NewsAssembling BL(KN)
Assembling BL(KN) hosted by DKC Incel in Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina) 02-29/05/2022 was choreographed as a process of co-creation between the eight selected artist-travelers, co-production of knowledge, and sharing of collective caring practices. Within the overarching frame of reclaiming the term ‘Balkan’, and its multiple meanings, we contested social structures that produce divides between people and other people, people and their environment, people and other species.
The artist residency aimed at assembling BL – Banja Luka and BLKN – Balkan and their social relationships through moments of exploration, encounter and exchange. The residency skeleton was based on 4 Modules / Weeks, accompanied by a set of international and local experts, community workshops, site-visits, team-building activities, public events and a final exhibition.


Ale Riletti [Italy]
Mary Marinopoulou [Greece]
Jelena Gajinović [Serbia]
Jelena (Jelly) Luise [Germany]
Lea Blau [BiH]
Sezer Salihi [North Macedonia]
Diona Kusari [Kosovo]
Lori Lako [Albania]

Week 1: Setting the Ground

DKC Incel, Some Call Us Balkans, photgraph by Nikola Moraca, CC BY-SA 4.0
Questions of the week: How the process of deconstructing “Balkan” Myths and Misconceptions can lead us to celebrate what the “Balkan” is? What is the set of values that guide our actions and attitude? What is the project? How and why do we speak of the “Balkans”? What if the “Balkans” are the Center of the World?
The hosting partner UNSA Geto warmly welcomed all artists in the Big House organized for them, called Zamak, a castle literally in the local language, that had quite a foundational history linked to a nationalist politician and his delegation for whom the castle was built. In these premises, artists started to get to know each other by offering and sharing different practices and knowledge. During the first days everyone could visit the Archive of Republika Srpska and get to know more about local histories and the ways in which history is being told and remembered in this part of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Symposium by Ale Riletti, Some Call Us Balkans, Banja Luka, 2022, photograph by Nikola Moraca, CC BY-SA 4.0
Bosnia and Herzegovina after the Dayton Agreement (‘95) was splitted into two parts: Rpk Srpska which is in large majority Serbs, and the Federation, more ethnically mixed. The first activity proposed by artist Ale Riletti was the preparation of a Symposium. People cooked together and shared moments of intimacy, with the idea of building, first of all, a sense of commonality and collective care, inviting guests through the act of cooking and sharing. The Symposium was repeated in other forms over the weeks. In one occasion the artist shared a “body relaxation that works on the psoas, which retain muscular memory (especially of traumas)” and a reading called “Hydrofeminism: Or, On Becoming a Body of Water by Astrida Neimanis.
Femminist Walk by Dragana Dardić, Helsinški Parlament Gradjana Banja Luka, Some Call Us Balkans, Banja Luka, 2021, photograph by Nikola Moraca, CC BY-SA 4.0
Artist Mary Marinopolou offered a workshop titled Absorb Ensemble, in which she shared methods of exploring the urban contexts through the legacy of Dada, Situationism, and psychogeography. The approach included the body sensorial exploration of space with the support of artist and performer Lea Blau.
“Walking and taking sounds, listening to things together, pausing to absorb what is happening, maybe stopping in the middle of the square and just allow ourselves to expose ourselves as the “other” in the city, or “hide” and try to absorb as much from the city, without any filters, is one of the ways I imagine the narrative being created.” Mary Marinopoulou, Artist-Traveler
Enrico Tomassini, the curator of the residency, shared The Ground Tour Project traveling vision, the foundation of the Some Call them Balkans (SCUB) project, in the form of a space for collective and active reimagining about what this land is or could be. The session involved drawing, writing, reading aloud and listening to one another as ways to reimagine the common myths of this place that some call “Balkans”. The session was recorded as a podcast, and gave birth to a lively discussion on the question of identity and belonging in the region and beyond.
Stories of Traveling Places, Workshop by Enrico Tomassini, Some Call Us Balkans, Banja Luka, 2022, photography by Nikola Moraca, CC BY-SA 4.0
DKC Incel, the cultural venue run by the local partner UNSA Geto, is one of the few intact buildings within a very large industrial complex active till the end of the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia: today filled with toxic waste and some remains of human activities populating the site, while trucks run up down the road crossing the site.
Artist Sezer Salihi presented his research paper and work “Quality of Image” in which he analyzed the role of cinema in creating social spaces for discussion and revolution, showing the renowned Black Yugo Wave movie Mysteries of Organisms by Dušan Makavejev connecting it to Latino American Third wave cinema manifesto. The paper analyzing Quality of Life by Eurostat indicators is the trigger for the artist to explore the gaze and quality of image of different social groups and people.

