ADMA 2021-2022


Tijana Petrović

Act as if you know your place! – rejecting the notion of a “good citizen”; a strategical usage of the socio-political position.

The term gastarbajter (German: gastarbeiter, meaning “guest worker”) is a name used to address seasonal workers migrating in the 60s and 70s to Western Germany, mainly from the south of Europe. Besides the official meaning of the term, there is also the actual usage, expanding from derogatory intention to humor, but always describing this hybrid identity that is always in-between. Gastarbajter is a cultural identity characterized by the feeling of not belonging anywhere to the fullest, not to the motherland, nor to the land of immigration. It’s a phenomenon that can be only understood in between there and here. What’s characteristic about their voices is that they are full of “backstage” knowledge, they are loud, and they know how to shift, how to go around, and how to manage. They are specific agents. I think that this term consciously or subconsciously followed my research and my shifting of the living places.

The First Visible Seed

In 2019. I went on a tourist trip with my friend to the Netherlands. It was the first time for both of us to travel to the West. We were planning this trip for years, collecting both money and courage (there is something scary about this part of the world). There we visited a lot of museums (as young art students try to do 🙃), among which there was Voorlinden, a private museum that exhibits some of the most famous products of the western art market. There, my research began. To be exact, on the 13th of September 2019. Now I cannot recall what was the exact feeling… a mixture of feeling submissive, angry, paralyzed, panicked, again anger, and some more humiliation. “I feel like I should be cleaning the toilets here, rather than doing what I’m doing now”, I said to my friend. This was more like a joke, but the joke that triggered an actual act, the joke that actually sought relief, for a fast solution to this absurd problem I faced.

So, I proposed to do an action: to visit art institutions and clean their toilets. From a natural spontaneous action, I made an academic proposal.

I tried to understand why am I doing this, what was the motivation, and the drive. And actually, the answer was easy. I am angry. This anger triggered my curiosity. I will not justify my anger more than this. If I start, I will just get angrier – especially because I’m explaining why I’m angry.

I think that my desire to come here got me a bit lost in this new world, lost in the west. What I mean by this is that I was ready to accept everything imposed in order to become this “polite citizen”. By “imposed” I mean that there is a sense of belonging through performing the self-marginalization, the stereotypes. Even though I started my research from criticizing this, I also became a stereotypical subject. I dealt with victimizing, with acting rather than performing. What I realized was that I was actually looking on my problems from a point of view that is not mine, which I also understand as an urgent means of feeling accepted and belonged. This point of view that cares only by creating subalterns, the point of view with the imperative “Know your place”.

I needed a long time to understand that I was doing this research alone for too long.

I started talking with family, friends, and people from my surroundings. All of this turned my research upside-down. I remembered things that were easy to forget, I remembered pride and dignity, humor, and opacity. All these voices thought me about the vast resourcefulness, about the power that lays behind people, bodies, jobs, and spaces that are easy to understand as degrading or humiliating. All this opened new possibilities. How to think about what we already have as a practical toolkit for managing different societies? What are the possible tools and spaces for allowing the reparation of the dispersed? How to deal with the notion of comfort in research, not through self-marginalization and through visibility, but, rather, through opacity, connections, humor, and dignity?

Gastarbajter’s guide through poetic possibilities

Gastarbajter’s guide through poetic possibilities is a collection of un-poetic poems, translated interviews, and cacophonic voices that are loud, that interrupt each other and that want to be heard. These poems were created from the conversations and interviews conducted with migrated or seasonal workers that come to the West to work. The original language and the volume, the interruptions, and pauses found their possible translation in the form of the poems. This is a try, a search for a way to show the complexity of speech and language whose rhythm and stories sound more than they can be captured in mere transcribing.

I think in this way, I’ve finally found an efficient form to present my research, to open the space for voices without overexposing them.

Online reading of the book: link


Tijana Petrović

Serbian artist and a researcher, currently based in Belgium. She has situated her artistic questions in geopolitical, critical institutional framework across various forms of artistic expressions from performance, video-performance to text art, and textual discursive practices and conversations. In her work, actively pondering contemporary social and political issues (both in Serbia and in broader terms) presupposes creating projects that, in the course of the actual process of realization, deal with a particular problem, be it through research work or by involving other participants, and reveal uncomfortable truths and hidden motivations. Involving her own stories and concrete life situations in her works, through her mediatory artistic practice and strategy, she takes up the issues of personal and social freedoms, private and public lives, readiness to cooperate, and empathy as a socially essential practice.

Her current interests are directed toward a practice of imagination, and storytelling, as well as to the concrete proposals of the new narratives. She is working with different methods in order to explore and practice the notion of reparation and opacity.

web: link