Tomislav Gotovac, No Hear, No See, No Speak (Three Monkeys), 1979
Observation becomes a rhythm, a life in itself, with its light-whiteness and its dark-blackness, and a tempo that fills the rhythm of light and dark with silences and sounds/noises. Questions kept accumulating: What is a lie and what is the truth? Is it true that the devil often appears in the guise of God? (Point Blank, 1993)
The first retrospective of Tomislav Gotovac, aka Antonio G. Lauer (Sombor, 1937 – Zagreb, 2010) does not keep the artist within the gallery walls, but lets him free to roam his usual road on the borderlines of cinema, gallery and street. With a hundred works, the exhibition has populated the long awaited building of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in the former Rikard Benčić Factory. It unwinds like a reel of film from the Art-kinoCroatia to shop windows in the centre of town. Expanded with art programmes from Empeduja Art Camp to Days of Open Performance in Rijeka (DOPUST) and by the student exhibition D-Day, it focuses on the persona of Gotovac as byword for the avant-garde artist and hero of popular culture, attempting to map out his influence on contemporaries and on younger generations of artists. In the words of Goran Trbuljak¸ Tom’s body in art is huge. The exhibition tries, nevertheless, to embrace it.
The retrospective exhibition Crisis Anticipator – Don't Ask Where We’re Going meanders among the different media and varying phases of the artist. It combines more recent with older works, lesser-known with the key pieces. It compiles the artist’s actions with their extensions in the newspapers and with the records of court cases. It observes them as sequences of Gotovac’s work that are equally relevant, ways of expanding the artistic act into extra-artistic spheres. The first Gotovac retrospective, seven years after his death, gives the most comprehensive cross-section of his oeuvre to date. It takes on the form of a feature-length film, the main actor of which is also the director. Lasting 1000 minutes, the retrospective drops in to different genres, from the chase film, the political thriller or social comedy to the historical saga. In fact, every great auteur non-stop shoots one and the same film, his film. I have done my best to make these actions just sequences of a single action that is called TOM IN PUBLIC SPACE.
Making use of procedures similar to the artist like associative montages, the contrastive confrontation of images or the visual riddle, in the retrospective Crisis Anticipator – Don't Ask Where We’re Going we endeavour to get up close to the author’s cinematic feel for reality. We approach film as Gotovac’s model for the creation of art, as well as a template for directing his own biography, where the borders between reality and fiction become blurred. We track the author’s directorial approaches in cinematic and non-cinematic media – collage, photography, action and performance in intimate, public and media spaces. We follow up Gotovac’s preoccupation with relations between film direction and the direction of reality, with a point of departure in apparently simple questions – what is there between us and what we are looking at? How does film shape reality? Who is the chief and who the assistant director? Are we really into a period for which the storyboard has already been written? From the cross-section of the artist’s practice from 1954 to 2009 we have picked out both the more vehement and the more placid parts of his personal and collective biography, works in which an allusive crossword puzzle of the relation between individual and collective starts up in the foreground (like D-Day, 1954; Action 100, 1979; Gone with the Wind, 2009). Linking up with this are experimental and documentary works in which the fiction of the Hollywood dream factory comes up hard against the experience of reality in the age of socialism, or of post-socialism and the triumph of neoliberalism (as for example, Don't Ask Where We’re Going, 1966, and Four Monkeys, 2008). A strict methodological plan, with a consistent anarchic and absurdist6 trait is announced by the collage series started in 1964 and the structural films (The Morning of a Faun, 1963; the trilogy Straight Line (Stevens-Duke), Blue Rider (Godard-Art), Circle (Yutkevich-Count), 1964) in which the background structure of reality is stripped bare and turned into ‘a drama of watching’.
In line with Gotovac’s approaches to and instructions for reading his art – from his statements, interviews, the titles of works and films, the retrospective is subtitled with the titles of some of his works, with the artist’s mottoes and intimate stand-bys. In the introductory sequence the title of which comes from the last Gotovac performance, Gone with the Wind (2009), we present works that are compressed like film frames, in which Gotovac in his borderline performances positions himself as the lone rhino in flight from the hunters. The film figure taken from Hawks’ movie Hatari alludes to the need for the autonomy of the artist, for independence from the system in which he works and creates. Gotovac is presented in a play with predetermined roles, mechanisms of prohibition and restriction. Human life at the end of the 20th century is the product of someone’s wishes, scripts and at the end direction... The artist is ... the one who attempts to swim up against the avalanche that is coming crashing down. Exactly, swims in vain.9 In D-Day, the next sequence, we watch Gotovac through the dedicated observer who attempts to capture the background relations in film, as well as in reality, extracting the characteristic patterns of repetition and reforming them into his own story. D-Day follows the conversion of the obsession to observe into directorial performance. Sometimes we can discern a playful and ironic exposition of unobserved details from reality, sometimes a paranoiac rearrangement of its reflections, in search of possible causes and manifestations of crisis states. In the sequence Cleaning Apostle, we present works in which Gotovac appropriates words as building material, and the ‘verbal delict’ as artistic procedure with which he tests out the borders of media and appropriate expression. In Cleaning Apostle, Gotovac’s liberation from his own speech blocks is interwoven with his attempts to purge the social space of various forms of censorship. We look back at Gotovac’s methods of slipping rejected or suppressed contents into the dominant social picture, for its authenticity to be rendered dubious, both in the time in which the media were subject to direct control, and in the time of democratic ‘enlightenment’. With a set-up looking like the interior of a small cinema, in the sequence Don't Ask