In art historical terms a study represents the most common process for an artist when creating complex artworks such as allegorical or historical paintings. While highly idealised and mythologised, historical paintings have always been based on actual events that had to be commemorated for political and ideological reasons. Aware of its historical context, Ibro Hasanović commemorates the eighteenth anniversary of the infamous signing of the Dayton Accords, an event that took place in the Élysée Palace in Paris on 14 December 1995 and has been widely recognised as the agreement that ended the bloodshed of Yugoslav wars, particularly the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Study for the Applause, a series of nine photographs and one video, Hasanović re-enacts a scene from a Gérard Julien photograph showing three representatives (Serbian President Slobodan Milošević, Croatian President Franjo Tuđman and Bosnian President Alija Izetbegović) of the conflicting parties along with their patrons, the presidents of the world´s superpowers (Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales, US President Bill Clinton, French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, British Prime Minister John Major and Russian Premier Victor Chernomyrdin), who initiated the peace talks and assisted with the adoption of the agreement.
Before the emergence of photography the factuality of historical paintings was not of significant importance: such are Diego Velásquez’s The Surrender of Breda (1635) where the Dutch commander hands over the keys of the besieged town to the Spanish opponent or Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon at the San Bernardino Pass (1800) where the new French emperor, mounted on a white horse, leads his army into Italy. The fact that the painters themselves might not have witnessed the actual event depicted was not problematic because the final picture was always highly idealised. Historical paintings are therefore acts of political will, in order to perpetuate a particular discourse in collective memory and, consequently, history. The American neo-classicist painter Benjamin West’s attempt to depict the signing the Peace Treaty of Paris (1784), which ended the independence war in the USA, documents delicate nature of the task of depicting such subjects. This painting of great significance remained unfinished because diplomats representing the British Empire at the time refused to pose for the historical painting commemorating their defeat.
The need to commemorate significant events by recording them – as a painting, photograph, or film – derives from the idea that visual representation serves as proof that the event really happened in the way in which it is depicted. Over the past 170 years, as a result of the availability of reproductive media that superseded and eventually succeeded the complete imaginary idealisation of allegorical and historical painting, certain protocols for portraying politically significant events have been developed. However, several diplomatic conventions were adopted for significant occasions such as official political meetings, negotiations and signing agreements. This can be seen in the images from Compiègne depicting the signing of armistice between France and Germany in 1918 and later in 1940 when the Third Reich managed to locate the same train carriage in which German surrender in WWI was publicly declared in order to pose in front of it again as a symbolic gesture of revenge. Through enacting a set of diplomatic protocols, the uniformed military officials and state representatives aim to convince the audience that their decisions are correct and righteous.
Capturing decisive moments of politically significant events in a distinctive and controlled way requires a fair amount of staging. The images of conferences, talks, meetings, or signing ceremonies have the immediate intention of becoming iconic or at the very least definitive depictions of the event, and therefore have to convey a very clear message. Likewise, the images of Dayton Accords signing ceremony in Paris have the intention to convince the audience, the consumers of the photograph and footage, that the agreement was the best and the only option in the given situation. The agreement indeed brought peace to the war-torn areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina after almost four years; however, it has also caused formal ethnic division of the state and brought on additional mass migrations that have been already caused by war. The Dayton Agreement actually proved that the war was fought in vain for all sides involved in the conflict. From today’s perspective one could conclude that the war in Yugoslavia was mostly dependant on political decisions of its warlords who managed to persuade their loyal followers to voluntarily participate in a marginal episode of global geopolitical changes.
Hasanović’s video and photographs show clapping hands in an empty space recreating the applause of every particular participant as a metaphor for visual image’s potential to idealise and manipulate broader picture. He, himself collateral damage who spent the war as a refugee, is seeking to review and question the aftermath of the agreement that, as a side effect, created an invalid and dysfunctional Bosnian state.
The protocol of the Dayton Accords signing ceremony followed by a solemn applause and a patronising speech of US president Bill Clinton addressing the chieftains of the warring sides, stripped of protocols and embellished rhetoric, demonstrates the banality of the bargain for territory. The applause too was aimed at the chieftains, in order to commend them for accepting the terms set by influential states: the incorporation of democracy and free market economy as unquestionable values. The Study for the Applause ironically points out the paradoxical outcome of armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which could be seen as a blueprint for a number of recent wars taking place around the globe caused and triggered by economic interests.
Ljubljana, January 2014