To a passer-by

To a passer-by,

interventions in the public space 2009-2014

The only place where the works of Ana Zubak in the public space exist is the documentation. Their ephemerality stems from the restricted duration of the installation, from their materialisation to their disappearance in time and space, while photographs, video or audio remain their only witnesses. Therefore, the exhibition in the Greta Gallery for the first time frames the produced contents and meanings of individual works in order to contextualise them in a different light. Due to the spatial specificities of the works, shown at different locations, their exhibition in the gallery enables conclusions to be reached on the artistic strategy of activities in the public space. Furthermore, unlike the exposition in the public space of the urban fabric, the documentation exhibited in the gallery addresses another audience, the one interested in advance, who has, perhaps, already been acquainted with the works indirectly.

It is interesting to note that, despite their short duration, such artistic interventions, just like public sculptures, are supported by artistic and cultural institutions and organisations that bring the public space of the city into a thematic context. Therefore, they were not designed for the next hundred years, nor were they placed at a specific location by mere accident – everything had been carefully researched and organised in advance. Furthermore, due to a short exposure to the artworks, they act on a subtle level, eliciting a reaction from a passer-by here and there, encouraging reflection rather than provoking a public debate. For example, the artwork titled “The Wall” (“Zid”) (2009) was envisaged as a one-day wall-building activity across a running track, followed by a video recording of the reactions of the passers-by. Although the wall provokes and requires passers-by to go around it, climb over it or even demolish it, in that one day it provoked the reaction of passers-by ranging from exhilaration to disgruntlement. As an artwork in the public space, it failed to provoke a large-scale public debate, such as the one that was sparked by “Tilted Arc”, the artwork by Richard Serra exhibited at the Federal Plaza in New York. Despite its manipulation of the movement through space, “Tilted Arc” was designed to be a permanent public sculpture. It was installed in 1981 and removed in 1989 after a long trial, when the public finally won its right to decide on the design of the public space. Although the reaction was unfavourable for that sculpture, it is the very debate and public engagement that individual artworks in the public space are trying to provoke. Therefore “The Wall”, unlike “Tilted Arc”, counts on the reactions of the passers-by with its installation and design, and the artist who created it was available for any dialogue with interested persons during the entire time. One question remains – would the personal impressions of passers-by have sparked a wider debate had the wall remained on the Sava river bank for a longer time, or would it remain unnoticed? The answer would also satisfy the initial question regarding the (lack of) reaction of the society to an obvious obstacle. “The Wall” was created for the 9th Urban Festival titled “(In) Place of Border” (“(U)mjesto granice”). Apart from defining the new urban movement, Ana Zubak simultaneously explored the limits of artistic responsibility, testing how far she can/may influence the movement of others.

Another artwork within the 11th Urban Festival was created with the participation of random audience. “The Big Picture” (2011) starts from the premise that the skyscraper is a symbol of economic power that at the same time obstructs the view from below and privatises the cityscape from above, and the artist switched the two points of view. After long negotiations on the possibilities of photographing the cityscape from the skyscrapers of Zagreb, the artist and the festival organisers succeeded in photographing the view from the Cibona Tower and from the skyscraper of Ilica. An enlarged panoramic photograph was placed beneath each of the skyscrapers, serving as a background for taking photographs to interested passers-by, as if they are on the topmost floor. The resulting photographs were printed on spot in the form of postcards because they usually serve as proof that the sender has been to an exotic place often unreachable to others. Although some in the Urban Festival expected the artist to send the photo postcards to appropriate addresses at which the decision regarding the issue of the privatised view would be reached, rather than using them for activism, the artist opted for a more intimate economy of exchange by gifting the postcards to the participants. Thus the artwork was sent to many different places not meant to ever come together. In “The Big Picture”, the artist set the scene for the camera, and the resulting photographs contain an entirely different meaning from that of the actual sight.

