There are many ways to get to Montenegro’s Adriatic Coast, my taxi driver assured me, raising his voice over a chorus of horns that angrily saluted his laissez-faire attitude toward lane use during morning rush-hour traffic in Belgrade. ‘But it makes no sense to take the train.’ He weaved through less aggressive vehicles like a skier clearing slalom gates. A cold, grey autumn rain began to fall harder, drops beading down my window, as the main railway station came into view.
‘Let me take you to the airport,’ he sounded genuinely concerned. ‘You will be in the sea and in the sun and with a beer in half an hour. This thing you are doing, it will take all day … and into the night.’ He finally relented as we pulled up to the curb: ‘At least buy water, sandwiches, and toilet paper.’
The cabbie left me in front of the crenellated railway station, a faded Habsburg-yellow throwback opened in 1884. He was already speeding off to advise another tourist before I could throw my bag over my shoulder. Inside, I found the ticket office. The woman behind the glass informed me that the trip from Belgrade, Serbia, to Bar, Montenegro – on the Adriatic edge of the Balkan Peninsula – takes 12 hours. It costs 21 euros (there would be an additional three-euro charge for a seat reservation). ‘Yes, there is a bakery nearby,’ she said and pointed. ‘It is behind you. The shop for water and tissues is next to it.’ She slid the window closed, stood, picked up her pack of cigarettes, and disappeared.
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That sense of old-world drama would serve me well, I would soon learn, along this route. On the outskirts of the Serbian capital – as I settled into my seat in a weathered, six-person cabin – we passed Topčider Station, where the hulking locomotives from Yugoslav leader Marshal Tito’s famous Blue Train are stored. The behemoths sat dishevelled, graffitied, but still regal and almost lifelike, wishing me a safe passage to the outer lands. Within an hour, the tangle of urban metal and concrete unravelled, and the countryside spread out in all directions with the urgency of a jailbreak. The sun came out as wet, emerald-green hummocks began to play leapfrog across the vista, rolling until they dove out of sight over the horizon.
Though the Belgrade–Bar line doesn’t have a sexy moniker (like the Royal Scotsman or Rocky Mountaineer), the Yugoslav Flyer would be appropriate. When construction began on the 476km railway in 1951, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was in its infancy: a tenuous post-WWII cadre of states on the Balkan Peninsula’s western half. By the time the route opened in 1976 – complete with 254 tunnels and 234 bridges winding down from the Pannonian Plain to the island-studded Adriatic Sea – the country had implanted itself as a geopolitical force and a synapse between the West and the Soviet Union.
Yugoslavia has since splintered into seven nations. The railway, thankfully, endures, connecting Serbia to Montenegro with a brief blip across Bosnia & Hercegovina’s eastern border. But the line’s existence represents more than just a continued, now international, transport option. These tracks are the Balkans – and a lifeline to a swath of land where cultures have intertwined since before history. Here, the train takes adventurers across vistas crisscrossed by Greeks and Illyrians, as well as the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Along the way, visitors have a literal window onto a living museum frozen in time.
Those natural exhibits were on full display as we rumbled through the foothills of the Dinaric Alps in the southwestern corner of Serbia. When we crossed the border into Montenegro, the museum’s lineup of canvases – pristine panoramas and landscapes – changed again. The Western Balkans’ rotating collection now included towering mountains and canyons that engulfed us whole.
‘I had no idea what to expect,’ said Colin Smith, a fellow passenger and UK native. Outside the window, an old couple leaned against pitchforks next to haystacks. Behind them, vegetable gardens and a small-but-dense orchard of plum trees surrounded a stone farmhouse. ‘But I am so surprised by the beauty: the mountains, steep ravines and endless drops.’
Before I went to sleep that night, I remembered my taxi driver: ‘But it makes no sense to take the train.’ Lying in bed, I could hear the sea washing onto the shore outside my rented apartment’s window. If I ever saw him again, I would make sure to tell the cabbie he was right: a flight would have been much faster and easier, and more sterile.
Book tickets (and separate necessary reservations) at the station a day in advance. There are 1st- and 2nd-class options. Night-train passengers can choose between couchettes or sleepers (with two or three beds). A one-way ticket (from Belgrade) costs 21 euros; a reservation is necessary and costs an additional three euros. Second-class couchettes on night trains cost an additional six euros. A bed in a three-bed sleeper is 15 euros; a bed in a two-bed sleeper is 20 euros.
The Belgrade–Bar railway line runs twice per day, in both directions. From Belgrade, the train departs at 9:10am and at 9:10pm; the trip takes 12 hour.
Look into my eyes: Witkacy’s “portrait gaze” as a critique and anticipation of the cultural industry
This article analyzes the construction of the “portrait gaze” as a visual technique that directs, manipulates and challenges the viewer’s gaze in Witkacy’s portraits. Witkacy (1885-1939), often compared to Marcel Duchamp, was one of the most controversial and complex figures in 20th-century Polish art. This article focuses on one of the least explored and confusing phases of Witkacy’s career, especially in international literature, namely portraiture, which he produced from 1925 onwards. In the same year, Witkacy created the S. portrait firm business and sold the portraits as if they were commercial products. Witkacy published a menu-like “Book of Rules” that functioned as a “contract” between Witkacy and his “client”/model, and from which models could order types of portraits. Witkacy’s “Portrait Firm” is often analyzed as “playing with art” and “playing with a model”. But how will our understanding of Witkacy’s aesthetic and commercial position change if we consider his portraits as devices of “playing with the viewer”? ? This article is an attempt to answer this question by addressing several interrelated issues related to Witkacy’s portraiture and his portrait signature. The methods applied in this dissertation will be based on the problems of gaze, vision and visual perception, means of action and audience. Looking at four portraits of Witkacy, this article argues that Witkacy introduces the ambiguous “portrait gaze” as an attempt to anticipate and critique the coming mass standardization of art and its bourgeois clientele.
Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (1885-1939), better known by his pseudonym Witkacy, was one of the most sophisticated artists on the Polish art scene of the 20th century, often compared to Marcel Duchamp. He was an artist, photographer, playwright, writer, philosopher and art theorist. This article focuses on Witkacy’s conceptual approach to portraiture, with particular emphasis on the concept of gaze. An analysis of the “portrait gaze” in Witkacy’s portraiture must take into account the unconventional business arrangements of S. I. Witkacy’s portrait firm Witkacy, which led to social and economic tensions at Witkacy-sitter meetings, which was reflected in the “portrait gaze” used by Witkacy. In 1924, Witkacy declared that he could not achieve the goals of his theory of art, which he called the theory of pure form, and abandoned oil painting. The following year, he founded the portrait firm of S.I. Vitkevich, a one-man venture capitalist, where he worked exclusively in pastel, charcoal, and pencil, and executed only portraits.
Modern portrait practice can be seen as a product of bourgeois sentiment, where the financial position of the sitter is confirmed by the possibility of commissioning such an image (Brettell 1999, 164-165). The role of the artist is to give the bourgeois portrait a supposed uniqueness (Brettell 1999, 165). Witkacy ambiguously positioned himself within these conventions of bourgeois portraiture, since his main source of income was portrait commissions from the Polish intelligentsia and bourgeoisie, from politicians to businessmen (Krzysztofowicz-Kozakowska 1989, 45). This reinforces the view of Witkacy’s portraits as “symbolic objects of social prestige” (Piotrowski 1985, 106)1. However, Witkacy’s relationship with his clients suggests that he had a distorted view of the bourgeoisie’s pretensions to pose aristocratically. Most portrait painters of the 19th and 20th centuries played a polite role in the sophisticated relationship of patron and artist, downplaying the commercial aspect of portraiture. Witkacy, on the other hand, maintained a sharp, professional tone in these respects, treating clients as if they were clients.
Witkacy ridiculed the main function of the bourgeois portrait, questioning the commonly held expectation that the portrait conveys the uniqueness of the sitter. By writing a list of portrait types, from Type A to Type E (see Table 1), and providing his clients with image catalogs of his “exemplary” work, Witkacy placed his art in the commercial landscape. As with any “cultural industry” work, Witkacy’s portraits required a conscious and determined injection of superficial individualization in order to differentiate the product (Adorno 1975, 12–19). It has been argued that the systematization of Witkacy’s portrait types implies that Witkacy himself was a “pre-programmed artist-machine” (Piotrowski 1985, 105). However, if the portraits were indeed standardized by a pre-programmed machine, it would be possible to assemble them together into a coherent system. However, this turns out to be an impossible task. Witkacy created his system and his rules only to constantly break them, or at least remain in an ambiguous “between”.
It is important to note that Witkacy, unlike most contemporary painters, was neither a representative of the bourgeoisie nor a fan of the coming utopia. Witkacy saw in his contemporary society the last stage, preceding the total standardization of people for the sake of their seeming happiness. This standardization would lead to the collapse of culture, to the destruction of individuality, and to the end of art.” with which he is in solidarity, but cannot stop its collapse” (Piotrovsky 1985, 107-109). Thus, the portrait signature of Witkacy is a double-edged sword; Witkacy heightens the tension between rebellion and acceptance of the terms of an impending dystopia.
The methods applied in this article will be based on the problems of gaze, vision and visual perception, means of action and audience. Important literature on this topic includes the works of Hal Foster, such as Vision and Visuality, as well as the works of Rosalind Krauss, including The Optical Unconscious and Martin Jay’s Downcast Eyes. In addition to analyzing the visual techniques in Witkacy’s portraits, this article will also examine the conceptual and aesthetic design of Witkacy’s portrait signature and its relation to the discussion of the “portrait gaze”.
Witkacy operated within the constraints of his commercial portrait company and its codified “Book of Rules”, social and economic relations with his models, and above all, he created works that contradicted his own theory of what constitutes art. Thus, Witkacy perceives his portraits as ambiguous products of the tension between his dual role: that of an artist and that of a factory manufacturer. This tension culminates in his portraits and is most evident in Witkacy’s handling of the gaze. Witkacy uses the “portrait gaze” to confront and confuse the viewer. He leads the viewer through a series of expressive elements, focusing on the eyes. For the viewer, however, the act of looking reveals, but does not remove, the tension present in Witkacy’s portraits. Rather, the viewer is forced to get lost in the ambiguity of the “portrait gaze” without ever reaching any meaningful climax or denouement.
Witkacy was interested in the eyes and gaze in both his literary and pictorial work. His novels and dramas contain detailed descriptions of the eyes and gazes of characters (Krzysztofowicz-Kozakowska 1989,
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