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Development of Surrealism in Serbia

The trajectory of Surrealism’s development in Serbia can be seen as going through three stages: the first, pre-Surrealist, prior to the founding of the group (1922-1929); the second, Surrealist (1929-1932); and the third, post-Surrealist, when the group had already ceased to exist, but the remnants of Surrealism were still clearly recognisable in the work of several authors.

Having originated at the same time as the Surrealist movement in France, with which it maintained close relations, the Serbian Surrealism developed its own distinctive features and came to occupy a significant place in the context of the European Surrealism. Although it took off as a literary movement, as Surrealism developed it extended into the domain of visual arts, appropriating also various elements from psychoanalysis, philosophy, and politics. The starting point for Surrealism was the deliberate connection between the creative act and the subconscious. The Surrealists explore the surreal, the irrational, the “objective chance”, the marvellous, they seek to directly communicate the content of the subconscious and dreams. To adequately bring forth the content of the subconscious the Surrealists made recourse to spontaneous and automatic creation, in keeping with the definition André Breton set out in his Surrealist Manifesto in 1924 which insists on the subconscious, automatism and anti-aesthetic attitude. According to Breton, Surrealism is: “Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express-verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner-the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.” Whereas the French Surrealism unfolded as a continuation of Dada of a sort, in Serbia this movement had an indigenous line of evolution, it did not spring out as a logical extension of a previous development, but rather as a result of the efforts by young authors to accomplish the ideas that were historically on the agenda. The signs of new tendencies emerged in the years after the end of WWI, and so the activities of the Surrealist group in Serbia can be followed between 1922 and 1932.      

The trajectory of Surrealism’s development in Serbia can be seen as going through three stages: the first, pre-Surrealist, prior to the founding of the group (1922-1929); the second, Surrealist (1929-1932); and the third, post-Surrealist, when the group had already ceased to exist, but the remnants of Surrealism were still clearly recognisable in the work of several authors. 

The first texts by André Breton to be published in Serbia were those that appeared in the journal Putevi (Roads) in 1922, alongside the contributions by, among others, Aleksandar Vučo, Milan Dedinac, Dušan Matić, and Marko Ristić. Next publication to feature prominently the texts bearing on Surrealism was the periodical Svedočanstva (Testimonies), which was started in 1924 by Rastko Petrović, Milan Dedinac, Marko Ristić, Mladen Dimitrijević, Dušan Matić, and Aleksandar Vučo. These authors, with the exception of Rastko Petrović, later moved towards Surrealist positions.                 

Between 1924 and 1930, while the development of Surrealism in Paris had wide variety of manifestations, in Belgrade this period was characterised by scarcity of outward activities: several books of poems and prose, among others, Javna ptica (The Public Bird) by Milan Dedinac, Bez mere (Without a Measure) by Marko Ristić, Koren vida (The Root of Perception) by Aleksandar Vučo, rare appearances in periodicals and newspapers, a collective presentation in the review Savremeni pregled (Contemporary Survey), a number of anti-literary scandals, and outside of this group the periodical Večnost (Eternity) and the collection of poetry Mrtve rukavice (Dead Gloves) by Rista Ratković.                    

At the end of 1929, the aforementioned authors are joined by three collaborators from the journal Tragovi (Trails), namely Đorđe Jovanović, Đorđe Kostić, and Oskar Davičo, who came up with the proposition to launch a magazine that would record the activity of the newly formed Surrealist group. The group is then enlarged by new adherents: Koča Popović, Vane Živadinović Bor, and Radojica Živanović Noe, the latter being the only formally educated painter within the group. The founding meeting took place on November 30, 1929, in the apartment of Aleksandar Vučo, in Belgrade, at 1 Kneginje Ljubice St. (nowadays 1 Zmaj Jovina St.). The meeting was not attended by Koča Popović and Milan Dedinac, since the both at the time were staying in Paris, but they did posted in their consent with the group’s founding. At the meeting the discussion was centred on starting off of the group’s activity and a concomitant publication. In April 1930, the Surrealists issued a polemical statement in the Belgrade-based daily Politika (Politics), making an announcement of their forthcoming collective publication, defining Surrealism, which was signed by thirteen Surrealists. As a movement’s official organ, the almanac Nemoguće-L’Impossible was published in May 1930, asserting the group’s revolutionary tendencies in the ideological, poetical, and moral domain. At its very onset the almanac brings the programmatic declaration, which bore the signature of thirteen founding-members of the movement. The other collective publication, instrumental in voicing the Surrelist group’s views, was the magazine Nadrealizam danas i ovde, three issues of which appeared between 1931 and 1932.                              

