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Collective Work – Đuro Seder’s response to Gorgona group’s homework assignment

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Date: 1963

Participants: Đuro Seder, Gorgona group

Organized by: Radoslav Putar and Gorgona group

Location: Zagreb

From 1961–63, members of the Gorgona group (comprising artists, architects, and critics) collectively organized and self-funded a series of exhibitions in the “Šira Salon,”[1] a frame shop in Zagreb that Gorgona occasionally rented for its exhibitions. Gorgona’s activities could be seen as a precedent for numerous self-organized artistic exhibitions and spaces that would become a significant marker of the Zagreb art scene of the 1970s.

In place of an exhibition, however, this chronology presents a material trace of another, less visible aspect of Gorgona’s work: activities such as meetings, discussions, collective walks into nature, the exchange and circulation of letters, quotes, thoughts, surveys or assignments among group members. Documentation of these activities were only presented to the public in 1977, when the first exhibition of Gorgona group was organized at the Zagreb Gallery of Contemporary Art, curated by Nena Dimitrijević. Until then, their visibility remained limited to the small circle within and around the group itself, but since its presentation, Gorgona has been seen as a precursor to the New Artistic Practice even if the new generation of artists was able to identify this “point of origin only retroactively.”
In 1963, Radoslav Putar gave all group members a homework assignment – an example of their customary appropriation of bureaucratic and authoritative discourse — demanding that they answer the question as to whether it was possible to produce a “collective work.” Most responses posited collective work as a utopian, or simply an impossible project, unfit for realization. Ivan Kožarić, for example, proposed to make collectively, plaster casts of the inside of of the heads of all Gorgona members. Đuro Seder’s response distinguished between the “critical-rational” and the “Gorgonian” approach to the idea of collective work. In both cases, collective work was a desired ideal, a way to overcome narrow individualist interests and concerns. However, whereas the “critical-rational” approach exhibited a level of certainty in the successful achievement of this ideal, the “Gorgonian approach” highlighted its ultimate impossibility. In each of the four scenarios outlined by Seder, the attempt to create and exhibit a Gorgonian collective work fails as it transforms from idea/desire to materialization/representation. This failure is in all cases bound with the constraints of the exhibition space and its management—here epitomized by “Šira,” the owner of the frame shop. Seder’s four imaginary, failed exhibition scenarios construe the exhibition itself as the epitome of the paradoxes inherent in the (re)presentation of art: the exhibition at the same time communicates and undermines the art’s utopian potential.

The “Collective Work” homework exercise is presented here as an artifact housing questions that continued to haunt and preoccupy artist groups during the 1960s and 1970s: the dialectics between individualism and collectivism, self-organization and institutionalization, visibility and opacity, professionalization and amateurism, state support and autonomy.

DocumentĐuro Seder: The Collective Work (1963)

Guide for the chronology (Ivana Bago: Something to think about: values and valeurs of visibility in Zagreb from 1961 to 1986)


[1] Officially named after its owner, but it became Studio G when Gorgona made exhibitions there.


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Films by Artūras Barysas-Baras presented at Amateur film festivals

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Date: 1977, 1979

Location: 4th and 5th Republican (LSSR) Humorous-Satirical Film Festivals

Artūras Barysas-Baras (1954–2005) – filmmaker, actor, record collector, and bibliophile – was one of the most prominent personalities in Vilnius’ alternative culture of the second half of the 20th century. He had become a member of the LSSR Society of Amateur Filmmakers in his school years, and made more than 30 short films during his lifetime, most of them between 1970 and 1984 (11 of the films have been lost). Barysas’ films earned critical acclaim at republican and Union-wide amateur film festivals. The amateur film festivals, presenting films under various categories, were popular events in all Soviet Union, as well as in other socialistic countries. Though subsidized by the state, the amateur cinema (an unprofessional art form), was left almost entirely outside the interference and control of Soviet authorities and was a medium conducive for experimenting. Film festivals presented Artūras Barysas and his films to audiences in Moscow, Leningrad, Tula, Tallinn, Riga, Brest, and Bryansk.

Braysas’ films were prized for their metaphorical artistic language, which implicitly mocked the everyday reality of life in the Soviet Union, and peculiar close-up montages. Barysas played the lead role in almost all of his films, supported by non-professional actors, with the action often taking place simply “on the street” as an improvised situations or according to a conventional scenario. In Barysas’s films, the film critic Skirmantas Valiulis[1] traces echoes of American postwar avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren’s theoretical statements about filmmaking, the comic aesthetic of pre-1968 Czech cinema, and Felliniesque humor, yet acknowledges that the Lithuanian filmmaker retains a peculiar style of his own.

