On June 21, Brooklyn-based online magazine Triple Canopy will begin a two-week residency called Perfect Strangers, in Sarajevo. While in the Bosnian capital, where several of the country's national cultural institutions were closed earlier this year due to inadequate government support, Triple Canopy will initiate a program of workshops, site-specific visual and textual works, lectures, and publishing. Artworks and other project components will examine Bosnia and Herzegovina's fraught history and national identity.
The lack of funding, as well as tensions between Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs, has thwarted the development of cultural infrastructure since the Bosnian War. Triple Canopy deputy editor Molly Kleiman spoke to A.i.A. about the residency as an opportunity to share Triple Canopy's resources and practices with artists in Sarajevo: "I wanted to bring the working method that we've used in New York to Sarajevo."
Headquartered at pro.ba, a new media-focused arm of Sarajevo's Center for Contemporary Art, Triple Canopy will host a series of editorial workshops where four Bosnian artists and one writer—Azra Akšamija, Adela Jušić, Mladen Miljanović, Radenko Milak, and Muharem Bazdulj—will each develop a work, based on an object, image or site that engages Bosnia's history and identity. Local curators Asja Hafner and Pierre Courtin, architect Armina Pilav, and artist Zlatan Filipovic are among those who will engage with the five participants in the workshops and other program events, along with Triple Canopy editors.
Documentation of, and ephemera from, the workshops and subsequent projects will constitute the third installment of Triple Canopy's "Volume Number" series. Launched in November 2011, "Volume Number" is a series of publications, each of which documents the development of artworks and editorial content about a topic, and includes related commissioned material.
Among the objects and sites to be addressed in the publication are the Zastava 101, a small Serbian car that was popular in the former Yugoslavia; the Arizona Market in Brčko, an autonomous district between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska; and the "j" that, added to a Serbian word, changes it to Bosnian and Croatian.
For her project, Akšamija intends to address the persistent ethnic and religious tension in Bosnia, and the global issue of coexistence, through the design of new objects—what she calls "tangibles of coexistence." She plans to make functional garments and to recruit artists to create similarly pragmatic articles and everyday tools for use in a better integrated Bosnia. Akšamija imagines that mundane objects that have a traditional or contemporary function and cultural significance might be redesigned to affect the quotidian coexistence of Bosnian ethnic factions.
Akšamija, who was born in Bosnia and currently teaches on the art, culture, and technology faculty at MIT, is particularly concerned with the legacy of the Bosnian War—specifically, the perilous condition of Bosnia and Herzegovina's national cultural institutions in Sarajevo. After the war, a national cultural ministry was not established, leaving the operation and funding of national cultural institutions, such as the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Art Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the National Library, to the federal and cantonal governments, and thus vulnerable to tensions between regional factions. While the maintenance of these institutions has been difficult since the Dayton Agreement ended the war in 1995, the situation worsened this year, and several of the museums were closed temporarily due to lack of funding.
Speaking to A.i.A. about the future of Sarajevo's cultural institutions, Akšamija emphasized the need for innovative cultural production and discussion. She said that many Bosnians seem resigned to the government's inability or unwillingness to provide for the national museums: "No one is really hopeful anymore in Bosnia. People are just disillusioned. That's why it's important to re-inspire them."
Kleiman also expressed concern about the precariousness of cultural institutions in Sarajevo. She helped organize Triple Canopy's first project in Sarajevo, in 2010. Called "How to Read the Reading Room," the project focused on the function and importance of the archive in the digital era, a topic especially significant in Bosnia after the National Library was firebombed in the 1992 Siege of Sarajevo.
Kleiman differentiated Triple Canopy's upcoming residency from other American and international organizations' efforts to aid Bosnia and the museums there, saying to A.i.A., "We see this as a genuine collaboration with local artists." It is based on an "idea of creating sustained relationships through offering invitations to writers, editors and artists to contribute to the project." The project is intended to continue and develop beyond Triple Canopy's two-week residency in Sarajevo.
Speaking about her goals for the project, Klemain said, "There might not be a lot of funding or many institutions for contemporary art in Sarajevo, and while we can't do too much to address that situation directly, we can create spaces for discussion and production that are developed in collaboration with artists and writers there."
Triple Canopy will be in residence in Sarajevo June 21–July 6, in collaboration with NO(W) and the Sarajevo Center for Contemporary Art/pro.ba.