After Courbet

by Tanja Ostojić

In certain periods of history, public nudity has frequently served as a carrier for other, more political, messages. Thinking about this,Ostojić recalls her controversial work and considers what censorship means in the political context of the European Union

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Tanja Ostojić, Untitled / After Courbet (L´origine du monde), 2004
colour photo, 46 cm x 55 cm, Photo by David Rych, Copyright/ Courtesy of Ostojić/Rych

Besides the composition and the reference to the title, L’origine du monde – The Origin of the World (1866), my reference to Gustav Courbet refers directly to his position as an artist who was concerned with the class struggle during the time of the Paris Commune and who believed in the emancipatory role of art in society. His artworks were banned from shows, and he was arrested as well, primarily because of political engagement. The painting, L’origine du monde, remained hidden for more then 120 years in private collections, but has been on display at the Museé d’Orsay in Paris since the 1980s.

After Courbet was first published in 2004 as a double-page spread in ESSE, a contemporary art magazine from Quebec. It was exhibited in the group exhibition Double-Check: Re-Framing Space in Photography: the Other Space, Parallel Histories, curated by Marina Gržinić and Walter Seidl and was displayed at the Gallery for Contemporary Art in Celje, Slovenia in 2004, and in Camera Austria, KunstHaus, Graz, Austria, in 2005.

The piece was displayed on several rotating billboards in the end of December 2005, in public space, on streets in Vienna as part of the exhibition EuroPart. Following a large media scandal, after only two days the work was removed as an act of censorship, at the moment when the Austrian Prime Minister was about to take over the Presidency of the EU. The work was removed from public space along with another artwork done by Carlos Aires, a Spanish artist, who presented a poster of the Queen having sex with Chirac and Bush. Both works, displayed as part of the exhibition, were attacked publicly as being supposedly offensive to Austrian public morality.

Over 100 articles and over 1,000 readers’ comments witnessed the events in an interesting and complex way. The 3.5 x 4 metre poster was re-mounted on the façade of Forum Stadtpark in Graz between January and March 2006.

Today, the European Union states are sharpening control over non-citizens. The immigration police, for instance, continue the long-time practice of “checking-the-warmth-of-bedsheets” in intermarriages between EU- and non-EU partners. In the event of Greece’s EU presidency this year, one has to reflect on these issues. With Ostojić’s poster, there was no intention whatsoever to produce what one might call an advertisement for the EU. Rather, Ostojić took the invitation to produce a public poster as a provocation to work on the topic of changing European geopolitics, which should be open to critical positions, since they in turn reflect individual standpoints.



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