“There proceeds steadily from that place a stream of events which are a source of danger to me,” wrote the Anglo-Irish writer, Rebecca West in 1937. “That place” was Yugoslavia, the country in which I was born. Realizing that to know nothing of an area “which threatened her safety” was “a calamity”, she embarked on a journey through Yugoslavia. The result was Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. Initially intended as “a snap book” it spiraled into half a million words, a portrait not just of Yugoslavia, but also of Europe on the brink of the Second World War, and widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of the 20th century.
At Easter 2011, I started retracing Westʼs journey and re-interpreting her masterpiece by using photography and text, in attempt to re-live my experience of Yugoslavia and to re-examine the conflicting emotions and memories of the country that was.
“Where do you come from?
Is there any such country?
No, but that’s still where I come from.”
"I have learned now that it might follow, because an empire passed, that a world full of strong men and women and rich food and heady wine might nevertheless seem like a shadow-show." (Rebecca West)
Zagreb, Croatia. Easter Eve. Walking around the abandoned city like a stranger. Everything is so familiar but very distant. It feels like I have been given a new pair of eyes to see that things are not as one remembers.
“Where I to go down into the market-place, armed with the powers of witchcraft, and take a peasant by the shoulders and whisper to him, “In your lifetime, have you known peace?” wait for him to answer, shake his shoulders and transform him into his father, and ask him the same question, and transform him in his turn to his father, I would never hear the word ‘Yes,” If I carried my questioning of the dead back for a thousand years. I would always hear, “No, there was fear, there were our enemies without, our rulers within, there was prison, there was torture, there was violent death.” (Rebecca West)
@ 15.34 hours. Stari Grad, Croatia. In a small village along the coast, a 10-year-old boy is killed by a passing car. Waiting for someone to take him away.
@ 18.38 hours, we’re still waiting. Family howling in a house by the road. And the father ... If pain had a sound. I did not know at first if they were people or wolves. The older onlookers wince; they know that sound well. It comes with the territory, it seems. Younger people laugh nervously... They will not remember the inappropriateness of their behaviour, when their time comes to experience pain like that. There's a dandelion by the road. I take a picture. Don't know what else to do. More screams. The old man standing in front of me bends over and picks up the flower. Gently, he blows.
“Blood flows, and life goes on.”
@ 11.19 hours. Mostar - Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Left Mostar 19 minutes ago. Felt claustrophobic there. River Neretva on my left. Unreal green.
@ 11.33 hours. Still so many burnt houses. Fuck. The driver is a maniac. It's like being on some mad rally through the mountains. So green and so many burnt houses, but it still makes me smile... Just the idea of Bosnia.
Bridges hanging broken over a great green canyon. Your side. My side. Your side. My side.
@ 12.23 hours. A man and a woman digging. Their faces like dry leather. People selling dark honey by the roadside. A young man mowing a small patch of grass. Dogs on chains. Snow still on mountain peaks, like it was in 1937. A huge man, a salesman in the local grocery shop, riding a bike intended for a 6-year-old girl.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The corner where Franz Ferdinand met his end.
Belgrade Zoo. Serbia. The memories of my mother throwing an ice cream into the bear enclosure in 1990. The poor animals fighting over it. My role model.
“… one of the children in the crowd lost grip of its balloon, and we all saw it rise slowly, as if debating the advantages of freedom, over the wide trench of the cleared street. Then we all laughed, and laughed louder, when as usually happened, since the wind was short of breath, the balloon wobbled and fell on the heads of the crowd on the other side of the road, and was fetched back by its baby owner.” (Rebecca West)
“... in wonder at the unique architectural horror which defiled that spot.” (Rebecca West)
Skopje, Macedonia. The whole country is wi-fi central. Completely covered. I've taken up smoking here. It's difficult not to.
Main square littered with ridiculous ‘wizardof Oz’-like sculptures. Disney art vs. infrastructure. It’s very clear which has taken precedence. A nation in crisis. Flags everywhere. ‘We are Macedonians, whatever that means.’
Skopje, Macedonia. Strolling through neighborhoods that smell of chewing gum and underage sex.
“It was a flat-topped rock, uneven in shape, rising to something like six feet above the ground, and it was red-brown and gleaming, for it was entirely covered with the blood of the beasts that had been sacrificed on it during the night.” (Rebecca West)
Govedarov Kamen, Macedonia.
“I knew this rock well. I had lived under the shadows of it all my life. All our Western thought is founded on this repulsive pretence that pain is the proper price of any good thing.” (Rebecca West)
Govedarov kamen, Macedonia. It took a long time to find the fertility stone. Through the orchards and vineyards. And there it was. I mounted the rock, amazed to see blood in its crevasse. Last years’ sacrificial blood, with cigarette butts thrown in for good measure. I squatted over its bloody hole and watched the fertile landscape in the distance.
