A brief overview of media art in Croatia (since 1960s)


Vladimir Bonačić and Ivan Picelj, computer-programmed object T4, 1968

Between 1961 and 1973, the Gallery of Contemporary Art (now the Museum of Contemporary Art) organized five international exhibitions entitled New Tendencies. The first New Tendencies exhibition was organized on the initiative of the art historians Matko Meštrović, Radoslav Putar, Božo Bek and Boris Kelemen, and the artists Ivan Picelj and Almir Mavignier. The New Tendencies strived at a synthesis of different forms of the arts of the 1960s and 1970s. In the beginning, the movement characterized broad issues but later the exhibitions veered towards neo-constructivism, lumino-kinetic objects (mostly mechanically made, often under group authorship) and finally computer art and conceptual art. The first exhibition (1961) - apart from the participants such as Almir Mavignier, Zero Group (Oto Peine, Hienz Mack) and Azimuth Group (Enrico Castellani, Piero Manzoni) - contained works that were bent mostly on a system research (Francois Morellet, Karl Gerstner) and optical research of the surface and the structure of objects (Marc Adrian, Julio Le Park, Gunther Uecker, Gruppo N - Biasi, Massironi, Chiggio, Costa, Landi). The origins of the preprogrammed and kinetic art whose characteristic language would mark New Tendencies as a movement as early as their following exhibition (1963) had also been noted. The demands for the scientification of art favored experimenting with new technical media as a means of researching the visual perception based on the Gestalt theory. The third exhibition of New Tendencies (1965) probed the relationship between cybernetics and art and a symposium on the same topic preceded the exhibition. Vjenceslav Richter, Aleksandar Srnec and Ivan Picelj exhibited lumino-kinetic objects. The fourth exhibition (1968/69) was dominated by the information theory and encompassed an international conference entitled Kompjuteri i vizualna istrazivanja. The same year, the Gallery of Contemporary Art started the Bit international magazine. I have to mention the computer light installation by Vladimir Bonacic DIN.21 as a paradigm for media art coming from the sphere of science. The work was installed in 1968 on the facade of the NAMA department store in Zagreb and was intended as a permanent exhibit. In 1968, Vladimir Bonačić and Ivan Picelj realized T4, an electronic (and computer programmed) object. Beside the computerized visual research section, a conceptual art section was also included in Tendencies 5 (1973). Vilko Žiljak exhibited ASCCI photographs, i.e. digital printouts. Tomislav Mikulić, working for the television where he made intentional computer animation and television graphics, created an artistic computer movie 1973. In the early stages of the development of media art since the 1960s, we note two, at the time irreconcilable sources: modernist (supporting the idea of progress and science) and the anarchistic-individual approach of conceptual art (building on the achievements of the student movements from the 1960s). Conceptual art and computer art were prominently marked on the Tendencies 5 exhibition poster. Matko Meštrović was the main theorist of New Tendencies as a movement who tackled the problem of the relationship between art and society demanding the socialization of arts, abolishing the unique significance of a work of art and equaling art and science. See more on Tendencies under Institutions, events, data bases, and the on-line catalogue of a collection of works of early computer art by MSU exhibited as part of the I am Still Alive project (2000).

Taking a point of view diametrally opposed to the scientification of art, we can consider part of the conceptual art practice from the 1970s and 80s as part of media art. Numerous works of the media-aware conceptual art were made in the 1970s, such as a series of exhibitions with posters as sole exhibits by Goran Trbuljak (1971-1981) and performances of listening to the radio, watching TV, reading newspapers and talking on the phone by Tomislav Gotovac (1980-1981). Free experiments with mixed media were part and parcel of the poetry of the so-called Group of six authors who mixed media such as photography, film, and photocopy in the form of visual art, art books and (street) performance. The following input came to media art from the film milieu. In addition to his primary interest in working with experimental film, Ivan Ladislav Galeta created numerous photo and video works, installations, and multimedia performances. Tomislav Gotovac made gallery and out-of-gallery performances and photo collages inspired by movies. Vladimir Petek set up in 1971 the FAVIT art association (film -audiovisual research - television) and created a series of multimedia works with a number of collaborators, mostly multivision (multi-channel video, film and slide projections), and realized ten computer movies with Tomislav Mikulić in 1976.

Sanja Iveković: "Instructions No 1",1976., from MSU Zagreb files
Video art is the only form of media art dating back to 1971 and having a production that has reached critical mass. Sanja Iveković and Dalibor Martinis, both pioneers of Croatian video art, create jointly and individually a series of video works and installations and, as their personal preference, represent a duality of interests of media art from the position of conceptual artists. Martinis is preoccupied with media itself and its physical and semiotic possibilities and creates a series of video installations (video installations at table in The Supper at last, 1993, video installation in a form of a well filled with water Circles Between Surfaces, 1996), interactive digital video installations (Coma, 1997) and hybrid works in electronic media (Observatorium 1/2/3 exhibitions, 1997-98). On the other hand, Sanja Iveković moderates social (feminist) activity through art by setting up an association of women, Electra. She performs numerous video works and installations (In the Frozen Images video work, the image is projected on the ice and in the Travel Until the End of Thought work from 1994 the computer directs the video projection of body parts in stellar movement). She creates works in other media, too. Project Gen XX is a series of works published in the form of advertisements in print media in 1997 and 1998. The photographic reproductions show portraits of female top models and the name underneath (in the graphic form of logo) comes with a brief biography mentioned in connection to a heroine assassinated for her political activities in the anti-fascist struggle in WWII.