Week 2: Elaborating the vision

There be dragons by Lisl Ponger, CC BY-SA 4.0
Questions of the week: What does it mean to be a traveler? What travelers are we? How do we work together? What does it mean to set traveling as an artistic practice in context? How do we overcome the perspective of the “Balkan” as another and prompt a different and future imagination of it coming to new terms of encounter within and outside the region while traveling?
“On medieval maps, unknown areas were thought to harbor terrible creatures and marked by cartographers with ‘Here be dragons or sea monsters’.” Lisl Ponger

Lisl Ponger interviewed by Enrico Tomassini, Filmed by Nikola Moraca, edited by Drazen Livazovic, Some Call Us Balkans, 2022, CC BY-SA 4.0

Assembling BL(KN) was fortunate to have Lisl Ponger as a guest artist. She ran a workshop with a title borrowed from the eponymous photograph, There Be Dragons wherein two men, Columbus and an EU official in a Frontex uniform look towards the horizon. One is scanning the border to prevent foreign persons from entering, while the other looks out towards prospective lands and discoveries. The tension here critically reflects on the contemporary conditions of the travel within a colonial historical frame.
A traveler herself, she learned much of what she knows through the act of movement, of finding oneself in unknown and strange circumstances that require new understandings to develop a new horizon. Learning to get lost was the exercise Lisl proposed to the artist-travelers to do. Were they able to get lost? 
Presentation by Elli Leventaki, Mariana Ziku and Marianna Stefanitsi, Banja Luka, 2022, Some Call Us Balkans, photograph by Nicola Moraca, CC BY-SA 4.0)
BoWB – Biennale of Western Balkans held the hybrid workshop Training the Gaze: Community, Feminist and Decolonial Practices with curator and researchers Elli Leventaki, Mariana Ziku and Marianna Stefanitsi, during which art public interventions were tackled from diverse angles. Elli took us on a livestreamed virtual tour of Athens observing public space and artistic interventions in it, in relation to dominant narratives, contemporary viewpoints and social phenomena. 

Assembling BLKN, Some Call Us Balkans, photographs by Sezer Salihi, CC BY-SA 4.0

Researcher Adna Camdzic, in collaboration with artist Diona Kusari and local fellow artist and historian Davor Paponja led the worskhop Collective fabulation and production of future-oriented imaginaries. Through performative reading and feminist pedagogic practices, we questioned the role of art and artists in affecting social change through the challenges of collective work.
Adna shared her experience in the project “(In)visible Assembly (Assemblea (in)visible), a two-day event developed within the context of the project VERSO (funded by the Contemporary Art Foundation Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin). A space to practice radical imagination as an effective tool of collective political and social action.
What if instead of asking ourselves how we can live (according to what is already given to us), we start wondering how we want to live? And transform our inner wishes and desires into tools and actions for change? How do we want to live in the Balkans? Guided by artist Diona Kusari, such questions became the starting point to investigate together the pillars of our radically imagined new world. 

Assembling BLKN, Some Call Us Balkans, photographs by Sezer Salihi, CC BY-SA 4.0

Guided by Davor Paponja we revisited the complex histories of artifacts, graveyards, tombstones and cemeteries that occupy the public space of the city walking in the deathscape of Banja Luka: material traces that cannot go unnoticed. Named “Carved in Stone, Etched in Memory”, based on a book by the researcher Amila Buturović, the workshop reflected upon conflicting memories and histories buried in space and time, acting as markers of the past and triggers for the future. 
What kind of stories are the dead telling us and how are such stories mediated, transformed and constantly rebuilt and reshaped by the living. How do such stories affect us in our present and what can they tell us about our futures?
Lisl Ponger Films' Screening at DKC Incel, Some Call Us Balkans, Banja Luka, 2022, photograph by Nikola Moraca, CC BY-SA 4.0
The walk ended at Basoc Social center where we met with local renown academic Danijela Majstorović presenting her recently published book “Discourse and Affect in Post-Socialist Bosnia and Herzegovina: Peripheral Selves”. The book proposes a decolonial approach to understanding the context of post-socialist and postwar Eastern Europe. An interesting debate that led us to discuss contemporary history, recent civil society movements, parallelism among different Balkan countries and differences through history till today, forms of inclusion and exclusion in the context of Yugoslavia and migrational necropolitics.

