The Origin of Europe

Tanja Ostojic is a 33-year old Serbian artist who currently lives in Berlin but considers herself to be a European “nomad”. Many of her “works of art” consist of “nude performances” during which the artist, having shaved all body hair, stands naked and motionless for hours in exhibition halls as “a living statue.”

An art website writes that “it is no surprise that she found in France a receptive audience” for her nude performances. Apparently, Ostojic’s breakthrough as an artist came after exhibitions in France during which “She took the public’s excuse to ogle her to say something about looking and seeing, and being. Tanja wasn’t trying to jerk the public off but rather open them up to her nearly political idea of purity.”

Ostojic also wants to make statements about Europe. A few years ago, she made a poster of herself, again totally shaven and naked, accompanied by an “advertisement” asking for a husband with an EU passport. “Ostojic’s idea,” the art website says, “was to examine again how closely mass communications (internet) and mass consumption (sex) wake up together every day (politics).”

Ostojic can make a living out of her work. This says a lot about the art scene in contemporary Europe. I suspect that if modern art was not government-subsidized, artists whose primary talent seems to reside in selling what they do in pseudo-intellectual babble, would not have it as easy as today and would – like the rest of us – have to do something valuable in life.

When the leftist Austrian art collective 25 Peaces recently approached the Austrian government with a proposal to have 75 European artists make a series of 150 posters celebrating Austria’s presidency of the European Union, it was no surprise that Ostojic, with her leftist feminist and Europeanist political ideas, was asked to participate. She presented a picture of a woman’s crotch dressed in briefs adorned with the EU flag. The work was clearly inspired by Gustave Courbet’s 1866 oil canvas of a vagina, entitled “The Origin of the World.” As one can imagine Courbet’s work, currently at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, would have caused an uproar when exhibited in the 1860s, but it was never exhibited. Courbet’s painting was not government-funded, nor were people who did not want to see it confronted with it in the streets. In those days Europe was still, well, a civilized society, where artists could do as they pleased (at least if they provided for themselves) but certain sensitivities were respected in public.


Last week Ostojic’s “Origin of Europe” caused an uproar when it was displayed on huge billboards in the streets of Vienna. Along with three other shocking or pornographic posters of the 25 Peaces series her work led to such public indignation that the Austrian government ordered it taken down. Ostojic decried the measure as “censorship” but perhaps she was wounded most by feminist Socialist Austrian politicians who wanted the picture to be taken down because it is “offensive to women.” Indeed, two groups took offense: conservative Catholics and Ostojic’s own feminist left. It makes one wonder why the Austrian government was so quick to react: because it does not want to offend the conservatives or because that is what the new political correctness dictates?

The opposition parties from both the right and the left are criticizing the government of Christian-Democrat Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel over the poster campaign. The leader of the eurosceptic, right-wing FPÖ regards the government’s decision to have 25 Peaces order 150 posters for display on huge billboards in Austria’s major cities as a “stupid provocation” of “Austrians with conservative values.” Josef Cap of the Socialist SPÖ refers to the posters as the “EU Porn posters” and is demanding to know how much government money was spent on them. This, apparently, no-one seems to know.

At first, Schüssel denied that the government had given any subsidies at all. Later, he admitted that one million euro had been given to 25 Peaces for all its activities in 2005, but he denied that government subsidies had gone to the EU poster campaign. On Thursday, however, Josef Cap got hold of receipts showing that 25 Peaces had received 1.5 million euro of which 500,000 euro had been spent on the EU poster campaign. The money was apparently paid via the sponsoring department of the state-owned holding ÖIAG. Cap wants Parliament to investigate how the poster campaign was subsidized. The campaign is estimated to have cost approximately 10 million euro. Other state-owned organisations, such as the Austrian Lottery and Vienna Airport, have also subsidized 25 Peaces.

While Tanja Ostojic is complaining because the Austrian taxpayers will no longer be confronted with her controversial poster, these taxpayers have paid her (how much?), but the government denies any knowledge of this. What is the worst scandal here? Is it the fact that Ostojic’s “Origin of Europe” has been banned from the streets in what she sees as an instance of censorship? Is it the fact that the Austrian government gives money to left-wing organisations without knowing what they do with it? Or is it the fact that this incompetent government, that does not know what it spends its money on, will be heading the EU for the next six months?


More on this topic:

Is the EU a Group Sex Fantasy?,  29 December 2005