Individual Utopia

My family informed me once that I’d received an award for the experimental film Arzak at a festival taking place in Pula named MAFAF. That day I was in the office of Captain 1st Class Milan Nedić, in “Milan Popović” Army Barracks, town Peć, The Autonomous Province of Kosovo. President of Serbian communist party Slobodan Milošević had already had his famous speech in Kosovo which the surprised army troops, mainly from the north-eastern parts of Yugoslavia, were watching on a black and white television set in the barrack hall, while I was, leaned against the bedroom door, softly singing Gang of Four’s saga: “Man in a Uniform”. That day Captain 1st Class Milan Nedić went to visit his horny wife in Kosovska Mitrovica, while I was counting down my last army days. The stove mostly smelled of lime and acacia trees intensified with heavy oriental cuisine and animal corpses rotting on the road. At the end of one of such roads there was monastery Pećka Patrijaršija, which I used to visit regularly and watch the fresco of Christ in the central dome.  The letter was brought to me by a friend from Slovenian town Piran who was constantly being accused of taking part in the demonstrations against the Relay of Youth. Relay was strong Yugoslavian simbol dedicated to the memory of president Josip Broz Tito.  We used to dress together in old officers’ uniforms with very Russian style hats. In the room of the Captain 1st Class Milan Nedić we used to watch old 16 mm films on trials of quislings and domestic traitors. They were all tried in front of the People’s Court, supported by hysterical outbursts of the same People in front of the Courthouse. During those silent agitprop works Laibach’s “Sila” (1) served us as a tonal accompaniment. We were often accompanied by an eccentric from Ljubljana, Marko Drpić, and it was with him that I realized some militaristic-artistic projects of a slightly gay aesthetic. I could not understand why I got the award at the Pula festival. I knew that some members of the jury must had thought Arzak was the anagram of Zrak. (2) But I was referring to Moebius’ comic book, and I wasn’t even sure the author of the script was Jodorowski. A year before, together with my dear cousin Darinko Mustać, I made the film “Mea Culpa”. The same as Arzak, this film was on, nowadays ancient, Super 8-film format. The film tape could only be processed in the Federal Republic of Germany, and processing was included in the film tape price. Very German-like precise the whole process lasted for 15 days. Darinko’s brother Zdravko Mustać was a part of our “Ledeno Doba” (3) Art Group . The Group mainly dealt with the publishing of conceptual artworks, multiplied by Xerox photocopying technology and then distributed through Zadar streets. “Antologija filma” (4) by Zdravko Mustać presents the history of film through a ready made of photographs of family and personal history. The work ends with a montage of the author’s head into a member of Vladimir Ilič Lenin’s numerous family, under which there was also an appropriate title of the movie from which the fictive frame was taken out, and that was “Zelig” by Woody Allen. The group temporarily ceased to operate after I had, together with a group of collaborators, posted posters saying “Dolazi ledeno doba” (5) all over Zadar. The day after this action police authorities (Sekretarijat unutarnjih poslova) stepped into action, took off the posters from the walls and started searching for the authors of the posters bearing “an unclear political message among students who are inclined towards such ideas”. At the end of August 1988 I left Yugoslavian army wearing green surgical pants, an ankh around my neck and a black leather glove on my left hand. Soon after returning from the army we formed “Ledeno doba” Art Group all over again, this time focusing on film and performance art. Group expanded in such a way that artist Slobodan Jokić, Ivo Martinović, Andrej Vrbančić, Nadomir Šerbo and Marko Drpić joined us. We used to start all film screenings with performances consisting of Socio-Realist speeches or sound installations. Especially famous was the projection in the then Youth Centre (today Croatian Youth Centre) in Zadar where Šenol Selimović, who was the then Official-President of the League of Socialist Youth, Zadar City Committee, held remakes of his political speeches.
After that came the projection in the cult Split Kino Club, and in June the performance at the Festival of Amateur Film at Multimedia Centre in Zagreb. What is significant for the last two years of the Yugoslav self-managed Socialism is the fact that one didn’t think about money in terms of nowadays state of mind and individual economy. Hall rental costs were not paid, travel expenses were not paid, sleepovers were not paid, and no one even posed questions like that. There was a rumour within alternative film circles that Ladislav Galeta, MM Centre Manager, was paying fees to authors, but that raised eyebrows, caused disgust and utter consternation. Art was absolutely sacred to us, it was larger than life and it was by no means a part of an everyday context. The desire for money, and not the one for existence or nonexistence, was what we saw as the cause of all suffering. If we needed somewhere to spend the night, we’d sleep at friends’ places and at colleagues from the alternative world, and we used to travel by cheap and slow buses. Marxist ideological matrix imprinted itself completely on every part of society, so the same went for us. In nowadays Postmodernist categories, where “art became equal to the real and everyday life”, we would become stupid idealists or simply old fashioned. Group started to fall apart for multiple reasons, some of the artists moved away from Yugoslavia into the countries of prosperity and well-being, and the others dedicated themselves to their primary artistic preoccupations. One of the last gatherings of the group members was in 1990 during the filming of Zdravko Mustać’s short film. At the time artist Vlado Zrnić returned to Zadar from Venice where he was studying at Carmelo Zotti master class.  