Darko Bavoljak

The Future 1992

Photography is a medium inherent to which are the characteristics of both absolute objective truth and the subjectivity of the author. The path of the beams of light through the lens and their lasting retention on the emulsion is a fact of objective copying of a part of reality and the truth of it. With the kinds of lenses in the camera and their deployment we can change spatial relations, but we cannot change what we are photographing. This characteristic is the element that gives photography its most important dimension and distinguishes it from other arts. The photographer has before him the reality and the medium he uses. We cannot affect reality, i.e., neither the present nor the past. The present is too short, and the past is behind us. Perhaps we can only affect the future. The future is not and cannot be a symbol or a sign, has only for some at sometime been what for us now is the past, just as our Future will at one time be for some others the past. Abstracting a large part of reality and restricting myself to the Future only as symbol of successful prediction of this time in which we live, I want to show how playing with the future can be dangerous for all those who offer us and plan our Future.

Darko Bavoljak

 

7 black and white photographs, silver gelatine, 100x150 cm made in a series of 5 pieces, numbered 1/5, 2/5, 3/5, 4/5 and 5/5

Property: Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art  Rijeka, Museum of Fine Arts Osijek, Author

Display windows 2018

Epitaph for a Time Put to Death 

 

“Many writers since the nineteenth century have tended to see ruins in quasi-sacred metaphysical terms, that is, as the aestheticised and de-historicised landscapes that find their locus of fascination in the beautiful and melancholic struggle between nature and culture. This fascination produced what became known as ruin lust. German theorist and cultural critic Georg Simmel, at the beginning of the twentieth century, perhaps best articulated this view: ‘The aesthetic value of the ruin combines the disharmony, the eternal becoming of the soul’s struggle against itself, with the satisfaction of form, the firm limitedness of the work of art’.”   The very process of idealising the past and lost world is not new, nor was it created in the nineteenth century. It was present in art (history) since the idealisation of Greek monuments by the artists of the Renaissance.  The attraction of such spaces for artists lies in this duality of their nature.  On the one hand they are a document and inevitable reminder of some past and irrecoverable time; and yet on the other, the ruins that time always signals anew promise eternal change, which is at once the hope that what is now is not final, and that nothing actually can be final.

In the new photographic series Display Windows Darko Bavoljak presents abandoned Zagreb shop fronts, the premises of failed shops and small businesses and thus creates memories of a past, a lost, a perhaps better time in the domestic space ravaged by transition, poor governance or perhaps only by the already mentioned inevitability of vicissitude.  He allows classification of his work in a new photographic genre, popular in recent years, ruins photography or ruin porn, referring to photos that romanticise demolished, ruined and abandoned spaces, mostly urban in nature, drawing also on earlier trends in the older branches of art. In the words of Bavoljak: “The concept of the exhibition stems from my photographic research into  abandoned commercial premises in Zagreb, and in a sense goes on from the series called Future, which documented the war-damaged and abandoned architectural and industrial heritage, and from Dubrava, which documented the graffiti-ravaged facades of buildings and other urban furnishings that only when put there together in the exhibition engendered some new meaning.”  Bavoljak derives the maximum of aesthetics out of the scenes of dilapidation and ruin, and the results are flattened depictions, photographs of a fine and almost watercolour aesthetic, of muted chromaticism, bordering on abstraction.  The found scenes in the gaze of the dedicated, aware and responsible observer/photographer become a proving ground for a subtle play of characters.  Bavoljak is not interested in outright condemnations, and his images are not as aggressive as their contents.  On the contrary – they vary from apparently neutral, abstract monochromes or geometrical abstractions to surfaces on which the remainder of some inscription or for example a snippet of an obituary, sticky tape or poster draws attention to the changes of meaning of the space.  The category of time is brought in, of duration that covers all the phases of the existence of the space shot: from original, as the photographer stresses, “premises of small tradesmen who worked for years and provided a living for themselves and their families” to abandoned, gaping holes, the function of which has vanished, while the external glass of the display has become the primary vehicle of meaning, a kind of urban bulletin board on which anyone can stick an advert or anything else he feels like. The whole of the life cycle of the space photographed is compacted into a single shot.

