“Personal memory is the dynamic medium for processing subjective experience”[1] is stated by Aleida Assmann in the book The Long Shadow of the Past. It is an integral part of a self, primarily, as the author states, “because they relate each I to one we[2]. Practically, within a person’s course of life, it reflects in our family, friends, generation, culture, or feelings, experiences, opinions and even beyond that. Beyond that means our memories also take roots “in the concrete, in spaces, gestures, images, and objects“[3]. Therefore, certain authors, like Susan Sontag, indicate that there is no memory if there is no personal, individual experience. What is called collective memory is not based on remembrance, but on an agreement.”[4]

The complex corpus of individual memory, or more precisely said, remembrance of close people, events and spaces of family and intimate surroundings, are all problematized in Ivan Šuković’s artwork. Šuković focuses on dialectics of memories. Furthermore, the backbone of his work and a basic narrative that refract and link all his art pieces lies in his family photo archive. Owing to the memories the archive turns into a potential creative system, within which the artist discovers and (re)constructs implicit and hidden dispositions. Understanding Šuković as a man of the past, a man who sees the life as a never-ending imperfect tense[5], as put in Nietzchean terms, would be very wrong. It is quite otherwise! Šuković puts an art aura to his memories of the past, and the aura only ever perceives the present. At our present, in the scope of an overall diversity and intensive changes and crises, art reports on countless topics and styles. Therefore, the art is subjective, immediate, researchful, and in Michel Foucault’s words, the art analyses peculiarities rather than totalities.

That is seen to be a reference point to understand Ivan Šuković’s artwork. Šuković’s artwork activates his autobiographical memories and investigates the segments of his family’s past, uncovers and generates a whole corpus of multilayered, fragile, ontological narratives, where new relations, meanings, emotions and opinions grow within them. The artist also searches and finds a stronghold in a theoretical concept, which he successively transforms into his own experiences and memories, and helps the artist to interpret the patterns of the past. The artist elaborates the theoretic concept in his doctoral-artistic project called “Records from the Autobiographical Garden”[6], where he analyses and interprets a wide scientific discourse of exploring a memory, a postmemory, childhood and remembrance, from the point of philosophy, psychology, theory of art, sociology and history. The artist considers Marianne Hirsch an American theorist’s, viewpoints based on the concept of a postmemory. Marianne Hirsch stresses an important fact that postmemory refers above all to what is post, what is after. “However at the same time, memory is very close to affective power.”[7] Accordingly, postmemory often mirrors and reflects in an artistic manner of modelling the past, more precisely in creation, imagination, creative construction. Šuković utilises and invests them in his work, employing various media and disciplines.

From his early works until today the author refers to, one can say, a project, focusing on private photo documentation, on family photographs, which may play a triggering role in reading, articulating and transforming founded pictures of an everyday space, actions, words… Namely, Šuković documents his own past and correlates it with a present-day moment, transforming it into an idea, a paradigm and a metaphor. In that way, a personal changes into a general, beyond the categories of the past and the future, integrated into a totality of the reality, that each of us carries inside and along with us. For these reasons, a photograph in Šuković’s artwork is not a place to store the past time experiences which lead to a mere epiphany of the moments buried deep beneath[8], but it is a relational object[9] that activates retroactive constructions and imaginations, knocking down the porous walls of memories and familiar identity. Like an archaeologist, he digs out and uncovers some private “little” histories, intimate episodes and geographical topoi, which are nothing else but a potential system of resonances, a string that trembles before us in a wilful, deliberate memory.

The thin border between life and art, intimate and public, is just the interaction where the entire artistic narrative rests upon. With it the artist generates his relation towards his childhood, family, transience and death. In Boris Groys’s words, it is about documentation transferred into the field of art. Hence, Šuković’s art possesses some biopolitical characteristics – “one could say that the art becomes biopolitical when it starts using the means of art aiming at creating and documenting the life as a pure activity”[10]. Such a starting point in the theory of biopolitics certifies that an artistic paradigm has changed. It also implies that, unlike classical art which used to depict life in a representational manner, contemporary art nowadays documents the life and comes up with paths and signs, indicating an unstable character of presence. More precisely, art today is treasured as a testimony.

Šuković himself comments as follows: “I am interested in reconstructing the photographs from the past, in their transformation and modification, in giving them a new meaning, even an unrecognizable one… Although an artist’s intimate and confessional pieces of art may form a picture of a story that is not ours, over time we realize that the stories are not remote from what we are and where we belong. To rephrase it, they happened to us.”

