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QUARTER OF CENTURY OF SIGNALISM

Zivan Zivkovic

QUARTER OF CENTURY OF SIGNALISM

When on the pages of the first issue of Kragujevac journal "Koraci" ("Steps") for the year 1976 they wrote down the lines of the text whose poetical role had been obviously counted upon much - that being also witnessed by the title “Some Assumptions of Signalism” - Ljubisa Jocic and Miroljub Todorovic could already derive almost all of those assumptions from decennial creative practice of signalists. The Assumption under number 15, for example, was formulated entirely as a conclusion drawn out on the basis of available and testable material. That assumption can be simply taken as a literature or literature-historical fact that speaks about something existing, realized:
"Signalism is a complex creative movement. Signalist art is a complex art of new civilization. The complexity of Signalism is noticeable in its jaggedness, openness and non-dogmatism. Signalism is not just a method, and even less so a prescribed way of creation, a school. It is not just a visual or just a computer poetry, nor just a discarding the object and reduction of artistic text to a concept, idea, a reduction of text to a blank whiteness of page, nor just an abolition of language and introduction of sign, gesture and sound as communicative elements. Signalism is also in language, in its continuous research (jargon, slang, phenomenological, technological and other forms of verbal poetry), finding out of new contents and forms and, finally, in permeating of all these mentioned communicative elements."
During that first decade of existence of Signalism, all was realized that is characteristic of a literary movement - in this case a movement with an avant-garde sign: published were several independent author books, organized several joint exhibitions and actions, published were three signalist manifestos, started was journal "Signal" as a herald on the basis of which the movement itself would be formed. Before thee features are briefly illustrated, it should be said that in this decade the movement ceased to exist, but the idea and concept of Signalism have not - Signalism would continue to live until our days, transforming and enriching continually some segments of its own poetics, but never renouncing its basic principles, such as experiment, establishment of as close relation to the recipient as possible, ludism, planetary connections of artist and people in general, unity of the World (matter, time, space, energy) and language, etc. Thus, for example, two signalist books by Ljubisa Jocic - the co-author of some assumptions of Signalism, from which we have started in this work - were published, Moonlight in Tetra-pack (1975), whereby this author joined Signalism, and “What is the Time” (1976). The second co-author - the founder of Signalism, Miroljub Todorovic, published during this decade several books of poetry (the first was “Plane”, 1965, the least “Fool Puts on Airs”, (1974), then tree signalist manifestos: "Manifesto of Poetical Science” (1968), “Manifesto of Signalism (Regulae Poesis)” 1969 and “Signalism” (1970). In this period he organized three joint exibitions of signalist artists (Milan, 1971, Zagreb, 1974 and Belgrade, 1975), and exhibits independently several times, on Belgrade, Nis, Novi Sad, Paris. This marks period is also marked by blocks of critical texts about Signalism - these blocks were published in six journals, and from 1990 the number of the blocks doubles. It shows that Signalism becomes an interesting object of research both for foreign and domestic interpreters - literary critics, art historians, fine art historians, artists of various profiles, etc.
After the "Signal", started in 1970, as an international journal for avant-garde art (the last double-issue 8-9 was edited in January 1973), ceased to be published, the members of its editorial of five in a narrower sense (Dobrivoje Jevtic, Tamara Jankovic, Vlada Stojiljkovic, Marina Abramovic and Zoran Popovic and co-workers of the journal in a broadest sense of the word, continue the artistic work deepening and enriching some of signalist poetical intentions (on global scale impressive is conceptualist and body-artistic activity of Marina Abramovic, for example), or the find their own creative ways, without visible links to those traced by Signalism. But, the poetical principles of Signalism, formulated in manifestos as well as in other meta texts by Miroljub Todorovic, attract attention also of the artists who had not belonged to the movement. Scientific phase of the movement was complete, or scientific poetry was continued Slobodan Pavicevic, for example, (especially with collections “Silicates of Flower”, 1973, and “Magnetic Storms”, 1979) and Slobodan Vukanovic (beginning from the collection “Kissbeing”, 1973 to “Spoon-boat”, 1990).
A special impulse for a further study of Signalism was the book of essayistic texts by Miroljub Todorovic titled “Signalism” (1979). There many ideas were expressed, or - let us use the already used term “assumptions of Signalism” - exposed in manifestos or in accompanying texts with individual collection. On the other side, with this book an area more has been opened that will be creatively dealt with convincingly by Miroljub Todorovic until our days - essayistic prose, funded well theoretically, and often communicated in poetic language, in a concise, fragmentary form. Todorovic's fragment on Signalism or on occasion of any fact concerning Signalism, language, poetry, sense of art et sim. represent today an unavoidable reading for all those interested both in Signalism as a movement and concept and the opus of its founder: an ample, multilayered opus, inter medial from its very beginnings.
A greater interest in Signalism as in an authentic avant-garde phenomenon in Serbian poetry after the World War II was announced in the world and in our country by doctoral dissertation of Polish South-slavist Julian Kornhauser, defend at Jagelonian university in Krakow, in the year 1981. Its title is characteristic one – “Signalism - Program of Serbian Experimental Poetry” - and although he had had before himself just for a decade and half created poetry (ie, from Todorovic's “Planet”, 1965 to 1980), its author done successfully exceptionally important stylistic research of signalist poetry as “a new and different one” (not only “experimental one” in the context of modern Serbian poetry. Translated on parts, not completely, Kornhauser's theory if published integrally in translation would have to say much more to the present interpreters of Signalism, and also of poetry written at the same time in Europe and in the world. Moreover, with this study the fact would be confirmed definitely that Miroljub Todorovic stands at the beginning of the so-called “poetry of change” in Serbian literature.
