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From: Ryszard W. Kluszczynski
(rwk@krysia.uni.lodz.pl)
Subject: Between Public and Private Space

Between Public and Private Space--The Art of
Sanja IvekoviŠ

Up to the twentieth century art showed the
tendency to appear in two distinct spheres. One
was the public space, where artefacts had mainly
decorative, memorial or propaganda functions.
The other was the elite museum or gallery
domain--the enclave of pure art. This topological
polarisation is paralleled by the analogous duality
of artistic practices. The two sorts of art,
established through appropriation to one of the
two places, were contrasted. That means their
value was judged as not equal and different roles
had been imposed on them. Public space art was
prepared for the mass audiences, while art
presented in the art institutions demanded proper
competence from the educated viewers. Public
space art was linked to the place where it
appeared with multiple and diverse links. Hence
the space became the active aspect of a work of
art. On the other hand, the museum and gallery
space was perceived as a neutral context for the
artistic auratic hierophanies. Public art remained in
close relation to everyday life, whereas museum
art detached itself from the everyday and thus it
became closer to the aesthetic sacrum.

In contemporary world the order has changed
greatly. The two art spheres are no longer
separated so much, which entails, first and
foremost, the free flow, exchange and mixing of
their differentiating qualities. The metamorphoses
of the artistic scene, which had been enacted by
the avant-garde activities, brought about the
questioning and slackening of the borders
between the art and non-art space. In
consequence, all the distinctive traits inside the art
sphere lost their suggestiveness. Conceptual art
has found its stable place outside the domain,
which can be differentiated into public and
museum spheres, while environment art and
installations brought into the exhibition institutions
the rule of the relation with the place of
presentation, which is characteristic of the public
space art. In situ installations have become one of
the most characteristic phenomenon of the art of
the last decades. At the same time, the scope of
elite art has also broadened. The expansion of the
most radical art forms into the public spaces
meant the appearance of the hermetic works of
avant-garde artists in crowded places. To a large
extent this fact deprived the public art of its
encyclopaedic feature, i.e. the mass effect. At the
same time it caused conflicts between artists and
local communities or local authorities.

The development of the electronic media caused
further crisis of the public space art concept.
Video installations transmitting images, and
therefore transmitting places and spaces, as well
as interactive works, virtual reality and other sorts
of communicative art have definitely deprived us
of the possibility to differentiate art works on the
basis of their place of appearance. Spaces: real
and virtual, public and gallery, they all mix and
intermingle.

Internet art has finally established the today's
status of public space art. It reminds us about the
fact, which is today often and generally forgotten,
namely that art has another space dimension,
besides the public and gallery, i.e. the private
sphere. Media art had raised this issue before.
But it was the Internet which endowed it with the
appropriate status. This global medium of artistic
communication unified the gallery and public
space, but at the same time it differentiated
between this new unified art domain and the
home, the private space. In such a case the
distance between the street and the museum lost
its importance, as they both to the same extent
are of public character. This new quality is gaining
ground as a standard, especially in the media art,
but it radiates to other art fields. And although we
still can differentiate public space art from other
forms of artistic creation, the work's social
interests, the problems it addresses and the stand
it takes against emancipatory art and culture
projects seem to be far more important than the
type of space it was presented in. It does not
mean, however, that the works commemorating
historical events and personas are no longer
created for public spaces, but these works, do
not belong to the contemporary world, even if
they are realised contemporarily. They remain a
mere testimony to the times past, an element of
tradition, the evidence of the presence of old
categories, conventions and standards nowadays.
The recent art, which addresses the most
important problems of the contemporary world
does not choose between the public and gallery
space, but finds its place between the extended
public sphere and the private domain. This is also
where the art of Sanja IvekoviŠ thrives.

The beginnings of IvekoviŠ's creativity are
analogous to the beginnings of the European
conceptual art, and what is more important, they
are also parallel to first steps of video art in
Europe. The artist's attention for the
communication aspects of artistic creativity and
her concern for issues of identity directed
IvekoviŠ to the medium of video. Video allowed
her to set aside the formal activity on the account
of the operations on meanings and it allowed to
concentrate on the analysis of the state and
meaning of the individual identity in the world
dominated by mass media. Furthermore, it served
her as a tool of analysis of media communication
processes and the inter-personal relations which
result. The above dimensions of media creativity
are the most important elements of Sanja
IvekoviŠ's art. At that time, as it has been
mentioned, video art developed in the conceptual
context. This context granted the analytical
character to art practices using this medium and it
linked to other tendencies, in the same way as
video were to some extent rooted in
conceptualism. I mean here performance,
installation art, happening. The context also
strengthened the intermedia aspects of this art
field.