Thus, through his work, authenticity and open approach to the family archive, the artist gets into the imaginary spaces and enables the perception of what has irrevocably passed to change. That has a healing power for the artist, as it helps him to generate and metabolize the utopian character of photographs, and this is where, by Groys[11], what fascinates and frustrates lays. Šuković uncovers the past to reconstitute it. It is clearly seen in his early works and projects: a photo installation from 2016, named The Pile of the Past (1928–1977), where he uses his grandfather’s photo documentation. The grandfather, due to his political and ideological viewpoints, lived like a nomad, repeatedly changing his residence. The constant changes of whereabouts, surrounding and people helped him to establish some new relations within a memory matrix. Thus he linked them to particular plant species, typical for all his various habitats. The conversion of memory into a botanical ecosystem equals a long postmemory, semantically derived from the previous, while both of them form a unique postmnemonic structure. A similar narrative continues in Šuković’s following interdisciplinary project – Records from the Autobiographical Garden (2017), where the artist “dissolves the interdependence and identification between non-human (plant) and human portraits (family members mysteriously missing the face features), serving as index objects for little and big memories to exchange and supplement, as Boltanski says, “not as a symbol of the loss of personality, but as a proof of the choice made to share the same nature and the same faith with the presented items”[12].

In the exhibitions On the spot (2018) and Objects of desire (2019), the artist also actualized an extended form of the photograph supplemented with some archive materials, and interpreted through various media: relief, audio and video recordings. Šuković’s particularly subtle and distinctive artistic narrative is obvious. Picking various media Šuković generates his memory emptiness, or, as he underlines, he resists the forgetfulness. In that way, the reliefs made after the photographs, with their frozen and two-dimensional surface, materialize memories and (re)interpret past events. Such a transmutation carries on in the following Šuković’s project named Sweet Lemon. There the author reconfirms Guattari’s reflections on art as a subjectification agent. Reading it, helps to understand and acknowledg the world over and over again. Through the reliefs (presentations of simple landscapes and fragments of old family photographs) and a monolithic sculpture (its shape resembles the area of a Podgorica block where the artist grew up and lived), the artist objectualises a peculiar microbiography, but also neutralises and erases the original with newly established shapes. Finally, he puts a pottery lemon into a minimalistic object simulating an altar-niche. Owing to its golden colour the lemon develops in a dimension of the metaphysical superiority. Ivan Šuković’s overall poetics vibrates over the humanistic plane. Introducing life into art Šuković tries to overcome and rationalise the matter of loss, lack and transience. Therefore the symbolism of a sweet lemon opens up the matter of “an ambiguous easiness of life and death”[13], demystifying eternal human, deceptive aspiration to painlessly overcome a black hole between before and now, infinite and final, everything and nothing.        

In the new exhibition named Fellicità[14], a multi-dimensional artistic project is presented, consisting of installations, objects, video-work and an ambientalised radio play. Šuković’s determined poetic field still speaks the language of intimacy, fragmentation, ambivalence. On the other hand, it brings out a morphological and media shift. Namely, in his recent works, the author explores the forms of memories, their authenticity, variability, subjective values and interpretations since then until today, problematizing them through the conventions of the media he uses. In that way, the media he utilises generate the memory concretising through the memento of time, people and events. A family episode from the author’s childhood becomes a conveyor of this (un)usual narrative line. What helps Šuković to “make” this work is family car journey in Montenegro when he asked his parents a question which of them would die first. Remembering their answers and atmosphere in the car, he also recalls the locations (places and sceneries) where they stopped, took a break and/or rested. Every memory needs spaces and locations, as sociologist Albavak points up, and Šuković creates his own little mnemotoposes mostly being landscape images. First, he takes pictures of those locations and then he uses computer processing to redefine and neutralise them, transforming them into contours, then engraves and carves them on glass surfaces, like the stigmaria. Glass as material increases the impression of fragility and instability. In that way, as Georges Bataille says, the artist voluntary loosens the grip on his own memories. Objects reshape and re-exist between facts and illusions. In such manner a video-work presents his family photograph negatives showing scenes of holidays and celebrations. Mixing and matching them the artist creates a new, modified visual image. Hence, in a heterotropic manner, the author projects a visualised journey through space and time, sending a message that there is no a precise, ideal picture, equating his personal and own to general and foreign. Video-work thus becomes a matrix to determine family resemblance, as a set of common, recognisable events, atmosphere and details, or as Wittgenschtein writes: “I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than family resemblance”[15].        

