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Exhibitions-Actions by the Group of Six Artists

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Date: 1975-1979

Place: City of Zagreb (various outdoor and indoor locations); Mošćenička Draga beach; City of Belgrade, SKC Gallery, Belgrade

Concept by: Group of Six Artists

Participants: Boris Demur, Željko Jerman, Vlado Martek, Mladen Stilinović, Sven Stilinović, Fedor Vučemilović

In the period of 1975-1979 a group of artists and friends (later dubbed “Group of Six Artists”) — Boris Demur, Željko Jerman, Vlado Martek, Mladen Stilinović, Sven Stilinović, Fedor Vučemilović  — organized a series of twenty-one “exhibition-actions.” With the exception of Demur, who graduated painting at the Zagreb Academy of Arts, the group members were not trained as visual artists, but rather approached the “new art practice” from other fields, such as poetry (Martek), photography (Sven Stilinović, Vučemilović), amateur photography (Jerman), amateur film (Mladen Stilinović). This determined their shared anti-aesthetic, anti-programmatic and anti-professional stance to art production, resulting in experiments with photography, poetry, text, concepts, ephemeral interventions and actions, as well as exhibition experiments. The initial distance from academic and art institutions led them to the concept of “exhibition-actions,” a series of self-organized public presentations of their work, initially taking place in the open, public spaces of the city and its surroundings: the streets and squares of the Zagreb city center, residential neighborhoods, the river banks, beaches, university hallways.

In his chronology of the group’s activities, Darko Šimičić traces the group’s self-organized presentations to the action performed on the night of the 9th of October 1974, when three group members (Demur, Jerman, Martek) intervened on the advertising board under the railway bridge of Savska Street in Zagreb. In this action, Jerman presented his famous slogan “This Is Not My World,” written in hypo on photographic paper. According to Šimičić, “[t]his illegal exhibition in a public site was to become in somewhat modified form the prototype [of] the later group appearances.” 1 The first exhibition of the whole group took place on the 11th of May at the Sava River public bathing site: works were installed along the embankment, on sunbathing boards, and the grass. The term “exhibition-action” was first used to describe their second collaborative exhibition, which took place on the 29th of May, at the Zagreb neighborhood Sopot, part of the newly-urbanized zones of the “New Zagreb” built during the 1950s and 1960s. In their exhibition-actions, the artists exhibited paintings, photographs, installations, objects, as well as performed actions. For example, in the Sopot exhibition-action, Jerman showed two childhood photographs pasted on styrofoam boards: one in which he became member of the pioneer organization, and the other where he received his first Holy Communion. Mladen Stilinović showed paintings from the cycle Me, You, Mine, Yours, and performed an action of jumping up in order to appear higher than the skyscrapers in the background.

The group’s public presentations gained more visibility and attention with their October 1975 exhibition at the Republic Square, the central square in Zagreb. Jerman exhibited his “elementary photographs,” along with the slogan “Life, and not slogans”; Sven Stilinović showed a series of photos of a dead dog juxtaposed with photographs deemed to possess artistic beauty; Mladen Stilinović handed out photos of smiles to passers-by; Demur pasted the advertisement board with the poster on which only the word “Eto” [There you go] was written; Vučemilović asked the passer-by to take a photo of him. Judging from the reactions that the artists recorded and later published in one of the issues of their Maj 75 magazine, Zagreb citizens were not impressed, dubbing the exhibition “international idiocy” and seeing it as a symptom of disease, or simply students’ immaturity and idleness. Polemics in the newspapers ensued when a local art critic dismissed the artistic validity of the action. 2

An interesting twist to the form of exhibition-action was added with the May 1976 action City Walk, in which the artists walked through the streets of Zagreb, carrying their paintings, photographs and art objects. Demur carried a black painting with the text “I’m not crazy to paint bourgeois paintings” written in red. In June of the same year, they staged an exhibition-action on the beach of Moščenićka Draga. Jerman laid on photo-paper, leaving behind the imprint of his body; Martek performed an action of tearing banknotes: “In my opinion there is no greater contradiction than the contradiction between the sea as a reality and a the money as an abstraction.” 3 Sven Stilinović painted beach stones, while Vučemilović, who was not present, declared the movements of Jerman to be his own art (live sculptures). Several works testify to the centrality of the dematerialized idea of art for the group’s work: art — as well as collective and collaborative work — was conceived as a process, and a form of immediate sharing that cannot be reproduced or materialized. For example, Demur made a series of “mental works,” works that were not realized and that were forgotten: “I left my mental process of action in its original form without translating it into communication of any kind whatsoever.” 4 Similarly, Mladen Stilinović stated that part of the works conceived for the exhibition-action “was neither produced, noted down, now memorized. It was lived with friends.” 5

