They do not call themselves ‘artists’, but their creations mesmerize and challenge passers-by. They are shun by traditional auction houses and most museums, but might be the future of art. We met the new-media art scene in Belgrade last week, at the Resonate festival.
Belgrade has been announced to us as the new Berlin. Serbia was hit hard by the financial crisis. That’s the first thing locals mention. Berlin’s flamboyant mayor Klaus Wowereit is notoriously close to his city’s cultural class. Dragan Đilas, Belgrade’s mayor until late 2013, is a mass media mogul, who has brought Big Brother to Serbia. Performance artist Marina Abramović, who exposed at the New-York Guggenheim and works with Lady Gaga, is from Belgrade. The Museum of Contemporary Arts collection holds works by Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol, George Maciunas and Hannah Wilke. When it opened in 1958 it was one of Europe’s first national museums of modern art. Since it closed for renovation works in 2007 it has been slowly transforming into a ruin. Government funding has run out.
Belgrade is setting out to fulfill the “poor, but sexy” promise, that Wowereit famously made about Berlin a decade ago. A young generation of artists is bringing the city to the center stage of the art scene. Its cheap rents are turning it into a safe haven for creative types. In cost of living surveys Belgrade regularly ranks far better than Berlin or other cities famous for their bohemian scenes such as Portland or Istanbul.
Concept stores, galleries, coworking spaces and creative agencies are popping up all over the old centre along the banks of the Sava River and towards the Danube. Artists, tinkerers and hackers are at the forefront of this development. Milos Rancic, the founder of Hacklab Belgrade on the borders of the city centre, thinks young Serbs’ taste for computer code goes back to inventor and futurist Nikola Tesla. Rancic has been working on free software projects for over a decade. “People aspire to be as inventive with electronics as Tesla”, he says as he takes a sip of his energy drink and lights another Davidoff cigarette.
Around Studentski Square in the centre of Belgrade, the Resonate festival, organized by Maria Jelesijević, a Belgrade-based visual artist, and Filip Visnjic, an architect living in London, is bringing together code artists from 184 cities. It's an intimate crowd of only 500 participants. The tickets of have been sold out for months.