Sandra Križić Roban K13 – Appropriation of Oblivion The first frames of Kopljar's new work intensively occupy the gaze of the viewer, they invite to persistent observation of details, to expectancy of something that might, but must not necessarily happen. The scenes are peaceful, the camera static, they show a forest by night. In the foreground are dark tree-trunks among which some crowns are visible as well. A late, strange light illuminates them from the distance. Rays reach the leaves laterally, like in a baroque scene, illuminating their uneven edges. Nothing moves except insects, and even they hover among the leaves in slow motion, dazzled by the light that seems to have surprised them. After some time, from nowhere, through the forest comes the performer and the author of the video, Zlatko Kopljar, wearing a white suit that seems to have absorbed this unusual light. He reaches a sphere whose interior is illuminated. We remember it from his previous work, K 12, in which he was filmed in a bent down position while attempting to clasp the envelope that holds the light and the energy retained in its core. In that work the movement of the camera dominated; it circled around the scene, continuously closing in and moving away from the sphere. This time Kopljar is not interested in energy that he finds in the illuminated object. The envelope, this membrane that seems to protect experiences triggered by energy or some kind of subconsciousness remains untouched, while emotional, experiential, and other spaces that we might find under its surface are not that which inspires the artist to move further. The sphere conceals a hint at the abstraction of the entire idea; it is an expression of the premonition of the possible transformation whose peak is to come. Neither then – in K 12 – have we known nor do we know now what happens in the artist’s gaze that remains inaccessible during the first part of the video. Kopljar passes the sphere and disappears in the depths of the forest. He moves diagonally in a space whose size we cannot even suppose; as if he unconsciously directed the viewer to observe the emerging spatial relations caused by the unusually positioned light whose deep, slanting shadows stress the distance to its source. At first, the frames are fixed; the author-performer moves from the left to the right, slowly crossing the clearing or parts of the forest with only scattered trees. The illuminated suit visually disturbs the environment and imposes itself on a tranquil, dark ambience. As late as in the fifth minute the camera begins to move, simultaneously following the figure going through the forest. The position of the cinematographer/viewer is recessed. It seems that we lack any other activity but just gazing, emotionally hollow before the scene. Soon we perceive the artist’s face for the first time, his gaze directed at something we sense but do not exactly know what it is. A hollow sound entirely covers the slow rhythm of his steps. The camera is discreet, detached; its emotional distance equals ours. This emerges from its being static, but also from the behaviour of the figure, directed exclusively towards this sensed remote happening – or a place? – not for a moment introducing us to the story in the sense of active (or potentially activated) participants. The moment of realization what is that space/place that attracts him does not make the position of the viewer even a little bit easier, especially the ones who cannot tell which building that actually is. The realization of the fact that the artist, from a fantasy forest landscape, has reached the foot of an unusually illuminated structure that in real time and space functions in a very different context is entirely left to the
convincing sound. During repeated viewing we become aware of the meaning of the structure as a seemingly mythical place, whose special properties emerge from its exceptional energetic potential. Only then we are maybe capable of grasping the gravity of forgetting the real, existing context, highlighted by the artist with the act of transition. Kopljar’s movement within the structure is dominant in visual terms. Although his figure is obscured almost to the point of being unrecognizable, we still observe the movements of the body thanks to the light “stored” by the weaving of the suit. We are intrigued by the scenes from the climbing elevator, but the author gives us no chance to get acquainted with the space in which he moves. Just a symbolic message about climbing is an indication of the (expected?) “happy” ending. Shots of the outside, accompanied by a somewhat irritating sound, show the building that almost entirely defines a regular grid consisting of dense series of square windows that outline the illuminated interior. Diagonals, of which we from our experience know that they are stairs and the diversified colourist character of light, are elements which say that behind the glass envelope there is real space whose functional aspects for a moment served fictional purposes.1 A visually impressive aerial view places the structure more precisely in a more or less regular urban pattern that only the ones who know Zagreb well can link to a concrete place – the test station for light bulbs within the TEŽ. 1 Thanks to this shooting I have become aware of the fragility of this mass myself – a prism thinned in a special way that has functioned as a kind of lighthouse in the eastern part of the city for years. The slender “tower” looks as if it had been “inserted” into the neighbouring low-rise structure with a square ground-floor plan.2 It is an exception from the existing rules, if