Sanja Iveković (b. 1949) is widely acknowledged as a pioneer of feminist art in Eastern Europe and an astute observer of the role that mass media, such as newspapers, magazines, and television, play in the formation of individual identity. Indeed, the title of her first American retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Sweet Violence, came from the artist’s exploration of the “‘sweet violence’ of media seduction.” The exhibition featured such iconic works as her Double Life portfolio (illustrated here), in which Iveković juxtaposed—in a pattern of alternating images similar to Personal Cuts—advertisements from glossy Western magazines with her own private photographs that uncannily resemble the ads.
As the entry on Personal Cuts from the MoMA catalog states: “In 1982 Iveković presented Personal Cuts on prime-time Yugoslavian national television, on TV Zagreb’s 3, 2, 1—Action! In it she confronts the camera wearing a translucent black stocking mask pulled over her head, terrorist-style. Using scissors she cuts one hole after another into the mask, revealing one section of her face at a time, and each cut is followed by a short sequence of archival footage culled from a television program on the history of Yugoslavia, produced by the state shortly after Marshal Tito’s death, in 1980, and chronicling 20 years of the socialist republic. Cut by cut, in sequential shots, Iveković at once exposes her face and suggests the insidiousness of national propaganda—mass rallies, a public address by Tito, and monuments, all promoting the socialist way of living—thus demonstrating that historical events are inextricable from human ones, and ending with the artist’s face fully uncovered. Personal Cuts is modeled on a television documentary but formally and conceptually undercuts the totalizing, unified picture of official history; history is presented as broken inscription rather than linear narrative. Iveković infiltrates media space and disrupts the official narrative, reshuffling it, using the cut as a leitmotif and a reference to the editing and montage strategies that have informed her photocollages and video works."
On the one hand, one might add that the video shows the artist gradually “freeing” herself from the propaganda as she unmasks her face. On the other, Iveković’s relationship with state television as a medium of propaganda dissemination remains fraught and interdependent since the artist herself also chooses to use it to spread her message (and, paradoxically, thus confirms both the power of the medium and the liberalism of a regime that allows her access to it). The incredible power of television as a medium of contagious repetition (Iveković structures her performance as a series of repetitive actions) is something that was also explored by Dalibor Martinis, Iveković’s collaborator on a number of works in the 1970s and 1980s. His Image Is Virus (1983) is the inverse of Personal Cuts—if Iveković makes us question television’s power by cutting it up and slowing it down, Martinis undercuts the medium by collapsing broadcasts together and speeding it up. — Ksenya Gurshtein
With thanks from the series organizers to Diana Nenadić and the Croatian Film Association (Hrvatski Filmski Savez), Zagreb, for assistance with research for the series and for help in making a screening of this film possible in Washington.