Katedrala project, Bakal, Fritz, Juzbašić, Marušić, Premec; 1988.
In the late 1980s, the Nova Evropa (NEP, founded by Dejan Krsic) group, Studio imitacija života (SIŽ; Darko Fritz and Željko Serdarević), Grainer and Kropilak and the Katedrala project displayed artistic activity carried out under a collective authorship (in the Katedrala project a computer programmer has been included as a full-fledged author). The above-mentioned used the media as their basic material (reproductive, electronic, digital and mass media) and inaugurated sampling/cut-up/quotation/recycling as an expression without specific stylistic characteristics, i.e. the rejection of the idea about the original. The medium of photocopy in the pre-Photoshop aesthetics of the 1980s (in the wake of experiences of copy art of the 1970s) was the prime graphic tool. In the case of SIŽ and NEP more indicative were their media projects than the produced objects. NEP inaugurated a new understanding of equaling politics and art, not just by “borrowing” from political rhetoric but also by using it on an equal footing, in the spirit of post-modernist theories. In 1988, SIŽ thrice opened an exhibition (of graphics) using three manners of opening: live broadcast over the radio, by a spoken word of an art historian, and by textual print-outs of interviews. In 1990, SIŽ stopped working after having completed a three-year production and distribution (corporative) plan. The Katedrala project (Bakal, Fritz, Juzbašić, Marušić, Premec; 1988) took place on the anniversary of death of Andy Warhol and called for a transformation of image to sound of a Mussorgsky composition and the sound into a space performance of Kandinsky. It was a space generated by a computer using joint sound, light, and video elements set in motion through the movement of the audience and the signals of an EEC connected to the performer, Joško Lešaj, the opera signer.

A witty subversive action Zagreb Virus 1990, whose author was Svebor Kranjc, took place at the 22nd Youth Salon exhibition (1990). Having sent a great number of (quasi)artistic products of various styles and under assumed names, the jury “missed on” a certain number of works. At the opening itself, the author personally distributed his catalogue in which he explained how a “virus that the body (jury) failed to recognize” entered thereby demystifying a part of authorship of the exhibits and leaving the other part undiscovered referencing the strategy of computer viruses. Kranjc had earlier on carried out a series of TV viruses (1989) where he had infiltrated the mainstream TV program by a system of simulacra as an art terrorist. He was a representative of the Image Liberation Organization. These strategies of simulation were characteristic of the conceptual art of the 1980s and were later often used in net art that could easily simulate a system of corporative representation.

The interactive character in its primary form is present in every video installation involving a closed circuit system and a live video link. Similar works originated in the 1970s but enhanced the probing of the medium in the 1990s. In the above-mentioned Katedrala project, three rooms were connected by sound and video closed circuit. Simon Bogojević Narath in his untitled work (Landscapes, 1991) set up a video link by using a small mirror that optically distorted the electronic image. Kristina Leko created a series of video link works with religious content, using wireless transmission across greater distances and employing to the fullest this technology for conceptual games with dislocation (Flowers, 1997, Veduta, Kamenita vrata, 1998). At the 1998 Zagreb Salon, Sandro Đukić set up a closed-circuit system with delay. Darko Fritz in his work on the End of The Message project used security video systems as a specific form of closed circuit (at the Obsessions exhibitions: From Wunderkamer to Cyberspace, 1995, and at Privredna Bank, T.EST, 1997). In collaboration with Ademir Arapovic, he has performed since 1998 a series of work space=space in which, using closed circuit only, they have extended architecture with the use of media. Andreja Kulunčić in her work Man Constructor (1996) used motion detectors as well as slide and sound detectors. In 1998, Sandra Sterle and Slobodan Jokić (Dan Oki) set up a complex interactive video installation To Forget to Remember and to Know on the subject of digitalized video image that changed according to the sound quality of the spoken text. The installation was created in an Amsterdam school for learning Dutch for Adults. Together they created an interactive internet work called Interstory (2001) where the participant was given the opportunity to work on partially pre-programmed film scripts. Sandra Sterle created a series of works, Round Around (1998), in the media of photography, linear video, and interactive CD-ROM. During a project called Go Home that lasted several months (in collaboration with Danica Dakić, 2001) she organized in New York a series of web cast dinners with guests and an Internet diary. Since 1997, Ivo Deković has been organizing summer workshops and directed a sub-art gallery underwater at Ražanj. A web site contains a continual video signal showing the submerged gallery.

Marušić , Kuhta, Pederin, Raščić: Oko čuje, uho vidi, multimedia project, 1997 -1999.
In the numerous one-channel video works by Narath, Vladislav Knezevic and Igor Kuduz, a new reality in the specific phenomenon of the video medium has been set up by a virtuoso use of digital effects in combination with model making. The setting up of a parallel media reality is a topic of an imaginary journey in a project that spanned several years called Putovanje oko svijeta, which Sandro Đukić created in photo and video media. Ivan Marušić Klif created a series of interactive mechanized automata with picturesque figurative scenes in the ambiance of TV monitors that inverted the expectations of the electronic image. Klif also created computer-directed sound and space installations by specifically combining high and low-tech (the exhibition in the tunnel in 1995), a complex interactive manipulation of live video image (closed circuit), and by himself programming software for his own needs (the exhibition at Klovicevi dvori in 2000). Davor Antolic Antas created a series of works by setting up a line of electronically programmed neon lights in the architectural structures (Neon, 1998-2001). Magdalena Pederin performed interactive light installations that reacted to ambient sound. One of them, a composition of several meters made up of LED diodes, was also the (inter)active stage production of the Oko cuje, uho vidi performance (Marušić, Kuhta,Raščić, 1997-1999). The sensors on the body of the performers set in motion sound, video and light interactions. The Lights from Zagreb exhibition at the De Parel gallery in Amsterdam presented light works by Marušić, Pederin and Antolić 2001.

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