Serbian Art during Wartime

The Reality Check Etude
by Dejan Sretenovic

The war joke.
Question: How did the Serbs manage to shot down the "invisible" F 117 fighter plane?
Answer: They did not know it was invisible.
Question: Why they did not catch the pilot?
Answer: Well, then they thought he was invisible too.

In Freudian terms, this joke is to be classified as a "tendentious" joke, a joke with a purpose, a verbal play working in conjunction with the defense mechanisms of the ego. The joke could be represented by means of a Möbius strip in which negation and confirmation of the invisibility ambiguously meet and interplay. The first dialogue aims to undermine the superiority of the cyber-war programming over eyesight and the second adds a quasi-rational confirmation to the absurdity of the first. The only fact to be proved is that the plane has been shot down and the rest is a para-logical interpretation typical of this kind of humor. Therefore, the joke is about an interpretation of the real event, the interpretation which doesn't fall outside reality, as it seems after the first reading. On the contrary, it falls inside reality of the event beyond the reach of the objective mind, which would prefer to discard it as a meaningless verbal play.

What we call reality is nothing else but an effect produced by means of interpretation and representation, a general consensus on a meaning and a structure of events, some kind of a social contract authorized by institutions in charge of the production of reality. In other words, reality is not a zone of immediate individual experience but a zone in which induced common experience, shaped from the raw materials we call facts, is to be delivered and shared. To construct a reality means to design given facts or data in such a manner as to make them fit into a certain pattern and context of apprehension. Individual experience is valid only if given a common meaning and representational frame, that is to say subjected to a process of objectification. Therefore, we speak about "objective" and "subjective" realities, where the former is an institutionalized common experience superior to the latter on account of its socializing function. The distance between the mind and the object is a conditio sine qua non for the establishment of objective reality. Distance is produced by means of language and representations, by means of a set of interfaces and mind filters that coordinate our apprehension of the objective reality. "We do not interact with the world - only with the interface to the world", says Peter Weibel.

Jokes and artworks tend to abolish this distance by default, but at the same time they cannot escape certain conventions of expression and therefore objectification. To abolish distance means to produce tension at the intersection of the objective and the subjective forces, to produce a creative conflict between the realms of empirical and non-empirical experience. The meanings and values inscribed in the map of the objective world are resignified and revalued in art. Therefore, the art is a reality check apparatus per se, a navigational system equipping us with exquisite orientation and sensing tools, an effector that acts out the stereotypes of the objective reality and uses them as a decoy for the creative re-cognition. This means that the contemporary art is more a communication vessel than an object of aesthetic desire, a vector of attention that upgrades and provokes our social and cultural consciousness. Art does not feed us answers, but questions, it does not seek the truth hidden behind the appearances and objects but the broadening of the experience of the known world. Like the war joke which simultaneously falls outside and inside reality, the art simultaneously effects and defects the reality contract. To search for the ultimate meaning in an artwork is a futile business, but to detect and take into consideration questions posed by an artwork is to gratify oneself with the experience of difference. That's right, art is above all about difference. And the task of a society, according to Friedrich Dürenmatt, is "to discover its reality in a work of art".