The exhibition may remind us of Surogat, the animated film of Dušan Vukotić, which was released at the beginning of the 1960ies. The minimalistic animation accompanied with nervous jazz brings a simple story of a … chubby, triangle-shaped fellow who comes to a beach and inflates everything he needs. He even inflates his partner. In the end, he deflates everything, just as fast as he inflated it, and he even deflates himself… In the times when surrogates were just emerging onto the scene, in quite a limited number, this film seemed to predict the age of today, the age of blurred boundaries between reality and reality surrogates would.1
Half a century later, we are standing in front of Inflatable Realities, the installation exhibited on Korzo, Rijeka’s main promenade. An array of beach accessories, from floats and swim rings to various beach toys, is stranded on the walkway. However, unlike real beach accessories, these are all made of concrete, which shatters our expectations of airiness and softness. The hard material of these objects reveals ambivalence as the key to understanding the post-transition reality. It connotes a gap between official image and real situations, the equivalent of which can be seen in flashy touristic propaganda and shorelines covered in concrete and plastic. As if it tries to say that all the inflated tales about inclusion into society of prosperity promoted in the 1990ies are nothing but illusion. We may compare this with landing onto a block of concrete, or with a burst soap bubble, especially after the recent economic downturn that has certainly taken its toll. Nevertheless, the illusion of prosperity is still here, and crocodile tears are still being shed by those who pretend they care.
The exhibition moves from Korzo to Mali Salon gallery, where The Happy Couple awaits us in the background: the series of photographs of a young man and woman who practice facial expressions, aiming to find the most effective one. The photos, showing different versions of smiles, unmask the processes of creating facial expressions for advertizing campaigns. Furthermore, they offer a thorny metaphor of service industry and imposed models of happiness that never reach their climax.
The wondrous objects in this exhibition depict contemporary surrogates of public space and the omnipresent icons of consumerism. The artists play with marketing language, exposing it as a system of well-developed methods of collective persuasion, a system that calibrates people’s desires according to rules of the market. The artists try to deconstruct this system, by using quotations and rearrangements of different post-avant-garde aesthetics such as pop art, minimalism or capitalist realism, which, some with enthusiasm, and some with suspicion, refer to the alliance of production and consumption. Capitalist realism is especially interesting because, as authors say, it is painfully present and absurdly contextualized, dull in its idealization of the concept of consumerism. Middle class has vanished from social hierarchies and any possibility of choice has turned into a virtual category that offers an endless number of almost identical results.
The focus of attention in this brief but fruitful cooperation of the two artists is a shopping center. Since its
beginnings in the 1950ies, this ultimate consumer territory has transformed into a global multiple, on real
and virtual level, constantly flooding people with consumer doctrines. Many theorists have explored the
reasons of its magnetic attraction and tried to look into its effects on society. One of the frequent analogies, found in Kožul and Žižić, too, is about a super-store functioning as a shrine of consumption.
As sociologist Zygmunt Bauman says, shopping mall is a purified place with the promise of relocation to
other spheres, away from the messy rhythm of everyday life.2 Generically organized, carefully planned
and designed, a mall offers a range of sensations, in multi-color and shiny packages that, in reality, sterilize all differences among people. Backed up by the concept of total design and enriched with elements such as light, music, water and greeneries, the mall seduces us with the idea that growth and progress is indeed possible.
These are the phenomena that Kožul and Žižić’s installations illustrate, but with a large dose of harsh reality.3 The entertaining agitprop,life is wealth, just for you, right now, right here, so take me, is shown together with the accompanying distortions. Semi-religious, libidinal focus on a non-stop consumption is not sustainable. Life on credit, goods without their buyers and closed shops in city centers are real effects of neoliberal fabrication of contemporary life. These effects can be seen locally and globally, in the menacing gaps of our immediate surroundings, in socio-economic distortions and social polarization. This is why the works of these artists are mostly monochromatic or grey.4 We recall Bauman again, who says that iconography of super-stores, with their image of utmost safety and the promise of easy entertainment, gives a false sense of belonging – a soothing impression that we are of part of society. By suspending otherness as something irrelevant and unnecessary, this type of non-place eliminates every need for questions and answers, reverses all agreements and consensuses. The outcome is a dull, colorless society, with a surrogate for decency.5
The soft-spoken, delusory mechanisms that we constantly use to fool ourselves about normal state of affairs are important focus of this exhibition. Let us recall the installation in Mali salon gallery. This installation, accompanied with sounds of commercial parties typical for summertime, consists of seashell moulds with speakers hidden beneath them. While other parts of this exhibition depict neoliberal grandeur as a damaged backdrop, deconstructs the exclusive story of the sunny Croatia. It deconstructs its image of the“3S country” – Sun, Sea and Sex – that serves to lure tourists and attract money to the country’s ailing state budget. The mythical thopos of heavenly landscapes are enlightened with a cheap measure of modern entertainment. What we see here is a fragile boundary between reality and its surrogate, between promotional images and the concurrent struggle with the unstable labor market and poor living conditions, including fast elimination of public space. Dissolution of difference between a souvenir and a piece of junk, which is seen happening in this installation, is the reflection of the painful boomerang effect of sales-driven hysteria. Who is satisfied in the world where everything is being sold out, in the society cashing in on patriotism? Maybe Wonderful Things will Happen...
2 See http://www.scribd.com/doc/243010619/Zygmunt-Bauman-Teku%C4%87a-Modernost#scribd, Emetična mjesta, fagična mjesta, nemjesta, prazna mjesta
3 See Žižić/Kožul: 0,50, Karas gallery, Zagreb, 2014., foreword by Bojan Mucko
4 See Žižić/Kožul: Spektar, No gallery, MSU, Zagreb, 2014., foreword by Leila Topič
5 See http://www.scribd.com/doc/243010619/Zygmunt-Bauman-Teku%C4%87a-Modernost#scribd
Kristian Kožul and Damir Žižić
Ksenija Orelj and Sabina Salamon, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Rijeka
Vanja Žanko, Nomad
EU Programme – Culture (2007 - 2013), Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia, City of Rijeka, Goethe-Institut Kroatien, the Austrian Cultural Forum in Zagreb