such rules still exist in the city, or better to say from the remains of the previous rules. It looks like an alien, in an inexplicable way implemented body whose permanent light disturbs the tenants of surrounding residential buildings that have recently flooded the previously modestly exploited urban structure. This is a part of the town that eighty years ago was envisaged for factories, production and storage facilities – parts of a civilised metropolitan Utopia whose traces are becoming hardly perceptible. The fenced-in area functions along the lines of Foucault’s considerations on disciplinary societies that initiated projects of enclosed environments, which is, in his opinion, especially visible within a factory: “concentrate; distribute in space; regulate in time; (…) Foucault also recognized the temporariness and transitoriness of this model (…)”.3 At this occasion, we can, like Lefebvre, remember that in its time Bauhaus enabled us to do more with space and its production than exclusively locate it in real context.4 It was Bauhaus that provided the conditions for the development of 1
Factory of Light Bulbs. In 1948, the Construction Department of the City of Zagreb issued a building permit for a new light bulb factory that in the first phase consisted of the main factory building, management building, mechanical workshop, warehouse for inflammable material, coatroom, and garage. The plans by the District Construction and Planning Institute were signed by L. Horvat (Aug. 16th, 1947). In 1959, Lavoslav Horvat’s and Harold Bilinić’s Architectural Office got a permit for construction of a warehouse for raw material within the perimeter of the factory according to their project. Finally, the annexation of a “tower” after Lavoslav Horvat’s project from 1960 was permitted two years later, while the construction permit was issued in 1963. Based on the information from the State Archives in Zagreb. 3 Gilles Deleuze, Postscript on the Societies of Control http://www.urbanfestival.hr/04/pdf/Gilles %20Deleuze%20-%20Postskriptum%20uz%20drustva%20kontrole.pdf (downloaded July 9th, 2009) 4 Henri Lefebvre, "The Production of Space", in: K. Michael Hays (ed.), Architecture Theory since 1968, MIT Press, Cambridge/London, 2000. 2
new concepts and articulated the links between the processes of urbanization and industrialization, along whose lines Kopljar finds the chance for his activities. The inside of the test station seems to me like a dusty, forsaken laboratory in which oval, light-radiating forms are bred; they look like something that belongs to the future, but at the same time is a remnant from the past. These are objects whose function is well known to us, but in the meantime they have been replaced by similar, technologically more advanced products. I watch them as they resist the directness of their function; I want to perceive them as cocoons of something – remembrance, energy – captured in softly shaped cores out of which radiates light, but not necessarily warmth.5 Kopljar slowly moves between metal shelves on which numerous sockets – metal, plastic, black, and white, connected by wires in endless rows disturbed only by spiderweb spread over the parts which time has simply deserted – are distributed in a regular pattern. He oversees this ambience, but does not actively take part in it by even a single gesture. The only “activity” is enabled to his suit that continuously absorbs light energy. He is like a dumb witness, a lighthouse-keeper thanks to whom the tower remains illuminated – and functioning. His melting together with the tower – actually with the light – is not perceived as a religious experience, but as rational questioning whether something like that is possible at all. I am asking myself: is this again about sacrifice? Because when we speak about Kopljar, we cannot avoid numerous ritual “sacrifices” done by him during the past years in the name of art. From the moment when he entered the visual art scene in 1992, with his specific persistence Kopljar has been repeating his mantra that should enable some kind of change. Dangerous Spaces were realized in the Croatian Plaster Casts Museum in Zagreb 1993 and represented a unique amalgam of ritual and sacrifice in which he did not speculate with elementary characteristics of that time’s political and national context, determined by war destruction. The prayer-books that he used at that occasion were left closed and their role was taken over by telephone directories open somewhere on their initial pages. He defines the communication patterns problematized in those works as the loss of personality in newly emerged conditions. Using the principle of a “missing link”, Zlatko Kopljar has begun the process of symbolic depiction of establishing communication; it is continuous and never entirely achieved. Of the performance and installation I Believe from 1995 there have remained photographs of seven rows of sewing needles driven into the walls of the Miroslav Kraljević Gallery in Zagreb. The artist first drilled holes and then inserted pieces of paper with the message “I believe” in them. Each belief stored into imaginary archives, in this case a spatial negative, is highlighted by Kopljar by the position of a needle driven into the wall. We can thread the needles with communication thread, which is one of the levels of meaning that we can read from his procedure. But to be able to reach as many viewers ready to believe as possible, it was necessary to endure 5
