The Orange Dog and Other Tales (Even Better Than the Real Thing)
wednesday, June 24th, at 18.00, public space, Maršal Tito square, Zagreb
thursday, June 25th at 21.30, Student Center, Savska 25, Zagreb
sunday, June 28th at 17.00, HDLU, Bačva Gallery, Trg žrtava fašizma bb, Zagreb
performance in Croatia. collected works. guided tour. an (art) history play.
Neven Aljinović Tot, Milivoj Beader, Iva Derniković, Filip Igut, Mario Kovač, Dean Krivačić, Zrinka Kušević, Ivan Laić, Dora Lipovčan, Nikša Marinović, Vili Matula, Hrvoje Perc, Ivana Roščić, Davor Rožić, Vesna Sorić, Leo Vukelić
performing as artists:
Marijan Crtalić, Vlasta Delimar, Tomislav Gotovac, Igor Grubić, Josip Pino Ivančić, Sanja Iveković, Božena Končić-Badurina, Zlatko Kopljar, Siniša Labrović, Sandra Sterle, Boris Šincek, Slaven Tolj, Josip Zanki, Vlasta Žanić
MC: William Linn
Concept: KONTEJNER | bureau of contemporary art praxis, Zagreb
Directed by: Mario Kovač
The famous definition of performance by Peggy Phelan, claiming that "performance's only life is in the present" and that it therefore defies participation in the "circulation of representations of representations" reflects the idealistic quest for authenticity by the generation of the 1960s and 1970s conceptual and performance artists. In the early stage in her career, Laurie Anderson refused to document her work in any way, insisting on performance as a time-based activity which, once the act itself had ended, continued to live only in the memory of the performer and his/her audience. Such attitude was soon renounced by Anderson herself as she met with memory's inescapable tendency to betray – maybe most crudely those who have been its truest believers. The problem was that her audience did not remember as well as she expected they would (or should) and kept asking her questions about things she claimed were never part of her work: "There was no orange dog. I never did anything with an orange dog."
Besides its function as 'evidence' or witness, video and photo documentation soon became identified as the means enabling fetishization and commodification of performance art, which thus lost its aura of being the only category of artistic expression that truly resisted identification with the art object. More recently, the inability of both photography and video to ensure presence – the core element of performance art, enabling the artist and audience to share the same time/space coordinates – has been 'compensated' by the emergence of reenactment as a popular way of making key performances from the 1960s and 1970s 'come alive' again.
The project The Orange Dog and Other Tales (Even Better Than the Real Thing) uses a series of reenactments to create an (art) history theatre play, whose plot evolves into a history of Croatian performance art. It is a work of art historians turned into a drama, instead of a scientific paper. Thirteen actors take the roles of authors of thirteen selected performances, along with a 'master of ceremony' leading the audience on a guided tour through performance history.
The Orange Dog and Other Tales (Even Better Than the Real Thing) is not an intervention or reinterpretation of the 'official' history of performance in Croatia This is partly due to the fact that an official history of performance art in Croatia does not exist. What exists is merely a dispersed set of fragments, images, interviews, catalogues, legends, lies, accusations, clichés, etc. waiting to be collected, reexamined and ordered into a narrative with a clear beginning and end. This 'lack', however, should not necessarily be regarded as a drawback. In fact, it (albeit undeliberately) recalls the state of idealistic quest for authenticity of performance art, which resists documentation, scientific examination and any kind of packaging.
The drama begins with uncertainty: where to locate the first act of performance, even if the search is narrowed – as it in this case deliberately is – to performances explicitly thematizing the artist's body? If we ignore lonely examples of performative activities of early 20th century avant-garde artists, the search could bring us to several photographs made during the sixties – again, photography imposing itself as the only obvious evidence and guide. A series of photos from 1961 show the artist Tomislav Gotovac posing half-naked in the snowy landscape of the Medvednica mountain near Zagreb, holding in his hands women's magazine Elle displaying half-nude female models. At the same time, a few photos were taken of him joyfully breathing in the fresh mountain air. These two events performed by Tomislav Gotovac could indeed be read as preparations for the numerous actions in public space, performances and performative self-portraits that he would do from the early 1970s until today and in which the artist as an embodied subject is always the key element of. In 1971 he made his first performance in the public/urban space, Streaking, in which he ran bearded and naked through the streets of Belgrade and which we could with much greater certainty call a first performance. Similarly, in 1981 in Zagreb, I Love You, he ran naked (now with shaved beard and hair) through the Zagreb city center in the midst of tram tracks, running towards the main square and bowing down to kiss the pavement.
