Dragoljub Raša Todosijević was born on 2 September 1945, in Belgrade, Serbia. He graduated at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, in 1969. He works and lives in Belgrade, Serbia. Todosijević is one of the key protagonists of the circle of Belgrade conceptual artists.
Rasa Todosijevic is a defining figure of the Yugoslav Avant-Garde that rose to prominence in the 1970's. From his seminal 'Was ist Kunst?' actions beginning in 1976 in which he touched and slapped and smeared the face of a female assistant while demanding an answer to his interrogative “What is Art?', to his texts on art such as 'Edinburgh Statement - Who Profits from Art and Who Gains From it Honestly?' (1975), and through the Installation series 'Gott liebt die Serben' (God Loves the Serbs) of the 1980's and 1990's he has consistently challenged the role and responsibility of the artist and demanded contextual engagement in art. Offering existence as material he systematically juxtaposes authoritarianism and nationalism with the paradoxical subjectivity of the individual and social group.
Employing vusual codes that often are disorientating, alarming, disturbing and uncanny, Todosijevic creates corridors of perception wherein it is uncertain whether the walls are closing in or the body has become obese from moral and cultural sloth. Confrontation becomes physically directed in the 'Gott liebt die Serben' Happening when tables are laid out in swastika form and the (gallery) visitors are invited to dine and drink to an audio background of nationalist songs. Mythologising himself through the paradox of nationalism and the cult of all great leader saviours he bears the slogan "Thank You, Rasa Todosijevic' on wine labels and notices beside his work.
Employing strategies similar to Art and Language to simultaneously tilt and stabilise a vision of the precarious Heimat the works assault on many levels. Often Todosijevic animates the swastika through a placement of objects of the more ordinary and domestic - bottles, suitcases, chairs, wardrobes. To merely see the work as an appropriation of the symbols and rhetoric of totalitarianism is to belittle the discourse and miss the point. (The swastika's own Slavic history stems from the early Middle Ages when it was named after the God Swarog.) In many ways the work asks us to look deeper not only into history but at social conditions, mental welfare, and the culture industries, and to investigate the poliitical interests of the institutions that construct them. Todosijevic himself can appear rather bemused by the attention and analysis his swarzyca brings about, proposing that it has “more to do with Duchamp than politics”. Nonetheless the work does catapult us into some kind of vortex where it is possible to belie our own histories and imbue our own unique experiences with inhabitation of the contemporary spectacle. With Todosijevic this side effect is as much a critique of recent and historical art production and the institutions that formulate cultural agendas as it is of xenophobia or totalitarianism. This then leads to consideration of how utopian art movements themselves have been appropriated by political ideologies.
Despite the great majority of his work being destroyed or disassembled and disregarded by art institutions he is widely credited as being a major inspiration behind the Slovenian art scene that heralded some of the most surprising and challenging work in Laibach and NSK, much of whose work was to bear Todosijevic's motif 'Was ist Kunst?'.
OPUS: EDINBURGH STATEMENT 1975: Who makes profit from art and who gains from it honestly?
The author also wrote this text in order to profit from the good and the bad in art.
