Igor Grubić, “366 Liberation Rituals”, Galerija Miroslav Kraljević, Zagreb, March 20, 2009 – April 21, 2009 (Exhib. Review)

Igor Grubić, 366 Liberation Rituals, Galerija Miroslav Kraljević, Zagreb. March 20, 2009 – April 21, 2009

In 2008 the Croatian artist Igor Grubić began a series of performances dedicated to the revolutionary movements of 1968 that ranged from personal dedications to provocative, site-specific interventions in public spaces. The meticulous exhibition of Grubić’s work at Galerija Miroslav Kraljević in Zagreb functioned as an introduction to the artist book that is to be published by the same gallery in June of this year. The show itself presented photo-documents and artist’s statements with respect to twenty five of Grubić’s actions and performances, organically arranged along a red-painted strip of wall encircling the gallery space, together with short videos of several public actions.

An introductory text by the artist himself reveals in a clear and intimate manner why he left his well-paid job as a film producer(Along with his successful artistic career, Grubić worked for nine years as the head of the documentary production studio Fade In.) and began to dedicate himself to purifying artistic rituals. The first work in the show – and also the only one that carries the artist’s handwriting – is a banknote with an inscription that reads: Resist the epidemic of greed. Daily rituals involving the contamination with money (and money’s partial destruction) may be seen both as a starting point and as a conclusion in Grubić’s work. However, some personal rituals, such as the inscription ofa tattoo that says “Disobedient” on his right arm, or the heart he inscribed on his chest with a razor-blade, evoke the charms of adolescence.

Together with the ritualistic burial of teen-age fetishes – old vinyl records, for example – such actions could be taken to imply that the artist views himself as “a warrior on the path of the heart,” and that he is getting some help from the mystics. In the course of what he has referred to as “short, contemplative actions” Grubić has shaved his scalp in the form of a star, thus paying his homage to Duchamp and Tomislav Gotovac as well to Franciscan and Buddhist beggar monks. In photographs shown in the exhibition we see him as a lone and humble beggar in the picturesque surroundings of the Dubrovnik city walls, or we observe him contemplate a derelict tourist site.

Grubić addresses the public in a space beyond the protective gallery walls. His means of communication are simple and sharp. As a preacher/agitator in a blue worker’s overall, he declames neo-avant-gardist poetry in the streets, squares and markets. As an anonymous phantom, he sprays graffiti that recalls constructivist aesthetics, situationist ideas, and flower-power slogans. Or, he may honor a homosexual beaten to death by Zagreb skinheads by leaving flowers on a monumental sculpture representing a mighty antifascist. Socialism in Grubić’s work is somewhere beyond utopia, far from the traumatic past or the absurdly bureaucratized systems that could be mistaken for their own parody. The socialism that Grubić preaches is the one he believes in, not the one he witnessed before 1990. It is a socialism he invokes by decorating abandoned Christmas trees with red ball ornaments and a red star, thus reconciling religion and the socialist utopia through his faith – his faith in human beings.

Grubić tries to maintain his faith by leaving messages on late-capitalist post-it papers that he uses to address his passive fellow citizens in various public spaces. During the last week of the exhibition at Galerija Miroslav Kraljević (extended because of high visitor turnout), a new ritual emerged: on the second day of the student protests at Zagreb university’s Arts and Humanities Faculty Grubić adorned the faculty building with a late-Socialist monument to the progressive poet and Croatian patriot S.S. Kranjcevic. The sculpture – invoking masculine strength formed in a constant struggle with the world – was covered with a red net that connected the sculpture (the Kranjcevic’s fists) to the windows of the building, as if an invisible hand was dragging the poet, and his heroic figure in its turn was dragging the building. Grubić’s “act of faith” breathed life into the sculpture and the Faculty building for at least as long as the student protests went on. It is as if Grubić’s private rituals – whose aim was mainly therapeutic – managed to awaken the spirits of rebellion that are nowadays rarely seen in these parts of Europe.

Grubić himself has connected his work to conceptual art of the 1970s; to the exhibitions/actions of the Group of Six Artists(Mladen Stilinovic, Zeljko Jerman, Boris Demur, Fedomir Vucemilovic, Sven Stilinovic, and Vlado Martek.); and to the performance art of Tomislav Gotovac. However, what differentiates his work from conceptual practice in the former Socialist countries is his lack of sarcasm and dark humor. When Grubić rides his proletarian bike like a surrealist Nike in a workman’s outfit(As in neorealist cinema classic Ladri di biciclette di Vittorio de Sica.)- and with a red flag in his hands – he becomes visible as a “phantom of freedom” in the foggy dawn of Croatia’s transition. While this image may bring a smile to our face, in the end, it is more likely to fill us with an almost religious longing for the long-forgotten dreams of solidarity and equality.