series of conversations
Meanderings ― the flow of contemporary art through city spaces
Photo: Damir Žižić

Branka Stipančić, Antun Maračić i Darko Šimičić

Bojan Krištofić

Gallery Nova, Teslina 7, Zagreb
tuesday, 28/02/2023, 7 pm

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the directing the program of Zagreb’s Nova Gallery, WHW presents the Nova 2.0 program, which will focus, among other things, on the history of independent or alternative spaces for modern and contemporary art and visual culture in Zagreb from the 1960s onwards.

As part of the Nova 2.0 program, a series of three public talks entitled Meanderings will take place at the end of February, March and April 2023. Through these conversations with the protagonists of the local art scene, we will try to map the meanderings of avant-garde artistic tendencies in Zagreb, and jointly identify and corroborate the reasons why the public space continues to be a key factor in progressive artistic work that strives towards reshaping sociability and interpersonal relations. WHW has invited the curator, designer and writer Bojan Krištofić to conceptualize and moderate these conversations. 

We live in a time when the post-pandemic, post-earthquake, and post-transitional social reality dictates cultural policy (also) in the local context in the direction of the ever-increasing homogeneity of the art field and stronger influence of state institutions and capital on artistic production. In that context, it can be inspiring to revisit some though-provoking examples of non-institutional cultural and artistic work that not only inaugurated the strategies characteristic of contemporary art in the urban environment, but continue to serves as mileposts of the avant-garde work of individuals and collectives who devised new forms of (urban) sociability through their artistic practice.

Even though the post-war, neo-avant-garde New Art Practice (which the majority of internationally renowned local contemporary art phenomena is based on) had taken root in the city and country in the 1960s and 1970s thanks to the initiative of artists and curators from institutional spaces such as the Student Centre Gallery and the Contemporary Art Gallery, in terms of visual art and cultural scene in Zagreb the dialectical relationship between art institutions on the one hand and alternative – sometimes complementary, sometimes oppositional – figures and phenomena remains crucial. 

The Working Community of Artists Podroom, Studio G, Haustor, AM-M14f/1-Z and many other artistic initiatives operated as both work and exhibition spaces, and their protagonists had, previously or contemporaneously with the trends at the Student Centre Gallery, Nova Gallery, Forum Gallery and others, reshaped the perception of what artistic spaces are and what they could be, and what forms of collective self-organization of artists and cultural workers they could initiate and develop. The gradual collaboration of avant-garde artistic groups and professional associations resulted in the opening of spaces such as the Expanded Media Gallery (PM Gallery), which had a key role in the context of neo-avant-garde tendencies in the 1980s. There was also an increased awareness that public space as such was a basic resource for artistic work and behaviour. Therefore, thinking about public space and nurturing the idea of art in public space and in everyday life remains an essential strategy of progressive urban artists to this day.

The first public talk, featuring Branka Stipančić, Antun Maračić and Darko Šimičić, is focused on artistic spaces whose stories ended by 1991, with a focus on Podroom and PM Gallery. The second talk will include actors from the ranks of civil society that flourished in the late 1990s and early 2000s, discuss the critical period of social transition and the accompanying narrowing, but also widening of the space for art and culture, and the production of hitherto unknown possibilities of survival and growth. Finally, the third talk will attempt to outline the present moment and more recent artistic initiatives that are trying to find their place in the context of the damaged city and project-based cultural policy, with participants from different generational groups. 

As the space of freedom for artistic experimentation and practice of multicultural and pluri-identity forms of sociability in the 1990s was rapidly increasing, the emergent civil society became a haven for artistic work interested in directly influencing the community and lives of citizens. The program of small independent organizations whose work has continuously focused on the issue of space, such as the Multimedia Institute (MI2) and MaMa Club, Miroslav Kraljević Gallery, and Močvara Club, and the program of curatorial, artistic and cultural collectives and organizations such as [KONTEJNER], [BLOK] – Local Base for Culture Refreshment, Attack!, BADco., Booksa, Nova Gallery, Greta Gallery, and many others – have become synonymous with artistic and cultural production that persistently operates beyond nationalist, commercial or exploitative practices, and emphasizes the importance of public space not just as a platform and means for work, but the reason for coming together and collaborating on cultural and artistic exchange.

The first decades of the 21st century have been marked by the co-existence of different strategies of acquiring and developing artistic spaces. It is not uncommon for artists to give their privately or publicly leased work spaces a public component (e.g., Žitnjak Ateliers or informal group M28), but also for privately owned artistic spaces (owned by artists and their families), such as Garage Kamba, to become primarily public spaces of gathering and creating. 

On the other hand, there is also the continuation of the practice of squatting, which addresses the issue of the need for spaces for public, cultural and charity work and living through extra-institutional occupation of disused spatial resources, which is sometimes followed by the squat’s legalisation (e.g., AKC Medika, Attack! and galleries Siva and Jogurt), and sometimes the squatters insist on the non-formal character of their activities, regardless of the lifespan of the space in which politics, art and life intersect (e.g., Reci:klaonica, BEK, Villa Kiseljak). 

How  were the mentioned spaces appropriated, how and why did artistic groups gather around them, and how did they define their common goals and policies? Furthermore, how was this expressed through their artistic work, collective and individual? How was their work shaped by the built and natural environment of the city? What kind of communication with cultural institutions and their fellow citizens did the artists want? Did they want to practice a certain organization of everyday life through their art, and if so, what kind? If they did not equate artistic work with the totality of everyday life, how else did they evaluate it? 

We will try to answer these and many other questions in the upcoming three months at Nova Gallery. Join us!

Speaking language will be Croatian.

The public talks are part of the Nova 2.0 program, which is taking place as part of Kultura Nova’s Support for Organizational and Artistic Memory, and Nova Gallery’s discursive program The History of Art and Society: The Spaces of Self-Organization.

The program is supported by:

Office for Culture, International Relations, and Civil Society of the City of Zagreb
Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Croatia
Kultura Nova Foundation