The enigmatically entitled exhibition project T focuses on Rossella Biscotti’s and Kevin van Braak’s collaborative works and common interests in questions of history, memory and ideology, most notably bringing into focus the intersections of ideology and form. Triggered by diverse historical fragments, Biscotti and Braak develop a complex, yet very material reflection on the remnants of their original ideological inscription, through different acts of re-contextualisation dissecting the inner dynamics of the politics of form.
Does ideology possess a form? Or rather, how does ideology acquire a form? There is an endless font of historical material on the basis of which one could reflect on the politics of representation, but that is not the (main) objective of Biscotti’s and Braak’s works. They conspicuously posit their research of the mentioned fragments in contexts after the dissolution of ideologies that produced them. In other words, they inquire into their afterlife. What happens to a certain form when the ideology that gave it life leaves it? What is it that remains? Biscotti’s Heads in Question deal precisely with this issue. Having discovered five bronze heads of Benito Mussolini and king Vittorio Emmanuele III in the heart of fascism’s most distinguished architectural ensemble, the EUR district of Rome, more specifically in the basement of its Palazzo Uffici, she decided to exhibit the works commissioned for the World Fair of 1942 which were never displayed due to war. Such a powerful gesture immediately incites questions about their reading today, both in terms of addressing our relationship to the past as well as in terms of art’s own potential stances of both complacency and resistance. For that reason Biscotti produced casts from the bronze heads, thus symbolically reversing the sculptural process, de-commissioning the works in a sort of a cleansing ritual. Similar acts of de- and re-contextualisation are evident in After Four Rotations of A, B Will Make One Revolution. Here Biscotti and Braak transform socialist colossi into minimalist blocks of the same material, weight and name in order to engage with the phenomenon of monumental socialist sculpture, where the issue of their existence after the loss of the initial ideological context is even more acute. It seems that their inglorious fate – from being blown to pieces to being paraded in several amusement-park-style sculpture parks across Eastern Europe – radicalises the need to reflect on socialist history beyond revisionism. After Four Rotations… revolves around a very literal answer to the question of what remains after we eliminate the figurative from monumental sculpture. What does it represent after it loses its immediate function of representation? What seems to arise is a series of opposites with an unescapable political undertone: what once was figurative/literal is now abstract/minimal, once domineering socialist heroes on pedestals are now blocks on the floor, and once hollow metal shells have become full, solid weighs. What is wonderfully poetic here is the use of material as a sort of literary trope, a simile or a metaphor, whose casting and recasting reflect the transformations of power that shape it.
It is this performative moment of sculpture in its relation to power that becomes the spiritus movens of Braak’s project entitled Shards. Braak commissioned and then burnt sixteen head portraits of key political and economic leaders of the present, producing shards scattered on the gallery floor in a macabre, death evoking set-up. It immediately evokes the devastation left behind by the forces of neoliberal capitalism, but in a curious switch the emphasis seems to be more empowering: it is the artists with a gesture of a woodoo priest who ritually burnt the effigies. Could art really devastate the devastator? This appears to be an appeal to human thought and ideas to break through the cage of the never-ending samsara of exchanging ideologies, tackled in The Library, a huge prison-like metal structure, a depository of 590 books selected from the thousands eliminated from the Vilnius University Library. Books perceived as infested by oppressive Soviet ideology were disposed of in a millennia-old gesture and are now ‘imprisoned’ by the triumphant and revisionist forces of the new paradigm. This metaphorically portrays ideas as ideological hostages and calls not for an idyllic, post-ideological universe which, as recent decades have shown, is the most ideological of them all, but rather for a breach, an act of defiance that only the power of human thought can shape. This might explain the enigmatic T from the title of the show, where the issues of Time and Transformation are being the object of Thought.
Curators: Zoran Erić and Vladimir Vidmar
February 8th and 15th, at 6 pm: Guided tour with curators
The exhibition was made in collaboration between Museum of Contemporary Art Belgrade and Škuc Gallery.
The programme of Škuc Gallery is supported by Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia and Cultural Department of the City of Ljubljana.
photo © Dejan Habicht