– Autumn/Winter 2012

Ivan Kožarić: ‘Freedom Is a Rare Bird’

Branka Stipančić

Ivan Kožarić, Isječak rijeke (Segment of a River), 1959, plaster (coloured gold in 1971). Photograph: Darko Bavoljak. Courtesy the artist and Studio Kožarić, Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb

‘To collectively make plaster casts of the interiors of the heads of all the members of Gorgona, with no exceptions. To make, discreetly, casts of the interiors of several important cars, the interiors of studio flats, trees, the interior of a park and so on — mainly, then, of all the significant cavities in our city.’

This was the answer to a questionnaire issued by the Zagreb neo-avant-garde group Gorgona in 1963.1 The questionnaire was distributed to its members to answer, and one of the questions it asked was ‘Is it possible to create a “collective work”?’ Ivan Kožarić replied with the little typewritten masterpiece, Kolektivno djelo (Collective Work), above.

The Gorgona questionnaires stemmed from those conducted by the French Surrealists, or, in the Yugoslav region, by the Serbian Surrealists of the early 1930s. The questions were concrete, and the answers short and snappy, often witty and sometimes rude. The members of the group seem to have wanted to adopt an attitude to their society that identified with the socialist, self-managed system of former Yugoslavia, while in various ways establishing a distance from it. Some of their questions prompted poetic or philosophical answers: ‘Do you think Gorgona is a result, an attempt or a failure?’, ‘Is Gorgona green, blue or some other colour?’, ‘Is Gorgona insurgent, indifferent or full of gratitude?’, ‘What are the seasons or month in which Gorgona feels good?’

Kožarić’s answer, ‘To collectively make plaster casts…’ is, as a proclamation, seemingly in the socialist and collective spirit — yes, we can all do something together — and yet it represents an eminently weird proposition, an impossible action.2 Such

  1. Joined together in the informal group called Gorgona were the painters Josip Vaništa, Julije Knifer, Marijan Jevšovar and Đuro Seder; art historians Radoslav Putar, Matko Meštrović and Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos; Kožarić; and architect Miljenko Horvat. They worked together in Zagreb between 1959 and 1966. The group took its name from Mangelos’s poem ‘Gorgona’, published in 1959 in the portfolio Eulalija (which contained silkscreens with Mangelos’s poems and Matija Skurijeni’s illustrations). Members of the group collaborated in various joint actions in addition to their individual work. In Zagreb they ran the exhibition space Studio G; proposed projects in the spirit of the late 1950s and the early 60s; cultivated an interest in existentialism, Neo-Dada, New Realism, Fluxus and happenings, as well as in reductionism and Eastern philosophical thought, including Zen. Many members insisted that their works were anti-paintings. The aspiration towards the degree zero brought the artists of Gorgona close to artists from the wider international scene, such as the Zero Group and Azimuth. It created an atmosphere of openness, or, better, a cult of freedom, which all the members spoke about with great enthusiasm in the succeeding years. 

  2. Kožarić’s proposal in Collective Work, for example, ‘to collectively make plaster casts … of the interiors of studio flats’, can be compared with the work of Rachel Whiteread, specifically her Untitled/House (1993), a cement cast of the interior of a house. Kožarić’s project was typical of the 1960s, when a verbal formulation was the only possibility; today works that are similar in their ideas are not short of spectacularity in their execution.

  3. A paraphrase of a sentence of George Brecht: ‘Event scores prepare one for an event to happen in one’s own now’. Quoted in Julia Robinson, ‘In the Event of George Brecht’, in Alfred M. Fisher (ed.), George Brecht Events — A Heterospective (exh. cat.), Cologne: Museum Ludwig and Buchhandlung der Verlag Walther Koenig, 2005, p.16.

  4. Josip Vaništa, ‘Gorgona’ (2000), in Marija Gattin (ed.), Gorgona: Protokol dostavljanja misli /Protocol of Submitting Thoughts, Zagreb: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2002, p.157.

  5. Johann Huizinga, Homo ludens, Zagreb: Naprijed, 1992, p.15.

  6. Thomas McEvilley, Sculpture in the Age of Doubt, New York: Allworth Press, 1999, p.120.

  7. In order to show its distancing from the policies of the USSR (from which it had split over the Cominform Resolution of 1948), Yugoslavia endeavoured to demonstrate its turn to the West, which in cultural policies was manifested in mild support for art that ‘was in step with the world’. Thus, the early 1950s were marked with modernism even in state commissions, such as monumental sculpture (by Vojin Bakić, for example). In order to bolster this liberal image, the Federal Commission for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries then initiated large touring exhibitions that presented the country in Western and Eastern Europe.

  8. Although Gorgona’s activity was public, little was known of its activities until 1977, when an exhibition was held in the Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb. Put on at a time when conceptual art in Yugoslavia — ‘nova umjetnička praksa' (‘new art practice'), as it was called — had achieved full maturity, it was a real discovery for many and made ripples among young artists and critics.

  9. Ivan Kožarić, ‘Marsijanac’ (1992), quoted in Ivica Župan, Vedri Sizif (Razgovori s Ivanom Kožarićem), Zagreb: Biblioteka Duchamp, Naklada MD, 1996, p.16.

  10. Studio was first produced in the Zvonimir Gallery in Zagreb in 1994.

  11. Ivan Kožarić, ‘Golotinja fermentirajuće gomile’, quoted in I. Župan, Vedri Sizif, op. cit., p.53.

  12. ‘As a sculptor, today I live entirely on the street. Walking from flat to studio, and back again, in fact I live with the city, with all its people and its “properties”.’ Ibid., p.41.

  13. ‘I have never forced anything, for if had forced it, I don’t think it would have been good. I didn’t force anything and everything I have arrived at has been actually almost spontaneous… I am very happy that I am happy.’ I. Kožarić in conversation with Goran Blagus, ‘Stvarima daje životnost’, Kontura, no.66, 2001, p.12.