(c) Portrait Eve by the curator
Eve Woods is curator/programme Producer at Pallas Projects where she has worked in various roles since 2016. She has led on the Artist-Initiated Projects since 2019, and special projects including; curating ‘Dubliners Reel’ at the 6th Biennial of Painting, Zagreb 2021; Ark Life workshop programme & exhibition with artist Celina Muldoon funded by the Arts Council Commission Award 2021; Irish Art Now: Contemporary Art Auction in support of PP/S 2019; Nasty Women Dublin 2017; & PP/S 20 Year Benefit Auction 2016.
She has also worked as Visiting Lecturer – Strategies for publicising cultural events – Dun Laoghaire Institute Of Art Design + Technology, 2021; Producer at Science Gallery Dublin (SGD) where she represented SGD at EXPERIMENTA, la Biennale Arts Sciences 2020 as part of the European Artificial Intelligence Lab; and Green on Red Gallery Dublin where she assisted at international art fairs including VOLTA NY, 2017.
Education includes Situations: Art in the Contemporary World, Creative Futures Academy, 2022; Expanding Exhibitions: Innovative Approaches to Curating, Node Center 2021; Sponsorship Seminar, Business To Arts, 2016; BSc. Digital Technology & Design 1:1, Dublin Institute of Technology/Digital Skills Academy 2016; MA. in Visual Arts Practices, Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology, 2014; BA. (Hons) in Fine Art (Painting) 2:1, Centre for Creative Arts & Media, Galway, 2012.
As part of Artists for Artists Residency curator and artist Eve Woods spent from 27th December 2023-27th January 2024 collating research on the art ecosystem in the city of Zagreb. This included field research visiting cultural sites, amenities and public sculptures as well as condicting interviews with 29 artists and curators visiting studios, galleries and alternative art-making sites. Events attended include exhibition openings, performances and presentations at universities and arts organisations. This period of enquiry has given access to an overview of the art ecosystem and created connections for future creative projects.
There are many and varied artists working in the city and surrounding areas. The most active are often contributing through a combination of exhibition, teaching and project organisation. There is strong support through generations of cultural workers in regards to skill sharing and opportunity creation. This has led to a highly skilled artistic network, however, artists often rely on international opportunities to sustain careers and experience the common challenges of income insecurity and sourcing appropriate workspace.
There is a strong history of public sculpture in the region and this in reflected in the skill and ambition of three dimensional artists. Painting is a popular medium and is underpinned by a strong academic painting standard. Painters are presenting a variety of styles including portraiture and realist still life with abstract and surrealist tendencies. Many painters use digital collage and maquette making to prepare for larger compositions. Art historical, archival and pop-culture imagery is often fragmented and reappropriated with post internet references included.
Artists working with New Media utilise lens based process, sculptural installation and performative techniques to engage in autobiographical interrogation often through a lens of feminist critique. Those engaged in socially engaged art often have multilayered practice with divisions of exhibition work and social engagement seemingly dictated by a limited acceptance of socially engaged practice within institutions. Other artists reject the classical hierarchies of artistic presentation and work fluidly among performance, object and image making, as well as in experimental music and tattoo. Zagreb has a strong creative education base including the Academy of Fine Arts, the Academy of Dramatic Art and the Academy of Music affiliated with the University of Zagreb. With students attending from all over the country and abroad a steady influx enlivens the city. Post university this develops formal collectives, young organisations as well as valuable collaborations and peer support.
Professional opportunities for graduates are often provided by recommendations from tutors working on external projects, or through organisations such as HDLU such as within their Youth Salon and other opportunities, at both the Mestrivic Pavillion and their satellite exhibition space Karas Art Hub.
The independent curatorial collective KUCCA have run a residency and project space in the south west of the city since 2021. Their focus is on the development of artistic practice while providing a work space and production assistance to artists along with a production fee. They partner with various organisations and festivals to create opportunities for the artists they work with. The Josip Racic Studio of the Modern Gallery, currently utilised by the National Museum of Modern Art, and Gallery Forum provide a central location and a roster of midcareer projects mostly in traditional mediums. Private galleries such as Trotoar and Lauba Gallery bolster sales of select midcareer artists, with collections and retrospectives often found at Klovićevi dvori gallery and Museum of Contemporary Art.
The Museum of Contemporay Art (MSU) sits south of the city trainline and river. It moved to this new location by residential and commercial complexes in 2014. Appended from the active gallery circles of the old city it is a pleasantly quiet space to visit with an expanse of collections providing the city with a permanent collection and opportunities to visit major exhibitions of Croatian and Balkan artists. On my visit there were 7 major exhibitions across 3 floors and 2 sectors.
The presentation Sad Songs of War, part of the main collection codified through Collection as a Verb series is an impactful presentation of works created in the shadow of war. It shares works from generations of artists confronted by war and is communicated as an act of solidarity recognising the numerous wars of the new millenia. Set up in the context of the war in Ukraine, it seems eerily relevant to the genocide in Palestine in such works as Paysage Perdu by Dalibor Martinis dedicated to the cameramen who died in the first days of the war, Gordan Lederer and Žarko Kaić. The violent shouts and gunshots of Igor Grubić’s film East Side Story ring throughout the exhibition hall reinforcing the poignant of each visual. This two-channel video installation juxtaposes documentary footage with a dance re-enactment of that footage. The documentary film is sourced from television footage taken from gay pride events that took place in Zagreb in 2002 and in Belgrade in 2001. Against the backdrop of visualisations of war from World War 1, 2 and the homelands War this protest echoes the agression of the past. A second positioning of Collection as a Verb is Comradeship which presents works of artistic collectives reflecting on ideas of collecticeism and solidarity. It features absurdist social protest and utopian ideals through performative actions and diagrams for a better future.