Introducing sound installations consisting of seven circular screens with a chandelier-loudspeaker in the mid position to broadcast the radio play, the artist constitutes a new field in unmasking the past. If we know that the radio is a medium that gave people back “lost togetherness and a sense of belonging”[16], it is clear why Šuković introduces reading family stories. Bourriaud[17] further suggests that an artist opens up another plane of sensitivity, activating atmosphere, dialogue, music, emotions…  In a form of a short dialogue between a ten-year-old boy (the artist) and his parents, interrupted briefly by a sudden death of someone close, vibrant points meet in search of sense, while the simplicity of everyday life and the logic of an absolute NOW are blurred by the inevitability and unavoidability of a human life. In a hasty atmosphere of a hot sunny day and a sudden death shock, the sound of the hit song Felicità (happiness) is heard. The utopian symbolism, lounge music and suspended meaning of an overall notion of happiness paradigmatically assuage the matter of death, finality and what is left after it, or major force, as the artist’s parents understand.

Like an intimate simulacra, this piece of art revitalises the past, the inner, emotional experience that confronts the ontology of present, aiming at re-establishing the lost wholeness”[18], as Bataille suggests. More precisely, people remember things in order to surmount their past, to restore its coating. Citing the author, they need to rebuild the closeness to someone or something, but before it, to adopt the past as an open and variable construct, to accept private, intimate and sore points as points of exemption and connection.        

The artist sets an object, against these pieces, made of a root fixed with clamps. The entire composition (the root and the clamps) is surrounded with mirrors and glass panels. It is a living organism, as the artist states, among the other artworks. It symbolises life and vitality, despite clamps, meaning despite all life constraints, obstacles, fears and conventions, it survives and signifies living and alive. The power of some organic, archetypal energy that this artwork produces is obvious. It constitutes a new semantic significance that marks off a strong starting point, a point of existence and a particular life infusion for an overall display of insecurity and transience.      

One could presume that the author, in his work, evaluates a composite course, as he states, from nostalgia to empathy. He is aware of the paradox of the past, and its realistic and fictitious power. Because “if there were really something unforgettable, we could never think of anything else”[19], so we would not live. Therefore, Ivan Šuković uses a fictitious power of the past in his own living and art discourse, giving the sense to what is happening to him at the moment, and finally knowing that “what has once started, never ends”[20]         


Suzana Novčić

art historian

[1] Aleida Assmann, The Long Shadow of the Past, (Serbian transaltion Duga senka prošlosti, Belgrade, 2011, p. 24)

[2] Ibid, p.19

[3] Pierre Nora, Between Memory and History (Serbian translation Između sjećanja i povijesti https://hrcak.srce.hr/file/15308)

[4] Aleida Assmann, The Long Shadow of the Past, (Serbian transaltion Duga senka prošlosti, Belgrade, 2011, p. 31)

[5] http://komunalinks.com/home/2016/9/4/zaborav-zaborava

[6] Ivan Šuković, Doctoral-artistic project: “Records from the Autobigraphical Garden”, Multimedia installation, Belgrade, March, 2019

[7] https://core.ac.uk/download/286765812.pdf

[8] Aleida Assmann, The Long Shadow of the Past, (Serbian translation Duga senka prošlosti, Beograd, 2011, p. 152)

[9] Nicolas Bourriaud, Rational Aesthetics (Serbian translation Nikola Burio, Relaciona estetika, Beograd, 2020, p. 36)

[10] Maja Stanković, Fluidni kontekst. Kontekstualne prakse u savremenoj umetnosti, Fakultet za medije i komunikacije, Univerzitet Singidunum, Beograd 2015; http://www.studijesavremenosti.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/FMK-knjige-Fluidni-kontekst-1.pdf

[11] Boris Groys, The Promise of  Photography,  https://polja.rs/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/7.compressed.pdf

[12] Marko Stamenkovic, Ivan Šuković: SLADAK LIMUN


[13] Marko Stamenković, Ivan Šuković: SWEET LEMON


[14] Felicità is a world hit song by Italian-American duo – Albano Carrisi and his that time wife Romina Power, released in 1982

[15] Aleksandar M. Kostadonović, The Notion of Family Resemblance and Its Application in Genre Theory,  https://www.academia.edu/29893423/Pojam_porodcnih_slicnosti_i_njegova_primena_u_genologiji_pdf

[16] https://vulovic.rs/bvstudy/mmk/pdf/VIII%20predavanje.pdf

[17] Nicolas Bourriaud, Rational Aesthetics ( Serbian translation Nikola Burio, Relaciona estetika, Beograd, 2020, p. 103)

[18] Ibid, p. 113

[19] Jorge Luis Borges in: Milan M. Popadić,  Građenje pamćenja: prostorno-memorijski sistem muzeološke vrednosti

[20] Ljubiša Simović, Nema kraja, manuscrip