Stefanie Dathe, Borderless
They are to the International Danube Festival as the Minster is to Ulm. Equally beloved by guests, locals, and petty thieves alike, are the bright flags that, in a biennial rhythm, line the banks of the river like a colorful parade. On each occasion, they are designed by selected artists from the Danube countries, and the waving pennants, visible from far and wide, mark the site of a significant creative cooperation and intercultural exchange. This year, the popular Danube ensigns appear in a flag design. While flags – often with rich, decorative symbolism and heraldry – have developed throughout our cultural history into landmarks of identification or victorious trophies for corporations, soldiers or military units, flags have always been a visual method to transmit information, often over a great distance. In the interests of easy identification and rapid readability, the design of flags was and is marked by the abstract two-dimensional arrangement of colors, surfaces and symbols and reduced into a strictly geometrical form.
Flags have occupied visual art since the moment in the twentieth century when, through abstraction, a formal connection to fine art was recognized. Lying behind the iconisation of the Black Square by Kasimir Malevich (1879-1935) there is both an acknowledgment and an urge to use the form as an ensign. While concrete art and minimalism, constructivism and colour-field painting are aimed at dispelling the symbolic meaning of art, they always speak the language of flags and comparable carriers of meaning.
The two artists chosen this year are Ana Petrović, who studied at the Academy of Arts in Osijek, Croatia, and Bosiljka Zirojević Lečić, who teaches at the Academy of Arts in Novi Sad, Serbia. Representing a younger generation, these two artists come together in Ulm, beyond the images of civil war and religious enemies, to create a work of cultural understanding. For their flag installations, both have used language and aspects of our complex system of global communication as their theme.
On a daily basis, we encounter letters, words and texts in combination with images, in a variety of forms. Ever since the avant-garde movements of the early twentieth century, there has been an increasing infiltration of literature, applied art, the visual arts, writing and language, and letters and numbers as artistic material and elements of creativity. As a result, the boundaries between the visual and the verbal have dissipated, with text becoming an independent pictorial medium, artistic gesture, comment or symbol.
“Typography can, in certain circumstances, be art”. Without a doubt, this proposition made in 1930 by the fine artist and graphic artist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) applies to the project concepts of Ana Petrović and Bosiljka Zirojević Lečić. Their artistic contribution to the International Danube Festival draws attention to the diversity of peoples along the river – both linguistic diversity and the possibility of non-verbal, visual communication.
Ana Petrović uses her painted flag cloths in a wide range of 17 different colours, depicting 309 times the term “borderless” in the different languages of the Danube countries, the Danube river basin, as well as in English, as a global language. Whereas, on her 351 flags, Bosiljka Zirojević Lečić employs a combined system of colour sequences and the name of the Danube, Danube countries and cities, translated into Morse code.
As a waterway and transport route, the Danube passes through different countries and landscapes, as if without borders, from its source to the Black Sea. Overcoming the power of the river and building bridges between shores posed a great challenge to the people of bygone eras. Today, the Danube stands as a European symbol for overcoming national and cultural borders. In this regard, the multi-lingual flags of Ana Petrović send out a signal, which is visible from far and wide, and appeals to our similarities. Borderless – this word extends like a mantra, in new colours and languages, stretching over a kilometre on the Neu-Ulm riverbank, between the two Danube bridges. As much as the billowing cloths are exposed to the uncertainties of wind and weather, just so sensitively must the international achievements of our time be protected from political-social uncertainties and hardships.
On the Ulm side, the festive flags with the designs of Bosiljka Zirojević Lečić employ a surprising amount of symbolic abstraction. Out of her graphic play, with its ciphers of Morse code – dot, dash, pause, the artist develops 330 flags, using the respective national colours in a vertical arrangement, representing the names of the Danube, its riparian states and cities, each using one letter, and arranged in eleven groups. Here, typography becomes a sensuous structure made up of predominantly geometric surface areas. In their formal aesthetic appearance, the series of Morse code flags with their sharply demarcated, stencil-like, flat paint work can be compared to the Hardedge painting of the late 1950s. The content of these purpose-oriented compositions sensitizes us to the complexity of communication strategies in the past and present; to the possibilities and impossibilities of language and its essential meaning in life.
