Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Fireworks

Guest Blogger:
Irena Knezevic
Artist and Faculty at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Photography Department

This is the third and final post by Irena Knezevic this week.

It was an April Sunday and the technical crew was miking up the stage they had erected the day before. The actors rehearsed on a grass patch in front of the stage all day long. Everyone was out despite the threats. Grandmas, slowly carrying bags of produce, dogs chasing their tails, office workers running to pay their telephone bills at the postoffice. The dead trees resurrected once again by growing conic thorns from the black bark, rolling them out into leaves. At 3 pm, during the first scheduled bombing of the day, Vlaki and I recorded the sounds of NATO bombers flying over us towards the river Sava with a small diaphragm microphone and an old tape recorder. Afterwards, we went home where we tried to reverse the amplitudes, and to cancel out the noises. The Yugoslav Dramatic Theatre was presenting Uncle Vanya on the Nikola Pasic square, open air, during the nightly bombing at 11 pm. For free. They promised a play every night until the end of the sirens. Actor Ljuba Tadic asked us if we could do something about the noise. That afternoon, we recorded our canceling frequencies, patched through the powerful speakers on the square, where Castro, Stalin and Tito spoke before. The evening fell slowly as the smog pushed up. The city was shining, waiting for an explosion that would shame Nikola Tesla’s electrical grid. Vlaki manned the play button (he had fear of heights), while I waited on the top of the building, holding on to the steel frames of neon signs, keeping myself from being blown off the roof by the powerful speakers. The stage looked like a box full of matches someone accidentally smeared with cake, and the army of ants was feasting. I could feel the planes approaching, vibrating the legs of buildings, knifing into people’s ears through all protection. I screamed into the walkie-talkie: “GO!” and Vlasta initiated the transmission. The speakers howled the sky. We played the cancellation frequencies 43 times on an average night. The actors stated that we did not quite cancel the noise of planes, except once during a performance of “The Powder Keg” when the Macedonian hostage starts singing an old song to save his girlfriend’s life. Vlasta and I continued every night until June 11. I stood on the top of the buildings watching the city being remade, like a theater set, the anti-missile fire as the fountain, the crumbling city as the backdrop and the swaying buildings as leaves of grass.

The roofs of Nikola Pasic Square were my first studio, it was on them that I knew what Artaud described as the ultimate defense of art. The citizens of medieval Europe, after sentenced to death by the most virulent plague of the millennia, erupting with buboes, pillaged riches that they would not live to spend. In the extinction all that was left was the birth of pure theatre, the last performance, the knowledge that at the end of the world in every human being, under the buildings propped up by the whites of crushed bones and dark purple grays of rotten flesh, before death—all that was left was art.

Irena Knezevic is a Serbian artist currently living in Chicago. Recent projects and performances have occured at the ThreeWalls, Museum of Contemporary, Art Chicago; White Columns, New York; Harvard University, Cambridge and Galerie im Regierungsviertel, Berlin. Knezevic earned her MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2007.

Image Caption and Credit:
Tracer fire from air defenses light up the sky over Belgrade early on April 30, 1999 (EPA)

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