• 30. Nov '93 - Pieter Brueghel in the letters of my father

  • In his book Images in Spite of All (1) philosopher Didi-Huberman wrote that in order to know, we must imagine for ourselves. So, what do we imagine when watching Ibro Hasanović’s short film made in 2013? Are we watching an artistic film or a homemade video that was originally recorded on a VHS tape by Hasanović’s father Hamdija back in November 1993? There is no written explanation about this piece, except a short notice by the artist that says: Video made out of the "VHS letter" that my father sent me during the war in Bosnia.
    But when we start imagining, when we spend some time doing that (because imagining is work as Didi-Huberman reminds us), we realize that we are not only watching sequences of cheerful images of children playing in the snow in a small town in Bosnia, but that we are dealing with a specific archive of absences. These absences, these incomplete images refer to events that happened in real time and space; they are memories recorded for the absent Hasanović family, in order to preserve and understand the family history.

    What Ibro Hasanović actually did in his work was reactivate the relationship between the poetical (children playing, people talking in the streets, the almost bucolic atmosphere of a snow-covered town) and the political (the harshness of war, not evident at first glance). It often happens in contemporary art that the political and the ideological overlap with the poetical, especially in the context of so-called tortured geographies. Obviously this is not the case in Hasanović's video. There are, however, some resemblances between this work and Godard's short piece Je Vous Salue, Sarajevo from 1993. In his film Godard speaks about culture as a rule and art as an exception, saying that everything speaks about the rule but nothing about the exception because art cannot be told, it can only be filmed, composed… or lived. Similarly, Hasanović uses a very personal document, his father's VHS recording, which he reorganizes in such a way (by changing the video format) that it becomes a place for imagination, for the creation of absent history. Not only for his family, but also for us, observers in a gallery space. What we really see in this film is “the art of the living”.

    Another element that is strongly present in the film is the element of play, or more precisely, images of children playing in the snow. What does play signify in such a context? For one thing these sequences echo Breughel's paintings depicting children’s games in wintertime. The beauty of this resemblance lies in the fact that children always play, regardless of the circumstances, season, place, economic conditions, anything. Here we could mention another artist, Slaven Tolj, who made a piece consisting of two photographs of children playing in wartime Dubrovnik. The children in Tolj's photos, in the same way as the children in Hasanović’s film, are completely unaware of what is going on around them, they are so absorbed in their activities that we actually feel what Agamben meant by “invasion of life by play”. (2) According to Agamben, the invasion in question is a change and acceleration of time. Play is not only about the present moment, it is about the destruction of calendar, when people free themselves from regular time and, in Hasanović's case, from the time of war atrocities and suffering. Observing children at play in a war-torn town could only mean one thing: what children are playing with are not merely toys but history as well. Play is historical, then, and this is something that already Heraclitus wrote: Time is a child playing a game of dice; the kingdom is in the hands of a child. But children alone cannot exorcise the phantoms of the past (war); what every society must do is get rid of those phantoms so that children can live and one day take the adults’ place. (3) And this, it seems, is the subtle message of Hasanović’s film.

    Bojana Piškur
    Ljubljana, October 2013.

    1. Georges Didi-Huberman: Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz, University of Chicago Press, 2008
    2. Giorgio Agamben: Infancy and History, Verso 2007, p. 76
    3. See Agamben