Impossible Histories is the first critical survey of the extraordinary experiments in the arts that took place in the former Yugoslavia from the country's founding in 1918 to its breakup in 1991. The combination of Austro-Hungarian, French, German, Italian, and Turkish influences gave Yugoslavia's avant-gardes a distinct character unlike those of other Eastern and Central European avant-gardes. Censorship and suppression kept much of the work far from the eyes and ears of the Yugoslav people, while language barriers and the inaccessibility of archives caused it to remain largely unknown to Western scholars. Even at this late stage in the scholarly investigation of the avant-garde, few Westerners have heard of the movements Belgrade surrealism, signalism, Yugo-Dada, and zenitism; the groups Alfa, Exat 51, Gorgona, OHO, and Scipion Nasice Sisters Theater; or the magazines Danas, Red Pilot, Tank, Vecnost, and Zvrk.
The pieces in this collection offer comparative and interpretive accounts of the avant-gardes in the former Yugoslavian countries of Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia. The book is divided into four sections: Art and Politics; Literature; Visual Art and Architecture; and Art in Motion (covering theater, dance, music, film, and video). All of the contributors live in the region and many of them participated in the movements discussed. The book also reprints a selection of the most important manifestos generated by all phases of Yugoslav avant-garde activity.
About the Editors
Dubravka Djuric is a poet and editor.
Misko Suvakovic is Professor of Aesthetics and Theory of Arts at Belgrade University.
"Impossible Histories is a nearly encyclopedic work and a revelation to the outside world of the fruitful impact of experimental modernism on artists and poets in what we now think of as 'the former Yugoslavia.' In this assemblage of essays and photographs by many hands, Dubravka Djuric and Misko Suvakovic bring to light a hidden center of the avant-garde and by so doing help complete the picture of the great experimental project of the just concluded century."
—Jerome Rothenberg, poet, University of California, San Diego
"Impossible Histories is not only the most penetrating history of modern culture in the former Yugoslavia yet to appear; it is a model study of the creativity and complexity of modernism generally. By offering critical perspectives not only on painting and sculpture but also on music, dance, film, theater, architecture, literature, and photography, Impossible Histories reveals the complicity of all the creative and performing arts in first begetting, then exploiting, and finally overcoming avant-garde culture."
—Steven Mansbach, Professor of the History of Modern Art, University of Maryland, author of Modern Art in Eastern Europe: From the Baltic to the Balkans, ca. 1890-1939
"In the endlessly war-torn and conflicted Yugoslav cultures of the twentieth century, the avant-garde was not just a museum luxury; it was always relentlessly political, activist, and truly transformative. This fascinating and meticulously assembled collection of essays by leading artists and scholars traces the daring and imaginative cultural production of Yugoslavia from the fall of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in 1918 to the fall of Yugoslavia itself in 1991. As such, this major publication opens our eyes to a whole new dimension of avant-garde practice. Impossible Histories will be read and discussed for years to come."
—Marjorie Perloff, Sadie D. Patek Professor Emerita of Humanities, Stanford University, author of The Futurist Moment and Radical Artifice
"This volume is an essential guide to previously uncharted territories. Until the publication of Impossible Histories, hardly anyone outside of former Yugoslavia could have grasped the region's extraordinarily complex contribution to avant-garde and neo-avant-garde art, architecture, music, dance, and performance—all of which are recorded here for the first time in detailed historical accounts, precise documentation, and pertinent critical commentary."
—Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Professor of Twentieth-Century Art History at Barnard College, Columbia University
"To participate in the international avant-garde movements was for many intellectuals and artists of Eastern Europe the only way to keep independence and critical distance from the violent ethnic, religious and ideological conflicts that dominated this region during the twentieth century. By documenting the political relevance and tragic fate of the artistic avant-gardes on the territories of former Yugoslavia, Impossible Histories reveals the inner dynamics and true spirit of the avant-garde—as distinct from its later commodification by the Western culture industry."
—Boris Groys, Professor of Philosophy and Media Theory, Center for Arts and Media Technology, Karlsruhe, and author of The Total Art of Stalinism: Russian Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and Beyond