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CALLING OUT FOR A HERO: ACTION BEYOND ARTIVISM

Center for Contemporary Arts Celje

Temporary exhibition / 02.10.2020 - 31.12.2020

Igor Grubić, Mark Požlep, Marko Zorović


Curator: Vladimir Vidmar


In recent decades, we have been witnessing increasingly confident and direct political declarations from a large part of the contemporary art practices. Even though this is far from being particularly new and has a long tradition in the 20th century, social engagement seems to have inscribed itself into the DNA paradigm we call contemporary art. Neoliberalism has skilfully dealt with critical thinking in many fields, as a result finding refuge and an ally in art, someone that has been willing to zealously put its wagers into practice. This has contributed to a certain image of the “engaged art practices” that typically include a rationalist narrative, most often grounded in the scientific nature of some social science, a lot of cultural citation and discursive conclusions promising an emancipatory effect.


The formulaic nature of such projects, as well as the postulates and promises of critical theory in general, largely determine our perception of the social responsibility of art, its reach and address. However, the present exhibition, in contrast, appeals to the moment of engagement that does not necessarily rely on the tradition of conceptualism or critical theory (at least not as a reference); rather, it seeks to create enthusiasm (in the Kantian sense) that is not blind to the lesson of postmodernism, but does nevertheless accept its scepticism as the last horizon. Reversely in this regard, it prefers to turn to a certain heritage of modernism. At the heart of this tendency, which has been coined as metamodernism for the last two decades in theoretical discourse, it leans on the moment of romanticism, which is nevertheless marked by a conscious (self-) ironic shift. This “pragmatic idealism,” which, according to the cultural theoreticians Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker, decisively defines the metamodern sensibility, is not a firm theoretical position with a complete ontology, but a more peculiar mapping of recent cultural practices, based on affective engagement. It is the question of the possibility of idealism after scepticism and the question of what this idealism is based on. Simultaneously, this is also a question of how we can consider engagement in art beyond artivism, engagement that would emanate, persuade and address from the artistic means themselves.


Like in the painting practice of Marko Zorović. His magnificent mass figurative compositions act as anachronisms, partly because of their heroized subject matter dealing with workers’ themes, but more than anything in stylistic terms. Namely, they are created in the Great Manner, in a masterful execution of expressive colourism, in a dynamic density of colour, worthy of Mannerism and the Baroque. The workers from Zorović’s canvases are almost religious figures, which seem to be writhing in the contortions of religious zeal as they undertake the tasks of hard and dirty physical labour just like in one of El Greco’s pious compositions. The religious exaltation of Baroque art is expressed here as a loud revolutionary call and brings something rather rare into the spaces of contemporary art: that emotional and intellectual need “to be a part” of this, which Zorović’s paintings dramatically maintain.


It is similar with the actions of the Croatian artist Igor Grubić, entitled 366 Liberation Rituals. The series of works contains various actions, most often completely small moments of change in the urban landscape, underlining of certain lost aspects of the public, which unsermonisingly and poetically, but nevertheless outrightly, call on us and draw our attention to the battles we have yet to win. Grubić’s rituals tied to public monuments are especially effective, bringing them back to life very directly and thus transforming them from relics into protagonists. In this sense, Grubić reawakens an important dimension of the metamodernist sensibility, which always insists on an enthusiastic desire for change, even though this may appear naive, as he understands that a certain dose of naivety is a necessary condition for revolutionary action. He therefore also allows himself to be sentimental and self-ironic at the same time, not as moments of renouncing reason but as a condition for its catalysis.


Mark Požlep’s project The Island toys with the old image of the saviour, the social scapegoat, who is either expelled from the community or separates himself from it because of his visions. In modernity, this role is often taken on by the artist, a misunderstood genius with a special way of seeing. Požlep replays this modern archetype with much irony when he isolates himself in the middle of the Port of Antwerp on his artificially built island, a caricature hut, in which he spends five days. Despite the (self-) irony, it would be hard to say that Požlep is not taking it seriously, that his gesture is not a concurrent ritual between escapism and penance, which is at once directly individual and indirectly collective purification. He shares the chronicle of his seclusion with the community from which he has separated himself via a radio programme, as he is constantly summoned by the coercive authorities, demanding that he return to the social order. Yet in the end, it seems as if they are the ones to surrender, and that his reckless vacant heroism has planted a seed of enthusiasm in them.


Still, there is a certain spark in this open form, gesture, which the cultural practices of metamodernism give precedence to over any particular fixed narrative. It is therefore pointless to look for the formulae of a new political project in them: instead, it is better to treat them as that excess of will, which fills us with new strengths for solving old questions.

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