Dario Sošić, Nothing to All - All to Nothing
During the mid-1960s, conceptual art started with artworks where wordplay dominated or thought was above aesthetic pleasure. Ana Petrović chose that kind of artistic expression, showing it in her works in the earlier years at the group exhibition “Art Colony Rovinj,” and confirmed it with this solo exhibition. The title of the exhibition itself shows and proves us that; with its beauty of thought, it permeates and competes with the aesthetic beauty of presentation of the same thought. The thought that is the title of the exhibition is the exhibited work at the same time. The thought that can be translated as: From nothing to everything – From everything to nothing, or simpler as: Nothing to all – All to nothing. The same phrase also imposes itself as the often present paradigm: Nothing or all – All or nothing, in the description of the mental state and attitude of certain people.
Actually, we could also put it this way: From eternity to the infinite – From the infinite to eternity, where nothing is as infinite as eternal is equal to everything! That mind game of words in a sentence determines the aesthetic beauty of an artwork, especially when we realize that the artist succeeded to visually present those thoughts and words, to merge everything into one artwork where all the elements together are summed up and merged into one. It’s a difficult task considering that in a complex process the thought is followed by words and words are followed by the thought. A complex process that is incessantly and infinitely going away and coming back in a spiral motion. That kind of constant rummaging of thought into one knot and simultaneous disentanglement from the knot, is converted to communication with the help of words. Primarily communication of us with ourselves; we learned language and adopted ways of thinking in the same way when we were kids, when we would tumble a certain word back and forth until we finally learn it, accept it and understand its meaning. A parallel and simultaneous process of exercising self-consciousness that helps children to discover and learn spoken language and thought skills.
However, that internal speech, our thoughts, need a link to the outside world, although not explicitly and always through spoken words and sentences. Regardless that the whole work i.e. thought could have been presented as a written and spoken sentence, the artist wanted to transfer the meaning of thoughts with the help of the painting medium. Ana Petrović then turned to the visual presentation of signs and symbols in a contemporary way. A heritage from the New Tendencies period can definitely be recognized, as well as the cultural conventions in understanding the film medium, but the technique used by contemporary computers prevails. Numerous layers of canvases on which the image is projected in the gallery space are a link to the expression of the 60s, while the flow of time is emphasized by the filmic component of video necessary for the sequence of displays that are used to create an image of the word and sentence. The assemblage of combinations of symbols (letters), discontinued by partial or total disappearance, without any particular meaning, is synonymous with the messages we handle daily in the digital world. With that, the artist puts technological characteristics of the electronic video image in the core of the context of her artistic expression.
Ana Petrović filled the Gallery space with projections of videos on canvases that are hanging from the ceiling. She transformed the whole of the interior architecture into a space-time box. She chose light and darkness as basic elements she uses and that can express – everything! The images are built from many symbols of unrelated meanings and they mirror today’s tablet screens and messages created in them. The combination of darkness and light creates a special structure we progressively adjust to. With that space-time installation, she is offering a complex view of the world and communication. Communication is manifested through double projection that has a source from both opposed sides of the room, each projection has its sentence of opposite meaning. That sentence can be decoded only if the viewer carefully and patiently participates in the whole time frame of the projection. While doing that, he/she has to carefully watch everything from different positions in the space. The projection shows letter by letter that is moving on the screen in the dark.
