Starting in the 1960s, Serbian workers began migrating to Western Europe for employment. In 1969, the West German government formalized a system for these gastarbeiters, or guest workers, and the word has become part of the Serbian lexicon to refer to anyone working abroad. Today, the government estimates the Serbian diaspora at 3.5 million, with remittances reaching $2.4 billion—12% of the GDP—in 2004. Most gastarbeiters intend to return to Serbia, but the homecoming is never what it is imagined. Tensions between those who remained and those who left exist for economic, cultural, and interpersonal reasons, and much larger structural forces shape the broader terrain in which these financial and personal relationships are negotiated.
“What the Market Bares” is a video installation investigating some of the relational impacts of labor migration in Kučevo, Serbia through the material experiences of residents and gastarbeiters. We set up a free, open-air photo booth in the daily farmers’ market. Along with receiving their portraits, residents were asked to state one thing they receive from abroad and gastarbeiters to state one thing they bring back from abroad. These unseen objects provide insight into how the people are or are not linked in the global economy. The portraits and statements were compiled into an animation reversed-projected on the windshield of a bus. Installed in the town station at dusk, the piece played as dozens of gastarbeiters boarded chartered buses back to their jobs in places like Austria, Germany, and Sweden. The project was undertaken as part of a one-month Arts Intervention workshop sponsored by ArtLink Belgrade.