Only looked at as a whole does the exhibition give the observer a complete and clear story of decline. 

Interestingly, in the last few years a number of local photographic artists, of various generations, have taken up the theme of abandoned store and workshop fronts.  Why exactly shop fronts, we might ask.  Exactly why are they being chosen, deliberately or unconsciously, as the most patent symbols of downfall and alternation? Apart from the obvious reason that glass walls cannot hide the absence of anything behind them, in the right lighting, the glass window becomes a mirror.   As well as showing the remains a former life, they mirror bits and pieces of the present. Once and now are joined into a picture that can be any way we want it: ominous, nostalgic, critical, condemnatory or simply nice.

 

Darko Bavoljak expands the basic meaning of this work with the deliberate use of the photographic medium.  As academy-trained professional, he uses a pro camera and carefully composes images that, unlike the extemporary, everyday non-pro digital images accessible to and created by all, are susceptible of great enlargement.  Making use of the possibilities that the laws of optics make available to him he uses a wide range of lenses from ultra-wide to very narrow focus, in order for the changes and phases of the spatial relationships and depths of field (in some scenes low apertures produce shallow depths of field, in others the whole of the image is sharply in focus) to be available for use by the dramaturgy of the scene.

In this point the form of the photographic series Display Windows overlaps with its contents.  On the one hand, that is, Bavoljak shows the ruined traditional trades and shops that  have become surplus to requirements in the rapid, contemporary consumer society.  On the other hand, he shows his own art as professional photographer, and the capacities of professional photography, which in this same society of rapid attractions have also become, to the same extent, unnecessary. 

 

Iva Prosoli

 

30 photographs ink-jet print on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Smoothie 235 gr. Paper

 

Camera Canon EOS 1 DS Mark III

 

Property: Author

Travelling 2014

PERHAPS IT IS JUST THAT MY WORLD IS SEGMENTED. Perhaps everyone else has an integral vision. While I look at these travel panoramas of Darko Bavoljak, it seems to me at moments that he has strung them along just for me. I like them. I like this duration expressed in terms of landscapes. I like the loss of time in the uniformity of the stimulus. I like the attenuation of the explicit memory, for this state sometimes allows us access to other cognitive systems.

A neuro-cognitive network of spatial attention? Is that what I need? Is it possible to have an insight into that wished for completeness? It is uncommon, the way in which Darko combines the frames and as yet we don't know why he does it. It is possible naturally to make a panorama of landscapes with continued lines of relief, but he does not do this. Collaging recorded window views leaves the stepped outlines of the flatland scenes. He creates narration. Photography for a prelude reveals to us that it is about a traveller who from the interior of his vehicle records the passage of the outer world. This is suggested by the dark stripe in the middle of the frame of the first take.

Why narration? It corresponds to the structure of travel. Even when it is circular, travelling develops from a starting to an ending point, like a tale. Linearly onwards. But the spatial perception of the photographer's movement does not respect the linearity of movement, does not respect the priorities of interest, or the monotonous flowthrough of time. First one, then three, and  five, and six, then nine. In each series attention is placed on a different element. Guess what I am looking at? The photographer travels by road, the driving is steady,  the driving is steady, undemanding, leaves enough time for the dissipation of spatial attention.

For the alternation of wished and unwished, endogenous and exogenous perception. What we are looking at now is naturally a construction, a selection of what has been recorded. But time and place remain real, unique, unchanged.

Like in a Greek play. The main content, once again, is the testing out of our living space. Of our observation, processing and archiving. For what is it that we remember? Is it what we see? Is it what we want? How do we choose the objects to which we direct our attention, how important are they for our lives? Above all these choices ought to be defined, whether conscious or unconscious, willed or unwilled as crucial for our existence. We perceive ourselves as entities outside time and space. This is what we manage to experience, everything else is an intellectual construct. Perhaps I am kidding myself, perhaps it is true that only my world is segmented. Perhaps everyone else has a whole. Perhaps we are all totally now and here. Darko Bavoljak watches the road before him. The vision is segmented. The story is built up of chopped up parts of observation. The story can be told only in this way, cut into slices. Endless continuity, the way our life is, we have not yet managed to record, we have not managed to tell it, or set it down, or exchange.

