This is history

Catherine Hemelryk

I don’t know if it is because the artists are in dialogue with one another as they produce but I always feel that I am having a conversation with their artworks. So much of their practice deftly captures elements of the socio-political world around them, around all of us that are in Europe; it feels that their work is history, that is, they are creating not only artworks but historical documents.

Their series We are living in a beautiful wOURld began in 2007. An increasing number of friends were leaving Serbia in search of a better life. The artists photographed their friends’ final moments at the airport, bus or railway station and eight years later they are still leaving to the point that more of their Serbian friends live outside the country than in it.

The work is a simple concept but the protagonists reflect some of the complexities of the situation. The burgeoning adventure is tainted with frustration at the situation they are leaving. With around 700,000 people having left Serbia in the past 25 years, diSTRUKTURA are photographing what has become a normal event: people leaving. Their friends cite typical reasons for their departures: the search for a better life free from the repression of Milošević’s regime and aftermath, lack of job opportunities and restrictions on travel. These largely educated Serbs that might have otherwise contributed to making their home better have lost belief that they can do so. Those leaving are heading for uncertain futures that may bear little relation to their qualifications. Taking often low-paid, basic jobs is a cruel blow as those that might want to return find themselves unable to re-enter their professional fields as they fall behind in terms of experience.

The figures are affectionately photographed – the friendship is almost tangible in these clean compositions – but the portraits, as the series grows, take on a dispassionate critique of what has become a norm. Both those that are leaving and those left behind are ‘Milošević’s lost generations’; the ‘beautiful wOURld’ everyone is trying to find eludes is all but this moment in history so familiar to so many – whether it’s leaving or receiving migrants – is part of how Europe functions today. diSTRUKTURA’s response to their personal experiences is the content of future art history books.

* Catherine Hemelryk is the Artistic Director at NN (previously known as Fishmarket). She is also an independent curator and a writer and lecturer.

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