The Zagreb Salon has a special place in Croatian cultural life as one of the most respected art events with a long tradition and far-reaching significance. As it is periodic, yearly changing between architecture, design and fine arts, it successfully serves as a survey of Croatian artistic achievements of the previous three years.
Although it functions on the principle of applications and selection, in many previous editions it used to be an immense exhibition, similar in style to those that the Hungarian public until recently had the chance to see in the Mucsarnok as an overview of national art production.
Not without a certain charm, but criticised for being communistic and old-fashioned, the salon has changed profile in order to respond to contemporary curatorial practices. The last selector was the Slovenian Igor Zabel, whose exhibition was not received without opposition, but in general was seen as more independent view of the Croatian art scene from an outsider.
For 36. Zagreb Salon this honourable duty was awarded to three curators who decided not to work as a team, but to organise separate shows in three different venues according to their own concepts. The concept of Berislav Valusek from Croatia was 'Inner Spaces', Andrej Medved from Slovenia asked 'What is left from Croatian Painting?' and Hungarian curator Emese Suvecz proposed the theme of 'Getting Personal'.
The result was interesting. In two shows both invited and selected international artists exhibited, in one only selected Croatian artists. The number of participants varied from ten to sixty, so did the quality of works - from widely acknowledged to very disputed. The layout of one exhibition was carefully thought through, the other two even managed to overlap.
The inconsistently translated catalogue in Croatian and English was published as a CD rom. It contains unequal information about the selected artists, images of random works and some curators entries which read like an outcome of the internet program 'Postmodernisms Generator'. It is well designed though.
The competition for 'Getting Personal' was open for women artists only, who were asked to tell the stories about themselves, to point out stereotypes in society, to parody 'man's intimate desires' or to avoid representation...Personal is seen here as an alternative to the canon. Out of 81 applicants, two were selected, ten artists exhibited altogether.
Talking about Anglo-American feminist art practice, Kathy Deepwell points to four key aspects: concentration on issues that male artists ignore; creative research as an educative process of raising consciousness; questioning women's position and circumstances; and finally, stressing the relationship between work, artist and society through the goal and meaning of the work.
In the exhibition 'Getting Personal' we have veterans of feminist art
practice, like Croatian Sanja Ivekovic (1949) and the Hungarian artist
based in New York, Orsolya Drozsdik (1946), whose work fully qualifies
for the four mentioned categories. Sanja Ivekovic exhibits a ready-made
with websites for endangered children with direct social connotations.
Dozsdik's video 'A Strudel of my Mother' is an autobiographical story
told with the use of the camera as directed gaze. 'Portrait of my Mother',
a work of Yugoslav artist Milica Tomic (1960) also engages with the
favoured theme of the mother-daughter relationship. In her 63 minute
long video, shot on the way from the artist's flat to her mother's flat
across Belgrade in 1999 during NATO intervention, the camera is used
to substitute the eye. Although it reveals her mother's story, it is
full of political references and well-illustrates the curator's point
that 'social identity cannot be detached from personal identity.' Elke
Krystufek (1970), an Austrian artist, was partly invited to represent
the western part of the Central European story with a series of photo-collages
and a video. Krystufek is exposing her body as a colonised territory
that must be reclaimed from masculine fantasy. She criticises the male
objectifying gaze as the fundamental tool of patriarchal idealisation
and control over the female body. Here the camera is seen as an instrument
of assault, a kind of psychological rape. At the same time, the artist
provokes an effect on the body of the viewer by aggressively invading
our gaze with self-exposed scenes crowned with the unavoidable vagina.
The Estonian artist Kai Kaljo (1959), in her video 'Domestic Violence',
deals with this theme in a more ironic way.
The award-winning work of Ines Krasic (1969) is a life-size model of a bathroom sewn from white fabric by the artist herself and is called 'My Elegant Private Partyroom'. This beautifully and painstakingly-crafted object stresses the issue of the art/craft dichtomy. It points to the gender division of space, where interior is not just a place but a whole idea to be expressed. Traditionally seen as a woman's predestined territory, here it becomes a territory of jouissance.
Two young artists, signed as the 'PP Group', Katarina Sevic (1979) and Zita Marojos (1977) are intimately exchanging contact lenses, possibly alluding to sisterhood between women. The web work of Lala Rascic (1977) 'Before and After' is personal, but shows no interest in feminism, it's just being feminine. There are two more works, unfortunately selected and included in the exhibition. A painting and a blown-up photograph by artists who qualified thanks to being of the right sex.
The exhibition 'Getting Personal' well reflects the situation of contemporary Central European woman art practice. On the one hand, we have artists for whom 'the personal is political' and to whom the whole western feminist narrative is well-known and provides a fruitful field for work. This should not simply be seen as a question of geography.
On the other hand, there are young artists who take feminism for granted, but are not admitted to it, and for whom it does not serve as a desired identity, just a backdrop.
The majority of women artists in this region however, are performing their femininity without any deeper interest in Anglo-American feminist thought, and this is where the whole new field for research opens up.
In discussing the exchange of thoughts and ideas between east and west, Judith Butler stresses the need to acknowledge the problem of translation. By structuring an exhibition according to western standards we are marginalising non-western working women artists and are refusing to recognise the history and specificity of cultural achievement in the region. We are also ignoring intellectual and social consciousness which could help us to destabilise the monolithic historical stream of western culture, or in the art sphere, to challenge 'Cold War' art history, as Griselda Pollock puts it.
By applying the feminist canon we are in danger of constructing a simulacra of Central European women's art and repeating the despised habits and patterns of the patriarchal system. An alternative approach could lie in constructing theoretical categories from direct research into regional history and artistic production.
The works presented in 'Getting Personal' succeeded in creating a calm
and thought provoking atmosphere. It was a visually-pleasing exhibition
to visit and a conceptually distinguished part of the 36. Zagreb Salon.
Maja and Reuben Fowkes