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Igor Grubić, ‘How Steel was Tempered’, 2018, video still. Courtesy the artist

Question 1. (Manca Bajec and Isobel Wohl) Ralph Rugoff writes that this year’s exhibition, entitled May You Live in Interesting Times,‘will no doubt include artworks that reflect upon precarious aspects of existence today, including different threats to key traditions, institutions and relationships of the “post-war order.”’ How do you feel that the work that you are presenting as part of your curated project responds to this set of concerns? (Or, for curators, how do the curatorial choices you have made respond to this set of concerns?)

Igor Grubić: Traces of Disappearing, the project I am presenting in Venice, has been in progress for thirteen years, but it fitted well into the Biennale topic. During these years I have followed how privatisation and gentrification transform urban landscapes under pressure of capital, the transition from liberal socialism to capitalism, a world that is disappearing, and how these changes affect the lack of collective enthusiasm and creative work for the common good.

I think that it is responding to the Biennale topic because on the one hand it is a portrait of a society in transformation, but on the other, it offers an open answer to the future: that ‘maybe’ can be interesting if we apply a kind of creative method toward personal transformation in the traumatically political transition.

In this work, through photographic essay and animated film, I express some kind of hope that despite the current lack of collective enthusiasm we can generate in the end a creative transformation, through a creative game as the method which can transform us. For example, in the animated film How Steel was Tempered, by questioning the destinies of men and the ability to cope with some difficult circumstances and destinies, the main protagonist finds the solution of overcoming life difficulties though a creative, symbolic sort of catharsis, a gesture, which is identical to the ritualistic artistic gesture. And so, in a seemingly meaningless act, inner strength and a better way of coping with life are found.

Question 2. (MB and IW) What does it mean for you as an artist, a curator, or a curatorial team to represent your country? How does the structure of the Venice Biennial, with its individual national pavilions, influence your choices as a participant? What does it mean, in terms of the current state of European and world politics, for us to emphasise national representation in the arts sector?

Grubić: Of course I am honoured that my work is chosen to represent my country, and actually my work often relates critically to historical context and its changes, but I must underline that I present some universal values, which I would demonstrate no matter where I am. I have been working on site-specific projects often in other countries. As a cultural worker, I am dedicated to my profession. It’s an equal challenge for me to show as an artist in a biennial as to participate in some other show. I exhibit in small and large spaces, but in these circumstances in Venice I had the opportunity to produce a larger project, on which I’ve been working for such a long time. I see art as the ultimate zone of freedom, overcoming any limitations be it national, religious or ideological.

I see art as a zone where the plurality of free thought is fully represented.

Question 3. (MB and IW) How do the choices you’ve made in your national pavilion relate to recent developments in your artistic or curatorial practice? What do you hope that your creative decisions in this project will contribute to your work going forward?

Grubić: At the beginning, I was wondering how the public would react to such a long essayistic approach, as in my project Traces of Disappearing, which seeks public to stop and devote their attention. It’s a kind of slow art. It is not a showstopper, it is not fancy, shiny or might not attract the biennale audience right away, where artists often try to catch immediate attention. I am glad that no compromises were needed, and I approached the Biennale in the same manner as I would approach any other exhibition space.

As I mentioned, I treat all the exhibition spaces in which a free artistic dialogue can be developed equally; otherwise I would create some subversive project, or not exhibit at all. I worked on this project for thirteen years, so I have made decisions slowly, through time, accompanied by the natural course of things. However, I have subsequently chosen and developed the dramaturgy. In my art practice, I often create photo sequences combined with texts that make some narrative complement. I did not develop this project specifically for the biennale, so I feel lucky to have in Venice the occasion for its premiere on an international stage.


Manca Bajec is an artist and researcher living and working in London, UK and Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Isobel Wohl is a visual artist and writer. She lives and works in London, UK and Brooklyn, NY.


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