Perhaps we cannot recreate this continuity just because we believe that we are self-sufficient an individual  defined within itself. But some outside observer would find he truth of human existence quite the opposite, as an existence completely fused into the context. Totally dependent on spatial observation, on objects to which it is directed. To such an extent that the very essence of the living being is in jeopardy. If we do not notice  that really important thing we are going to be headless. Our attention is the to be or not to be, it is the safety switch of our existence. We teach children this, but when we have once mastered the skill we stop thinking of it as a condition of survival. – We see at once the road before us and that which is behind our backs, for how else would we drive the car, see to the left and right, see trucks and sun. These visions slip and judder. 

They change their degree of importance, and thus create the stepped reality of our vision. 

Darko Bavoljak offers a possible form of notation. Photographic. A photograph is primarily a very short section of time and so it records what other media cannot. Sometimes it records what is hard to see. In any case it can record the difficult to remember. What in life was just a gleam, a flash, becomes a permanent presence in a photograph. Photography extends the duration of the flash to the time of looking at the photograph. Several photos of almost the very same moment record the multiplicity of perception. Our focused and our peripheral perception. This series of Darko Bavoljak's records, in a photographic manner, the multidimensional observation of travelling. 

Marina Viculin

 

Ink-jet printed on Forex base 5mm, dimensions, 62x92 cm, 62x272 cm, 62x 452cm,  62x542cm and 62x 812 cm

Camera Canon EOS 1 DS Mark III

Property: Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb

VIEW 2017

Site-specific art is artwork created to exist in a certain place. Typically, the artist takes the location into account while planning and creating the artwork. (Wikipedia)

 

Judging from this definition, despite first impression, Bavoljak’s photograph does not in fact enter the aforementioned category. First of all, it would also exist perfectly well anywhere else, since the location is not included in the planning and execution of the work, but the location is rather the content of the work (which places it in a non-existing drawer next to or even somewhat above the site-specific).

More precisely, the content would be the entrance into the location. Or exit, of course, depending on our position considering the content of the photograph. Hence, assuming that a location must first be entered into, an exit should nevertheless be declared as content. Therefore, the content of the exhibition at AŽ Gallery is its exit.

However, regardless of whether it be an entry or an exit, their role at the contextual level is the separation of that which is within and that which is without, which is entirely visible thanks to the transparency of this demarcation. If we were to add to this the fact that, due to lighting, the interior is also separated from the exterior at the photograph’s visual level, it is as if we gain two guideposts towards this very demarcation, i.e., to that which lies in-between. Hence, the content of the photograph is actually the imaginarily real plane that separates the gallery from the outside world.

Or we could speak of several planes, considering the two windows situated to the left and to the right of the entrance, albeit which have the same function – separating the interior from the exterior. And it is only once this is definitely separated, that we can say that the subject of the photograph is actually the space of the gallery.

Naturally, this space can be exhibited in another gallery – with its longitudinal format, in a 4:1 ratio, this panoramic photograph finds its compositional trumps in the specific symmetry of the space, while establishing elementary relation of the inner and the outer with layers of light. In turn, the recognisability of the locality, in collaboration with the position occupied by AŽ Gallery on the contemporary scene, makes it multi-eloquent thematically-wise.

Here, however, exist certain dimensions that would remain under-conveyed should it be presented at some other gallery. One of these is also the position from which it was taken – exactly from the place where it is situated right now; hence, neither bird’s-eye nor frog’s-eye, but rather the wall perspective. This is the point which the main gallery wall faces, this is the scene it sees when an exhibition does not obscure its view.

It is as if the experience of the visitor opposes the perspective of the wall; unlike the wall, to which this scene represents a window to the world.

At first glance, this also represents a window to the visitor, since the ratio between reality and the photograph is 1:1; however, through this window they see that which is behind them, i.e., the photograph is a mirror. The only difference is that the mirror does not reflect themselves. Finding themselves in a situation where their presence is retouched, the visitor will oppose the opinion that this photograph does not fall within the site-specific category, since the artist indeed counted the very location in the work’s execution, but he also counted the visitor in the same reckoning. It is only with their arrival at the gallery that the work becomes site-specific. Which, naturally, can only be perceived from the inside, while the visitor is found at the centre of the scene.