Where We’re Going we present a surprising recapitulation of the historical period from the sixties to the beginning of the millennium. In filmic considerations that are tinged with black humour, the spectres of the past emerge as the causes for and components of today’s instability and the uncertainty of political crises. The collection of films prompts the incessant posing of the question of where we are going, in spite of the so-called certain answers. In the story ART-RAT [WAR] / ART-ANARCHY we focus on the artist’s anarchic treatment of everyday life. We foreground his playing with the ambiguous and suspect elements as an artistic resource that can be used to manipulate social obstacles, and at the same time to raise the question about the modelling of reality and the establishment of the borders of the permitted. In various systems we zoom in on Gotovac’s research into the manner of re-shaping reality via the opposition of artistic to political direction. This principle, summed up in Gotovac’s ultimate project PARANOIA VIEW ART (HOMMAGE TO GLENN MILLER) is presented in a separate sequence that works as a retrospective within a retrospective. In PARANOIA VIEW ART we pick out the archive of documents, Museum of People’s Revolution of Tomislav Gotovac (1956-1994), in which the artist reconstructs his own history through numerous personal papers, documentation of works and official documents. With his own figure and work, he opposes collective myths and the writing of history according to the recipe of the ruling structures, reducing the objectivity of the official viewpoint to the absurd. The author’s systematic principle of rearranging the hierarchies of importance are given in the story Krajiška 29: Tomislav Gotovac aka Antonio G. Lauer. The artist’s retreat, his working and living base is mediated as a total artwork, dedicated to seemingly unprepossessing and subsidiary samples of reality. With excerpts from Krajiška 29 we thematize Gotovac’s lifelong project for recombining the view, a subtle methodological system for gathering and reshaping apparently unimportant details of personal history that easily get lost in the peripheral vision. The next sequence, Divine Engine (Hardware), appears in the office premises of the museum that are mainly outside the views of the public, and during the exhibition become the site of the intersection of different views – artist, museum employees, audience. We present works in which Gotovac exposes his naked body as primary statement of freedom and tests out its acceptability in various spaces – public, gallery, media or political. Instead of crosses, emblems or images of controversial political leaders, with which the walls of public institution are sometimes lined, in the set-up in the offices we have opted for naked body of the artist, invoking the question about what content makes us feel most awkward.
Moving along the marginal figures of the jolly weirdo, the exalted preacher, embittered curser, witty provocateur, artist-paranoiac, obstructer of public peace and order, Gotovac, irrespective of the difference of media expressions, social and political references or artistic dedications built into his work, remained consistent to the anarchic principle. Prohibitions are a part of the scenario and a part of stage directing... So, why not violate them? ...As a parameter you must set a goal not to hurt others intentionally... The way that some people who have authority do. This is the difference in attitude between people who have authority and us who do not have it. We, who do not have the power, try to fuck them. 10
We have orientated the exhibition Crisis Anticipator – Don't Ask Where We’re Going to the artist’s strategies for bringing disorder into the appearance of order with which social structures attempt to conceal their own slippages and to keep up the illusion of control. We highlight Gotovac’s examination of the relations between individual and authority, father figure, leader or global director, the USA, the heads of the film and media empires, as a parallel guiding principle in the exhibition. Alongside the artist’s persona as performer and action artist and his film personifications, we present his caricaturing of political actors that irrespective of their ideological sign speak softly but always carry a big stick. We identify his anarchistic principle in the ways in which he avoids any unambiguous reading of his own art, being placed into leftist or rightist camps, even when he seems to be affirming the dominant trends. In the subtitle of the exhibition, Don't Ask Where We’re Going, we are referring to the metaphor of the individual sated with ideologies, screened through the phantom depiction of the man-surface 11 that is led or that leads in a dubious direction. The title has been borrowed from Gotovac’s first acted and experimental film of 1966, the first in which the music of Glenn Miller (American Patrol) and ideological symbols (cross, turned into swastika) appear, working as a suggestive reminder of the unstable character of reality and the facile grasping for its illusions. In the retrospective Crisis Anticipator – Don't Ask Where We’re Goingwe endeavour to capture Gotovac’s meandering along ideologically delineated fields and his skilled bypassing of institutional rules, making current the question of whether the artist can remain unpredictable and subvert the interests of the ruling establishment for his own benefit. In the artist’s words: The general public has to be given a chance to understand everything ironically, and not bindingly. Everything I did on the streets was my conflict with reality in some passive manner, for I never forced anyone to do the same. Ultimately, I think it must have been fun to watch me. I put myself into an awkward position so that for others it might have been more pleasant.
With his complex oeuvre Gotovac sketched out the crisis situations that obsess us today, the fascinating and disturbing deceptiveness of words and pictures, the falsification of history, political imbalance, the schizophrenic effect of the mass media. In parallel to his works, with the basis in known facts and the development of suspect and paranoid elements, riddles and ambiguities, he drew in possible shifts and deviations from predetermined directions and rules of movement. His naked or disguised body became an artistic occasion for the examination of what is hidden in everyday life, measuring oneself up against the official stories and recombining their directions. Crisis Anticipator or, put more simply, provocateur of illusions of reality, even today does not let us slip into the mere appearance of public order and peace, but does a persistent striptease of the political system.