Svetomir Arsic – Basara / A retrospective

A still superficial history of modern Serbian sculpture, in the absence so far of a detaiied study of all its historical and artistic aspects, allows only a general outline of its basics. The roads it has followed and the crossroads where there has been hesitation in chosing its directions of further change have run parallel to those of other arts, hile building an overall image of its own identity and creative might. An appreciation of the specific circumstances of its immediate setting and the effective determinants of its elemental currents, contents and social-cultural characteristics can lead to certain final conclusions: the identification of those constants which have served as its foundations. Modern Serbiaan sculpture developed in response to the needs and demands of bourgeois society to project and perpetuate in expensive and noble materials, whether metal, wood or stone, the values and the canons it held as permament and the stuff of its national and psychological image. Such needs and demands have always had a clear presence for artists. Even while enjoying sufficient freedom to decide independently on the type of their statement in material form, on that package of complex features which determine stylistic qualities, artists have never lost sight of their direct dependence on the esthetics and taste of their immediate surroundings. In contact with these two dictates, the sculptors of this century have built their poetics, not without valid results in our art and in some cases, evident success. World War II changed the social balance. The new revolutionary society did not fail to establish a new value system as well, and it undertook to create a new program of demands and expections of artists. Values felt to have been superseded (primarily with regard to the formal features of a work of art) were replaced by others. These placed ideological significance in the forefront: what was being said should give a clear and idealized picture of social reality — not of what had actuallv been echieved but what, it was firmly believed, was the reality of the immediate future. The transformations in our sculpture’s newest period began under these circumstances. There were very wide possibilities for changed idiom within the infinite variations already defined, successively or parallelly, by modern sculpture. When in 1950 the restrictive measures on our art were suddenly lifted, artists found themselves faced with entirely concrete demands, because society, of course, had not renounced its assumed right to proclaim esthetic rules. Having to respond now under changed conditions, sculpture, in view of its special relationship to a society which was to all practical purposes its only customer, unwillingly abandoned traditional concepts, opting for pseudo-modern concepts rather than for the alternatives which in those times could have voiced true modernity. This can best be seen in our monuments and other public works of art. Their response was the most direct possibie to the demands set out by the victorious and governing sectors of the new society. Indeed, very few artists escaped the trap of internal restraints (among Serbian sculpture, Olga Jevric, was an example); few freed their forms to unprecedented and unsuspected horizons. The pressures of society and heritage, ready-made esthetics, those in fact of the pre-war bourgeois society. academies of art whose programs lacked clarity of the concepts of modern expression and concentrated on realism alone and its highest attainments in classical art, and, finally, the dominating values of socialist esthetics (to use the well-coined term of Svetomir Lukic) which had replaced socialist realism, overran our sculpture in the years of artistic renewal. Kosovo and Metohija was in those years an artistically virgin region, and the absence of any serious effort to change the general picture could be expected to suit the inclinations of young artists who after years of training at art centers returned to make use of their acguired fund of learning and skills on their home grounds. The life of Svetomir Arsić-Basara, as artist, teacher and social activist, can give us some idea of these endeavors. Years of academic training based on the greats of classical art and the names in Yugoslav art set before young artists in the early fifties as the highest values and the growing vitality of an artistic life he had known through one-man shows and occasional group exhibitions and other artistic events were replaced by a down-to-earth life in his home environment where he worked to animate artistic life generally and on his own art, that ultimate proof of an artist before the public. Svetomir Arsic-Basara has earned a name as a public and cultural Figure and as a teacher. But he has remained most intimately dedicated to sculpture, his firm commitment as the artistic form of lis final truth. In sculpture he believed from the start he would oest find identity and in the act of sculpture itself the best release For his feelings as a living and conscious creative being. His work in Pristina, where he has lived since his years at the Academy of Applied Arts in Belgrade, has evolved under distinct historical and social circumstances. These have favored the unrestricted expression of creative impulses for the simple reason that, except for the rich legacy of medieval art in the region and local or ethnological art, there is nothing to influence the currents of modern expression. But, at the same time, these circumstances lave included the difficulties of a province only at the thereshold of the basics of artistic expression and with the task still ahead of building a clear modern visual identity of its own. This is the ;ontext, with the changing relationship between these two factors, within which Svetomir Arsic has made a full creative contribution and succeeded in giving us works by subject matter and the neaningfulness he has imparted to them and they transmit definitely belonging in the maintream and sometimes with the best of Serbian modern sculpture. Trained in 19th century Traditionalism but with a clear, direct and ndirect appreciation of the serious problems raised by the plastic arts for contemporary authors, Svetomir Arsic, retiring, contemplative and totally dedicated, in peace and quiet, away from the noisy events on the open artistic scene, has created this opus which today it must be admitted has remained unjustifiably jnknown, outside the view of the wider art public. When Arsic, virtually at the outset of his work as a sculptor, broke through wood and brought space into the very being of sculpture, empty space as the antithesis of mass, the basic medium of the artist, he joined, irrefutably, the current and serious creative debate on changes in the meaning of a work of art and its reception as a modern and serious esthetic object. The results he has achieved in his work over the years in terms of these issues, with regard to mass and its relationships when worked out on the strict principles of sound sculptural experience, to the study of the function and crafted potential of mass, its corelation to the sensibilities of the modern public, are often likewise exciting from the standpoint of the internal values they manifest, equal to the most distinguished achievements of our modern plastic arts. Each work on its own, each piece in carefully chosen and worked wood speaks in the clear and unambiguous language on an author who has learned and is fully conscious of what modern-day artistic expression seeks to awaken in today’s viewers, what changes and movements it should initiate in their tninds and the conclusions to which they should be brought in looking at a timely work of art. Now, in his most recent period, this characteristic, strictly artistic activism has been disrupted in Svetomir Arsic by new learning, experience and consciousness directly derived from the negative social and political events in his community where he has always stood unwaveringly on the principles of morality, truth and justice. There have been few artists in the Serbian arts ready to accept current events as the motif of their work. Too often the social consciousness of today’s artists slumbers, put to sleep by modern or traditional esthetics, or those moments in life and reality which always render the pressure of conscience susceptible to manipulation or reduction. There should be no doubt in interpreting the most recent works of Svetomir Arsić that they openly testify to the irrationalities reached in the situation and tendencies of his surroundings, a community founded on originally proclaimed, very different principles. The works of this cycle speak clearly, raise questions and seek answers with a full sense of responsibility; they ring true and uncompromising. They concede nothing to the degree of our readiness to accept this realism as the most appropriate today for artistic expression. They are works created in the knowledge of bitter truths about one’s personal isolation and rejection. With these truths, about art and about society, painful and frightening, the work of Svetomir Arsic-Basara takes a place of honor in modern Serbian sculpture. Jovan Despotovic Umetnicki paviljion ’Cvijeta Zuzoric’, Belgrade, 1984-1985