I remember thinking it all must be some sort of a joke.
I remember being excited and scared at the same time.
I remember how I put all my LP’s into the hallway so they wouldn't get damaged by the crossfire.
I remember that my father and my brother were out that afternoon.
I remember bullets spraying the front door of our building.
I remember hearing what sounded like someone trying to get in.
I remember my mother thinking ‘it's them’ and running towards the door.
I remember grabbing onto her until all my nails broke.
I remember meeting my neighbours for the first time in the basement of our building.
I remember thinking 'pity I met them only now when we are all about to die'.
I remember the building burning above us.
I remember being sad about all those books my parents brought through the syndicate and never read... only consumed by me and the fire.
I remember being pissed off that I would die a virgin.
I remember when they came to pull us out.
I remember how I learned to zigzag run in order to escape sniper's bullets.
I remember taking shelter in the local supermarket.
I remember falling asleep on bags of washing powder, next to a boy I had a secret crush on (he was our local basketball star).
I remember him waking me up at 3 am and whispering: "What can I get you, Madam?”
I remember asking for ice cream and champagne.
I remember captured Yugoslav army soldiers sitting scared shitless opposite from us.
I remember Croatian soldiers handing them box of sweets.
I remember walking into our burned down apartment the following morning.
I remember feeling relief that all the mess was gone and I would not need to clean up my room.
I remember that everything melted except for a big orange gas bottle, laying in red
crackling 'coals', waiting to go off like some post-apocalyptic witches cauldron.
I remember the soles of my red converse shoes melting.
I remember walking out.
Yugoslavia fell apart in 1991. With the disappearance of the country, at least one million five hundred thousand Yugoslavs vanished, like the citizens of Atlantis, into the realm of imaginary places and people. Today, in the countries that came into being after Yugoslavia's disintegration, there is a total denial of the Yugoslav identity.
"It is a haunted, as well as haunting book; the fallout of the past buried, rather than faced." (Sean O'Hagan for The Guardian)
Dragana Jurisic's YU: The Lost Country guides the viewer through a pilgrimage, unfolding before them a myriad of lives and emotions onto the map of where Yugoslavia once lay. Through-out the series of photographs documenting new life and the remnants of past atrocities in the former conglomerate, Jurisic rhythmically inserts with almost Wes Anderson-like technicolour shots of her travel reading, where sprawling diary notes live in the margins telling of the encounters which shook, infuriated and moved her. Often filled with anger, these contrast against the awsome range of emotions captured in her photography, where domesticity, townsfolk, dereliction and grandeur sit side by side. The quest for her past runs throughout, borne from the jarring assertion that "Yugoslavia', "Is there any such country?", "No but that's where I'm from." (Jack Gibson for LeCool, September 2014)
. . .
Between the silences which seem to envelope the older generation and the ennui of the young, Jurisic's YU is the landscape of still and mournful places, in which the weight of the past forces itself upon everything. Rebecca West valiantly fought to believe in the future of Yugoslavia. Dragana Jurisic traces the effects and aftershocks of its disintegration in the subtlety of her colours, her capacity for intimacy and the intelligence and empathy with which she sees what was once Yugoslavia. Jurisic's YU is still a place which, in West's words, can induce a 'bad, headachy dream'. (Colin Graham for SOURCE Photographic Review, July 2013)
. . .
The idea of art based on other bits of art in not a new one and a lot of current work seems to relate to pre-existing works by other people. But this is different. The show has an emotional charge that is antithesis of academicism. The exhibition uses the language of contemporary art to achieve something that is rare in a lot of contemporary art: it is emotional, frank, autobiographical and honest. (Andy Parson for Visual Artist Ireland News-sheet, January 2014)
. . .
Go and see how Dragana's and Rebecca West's narratives intersperse and overlap like a symphony. (Deirdre Mulorooney for VULGO, September 2014)
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Jurisic's work utilises style and form that resonates truthfully, yet transcends photo-journalism by creatining subjective metaphors too profound to be considered objective [...] This works brilliantly for Jurisic; her feelings about the disconnection from the land seem justified, marely by being photographed. Some of her works hold such movingly profound metaphors, her genius is in the relationship of what was discovered 'as it were' and the artists construction of what lies in front of the camera. (Sandy O'Dune for TRI-HARD, November, 2014)
. . .
The result of this ambitious journey is the wonderful exhibition YU: The Lost Country, a visual journey into the past and present punctuated by West's prose and Jurisic's own words. The attempt to answer the universal question about identity in a very personal way. And since Jurisic herself follows Roland Barthes' assertion that "photography is more akin to magic than to art", it is no surprise that many of the photos have an otherworldly feel to them and leaves the viewer wondering about their own memories and identity. (Jensine-Bethna Wall for Irish News Review, September, 2014)