Irena Ristić, Copyright: Marija Piroški © Goethe-Institut
Interview with Irena Ristić, Actopolis Belgrade participant
During a rather rainy spring day in Belgrade, I had a chance to sit down with Irena Ristić, one of the Actopolis Belgrade participants, at her residency. She kindly greeted me with warm tea and a handful of stories about books and other collections that she had carefully placed against walls of her home. In many ways, setting for our conversation perfectly summed up my impression of Irena – charming and full of jams, some of which buried deeply due to years of accumulation.

Aside from teaching Psychology in Art at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, in 2005, Irena initiated Hop.La!, an NGO focused around artistic production and participation, and research in the domain of arts. She sits in the Board of Independent Cultural Scene of Serbia (Nezavisna kulturna scena Srbije, NKSS), the largest network of NGOs dealing with culture and arts in Serbia. For Actopolis, Irena plans to conduct moderated dialogues with a number of selected professionals and try to define new models of self-organization.

With delish tea now warming my hands, I was all set to pick her brains for insights into the context in which Actopolis takes place.

How would you describe the current state of NGO initiatives focusing on culture in Serbia?

IRENA: It would appear to me that a current self-organized scene does not exist as one structured entity in Serbia. There is a prevalent fragmentation and atomization, amongst which one notices an abundance of organizations that somehow manage to sustain themselves. With that in mind, it would be interesting to determine whether, and to which extent there is a need for a more unified and articulated scene. It would be particularly important to detect any synchronicities and resonances, or whether all current individuals from cultural NGOs simply have vastly disparate visions of society.

Lenka and her personal portrait, Copyright: Marija Piroški © Goethe-Institut
In your view, what are the main obstacles for the articulation of a self-organized cultural scene and why is it that such a large number of NGOs and initiators have not already found a way to act upon common interests?

IRENA: Well, there are formal structures such as Independent Cultural Scene of Serbia, so technically the organized scene does exist. However, I do not see a common ideological denominator among us – it is something that might prove to be a challenge should we continue our quest for articulation. The situation with fragmentation is very likely a product of perpetually imposed social models that we are living and reproducing through our activity.

Do you find that projects like Actopolis can help articulate the fragmented self-organized scene in Serbia?

IRENA: Just by raising such issues and trying to address them, think or verbalize them, all participants of the project are potentially informing their opinions and future actions in constructing a more articulate scene. I think this sort of influence would be an organic and logical outcome of projects such as Actopolis.

Actopolis gathers individuals around an idea of self-organization, and as such it might turn out to me intangible at first. On the other hand, from my personal experience, projects that are incomprehensive in short-term, can yield relevant results long-term.

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