The latter, however, is invisible on this stage, as is the case with any visitor at any gallery; the picture does not change when they step in front of it. However, if the picture suggests the necessity of their reflection, i.e., presence – albeit which is absent – then we could speak of the conceptualisation of the site-specific. It formally begins and ends on the characteristics of the space; this form, however, is in service, it is an active lever in the production of the visitor’s experience. This may be an experience of dilemma, perhaps even confusion, perhaps stimulating deliberation on metaphorical meaning; all in all, something that proceeds from that which is concretely seen, but ends in the domain of that which is real. This formally consistently executed copy metaphorically places the visitor between physical and artificial reality, exactly at the site at which the position of art could also be located.

 

When told using the concrete, Žitnjak example, not only does this story lose nothing of its universal meaning, but rather additionally substantiates it with its authenticity. The context of Žitnjak, i.e., the environment where the gallery is located, is in a nearly paradigmatic contrast with the contemporaneity of the programme it conducts. Compared to other galleries of the so-called ‘non-institutional ring’, which also participate with their programmes quite actively in defining the contemporary scene, Žitnjak differs by the very historic, and also recent specificities of its location. Certainly, Bavoljak is aware of the fact that he does not have to list these specificities; the exterior in the photograph is indeed devoid of additional information and is featured merely as an associative signifier of the context. However, we did have to pass through it, and regardless of the fact that we often forget about it upon entering the gallery, it nevertheless stays in the fringe of consciousness. The space which it occupies in the photograph also seems to correspond with the space found in our consciousness. Indeed, when we find ourselves inside, in front of the photograph, i.e., in the position from which both in front and behind an identical scene is situated, we experience this exterior as we also would in the photograph. It is as if this visual experience reminds us that ‘Centre of Periphery’ is written above the entrance to the edifice, and hence it is actually logical that the periphery is again located at both sides in relation to this centre, i.e., to this point. It is as if this oxymoronically absurd, albeit metaphorically quite precise name now gained an equally absurd, albeit territorially quite precise location: the centre is exactly here, beneath the name, at the front door, while three metres away, represented by a photographic illusion, that which is no longer the centre will begin again.

 

If we set aside for a moment the dilemma whether the work – which illustrates the metaphoric dimensions of the gallery space by toying with the latter’s optical effects – belongs to the category of site-specific or not; if we even disregard the dilemma whether this surface – as transparent as is imagined, and manifested by the photograph as a kind of contextual backbone – represents an entrance or an exit, we will ask ourselves of the levels at which the platform, based on the relationship inside–outside, could be applied symbolically. Apart from the initial answer that here, the gallery space – as opposed to that outside – symbolises the relationship between the art world and the real one, as was superbly expressed by Antonin Artaud with the title of his book “Le Théâtre et son double,” which deepens the answer with the following additional questions: What is actually the where? Where does reality begin, and illusion end?, we also find the possibility of symbolic replication of the relationship inside–outside on the relation gallery–edifice in which it is situated. The reason for this is the photograph taken from the viewpoint of the wall separating the gallery from the rest of the edifice; hence, it would illustrate that which the edifice sees. This viewpoint could take on the role of the entrance or exit doors in the photograph, and we, those observing, are behind this viewpoint; it is not that we have eyes on our backs, but we are rather on the other side. Hence, we are inside, and all of this is outside.

 

Or is this in front also inside? What or who establishes the border: the precise, nearly aimed narrative line of the photograph, or the position of the photographer?

Hence, in spite of the visitor’s opposition and regardless of all of their arguments in favour of the site-specific, it is perhaps exactly this question whose problematics classifies this work in the category of site-specific.

However, so as to prevent a more serious confrontation between us and this visitor, I suggest we agree to a compromise:  a space-specific photo.

 

Boris Greiner

 

Ink-jet print on a canvas base.

Measuring 2.6 x 10.5 metres

Camera Canon EOS 1 DS Mark III

Property: Author

Dubrava 2016

Today social analysis and engagement is sought from the artist, while photography, the most widely diffused documentary method is still tacitly considered the most powerful resource engaged in the perception of reality. In a word, what natural scientists need tens of questionnaires and hundreds of interviews for, an artist can sum up in seven letters.