A new zeal to this poet and to the interpreters that looked forward for the changes entered by him into the current Serbian poetry during seventies and eighties was given by a book of texts by foreign authors prepared by Miodrag Sijakovic and published under the name “Signalism in the World” (1984). Signalist artistic practise has been already lasted for two decades, which means that it is monitored and studied in the world. Soon (actually in the same year, published by Cultural Centre of Belgrade) also the book “Signalism - an Avant-garde Creative Movement”, where reports from the symposium on Signalism, held previous year in Belgrade, by literary and art critics, historians, philosophers, publicists, poets etc, appeared. By these discussions the status of Signalism was confirmed as of an authentic and irrefutable avant-garde artistic phenomenon in our country that had inspired or would inspire younger creators for new searches and experiments, no matter whether they would consider themselves to be signalists or not. Om the other side, and also in this compilation, the news has been emphasized that had taken place in Signalism, and especially communication established by Miroljub Todorovic with artists worldwide.
Beside poetical books he writes continually (let us mention just two from this period: “Algol”, 1980 and “Textum”, 1981), essayistic prosa, diaries written by him and an active cooperation with artists and institutions from Europe and world (and especially with mail artists), Todorovic published during the eighth decade two books more that he, simply said, had to write - books of polemics “Stitch for Morons” (1984) and “Cocks from Baylon Square” (1986). In the former he used also slang and entered into its covers - as he said himself in an interview - the texts published by him in several news, especially in Zagreb "Oko" ("Eye") in 1982. The occasion was Todorovic's attack on an exhibition in Modern Art Museum Salon. "Those were polemics within avant-garde itself. I enjoyed sincerely in the fight using, as I have noted in the introductory part of my book all possible gimmicks in destroying literary, artistic and bureaucratic stiff-collars". For the book “Cocks from Baylon Square” Todorovic says that therein he fought with traditionalists, neo-traditionalists and their satellites, various negators and slanderers of Signalism".
To these two books one more should be added, although it contains texts of another kind - the book “Diary of Avant-garde”, bublished y Todorovic in 1990. It would be, no doubt, after “Signalism”, one more precious source for history of Signalism, especially when some genres differentiated out in the years prior to its publication are concerned (apeironistic poetry, for example). With “Diary of Avant-garde” an octoteuch on Signalism would be completed, originated during its quarter-century long existence in Serbian culture (added this author's book “Orbits of Signalism”, published in 1985), but it does not mean at all that research on Signalist practice has been finished. The incredibly fruitful creative work of Miroljub Todorovic and, then, the ample material gathered by him in Signalist Documentary Centre both inspire and oblige to further and poetically even more precise researches, not only of particular artefacts missed by the attention of previous interpreters but also of the genres originated in Signalism.
We will end this partial chronological review of poetical, artistic and, in a broader sense, essayistic creations, originated with a sign of Signalism and avant-garde in Serbian culture after the World War II, with pointing to what has been really introduced as an innovation (and as a value by Signalism into Serbian poetry and art - and in a broader sense of the word - into theoretical thought dealing with both poetry and art. Of course, the genres are in question where perhaps mist completely incarnated a thought about innovation and autochthony, on one hand, and whereby particular creators, headed by their founder, have confirmed belonging to the most creative movement in Serbian poetry and culture in our century, on the other. Since the genres in Signalism have been already written about by the author of this article, the attention will be kept just on the most essential facts in this respect.
The fifteenth of “Some Assumptions of Signalism” by Ljubisa Jocic and Miroljub Todorovic, cited at the beginning of this work, is not only an illustrative material for the theses that followed, but can be taken as an expression of the consciousness of the two famous poets about what Signalism is and what it was intended to be reduced to by literary and fine arts critics, in order to describe and explain it "properly" as a phenomenon, concept, movement (style formation?). In this assumption it is marked clearly that: (a) Signalism can not be identified with (1) visual, as well as with (2) computer poetry or, on the other hand, be understood (b) as a "discarding object and reducing an artistic text to a concept, idea, to a blank emptiness of a page, or, still, just to abolition of language and introducing sign, gesture and sound as communicative elements". On the other hand, in the same assumption, it is emphasized that Signalism relies on language, on its continual research, i.e. on finding out new contents and form and, finally, on permeation of numerous elements that provide both communication and dialectic relation of those contents and forms. If one always keeps in mind what is spoken about in this assumption, and thereat does not forget the achievements of Miroljub Todorovic and his followers either, ie, at least that part of material processed (ordered in theoretical/critical respect) in relation to this movement, he must emphasize that it is more than clear how Signalism has enriched both Serbian poetry and Serbian art (and sciences dealing with it) with new verbal and non-verbal genres.
No doubt that signalist achievements can (must?) be researched from at least two sides (judging to the books by Miroljub Todorovic and the critical texts of both domestic and foreign student of Signalism): first of all, as achievements of a movement that has implied both verballyand non-verbally realized works (therefore works that belong both to traditional and new poetical practise), and then, that in this movement a work in language has been accented (sentences from quotation of Lj. Jocic and M. Todorovic ended) where right verbal poetical work is emphasized (insisted on in traditional Serbian poetry where it was, moreover, was appreciated highly, but which was - if looked diachronically - not always giving good results.

