[artinfo] the work of art in the state of Ubu Roi

Nebojsa Milikic neboya at b92.net
Mon Feb 14 15:08:15 CET 2005

During the last Cetinje Biennale (summer 2004, Cetinje, Montenegro), 
one work was withdrawn from the exhibition: ''Embassy'' by Kosovo 
artist Albert Heta. His work was first destroyed by unknown person(s) 
and than swiftly abandoned by curators and organizers, who in this or 
another way agreed with the withdrawal (documentation can be seen at 

In the media campaign that followed, the nightmarish memories of 
eighties were refreshed. An esthetical and moral disapproval (''this 
was not a work of art'', ''he (Heta) should have been aware of its 
provocative content'' etc.) characterized few reactions in art 
circles in Belgrade. Consequently, Heta's work was first accepted, 
and than silently rejected by the officials of 45. October Salon in 
Belgrade, with the same ''Let it (not) be'' by Salon's curators and 

Here is the reaction by Belgrade philosopher Branimir Stojanovic, the 
article published in Pristhina's daily ''Koha Ditore'', which gives 
another view to the case...

Branimir Stojanovic: The joke and its relationship with the state

King UBU, the great hero of the surrealist drama, expert in ruling by means
of jokes and puns, in one of his inspired speeches addressed his remaining
followers in this way: "Long live Poland for if there were no Poland, there
would be no Poles!" Acting as if he were addressing the Polish crowd, the
king of Poland asked them to express their support for Poland otherwise even
they - Poles would no longer exist. In other words, in spite of everything
he managed to achieve during his rule, he came up with an idea to present
his people with an alienating, impossible choice of EITHER POLAND OR POLES.
Following the logic of the joke, Ubu reversed the common order of address of
the Master to his people. In the normal circumstances, the king - master
should first show respect for the people he rules by exclaiming "Long live
the Polish people" so that he can, in turn, be recognized by them as a ruler
worthy of their respect - "Long live Poland! Long live the Polish king!" In
the Ubuesque upside down world, the ruler of the state does not praise the
people but the State, meaning himself, threatening that if he is no longer
king, his subjects will no longer exist either. As a result, the people
frightened out of their wits by the impossible choice they have been given,
end up choosing Poland without Poles.

It is interesting to note that Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi became popular in
the 1930s, at the time when Poland was absolutely certain to have finally
won independence. In Ubu's paradox, by choosing Poland, Poles choose to lose
independence and support the state which is named after them but still
condemns them to death. In other words, they give up their desire for
independence. Instead of saying "Down with the king who does not respect the
Polish people!" Poles cheer "Long live Poland!" saying, in fact, something
quite opposite to what they really want: "We don't want freedom; we want to
submit to the hollow authority of force - but not just any form of
submission but an occupation, what is more, an occupation by a non-native,
foreign force" - a scenario which proved to be realistic in the light of
actual historical events. Later in the twentieth century, Poland suffered
its biggest national defeat. In a short space of time, the country was
occupied twice by two delirious masters - Nazi and Stalinist regimes.

"Embassy" - the installation by Albert Heta shown at this year's Cetinje
Biennale focuses precisely on the Ubuesque paradox and alienating choice of
either State or the desire for independence. Namely, the claim to a state
does not necessarily entail the wish to be free and independent. It means
that the desire for independence in the relations between nations have the
shortcoming of having to be made a reality through a state, which can, at
the same time, be an expression of freedom and the desire of a nation to be
independent, as well as a weapon of terror and suppression of independence
i.e. easy prey for the occupying forces. How did Heta achieve this? He used
the simplest and most economical method possible, similar to the logic of
King Ubu's joke: he set up an embassy of the non-existent, unrecognized
state of Kosovo at an exhibition of contemporary art in Cetinje, i.e. on the
territory of a state that does everything in its power to ignore and
suppress the desire of the Kosovar Albanians for independence. So, it seems
as though, through his installation, Heta exclaimed "Long live the Embassy,
because if there were no Embassy there would be no State", judging that it
spoke both to his people voicing its desire for independence and to the
outside world which is unwilling to recognize that desire. The reaction to
the work was panic in the entire media apparatus of Montenegro and Serbia,
the town where the installation was shown, as well as the entire state
machinery of Montenegro, from the representatives of the biennale and
politicians to clergy. The work was banned and removed!!!

Since the wish of the Kosovar Albanians to gain independence and have a
state of their own has been ignored up to now, the fact that the act of
proclaiming a new state by opening its embassy, a mere representative of the
state in the outside world, did not go ignored is all the more interesting.
Namely, where the desire for independence gets ignored, a mere demand for a
State to be set up appeared. But it is a murderous, Ubuesque State which
threatens anyone who tries to express his wish. Therefore, such a state can
be given any name and exist in the name of anyone, it nevertheless remains a
mere apparatus of occupation, terror and sadism. Those who ignore the desire
for the independence of Kosovo are representatives of a murderous state
whose embassies are mass graves and terror. Heta offered a joke as a tool
for absolution of the excluding relationship between the Terror State and
desire of people to gain independence, which touched a raw nerve by exposing
the essence of infantile desires for a State of Terror, the one that cannot
take a joke. In fact, Heta's installation communicates the message "A joke
should take the place of tragedy", meaning that only then can we say that we
have freed ourselves from the State of Terror, the one that cannot take a
joke and is ready to kill art or the artist over a joke.

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