War Issues in the Art of Andrej Tišma: the World Between the Philosophy of War and the Philosophy of Peace


By Valentina Cizmar

Andrej Tišma is regarded as the forebearer of new art in the region, who has turned away from painting towards modern digital techniques, also to photography, video and mail-art, art stamps. This is why his art is structurally stratified through different forms, such as web-art, mail-art, video-art, sound works, visual poetry, electrographics, art stamps and performance art or (spi)rituals (see link: http://www.atisma.com/ ). In his artistic expression, he uses electronic and internet sources, various documentary and archive materials and joins together several means of expression - image, sound, video and words - showing how the fragments of the existing reality live through art. In a certain sense, Tišma's art can partly be named the art of the documentary because it resembles documentary films, which are directed towards a sphere of implied problems; from the laws of economy to cultural and existential uncertainties.

Tišma's art makes inroads into reality as it is, and does not want to make it more attractive or to hide it. It even examines phenomena which the world of information media does not wish to show and expose truthfully. In this sense, art for Tišma is not a way to change the world directly, but before all a way to awaken the awareness of the audience. At the same time, his art is an expression of a moral judgement of the world social reality from the viewpoint of humanism, starting from which the author warns us of a general erosion of values powered by the globalist systems, but also anti-peace intentions of certain states. He also cannot help seeing aggression everywhere: the aggression of advertisments, aggression in people's behaviour and the most direct form of aggression in the wars: World War II, the war in Iraq, the bombardment of Serbia. The pervasive dissipation of values in the contemporary world is seen as a process happening not in relation to the artist's own nation, but also in a broader sense, in relation to culture, civilization and humankind in its movement, influenced by the negative effects of globalization and unification of the world. Tišma goes beyond the contemporary world events and studies the development of mankind throughout history, shedding light on the crucial breaking points and changes as critical points in the historical development of humankind.

On the subject of war and peace, to revert to Tolstoy, or in a Heraclean view of the opposites, Tišma, in his position of an active artist, gives answers in an indirect but often a direct way, argues and condemns various aspects of reality. However, it comes with a price, because after his condemnation of the bombardment of Serbia in 1999, his video and audio works depicting the scenes of destroyed bridges, buildings and human victims in Serbia were taken off American internet servers.

The artistic experience of the Novi Sadian artist Tišma is special just because of the topics he deals with, as there are few artists in Serbia who are fully engaged in studying the issues of war (not counting the other areas of artistic expression such as literature and film). According to the art historian Nina Mihaljinac, besides Andrej Tišma, Mirjana ?or?evi? and Mr?an Baji? dealt with the problem of NATO bombardment in a specific way within modern art. She points out that, in the domain of visual arts, it was these artists who contributed to the intepretation of that event and thus became direct participants in the preservation of the collective memory and the collective identity. Tišma himself deepens that experience through his art, searching for the sources of war as a phenomenon. In this way, his art also exudes a moral testimonial, as noted by Mihaljinac, because the "subject of the banality of the evil, emphasized in his works, poses a great cognitive challenge for a viewer, before it invites him to pass a moral judgement". (Nina Mihaljinac, Artistic Testimony, "Patriots" and "Quislings": Narratives of NATO Bombing of Serbia, p. 11).

The experience of the war phenomenon in Tišma's works appears in a number of series - be it through criticism, irony, direct denunciation or in scenarios which expose the consequences of this phenomenon in the contemporary world. One can say that he "documents" the history of wars and their dialectic movements in a visual way, and, starting from them, proceeds to show a certain creation of history as it is actually being enacted today, because wars are often followed by a new era in world history, as Goethe's astute genius noted. Out of the (spi)rituals or art performances, which Tišma made during the wars in former Yugoslavia with an aim to invoke peace through spiritual activity (calming down aggression, hate and destruction), he created graphics dedicated to the above mentioned activities. One of the performances in 1992 which he presented as a graphic (in his work: Invocation of Peace), refers to his meditation dedicated to peace in former Yugoslavia, done in front of one of the oldest Serbian monasteries - Studenica, while in another performance, in 1993, he spent an hour closed in a cage in a Belgrade street, marking the first anniversary of the embargo imposed against Serbia and Montenegro. He also made performances at Prijepolje and in Milan, which were inspired by his desire to expand peace to Bosnia and Croatia, always aimed at halting the wars. This form of immaterial art named spi(ritual) - the name was forged by Tišma himself in 1990 - is a form of ritual, the goal of which is spiritual exchange and raising peace-loving aspirations among people.