Photography that potentially covers a wide field of knowledge, experience, recollection and accordingly meaning is the authorial narrative in which Darko Bavoljak has been systematically engaged since the early 1990s.

His exhibition The Future, in which he was concerned with the logos of department stores smashed up in the war, showed the direction of his interests.  This is art as a part of anthropological knowledge through the ethnology of our quotidian, in the endeavour, through a change in the angle of vision, to anticipate reality.

A possible method for the positioning of his artistic work is that of contextualisation and is manifested in his attitude to the social, the cultural and ultimately through his attitude to the context of his own work, activity and thinking.

In the exhibition Dubrava, Bavoljak takes up the topic of graffiti written on building facades, streets, trash cans, abandoned shops and workshops. With precise research and persistent enquiry he has found seven letters in which he attempts to sum up the identity of this large Zagreb neighbourhood, and so the story acquires two layers. In the first stratum is the textual record written as form of communication of individual or marginal group with the wider culture, a provocation in public space, or simply just an announcement. For the readability of the second layer of his message, he uses the photograph, which serves him as a mediating resource in this survey. Naturally, he follows not only the traces that leave what is visible, but he also carefully selects and frames them, gets into a dialogue with those already in existence, already found and researched, and suggests new ways in which they can be read.

In his discourse of the work exhibited he shows and communicates his standpoint, ideology and contextual affiliation. In any case, he does not start of from the position of neutral observer.  Every letter in a photo is for him a sign, and from a sign he starts off and gets into the “turbulent area of events” that is for him “turbulent because there is not only visibility streaming in the photograph but also meaning and knowledge” (Reinhard Braun, Camera Austria, in: Arhivi preraspodjele i premjeravanja, GKD, Zagreb, 2014).

Thus the first letter, D, a letter written in many places of this suburb, is the initial letter of the soccer club Dinamo.  It is in addition incorporated into a blue and red checker board pattern and wound round with braiding.  Love for Dinamo must be one of the strongest elements of the Croatian national identity of Dubrava-dwellers, and out of it stemmed the Bad Blue Boys, the supporters' club that is often linked with some form of radical politics, as shown by the swastika in the third letter B.  Dinamo supporters are often given the message that neo-fascist symbols are not welcome in Europe by the big fines imposed after outrages at matches.   But the symbols are in recent times ever more common in Croatia, as is the letter U in which a cross is inscribed.  

This sign links as it were two entirely disparate concepts – the Ustasha or Croatian fascist movement with the cross, obviously the most widely disseminated and distinct symbol of Christianity – the iconographic element implicit in which is the cross on which Christ was racked and also his suffering and redemption of mankind.  Whether it is possible to reconcile these two ideologies, love for one's neighbour on the one hand and the exclusion of the other (Serbs, Jews, Roma, coloured people, homosexuals) we do not know, and wonder if those who wrote the message do.

Having done with political and nationalist mottoes, Bavoljak moves on to messages of everyday. The chaos in parking places and the habit of parking in front of gates prompted someone to design his own no parking sign.

Towards the end of the work we can observe that from the area of ethics the author makes a shift off towards the field of aesthetics. In the letter A someone is having fun with contemporary typography, and in the letter V some hints of street art appear in the liquor bottles drawn on the door of a failed shop.

We might conclude that by broadening his meaning outside the actual frame of the photo and by bringing in the sequence he activates the manner of looking and expands the focus to the thinking process, and his ratio between the seen and the known comes into the field of performative activity.

His interest, and accordingly the interest of the spectator, is directed in a sense to the content that lies behind the object photographed: the bubbling city, the dilapidated facades, the rowdy supporters' groups, the unresolved political relations, the rise of extreme nationalism, the problems related to a confused urbanism and in consequence a confused  traffic situation, abandoned shops and cafes, but also to the vivacity and merriment of the upcoming younger generations,  graffiti craftsmen and their uninhibited aesthetic.

All this is Darko Bavoljak's Dubrava in a string of seven letters.

 

Jasmina Bavoljak

 

Ink-jet print on a paper base.

Measuring 1.3 x 13.65 metres

Camera Canon EOS 1 DS Mark III

Property: Author