With the use of letters, the two-dimensional surface of the transparent projection screen is transformed into a playful, multidimensional space with unusual kinetic energy, obtained by a small movement. The movement of light in the dark looks like a ballet dance, slowly, continuously moving in all directions the light is sifting through the layers. Losing strength in remote places where it’s interwoven, it gives place to a stronger light, with the projection of the letters with the opposite sign. Simple forms, with the help of movement and light intensity, are used to create complex forms. The letters rise or disappear, as though they come from somewhere or go away somewhere. They are visible to the viewers only individually and repeated through several layers, each time bigger and less clear, fuscous. There are different degrees of visible and invisible in the Gallery space, depending on where the viewer is positioned. All of the invisible parts of the video projection with the visible assume real shapes in our imagination with the help of memory. We have to remember what we have seen to connect it into one thought.
The viewers of the exhibition become the participants, pulled into another world, esoteric and secretive, a world outside ordinary life, a world of self-consciousness and thoughts. The Gallery becomes a place where a thought dialogue occurs through the remembrance of past and future time. A dialogue with the present time that becomes the past while at the same time, the future becomes the past, with the parallel exploration of being and consciousness through artistic interpretation. The exhibition includes the viewer in its ludic process where games like hide and seek and rebus prevail: insensible, invisible with visible, initiate the complex processes in our consciousness, it awakens our imagination…Light determines existence but also the disappearance of projected shapes, signs, and symbols that are all actually letters. On the projection screens, the light and darkness make the elementary component of shapes and the gallery space represents the space for thinking about relations between space, time, memory, and identity. The absence of color or the monochromatic component of light is in service of the artist’s reduction of artistic expression. A sophisticated dialogue with visible and invisible, space-time form and memory with a few simple signs. Order and chaos in our time thinking process and consciousness that is constantly exchanged through meaningless layers of complicated and unrelated meaning, actually says that the present is a barely visible moment!
Luka Kuveždić, LIFRAM
The works of Ana Petrović from the cycle LIFRAM are performed in various media (video, installation, photography, drawing), or rather on the borders of this media, they possess expressed awareness about media in which they are performed, and in all works the author deals with – doing it form different media and means of that media – questioning of film media and generally, the role of the light in them.
In approach to the cycle of works LIFRAM perhaps it would be the most meaningfully to begin with the explanation of the headline which gathers and defines them. The compound “LIFRAM” originated by shortening the English words “light” and “frame”. Encyclopedic footnote defines frame as a single static image “in the sequence of the same kind, from which the film tape, respectively projected film, is made of.” The Film Lexicon explains further: “Particular stringing of those images results with illusory movement, respectively the effect of the film projection.” If we try to define general characteristics of the works exhibited (Non Visual Film, LIFRAM1, the series of the photos Without Title, LIFRAM Daumenkino) we see that they are (with centeredness of all works on the questioning of the film media): reduced and clearly defined method, consistent application of that method, the repeating structure and minimalist aesthetics.
In the text, I will focus on the last works from the upper line. The series of the photos Without Title consists of five photos of the projector light during film projection. All five photos of the projector light were filmed in the same way: the projector and the projection surface are outside visible field, observer’s distance and (horizontal) camera angle are identical. As an interesting thing, I will say that the film was projected at the time of photographing of famous work of Stanley Kubrick Barry Lyndon from 1975. But the motive of the photos is exclusively the light as a structural material of the film. So this phenomenon, which typically doesn’t attracts attention, which is somewhere in the background of our attention during film projection, is brought to the focus of interest, respectively made the only and central, so that its autonomous existence is noticed. Inconsistently and in other circumstances hardly intractable beams of light on the five photos, taken in dark room, become accessible to the view in some moments of its fluctuation, getting its own visual qualities. So light itself, respectively its spreading between projector and projection surface, becomes the content of the picture, so we see, because of the seriality of the photos, changes of its forms and colours, depending on various scenes from the film. The impulses for focusing on the light of projector could be the works of the British-American artist Anthony McCall, who does the researches of sculpturality of light in time, using projectors in dark environments, starting from the first installation of the kind Line Describing a Cone from 1973. Though, with approaching to the works of the mentioned predecessor on this (partially different) principles, researches of the nature of film images by Ana Petrović in the cycle LIFRAM, are originally and moving in other ways.
