Interview with Vesna Latinović, Artistic Director of the festival DANUBE DIALOGUES 2014

Some days ago we received an email from Vesna Latinović, Artistic Director of the Danube Dialogues 2014 festival, which took place in Novi Sad, Serbia. „Very busy because there is still much work... so many people are coming to the museum, people from Belgrade, art students and their teachers ... all this exceeded our expectations ...It’s exciting!“ Despite this, the charming lady took time to answer some of our questions.

Regina Hellwig-Schmid and Vesna Latinovic. photo: Alexandra Karabelas.

The donumenta is a guest at the DANUBE DIALOGUES. Which hopes do the DANUBE DIALOGUES share with the donumenta?

Essentially donumenta and Danube dialogues share the vision and objective to promote and develop a platform for exchange and a close cooperation of artists, curators, museums and galleries across the Danube region – culturally rich, diverse and powerful European region.


The DANUBE DIALOGUES aims to initiate "European dialogues". How do the political and economic institutions/constituencies in Novi Sad and Serbia support this festival?

The festival is supported by the City and the Provincial Government. The Ministry of Culture of Serbia is not yet involved but I hope it will be different next time. There are some valuable sponsors like Erste Bank and Kunsttrans. The most supportive are the directors and the colleagues from the museums, the galleries and the cultural institutions in Novi Sad as well as the media, as they recognize both the importance and potentials of the project.


How are the "Danube Dialogues 2014" funded?

From different sources. The festival is partly supported by the City and the Provincial Government. Partners like Austrian Cultural Forum, Erlin Galerie (Budapest), Artmark Galerie (Vienna), Cultural Institute of Vojvodina Slovaks, Cultural Institute of Vojvodina, Novi Sad Cultural Centre as well as sponsors and friends have also given an important contribution.


The concept of the "Serbian Dialogues" is similar to that of the donumenta. Where are the differences? And which are the main topics of those dialogues from a Serbian perspective?

The complex concept of the Danube dialogues is to present contemporary art scenes of each Danube country (curated by a locally renowned professional), to display group exhibition of Danubian contemporary art, which was this year brilliantly achieved by donumenta 14x14 exhibition and to showcase unique art dialogues between Serbian artists and partner country for each edition. This year we have 4 Slovak-Serbian exhibitions curated by Art Director Sava Stepanov, while last year there was a Serbian-Austrian art dialogues. We would like to research and provoke some important questions and therefore we arranged the round table Art and Crisis, which proved to be very constructive. Our special program THINKtent gave the opportunity to discuss the Danube cultural identity as well as whether art can really talk across the borders.


Why is the Serbian art scene so powerful in Europe? 

For more than two decades Serbian contemporary art has been unfolding in conditions of a long-term social transition. The change of the system has been going on for too long and, consequently, the crisis (which is, otherwise, an inevitable and transient phenomenon) has been transposed into a condition. Such a profound crisis constantly generates breakdowns in the standard social norms, weakens standards, and diminishes the value of criteria in all fields of life. In Milošević’s Yugoslavia, in the postmodernist 1980s and later on, art and artists were continuously monitored. Their works were, more often than not, looked upon with disdain. They were criticized, and in many cases they were also sanctioned. Unfortunately, even after the democratic changes following October 2002, the conditions were not put in place to ensure a regular system, about which Oliva wrote (artistic practice, a work of art – criticism – gallery – medium – market) and which would give dignity and functionality to artistic work. In spite of the fact that, in these fatal nineties of the 20th century, a number of activist art movements in Serbian art stood out; that in Serbia at that time there were expressly strong tendencies to revive modernism, re-affirming progressive ideas of a modernist conscience were offered to the political practice; that with its stances and messages the art of that period significantly contributed to the process of democratization – the “ruling structures” very quickly “forgot” all the aesthetic and ethic principles that had been achieved.

To tell the truth, after the year 2000 art was no longer controlled nor sanctioned, it was just completely ignored… For nearly two decades now, the most important national art museums - the National Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade - have been closed for renovation, allegedly, while the Museum of Contemporary Art of Vojvodina in Novi Sad has been housed for nearly half a century in “temporary” premises with no building of its own… The gallery infrastructure is below the standards and cannot appropriately keep up with, least of show artistic events and achievements. Also, there is no hope of a speedy “recovery” because a mere, hardly worth noticing, 0.6% of the current State budget has been earmarked for culture…However, in spite of all this all, in Serbia today there is a pulsating, lively, powerful art scene.