Jovan  Balov

The Foreigner’s Gaze


Nebojsa Vilic  



The project of Jovan Balov - Berlin, May 9th, 2001, documents the one-day event on the streets of Berlin that is penetrating in a multilayered way the actuality and conditions of the ever more impending neo-Nazism in Germany. Of course, there is a particular feature to this project as the gaze cast upon this one and same event is the gaze of a non-German, a foreigner, an alien which is connecting this ominous phenomenon to an art event. 

To be more to the point, Balov is linking an exhibition of the German artist Neo Rauch which is set-up in Berlin gallery Solomon Guggenheim, with the advertising campaign of the weekly magazine Der Spiegel, which in its own part consists of the recent issue's cover page sporting the photograph of Adolph Hitler with a caption „Hitlers langer Schatten“ ["Hitler's long shadow"]. Namely, the provocativeness of painterly and iconographic solutions as offered by Neo Rauch (from whose name Balov is recovering a pseudonym that refers to the „Neue Reich“ ["The New Empire"], which is also in accordance with this artist's ideological attachment to neo-Nazism), makes the situation more involved simply because these works are displayed in one of the highly verifying and most influential institutions in the art world of Berlin. 

The oddity of a one-day advertising campaign of the weekly magazine (which is, otherwise, not a practice with this publisher), as well as its suspiciously convenient timing with the exhibition timetable, and on top of it, the coincidence of both advertising campaigns in a same neighborhood - all this provokes additional doubts about the reasons behind the occurrence of these two advertising and promotional campaigns mostly in the areas of Berlin which are dwelt by foreigners.

Using a photographic documentation of this, not so unpremeditated one-day happenstance (by the by, the author was unaware that the campaign of the weekly magazine will be that brief), raises the question of different yardsticks that the Western world applies in assessing similar situations, according to their provenience from other parts of this same world ... 

In regard to the previous statement, the project actually opens a series of controversies. The events in Macedonia and in the region have been provoking for several years, and especially lately, an unexpected phenomenon. In spite of the declared pro-European political orientations, it seems that the anti-Western European disposition is gaining ground. Bipolarity of this phenomenon - as determined by both the political and the one what's been lived through - is asserting positively or upon a wider basis, the gravity of the situation the subject from this region is undergoing or facing - yet this time not on theoretical but, above all, on an existential level. It required confronting this subject to its position to such a degree or to such an excess so that the subject itself will succeed in dispersing the illusion which has been feeding its expectations for several years. Confronting the dead-end - this subject recognizes its own subalternity and feels the need to express its own dissent.          

 Precisely in such a moment the project of Balov is emerging as a pointer towards the other side of this same story. Namely, his experience as a Macedonian who's been living for years in Western Europe, finds its interest in the verity of that world facing problems which are seriously threatening (once again) the politically declared freedom and rights. The stress of this project is less about criticizing these societies and more about drawing the attention to the ambivalence that these societies have within themselves (or for themselves) and out of themselves (or towards the others). In case this event, as recorded and documented by Balov, is but one of many anti-Nazi advertising campaigns and propagandisms (heretofore present in the German space and times), than, in view of the already established qualifications of Nazism in the global public opinion, it is sensible to expect no further friction to develop about it. Yet again, the ambiguous character of conceivable interpretations (as well as the current dispute about the neo-Nazism which is divided pro et contra, or Heider's electoral victory in Austria, etc.) is deliberately left unresolved, thus preventing to take a side. This is what Balov sees as a double meaning in reading the name of the artist - Neo Rauch; or when reading the caption from the cover page with the shadow equivocally interpreted as "pitifully", "bad luggage", "anguishing legacy", or as "under Hitler's guardianship"; or, ultimately when he interrogates the reasons for profusive publicity in blocks and areas of Berlin that are inhabited dominantly by foreigners. It is obvious that it has nothing to do with an aspect of freedom and rights of free speech and expression - which is among the greatest achievements of the democracy. 

A more attentive look-in into the photographs of Balov reveals a series of situations wherein the passers by caught near the posters are providing some additional associations - either in an entirely spontaneous way or because these were created by the choice of the photographer's viewpoint. Motives such as: two boys with a dog, mothers with children, tram-car, one way traffic signpost and the advertisement, etc., are in reality interpreted as an openly declared (by wearing symbols) couple of neo-Nazis while crossing the street and leading on a leash a German shepherd; the mothers are a black woman and a Turkish woman; the traffic sign directs - you only go ahead, etc. In other words, each photograph shows one possible aspect at a time of this (presumed and expected) situation - criticism or affirmation (?) ... 

The gaze of Balov as a non-German is the gaze of the subaltern who's sending a message to those that are determining the subaltern as such. This message aims to point at their incongruity, even more so, to demonstrate that the subaltern is conscious about its own position, and that it is also not acceding with it.