The factories that manufacture materials are necessary to artists. The firms that sell materials are necessary to artists. Their workers, clerks, sales personnel, agents, etc. Firms or private business owners who provide the equipment or decorate the work of artists. The carpenters who make frames, wooden structural supports, etc. The producers of glass, paper, pencils, paints, tools, etc. Their workers, clerks, sales personnel, retailers, etc. The real estate agencies that collect rent for studios, lofts, living quarters or holes where artists live. Their employers, clerks, etc. All those producing and selling wholesale or retail everyday items to artists. All those producing and selling wholesale or retail footwear and clothing to artists. All those creating and selling wholesale or retail cultural requisites to artists. All those producing and selling wholesale or retail drugs, sanitary supplies, and alcohol, contraceptives, cigarettes and sporting goods to artists. All those collecting taxes on artists’ incomes. Municipal clerks and other administrative personnel. The banks with their higher and lower-ranking staff. Small craftsmen: tinsmiths, doctors, frame-makers, shoemakers, gravediggers, etc. Professional mosaic craftsmen who execute someone else’s mosaics. Professional casters who cast someone else’s sculpture. Modellers and experts in plaster, wax, marble and bronze. Goldsmiths. Signet makers. Zincographers. Professional producers of large print runs, lithographs, etchings, aquatints, silkscreen prints, woodcuts, etc. Medallists. Stonecutters. Galleries. Sales galleries and their staff. Non-profit galleries. Gallery owners, gallery administrators, gallery curators and their personal secretaries and friends. The subsidised gallery council. The voluntary gallery council that collects moneys because they are not subsidised. Purchasing commissions, their members and consultants. Extremely well-trained conference experts whose intentions concerning art are bad or good. Managers, retailers, dealers and all other small-time or big-time art profiteers. The organisers of public or semi-public auctions. Collectors. Shrewd profit-makers who profit from better or major work outside public collections. “Anonymous” benefactors. Well-known and respected benefactors. The low, higher and highest-ranking personnel of cultural institutions and the organisers of art, cultural and educational programmes. Staff members involved in the organisation of an exhibition. All administrative employees. The clerk who orders, issues and accounts for the materials required for an exhibition. The account office. The janitor. The secretaries or other persons related to institutions that provide funds for cultural programmes. All technical personnel. Professional and non-professional managers. The designer of the catalogue, of invitations and posters. The messenger. The fire inspector. The critic, writer or other individual responsible for writing the preface to the catalogue. The copyeditor who checks the preface or the artist’s texts, or texts about the artist in the catalogue. Translators of the preface or texts about the artist or the artist’s texts in the catalogue. The typist. The photographer who took pictures for the catalogue. The catalogue publisher. The catalogue editor. The printing firm responsible for printing the catalogue and poster. The workers who set the type, bind the catalogue and print the invitations. The proofreaders. The administrative personnel of the printing firm. Those who fix tax rates and collect taxes on the printing of the catalogues. Those who sign and issue certificates deeming that the catalogue be tax-free. Postal fees for mailing invitations and catalogues. Telephone expenses connected with arrangements made for the exhibition. The electric companies that charge for electricity used during the exhibition. The gallery guard and catalogue, postcard and ticket salespeople. The cleaning women. The housepainters. The person giving the introductory address at the grand opening of the exhibition. Outside information services. The advertising department of the daily paper. The journalist giving a long or short report on the exhibition. The critic writing a short review of the exhibition in the daily paper. The editor in charge of the cultural section of the daily paper. The technical editor of the cultural and all other sections. The critic or commentator giving a more detailed review of the exhibition. The publicist who has nothing to do with art but writes about artists, their works and problems in the art world The author scribbling lyrical descriptions of art for daily, weekly or monthly newspapers, marketing these and thus displaying his ignorance or lack of knowledge of particular branches of art. And all others who regardless of their professional fields either attack or defend the exhibition and the artist in the daily and weekly press. The cartoonists. Those who devise ruses, epigrams and sophistries related to art and artists, The television station, its personnel, workers and “artists”. The cameraman who films either the opening of the exhibition or a subsequent report. The worker responsible for the camera lighting. The lower-ranking associate of the television’s cultural programme who covers the story. His technicians and assistants. The editor of the television station’s cultural section. The director, stage designer and remaining amateurs. The commentator or presenter who reads the news on television. The organiser and television presenter of cultural programmes. The organiser