Starting from 1977, several exhibition-actions took place in gallery spaces. For the January 1978 exhibition at the Nova Gallery in Zagreb, the artists played with the idea of “oral tradition.” Keeping the tradition of their street presentations, the concept required a mandatory presence of the artists next to their work exhibited in the gallery, so that they could engage in conversations with the visitors and communicate their ideas about each particular work, as well as more general ideas on art. In June 1968, in the framework of the April Encounters festival in Belgrade, the group decided to organize a public working meeting at the SKC Gallery, making the very workings of the group and the plotting of their contributions to the festival transparent to the audience. This idea of openness, communication, and sharing was central to the group, and resonated with other artistic and curatorial practices that engaged in the conversations around the “democratization of the arts” that characterized the 1960s and 1970s. However, also crucial was the idea of self-organization and autonomy, and the freedom from institutional and ideological conditioning and censorship. Alongside the unique concept of “exhibitions-actions,” the group’s samizdat “catalogue-magazine” Maj 75, initiated in 1978, as well as their engagement in Podroom — the Working Community of Artists from 1978-1980, became additional platforms through which the group strove to achieve these aims.

DocumentComments of passers-by recorded during exhibition-actions at the Zagreb Republic Square (1975 and 1978)

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


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Works and Words – Early critiques of the discourse of Eastern European Art

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Date: 20-30 September 1979

Location: De Appel Foundation, Amsterdam

Curators: Frank Gribling, Josine van Droffelaar

Participating artists and critics: Aalders Franklin, Abramovic Marina, Andel Jaroslav, Attalai Gabor, Bartos Peter, Belic Zoran, Beres Jerzy, Body Gabor, Cardena Warming Up…., Demur  Boris, Denegri Jesa, Djordjevic Goran, Nusa & Sreco Dragan, Durcek Lubomir, Dziamski  Grzegorz, Erdely Miklos, Galeta Ladislav, Gotovac Tomislav, Antje von Graevenitz, Gribling  Frank, Grinberg Bucky, Gudac Vladimir, Hajas Tibor, Haka Janusz, Halasz Karoly, Havrilla  Vladimir, Hawley Martha, Hay Agnes, Hegyi Lorand, Hoover Nan, Ivekovic Sanja, Jenssen  Servie, Jaworski Cezary, Jovanovics Gyorgy, Jozwiak Jacek, Karolyi Zsigmond, Kelemen Karoly, Kern Michal, Knizak Milan, Koller Julius, Konart Tomasz, Kostovowski Andrzej, Kovanda Jiri, Harrie de Kroon, Kutera Romuald, Kwiek Pawel, Kwiek Przemyslaw & Kulik Zofia, Lachowicz  Andrzej, Leering Jean, LL Natalia, Marroquin Raul, Martinis Dalibor, Maurer Dora, Mikolajcick Antoni, Miler Karel, Mlcoch Jan, Mrozek Lech, Murak Teresa, Paruzel Andrzej, Peeters Sef, Pinczehelyi Sandor, Pogacnic Marco, Reindeer Werk, Richter Jaroslav, Robakowski Jozef, Sikorski Tomasz, Sosnowski Teresa / Zdzislaw, Stilinovic Mladen, Stembera Petr, Straus Tomas, Susovski Marijan, Szczerek Janusz, Sziranyi Istvan, Todosijevic Rasa, Tomic Biljana, Tot Endre, Ulay, Valoch Jiri, Veto Janos, Warpechowski Zbigniew, Wasko Ryszard, Albert van der Weide, Zarebski Krzysztov, Zbornik Dobra.

