Introduction: Transgressing Boundaries
Tanja Ostojić’s photographic remake of Gustave Courbet’s 1866 L’origine du monde has no title. The abbreviated o.T. (ohne Titel) that occasionally underwrites the work may hint at the name of the self-referential Serbian artist whose own body and life are so often at the center (in this case quite literally) of her art. But it refuses reduction to a single denotative frame. Should it be referred to as the “EU Panties” or “After Courbet”? Unbounded by a caption, the picture — and the scandal it ultimately provoked — makes the stabilizing work of linguistic frames visible. What is this image? Is it art or is it pornography? Ostojić’s untitled photograph makes other border work apparent; it foregrounds the sexual production and transgression of European boundaries. In an oeuvre in which borders and their crossings are put on display, Ostojić frequently places herself on the line: the political is personal.
Ostojić’s work gained international visibility — and notoriety — when it was featured as a poster in a public art project in Vienna in late December 2005. Convoked in honor of Austria’s accession to the European Union (EU) presidency, the 25Peaces exhibition did not shy away from provocation. Works by artists from the then twenty-five EU member states appeared on rolling billboards throughout the city. The project staged a progressive vision of Europe as a cosmopolitan community bound together by a vibrant public culture. However, in doing so, the artworks frequently made ironic use of the commercial medium to question the Union’s core values. Indeed, the “Europ’art” project was an ideal forum in which to put Europe’s contradictions on display. For some of the participating artists, the “Europe” of the EU stands not for enlightenment cosmopolitanism but for brute economic exploitation and neo-imperial domination.
In mounting this critique, the EU flag was a clear target for several artists besides Ostojić. The Estonian artist Ki wa figured the starry circle as a noose, hung from a gallows made up of the phrases “Equal Consuming Habits” and “Ideal Market.” For Ki wa, the logic of the European market depends on the elimination or effacement of cultural difference in order to produce a uniformity of consuming habits. The circle of identical stars on the flag here symbolizes the violence of uniformization and homogenization.
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Our gratitude to the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University for hosting the April 2008 symposium “Sex, Politics, and Culture in Contemporary Europe,” out of which this collection of essays grew. Thanks as well to Tanja Ostojić, Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, Claudio Lomnitz, and the Public Culture Editorial Board. Publication funds were generously provided by IRIS (Institut de recherche interdisciplinaire sur les enjeux sociaux), CNRS/EHESS/Paris XIII, and Harvard University. This dossier is dedicated to the memory of Dicle Koğacıoğlu.