Kenneth McBride

Kenneth McBride is an artist, writer and educator as well as being the founder of agora8

In his durational performance installations he is interested in art as a form of memorial that can activate collective memory. He is author of many works and has presented in diverse locations and contexts internationally, often operating beyond the traditional gallery structures and in a wide variety of impermanent or public spaces. Works often engage the full range of senses.

Nenad Bogdanovic: ‘Man Gallery’ (1993-ongoing) | Total Mail Art Magazine | Performance review | IMAF: Encountering the Encounter (U susret susretu) | MAS Gallery review

performance art | body art | MAN Gallery | IMAF performance art festival



Born 1955 in Odzaci, northern Serbia, Nenad Bogdanovic has been producing unique forms in art since 1975 with participation in over 500 exhibitions that span more than 40 countries. Between 1984 and 1988 he founded and published the art magazines “TOTAL’ and ‘SECOND MANIFESTO’ that served largely as vehicles for his prolific activity in the Mail Art movement. Simultaneously borne out of a critique of the cultural anachronism of international gallery structures and as a means by which artists living under political and geo-alienated contexts could communicate with the wider world the magazines had international distribution.

In 1992-95 Serbia had trade blockades imposed as a result of the policies of Slobodan Milosovic’s regime. As part of the anti-embargo movement taking hold among artists throughout Serbia he began the two activities that continue to inform his practice today – ‘NETWORKER GALERY’ and ‘MAN GALLERY’.

Protesting the commodification of art and the object, and engaging with the effects of conflict and the cultural embargoes set against Serbia, in 1993 Bogdanovic declared his body to be a site for the production of art - the ‘Man Gallery’. And since he is a gallery he invites the viewer to paint and install objects on his body, while documenting the participative act on Polaroid film. The naming and transforming of his physical being into a site for art imbues the activity with indices of process and invests the human form with a cultural significance that extends discourse beyond the representational and anthropologic.

In early 1998 he founded Multimedial Art Studio (MAS) and by the end of the year had founded the International Multimedial Art Festival / IMAF. IMAF takes place annually and combines a Performance Art meeting with an accompanying exhibition of Performance documents contributed by artists worldwide. He is Director of MAS/IMAF art archive and in 2003 represented Serbia at the Venice Biennale.

Duringenforced military service in the Serb-Croat war he was, along with performance artist Aleksandar Jovanovic, a founder of the Serbian Network Coalition of Artists Against War.


'TOTAL' Mail art magazine covers

In 2004 agora8 presented a 24-hour exhibition of documents showing the many different aspects of 25 years of Bogdanovic's output including the poster art of his organising activities and 2 tables laid out with the original copies of ‘Total' and ‘Second Manifesto' Mail Art magazines that he edited.


Kenneth McBride: Performance review: 'MAN GALLERY: SERBIA II’

On one wall was positioned a grid of A4 sheets of paper, each expressing a comment written by artist-respondents to an email from Bogdanovic asking them to describe their observations on Serbia. This continued his familiar approach of promoting dialogue in art. In front of this Bogdanovic stood naked except for a map of the Republic of Serbia worn around his waist. His ankles and wrists were bound with heavy chains, those from his wrists descending from up high on the ceiling held his arms uncomfortably out and upright for the duration of the Performance. At his feet lay several black marker pens and a set of instructions inviting the audience to choose a text from the wall and write it once more, this time upon his body. Over time, and to a background audio of Orthodox chanting, people followed his request, framing a compendium of abstracts upon his flesh.

When the West falters in it's understanding, or in it's desire to understand, the Balkan context it all too easily and often allows itself to conclude sensationally. Bogdanovic's Performance serves as an illustration of exactly how dangerous that collusion can be. The few positive texts were virtually lost in the intensity of the weighted bias and confusion that is bedfellow to ignorance – a telling pointer to our televisual experience of the Balkans. After twenty-five minutes of his arms and hands being suspended by chains the blood began to drain from one.

A viewer pointed out that in all of the images displayed 360° around him in the room from previous ‘MAN GALLERY' incarnations Bogdanovic most generally had his arms outstretched, a welcoming host. But in this final performance of the ‘MAN GALLERY' series he appears shackled, his flesh whipped by the tongues of others, blood draining from a hand.

