Zivko Grozdanic Gera

Bull testicles in blood

 Early this year Zivko Grozdanic Gera, a tireless Vrsac artist, constantly active in many fields and, above all that, always pursuing a never-ending creative adventure, organized a great solo exhibition of his objects at the gallery of Konkordija. Recently, he has also made a presentation of his new web site.

For almost a whole decade Kokordija has attracted attention of the art audience and critics due to its distinct activity, which enlisted this gallery among the most important exhibit halls in today’ s Yugoslavia. Though magnificent in its size and special for its room arrangement, this exhibit hall (which had been a highscool before being taken over by the National Museum) was dead until Zivko Grozdanic has rented it. Then he brought it back to life in a way so exclusive that we could without any exaggeration say that some of the most important exhibitions took place there. Those exhibitions will certainly become of historical importance, being recorded in memory as well as on paper, as the epitomes of the art in the nineties (which has already been emphasized by Jesa Denegri in his book “The nineties – themes in Serbian Art”). Let us just remind ourselves of the three Yugoslav Biennials of Young Artists that took place at the gallery of Konkordija; they were the unique occasions to show the works of the best artists belonging to the young generation. Then, we must mention numerous solo exhibitions (by Dragomir Ugren, Mirjana Pavlovic, Milan Blanusa and many others), as well as the original projects by the critics (several by Svetlana Mladenov, for instance, or one by Jesa Denegri and Misa Suvakovic called “Transgressive forms”, etc.). As the art manager of Konkordija, Grozdanic was, in fact, the only real “spiritus moves”, working as a programs creator, organizer, financial executive, publisher and performing all other sorts of activities related to exhibiting.

Early in 2000 at Konkordija he finally opened his solo exhibition, which occupied all the rooms (there is a total of seven rooms of monumental dimensions that exceed in size almost all other exhibit halls in today’ s Yugoslavia). The exhibition was named “Bull testicles in blood” after the two exhibited installations of the same title. One of them consisted of red barrels attached to a wall and marked by labels telling the content of the barrels – raw material used to make a famous delicacy – and, accompanying this work as the legend, there was a recipe for preparing that particular meal. Another work actually consisted of three separate identical segments occupying three different rooms; they resembled tables covered with real bull testicles in authentic animal blood. Those tables produce double effect: at first, their brutal display of authentic animal organs scattered about in real blood reminds us of a slaughterhouse where those animals are being butchered and cut up. Then, they also remind us of kitchen tables at which they are to be prepared for making a popular and delicious meal. That drastic general visual effect, being not artificial but literal, along with the terrible stench of the decaying organic matter, provokes very intense emotional and intellectual reactions of the audience unaccustomed to meet such displays at galleries (they would naturally find highly aesthetic works of art there). It also causes a certain inner revolt, which is in a clash with a regular feeling one gets at eating a barbecue made of those organs.

In the largest room of Konkordija Grozdanic exhibited two more works: he made an arrangement of several overturned, specially made concrete moulds with long iron handles out of which a substance resembling pitch was leaking, spreading on the gallery floor. Another work called “The Spades” was also installed on a wall: it consisted of about fifty little spades hammered straight into the black painted wall which consequently suffered considerable material damage. Both works affect the audience by their enormous energies and again by the violence of visual display, which is highly atypical for the form and content of standard gallery art to which average exhibition-goers are accustomed and which they expect to find.

That exactly is one of the most important aims set by this author. Throughout his art career he went not only through the period of getting academic education (he graduated from the Art academy of Sarajevo as a painter), but also through a phase existing on the division line between analytical and primary painting of the eighties. Having returned to his native Vrsac in the early nineties, at the starting point of Yugoslav wars and the dramatic collapse of the state, Grozdanic has fundamentally changed his creative attitude, which has from then on been branching into several directions, as it is to be explained later.

Let us for another moment return to the exhibition at Konkordija. Two more works were displayed there in the two remaining rooms – “A Public Fountain Proposal” and “The Barricades”. Even though those works were far more aesthetic, they were as well as the other objects combined with the violence of visual display. “A Public Fountain Proposal” was, in fact, a square installation having on each of its four walls the same-looking washbasins resembling the sinks that could once been found in the yards of old houses. But they all had one additional element as well: there was a white cloth soaked with blood in every one of them. In a futuristic and symbolic way, washing one’s hands or, in this case, washing the bloodstained cloths represents the forthcoming repentance of our distant and near, individual and collective historical sins so abundant in our old as well as more recent history. And the (ideological) barricades put so energetically up to prevent this repentance can neither be obstacles to nor excuses for that. Grozdanic’ s barricades were made of sacks filled with ground cocoa beans (used in food industry for making chocolate) which due to inadequate storage conditions started getting mouldy, producing a mixture of smells – pleasant and unpleasant as well. Their sweet aroma was becoming more and more suppressed by the disagreeable odour of decay and rot. Thus, once again, we can notice Grozdanic’ s twofold and allusive intention: he wants to provoke pleasant and good feelings along with the feelings of nausea and disgust.

Those who own personal computers and have access to the Internet may visit Grozdanic’ s newly made web site called “The Allegories” at www.gera.vrsac.com. For the time being, only the period between 1994 and 1999 has been covered, but there is an abundance of illustration, biographical data and texts on Grozdanic’ s work to browse through.

The number of artists using this means of global communication constantly increases. The necessity for doing so reflects itself (especially in works such are those by Grozdanic) through the specific features of these works – they are changeable and unstable, and after being exhibited they cease to exist as finished and complete works of art. Thus it has proved as necessary to preserve them in a way similar to digital recordings; nowadays web sites are the most convenient means (similarly to photo or video archives in conceptual art) to do that. One great advantage of a web site is its flexibility (it can continually be altered and completed); another is its accessibility to an unlimited number of users – individuals as well as institutions interested in art activities.

This review of the current work of Zivko Grozdanic Gera would be incomplete without paying due attention to his actions in many other fields closely related to art. They have some features of local work in global circumstances and of global range, and are characteristic of the art in the nineties. Throughout this period Grozdanic has proved himself to be very competent as an organizer of Vrsac art life by gathering together practically all the important and worthy artists who currently live and work there, for example Zvonimir and Slobodan Santrac, Milan Blanusa, Vesna Tokin, Milan Pavlovic and many others. Besides, he is one of the founders of their famous local cultural magazine “Kosava” that has by far gone out of its local borders. In a word, Zivko Grozdanic Gera is one of the key figures, if not the most important one, who initialized and realized what is now known as Vrsac cultural initiative. This versatile active participant and creator of cultural and art life is almost a renaissance character. It is not so only because of his artwork but also because of all his other activities carried away in numerous institutions (the National Museum, Konkordija, the gallery Aurora), through projects (Kosava magazine) and through organization of Yugoslav art events. He is the type of man who has the time, energy, and certainly knowledge and talent to fill all the fields of his work with his unique enthusiasm which puts him among those artists and authors who managed to mark the times they lived in in many significant ways.

Jovan Despotovic

Novi Sad, 2002