankov: Abject, abjection and body: Remembering Holocaust through contemporary art

17. February 12:00 - 14:00

The lecture begins with theoretical account of the abject by Julia Kristeva and Hal Foster. For Kristeva, abject is something between a subject and an object, something which must be disposed so that we can be what we are (for example, a miscarried foetus), but which is sublimated in art. Foster relates the abject to Jacques Lacan’s definition of the Real and analyses how art of the 20th century connects these two concepts. According to Foster, the Real ruptures into the artistic practices by means of a damaged dead body and a traumatized subject. When encountering a mutilated or disposed dead body, a viewer gets disturbed, but s/he comes out of that encounter as a surviving witness, as a traumatized subject, because the trauma of the other cannot be questioned – one can only identify with it, or not. For that reason, art that focuses on abject is, according to Foster, developing in two directions: identification with the abject and catching abjection in the act. Following this, the lecture is focusing on contemporary artworks that evoke the memory of Holocaust by presenting indexical signs of bodies (clothing, hair, furniture, accessories) as signifiers of absent bodies, i.e. absent people, and by presenting the act of abjection. In the first part, the lecture turns to artistic installations for which their authors are aware that they carry strong reminiscence of Holocaust, but which primarily point towards abjection of Others and different ones in contemporary societies. The lecture then turns to artworks which thematize individual stories – public humiliation of a Jewish man in the centre of Vienna in 1938, the year when Austria was annexed by Germany, and the life of Anne Frank in the house within which she was hiding. By placing visitors in the centre of these events and ambients, through relational aesthetics (Nicolas Bourriaud), the artists confront them with the abjected ones and place them within the act of abjection. The lecture concludes how contemporary artistic practices evoke the memory of Holocaust, rather than trying to represent it, warning that Holocaust was executed by people over people, and pointing towards the fact that there are still ethnic cleansings and mass killings of politically unfit around the world. While connecting the Holocaust with contemporary happenings in the world, with the happening to which the art of the 21st century is contemporary, art reminds us why Holocaust should never be forgotten nor repeated.

Sonja Jankov (1985) is a doctoral candidate in Art and Media Theory at the University of Arts in Belgrade. She volunteered and worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art Vojvodina (2012-2015) and has collaborated with numerous institutions and independent organisations in the region. She took part in residencies in Poland, Romania, Austria and Croatia, and had spent a year studying at the Centre for Critical Theory in Prague (2008/2009). As an independent curator, she realized exhibitions in MMSU – Rijeka, Gallery Kazamat – Osijek, Jedinstvo – Zagreb, Cultural Center of Belgrade, Gallery of Contemporary Art – Pančevo, Gallery Remont – Belgrade. She is the author of several scientific papers publishe in national and international journals, the latest of which are “Choreographic and Spatial Layers in Jasmina Cibic's Screendance The Pavilion” (Život umjetnosti 106/2020), “Citing Architecture as Artistic and Interpretational Strategy in Contemporary Sculpture: The Case of Radoš Antonijević (Matica srpska journal for fine arts, 48/2020), “Die Untermenschen and Fantasy as Method of Social Critique in Film Jojo Rabbit” (Matica srpska journal of stage arts and music, 63/2020). She lives in Novi Sad.


17. February
12:00 - 14:00