Robert Adanto’s Born Just Now (2018) and the contested feminine being of Marta Jovanović
Robert Adanto is the director of the documentary film Born Just Now (2018), which profiles the Belgrade-based artist, Marta Jovanović. The work of female artists remains largely under-represented and underpaid in comparison to their male counterparts. That is the premise and raison d’être of Adanto’s 2015 film, The F Word, wherein he surveys a select group of women primarily creating in New York City, leading what is being called Fourth Wave Feminist Art. Arguably, even more, marginalized in commercial terms, is the realm of Performance and Body Art in cultural production today, which Born Just Now highlights alongside Jovanović’s diverse body of work. This is where Adanto’s documentary acts as a bridge between an audience who may know very little about performance art, Balkan-states politics, and female artists alike. To an art world novice, it’s helpful to see this documentary as a conversation entrenched in the art historical context of those who paved the way for artists like Jovanović.
Art As Response
Traditionally, the male gaze has been a dominant theme in the art world, specifically in reference to the depiction and representation of the female body. The muse (woman) — artist (man) relationship is deeply embedded in the narrative foundation of what we know art history to be. As the social-political evolution of the relationship between the sexes has evolved, so too has the artistic production and gender roles of this old tale. A story of relating. Now, art serves as the open playing field where female artists can find resolution on their historically contested feminine being. As Born Just Now shows, this tension is central to Jovanović’s work, who excels at staying true to her artistic calling, whether it be video installations, sculptures, photography or performance.
Exposing the female body to the public in new ways that engaged and questioned its meaning was an expressive territory meant to be taken over by women themselves. When Austrian-artist, VALIE EXPORT performed Tapp-und Tastkino (Tap and touch cinema) in the late 1960s, she invited the public to touch her breasts, which were literally boxed in. While her chest remained covered, private, the act was manifested amidst passersby in a wide-open urban street, creating an instant spectatorship of the interaction. Men approached her body in that public space and reached their arms through the small curtains of the box to finally touch her. Making it evident that as soon as we respond to someone or something, we create a relationship. A renowned figure in performance art is another Serbian-artist, Marina Abramović (b. 1946), who explains that “Without the audience, the work doesn’t exist. It doesn’t make any meaning.”
The relationship between the female body and audience continued to unravel through the 70s. Front runners of the subject, Carolee Schneemann, VALIE EXPORT, and Hannah Wilke, among others, proceeded to perform surgery on the psyche of spectators with their work. Carving out a designated space of artistic creation which became known as the First Wave of Feminist Art. By placing their bodies front and center, they and others became game changers for the still nascent genre of performance. The F Word conveys what the critical response of the masses to this new wave of creative work was. In particular, how women often demeaned female artists based on their physical looks and use of their bodies in their work, relegating it to nothing more than a narcissistic act. The argument was that being beautiful and nude was equal to having no substance, as Hannah Wilke experienced. An argument, which fell through when Wilke continued to use her body as her art form as it deteriorated from cancer.
Art As Relationship
Narrated mainly by the artist herself, Born Just Now is as much about Marta Jovanović as it is about Performance Art. The viewer is essentially invited into Jovanović’s life and creative process, an intimate look of a modus vivendi which can be hard to find elsewhere. What’s salient throughout the documentary is the artist’s manifold relationships, to family, country, her art, and ultimately to herself. This level of intricate storytelling, a raising of the viewer’s cognition, can seem just beyond our reach when we are at a gallery witnessing a woman use a hammer to break open rows of eggs hanging from a ceiling and allowing the residue to cover her body as she makes her way across the space. The difficulty with which you see her make her way to reach each one, at times her sight blurred by the slimy substance, is that live element that performance art delivers to the audience in temporal yet profound exchanges.
With great intentionality, Marta navigates the changing tides of her identity. A thread of loss and violence follows her life from witnessing her war-torn country, the former-Yugoslavia fall apart. Her artistic profession, therefore, becomes a response to political and personal events in her life. She struggles to move forward after an abusive relationship with her ex-husband, who blames her for the disintegration of their marriage. To put ourselves in her shoes is to ask, Where do I start and my work end? This sense of not knowing where we belong because the structures of our previous relationship dynamics can no longer hold our identity, safely or otherwise, is the process of creation and decay, which Jovanović embraces throughout. Thus the title, Born Just Now.
Another intriguing element that arises in the film is the pedagogical, non-commercial nature of performance. In a segment where Jovanović mentors other young, dirigible and talented artists such as Ivana Ranisavljević, an inevitable conversation ensues about how their work is often received as being pretentious. The claim that art is pretentious is not uncommon. However, hearing artists argue on this popular, almost decisive point of view of art’s value serves as a critically constructive piece of the overall effort that Adanto accomplishes in demystifying the artistic process throughout the film.
For Jovanović, it is clear that performance is the one true space where the integration of her animus comes alive, as she states that being physically present in the artwork is her playground, her “playing field.” And while the topic of marketing and monetizing such works in the art industry can be a balancing act, she expands the visibility of performance by allowing intense emotional vulnerability around universally experienced areas of life such as self-worth, doubt, and surrendering to take place. Granting us an undeniably more humanizing view of how we relate to contemporary performance art and the fact that emotional intimacy is a playing field for all of us to explore.
Born Just Now (2018) is an Official Selection of the 33rd Annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. The screenings take place Sunday, November 4 at 8:00pm at The Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale and Saturday, November 10th at 9:00pm at Cinema Paradiso Hollywood.