Anja Foerschner, a research specialist at the Getty Research Institute, first met the Serbian performance artist Marta Jovanovic in Rome a few months ago. They had a mutual interest in each other: Anja researches the documentation strategies of feminist performance artists, and Marta was intrigued by Anja’s study of disgust in art and by the feminist underpinnings of her research. They knew their first meeting would be productive, but neither imagined just how quickly and emphatically they would come to influence each other’s work.
Putting Belgrade on the Map
Marta is working hard to put Belgrade, Serbia, back on the map of the contemporary art world. Among her endeavors are a residency program, the Radisson Blu Old Mill Hotel Belgrade Artist Residency, and the educational platform PerformanceHUB.
The residency program came together organically when the general manager of the hotel, Thomas Swieca, asked Marta if she was interested in working together. She knew that by joining forces they could create a program that would foster local and international exchanges among artists, scholars, and curators in a city that has seen two major museums closed for over a decade.
After meeting Anja and learning more about her research into the historical and conceptual context for disgust in art, Marta knew she had found a perfect scholar-in-residence for the residency program. “Anja is particularly courageous in exploring grounds that very few dare to,” says Marta. “She throws disgust—her topic of her research—in your face in such a smart way that you can’t help but be intrigued.”
The residency program was inaugurated this past February with a dinner and performance titled The Revival. When deciding on a theme for the event, Anja and Marta toyed with many ideas, but ultimately chose to focus on hearts—an organ with a strong symbology.
“In the English language, a lot of metaphors use the heart—wearing your heart on your sleeve, stealing someone’s heart, heart of gold. There are so many layers to it, and it’s used so easily,” Anja explains.
“The heart is a symbol for love and appreciation, so if you give someone your heart they love you, you trust them, but the actual heart is such a bloody, violent, gory matter. [Love is] ubiquitous and positive, whereas the actual matter is very visceral, and when you touch it, your hands get bloody and an entirely different connotation comes in.”
How to Make a He(art)y Meal
“The heart is one of the epitomes of disgust: it is a delicacy for some people, for others it’s just a purely repulsive matter,” says Anja, describing how the organ was incorporated into The Revival. “You can serve a really nice, well-cooked dinner with chicken and pig hearts, but where some people are delighted, for others it won’t be so easy.”
The “not so easy” part of the dinner—including an appetizer of chicken hearts—was reinforced by the accompanying performance by PerformanceHUB student Milan Jovanovic (no relation to Marta), who sewed a raw, blood-infused pig’s heart into his jacket’s breast pocket while dignitaries and other distinguished guests were served their meals.
Food for Thought
“The reactions to both the dinner and performance were mixed. While some enjoyed eating the hearts and watching the performance, others tried to ignore what was going on or were clearly disturbed,” describes Anja.
The mixed reaction ultimately helped those attending understand the intention of the event. “After dessert I had explained the mechanism of disgust and the significance of the heart and people were more engaged. They were interested to learn something about themselves…They will never ask why they’re being grossed out, but everyone could relate to it after being given the background,” says Anja.
Anja and Marta found their partnership to be so thought provoking that they decided their ideas could not be limited to just one performance.
While eggs were the essence of Marta’s performance Motherhood, exclusively caught on camera for the upcoming documentary on the artist, Born Just Now by Robert Adanto, Marta and Anja continued their exploration of hearts for Ljubav—“Love” in Serbian—which will take place in June in Belgrade.
“When discussing elements like animal hearts or eggs as possible ‘ingredients’ of the performance Ljubav…we had long conversations on the meaning of each element and I felt the need to explore both,” says Marta, who skypes with Anja every Friday to discuss the details of their next project.
At the invitation of the Swiss Ambassador Jean-Daniel Ruch, Ljubav will be held in the garden adjoining the Swiss Embassy in Belgrade. The garden also inspires the performance. It was constructed during the bloodshed of the Balkan Wars in the early 1990s by the ambassador at the time, Benoit Junot, as a monument to peace.
“When I was invited last summer…my instinct was to say no as I have never done anything similar before,” Marta explained. But thanks in part to the collaboration with Anja, she decided to take it on. Like the garden itself, Ljubav will juxtapose the ugliness of war within surroundings of “pure beauty,” as Marta promises that the performance will be both “magnificent and disgusting.”