Signalists did not hide their "Gogolian overcoats" or roots (first of all and especially the founder of this movement) and right because they new the reaches of historical avant-garde (both in the area of the verbal and that of the visual), they could count on the reception that would await in publics and critics as well as assessing judgements that would come somewhat late, but would be far more just. The poems by the founder of Signalism would be found in the reading for elementary schools even before Signalism acquired legitimacy as a new invention in Serbian literature.
Miroljub Todorovic wrote several times about the inspiring heritage of Dadaistic art, and also put Dada itself above Surrealism in speaking about the roots not only of Signalism, but also of artistic movements and phenomenon synchronous to it. (One should keep in mind that among the co-operators was also one of founders of Dadaism - Raul Hausman). The presence of Dadaist "methods" in Signalism is noticed first of all in non-verbal signalist genres, although by denying word and its meaning, ie by its reduction to one of numerous possible signs for communication, it can be concluded that the ludistics and the experimental were basis of both Dada and our movement.
Visual, gesture and object-poetry, as non-verbal kinds, are certainly not a "pure" signalist invention, but they have not been taken over as a mere heritage of historical avant-garde either (of Dada or Surrealism, or Zenithism in our country), or, still, South American Concretism and visual poetry developed on Europian soil somewhat before or at the time when Signalism did. These three genres are defined clearly in Signalism and, most important - confirmed creatively. Not only the founder of Signalism but also other co-operators of "Signal" have achieved high goals in the areas of these genres where word has been abandoned (to which poets will be returning later on - let us rephrase a thought of Oskar Davicho regarding signalist art).
Another area where word is not primary, but has its place, was mail art. The first anthology of this art of remote communication was compiled by Miroljub Todorovic in 1980, who thus initiated its rapid development and great popularity in our country. But, he played wittily with its "rules" and "limitations" in the project “Unsuccessful Communication”, 1979. Mail art experiences its great development in our linguistic and cultural space somewhat later on: signs of that development are the journal "Total" started by Nenad Bogdanovic, and then "Open World", started by Dobrica Kamperelic. In the communicative Network, beside Todorovic, Kamperelic, Bogdanovic, also Jaroslav Supek, Sandor Gogoljak, Andrey Tisma and other, younger creators belonging to the second i.e. third generation of mail artists, have been taking until our days.
Yet, Signalism has achieved its greatest contributions, and at the same time greatest turmoil in Serbian poetry, by kinds of verbal poetry, mainly thanks to poetical works of Miroljub Todorovic. The founder of Signalism not only described, but also was writing the texts that belong to the poetical genres where word has been retained and preserved.
Signalism was promoted by scientist poetry and this kind - as it has been already said - had, and still has, its followers (Slobodan Vukanovic). Phenomenological, technological and ready made poetry, come out from Todorovic's creative laboratory, were accepted readily in the time when the movement was alive as well as later on (see the mentioned books by Ljubisa Jocic, for instance). In some forms they exist also in the letters of many poets our contemporaries, who do not declare themselves as signalist but often as post-modernists. Yet, stochastic poetry was whereby Todorovic has made the most forceful impact on the language of modern Serbian poetry, and along with a subspecies (apeironistic poetry) - with this poetry he was scoring the highest poetical results (see the collections “Textum”, 1981, “Water-snake Drink Rainwater”, 1988, “Vid's Day” (Vidov dan), 1989 etc). The least attention during this period was paid by him to pure computor poetry. He experimented more on by the computer obtained "material". Permutative (variable) and statistic poetry were the kinds in "inter phases" of his experiments, and slang poetry, written only by him among signalists, is a unique genre in the corps of Serbian poetry and poetical experience in general. That feat (to write poetry in the hidden, substandard language) is inasmuch greater as Todorovic used that "langugage" also in writing the shortest poem in the world - in writing haiku.
Stochastic, apeironistic and slang poetry, beside other kinds, marked poetical peaks of Miroljub Todorovic and true values granted to Serbian poetry by this poet at the set of this century.

1990.

Miroljub Todorović

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