Such scene-setting is also characteristic for the artwork titled “The Fantasy of a Cultural Worker” (“Fantazija kulturnog radnika”) (2013), created within the project titled “The City at Second Glance” (“Grad na drugi pogled”), exhibited at the Galženica Gallery in Velika Gorica. In front of the Cultural Centre, in which there is the Galženica Gallery that is invisible from the outside, Ana Zubak organised a so-called flash mob of people standing in a queue. The fast-paced activity in which many young citizens of Velika Gorica had a chance to participate ended after a few minutes by leaving the square and going to see the exhibition. Why would a long queue in front of a cultural institution represent an unusual sight, an unrealised dream of a cultural worker? With the exception of the annual Museum Night, such a sight in front of cultural institutions is quite rare. The queue formed in front of a gallery in Velika Gorica is even more unusual because the usual visitors normally come from Zagreb, and a crowd can be seen only at exhibition openings. By bringing interested visitors to the square, Ana Zubak points to an almost non-existent gallery audience. This is precisely why the photograph seems almost like a mirage. The artwork also shifts attention to the current cultural policy, according to which the value of the exhibition is measured by the number of visitors. Due to the inability to measure the value of the contemporary art objectively, a large number of visitors is an objective indicator of the quality of the exhibition in the contemporary neoliberal manual. Naturally, this hypothesis is not sustainable because artists no longer reach the public solely through educational programmes, but rather marketing strategies, which are much more frequent, and which make the number of visitors as an indicator of the cultural value very questionable.

Ana Zubak set up another kind of scene with her work titled “The Monument” (“Spomenik”) (2014), installed in the former automobile camp Soline in Trogir within the Motel Trogir project – It is not future that always comes after. The ceremonial unveiling was carried out in front of the covered “monument”. However, although all elements of the opening were very official and consistent – from the invitations issued to the city authorities, introductory speech, musical performance and laying of flowers, to the final applause and a glass of champagne, the unveiled “sculpture” is actually not a sculpture, much less a monument. The wall of the former shower was turned into a monument prop for the purpose of the artistic performance.

The act of unveiling reflects the attitude towards monuments in the past twenty years. On the one hand, ideologically inappropriate, often anti-Fascist monuments disappear. On the other hands, those politically appropriate are erected arbitrarily. Two cases from Trogir reflect such an attitude towards monuments. In the first case, an anti-Fascist monument in remembrance of the fallen Partisans was demolished in 1994, after which it was kept for 13 years in the premises of the city utility company, only to be sold to Italy by the owner of a waste trade company in 2007, despite the fact that it is a protected cultural monument. In the second case, the parish office of St Lovro’s Cathedral installed a polyester sculpture of the Ascension of Christ in front of the building without having sought approval beforehand. Although it was a protected cultural heritage, the parish office completely ignored the warnings of the experts that the newly installed sculpture did not belong there. Apart from the reflection on the contemporary attitude towards the monument heritage, the artwork also reveals the discontinuity which gives rise to our ignorance of our heritage. Perhaps it would not be strange if one day a formerly undefined shower wall become a significant monument, provided that we decide to grant it that meaning due to our own ignorance.

In the end, I would like to mention “Homage to Ice” (“U počast ledu”) (2011), a sound installation exhibited in the musical pavilion in the Zrinjevac park, created for the Forum for Creative Minds II – City and Climate Change, organised by the Goethe-Institut in 2011. The installation was created in cooperation with Krzysztof Zimmermann, a Polish composer, and records an accelerated melting of ice, creating an impression of an apocalyptic composition. Unlike other works, the installation in the musical pavilion turned passers-by into the audience, whose reaction could only be an intimate feeling of helplessness before the power of the menacing sound.

All those artworks have the characteristics of a performance rather than that of a sculpture, which imposes additional temporal and spatial restrictions upon them. In addition to them having been created based on the specificities of the location, they are primarily intended for a dialogue with accidental passers-by, not for a mere presentation.

Irena Borić