He was to be the one who, together with Zdravko Mustać and Slobodan Jokić, would manage the art cinema from 1990 to 1991. In Zagreb I was trying, together with Tomislav Polić (protagonist of Zadar subculture scene, founder of Društvo graditelja bolje budućnosti (6) Club), to form a new group that would have continued the ideas of Ledeno doba named “Novo ledeno doba” (7). Together, we performed two pieces titled “Tribina-Naučno popularni film”, at the Academy of Fine Arts and SKUC, Zagreb. I remember that, during our first performance at the Academy, there was a declared right-winger in the front row writing down all the Serbian words and Marxists ideas we uttered, announcing that he would hand the material over to the Croatian secret services. That situation was very funny to us, but the upcoming war and quiet mobilization soon ended all of our activities. Tomislav moved to Frankfurt, Germany where he, together with two Turks, two Kurds and one Jew, tried to form the Fourth International and raise the World Revolution, the same one Trocki and Milovan Đilas dreamt of, and on preparations of which Comintern worked a long time. His attempts were unsuccessful and he has been bearing the noble karma of an auslender (immigrant) and German Post Office officer to date. For me, personally, during the nineties came the hibernation phase when I realized the conditions significant for my further frame of actions. As Hakim Bey wrote “art has become a product”, it by all means undergoes the laws of the real and black market, its only measure of value has become the money and its circulations. In the Postmodern every trace of idealism and romanticism has disappeared, those terms have been replaced by curatorial ones of “collective and individual utopia”.  In that alone the art has lost its higher meaning for me, no matter how pathetic it might sound today. Maybe the same as when Slavoj Žižek says that “the way to new Socialism is through Christianity”. In accordance with the time I’m living in I wrapped my activity in the cloak of “individual utopia”. From 1999 to 2002 I was managing “Planine” Art Workshop which took place at mythological Velebit Mountain on the Adriatic coast most of the time. The workshop dealt with the issue of heritage of the first Croatian novel “Planine” by Petar Zoranić (written in 16th century) in the context of contemporary art practice. The idea of this project was to preserve the parts of heritage in the mountains which are irreversibly dying, either through the documentation, whether trough the interpretations. In all of us who have worked of this project, create and experience, the mountains have left indelible mark. After returning to cities we were no longer the same. In 2007, together with Bojana Brkić, I started a residential program “Dolazak u baštinu” (8) . The idea of the project was an artistic activity in archetypal landscapes, historical environments and buildings, which authors would refer to in their site-specific works. I was inspired by German and English romanticism, but also conscious about cruel reality. Mark Gisbourne says: “as any true countryman knows there is no romance in farming, and any form of mastery of the rural environment has always come at a very high and physically arduous cost to those who laboured on the land”.  In 2008 this project transferred to the University of Zadar, where it has found its haven. Theme of the project changes every year. Four projects have been realized so far, the first one was titled “Dolazak u baštinu” (9) and it dealt with Zoranić’s inheritance concerning the iconography of historical town Nin and Zadar. The theme of the second project, titled “Otok kao utopija” (10), was questioning the real or imaginary utopian space in contemporary art. The third project dealt with the meaning of the notion of image, partly as a hermetical object of “Mandalyon” (Vera Icona, first image of Messiah), partly as an aesthetical phenomenon. The project was titled “Slika kao hermetična ikona novog doba” (11).
This years’ project is titled “Jacopo Tintoretto” and it deals with the topic of a well-known Venetian canvas with the scene of the battle for the domination over Zadar between Venetians and Hungarians. The project thematized historical conquests of Zadar, the most famous of which is the one undertaken by Crusaders, which in a blessed way paid the Venetian navy service to the “liberation” of Jerusalem and Holy land. Over the years more and more students have joined the project, so in the future this way of work could lead to the establishment of an International Art Department at the University, which would normally operate under strictly utopian and highly idealistic postulates. Let us go back to the award for the experimental film work “Arzak” from the beginning of our story. It is true that the first time I visited Pula was in 2003, fifteen years after MAFAF Award, on the way back from Visura Aperta Curatorial Project in Istrian town Momjan. At that time an artist from Split, a sea captain Zlatan Dumanić, was rolling down an abandoned, moss-covered street on balinjera (12). In Pula, I boarded an old motorboat “Marina” that sailed toward Zadar passing through mysterious island of Silba. The whole story with the award and the context I was in at the time now sounds like one of the Postmodern Jean Baudrillard analogies. The motive of Arzak movie was a shattered marine engine similar to famous Montenegrin “Obodin” refrigerator, and industrialization and post-industrial landscape were a very romantic thing in the eighties. Like you’ve set Mary Shelley mortal body on fire in small Elan’s plastic boat next to one of the factories in the area of Maghera, and not on the dramatic rocky Mediterranean beach. Because landscapes became virtual anyway, they remain with us as long as there is a glimmer of consciousness and light on a movie screen.

Josip Zanki

(1) Force
(2) Croatian for ‘air’
(3) Meaning ‘Ice Age’
(4) The Anthology of Film
(5) The Ice Age is coming
(6) Society of the Builders of a Better Future
(7) New Ice Age
(8) Coming to Heritage
(9) Coming to Heritage
(10) Island as a Utopia
(11) Image as a Hermetic Icon of the New Era
(12) Old Dalmatian expression for a piece of wood on which ball bearings would be fixed, used for rolling down the hill, street, etc.