Tišma's art queries various forms of militarism and - behind rosy pictures made by advertizing agencies and world peace mottos and other slogans, in "humanitarian" intentions of the world powers - discovers a black hole of human suffering in historical cycles. This is why in his works we encounter cruelty which is sometimes difficult to follow. But this cruelty is no less an area of human reality than the set-up of human society or the world order.

Andrej Tišma exposes multilayered dimensions of the destructive nature of war - economic, psychological (with the deep traces war leaves on human consciousness), health, ecological. His series ironically titled "Civilized beheading" actually lays bare the fact that what happens in contemporary reality in Kosovo and Metohija is the beheading/dislocation/destruction/minorization of a nation, in a civilized and perfiduous way. Moreover, the Serbian part of the population is compared with American Indians, who were put away, as a species, to live in reservations, and a warning is sounded as to what possible scenarios are looming over a small nation, in an era of frictions between globalistic interest of the powers.

The destructive nature of mankind is exhibited to the maximum in the logic of a forceful annihilation of life, from material devastation and prevention of development of certain countries or taking people's lives, as Tišma showed in his works devoted to the war in Iraq, his criticism of German Nazi interventions in different parts of the world during World War II and their anti-semitism, to NATO bombardment of Serbia (see: video works Ode to Barbarism, Loss of Inocence) and the criticism of American "patriotism" and in other works. In his works, he exhibits the destructive power of war through various techniques (see his video work: Get Those Bastards) and methods of warfare (punishment, torture, harrassment) in different historical periods, including the cold war, and uncovers messages with ideological roots of wars, i.e. points to the political, religious and economic background of wars.

Tišma throws light on all kinds of war phenomena and their forms, among them on the information and media wars in the era of the developed information technologies all over the world. He himself uses media collages and information in order to bring closer the essence of a possible "media manipulation", to show the way certain events are presented and to point to the other side of the media which unmask the real state of the affairs (see his work: Advertising Mental Survival). In this way, he endeavors to bring the recipient's consciousness close to the truth itself.

Tišma realized the unethical nature of war through the economic intentions of the USA which powerfully rocks the rest of the world (as the Roman Empire once did) - either through their search for raw materials, by creating consummer societies, purposeful empoverishment of certain countries or by spreading militaristic zeal for invasion, led by the logic of "divide and conquer". This also confirms a Marxist thesis that "war is an extension of politics", where the growth of profit and capital, acquisition of raw material sources and other causes are actually the prime movers in the breaking out of wars. Carl von Clausewitz in his work On War wrote: "War is merely the continuation of (state) policy by other means.", as an act of violence by which the enemy is subjugated to one's will. This attitude should be opposed by all politics, because the essential mission of politics is to bring about peace in the country, on the one hand, and peace among all nations on the planet, on the other. However, if we look upon its present role from the angle of the game theory as one of the most comprehensive anthropological political analyses (developed by F.G. Bailey in his work Treasons, Stratagems, and Spoil, politics looks like a competition game with accepted rules of the game (normative and pragmatic), joined by a conflict with the rules of the game of another rival, who wants to win and obtain the right to rule, making the direct use of power easier.

