Part of the
exhibition

In the Presence of Absence proposals for the museum collection

5 Sep 2020 until 31 Jan 2021

Artist Page — 2 Sep 2020

In the Presence of Absence, the bi-annual show of proposals for the museum collection, presents 23 artists (collectives). This artist page includes a text on the work and an artist contribution.

In the installation Before the Fall There Was No Fall. Episode 01: Raw Material (2019), Anna Dasović shows how the Royal Netherlands Army deployed language and role play to prepare Dutch UN soldiers for peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Following the violent dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which resulted in several wars, the Dutch government sent the first of three battalions to protect the “UN Safe Area” of Srebrenica in Eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. In July 1995, Srebrenica was overrun by Bosnian Serb troops who, with Dutch UN soldiers looking on, separated the Bosnian Muslim men from the women. The women and small children were deported, and 8,372 men and boys were murdered. 

Dasović’s installation combines excerpts of text from the “1994 Former Yugoslavia Handbook” (Handboek voormalig Joegoslavië) with video material drawn from around one hundred VHS tapes from an archive of the Dutch Ministry of Defense. Dasović used the Dutch Freedom of Information Act to request the tapes, and after a drawn-out process lasting four years, she was ultimately granted access to them. The video component of the work consists entirely of raw material from the tapes.

Illustration by Haitham Haddad after Anna Dasović’s “Before the Fall There Was No Fall. Episode 01: Raw Material,” 2019.
Illustration by Haitham Haddad after Anna Dasović’s “Before the Fall There Was No Fall. Episode 01: Raw Material,” 2019.

It shows how, during military exercises on NATO sites in the Netherlands and Belgium, Dutch Blue Helmets took part in role-playing encounters to prepare them for their peacekeeping mission. The army brought in soldiers who had already been deployed on peacekeeping missions to Bosnia and Herzegovina to work as actors. They acted out the role of members of the local community with whom they had come into contact. This had the implicit effect of reinforcing representations of “the Other.” Dasović argues that racist excesses within the Royal Netherlands Army are partly the consequence of a military culture that has been distorted by immaterial associations rooted deep in the colonial past of the Netherlands. To what extent did this affect the actions of UN soldiers in Srebrenica?

Dasović’s artistic practice is focused on the rhetorical structures that make genocidal violence visible, and those deployed to obscure the politically inconvenient aspects of such conflicts. What ideological narratives do such representations participate in on a structural level?

Anna Dasović’s (b. 1982) video editing, photography, and installation work arises out of archival and bibliographical research, fieldwork, and interviews. She studied photography at HKU University of the Arts Utrecht and continued her studies at the Dutch Art Institute at ArtEZ University of Arts, Arnhem. From 2017 to 2018 she attended the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. Dasović’s work has been exhibited at Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Kunstverein Braunschweig, and Bergen Assembly.

Before the Fall There Was No Fall. Episode 01: Raw Material was commissioned by the Van Abbemuseum and Framer Framed. The second part of this project, Episode 02, will go on display starting September 5, 2020, at Framer Framed.

Anna Dasović, “Before the Fall There Was No Fall. Episode 01: Raw Material,” 2019, still. Courtesy the artist.
Anna Dasović, “Before the Fall There Was No Fall. Episode 01: Raw Material,” 2019, still. Courtesy the artist.

Artist Contribution

I found this footage among other videotapes of a military exercise of Dutch Blue Helmets, prior to their deployment as UN peacekeepers to the UN safe area of Srebrenica, in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1995. It is believed to have been intended for screening during the soldiers’ training at NATO camps in Germany and Belgium. It is not clear in what capacity this material was actually used by the Dutch Royal Military to inform their soldiers. How are we to understand the presence of this footage among a collection of 100 other videotapes in which the Dutch Royal Military engaged in staging and embodying a representation of the people in Srebrenica, that so profoundly dehumanized and Othered them?

Tape 67: Tourist information film Srebrenica