GRZINIC/SMID - A Selection of Video Works
von Joanne Nucho in Reverse Shot , aug. 2005
This compilation of experimental videos by Marina Grzinic and Aina Smid are works deeply rooted in the recent events of the former Yugoslavia: as Grzinic notes in the introduction to the DVD, “Historical content is crucial, is the most important.” The celebration of playfulness for it’s own sake prevalent in so much of the American video art world is noticeably absent from these pieces. Everything is subverted to the experience of the body and mind in post-communist Slavic Europe. History is too important, too wholly overwhelming to ignore in a region where the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the beginning of fresh anarchy and bloodshed. There is less ambiguity here, more of a consensus in preoccupation with the representation of historical events, and not just the desire to take part in them, but to change them, to exert the body and the will on a chaotic world.

The videos themselves combine archival footage of events in Kosovo and elsewhere in ex-Yugoslav territory with dancers and stark landscapes. These works are somewhat unsophisticated—they’re not standard resfest entries with complex flash animations and After Effects treatments. They have a primitive look—portions of the screen are messily keyed out, with fades and dissolves about the only other video trick employed here. Granted, some of these pieces are from the early Nineties, but even taking this into account, the visual language here seems deliberately visceral, tampered with but not seamless.

Grzinic and Smid’s works are like a direct collision with a heavily mediated world, one in which the immediacy of events is abstracted and transmitted back to us in such a way as to define our relationship to it. This relationship, of course, is a hierarchical one in which we, the spectators, merely consume this information and are powerless otherwise. In Video Installation Art: The Body, the Image and the Space-in-Between, Margaret Morse wrote: “…each installation is an experiment in the redesign of the apparatus that represents our culture to itself: a new disposition of machines that project the imagination onto the world and that store, recirculate, and display images; and a fresh orientation of the body in space and a reformulation of visual and kinesthetic experience.”

The works of Grzinic/ Smid are a study in this process, recreating an imaginary place where the body collides with the mediated depictions of the recent upheavals in ex-Yugoslav territories. In “Bilokacija” (1990) (which translates as “Doppelganger”), clips from a TV Slovenia documentary about Kosovo—never publicly shown—are juxtaposed with images of women in dresses and Centurion helmets goose-stepping in tandem. Parts of the women’s bodies—their hands, their eyes, their arms—are windows through which we observe the images of Kosovo. Over the choreography of the marching women, we see passages taken from Roland Barthes’ book Fragments of a Lover’s Discourse: “The Past can only be transmitted in the form of ruins, monuments, bric-a-bric in retro…” The video is an attempt to transcend this trap, to act on history rather than live in a perpetual state of post-history… in a living ruin.

Later on, this idea of Eastern Europe as a living ruin, the abject twin of Western Europe is explored in “On the Flies of the Market Place” (1999). An Olympic swimmer with gold medals waves at an imagined audience, a boxer punches the air, a women in a cocktail dress totes a machine gun; all exist in the space of a drained pool in what looks like a ruined Soviet-era gymnasium. These are the ghosts of the black and white photographs of old Eastern Europe that they are juxtaposed with: an Olympian, a boxer, a woman in a posh dress with a machine gun, holding her two children by their hands. Their counterpoints are the ruined images of Eastern Europe, the logical conclusions to the open-ended stories of these photographs, our only link to the past now. Text intercuts the images:

“The left, the male side: dynamical failure and the Western European scum of society matrix”

“The Right, female side: mathematical failure and the Eastern European monster’s matrix.”

In Eastern Europe the memories of the atrocities of the Twentieth century are still alive; it’s the place of the rejected history, divided from the West and designated to quarantine the failures of Europe. Grzinic writes: “Eastern Europe is a piece of excrement and the bloody symptom of the political, cultural and epistemological failures of the Twentieth century.”

Though these works refer to the specificity of the Balkan experience, their overall project is one very much aligned with the desire of video artists everywhere: to create unrealized possibilities out of the images we are surrounded by. These videos are a utopian desire to create new kind of a world, while at the same time remembering how this technology that allows this dream can be destructive and alienating.
--Joanne Nucho
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