Works of Heart the retrospective of Sanja Iveković presents a litany of social-political works articulated through a feminist lens. It preserves the work of women in anti-violence organising in relation to the home and anti-facism. The landmark work Pregnant Memory (a version of Lady Rosa of Luxembourg (2001)) has been placed outside of the gallery and features on the base of the monument gender-specific allegorical and offensive words alongside a list of all the names of women who were declared national heroines of the National Liberation Struggle in Yugoslavia from the Second World War. In addition there are also displays of; Realise! Resist! React! Performance And Politics In The Post-yugoslav Context Of The 1990s; His Supporting Hand – Curating The Curator: Davor Matičević; The Kožarić Studio; Drawings, Graphics, Prints And Art On Paper; Collection Of Vjenceslav Richter And Nada Kareš Richter.
The gallery does not engage with the Academy of Fine Art formally, restricting the institutional opportunities needed for emerging artists and virulent art scenes to expand. There is a gap between current artistic practice and the institution which could benefit from engaging externally with their residential neighbours and the local artistic community. The aformentioned exhibition facilities exist alongside a multitude of smaller commercial galleries, performance locations, community centres and cultural landmarks. Public sculpture is ubiquitous in the city and the varying styles sit comfortably alongside shifting architectural displays.
There is a great variety in the form of artist workspaces in Zagreb; studios at home as well as residential units used as studios, studios in entire vacant homes, private studios in commercial buildings, squatted studios in multi complex sites recognised and funded by the city as well as traditional multiuse squats. In both modes they are mixed use spaces housing people, NGO’s, businesses, events and artists workspaces producing hubs of creative activity. Another alternative use of space is found in the current student workspaces of the Academy of Fine Arts housed in Jadron film studios in the East suburb of Dubrava while the Academy undergoes restoration works following damage by the earthquake in 2020. Many artists mentioned the affordableness of space but stressed the difficulty of finding suitable spaces, with size, location and safety (of the building structure) the top concerns. Challenges around safety, warmth and access are linked to utilising empty industrial buildings, whereas suitable commercial buildings, especially in the city centre, are often unaffordable to artists. The 2020 earthquake increases safety risks for many older larger buildings in the city.
Several artists make their most expansive works on residency, linking with projects in surrounding countries, utilizing the studios in Zagreb for planning, storing and creation of smaller works. The Spinnerei in Leipzig has supported the progression of many of these artists, and they see how this model would benefit Zagreb and its artists. Structured studio provision is a gap in the needs of artists which limits their full potential.
Without city leadership for provision of studios successful complex have grown, in tandem with other creative uses, from squats. These locations have later been supported by the city, or at least allowed to exist, and thrive. This is in stark contrast with the likes of Dublin where squatted art galleries and social centres have been quashed through aggressive policing, illegal evictions and court orders.
Artists often work secondary jobs to support their practice. This may be in an arts organisation, lecturing at the university, as designers, or in service industry roles. Other artists work on long term and repeat projects in hospitals and prisons, hosting and organising workshops or creating art for installation in these spaces. These projects are funded from the Department of Justice rather than through arts funding. Artists working in these projects, while creating and teaching in parallel, feel this work is not respected in line with more classical art practice. They are often straddling multiple positions creating artwork for gallery installation, while also engaged in public and community art practice. This type of multilayerd practice, often revered in retrospect for its depth and impact on society, struggles to find security and respect in the current Zagreb art scene.
Artists express frustration at limited exhibition opportunities in the city and limited sales opportunities in the country. They note a select few purchasers who can often make or break an artists trajectory. They talk of the value of support from organisations providing atists with repeat exhibitions which often leads to international exhibitions as a sign of progress, rather than local institutional opportunities being the norm.
The Zagreb scene is connected to other Croatian cities including Zadar and Split. This is evident through the movement of artists studying and working in multiple locations, as well as through the touring of exhibitions to these locations. There is also a connection to surrounding countries through studio, residency and exhibition opportunities. Several artists take advantage of opportunities in Leipzig, Germany-centred around the successful Spinnerei studio complex-, exhibition opportunities in Vienna, Austria, and Belgrade, Serbia are common. An openness to internal and international collaboration is evident with private gallery Trotoar hosting an exhibition from Belgrade, Serbia Gallery Eugster during my visit, MSU featuring an exhibition from Slovenia and collections from the city museum currently exhibiting in Zadar.
There is a momentum created through the academies, movement of artists, skills and professionalism of the artistic scene. Artists and cultural workers are pushing boundaries through artmaking practice, rejection of academic hierarchies and utilisation of independent funding to self organise medium term projects and presentations in the city and abroad. Utilsing artistic practice to reflect on the histories of the country, often multi-identity of its citizens and the impact of major sociological events ensures artists are positioned as changemakers in the city.
The AFAR Network project is funded by the European Union: ”Views and opionions expressed are however those of the autohor(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsable for them.”