and host of television interviews with the artist. Those who write, direct or film either short or long TV films and plays about the lives of living or dead artists. Those who make films about artists to promote tourism. Those who film full-length romanticised biographies of artists. Radio stations, their staff, workers and other associates. The advertising section. News reports and features. The gossip column. Authors of radio programmes who write about artists and those reading or reciting this material. Presenters and hosts of the radio programme. Organisers of various interviews and shows on or about culture and art. Writers of radio obituaries concerning the artist or some artistic movement. All associates and other radio staff. Publishing houses, their staff, workers and consultants. Creators and editors of bulletins about art. Weekly art magazines and the staff that writes for them, as well as those staff responsible for the magazine’s distribution. Monthly, quarterly or bimonthly magazines dealing with culture and art. Monographers, biographers and editors of collected essays dealing with a particular artist and his work. Those recording anecdotes from the artist’s life. Those assisting the artist in writing his autobiography. Those who retell anecdotes and jokes from the artist’s life, in this way earning cigarettes, coffee, beer, brandy, cognac, wine or food, etc. Art critics in all fields, of all ages and orientations. The stores that sell books, magazines, reproductions and original prints created by artists and non-artists. Antique shops, antique dealers, private sellers, agents and retailers. The collectors. Second-hand stores and dealers. Commission stores, churches and sextons. Those selling their knowledge and familiarity with the artist’s earlier works. Experts familiar with later works. Experts in prehistoric art, primitive art, modern art, etc. Experts in a particular century or a particular year or epoch. The organisers of an artist’s one-man show. Organisers of group exhibitions, cultural events, presentations, etc. Organisers of exhibitions involving several cities or republics. Organisers of international exhibitions. Organisers of huge exhibitions: from ancient times to the present day. All their directors, secretaries, associates, assistants, consultants, proofreaders, publishers, administrative staff, technical personnel, workers, etc. The juries, consultants, experts and women serving coffee. The conservators: restorers, technicians, etc. Institute directors, museum directors, museum curators, clerks and other staff. Spoiled sons and daughters who – thanks to a father, grandfather or senile aunt with connections or party membership – are employed by museums so that they can spread their foul odour and the misery of their slippery forebears. The night guards of museums, galleries, collections and this and that type of compilation or legacy. Those posing as guards of galleries, museums and collections. Informers. Technical staff of the galleries, museums and collections. Organisers of symposiums, meetings and art festivals. Organisers of seminars and short or crash courses in art. Organisers of organised profit-making activities concerning art. Their ideological, administrative and technical personnel. Tourist organisations, agencies and their personnel. Airline companies, bus companies, railroads, etc. Caterers, cafes, waiters, waitresses, restaurants, hotels, boarding houses, etc. Professional guides working for galleries, museums, ruins and smaller collections. Professional guides with knowledge of one or more foreign languages. Auction houses Fans. Teenyboppers. Young female students. Models. Married women. Wives. Mistresses. Girlfriends. Widows. Children. Pederasts Old friends and acquaintances. Relatives and other closer or distant heirs. Lawyers. Housewives and mothers who occasionally chatter to the press in support of and against art. Shrewd directors and trustees of legacies, inheritances and collections. National saviours of artistic treasures. The overseers of art funds bequeathed to be distributed as awards, gifts and scholarships: to rich students, careerists and other assorted thieves. Patrons and organisers of funds and scholarships given as one-month or one-year or hundred-year scholarships to sycophants, cowards, and wealthy children and to solid epigones. Patrons and organisers of grants for study abroad that are usually awarded to children of high government officials, children of prominent bankers, and children of disguised and clandestine bourgeoisie under socialism. Organisers of art associations and the necessary technical and administrative personnel. And all other lower, higher and top- ranking bureaucrats squeezing money out of artists with a smile, proud of their “holy mission” on behalf of art and in culture. The poster makers, graphic editors and designers who steal from the artist. Industrial designers of all kinds. Anti-designers. Producers and sellers of flyers, posters and portfolios with autographs or (cheaper) without. Producers and sellers of “records of the artist”, full of hope and dreaming of lots of money. Those who earn or hope to earn money from reprints, the Dada movement, Fluxus and so forth, though they never dreamed of doing this when it was truly necessary for the artists. Souvenir makers and their salespeople. Makers of postcards, greeting cards and reproductions of art works. Those who print calendars with reproductions of works of art and kitsch. Recognised and unrecognised copiers of works of art. Those who forge