Today Barysas’ work is considered to be a part of the Lithuanian cinematic avant-garde and an eloquent reflection of the epoch. In the context of the visual arts, some of Barysas’ films invite a discussion impossible without the concepts of performance and happening, especially two of them: That Sweet Word… (1977) and For Those Who Do Not Know, Ask Those Who Do (1975). Both of them were presented at the Republican (LSSR) Humorous-Satirical Film Festival (respectively in 1977 and 1979) for the first time, and later on That Sweet Word…, awarded with the 3rd-degree “cheese-sack”, was screened in three film festivals under different film categories, such as 9th Film Festival of Baltic States and Leningrad City, Leningrad, 1977; 9th Short-Film Competition in Riga, 1977, and 19th B-16 Festival in Brno, Czechoslovakia, 1978.


[1] Skirmantas Valiulis, “Baras kino baruose” [Baras in the Domains of Cinema], in Pasaulis pagal Barą [The World According to Baras), ed. Gediminas Kajėnas (to be published in 2012). The book  is focused on Artūras Barysas-Baras’ personality and creative work.

(courtesy of Artūras Barysas-Baras’ family).


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The Dialogue – street action for film by Anna Kutera

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Date: 1973

Participant: Anna Kutera

Location: Wrocław

In wintertime the artist engages passersby and provokes very simple interactions with them in busy but not significant places in of Wrocław. The six-minute black-and-white 16 mm silent movie documenting this action is divided into five parts and every one of them is marked by a caption with a slogan describing the artist’s actions. The first étude, “Good morning!,” shows simple welcome signs. The second one, “Presentation,” introduces the viewer to longer conversations (that are not heard) between the artist and the chance acquaintances. We can assume, according to one of the captions, that the artist accosts them, saying, “My name is Anna Kutera. Here is my photo. I am a student of the Fine Arts Academy and just right now I am shooting a movie about how I am introducing myself to you.” After that she hands her portrait photo to everyone. Some of them laugh or smile, some have further questions, but all the interactions are absolutely friendly. Other études are entitled “What time is it?” and “Where is Anna Kutera’s street?” The latter one, the funniest, shows a group of passersby trying to help. The last episode is the most tautological one: it refers mostly to the medium itself. It is entitled “Goodbye!” and we see the artist herself in the similar frame as that of the photo. She smiles, laughs, saying something to the person behind the camera while saying goodbye by a gesture of nodding the head. After cutting, which gives the impression of some rehearsal, we see her now serious, just nodding and turning her back to the camera.

Through the simplest gestures and the category of a chance encounter, the artist asks here about the role of the artist in society and puts the accents not on the art piece itself, but rather on social interactions. Kutera was a member of the Polish group of Contextual artists who participated in the exhibition “Contextual Art” in 1976 in Lund with Jan Świdziński. She also represented the Polish Contextual movement in Toronto at the Center of Experimental Art and Communication, during the meeting and discussion with Joseph Kosuth in 1976.


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We Buy and Sell Souls – art action by Komar & Melamid and the Nest Group

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Date: 19 May 1979

Participants: Vitaly Komar (b. 1943), Alexander Melamid (b. 1945) in New York; The Nest Group – Mikhail Roshal (1956-2007), Victor Skersis (b. 1956), and Gennady Donskoi (b. 1956)

Locations: The action took place simultaneously in the studio of Mikhail Odnoralov on Dmitrievskogo Street, Moscow and at the Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York.

The event was initiated by Komar and Melamid, the founders of Sots Art in the early 1970s and teachers of a number younger Moscow Conceptualists, including members of the Nest, who emigrated from the Soviet Union to New York in 1977. One of the newly emigrated artists’ first projects was to establish a company that would buy and sell human souls. They launched an advertising campaign which included posters and print ads. They also took out an advertisement on the Times Square video display, sponsored by the Public Art Fund of New York. Komar & Melamid, Inc. purchased several hundred American souls, including that of American Pop artist Andy Warhol (1928–1987), who donated his soul for free. An advertisement in the New York Times announced “the first auction of un-official American art in the Soviet Union simultaneously in New York and Moscow on Saturday, May 19, 1979, 12:00 p.m. New York Time.” A heated auction took place in Mikhail Odnoralov’s apartment, where the soul of American collector of nonconformist Soviet art Norton T. Dodge (1927–2011) drew particularly heated bids; Warhol’s soul sold for thirty rubles. The customers who attended included the poet Genrikh Sapgir (1928–1999), art historian and collector Tatiana Kolodzei (b. 1947), and Anatoly Lepin (b. 1944). Artists who attended included Alena Kirtsova (b. 1954), Vadim Zakharov (b. 1959), and Yuri Albert (b. 1959).


