Among all networkers in the former Yugoslavia, the Serbian Mail-artists were the most active in international cultural co-operation. And Yugoslavian Mail-artists in general have played an important role in the development of the Mail-Art network since the seventies. They had strong contacts with other Mail-artists in Eastern Europe who lived under repressive communist regimes and were the link for them towards the rest of the world. Now confronted with an embargo, including a cultural embargo, they strongly disagreed with a forced interruption of links between creative people. The isolation is in direct contrast with the open system of Mail-Art, and there was only the network to fight against the cultural embargo. The anti-embargo activities stopped the same day as the cultural embargo was lifted on October 5th 1994. The end of economic embargo was in November 1995.
"Embargo Art is everything that an artist can do in conditions of international blockade of his country. In a situation where there is lack of fundamental materials for creation; when there is a lack of fuel for transportation and heating; shortages of food; . The main activity of the artist under embargo is to win a possibility, time, and space for his creativity. That means to surmount all shortages and bans, to restrain concern, to reach inner peace, to get inspiration and in the moment of enlightenment to feel as if the embargo doesn't exist. All that the artist gets to do in such state of mind is EMBARGO ART." Tisma, Andrej (1993). Cage, number 3.
It was Andrej Tisma who initiated the anti-embargo actions. On June 3rd, shortly after the embargo was established, he sent out an anti-embargo declaration world wide. The same day he also made an 'Embargo Art' rubberstamp and decided to print it on all of his products in Mail-Art until the end of the UN's embargo on Yugoslavia.
1992 Was also the year with the worldwide 'Decentralized Networker Congresses'. It was an attempt by Mail-artists to broaden the concept of the 'Congress year', to open it beyond Mail-Art circles, by also involving people related to other kinds of creative networking activities. Yugoslavian networkers played an important part in the international dialogue of Mail-Art, and it was the one and only way for them to stay in contact with the rest of the world during the embargo. Even with Mail-artists living in other parts of the former Yugoslavia during the civil war, letters were passed on by Mail-artist from outside Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. The embargo became a test for the intercultural communication art of the Mail-Art network. Concerns for some actions against the embargo were present on the 'Belgrade Networker Congress' of June 13 where 12 Serbian artists were present.
These concerns turned into anti-embargo activities in Sremski Karlovci, from 1 till 3 September 1992, where Tisma organised an 'Anti-Embargo Net Congress' where eight Serbian networkers signed the 'Deblockade of Creativity'. The networkers who signed were Nenad Bogdanovic, Aleksandar Jovanovic, Dobrica Kamperelic, Jozef Klacik, Ratko A. Radanovic, Jaroslav Supek, Miroljub Todorovic, and Tisma himself. The discussion was about the effects of the international blockade of Yugoslavia on the Mail-Art network and networkers. A hotel was reserved for foreign guests. Seventy foreign networkers were invited to prove that the Mail-Art network was able to surmount all barriers and break embargos, but nobody came.
On that occasion in Sremski Karlovci, Aleksandar Jovanovic a young cultural activist who became active in the nineties asked Tisma if he could use the term "anti-embargo" for his Cage magazine which he planed to run after the congress. He obtained the right to use it and Jovanovic published five issues of Cage in subsequent years. It was the only periodical publication which opposed the embargo in its contents. The first issue was published in December 1992 with the intention of creating a greater effect abroad, and enlarging the existing group of networkers, who each in their own way fought against the isolation of Yugoslavia. In August 1993 the 'Tate Gallery' (England) and in May a year later the 'Museum of Modern Art' (U.S.A.), informed Jovanovic that the Cage magazine was made part of their collection. This was not only recognition of his work, but also a breaking of the cultural embargo by some cultural institutions in the world. The last issue was published in July 1994. From the beginning it was said that Cage would only appear as long as the embargo was in place. There were plans for a sixth issue, including all the remaining art and textual works done after the fifth one, but due to lack of finances a sixth and final issue was never published. Beside his Cage magazine Jovanovic also produced artistamps, did performances (mostly inside a cage to dramatise the condition of the Serbian artists) and created the conceptual artist book Unblockade Book.
'Cage' was not only the name for the magazine but was also the name of a group of artists who made anti-embargo actions through creative protest both locally and through the Mail-Art network. Those anti-embargo actions, which were on the level of performances, articles, exhibitions and media appearances were documented by the Cage magazine. Beside Jovanovic and Tisma, the anti-embargo group consisted of Dobrica Kamperelic (Belgrade), Miroljub Todorovic (Belgrade), Jaroslav Supek, Nenad Bogdanovic (Odzaci), Ratko Radanovic (Srpski Miletic), Jozef Klacik (Novi Sad), and later Vlado Njaradi (Vrbas), Sandor Gogoljak (Odzaci) and Anica Vucetic (Belgrade) joined the group. All artists made anti-embargo actions in their own interest.
For Tisma carved rubberstamps became a way to spread his ideas, with stamps such as 'Serbia U.N.'s Concentration Camp', and 'Embargo on Tourism (Sorry H.R.F.)'. In total he has made more then twenty anti-embargo rubberstamps. He wrote several anti-embargo statements and texts such as "Networking under Embargo" written in June 1992 for the congresses world wide, and his text "Embargo Art" which could be a manifesto of his anti-embargo art, which was published in Cage number 3 in May 1993. His also expressed his concern for the civil war in his country with his '(spi)rituals' performances which he has been doing since 1984. In an attempt to bring together religious factionalism contributing to the war, he performed a '(spi)ritual' action during the congress in Sremski Karlovci, in front of an Orthodox and Catholic church. He also performed more '(spi)rituals' in following years.