Series of works LIFRAM Daumenkino starts from discovery which belongs to the film prehistory, therefore to the time of film nonexistence. German word “Daumenkino” doesn’t have equivalent in Croatian language, and its literary translation would be “movie for a thumb” or “thumb movie”. Series of works LIFRAM Daumenkino is performed in the form of simple little booklets, with drawings on their pages, made in little shifts, which make an illusion of movement when we quickly leaf through them, respectively an animated sequence is made. Many know such booklets as a toy from childhood, but what makes difference from three exhibited booklets of Ana Petrović to the ones we know is that we will not find some moving figures; namely, „main character“ in them is a light. There are reduced black and white geometric drawings made with marker and corrector on the pages, whose repeatedly variations simulate different light effects. Each one of the three booklets is exhibited without the title, and visual phenomena which we follow in them are the effect of turning off the TV as it shows on the screen, cars headlights passing from the opposite direction on the unlighted road…I leave the detection of the content of the third booklet from the series to the visitor. Exhibited on the pedestal with remark to the visitors to leaf through the pages, the booklets invite to be taken into hands, to be felt under the fingers, to be viewed according to own wish and in individual way.
Vladimir Frelih, Pay
When Ana Petrović Invites us to pay to touch her painting, she does not mean that there is a fine if we touch it. However, the artist is literally playing with our imagination and the conventional rules of behavior towards an art work, for example in a museum or gallery. It is not even an invitation but an order from which we cannot deviate. Namely, if we don’t touch it, we cannot experience the work, and if we do so, we must pay. Cynicism as a concept. The cynicism (Greek: κυνισμός, Latin: cynici) of today sometimes only has few arguments. Anisten, the founder of cynical philosophy never student of Socrates and Diogenes unencumbered of religious platitudes, despised the general opinion, social conventions and material wealth, which the regarded as the source of all human misery. Live like a dog, in accordance with nature, exercise their basic needs. The modern cynic has a more negative perception of human beings that is arrogant, coarse, indecent and he frankly warns of imposing its position. He is above all, unpleasant. The society of freedom and untruth cannot stand to hear the naked truth. Do we really not care about the truth? Most would say that they do, but gently, at selected times and with words carefully chosen and maybe not the whole truth. Last month on Croatian national television, on the TV show ”Sunday at two o’clock”, the host Aleksandar Stanković asked young politician Marijana Petir if she is a honest politician. We can guess the answer. We are a society of sweet lies, in which social norms and laws are based on a lie. Lying is an instrument that works. Is the democracy of the beginning of the 21st century more equitable than that of Greece from the 5th century BC?
Who needs cynics in our time? Pay to touch this painting , Ana Petrović painted conceptually dealing with the problem of painting itself and extension of the series Pay to touch this drawing from 2010. The artist takes us back to the very essence, to the structure of the artistic message, that does not necessarily exist. On one level it is a painting without dramatically, even though we are asked to act and are cautioned that without acting we do not fulfill the only functionality of the primary experience of the art work. On the second level of interaction of the picture, I begin to take action. The cynicism of the art has a healing effect on our over- standardized personality. Without the deception it is easier to ignore the cynical art then human beings, but art has a longer shelf life, we can ignore it and return to it optionally and it still awaits us mercilessly fresh.
Let the transition last at least as long as evolution. Art of geographical boundaries of art is even worse fiction. Pay to touch this painting is also an intellectual message of the whole social transition spectrum of us here and us there.
Branka Benčić, Expanded cinema and media research
At first I thought I could simply draw a line under the word medium, bury it like so much critical toxic waste, and walk away from it in a world of lexical freedom. “Medium” seemed too contaminated, too ideologically, too dogmatically, too discursively loaded.