Past ‘MAN GALLERY' performances have seen the artist being painted on in bright colours, poetry installed with glue and tape, the head of Japanese artist Shimamoto lying upon it, rubber stamps stamped on it, dressed in Cavelline's Mail Art, and outdoors covered with nature. And many more. Yet once again it was shown how unique the 'MAN GALLERY' body of work is, both conceptually and as a venue for people to expose themselves upon.

The map featured the habitats of wild birds within Serb territory.


Kenneth McBride: Encountering the Encounter / U susret susretu


A primary purpose of any art meeting is that the artist/spectator dynamic shapes an identifying space of and among people - a hacienda where those already settled and those who visit may enter into purposeful encounter, prompting debates and meditation.

Among these meditations there is always what it means to come from afar, and the effects and responsibilities of instilling the social continuum - that otherwise and normally manages everyday life by a different sensibility - with a sense of a new, ephemeral society. This is something both sides share equally - where one goes to, and conversely, who one meets arriving is the nexus of human encounter.

For those who visit an other’s place there always exists expectations indexically linked to subjective cultural reference and surprise at what is found there, including sometimes the problematic of discovering one’s own inert prejudices. When do others become Others? How do we approach the Other - those people who command such unattractive labels as ‘demons’, ‘foreign’, ‘outsiders’, ‘criminals’… What happens when we come to a place where there are no Others, where we find ourselves all to be Others? Does our cherished reason recoil when we find ourselves questioning how to be with Others? By going beyond ethnographic fetish and anthropologic gaze through having a (purposeful) physical meeting we begin to answer these questions of the human condition.

In this televisual epoch, where all too often the sum knowledge of others can be formed from newsreels of events distant from one’s own reality, it can be difficult to find the will or time to properly research a context that has been prejudicially given to us. The media screen through which we manage our relationship to the world also offers erasure of these geo-hallucinations as quickly as they come to us. It is a disturbing phenomenon of our times that demands of us a great exorcism to go beyond the mediated world and treat the image as a physical space.

Interrupting this simulation is a critical aspect of the annual IMAF performance art meeting in Odzaci. It’s objective is to assist in looking beyond the routines and terrors of everyday life to engage each others culture and individual consciousness in celebration and tolerance of distinct particularities, doubts, questions, robust or incorrigible theories on morality, existence, flux, and human bondage. Now in its 7th manifestation IMAF offers a place where artists from different corners of the world converge for a few days and, in simultaneity and solidarity with local citizens, set about the creation of a temporary society.

Encountering the encounter.


Kenneth McBride: U susret susretu

Osnovna svrha svakog umetničkog susreta je da dinamika umetnik/gledalac oblikuje identifikacioni prostor od i između ljudi - hacijendu u kojoj oni koji su već naseljeni i oni koji posećuju mogu ući u svrsishodne susrete, jasne rasprave i meditacije.

Između ovih meditacija uvek je predmet šta znači doći iz daleka, i efekti i odgovornosti isticanja društvenog kontinuuma - koji inače i normalno rukovodi svakodnevnim životom po različitoj osetljivosti - sa smislom za novo, prolazno društvo. To je nešto što obe strane jednako dele - gde neko ide, i odgovarajuće, koga neko sreće dolazeći u čvorište ljudskih susreta.

Za one koji posećuju tuđa mesta uvek postoje očekivanja indeksirana prema ličnim kulturalnim referencama i iznenađenja šta je tamo pronađeno, uključujući ponekad problem otkrivanja vlastitih ukorenjenih predrasuda. Kada drugi postaju Drugi? Kako pristupamo Drugima - onim ljudima koji nose tako neprivlačne etikete kao što su “demoni”, “strani”, “autsajderi”, “kriminalci”... Šta se dešava kad dođemo na mesto gde nema Drugih, gde ustanovimo da smo mi Drugi? Da li se naš negovani razum izvrne kad se nađemo upitani kako je to biti sa Drugima? Idući izvan etnografskog fetiša i antropološkog pogleda počinjemo da odgovaramo na ova pitanja ljudskih stanja.

