Catalogue text for 26 .Biennial di Sao Paulo, Brazil "The Sacrificing of Isaac" that Zlatko Kopljar presented in 1993 at his first "big" exhibition in Gliptoteka HAZU in Zagreb, has remained and will remain engraved in my memory as one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever seen. The photograph that shows him holding a knife under the throat of a plump boy seemed blasphemous at the time when atrocities of local wars were still happening in close proximity. No matter whether the simultaneity of the real killing with Kopljar’s composition was important for the understanding of this work or only inevitable in that moment, in retrospect I am inclined to interpret this work precisely as his unconscious artistic manifesto. In all compositions depicting this enlightening episode through history, the angel, that is divine providence, held old and wise Abraham’s hand up just before the act of sacrificing his long-awaited and beloved son Isaac. The divine providence is not present in Kopljar’s composition. We fathom the presence of some superior reason for his brutal behavior somewhere outside of the frame, where he directs his alert gaze. We do not know what is finally going to happen, but we know that the young, athletic artist listens attentively to something outside and above himself that is going to lead his hand. Assuming Abraham’s role, Kopljar declares himself the embodiment of active morality, the paradigm of the uncompromising essence of the artistic act. He has the knife; he is capable and ready to take the responsibility to perform - with absolute mental and physical concentration on the wretched sacrifice, held by his firm hand - the final act of will by which he will fulfill the moral obligation and thus surpass himself. The ethics of the artistic act is the mental and psychological starting point from which Kopljar draws public attention to the neuralgic points of civilization by his utterly deliberate and essentially symbolic idiom. On the conceptual level it requires conceiving of shortcuts on which the hot world of actual social discourse brutally and suddenly meets the cool, canonized and alienated sphere of culture. At the level of execution, it is a space where gesture meets form, performance meets object and ritual meets artistic act. In the mid-nineties Kopljar resolved the co-existence of these apparent dualities to serve his artistic practice with the notion construction. In ironic imitation of industrial marketing, he has named all the works he performed since then with the capital letter K, the acronym of the notion construction (konstrukcija). I have decided to name my works "constructions" because the main reasons for my artistic activity always had a constructive character. At that I mean construction of relationships within the work itself and, what is more important, relationships between the work and the observer. The idea is to use the interaction between the work and the observer to create a new constructive space where one searches for answers to the asked questions or where a problem space is marked. Zlatko Kopljar The reasons for Kopljar’s inauguration of the concept of construction in 1996 at the international week of performance, "The Public Body" (organized by the Croatian branch of Soros’ Center for Contemporary Art in Zagreb) as the definition of his own artistic work were derived from his need to distance himself from the current art production and the knowledge of its necessary and urgent ethical reformation. In his considerations one could discern the
echo of then almost forgotten opinion of the left-oriented intelligentsia that art is not a reflection of reality, but the tool of its formation - if we are to paraphrase Bertolt Brecht or, less radical and closer to Kopljar, the statement by Hermann Broch that art without an ethical dimension is nothing but mere decoration. The ethics contained in Kopljarâ€™s constructions as the essential definition of purposefulness of the artistic act manifest themselves as the critique of the autism of civil society and above all as the critique of the conformity of artistic context and predictable forms of artistic realization. Therefore he has chosen to obey his inner dictation as the only valid modality available for the most appropriate formation of particular content regardless of the manifested artistic discipline or grade of objectification. It was precisely the notion of construction that at the conceptual level gave Kopljar that creative freedom, that openness and flexibility of form, that detachment from all issues of artistic production classification that he considers essential for a true creative work. All he finds essential are the concentration and conception that will define the important elements for the installation of the construction as the desired form of the transmission of content. Therefore the multidisciplinary nature and different, but always present levels of performing quality as the basic element of action will be its permanent characteristics. The origins of this aesthetics can be easily discerned in time and space. In the late Eighties, when Kopljar was formed as an artist at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, the liberating aspects of postmodernist aesthetics with the ideas of contamination