– Rosalind Krauss: Voyage on the North Sea. Art in the Age of the
Post-Medium Condition [i]
Ways of transcending, interpreting, or transforming the film medium in the artistic practice of Ana Petrović can be subsumed under the term “paracinema,” which is sometimes considered a category of “expanded cinema.” While expanded cinema implies a series of experiments transferring the act of projection from conventional single-screen presentation to multi-screen presentation and performance art, paracinema denotes a set of productions employing procedures of deep analysis of the dispositif to highlight its material, technical or phenomenological components: projector, film tape, projected light, time.[ii]
For Hollis Frampton, every phenomenon is “paracinematic” if it shares one element with cinema. With that in mind, the challenges of paracinema lie in possibilities of exploring various deviations from the main elements of film. On that note, in contextualizing Slobodan Šijan’s practice revolving “around film,” Dejan Sretenović writes about “deconstructing cinematography down to its constitutive elements, which become independent as autochtonous spheres of film experiment.”[iii]
“Paracinema identifies an array of phenomena that are considered ‘cinematic,’ but that are not embodied in the materials of film as traditionally defined” – Jonathan Walley points out in “The Material of Film and the Idea of Cinema.”[iv] Walley recognizes a link between paracinema and conceptual art, occurring when film is approached as an “idea” and not so much as a technical apparatus – in other words, when it is dematerialized.
Ana Petrović’s works take their place within the frame of reference formed by the work Line Describing a Cone by Anthony McCall, recognized by Walley as one of the key examples of the concepts of paracinema and expanded cinema. Her works take shape as a series of photographs, a photosequence, or an artist-book in the form of flipbook (daumenkino). They are understood as spaces in which to explore the boundaries of media. Also, Ana Petrović’s video Non Visual Film brings forms of media research to their final consequences in terms of both substance and reception, given that this film is watched with the eyes closed, i.e. experienced by not seeing. The rhythmicality of light and sound, an experiment on the verge of abstraction, follows in the footsteps of historical avant-garde experiments, like the film Arnulf Rainer by Peter Kubelka.
Ana Petrović approaches her works as forms of media research manifesting in various media and formats. They reflect a predominant interest in projection as a space of perception and an instrument for producing optical sensations. In devising specific viewing conditions and contraptions, Ana Petrović shifts the attention towards the observer as the key element in the process of artistic reception, by exploring the elasticity of individual perception and creating sensations.
Branko Franceschi writes that the works of Ana Petrović “denote a multimedia process and contraption generating the magic of perception of projected movement as a trail of light. Despite the obvious fascination with film and the element of persistence of vision, which is the basis of perceiving moving images, the visual exploration of Ana Petrović also addresses optical and gestalt art, engaging our ability to use abstract templates to develop narratives, maybe even clear mental images.”[v]
In the series of photographs Untitled, which is structured like a photo sequence, the author records an image of a ray of light coming out of the projector. The photograph is at once a minimalist gesture and an expression of interest in projection as a means of film reproduction. On a similar note, LIFRAM Daumenkino (cinema for the thumb) is an artist book in which the author articulates her interest in the prehistory of moving pictures, and her “paper cinema” was inspired by none other than the “technology” of the first moving pictures.[vi]
Through such experimental works, the artist enters spaces of media thinking and media representation, i.e. remediation, representing one medium through another, demonstrating different cinematic experiments, affirming an almost marginal artistic field, highlighting its experimental potential. In a certain way, she establishes a continuity of interests, connecting past and future. Removed from the normative technology of film production and reproduction, these works use various experimental approaches, by means of “viewing contraptions,” via photographic and video media, in order to refer to the language and magic of film.
[i] Rosalind Krauss: A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the
Post-Medium Condition. London: Thames & Hudson, 2000.
[ii] Adeena Mey: Suvremena umjetnost i parafilm, in: Misliti film (exhibition catalog), ed. B. Benčić; Cinemaniac 2013, Pula Film Festival; MMC Luka, Pula, 2013.