The Mail-artist Kamperelic organised a big multi-media exhibition called 'Interrelationships-Open world/Open Mind' in Belgrade. But more importantly he continued publishing his Open World zine. In a brief introduction on the front cover Kamperelic reports about the worsening political, social and financial conditions in his country. He also mentions inquiries from other networkers about changing conditions in Yugoslavia. From Open World issue 71 on, Kamperelic reported about actions at home ('Make art - not politics'). Part of his actions included performances and an appearance on Belgrade television, where he spoke about an artistic response to the cultural embargo.
The performer Bogdanovic was organiser of one of the first 'Decentralized Networker Congress' in Yugoslavia in Baranja on February 29. This congress was focused on the war in Yugoslavia, and had as participants: Bogdanovic himself, Gogoljak and Jovanovic. Later on during the anti-embargo actions he organised two more networker congresses at his home with as theme 'Make art - not politics'. Being mainly a performance artist he has made several actions, and expressed his concerns for open communication in performances.
In addition, other artists such as Gogoljak began the production of anti-embargo artistamps and made performances. Vlado Njaradi organised in October 1994, an exhibition of his international 'No Embargo For Arts' Mail-Art project at the 'Golden Eye' gallery in Novi Sad. This project started in May 1994 on precisely the second anniversary of the imposing of cultural isolation on Yugoslavia by the entire international community. The deadline for the Mail-Art project was set at "the end of the embargo on, art of Serbia and Montenegro". This project intended to break through the blockade by foreign cultural participation sent to Yugoslavia. Njaradi received works from about fifty artists from fourteen countries in a period of four months, as the embargo was lifted in October. He also created rubberstamps, artistamps, and graphics in support of the anti-embargo actions.
Besideactions in Yugoslavia, Andrej Tisma organised in collaboration with Cage magazine, anti-embargo exhibitions of networkers from the 'Cage' group and himself in several western countries. These exhibitions were breaking the cultural embargo, because artists from Serbia were not allowed to exhibit outside Yugoslavia. The first exhibition was in Vichte (Belgium) organised by Jose Van den Broucke (Belgium) on the national 'Armistice Day' 11 November 1993, under the title 'Serbian Artists from Cage'. After that there was an exhibition in Dallas (U.S.A.) organised by John Held Jr. (U.S.A.), in August of 1994 in his 'Modern Realism' gallery under the title 'Art Above the Embargo'. In January 1995, Shozo Shimamoto (Japan) organised an exhibition at the 'Metropolitan Museum' in Tokyo entitled 'Embargo Art from Serbia Island'. Tisma also had several solo shows in a number of Western countries. For instance, in 1992 in Seoul (South Korea), with the help of Kum Nam Baik (South Korea) he had an exhibition at the 'Sung Kyun Kwan University Gallery'. And another in 1994 at the 'Maon Gallery' in Munich (Germany), with his big anti-embargo posters including his enlarged anti-embargo rubberstamps.
During the embargo period several Mail-artists around the world participated personally with the anti-embargo projects. For example they collaborated with Cage magazine, published protests, exhibited works from Yugoslavian artists, distributed Mail-Art from Yugoslavia, supported morally in letters and publicly in their own countries, made anti-embargo works themselves, . The Mail-artists Held Jr., Peter Küstermann (Germany) and Angela Pähler (Germany) visited Yugoslavia. Held Jr. was present at the 'Fax He-ART' project, which Tisma organised for the occasion. This project focused on the reason that after two years of blockade, artists of Yugoslavia still continued seeking communication, and took place on the 20th October 1994. Tisma invited networkers by mail to send fax messages to the fax machine of 'VLV Gallery' in Novi Sad. One hundred fifty faxes from all over the world came out of the fax machine in front of the audience that day and were hung on the wall. After that a book was printed about the project in 1995. Held Jr. also visited the 1st 'Post Cultural Embargo Networker Congress' at Novi Sad on October 30 1994, to celebrate the lifting of the cultural embargo. Küstermann and Pähler were present at the 'Decentralized Networker Congress' called 'Make Art - Not Politics, part II' organised by Bogdanovic on 21 November 1992.
Other artists from outside Serbia began showing support. Stephen Perkins (U.S.A.) from Iowa City published a booklet called Remove the Blockades to an Open World. Luc Fierens (Belgium) dedicated an issue of his Postfluxpostbooklet to Yugoslavia. Crackerjack Kid (U.S.A.) dedicated an issue of his Netshaker to the Yugoslavian conflict, although many of the Yugoslavian networkers took exception to some of his conclusions. Beside earlier mentioned artists also Hans Ruedi Fricker (Switserland), Ruud Janssen (Holland), Gyorgy Galantai (Hungary), Ruggero Maggi (Italy), Clemente Padin (Uruguay), Teresinka Pereira (USA), Livia Cases (Italy) and many others show their support.
A few years after the embargo was lifted the anti-embargo activities brought mixed feelings among several Yugoslavian networkers. As one Yugoslavian networker wrote: "Take care. All these (political art) terms such as anti-embargo art, art of resistance, I'm sick of it, often much more manipulation than real art-trends, understand." During the embargo all Yugoslavian networkers were as one party against the rest of the world who imposed them under embargo. When this was lifted it did not bring political security but more tension between different political views in Yugoslavian society and also among networkers.
Date last update: 15 November 2004
By Geert De Decker /a.k.a. Sztuka Fabryka
Mail-Art Encyclopaedia, 2004