of artistic disciplines prevailed at the conceptual level as well as opening the whole cultural domain as an area of free citation and inspiration and the re-assertion of the art object into the focus of attention. On the other hand, Kopljarâ€™s creative instinct ideally fit into the East European propensity to reduction, gloomy and pessimistic moods and the tradition of performance as a ritual as well as the redeeming identification of the artist with his own artistic work. Personal contradictions also fit well into the picture. Kopljar is fascinated by the immediacy of performance and direct contact with the audience resulting in an immanently radical critique of artistic practice reduced to the production of artifacts established as valuable and that is burdened by the suffocating complex of museum institutions and the art market. However, according to his inner constitution, Kopljar at the same time aims at precisely elaborated performances that demand a team of professional collaborators and finally result in large quantities of lateral material and artifacts, as is characteristic for traditional artistic practice. The constant shift in his own position between the extremes of artistic practice today differentiates Kopljar from most protagonists of the local performing scene to which he belongs by his nature. Kopljar will establish the equal distance towards the socially engaged art of his peers. While they use the extensive processing of the analyzed discourse through lectures, public forums or ample approach by which they try to come closer to the exactness of the scientific discourse, Kopljar will prefer the fierce, emotively dense act aiming at subconscious mechanisms and frustrations of the audience as moments of identification and illumination. Kopljar considers the contribution to the positive evolution of social reality as the essential human task. He as the artist can contribute to the change of opinions by provoking the audience to react. Aware that art cannot change the world, Kopljar still believes in the meaning of his work as an initiation of a broader action that could really change the world. Therefore his constructions conclude with striking artifacts or remarkable, often aggressive procedures with a powerful symbolic charge aiming to disturb and induce the audience to communicate directly with the artist after the perception of the work. In order to provoke this intellectual curiosity, Kopljar encodes the contents in different manners, even at the cost of correct understanding of his message. The only thing he finds important is to activate the audience, to impose the situation that will initiate questions, and once they are asked, Kopljar in Heideggerian manner believes that the answers and solutions will follow. The solutions are of no consequence, it is important to ask the questions, to start the dialogue, to activate the
mechanism of the atrophied civil awareness. The interpretations will be inevitably different, but plugging the reflective apparatus in the subjective valorization of reality is what really matters. The construction no. 9 is founded on the action that Kopljar conceived inspired by the residency in New York he had obtained with the Franklin Furnace program in 2003. Just like most contemporary artists, he perceived the residency in New York - with the purpose of creative work and the possibility of its presentation - as the chance of the lifetime. As a true performer who simply has to mark and react to the actual environment, during his stay he wanted to perform a new piece that would authentically reflect his emotions evoked by the Mecca of contemporary culture. When one writes about Kopljar‘s work it is difficult to avoid the clichés that can be interpreted as unnecessary poetization. For instance, no matter how it might sound, the statement that every one of Kopljar‘s works presents an intense, and for him more often than not a painful intervention into the depths of his soul, it most precisely reflects the creative agony that he goes through while trying to draw what and how he performs as close as possible to what he feels and thinks. Paradoxically, this sincere inclination - founded on the belief that artistic creation has to be truthful and responsible and thus a self-revealing act with serious repercussions for the audience and, finally, the reality - did not provoke much understanding in cynical artistic circles because of the results charged with emotions. Fortunately, the growing frustration only reinforced his fatalist belief that he is on the right path and that for him there is no other way to create. K9 is developed on New York‘s potential to function at the perceptual level as a globally comprehensible metaphor of cultural-political hegemony and that is why it presents for Kopljar an ideal motif for his expression of the complex mixture of love and hate that such a place inevitably provokes. The magic of the dominant culture derives from its omnipresence, from the long-lasting formation of feeling that it is the superior expression of a common, global culture. Thanks to the mechanisms of the civilization of spectacle as well as the mass culture media and commercial essence of pop-culture, the centers of cultural hegemony are perceived in the emotional and mental