[iii] Dejan Sretenović : Kino-svet Slobodana Šijana, in: Oko filma (exhibition catalog), Salon Muzeja Savremene Umetnosti, Beograd, 2009.
[iv] Jonathan Walley: The Material of Film and the Idea of Cinema: Contrasting Practices in Sixties and Seventies Avant-Garde Film, in: October, No. 103, 2003.
[v] Branko Franceschi: LIFRAM Ane Petrović u galeriji AŽ;
[vi] Branka Benčić: Paper Movies (exhibition catalog), Cinemaniac 2014, Pula Film Festival; MMC Luka, Pula, 2014.
Boris Greiner, Balloon With Hole
In the dimmed light of the gallery space, six black books are displayed on six white pedestals. Each is lit by a small black lamp hanging from the ceiling. The ambience is reminiscent of a stylized idea of some ancient library. As the gallery entrance is preceded by a passage through a hallway dominated by a black wall inscribed with almost calligraphic handwritten sentences in chalk, it leads the visitor to presume that this preview will in some way develop further in the displayed books. All the more so because the subject matter of the white sentences is of a general, almost universal nature and gives a metaphysical turn to fundamental concepts: something and nothing. In the center of the black wall, between white lines of philosophical discussion displayed by the author like a manifesto, there’s a screen on which a single word is repeated, like a mantra, in unmistakable white letters on a black background: Now. The rhythm of the flashing is regular and quite fast, the looping sequences one second each. For one fourth of a second the word appears, and for the remaining three fourths there’s just a black screen, which is a way of translating the theme of something and nothing into the dimension of time. One could say: three to one for nothing. Such treatment of transience is at once a caricatured emphasis of the fact of the present moment which we happen to be flitting through, the moment is broken down into elements, and we wonder if we are moving at all or do we remain stuck in this forever “now” in which we cannot even notice its elements in which it is gone. That means that even this “something” consists of three nothings and one something. By a humorous translation of the binary code into an abstraction of the phenomenon of time, as discovered by Zeno using the arrow example, which is in fact static at each point in time, but in the end appears to move or fly, the author illustrates the possibility of using this code or deciphering it with the help of the aforementioned, similarly elusive phenomenon of existence. But existence here is merely in the form of concept, or its translation, owing to the undeniable fact that nothing doesn’t really exist. Because the word nothing, when written down – becomes something.
When elementary concepts of yes or no, is or isn’t, are initially announced, it is established that everything, fundamentally, is, because at this level of discussion to question negation means to affirm it. This treatment continues in the exhibited books. They, however, contain no more text, and if we open any one of them at any page, we find abstract lines and white surfaces. But the notice on the pedestal invites leafing through the book as you would through a flipbook, thereby creating an illusion of moving images similar to a cartoon. Following the instructions, we take the book and let the pages glide through our fingers, and the abstract forms appear, take shape, and disappear. The pages gradually fill up or become empty, each of the six books representing one of six different principles, structured graphically or geometrically, with a final idea formed only by leafing through them. This brings us to wonder what we consider full, and what empty. In painting terms white would be the sum of all colors, and black the absence of color. But then, in an experiential way, white is the beginning, i.e. absence of content, and black is the ending because it is only attainable by painting over the white. Of course, we are talking about paper, not the universe. Leafing through creates change, a gradual transition, but when we stop, we recognize the traces of marker in the black surface – all the blacks were made by hand. It appears, after all, that black is full and white is empty. This information, however, doesn’t mean much to us, despite the precise form of these images, the gradualness, or the principle of change or variation expressed in drawing, in all of which we can perhaps glimpse or associate in our mind’s eye the ambient context more than a recognizable shape, but the fundamental question of yes or no, something or nothing, remains unanswered.
Preoccupation with the changing of shapes is momentary – what remains are black books filled with black-and-white content, displayed on white pedestals. If we look at the visual component, given its art gallery setting, we could say it is reduced to non-divisible elements while maintaining visual content – black and white surfaces, or more precisely black interference in the original whites. Colors are eliminated and so is the recognizability of shapes, and even the defined structures are void of any possibility of communicating with the content on any basis. Only one subject remains: the relationship between presence and absence, something and nothing.
