Sundays In Majdanpek on a Saturday in Whitechapel
Steven Ball & Rastko Novakovic

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Sundays In Majdanpek (video, 32 mins, 2007) by Rastko Novakovic was recorded in the town of Majdanpek in Serbia, above Majdanpek’s mine, in Victoria Park in Hackney, London and in the vicinity of the Westerkerk in Amsterdam, between August 2006 and January 2007. It is a (neo)dialectical essayistic exploration; a working-through, reiterative and non-conclusive; it is self-referential with regard to both its internal processes and the contexts of its various iterations, including each screening and subsequent conversations, and with regard to the intersection of the geo-political and the cinematic and geo-politics and cinema.

It is a video in two parts and Novakovic describes it thus:

Part one, Tri U Dva Ne Ide, consists of five shots of the town’s disused cinema, presenting a fleeting document of the social space and history of Majdanpek, a devastated mining town in Eastern Serbia, built up during a period of Yugoslav optimism in 1961 and obliterating the existing settlement almost in its entirety. The cyclical gesture of entering the cinema, the expectations in starting afresh, tracing the same route with different images and sounds, invite the audience to enter between the shots and the frames and to explore their relationship to the moving image and the spaces it inhabits.

In Part two, Twice Shy, A single uninterrupted shot of Majdanpek’s open mine in 4:3 aspect ratio is tilted so that its diagonal fits the 16:9 masking. It exemplifies that widescreen is suitable not only for coffins and snakes, but likewise for text. It stretches the tension between home video and cinema, the public and private, the lived and the represented, between offscreen space and the proscenium.
The image, sound and text present alternating movements between figure and ground. Several contradictions are elaborated upon: the image recorded in Majdanpek and projected in London, the sounds recorded in London and the silence of the footage in Majdanpek, the silence surrounding a text and the silence within a text.

(from the Sundays In Majdanpek programme notes)

read the full programme note and credits


The following conversation between Steven Ball and Rastko Novakovic about Sundays In Majdanpek took place on Saturday 31st March 2007 at Elastic Residence in Whitechapel, London.

Steven Ball:
I come from a background with a predominant interest in a more formalist approach to experimental film and video making and have a tendency, for better or for worse, to approach work primarily with regard to formal qualities. From this point of view this is clearly a complex work, particularly with regard to the text, duration, framing and so on. But the work also resonates strongly: of place, the place within the video, the cinema, the mine and so on. I think that an understanding of these resonances can be developed through talking first of all about the more formal aspects. What do you think?

Rastko Novakovic: In the same way that the video resists the audience in a certain way, I think I should also resist your buying into that line of argument. For one thing, I think that too much is made of form in cinema, especially in experimental cinema. In the late films of Bunuel, for instance, he’s very much dealing with issues of form and content, but that doesn’t often get spoken about in the same kind of way. For instance in Tristana a young girl gets corrupted by an older man. In fact the story is about the devil switching from one form to another: the different forms are the young girl or the old man. The content is the devil, and in this case the devil is just another word for patriarchy. The older man is the husband, the lover, the boss, the pimp, and it’s a story of how this violence gets internalised and how it’s then perpetuated. In the same way she asks him, look at these two columns and tell me which one you prefer. And he says, well they’re exactly the same. Now, formal logic would have you say yes, a column is a column, or a chick pea is a chick pea, or a bottle of Coke is a bottle of Coke, which is what Trotsky uses to explain dialectical materialism. Of course no bottle of Coca-Cola is like any other because there’s a difference of content and I just think that form cannot be divorced from content. You can try and reduce it to a great extent but it resists that.

SB: Well I wouldn’t disagree with that. My suggestion was that we get at the content via the form, that’s not to say that they’re separate, in fact it’s to say the opposite, that they’re integral to each other. So by way of another kind of formal question, the current structure of the piece is determined by its own history isn’t it? Perhaps you could talk about how the first version of the work was as, as I understand it, an installation.

RN: At first, it was a completely site-specific installation made as part of a three week residency in Majdanpek, a mining town in eastern Serbia. It was shot in the main square where you have several buildings: the school, the council offices and the cinema. The cinema was really the heart of that society because there were, are still, three shifts in the mine. In the seventies and early eighties the cinema used to be absolutely jam-packed and they had three or four shows every day. As a social space it was very important. But by the time I was there they were tearing the cinema apart, or rather one guy was employed to tear it apart over a year and a half and then rebuild it almost from scratch. Only the outside walls were there. So the space was a building site, as you can see in the video, it’s not necessarily a metaphor but there is this unfinished aspect to it. So, I started thinking about the state as a process, an unfinished endeavour, especially Serbia which is a young state in many ways, however you look at it. That’s the background.

It was installed on a monitor in front of where each shot starts, where the cameraman would have been standing and the same route is traversed five times. It moves from the small screen of the TV to the large screen of the cinema, which isn’t really there, because there is no screen. So, it becomes a screen that you can project all sorts of things onto, and I chose to project a number of texts and different materials: some overheard, some more researched. Some months later I dug up the footage of the mine, of which Part two largely consists, and decided to make a contrasting piece that would be only in English. Then I joined them together.

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