Heiko Daxl, August 1993


Does anyone take an interest in art culture and the media in a financially bankrupt country such as Croatia when there is a state of war? Politicians are (by necessity) concerned with noncultural goals, yet in the personal lives of the people cultural matters play an important role in the search for perspectives on everyday problems, and also for distraction from these problems. And so, even while granades were exploding and bombs falling, exhibitions were shown, plays performed and concerts given. This is one way to find protection and a defence against barbarism. Political mechanisms which really had had their day began conflicts in order to sustain their power: they opened Pandora's box, kindled mistrust and hatred of those who were thought to be different and triggered a war in which not they but people were the victims. For these people culture is perhaps the only way for ethical survival.

But let us turn back for a moment and look into the historical past. In doing so, we don't want to look at film and video as isolated genres, a point of view which has become all to common, but rather to focus our attention on the relationship between the various media arts and on the way they influence each other. When we look at the history of Croatia, one of the youngest countries in Europe, we must consider the history of Yugoslavia as well. Yet, even so, events, names and trends can be related purely to Croatia and in particular to Zagreb, because each of the regions in Yugoslavia has its own cultural centre, its own historical background and its own approach to the arts.

The development of film after the Second World War was at first characterised by a glorification of partisan warfare and the socialist achievements of Tito's Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia's break with the political doctrine of the Soviet Union under Stalin in 1948 lead to a policy of moderate Communism, an opening to West and to block neutralism. In the same way, areas of freedom were created permitting the following generations to gather experience in the countries of Western Europe and North America. Film studies, which officially didn't exist, consisted of endlessly watching films. The first important films of this time are documents of an uspurge from which many new things were to come.

From the mid-fifties studios in the various republics developed their own ideas and the directors (e.g. Mileti}, Tanhofer, Golik, Belan etc), were able to create some remarkable films. Especially in the field of animation films as a continuation of the work of the Neugebauer brothers, artists like Dusan Vukotic, Vatroslav Mimica, Vlado Kristl and others developed new forms which, turning away from the Disney style, found their stimulus in modern painting which, in contrast to the other East European countries, had a powerful abstract element. So it was born the famous Zagreb School of Animation.

Since the late fifties and early sixties, in addition to the local film productions, there have been many international coproductions (mainly spy, war and action films). As a location for international co-productions, Yugoslavia was in demand because of its highly specialised experts, its spectacular scenary (seen in the film version of Karl May´s Books for instance) and its large numbers of low-paid extras. But there were other kinds of film being made as well. As in most countries of Eastern Europe, there were many interesting activities in the so called cinema clubs. It was within these organizations that film enthusiasts were developing alternatives to the conventional forms of film outside the cinemas controlled or influences by the state.

At the beginning of the sixties the country opened its doors which had a vital influence on artistic creativity, music and short film. The time was ripe for a new approach to both art and criticism. New views were developed which stimulated thinking about the function, significance, place and role of art in modern society. As a part of the artist's movement "Nove tendencije", (New Trends) movement numerous events, exhibitions and festivals took place and Zagreb developed into one of the centres of modern art in Europe. The International Bienale of Contemporary Music founded in 1961 and still existing, the festival for experimental films GEFF which took place every two years from 1963 to 1969, the International Festival of Animated Films and many more such activities began in this period. Of considerable significance here is also Toso Dabac and his school of photography (Enes Midzic, Marija Braut and Pero Dabac).

Zagreb became a place where Conceptual Art was focused, so that artists, theoreticians, exhibitors and others came here from all over Yugoslavia and from abroad. An urge towards Modernism could be felt and the city brought together all those who had and still have status and reputation. The Music Bienale presented not only Penderecki and Ligeti but also John Cage and David Tudor. The films of Andy Warhol were shown at a very early stage, the art of Zero and Minimalism became recognizable. Experimental films, art happenings, alternative theatre performances flourished.

In 1969 Zagreb was first after London to take part in an international congress on computer art "Dialogue with the Machine" (Dijalog sa Strojem). In 1971 "Television Today" (Televizija danas) edited by Vera Horvat-Pintaric, attention was already being paid to experimental forms of the mass media. Already during this time, the film section of the Academy for Performing Arts was planned and opened in 1969. Furthermore, this time also saw the beginnings of process oriented video art in Yugoslavia, which, as in other European countries, which aimed to integrate art into daily life stimulated by the discussion going on in the aesthetic and theoretical environment.

After relatively liberal climate of the sixties, a transformation occured in the political scene of Yugoslavia in 1971-72. The state reacted with restrictive measures on the increase of tendencies towards free thought . Disciplinary actions were taken also against film-makers, writers, artists, critics and other intellectuals. Some were removed from their positions, some were sent to a prison. The protest aginst, the calls for a greater autonomy were brutally suppressed. After that, especially in Croatia (after so called "Zagreb Spring"), all cultural possibilities were so drastically limited that many left the country and the stagnation of artistic and intellectual activities spread across the country.