If we take the book as a fact with its usual connotations, on a conceptual level a parallel comparison can be made with the exhibits: as in a standard book, there is black on white, and as we move through it, some kind of development happens – the fabric of text in some way establishes the line of narrative. These books also have to be leafed through in order to get an image, one page is not enough, pages are in relation to one another, scenes slowly but steadily change, develop, appear or disappear. The presence of something is here but is expressed by the absence of any concrete attribute of this presence.
But then we cannot say it has no content when it is, throughout the exhibition, clearly announced by manifesto-sentences at the entrance, and consistently actualized through the presentation and role of individual pieces or even at the level of the stages of constructing these pieces.
This content was symbolically announced in the title: “Balloon with hole.” Formally speaking, a balloon is a balloon even before it is filled with air or any other gas. It will remain so even after being emptied, but its main purpose is to be filled, and that’s what makes it a balloon in our minds. When we say “deflated balloon,” we refer to some kind of post-festum state which, granted, inevitably ensues, but not until its purpose is realized. A balloon with a hole precludes realization – it didn’t and it couldn’t happen.
And so this “now” has passed in a blink of an eye, a new one has arrived and again passed. When is it actually here? When has it materialized?
The books’ content is fluid in a similar way, and by leafing through we get information about its existence, but this information is limited only to what is imparted by the act of leafing through, which leads us to repeat the original question: something or nothing? Or further: when?, how?, what exactly? And the answer is: This precisely, by handling this, these nonexistent attributes, emphasizing the impossibility of determination.
A balloon with a hole is and isn’t a balloon. It now both is and isn’t. And nothing is something because nothing can only be expressed with something.
The author’s probing of the difference between the conceptual and the actual through various manifestations of the problem is not evaluated by the same criteria used to gauge the soundness of proposed answers to this abstract question (or the absence of such answers), but instead by evaluating the discovery of ways to demonstrate or materialize it, which in turn open a space of representation and determination of the dis/appearance of this absurd theme.
Emil Matešić, My sin
Female contribution in Croatian visual arts is a history of an exceptional creative struggle. The history of women’s art education has likewise tended to present them with obstacles, a lack of system, and a worldview that espoused the idea that “art is not for women.”
It was a long road from Mila Wood, the first Croatian sculptress to have her sculptures publicly installed, to Ana Petrović. A far cry from the time when women dressed up as men to attend classes, today we have women whose work is altering the landscape of modern Croatian reality and whose witty commentary helps introduce topics into the public space.
Ana is one of those artists who came to embody Andy Warhol’s adage about “15 minutes of fame” indirectly, with the help of a typical political skirmish for public office, a skirmish by no means extraordinary in a system relying on state institutions. This one has, however, earned its place in Croatian popular culture and Croatian art history by launching into the media orbit a young female artist from Osijek who would have, if not for the usual accoutrements accompanying the tussle for public office, remained for her entire career unknown beyond the narrow circle of her profession. The “emblematic work” Pussy Smoke (the name is a Croatian slang expression for “piece of cake”), albeit older than a decade, exhibits the artist’s space of expression that ranges from abstract depictions of the female body to semantic-linguistic play with titles that carry a strong social commentary on misogyny and also a fresh sense of humor.
Eros, as a plot instigator and generally the most attractive media merchandise, and its counterpart death, both have a moderate presence in Ana’s work, just enough to present chosen motifs as living art objects, establishing a new meaning through their appearance and functionality within the work. Her video work “Art gives me a hard-on,” a play on words and a recording of a woman’s erecting nipple, is an example of such female creativity, so gentle and sincere, yet so heartily funny that it belongs to the top of Croatian video art production. Without pretense to drag us into an intellectual battle with ourselves, and without introducing a surplus of meaning which would defeat the purpose of watching a video, this simple recording and its title are an authentic expression of a creative woman who uses art to comment on the world around her. “Art gives me a hard-on” can work as both a porn movie poster and an art piece, and as such has no trouble cutting the edge of popular and high culture and taking them both for a ride.