U ovoj televizijskoj epohi, gde se prečesto ukupno znanje o drugima stiče iz vesti o događajima dalekim od lične stvarnosti, može biti teško pronaći volju ili vreme za pravilno istraživanje konteksta koji nam je kroz predrasude dat. Medijski ekran kroz koji upravljamo našim vezama sa svetom takođe nudi i brisanje ovih geo-halucinacija onako brzo kako ih i primamo. To je uznemirujući fenomen naših vremena koji od nas zahteva veliki egzorcizam da bi otišli izvan sveta medija i tretirali sliku kao fizičko mesto.

Prekidanje ove simulacije je kritičan aspekt godišnjih sastanaka umetnosti performansa na IMAF-u u Odžacima. Njihov cilj je pomoć u gledanju izvan rutina i terora svakodnevnog života u aktiviranju međusobnih kultura i individualne svesnosti u slavljenju i toleranciji različitih specifičnosti, sumnji, pitanja, čvrstih i nepopravljivih teorija o moralu, opstanku, toku, i ljudskoj vezanosti. Sada u svom sedmom izdanju IMAF nudi mesto gde se umetnici iz različitih delova sveta spajaju na nekoliko dana i, u simultanosti i solidarnosti sa lokalnim stanovništvom, postavljaju kreaciju privremenog društva.


Kenneth McBride: MAS Galeria, Odzaci, Serbia 2005

Often it is small towns that get things done and in the case of Odzaci it is as true of the annual IMAF Performance Art Meeting as it is of the accompanying MAS exhibition of conceptual art documents. Since its inception in 1998, in defiance of the traditional gallery system of commodification and gain, and in protest at cultural embargos imposed on Serbia, Nenad Bogdanovic has shaped MAS into a cultural treat for the small town of Odzaci. Over the years MAS has exhibited works from more than 200 artists from all corners of the world in all contemporary media.

MAS exhibition promotes a re-animation and examination of arts practices often regarded by many as alienating, and because the culture industries do not engage with them (for lack of profit and difficulties with ephemera) these critical works go largely unseen. Conceptual art documents might simply be said to be recordings of artistic production that have occurred either in real time and space (actions, performances…) or of work never physically realised but which exist by their intellectual nature (architectural plans, manifestos…).

While on one hand the document reveals the performed deed it also maintains a relationship beyond simple representation. Actions, like investigations, generate trace to which we give consideration, and through a process of meditation acknowledge the many elements and layers that make up the life of the work. This underlines how unhelpful it is to understand the document as simply a de facto account of the work. A primary purpose of the document is to make us audience to works that happened in other places, in other times, while simultaneously providing access to an audience that could not be physically present in the space and time of production.

Documents seldom bear witness to the artist’s struggle with material (it seldom ‘performs’ as required) and often blur the line between the mythic event and its historical reality - a difficulty in approaching such exhibitions is what the artist chooses to show as the work and what actually occurred. This year’s MAS thematic Ab Ovo invited artists to submit what they considered to be their first important works. Open to interpretation the remit was met with a wide and varied response. The question of authorship is raised in Era Milovojevic’s (Serbia and Montenegro) photograph of his action ‘Taping Marina Abramovic to the Floor’ – from all that we know of both of these artist’s work we might ask, who is the participant here? Morgan O’Hara (USA) and Cezar Lazarescu (Romania) circumvent this problematic by utilising ‘snapshot’ imagery to coherently reveal both the action and subject/object dynamic contextually. Zorica Jovanovic and Dragan Ignjatov (Serbia and Montenegro) make very different use of the document by proposing a conceptual model to map weather and insect behaviour in the unique and unstable climates of Odzaci region. Dialogic in nature these documents serve to provide us with entry points into contemporary discourse, artistic intent, and process.

Alongside these contributions are works from the Philippines, Italy, UK, Thailand, Turkey, and many more, including, from the influential Yugoslav avant-garde, 'Chimneys' (in Serb, 'Odzaci') by Balint Szombathy, a work first performed at IMAF. Additionally MAS holds an ever-expanding archive of books, catalogues, video’s, CD’s, and DVD’s of artist’s work that the interested can spend much time pouring over.

What is really worth looking forward to is the day when full documentation of MAS/IMAF events is presented together in a coherent publication so the real contribution and impact of this annual event will be better able to be assessed. For now though MAS offers a particular space of engagement with which to view a history of radical and challenging art practices over the last decades while continuing to go some way to restoring international pre-conflict and embargo relations between art and artists.


Nenad Bogdanovic
IMAF festival
Mail Artists Index

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