Investigating this topic I found the information on Franjo Hanaman who invented and patented the first universally adopted electric light bulb in Vienna about a hundred years ago (in collaboration with the Austrian scientist Dr Alexander Just). After a couple of years, fragile wolfram light filaments were replaced by stronger and more elastic ones; this project was developed by the Americans after buying the patent from its inventors. It is interesting that in the Light Bulb Factory, the only Croatian producer of electric light sources, there is no visible note on Hanaman. http://www.index.hr/vijesti/clanak/sto-godina-kako-je-hrvat-hanamanizmislio-svjetiljku-sa-zarnom-niti/135466.aspx (downloaded on July 20th, 2009)
the pain coming from wounding oneself with a sharp object, from blows with a stick or, in the case of earlier installations, to survive a 10,000 volt shock by which he “protected” some of his earlier works, insisting on their physical experiencing. Understanding Kopljar’s works requires their assessment in the context that, among other things, can also be historical, as this is the case with the work Shame performed 19966 on Passalaqua’s stair in front of the Jesuitical church of St Ignatius in Dubrovnik. Thin white paper with which he laid on the stair was gradually covered by footprints of people aware of transience and the process of homogenization that comes about with the passage of time. Reconsideration of many circumstances that determine the creative context inspired him to make a concrete monolith K4 for the exhibition Here Tomorrow in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb 2002. It blocked the entrance into the Museum for its employees and visitors. Kopljar described this work as a terrorist act that in a loud and clear way said that “everything was bad and could not go on in this manner”. Political, cultural, national, and global contexts are melted together into a simple, “raw” gesture by an author who does not refrain from sharing blood and sweat with his viewers, as well as the possibility of examining poetically different personal strategies as a legitimate way of participating in the recent art practice. Finally, we can remember how a few years ago Kopljar turned his digitalized DNA formula into a visual aspect of the work K9, dominated by a text in Italian, spoken by the actor Erland Josephson in Andrei Tarkovsky‘s film Nostalgia. Before self-immolation, Domenico speaks about the need of returning to primeval forms of life, to observing the world and people around us, because “we must return to the old ways of living” and – adopt the oblivion. And the sacrifice? First he sacrificed Isaac, almost cutting the throat of a boy whom he at the same time pulled by the hair. Half-dressed, his gaze directed to some place above, he communicated more with himself then with God. He paid no attention to this act as such, because he was miles away from his famous biblical predecessor whom the Almighty stopped at the last moment. In this authorial story, commenced in 1992, there was no need for (another) senseless sacrifice. With Kopljar, sacrifice is often an adequate and acceptable explanation; it is the backbone of his earlier works, that act of immoderation that helped him reach his public. However, if we stick to this sacrifice trajectory too firmly, many other possible explanations that appear in this artist’s work will pass us by. He also showed other persons’ sacrifices, the ones of the artist: on truck top-covers in large format he printed colour scenes of artists as outcasts from the society that does not care about them or pay attention to their work created during their lifetime. In Kopljar’s idea, the artists ended their lives next to a car wrack in the forest (Crtalić, Mezak, Friščić, Rogić, Krašković) or industrial metal waste (Tomislav Gotovac), died at the writing table in the library (Vlado Martek) or in bed with their favourite books, piles of paper, rubbish, and other leftovers that had spiritually nourished them for years (Vladimir Dodig Trokut and Boris Demur). To the last moment Jerman, who lost the sense of hearing during his life, kept trying to hear the sounds coming from the soil near a desolate, devastated house. Kata Mijatović and Zoran Pavelić fell into eternal sleep on the grass along the construction site of a new bridge, not far from the place where they had lived for the next couple of years.
The work was made for the Island exhibition.
“Art is not important, it is only us that are important”, he told me in a conversation. To a certain extent we can characterize his works as (forgotten) patterns of everyday life, as transmitters of unutterable and inexpressible messages, because they are primarily in other people’s heads. Kopljar’s art can therefore be identified with the piece of cloth from the work K 9 (or is this an old-fashioned handkerchief?) onto which he recently knelt, expressing his anger, fury, and disagreement with social matrices that to a large extent decide on the circumstances in which we live and work. This is that “personal” part of mental space in which he, as he says, always moves again, but goes deeper and deeper. And when we begin to think that Kopljar’s artistic trajectory is determined by global and transitional forces, he discourages this thought with the assertion that he is content with this few square centimetres, the space of thoughts that belong only to him and into whose depths he moves depending on the need, on the wish to express himself, to challenge and constitute communication. It is entirely unimportant in which medium he will say that: video, photography, or performance. The point is in speaking, in communication he attempts to encourage, in the unceasing process of thinking without a precisely set goal.