The exhibition Works and Words, organized in Amsterdam’s De Appel Foundation, in the words of it’s organizers aimed at “creating confrontation between artists who share a common sensibility from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia and the Netherlands. It was a manifestation which focused on the dialectical interaction of reflection and action, of works and words”.[1] The exhibition program and information on participants can be found in the original leaflet attached here, while De Appel archive provides a short description, accompanied by several images and videos. 

At the first glance, Works and falls out of the story on different aesthetical-political positions and trajectories of New Art in Student Cultural Center – Belgrade (SKC), which is the main theme of the selection of projects presented in this archive. The exhibition, presented in 1979, approaches this field of observation laterally, as it has to do with the various developments (’the works and words’) of certain artists and critics from former Yugoslavia [2] who participated in the program of SKC or who were broadly connected with the SKC ideosphere [3].

However, what is more interesting within the context of this archival presentation is that the participation of Yugoslav Artists – and protagonists of SKC scene in particular – had intervened within the conceptual framework of exhibition-in-the-process-of-making. The exhibition was initially conceived as presentation of Eastern European Art, as an event that accumulates its curiousness in the very fact that it presents the art from ‘behind the Iron Curtain’, as ‘something that is rarely seen abroad’, thus offering the presentation context that ‘covers’ the reality of singular artworks by grouping them behind the monolithic banner of dissident art. Some of the artists gathered around the SKC gallery expressed their disagreement with such idea of presentation. They perceived it as an act of ‘closing particular works by individual artists into an uniform ghetto’, and requested more equality with the Western art context by problematizing its ‘exclusive’ right to recognition of singular artistic positions. Goran Đorđević, who used to exhibit in SKC from 1973-1985[4], wrote to exhibition organizers about how such an international context of exhibiting, based on the mimicry of the cold-war geopolitical agenda, actually becomes the only context of presentation on offer for the artists coming from Eastern Europe. Đorđević’s answer to invitation letter summarized some of the critiques coming from the side of Yugoslav participants: “They (The artists from Eastern Europe) are practically forced to accept any offer since these are rare occasions when their work has a recognized artistic status, and on the other hand, this exhibition should explicitly or implicitly reaffirm the ‘unlimited’ freedom of artistic activities and ‘universality’ of cultural/artistic practice of the West. In that way the significance of such ‘ghetto’ exhibition is mainly reduced to its political dimension (dissident, exotic), while the nature of the works themselves, their character and significance, are pushed to background.”[5] After receiving Đorđević’s letter, the exhibition curators changed the initial plan; they decided to avoid framing the exhibition within the expected geopolitical agenda and joined the previously separated group of artists from Netherlands to the general selection; they also have chosen the more ‘universal’ heading – Works and Words – as the exhibition title, and dropped the term of “East European” that was prominent in previous versions and propositions. The answer by curator Josine van Droffelaar is included in the photo selection of this article, while the letter by Đorđević is reproduced among archival documents.

The story behind the exhibition Works and Words is an interesting example, or a comment on the contemporary forms of representation of Eastern Europen art in the (former) West. This story announced in a way the re-introduction of the critique of the discourse of Eastern European art in theoretical and art-historical overviews of the exhibition history and art history that emerged after 1989. As for the generation of artists gathered around SKC gallery in the 1970s, the exhibition can be observed as the indicator of some of their positions towards the “outside”, towards the context of international presentation and participation in the politics of exhibiting and framing New Art in the European and global context.

 

[1] c.f. curatorial-editorial introduction text, Works and Words (exhibition catalog), De Appel 1980.

[2] i.e.  Marina Abramović, Biljana Tomić, Vladimir Gudac, Ješa Denegri, Raša Todisijević, Goran Đorđević, Tomislav Gotovac, Vladimir Gudac, Sanja Iveković, Marijan Susovski, Dalibor Martinis etc.

[3] The term Ideosphere is borrowed from the same-titled text by Rolan Barthes. Here in particular ‘SKC ideosphere’ refers to the institutional links between the Student Centers in Belgrade, Zagreb and later Ljubljana, and their various other official or self-organised art spaces supporting the work of young artists; it also refers to the personal relations and friendships among different artists, art groups or art couples living and working in various cities throughout Yugoslavia.

[4] Goran Đorđević leaves the artworld as individual artists in 1985, or – to term it in his own words – he ‘disappears as a character from the artistic scene’.

[5] From Đorđević’s letter to the organisers of the exhibition Works and Words.


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