A broke up Socialist Republic, a war, a new union, the independence, eventually. There are countries that because of their geographical and political history trail behind a cultural heritage which they hardly unfetter from. Irena Lagator Pejović was born in Montenegro – at that time a republic part of the state of Yugoslavia – and she looks at the art as a social strategy, as a means of a reflection on today’s society, as a project for constructing the past, imagining the future, establishing a feeling of collective responsibility.
Where do you live and why?
I live in Montenegro, where there is still so much to do in the field of culture and where precisely the lack of different cultural contents may serve as foreground to develop knowledge and be source of inspiration.
How the city you live in influenced your work?
If I have been living in a perfectly ordered city I would perhaps not be driven by circumstances which helped me to become aware and begin my research on, for instance, the issues of limitation, responsibility and society. At the time I wanted to start studying architecture in Belgrade, the city was under NATO bombings. When I was later considering to leave Montenegro, the state started a policy of European integrations. So the first stopped me, the latter kept me to observe and experience what do the processes of transition and social reconstruction imply.
What do you mean with the notion of “limited responsibility society”? Does it refer somehow to the expression usually related to commercial firms? Would you expand more on the aforementioned term?
My analysis of the public international and economic term – of today’s private corporate ‘entities’, Limited Liability Company (L.L.C. or Ltd. – whose literal translation and exact wording in my mother tongue is Limited Responsibility Society) – because of its multifaceted possibilities of interpretation and its appliance to the current state of things, has influenced my personal attempt to poetically transform and reconstruct reality by means of visual art.
In the Serbo-Croatian language, this title is called Društvo s Ograničenom Odgovornošću (DOO); either in France or in Italy, it has literally the same meaning as Société à Responsabilité Limitée (SaRL) and Società a Responsabilità Limitata (SRL). It is a company whose liability is limited to the financial contributions of its members. However, the meaning slightly changes to Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) in Great Britain; whereas in the United States it becomes Limited Liability Company (LLC); in Germany Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung (GmbH), and in Russia О́бщество с ограни́ченной отве́тственностью (OOO).
As these meanings slightly but significantly shift in different languages, territories and identities, yet their functions and ways firms operate are the same, I was interested in treating them as material for the construction of an artwork. In particular, by examining the way meaning is produced in the diverse languages and is affected by space, contexts, geography and societies which give it cultural, social and political relevance.
I was wondering, if it is true that all of us constitute the society at large, where does the justification of such a constitution lie if, indeed, we do accept any public declaration of limited responsibility?
I thus asked myself: considering a wider context, if we understand space and society as ongoing relational processes, by negating the term L.L.C. (GmbH) that specifies limitations, and transforming it into the more generous notion of non-limitation, aren’t we as a plurality able, if not to produce, at least to conceptualize and verbalize the idea of a possible Society of Unlimited Responsibility? And, if we are able to do so, which would be the consequences we might be able to simultaneously produce in our everyday life? Couldn’t we then arrive at a different understanding of the meaning and inherent complexity of the notions of responsibility, individuality and society, by which we would, in fact, be unlimitedly responsible? Responsibility would become an activator of feelings, and feelings activators of responsibility.
It took nearly a century for the term L.L.C to be adopted in its various forms in all the nations and languages. Thus what would be our future world if responsibility is ever more limited and companies ever less responsible? How much time will we need to limit the limitations on responsibility and become unlimitedly responsible? Another century?
Your work has a strong relationship with architecture as in your ongoing work Occupying/Liberating space and time. In the essay Godfather Saveljic’s Room, which you have selected to accompany your work for the catalogue of the exhibition The Sea is My Land, the author Ranko Radovic mentions the need of architecture to be honest, functional, pure. Is architecture a way of being socially responsible?
I see architecture as one of the numerous fields in which both the creator and the user can demonstrate, explore, and develop its social responsibility, or on the contrary, prove its lack. For example, one of my first projects for a public space (which also explains when and why I have referred to the limited responsibility of companies) was exhibited in 2002 on the occasion of the 4th International Biennial of Contemporary Art in Cetinje, Montenegro entitled Reconstruction. For it, I chose an apartment building whose construction started back in 1987, and which was still uninhabited because of an ongoing litigation between the owner and the prospective tenants. Actually, many apartments had been sold several times by the building’s owner that was indeed a limited liability company. It was only in 2004 that the buyers could actually start living in their apartments where, by the way, all the bedrooms look over to the old city cemetery distant around 100 meters from the bedrooms façade. Thus, the starting point for my project Witness of the Time – Now was a real situation causing real problems for real people, in a real architecture in the real life. Therefore, by exhibiting photos of the owners at the interior side of the open shutters of their future apartments, and by bearing processes of their displaced lives, my focus was to explore possibilities of social responsibility and to attempt a poetic reconstruction of reality through the language of visual art with regards to public spaces and architecture.
Would you explain more the relationship between architecture and individuals in your work?
Architecture and individuals are connected by the notion of immensity. Gaston Bachelard wrote about how immensity is constantly developing, and immensity is a particle of both architecture and individuals. Seeing, sensing, experiencing architecture with the body which is thought to be in the centre deconstructs the limits of understanding and perception of the space, and vice versa, feeling the body’s need for architecture constructs our ability to develop its immensity, to construct a sensitive dimension of architectural space.
Wondering what we need to give the priority of construction to – the architecture of the senses or the sense of architecture – has influenced the idea of interdependence between the potential of perception and intention, the play and exchange of the material with immaterial aspects of the space, the physical and sensitive presence. For example, in my string installation Further than Beyond (2013), it is not the body but the work which is dematerialized. Those ephemeral and fleeting spatial constructions which one can walk through question convictions and assertions and make us wonder whether it is us to construct the reality or the reality to construct ourselves.
read the second part of the interview here Irena Lagator Pejović. Part II
 Pennsylvania from 1874; Germany from 1892; Austria from 1906; Portugal from 1917; Brazil from 1919; Chile from 1923; France from 1925; Turkey from 1926; Cuba from 1929; Argentina from 1932; Uruguay from 1933; Mexico from 1934; Belgium from 1935; Switzerland from 1936; Italy from 1936; Peru from 1936; Columbia dal 1937; Costa Rica from 1942; Guatemala from1942; Honduras from 1950.