Of course, the search for the beginnings is fair only if one considers also that which has escaped the photographic lense, There have been stories that two members of the Split 'group' Red Perystil commited sucide, one (Pave Dulčić) by jumping under the train in 1974 and the other (Tomo Čaleta) in 1972 by jumping from a building and allegedly carrying the sign "I am an artist", both claimed by this legend to be artistic acts, which would make them the "ultimate" body art performance acts in the history of Croatian contemporary art, whith death, as Alain Badiou points, as the only possible event whose "reality" cannot be questioned and allowing no (distancing) space for semblance.
The search for the first performance happening in a gallery space and involving the artist's (this time female) embodied subject could begin at the opening of Sanja Iveković's solo exhibition in the Zagreb Gallery of Contemporary Art in 1976. Showing her work – which itself dealt with feminist questioning of the personal as political, juxtaposing the artist's personal photographs with represantations of women in women's magazines – for the first time in this important Zagreb venue, the artist exposed not only this work, but herself at the entrance to the gallery, where she shook hands with each visitor entering the gallery, with her mouth sealed with tape and a stethoscope connecting her body to the speakers that transmitted the sound of her heartbeat. Eliminating all verbal/intellectual communication and reducing all interaction to intersubjective bodily contact, Sanja Iveković performed, in Amelia Jones's terms, the subversion of the (male) transcendent Cartesian subject, presenting her (female) subjectivity as embodied, vulnerable and necessarily intersubjective and interdependent.
Tracing the history of female/feminist performance: the crucial is practice of Vlasta Delimar, whose insistent questioning of the female body and sexuality and its relation with the male body/sexuality forms one of the most relevant and controversial performance oeuvres in Croatian contemporary art, starting in late 1970s with collaborative performances with her then partner and artist Željko Jerman and continuing with her numerous solo performances up to the present, with one of the most reknowned being Walk-through as lady Godiva, where she rode naked on a horse through the streets of Zagreb. Female artists of the younger generation, Sandra Sterle, Vlasta Žanić, Božena Končić Badurina and many others carry on this legacy of female performance, each moving in a different direction. Slaven Tolj's and Boris Šincek's performances have been crucial in subverting and questioning the socially and polictially imposed image of the male subject/body as a subject/object of war, in relation to the war period in Croatia in the nineties and later on in relation to the questions of nationalism. Zlatko Kopljar's practice has been one most insistenly and passionately dealing with the position and role of the artist in society. Marijan Crtalić's performances continue in the line of enacting the relations of the personal and political. Josip Zanki and Siniša Labrović in different ways use the body, humour, spoken word etc. to display the ideological workings behind these socially defined acts. Igor Grubić and Josip Pino Ivančić use performance as one of the ways to engage in art as primarily socially activist practice.
There are, as in any narrative, many who are unjustly left out from the story. The task of Orange Dog is not to tell the whole and correct story – it ignores art-historical correctness and focuses primarily at the tensions relating from the "authentic", "real" and the (re)enacted, the semblance, but trying to test the engagement in the "passion for the real" and take the semblance to possibly radical consequences for the real, or another "real". Therefore, the performances by the actors are not simulated; they are "copies", repetitions, but all "cuts" in the actors' bodies or the performing space "truly" happen (again), the blood, the bullets, some even leaving a permanent mark on the actor's body.
"OK, so now do you see an orange dog"?
 "Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance." Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance, Routledge, London, 1993
 quoted in Amelia Jones, Body Art. Performing the Subject