Week 3: Production Week

Gradja community, Atomic Hangout action, Some Call Us Balkans, Banja Luka, 2022, photograph by Dalibor Danilovic, CC BY-SA 4.0
Questions of the week: What does it mean to transfer ideas in the social context? How do we trigger interaction and bridge desires of a local community? How do we question classical archiving and propose a performative character of documenting?
Our last guests landed in town, Elisa Georgi, Miodrag Kuc and Dennis Lindenau from partner organisation ZK/U – Zentrum fur Kunst und Urbanistik. The workshop Communication and Storytelling of a Road Trip started from the questions: How do we communicate and archive collective traveling practices beyond FB/Insta dichotomy? Can diary and blog-like thinking be revamped in the 21st century? The workshop searched for the tools and methods of collective narrative creation beyond classical archiving, questioning linear documentation.

Filmed by Nikola Moraca and Dalibor Danilovic, edited by Drazen Livazovic, visuals by Saša Đorđević, Some Call Us Balkans, Banja Luka, 2022, CC BY-SA 4.0

Miodrag Kuc presented Artistic practices in the contested social realm, introducing artistic urban interventions he led on the behalf of ZK/U in the Balkan area. He focused on the case of Gradja, a community run playground in a typical housing block of Banja Luka that was started off as a protest in response to the will of creating a parking lot on the behalf of the municipality and local private developers. The protest was enacted by a group of kids who (physically) defended it from becoming a place for cars. What was protected was the roof of a previously collective atomic shelter, a common infrastructure to be found in Ex Yugoslavian countries. Today Gradja hosts a lively self-organized community of neighbors.
The action “Atomic Hangout” took place with the participation of the local community, mobilising grassroots urban politics through artistic intervention. 10 trees were planted in movable barrels,   encouraging a collective maintenance plan (watering, pruning, fertilizing) and creating a basic infrastructure for spatial negotiations (leisure areas, sport areas, ‘creative’ polygons, etc.). One of the outputs was a live zine made with the contribution of all the kids in the park, designed by artist Jelly Luise, with the support of artists Lori Lako and Jelena Gajinovic, and photo scanned by curator Enrico Tomassini. The zine was donated to the neighbors, who saw into it a spark for a crowdfunding process. Read the zine here.
Live zine, Gradja Community Playground, Some Call Us Balkans, Banja Luka, 2022, designed by Jelena Jelly Luise, CC BY-SA 4.0

Atomic Hangout action, Some Call Us Balkans, Banja Luka, 2022, photographs by Nikola Moraca, CC BY-SA 4.0

The passage from an idea to its production, in a short time it might be tough. During the Atomic Hangout we had episodes of verbal and vis a vis violence of passersby in relation to our presence, but cases of feeling unsafe came about in many circumstances so much that one of the artists, Mary Marinopolou, developed a stickers work to be spreaded and attached in the city whenever one felt observed and was given a bad gaze, reciting “ljubav Mrznja / Love Hate” in red and black.
ljubav Mrznja, Love and Hate, sticker by Mary Marinopoulou, Some Call Us Balkans, Banja Luka, 2022, photograph by Mary Marinopoulou, CC BY-SA 4.0

Week 4: Prototyping

Armin Ćosić Performance - Zone in Danger, Bl art festival in DKC Incel, 2020
Questions of the week: How do you produce a whole individual idea in a short time given? How many things do we have to think? When I will be able to shoot the video? Will there be time?
The final exhibition “Melting Imagination” included 9 shorts movies while 4 were dismissed, 3 audio works recorded and mastered, two urban performative interventions that took place, 1 did not as well as 2 public space interventions. The eight artist-travelers presented some of their tools, works, researches and intents in their fragmentary yet joint hybrid character. The exhibition melted together camp aesthetics, collective cathartic rituals, theatrical urban audio exploration, public space performances, ‘Balkan’ lullabies chants, public art installation under the guise of women condition in “Balkans”, participatory film practices, urban intervention and imaginative provocations.
Take a look of the exhibition, artworks and flip through the exhibition booklet here.
Melting Imagination Exhibition, Some Call Us Balkans, Banja Luka, 2022, Poster design by Saša Đorđević, CC BY-SA 4.0
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