works of art in secret. Known and acknowledged forgers of works of art. Fashion designers who publicly insult the artist and make money that way. Creators of designs that systematically degrade artists, for which they are paid. Ceramicists or private persons who use well-known works to decorate vases, jugs and dishes, and who sell these as art. Wall decorators. Architects Façade makers. Tapestry makers. Photographers and the entire photo industry. Makers of candy, sweets. stockings, tobacco and all other products that reproduce a work of art on their wrappings, thus earning from it. All those using a work of art on stamps, labels, flags, picture books, wallpaper and kitchen or bathroom tiles. Heads of publishing houses who occasionally use their influence to make a profit on the side from small deals involving “works of art”. Those supporting helpless and senile artists in order to get hold of their inheritance, profiting like gangsters. Exclusive distributors of and those that profit from videotapes, documentary and historical photographs, autographs and artists’ napkins. Those abusing occasional passers-by. Those who are glad to do “this or that”. Impostors who make a living by imitating artists. Serious and self-confident epigones who imitate artists without feeling the least bit guilty, thereby faring better and earning more than the artists themselves. Counterfeiters of art history who make money on such falsifications. Those favouring a particular style in art based on their own greed and lust for profit. Those pointing out one artist, or a number of them, or a particular idea, theme or thesis or problem, in order to draw attention to themselves and their ideas, thus earning something from it sooner or later. Dilettantes, artists, and slandering, ill-trained theoreticians in secret partnership to facilitate the hunt for profit in art. Ladies from fine families who engage in all kinds of business with artists for the sake of “Art”. Ladies studying art and artists. Those who support “street art or “protest art” and thus thrust, sell, advertise and put these ideas on exhibit in the most elite galleries. Critics, theoreticians and other quacks engaged in everyday politics so that they might attain a position in the art world and ensure themselves a profit. Disguised ideologists, demagogues and reactionaries in institutions, institutes of higher learning, university departments, museums and academies who have a greater interest in power and influence in the art world than in education and culture, which offers no sort of profit. And all those who use liberal language to disguise their decadent, dated, reactionary, chauvinist and bourgeois models of art and culture with verbal liberalism, that they might attain positions outside the world of art and culture, thus being both above and beyond art and culture. Psychologists and sociologists who derive nebulous conclusions about art and then sell this bluff as a great contribution to a better understanding of art. Philosophers writing about art without ever really understanding it. And all the other cheap politicians who have seized the sinecure in this “mysterious” way – through relatives, friends and connections – preaching to artists and making enough money for two lifetimes with this foolish business.
Raša Todosijević Belgrade, 21 April1975.
Mileta Prodanovic - ‘The Gods, The Serbs and Rasa Todosijevic’
The line "God was angry with the Serbs" appears at the beginning of one of the first cantos of the "Mountain Wreath", the famous epic poem by the Serb/Montenegrin (delete according to preference) poet/ruler/metropolitan (likewise) Petar II Petrovic Njegos. This poem, which as part of its sub-heading has the nowadays not widely known word "istraga" (meaning "to exterminate without leaving a trace", and referring in this case to linguistic brethren of a different religious persuasion), places in one of its - so to say - introductory lines the Serbs in an active emotional relationship with God. Of all the peoples he has created, that famous lover of postmodern diffusion - God - has, as we see, particular reason to focus his attention on the Serbs, so long as the one who is writing is a member of the above-mentioned collectivity. This intimate relationship with the Demiurge has been expressed, at least in recent history, in many different ways: struck on coins, embroidered on flags, printed in books... Repetition, multiplication and slight variation of this statement (God loves, God saves...) slowly convert it into a mantra, and its obsessive repetition seems to gradually bring into doubt the imperative tone of the syntagma: it is a little bit like someone walking through the woods at night, and, in order to drive off fear, repeating, for example, that he is immortal, that he is not afraid, that the forest harbours no wild beasts and supernatural entities ready, in the nature of things, to threaten his psycho-physical integrity at any moment. As if the Serbs, who ritually pronounce this famous sentence, were not quite sure that it's true, and by repeating it obsessively were tugging at God's sleeve, reminding him of their desire to be loved, cared for, pampered and elevated above all other peoples.
Those who in dead earnest bellow this syntagma would probably be surprised to learn that the same construct - a people's privileged position in God's affections - exists in all nations; to start with, in the neighbouring ones, in those with whom they fought the most frequent and bloodiest wars: "God and the Croats", "God loves the Bulgarians", and so on.
