ATC Revisited: Irena Haiduk

11 Apr, 2018

ATC Revisited: Irena Haiduk

Recap by KC Forcier, the 2017-2018 Graduate Liaison for the Art, Technology, and Culture Colloquium.

“Yugoexport is the Name of this Corporation” - Irena Haiduk on Western Capitalism

“Irena Haiduk is against biography.” And for this reason she was introduced at the ATC talk she gave last week with a parable she had written, proclaiming the mythic Medusa’s head to be the first camera. Haiduk is allergic not only to biography, but to photography as well. “The image fixes history”, Haiduk argued, in describing why her impressive and daring documenta 14 installation culminated with a pitch dark chamber (in which visitors listened to a conversation between Haiduk and a Serbian revolutionary-turned-consultant). Haiduk prefers us to hear, to feel, to be - in order to perhaps learn, as she says, “how to surround yourself with things in the right way.”

The myth of Medusa sets the stage for the knotty thread of women, weapons and gazes in Haiduk’s oeuvre. Women, their fashion, appearance, and their labor, are important themes in her performances. A central facet of her conceptual work is Yugoexport, a women’s fashion company dating to 1949, which had folded under suspicious circumstances when Haiduk resurrected it in the 2000’s. Yugoexport has a cousin company - Yugoimport, founded in the 1950s and still active as an international arms dealer, which also plays a role in this story. Haiduk invited women formerly employed in Yugoexport’s manufacturing plants to join the new “Yugoexport” for which Haiduk filed articles of incorporation in the United States and in Serbia in 2015. (Yugoexport is a “she,” because if corporations have the rights of people in America, why not gender as well?)

The new Yugoexport creates clothes: the Yugoform, which Haiduk and her collaborating performers wear, consisting of a dress - the Army of Beautiful Women Patterns #2 and #3 - and the Borosana labor shoe, a recreation of an actual Yugoslavian shoe designed for maximal comfort for women working on their feet for nine hours a day. At Monday’s talk Haiduk was accompanied by two performers clad in the Yugoform, each with a book balanced carefully atop her head as she paced the BAMPFA Osher auditorium. The book represents a beautiful and famed translation of Proust’s collected works which was so rare and coveted by the Belgrade intelligentsia during the war in the ‘90s that it became insanely valuable on the black market, and was frequently looted from victim’s homes and appropriated by the police.

This book is perhaps the most pointed instance of how Haiduk’s work makes one deeply aware of knowledge and art as commodities. In Haiduk’s worldview, vision, history, knowledge and art are all subsumed within capitalism. Despite the playful tone, Haiduk’s performances are keenly astute and tinged with bitterness about the dehumanizing effects of Western capitalism and Yugoslavian socialism alike.