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Lines – exhibition curated by Branka Stipančić

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Date: December 1979

Curated by: Branka Stipančić

Participants: Željko Jerman, Željko Kipke, Antun Maračić, Marijan Molnar, Goran Petercol, Darko Šimičić, Raša Todosijević

Location: Podroom—the Working Community of Artists, Mesnička 12, Zagreb

“Lines” was the second curatorial concept the art historian Branka Stipančić presented at Podroom (Basement)—the Working Community of Artists in Zagreb. Podroom, a self-organized artist space that existed between 1978 and 1980, brought together Zagreb artists associated with the “new art practice” (conceptual, performative, and process-based art of the late 1960s and ’70s in Yugoslavia).1 Most exhibitions and events were organized by artists. The two exhibitions organized by Stipančić in 1979—“Values” and “Lines”—were exceptional. They were the first two curated projects by Stipančić, a then emerging art critic and curator. For both projects, she was concerned with finding an appropriate mode of exhibition that would communicate the basic problems and meaning of the new Conceptual art to the public.

In particular, “Lines” was conceived explicitly as a didactic exhibition. In the introductory text of the accompanying catalogue, Stipančić states that she is exhibiting a “method,” a particular mode that would enable those unfamiliar with the “new art” to understand its radical departure from traditional ways of making art.2 By showing the exhibition in Podroom, the curator admitted that she was preaching to the converted, and that the exhibition would better achieve its didactic purpose in another space, such as a university.

But how was this lesson delivered (i.e., curated)? All works included in the exhibition involved a single element: a straight line drawn on a flat plane. This uniform visual identity was chosen, on the one hand, for its simplicity and the narrow range of metaphorical implications it potentially draws, and on the other, because it exposed the inadequacy and absurdity of the method of conventional formal analysis when applied to the new art. Stipančić elaborated, with humor, the likely results of such a conventional reading, if applied to the works she presented:

“By selecting artworks that resemble one another, what is revealed is the absurdity of the attempt to read the ‘new artistic practice’ by means of the existing formal, aesthetic, value-based criteria of traditional art criticism and theory. If we would proceed by such method, here we would find ten (and more, because these are merely examples) of the same visual contributions, i.e., a multitude of plagiarisms, pointing to a troubling tendency among young artists, who would seem to have found their expression in drawing and exhibiting lines.”3

Instead, new art required new tools of critical interpretation, as well as new methods of curation. Stipančić showed that the same visual element—a straight line—was in fact not at all the same, but acquired new meaning in each artistic iteration, with each change of idea, motivation, process, and context. Ultimately, what was revealed was not the work as a mere visual and aesthetic fact but “the work as a specific system within the system of art and society.”4 In order to make this as explicit as possible, Stipančić decided to exhibit each of the artworks with an accompanying text written by the artist to explain the particular concepts, processes, and intended meanings pertaining to the work. The most comprehensive and theoretical text “What Are Lines?” (1977) by Raša Todosijević explained the artist’s continuous engagement with the line-form since 1973, as a way to question “art by means of art.” Stipančić’s concept could be considered a translation of Todosijević’s artistic process into a curatorial one, into questioning the meaning and function of exhibition by means of exhibition.

Document: Branka Stipančić: Lines (1979)

Guide for the chronology (Ivana Bago: Something to think about: values and valeurs of visibility in Zagreb from 1961 to 1986)


1 For an account of Podroom, see Ivana Bago,  “A Window and a Basement: Negotiating Hospitality at La Galerie Des Locataires and Podroom—the Working Community of Artists,” ARTMargins, vol. 1, no. 2–3 (June–October 2012):116–46.

2 Branka Stipančić, Lines, exhibition catalogue (Zagreb: Podroom, 1979).

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.


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