The local variant "Gott liebt die Serben", a short and curt statement with a wide metaphysical radius, was adopted by the artist Rasa Todosijevic as the title or motto of a large series of works created during the last few years. As in earlier cases, a frame "Schlaflage", "Was ist Kunst?") is filled with works in the most varied media - from performances and sound ambients, objects (loaves of bread, plates, bottles with messages in oil), to pieces in traditional media, bronze sculptures, drawings or watercolours.
However, if we are to approach the essence of these works, a look at the earlier cycle entitled "My name is Pablo Picasso" would be helpful - both in the questions of execution and conceptual basis. In brief, this was a series of drawings (later paintings, too) in which Todosijevic "entered" into the famous Spaniard's handwriting. The drawings and paintings were accompanied by a short text which made the point of the relationship of a small, enclosed and therefore self-sufficient community with the concept of "genius", in this case, artistic genius. The key to reading this is, of course, ironic, but this is not irony at first glance; this is, on the whole, a much more sophisticated position characteristic for the spirit of the postmodern, an "oscillating" approach which is always somewhere between the "direct" and the completely cynical, negating view charged with bitter humour. In the works of the cycle "Gott liebt die Serben" (as well as in some earlier ones), this position is underlined by a title in German, the language of one of the paradigmatic occupiers of these parts.
"Picassoesque" stylizations in the handwriting are evident in these works, too, along with references to Klee's rickety script. The iconographic inventory, organized in some of the watercolours within a rudimentary illusionist space feigning a sunset landscape, usually includes crosses, skulls, multiplied and stylized eyes, pipes and smoke, with the omnipresent written invocation "Gott liebt die Serben". Furthermore, on another level, these watercolours function as "illustrations" or "visual superstructures" of Todosijevic's views of art, of his texts which, metaphorically, obliquely, operate in the same space as his paintings, often taking a more clearly ironic stance.
Somewhere in between the general, historical, horizon on which the works of the cycle "Gott liebt die Serben" operate, and that localized on the problems of modern art in the series "My name is Pablo Picasso", lie the problems of the art of small communities, of geographical and cultural outbacks. Both are, in their own way, "important subjects", but Todosijevic, from his point of view and in his manner, prefers to pay attention to the draught blowing through the holes of these monumental premises. Another story could, therefore, be added to his: at one of the last Biennales in Venice, in the pavillion of one of the few south Balkan countries friendly to us, hung on display the works of an artist whose name nobody remembers any more - let him be called Vulgaropoulos for this occasion. This artist, now in the tenth decade of his life, had always worked in his half-forgotten attic in a large seaport. When, urged by friends, he finally descended from his hovel/ivory tower, he was astonished to discover that all the great avant-garde artistic movements of this century had taken place in his attellier, but that he had had no inkling of them. Vulgaropoulos was, therefore, a cubist ten years before Picasso and Braque, a surrealist before Ernst and Miro... However, the accursed destiny of living at the end of the world, along with the hatred of the "big" world towards small and smart peoples full of pride, will never permit recognition and a correct appreciation of the trailblazing role of this great anticipator.
The situation is similar on the wider, historical, plan - what takes place in art is often only a reflection of wider movements and convictions: the complexes of some ethnic communities, piled up through long centuries, lead them to monstrous exclusivist self-insertion into historical matrixes, and then, as feedback, into frustration and autism. The fact that there is nobody willing to recognize their fundamental role in world history and civilization on the basis of long-winded and often incomprehensible stories repeated instead of tangible evidence, the fact that nobody has any understanding for the "objective circumstances" which led to their absence from important history lessons, these convert them into even more rabid champions of their version, sinks them even further into psychosis, convinces them, in the end, that even God has given up on the implacable "big world" (which will soon, no doubt, fall as Sodom and Gomorra did) and can now finally devote himself to loving only them.
The distorting mirror held up by the works of Rasa Todosijevic points out all these perversions even more clearly, enlarged to proportions which make it impossible to look away, stripped to the grotesque which is, actually, their true essence.
(First published in 1994, in Belgrade Circle Journal)