Thirteen signatories of the group’s manifesto were: Aleksandar Vučo, Oskar Davičo, Milan Dedinac, Mladen Dimitrijević (nom de plume of Dimitrije Dedinac), Vane Živadinović Bor, Radojica Živanović Noe, Đorđe Jovanović, Đorđe Kostić, Dušan Matić, Branko Milovanović, Koča Popović, Petar Popović, and Marko Ristić. Some among the authors, although not formally part of the group, were in their spirit close to the Surrealist ideas, such as Nikola Vučo, Salmon Moni de Buli (Monny de Boully), Risto Ratković, Ljubiša Jocić, Slobodan Kušić, Zvezdan Vujadinović, Dušan Duda Timotijević, Rade Stojanović, but just as well, Ševa Ristić (Jelica Živadinović) and Julijana Lula Vučo.     

The members of the Serbian Surrealist movement emphasised that the most important for them is the moral revolt, and thus they refused the civic value system and the division between various arts, advocating in favour of the collective and individual work. As a collective form of creation the publications such as Nemoguće-L’Impossible and Nadrealizam danas i ovde are released, the Surrealists collectively write texts, participate in the artistic game of Exquisite Corpse, produce collages, assamblages, objects, engage in inquires. The individual activity is also expressed through the transgressions of the boundaries of different media, and in line with this the members of the Belgrade Surrealist group produce textual and visual pieces. Apart from the traditionally conceived and executed media, drawings, and few surviving photos, they move on to use new media such as collages, decalcomanias, photographs, photograms, and assemblages.                

The Serbian Surrealism sprang at the same time as and in permanent contact with the French Surrealism. The collaboration between them ran through personal contacts and correspondence, and previously unpublished contributions by the French Surrealists made their way to the pages of Serbian publications. The contributors from France were: André Breton, Paul Éluard, Benjamin Péret, Louis Aragon, René Char, André Thirion, Salvador Dalí, René Crevel, Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, Tristan Tzara, Alberto Giacometti, and Joan Mirò. Also, the French Surrealist magazines included the contributions by their Serbian counterparts as well as the information on the Belgrade group. The first issue of the magazine Le Surréalisme au service de la Révolution (Surrealism in the Service of the Revolution), from 1930, features an article about the founding of the Belgrade group and its declaration released on the occasion.           

The Surrealism spread its action in multiple domains, refusing the role of just another art movement. The Surrealists were involved in ideological disputes of the day insisting that art is just a starting point in a broader moral process. In July 1930 in France, from the state of mind characteristic to such orientations, the magazine Le surréalisme au service de la Révolution is published, as a manifestation of the Surrealism’s social preoccupations. The first articulate exposition of the views regarding the social action by the Belgrade group can be found in the declaration under the title Pozicija nadrealizma (The Position of Surrealism) from January 1930. The ideological basis of Surrealism is close to that of dialectical materialism, and its criticism is directed against the bourgeois ideology and thinking as a whole.             

The release of the third issue of the magazine Nadrealizam danas i ovde, in June 1932, marks the last stage in the collective Surrealist activity in Serbia. The members of the movement split their ways, some of them entering the ranks of the Communist Party, which soon led to their being arrested or convicted to years-long prison sentences over their revolutionary activities (Oskar Davičo, Đorđe Kostić, Đorđe Jovanović, Koča Popović), some make a shift towards the movement of social literature and art―Radojica Živanović Noe, for instance, was among the founders of the art group Život (The Life) (1934) which adopted the ideology of Socialist Realism―yet others pursue their individual work in the Surrealist vein.