It wasn't until the second half of the seventes, and especially after Tito's death in 1980, that the scene became lively again. The significant initiatory influence for the development of video art were two video workshops organized by the Zagreb Gallery of Contemporary Art in the Croatian region Istria. The first workshop took place in a small mountain town Motovun and the second one in the village Brda. These workshops represented two of the rare opportunities for Yugoslav artists to realise their work in this new medium.

There were only few opportunities to work for the broadcasting system and technical equipment could be rarely found in privat hands. This was one of the reasons why many of the first video art tapes made by Yugoslav artists were produced outside the country. All of these artists like Sanja Ivekovic, Dalibor Martinis, Marina Abramovic, Goran Trbuljak, Nusa and Sreco Dragan, Boris Bucan and Tomislav Gotovac had a background in the visual arts of the sixties and integrated their experience with performance art, installations, photography, film and conceptual art into their work.

By the end of the decade, at the iniative of Ladislav Galeta and others, the MM Centar for film/video/performance was opened and quickly became one of the centres in Yugoslavia. To this day films, expanded cinema actions and video art is shown and discussed there. In Belgrade the Student Cultural Center (SKUC) became one of the most active centres in the same field. Biljana Tomic and Bojana Pejic had organized many media exhibitions and screenings of video art. In 1983 in Ljubljana the "CD Video Bienale" was organized for the first time. This video festival offered not just the opportunity to show tapes to an international audiece, but also to realize video projects using professional technology. Meetings and workshops of this kind were later organized in Sarajevo, Skopje and in Ohrid. As a result of this activities, more artists of the new generation showed an ever greater tendency to concentrate on video art: Marina Grzinic and Aina Smid, Max Osole, Neven Korda, Zemira Alaibegovic, Laibach, Borghesia, Breda Beban and Hrvoje Horvatic are only some of the best known.

During the eighties, Yugoslavia undoubtely achieved internationally a unique position in the field of video art, since many - including internationally recognized - works were produced with the help of one of the six Yugoslav television centers and were able to reach a potential audience of 20 million viewers during prime time. In this field Dunja Blazevic was a true pioneer with the "TV Gallery" she began at TV Belgrade, where she made a large number of video art projects possible between 1982 and 1990, which were realized by TV stations of Skopje, Zagreb, Sarajewo and Ljubljana.

Then, at the beginning of 1990, the first free democratic elections took place in Slovenia and Croatia, followed by a demand for greater autonomy for the republics from the central government in Belgrade. About a year later, at the end of June 1991, the Yugoslav Army first attacked Slovenia and shortly after the war started in Croatia, and less than a year later on Bosnia-and Herzegovina. Further events and the resulting tragedy from them are unfortunately all too well known.

Due to the war/postwar situation and the resulting catastrophic economics in Croatia at present, many cultural institutions such as museums, theatres, galleries, film studios, and archives are severely endangered or are on the edge to be closed.

Since large parts of Croatia are still occupied, and some places can only be reached by very roundabouts or by air, many of the direct cultural contacts and activities are interrupted. In the same time art works are still being made with a high quality which also demonstrates the commitment to the importance of art of its creators. This seems especially important at a time when a culture for democratic society has yet to develop, and when the state-owned media rarely permit the expression of critical attitudes, thereby closing themselves off from any other point of view - and showing consequently little interest in such works.

However, it is possible to see an advance, however slow, towards an alternative public vision. Privately produced periodicals and magazines, such as "Erasmus" are being established as an intellectual counterweight to the state-owned press; and already existing institutions such as OTV - Omladinska Televizija (Young People's TV), and "Radio Jedan" are providing a forum for alternative news and alternative points of view.

The events of the past two years have done more than left many gaps in public life and aside from then bankcruptcy of official film production, forced some artists to leave the country. On the other side this time has also stimulated the emergence for the continuation of art and culture for a new generation of young artists, who are alongside Sanja Ivekovic, Dalibor Martinis and Ladislav Galeta, who still live and work in Zagreb, making interesting and high-level works in spite of unfavourable conditions. They are Simon Bogojevic-Narath, Milan Bukovac, Slobodan Jokic, Vladislav Knezevic, Igor Kuduz, Tatjana Tikulin and others who are working with film and video, or the group arround Zeljko Bozicevic, Ivica Franic, Aleksandar Ilic, Ivana Keser and Davor Pavelic, work somewhere between the field of visual art, video and media installations, between abstract associations and realistic reflections of the time in which they are forced to live. Since independent productions are almost never financed entirely by the state, these young artists are looking for opportunities in private video studios, find sponsors and are able to make some things possible even on conditions which are ar present seem to be impossible.

first published in Ostranenie, Bauhaus Dessau, 11/1993