Post-World War II Yugoslavia threaded a Cold War needle between the Soviet Union’s Communist hardliners and the West’s hedonistic capitalists. This national schizophrenia perhaps explains the fantastic flowering of proto-MTV films and conceptual objects created by the Slovenian avant-gardists known as the OHO Group. In 1968, an OHO founder, Marko Pogacnik, crafted a puzzle by slicing up a photo of the Rolling Stones and gluing the pieces to a dozen matchboxes. In a recent interview, the artist summed up his affecting object (which opens the exhibition): “In the same way that matches appear when one needs to build the fire, pop culture ignited our imagination.”
Yugoslavia’s feature films were government-censored, but the extravagantly personal shorts gathered here attracted limited audiences and were, according to curator Branko Franceschi, “beyond [the state’s] watchful gaze.” Some of the filmmakers lived in a commune where, Pogacnik notes, “Nobody was paying for anything” and everyone was caught up in the “spiritual charge” they divined in Western chart-toppers broadcast late at night on Radio Luxembourg. Rather than illustrations of the tunes, these short films radiate desperate abandon. In Marjan Ciglic’s OU (1969/70), a naked couple dashes across a rocky coastline and don snorkels and plastic raincoats, their spastically edited gyrations set to the doom-stricken strains of the Stones’ “2000 Light Years From Home.” Joan Baez’s version of the folk standard “East Virginia” provides a patina of lovelorn fatalism for Ivan Martinac’s 1967 Focus, in which a couple seated on a bench witnesses a shrouded body being hustled into a waiting ambulance.
Slobodan Sijan’s feverish Kosta Bunusevac in a Film About Himself (1970) opens with zooming pans of a city street accompanied by heavy drumbeats. The camera follows the titular painter to his attic studio, where the yowlings of Pink Floyd breathe life into the nudes on his canvases and jump cuts of a black cat imply a feline leap into the artist’s consciousness. These truly moving images might settle into yours as well.