complex of both audience and artists as an important part of their own culture. Really, we participate in the culture emanated by the center, we consume it, and it is an important and sometimes even decisive factor of our cultural production. The problem lies in the unidirectional character of this relation. The culture of the center is self-sufficient. It is not meant to create the exchange, but to enhance the distribution of political power of the center and economic exploitation of resources feeding it. Anybody who chances upon the merciless, expressionless face of its administration is going to learn this the hard way. Although today the hegemony is not centralized, but is dispersedly following the fluctuation of capital, if there is any place where, according to public opinion, the paradigm of now and here, crucial for our civilization, is developing, then it is New York. The K9 was shown for the first time in the mythical New York multimedia center, The Kitchen. It was presented as a video projection showing static disturbances of the electronic image. The maniacal Erland Josephson‘s monologue from the Italian original of Andrei Tarkovskij‘s ŇNostalgiaÓ from 1983 was coming from the background. How much could the audience discern from the hypnotic snowy projection and monologue in a foreign language? The artist was present and ready for discussion. The hermetic quality of K9 is extreme even within Kopljar‘s oeuvre. The obscurity of what they saw and heard was supposed to induce the audience to ask questions. Anyway, is reality not encoded? According to the production and marketing standards of post-industrial exploitation of already used products, K9 Compassion is an upgrade of K9, evidenced in the omission of the audio portion and the introduction of photography and an improved version of the scramble
application used to encode the video recording. Both aspects of the work, photographic and video, are founded on the action that Kopljar performed during the mentioned two months residency in New York. The photographs show him kneeling with his head bowed and his arms lowered against his body in the posture of wordless and passive adoration at the generally recognizable locations in New York, all of them the symbolic spaces of the hegemony that is defining his life as a human being, citizen and artist: Wall Street, Guggenheim Museum, UN building, Times Square and the seemingly anonymous, but symbolically charged China Town sidewalk and 8th Avenue roadway. For that occasion Kopljar dressed his standard performing outfit: a white shirt and a black suit. Beside his intention to use this costume to dignify the very act of performance and make himself a visually more universal medium of identification, these clothes also form around him an aura of a pilgrim from the periphery. There is something menacing in this engrossed figure kneeling on a white handkerchief, utterly unconscious of and detached from the milling crowds swarming around him. The menacing potential has entirely evolved in the video. The same action of kneeling, recorded by the video camera, served as the foundation for the tenminute loop of the video piece. The recorded material was encoded to illegibility by introducing the pattern of Kopljar‘s DNA that the Croatian police forensic team had taken from the sample of his blood. Kopljar is very personal about this: the images of hegemony are destroyed by his own blood. It sounds familiar. The passive aspect of submissive consent and the active aspect of destruction as the consequence of refusal is a psychological horizon on which are developed the tumultuous emotions of the people from the periphery who after all are not willing to accept the present image of the world. Kopljar‘s vision of the absolution of this explosive situation derives from its title. Compassion as the supreme virtue of faith could be the beginning of understanding and exchange. The reversibility of the encoding process opens a narrow space of hope: the scramble application can also decode the video until the image is re-established. The production of the work and the installation design are constituent parts of the symbolism of the work. The photographs are taken and produced in the mode of a marketing campaign, with strongly pronounced colors and executed in UV print on large format synthetic foil used for billboard advertisements. Hieratic growth of Kopljar‘s figure in the prints on both sides of the installation leads to its center where the encoded video recording is projected. The installation space and dimensions of the works are designed for the dynamic fluctuation of the audience who will pass by his bowed figure just like the citizens of New York, never suspecting that both salvation and ruin are close at hand. Kopljar is a pessimist who believes that the solution is possible. It takes only a conscious engagement and responsibility for one‘s own actions. Those who become interested will be able to decode the recording in the peaceful environment of their homes on the web pages www.mmsu.hr/kopljar and re-establish the image of reality. It is up to them to do this or to destroy the recording again.
The reasons for Kopljar’s inauguration of the concept of construction in 1996 at the international week of performance, "The Public Body" (o...