Works in Transition
by Radmila Iva Janković
“...pedestrian movement creates one of those real systems, whose existence truly constitutes a city; they do not localize, but spread in space”, says Michael de Certeau in his book The Practice of Everyday Life. In it, measuring urban space in pedestrian steps is compared to trees that are mobile, that move around and transform the stage, so that their movement can hardly be captured in a photo, equally as its meaning can hardly be formulated as a text. “Their rhetorical migration takes away and dislocates the analytical and encompassing real meanings of urban planning; we witness a “wandering semantics”, generated by masses that remove some parts of the city, glorify other, unhinge them, fragment and disassemble their still fixed arrangement.
The content of the black and white photograph that Luiza Margan adopts from the archives of the Students’ Centre Gallery and blends into her work is the action of walking. This is a documentation of the resistance performance by the Zagreb-based group TOK during the seventies in Graz, as part of the KunstMark event; its aim was a protest against the commercialization of the artwork. The documentary photograph is a frozen fragment of a trajectory of a walker with a statement. Under the motto “Art for Everyone”, artists carry their abstract paintings around the town in order to express their disagreement with institutions and the market that stand in the way leading to the autonomy of art, determining the value of artworks and turning them into objects of elitist culture. On the opposite side to this scene, workers are accidentally included into it. Luiza Margan separated these two groups in the street into two independent units, opening a Pandora’s Box by this simple gesture.
Many questions and doubts will emerge from it, like: Where are the boundaries of the autonomy of art? If they are not generated by the market, what kind of logic sets up the evaluation criteria for an artwork? Do artist receive adequate remuneration for their work? Associations will also trigger questions like:
What happens when the artist skips the symbolic part, just lands a scene, and juxtaposes it to reality? Do the ones accidentally captured in a frame actually wish to be a subject of representation? Questions will not stop cropping up even if we face Luiza’s next work in which workers are again in the foreground and in the focus of representation. In the video-installation Rehearsal (Action!) a common theatre situation of dismantling the stage setting has been borrowed from reality. This scene is represented in the form of a fictitious play i.e. a staged authoritarian dialogue of the artist and the workers; she energetically directs their activities and demonstrates the way how they should perform monotonous manual movements, even to some extent creating the entire atmosphere.
The grades of reality, ranging from the adopted actual situation to fiction,
actions and reflections on them are continuously altered and intertwined.
The instructions by the artist, followed by workers who move wooden boards from one part of the stage to the other interchange with self-referential off statements and reflections on the phenomenology of the voice. It asks itself: how can we achieve that people without the right of speech speak and how do we reinstate the sound into its role in the struggle against power? Assuming the position of power in this fictitious play, the author links the question of ethics with the voice, intuitively addressing the connection that in many languages already exists in the very etymology of the word, where the expression denoting obedience is based on the verb “listen”.
The text by Mladen Dolar states that the voice is a two-edged sword, at the same time an authority over the Other and exposure to the Other – an appeal,
a plea, and attempt to conquer the Other. However, the authoritative, additional voice used by the author to flippantly direct the movements, dynamics, and mood of the workers on the stage are fragments of a “wandering semantics” where reality again transcends artistic boundaries, interferes with the symbolical system of representation, and introduces confusion that will result in a series of associative reactions to particular notions. One of them is, for example, “workforce”, which is here not only an adopted segment of reality that becomes part of an artwork, but also its actual content, because at one point the question arises how much the representation of this on-stage work costs. The answer to this is cleverly evaded by giving further directions.
The recent four-channel audio-installation Concert for a Sewing-Machine and
a Tree, recently displayed within the framework of the Zagreb Urbanfestival and now transferred from the public space of a square (from the trees) into a gallery venue, has also been created by intertwining and adoption of situations that actually took place in reality.
Edited in the manner of a musical score, this interchange of irregular rhythms and sounds from real time and space, located into the public space of a city park, in four tree-crowns, introducing a spatial illusion of by no means harmless connotations, has for a short time animated a static idyll of the urban green oasis of the square. The produced sounds remind of the upsetting events that had shortly before happened in the immediate vicinity of the park. They are a result of long-term mismanagement by ruling structures, i.e. systematic economic destruction of one of the last textile factories in Croatia.
The work of machines and women’s hands, of protesting voices, tearing, cutting, and sewing together are provoking, testifies Luiza Margan, while new questions crop up about who, how and to what end re-distributes the space
and structures. The allusion to re-tailoring, suggested by the dominant sound
of sewing machines and tearing of the cloth eludes any attempt at non-ambiguous interpretation.
This re-tailoring evokes the memories of actual events (like renaming Trg Francuske Republike into Trg dr. Franje Tuđmana), as well as contemporary gentrification processes, which are frequently conducted in collaboration with art, in order to enliven a devastated structure after its economic collapse.
In this particular structure, associations keep forming a chain: indicated by sound, the listener faces a new cognitive space that outlines the concept of power of individual resistance and even his/her possibilities to re-tailor the already set routes and to design trajectories to which the resistance to the inherent language of power is feasible and maybe even possible.
“The language of power is being ‘urbanised’, but the city is still subjected to juxtaposed processes that complement each other and enter different combinations outside of the panoptic power”, says Michael de Certeau.
In Luiza Margan’s “wandering semantics”, in which art intertwines with reality, this sound installation, initially intended for direct and unplanned reception by passers-by in a place that had really experienced re-tailoring in the recent past, has now been transferred into a new situation – gallery venue – as part of the artist’s research practice. Although in her work she takes documentary methods of immanent practices of contemporary artistic activism as her point of departure, on the other hand Luiza does not deny the existence of an autonomous field of art.
Migrations and dislocation of signs from one venue to the other, from one level of reality into the other by applying artificial editing procedures will equally efficiently result in reflections on critical spots not only in the society as such,
but also in the position of art and artists in that society. The problem of the image/picture is how to depict a voice, writes Mladen Dolar; it brilliantly solves this problem in the editing process linked to Lacan’s description of urges as something devised and not founded on natural order of things or instincts; this editing process is not final, and like a surrealist collage it has no beginning and end.
These sound installations, collages, and video-plays, which in some segments remind us of zaum-like artistic gestures of avant-garde provenance, although they do not come about as a result of immediate intrusion into the field of reality – by directly influencing the awareness (and thus also the conscience) of the individual – will finally, as it seems to me, have an equally mobilizing effect.
English translation: Andy Jelčić
© Luiza Margan 2021