A Uniform for Change

BELGRADE—On the eve of a new year, many resolutions are made and the year ahead is a blank canvas of hopes, ideas and plans. Some people plan to go on diets while others make the goal to travel more or look for a new job. Serbian-born performance artist Marta Jovanovic has one of the more intriguing 2016 New Year’s resolutions that I have come across—starting on January 1, the Rome and New York-based artist will be wearing a uniform for two consecutive years on daily basis during “ working hours” and on all work related occasions for the next two years. “Two years is a symbolic period for an artistic creative process, the time frame that international art biennials are also based on,” she wrote me in a recent email. “Joining me, some hundred other artists, curators, art dealers and collectors, museum directors, auction house specialists, and other art world devotees have agreed to wear ‘The Uniform’ for their own specified duration.” She added that if she is able to raise the funds for that part, it could become an amazing international project, “something like an art world team.” The whole process will be documented through social media (the instagram account is @uniform_martajovanovic) and when the project is finished, Marta plans to have those images and videos be part of an exhibition and book.

Marta first told me about this plan almost a year ago, when we met for lunch in Belgrade. I was interviewing her for a piece about G12 Hub, an art gallery in the Serbian capital that has a strong performance focus (as well as new media). The lunch was supposed to be about an hour but two hours later, we finally finished chatting about all sorts of subjects. We met up again New York a few months later when she was doing her performance piece “Pillow Talk,” which was part of Bosi Gallery’s “Come to Bed.” We sat on her bed, in the gallery, and chatted about ‘The Uniform’ project along with loads of other topics. Marta and I have had a year of conversations on everything from her work with G12 Hub doing performance workshops, to ‘The Uniform’ and art in general. Excerpts:

Tell me about working with G12 Hub.
There is a legacy of performance art here in Belgrade and I feel it is my duty as a performance artist to create –this is what we want to do with Hub to create this collaboration and make workshops for performance art—to also give an opportunity.
Milica Pekic [G12 Hub’s director] and I have known each other from 2006, almost 10 years now. She was working at another gallery and I was painting at the time and invited her to the studio. She came and said maybe we can do something together, even though she was working for a multimedia gallery. With Milica, from the very first moment it was very, very easy. Then I see also, Milica is very strict and having this good relationship, I have this feeling we surf on the same wave. She started Hub and I remember coming it was then just an empty space and we were incredibly excited about it and she told me, it is going to be a platform for the non-represented arts. And I thought that was an incredibly courageous thing to do in Belgrade, Serbia.

Belgrade has this great history of performance art, right?
Belgrade has this legacy of performance art, non-material arts and we talked about how Belgrade does not have an art market and it does not belong to the art world. It is nowhere near but that is the power of it, which is what gives it freedom. Because you do not make the work to sell it, you make the work to express yourself. And that is what Milica gives her artists.

Tell me about the performance workshops, which started in the middle of 2015 and will continue into 2016 as well.
Hopefully we will be able to expand to do a performance workshop every few months, maybe five or six times a year. Hopefully we will even expand to the region. New York Has “Performa,” Venice has a performance art festival, Belgrade with its legacy and history and the artists who have come from here and made their first performances in Belgrade, so why wouldn’t Belgrade be an international map when it comes to performance? That is exactly our aim; I would like people to come on purpose to visit Belgrade, to see young performers. I want to bring international performance artists, curators, critics, also to educate everyone. From children to young people to young artists to the artist who already have careers. The fact that I am 36 years old, I have a monograph, and I have worked all over the world does not mean that I want to stop learning.

Tell me about “The Uniform” Project—why now?
The Uniform/ Uniforma –I love the way it sounds in Serbian! In relation to recent events and in history—from a long problem of military invasions and exodus of refugees, to terrorist attacks just in recent days in Beirut, Baghdad and Paris— it is the time, more than ever for me to start wearing ‘The Uniform.’

What’s the background of the project and how will it work?
‘The Uniform’ project consists of a two year performative action of wearing a custom-made uniform/artist suit. Artists in the past have made attempts to create a uniform for themselves and their audience. One such example is Ernesto Michahelles’ “TuTa.” The artist—known as Thayaht— referred to his well noted work as, “the most innovative, futuristic garment ever produced in the history of Italian fashion.” In 1920 he published the pattern for the uniform in La Nazione magazine so that the TuTa was accessible to all. In my case, “The Uniform” is an antidote to militantism as, I believe, it should only be working clothes, therefore military force that is a killing machine, should be transformed as such and turned into a work force. Artist is a worker, so in that relation I propose that I myself and a group of people that will wear it as an example. “The Uniform” project was been nominated for the Frieze Artist Award 2014. I will start wearing “The Uniform” on January 1, 2016, turning into a lifestyle and a plea for peace.