It’s a truth universally acknowledged that culture events equate to free food. And if you are organised enough, you can feast very happily on both.
Sonchika (female/mid-60s/resident of Skopje, the capital of North Macedonian) is one very organised cookie. Together with a dozen or so comrades in arms, she is a regular face on the city’s cultural map, whether at a movie premiere, a gallery opening or the launch of a new exhibition.
Not that her presence is welcomed by caterers, security guards and party organisers, who seem to think that Sonchika and her gang are there more for the free food which, let’s face it, is as tasty from the table as it is when later sampled from her doggy bag.
Yes, she maybe a bit of a freeloader who will even attend the opening of an envelope, but nevertheless it’s obvious whose side Consuming Contemporary director Ana Aleksovska is on.
“When I came back to Skopje I decided to really do this film. So I started to hang out with my heroes of the movie and it was a part of my life that last for 7 months,” she stresses. “I was really a part of their gang, gaining their trust and getting to know them.”
The director had been aware of this particular cultural phenomenon when she lived in Prague, she adds, except the Czechs have a term for this type of person – a pigeon.
Aleksovska sees Sonchika very much in feminist terms. Her ‘hero’ seems to be in an unhappy marriage, and she was laid off twice from work since the opening up of the former Yugoslavia. So these regular cultural excursions are what she looks forward to, and bonds with her friends over, Aleksovska underlines.
“Her main motivation in doing this is to feel that she is part of society. She has been marginalised/repelled from every social group she has tried to enter but when she is part of the audience in a gallery, she feels that she is accepted,” the director adds.
In the film, the events that she is thrown out of are free to the public, which seems to confirm Sonchika’s suspicion that she is being ejected on grounds of taste, that some petty bourgeois sensibility is being offended.
“Unfortunately, yes, that is true. In our country this is very visible,” agrees Aleksovska. “I can compare it with Prague. In Czech society they are not treated with as much [scorn] as they are in my country. I could notice that.”
But this merely serves to harden the culture vultures’ resolve. “They still come back. It is not making them stop. It makes them feel alive, It is a small war that they are fighting because they know that they have the right to be part of society. That is the thing that I wanted to tell, that everybody has the right to belong somewhere. I wanted to show this huge injustice through their eyes.”
Aleksovska points out at least two examples of inconsistency/paradox/hypocrisy (delete as appropriate) on the part of the cultural institutions throwing their food and drink-laden premieres.
A fellow artist or friend of the host can generally drink as much alcohol or scoff as much food as they like, without anybody batting an eyelid. What’s more, when an event looks like it may be a bit short on attendees, those very same party organisers pray for the attendance of Sonchika and her mates, so as to make up the numbers.
Alekskova, however, makes a case for their ongoing inclusion irrespective of circumstances.
“They are a really loyal audience,” she underlines. “If you go for 30 years to these art events, you become quite a connoisseur of art. My protagonist [Sonchika] can quote Macedonian writers. She has known artists and painters since their graduation and can talk about the development of their career, so she and her friends are quite a fixture in Skopje, part of the artistic tapestry. You cannot imagine an art event here without them.”