Navigating through the medium of word and image, creating artistic value in a beyond-sense space of perception and a dynamic of the observed in works involving polyptych forms, lend themselves to easy reproduction in their simplicity and bare presentation of an idea. Such straightforward presentation reveals the joyful realization that Ana wields her creativity unhindered by high-tech and demanding production. She is simply a woman with ideas who perfected an intuitive approach to creation, one that doesn’t shy from her own fascination with eros, from the banal, or from trivialization of her subject matter.
With all that said, it comes as no surprise that among a plethora of works, “Pussy Smoke” was picked out by the media as a “big deal,” because it contains the right mix of high aesthetics and populism that so sharply divided the Croatian public for a few days. The inflicted gash will heal quickly enough, but a trace will remain for years to bear witness that even highly-aestheticized works can find their way to the general audience.
Igor Loinjak, Pay to touch this painting
When we examine a painting, it is for us no more than a visual fact and proof of someone’s action – their ability to represent and visualize the known and unknown world. This world, of course, is not only a world made of forms borrowed from nature or shaped in their likeness, but can also be a visual record of man’s mental processes and thinking in general. Ana Petrović’s exhibited canvases fall in the latter category. Even at first glance, one notices that something is written on them. Text, in its own right, is given equal part as the color and shapes included in the canvas. What does Petrović write? “Luxury,” “Painting,””Pay to touch this painting,” “Pay,” “Pure,” … She visualizes words to make the observer see her paintings as more than just beautiful (artistic) objects, to wonder what else there is “inside” and what to do. Ana’s inscribings can also be experienced as silent imperatives commenting on the world of the painting, the world of visual art, of art in general, but also the commercial world. She ironizes the usual attitude of the observer toward a painting, and also the painting itself and its established tradition as a luxury object to be owned by the artist or buyer.
If culture, and therefore art, is a superstructure of human nature and humanity at large, then consuming art and owning works of art should be an unmistakable sign of the owner’s intellectual sophistication. Reality, however, testifies that this is often not the case. Petrović is aware of this, deciding to use visual commentary to play with visual art and painting through the lens of supply and demand. With a choice of intense colors that capture the viewer’s attention, a painting under the orchestration of Ana Petrović becomes a desirable object ready to enter the commercial dynamic and for which, of course, you have to pay – just to touch it. Alongside paintings dominated by parallel lines in various colors, there are “golden” paintings whose very color signifies they are luxurious objects. We wonder: if touching exhibited paintings is generally not advised (and often forbidden) in museums and galleries, why is Petrović enticing us to touch them, provided we pay for the experience? Petrović’s art is not exclusively focused on painting. Instead, she is known to use a variety of different media. In this case, she used paintings to face the average observer with a fact we often forget – most averagely informed people, when semantically delineating the concept of artwork in their private vocabulary, go no further than subconcepts of painting, sculpture, drawing, engraving, photograph… Installation, video, performance art and other more “lifelike” ways of presenting fall out of focus, do not get discussed, or get interpreted negatively in order to discredit them as works of art. Petrović is aware of that, choosing a luxury painting for which you have to pay a fair and pure price, even to just touch it with the eyes (“pay to touch this painting”). Ana Petrović’s staged inscribings lead us to a kind of painting in which everything begins and ends with an idea. Painting is here literally being used as a medium, a conduit of the author’s ideas by means of textual-visual or visual-textual imperatives. The conceptual basis of her painting invites us to wholeheartedly accept both the conceptual and the visual in the exhibited works because the visual does not limit the conceptual, just like the conceptual does not stifle the visual. On the contrary, in her work this symbiosis achieves its full momentum.