In his works, Tišma openly criticizes the utilitarian aspect of American politics, depicting it through various forms of terroristic use of power over other parts of the world, emphasizing also its efforts aimed at bringing down the identities and cultures of certain countries. The aftereffects of the non-humanist side of politics were realistically shown in Tišma's scenes of suffering, tortures, deaths as well as in scenes of already dead innocent victims (see video work: Herzlich Totenkopf Kantate). In his works, one can hear human screams, sound of detonations, one can see man's reconciliation with death and the affliction of war, but in some works there is even a glimpse of hope for life and, on the other hand, a spiteful superiority of those who control the execution of crimes. In his video work History of War, through the pictures of camps, war and explosions of bombs thrown on Hiroshima, he portrays attrocities committed on the victims, he inserts sounds of hot line conversations carried on by some German girls, suggesting a similarity of wars to a form of prostitution or immoral trade.

Tišma also draws analogies and parallels between certain events in history pointing to the principle of feedback effect, which is well supported by his work in which pictures of the events of September 11, 2001 when the USA, more precisely New York, suffered the feedback effect of their own politics, through the attack by Al-Qaeda (see video work: Fire Alarm).

In one of the aspects of his web art we encounter photographs which illustrate similar events in different time periods, in different parts of the world, such as the photos of the bridges in Novi Sad destroyed in 1999 and almost identical photos of the destroyed bridge in Minneappolis in 2007, the reason why the artist calls these two cities "twin" cities.

Under the everyday seemingly trivial events in social reality, Tišma also creates a new picture, disclosing a hidden message of ostensible humanism, indicating the ways used to degrade man's dignity, to divest him of spirituality, to destroy him and even to break up the harmony of the processes in nature, which are indispensable for man's health and survival as a species. As an artist, he bears witness to the contemporary reality, but also to past times, thus contributing to a general social activism. Even though he often bears witness to the world as shown on TV and in other means of information, he perceives it as his own reality into which he has been thrown (see video work: In my room) and which does not leave him detached.

As a pacifist, Tišma counterposes the philosophy of war to the philosophy of peace, understanding peace as something more than an absence of war. Peace, among other things, is for him a spiritual category the power of which he tried to express in one of his performances, namely in his art (spi)ritual called Tower of Angels. The tower is shown not as a real structure of brick and mortar, but rather as a structure of spirit designed to accept and unify all good beings who strive for peace, well-being, harmony, love and the victory of good over evil, which would make it a bastion against everything that ravages the integrity of a state, stability and freedom, i.e. stands as a symbol of peace which will transform war, any form of aggression and intolerance into a desired state of peace.

What Andrej Tišma testifies to in his works may become clearer from the work of the linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky "What Uncle Sam Really Wants", which in a fierce criticism describes American military interventions in the third world countries, especially directed at Latin American countries, but these analyses of the background of the interventions may be applied to all the other countries tackled by the US foreign policy. Thus in an interview included in his book "9 -11" Chomsky noted that America often failed to use the term "war" and goes to such extremes as to talk about a "humanitarian intervention" in Kosovo, for example, in order to remove the obviousness of those intentions as far as possible from any association with terrorism, arguing that such interventions were "forms of coercive diplomacy". Essentially, Tišma is well aware of what Chomsky pointed out many times, as well as in his interview "The Ideological Campaign" referring to the American government, which endeavors to impose on the world its plans such as: "the militarization of space; undermining social democratic programs; also undermining concerns over the harsh effects of corporate "globalization," or environmental issues, or health insurance, (...); "instituting measures that will intensify the transfer of wealth to the very few" (Noam Chomsky, 9 -11, 2001, p. 10)

Fully aware of the diverse aspects of war issues, Andrej Tišma enables each recipient and consummer of his art to directly feel and experience this thread of tragedy and human destiny. In consonance with the aspects he illuminates in his visual art, related to the "documentation" of war issues, this artist can be called "the Serbian Chomsky", who reveals artistic intentions towards an all-encompassing philosophy of peace in the whole world. In his art criticism directed against homogenization and forceful acts committed by the great powers, while driven by a concern over the consequences of the inhumane forms of foreign policies in his home region, Tišma occupies a notable place in dealing with war issues within the contemporary art in Serbia.


"Dometi" No. 160-161, Sombor, 2015.


Translated by: Gordana Perc


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