Sanja IvekoviŠ's video art reflects this structural
complexity characteristic of the avant-garde of the
seventies. It embraces all kinds of video art:
tapes, installations and performances as well as it
reveals the multitude of relations between them.
The works themselves in their own way show the
variety of concerns important to the artist. The
task of grasping and understanding the oeuvre of
Sanja IvekoviŠ would demand the interpretation
of all or at least most of her works. The scope of
this essay does not allow me to concentrate on
the sufficient number of her works, even on the
most important ones. They are too numerous. I
just wish to discuss a few of them, those which
seem especially important and indispensable to
portrait the artist. Among them I intend to
emphasise these, where not only the elements
characteristic for IvekoviŠ today's creation are
present, but also those which are harbingers of
the new tendencies and problems addressed by
the media and multimedia art. In December 1976,
Sanja IvekoviŠ exhibited her Double-life
1959-1975 (documents for autobiography) in the
Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb. The
show consisted of two streams of photographs
grouped in non-random pairs. One set of
photographs was composed of the pictures
showing IvekoviŠ herself in various periods of
her life. The other grouped the photographs of
women and girls taken from European magazines.
Photographs belonging to the two sets were
paired on the basis on the similarities in
appearance, looks, props, locations and
situations. The artist compared her own portraits
to the pictures of unknown women to ask with
anxiety for the sources of the analogies. Asking
for analogies was simultaneously asking for the
nature of identity. The exhibition contained an
intriguing concept: the particular identity is to a
lesser extent a result of one's conscious decisions
and choices or the genetic heritage than the
product of exterior systems and institutions.

The issues addressed by IvekoviŠ belong to the
most important and widely discussed ones in the
present world. Authors of multiple theoretical
texts as well as art works suspect that we are
rather a creation of beauty products producers
and fashion designers than the result of our studies
of Kierkegaard's philosophy. It is also significant
that the photographs show women, which should
otherwise be of no surprise us when we know
that the author of the exhibition is a woman.
Women remain, however, the object of
particularly advanced manipulations. Thus, the
show reveals also the feminist aspects of
IvekoviŠ's attitude and art. They ripen and are
being broadened in the subsequent works to
become one of the constitutive elements of her
art.

One has to point to the fact that the exhibition,
which was realised very early in her career,
places the viewer in the space between the public
and the private dimension of existence and art in a
model way. Subsequent IvekoviŠ's works make
this feature even more prominent, more visible,
and reveal its inner complexity through endowing
its manifestations with various forms. This may
serve for a convincing argument for the statement
that this element of Sanja IvekoviŠ's art did not
appear in result of gaining of new art experience,
but it is one of the basic features of her artistic
attitude.

A year later, in 1977, IvekoviŠ staged a
performance entitled Inter Nos in the Multimedia
Centre in Zagreb. The public entered individually
the separated room and was tempted to come
into contact with the artist, who was present on
the television screen. She had the same possibility
to build relations between the participants as on
the other monitor she could observe her partners
and their reactions to her behaviour.

This piece unites several aspects especially
consequential for the present state of art. First
and foremost, it emphasises the communicative
element of media art. Secondly, it demonstrates
the affinity of the performance and installation, in
order to display the performative nature of their
reception. The work reveals also the interactive
character of artistic communication. And last but
not least, it presents the telematic aspect of media
art reception, which has recently became
extremely important for art using virtual reality
techniques. The presence of all those elements in
a work twenty years old evidences its pioneer
character in relation to the recent hipermedia art.
Let us once again mention the public and private
elements which mingle in this work giving the
result, which is to the same extent impressive,
though completely different than of the previous
piece. Similar ideas are visible in other
performances/installations of this period, for
example in Meeting-points (Western Front,
Vancouver 1978), or in Melting-pot (in Vehicule
Art Gallery in Montreal 1979).

In the seventies, Sanja IvekoviŠ produced a
multitude of video tapes, such as Looking At ...
(1974), or Make up Make Down (1976), where
she incorporated the private, autobiographical
material into the public sphere of discourse.
Those works demonstrate that the values
characteristic of IvekoviŠ's installations and
performances are also present in her video tapes.
The fact that they are ubiquitous in her art
indicates their exceptional significance in her
work.

The relation between the public and private
spaces is present in a different and an extremely
expressive way in video-tapes realised by Sanja
IvekoviŠ together with Dalibor Martinis, for
instance in Chanoyu (1983) or Black and White
(1985). Here, the sphere of private dialogue
between the authors seems to engage in a
conversation with the public artistic discourse of
the piece, which tends to be nearly universal.

In the eighties and nineties, IvekoviŠ's art stays in
the space in between the private and public
dimension. The works such as Lighthouse (1989),
or the installation Mind Over Matter are good
examples. In the former, among the flashes of light
and image the viewer can find the artist's
autobiographical references, and the latter,
exhibited for the first time in1993, confronts the
classic problems of public art with the private
dimension of the reception experience. Also in
Travel to the End of Thought (1994), among
others, one is prompted to contemplate the
relationship between history of ideologies and the
fate of the human beings trapped into them. In this
installation the artist employs a metaphor of a
journey, where the traveller often looses his way
and has to take on new direction all the time. It
addresses also the question about relationship
between the reality and illusion and about the
body as our limit. The latter theme is linked to the
IvekoviŠ's concern for the issues of socio-cultural
identity of women and their status in the world.

To sum up this necessarily cursory glance of
Sanja IvekoviŠ's work, I wish to emphasise that
my way of reading her work is only a general
frame for interpretation. Each piece conveys an
enormous abundance of thoughts and emotions,
and it initiates broad spaces of relations and
references. Thus, each work demands additional
methods for initiating a dialogue with it. Such a
dialogue could give birth to another, maybe the
most important, form of artistic contact between
the public and private spaces. Due to this contact
the private dimension of the individual existence
would find its place in the public stream of
communal creation, without loosing its individual
character.

Translated by Urszula Œniegowska

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This text was originally published in the catalogue
of Sanja IvekoviŠ prepared for Manifesta 2.