In the center of Amsterdam, a selection of engaging and thought provoking artwork was exhibited in gallery Art et Amicitae, an “off the beaten path” cultural center that remains a mystery to the influx of tourists in the Netherland’s capital. While in Amsterdam, we visited this gallery to see the work exhibited by Croatian artists in the group exhibition, “(In) Constancy Struggle for Identity”, part two of an ongoing collaboration between the Netherlands and Croatia to exhibit prominent contemporary artists of said respected countries.
The idea of the exhibition is surrounded on the common theme of identity, and how artists express, discover, and define it. A huge topic like that is better understood when it is filtered and focused, so the central element in the struggle to define identity was architecture. Since Croatia and the Netherlands are two, historically very different countries, the exhibition aimed to express how through architecture, or in the more abstract idea of simply space, one’s identity is sculpted.
Curators, Vanja Babic and Neve Lukic explain that since our world has become ever more international and globalized, artists feel that their identity and / or nationalism is suppressed, and that everything has a relatively “universal” feel to it. Whether in Zagreb, Amsterdam or New York, cities are usually focused around similar philosophies and universalities.
One interpretation of this idea was by the graphic artist, Danijel Žeželj who is primarily known for his graphic novels and heavy contrast, black and white animation style. His work in the exhibition consisted of several large panels from his series, Utopia 2014. The series which he prefers to call a cycle, is a personal reflection on the philosophical works “The City of the Sun” by Tommaso Campanella and “Utopia” by Thomas More. These works of literature are of course, Utopian fiction, but Žeželj interprets them and compares them to a modern metropolis filled with dark, industrial, shadowed figures in a chaotic, grimy world. His work leaves the impression that his characters are lost in a dystopia, more than any idealist utopian city. His background in graphic novels makes his illustration and painting work very animated, life-like and easy to grasp. While viewing them, one feels like the protagonist in his narratives, and understands how the artist maps his own interpretation of his city.
Another really interesting example of a more analytical approach to the idea of Utopia, the artist Željko Kipke explores different monumental buildings in Zagreb and overlaps his own meditations, ideas and depictions through painting and photography. He paints a specific building and then photographs the painting in the location of the building he painted. Also included in the exhibition was Kipke’s own reflections and frustrations for certain institutions that represent policies and ideas in his country. He creates his own map of the city in relation to buildings that he “curses”. Along with his collages, a map with dialogue is displayed with a diary entry in 1999, explaining how he curses specific buildings that he is frustrated and disappointed with. He later revisited those same buildings 13 years later and notes how they have changed or remained the same. His new notes are photographs of his paintings in the location of the building he painted.
The photo collages of artist Tanja Deman also explore the identity of a city, especially institutions. At first glance, her series, “Temples of Culture” (2014) appear to be seamless, realistic photographs in black and white, like a documentary project of different cultural centers. Upon closer examination, one can sense something out of the ordinary, that these temples of culture are too good to be true. They represent a form of utopia for the artist, an intangible idea of perfect that is magical, yet simple. Deman examines different public institutions that collect, preserve and exhibit knowledge and culture, such as theaters, libraries, museums, art pavilions and galleries. However, Deman changes the identity of these buildings by adding a twist, an unexpected element of nature in the middle, or an odd angle. She gives these buildings new meaning, and also explores how cultural institutions, which are accessible to all citizens shape and function in society. By de-contextualizing them, Deman gives them a new purpose for public use, and tells us how she shapes her own identity within these institutions.
Our mission at Ikon Arts Foundation is to showcase Croatian talent, but we cannot forget that the main reason for the exhibition was to provide a context for the juxtaposition between Croatian and Dutch artists. The exhibition was not only about identity and trying to define it through space and architecture, but it was also to examine how the two countries have different, or maybe the same affects on citizens and artists. The work of these prominent Dutch artists blend together with Croatian artists in a cohesive exhibition, even though they come from two very historically different places and express themselves through different mediums and technologies. It was a great way to introduce the work of Croatian artists in Amsterdam, and continue to foster an artistic dialogue between the two counties. Artists included in the exhibition were: Anke Van den Berg, Robbie Cornelissen, Tanja Deman, Darko Fritz , Antonio Grgic , Igor Grubić , Zachary Formwalt, Zeljko Kipke ,Kopljar, Margareta Lekic , Ferenc Molnar Zoltan Novak , Neli Ruzic , Sara Rajaei Sandro Seto, Rik Smits, Elian Somers, Marjan Teeuwen, Rob Voerman, Danijel Zezelj .
Written by Kelly Foster