Resistance and a Multitude of Opportunities

As a collaboration of the Kontakt Art Collection and WHW, the experimental exhibition “My sweet little lamb (Everything we see could also be otherwise)” in Zagreb opened new avenues for displaying and communicating art. The 6th and last episode starts on 11 April 2017.

“Everything we see could also be otherwise,” claimed the Zagreb based artist Mladen Stilinović many years ago. He died in 2016, at the age of 69. As early as the late 1920s, René Magritte made his audience ponder whether or not painted pipes are real pipes; in this spirit, Stilinović – as if to prove this – added the drawing of a little pig to the rapturous exclamation “My sweet little lamb”. The curatorial collective What, How & for Whom/WHW selected this virtually “post-truth” work title by Mladen Stilinović, an important exponent of the Croatian Neo-Avantgarde, as the title of an exhibition series in Zagreb: “My sweet little lamb (Everything we see could also be otherwise)”.

Ivet Ćurlin, Ana Dević, Nataša Ilić and Sabina Sabolović collaborated with Kathrin Rhomberg, artistic director of the Kontakt Art Collection, to conceive a diverse series of exhibitions, events, lectures and performances. The Kontakt Art Collection itself served as a starting point for this unusual project that is continually shown in often small institutions of Zagreb’s art scene over the course of several months.

The exhibition “My sweet little lamb (Everything we see could also be otherwise)” took advantage of the wealth of artworks in this collection, juxtaposing important historical works from the Kontakt Art Collection with new creations by invited artists at different locations of the Zagreb art world. The project unfolds along a timeline and resembles a city walking tour leading through galleries, artist studios, off-art spaces and even one privately-owned flat over the course of several months; it attracts an interested audience with numerous events and a constant flow of new openings. The curators divided the exhibition series into six episodes. Following the pilot, other episodes told stories such as that of “bodies, sex, politics, age and death that meet and get mixed up” and that of the “dance of the bodies and institutions”.

During the openings of the fifth episode, Maribel Königer spoke with Ana Dević and Sabina Sabolović from WHW and Kathrin Rhomberg, artistic director and chairwoman of the Kontakt Art Collection association, about their experimental exhibition and the current situation in Zagreb. At the occasion of the opening of the last episode (more information at the end of this article) we publish a condensed version of this talk. The full interview will appear in May in the Annual Report 2016 of ERSTE Foundation.

“My sweet little lamb (Everything we see could also be otherwise)” is an exhibition in six episodes in many locations in Zagreb. Where did this idea come from?

Ana Dević: In 2016, Kathrin Rhomberg and Hephzibah Druml of the Kontakt Art Collection visited the David Maljković exhibition. This “Retrospective By Appointment”, curated by WHW, was totally deconstructed. Instead of presenting his consistent and internationally well-known artistic practice in one single venue we decided to apply a format that was deliberately fragmented. We used small galleries, independent spaces, and David’s studio, that means his private space. With “My sweet little lamb” we again made a sharp intervention into Zagreb’s institutional landscape.

Our main questions have been: how to present a collection and how to experiment with the exhibition format today. Kontakt is a nomadic collection. It is not permanently installed in a museum but brings the works back to the territory, the political terrain where this art originates. This is an act of generosity that we wanted to use as well as to show. Another reason was that we wanted to do an “exhibition in time” that keeps up the momentum by including as many interesting spaces and organisations as possible. Sanja Iveković, for example, introduced her archive in her private space during the first episode. In this way we created an ongoing flow of events and exhibitions during the last four months, an opportunity for people to get together.

The first episode of the exhibition was announced as ‘pilot’, a term that is used in TV series. Why that analogy? Does the exhibition tell a story?

Ana Dević: We are playing around with the idea of a series. In the pilot we present the proportion and the scope of the project to the audience. And we wanted to establish a dialogue between historical and contemporary works. We looked into similarities and differences between curating and collecting. Each exhibition series has its own narrative. Since the exhibition is decentralised we play with motives that appear and reappear in different spaces like echoes.

What ‘protagonists’ meet in an episode? Can you describe such a dialogue?

Ana Dević: The Tomislav Gotovac Institute is a small space but a fantastic independent institution inaugurated a couple of years ago by the artist’s daughter Sarah Gotovac and his widow Zora Cazi-Gotovac. We put this very special place in dialogue with a work by VALIE EXPORT from the Kontakt Art Collection. Her work has many similarities with the work of Tomislav Gotovac, particularly concerning the ideology of the body. We also invited the Russian contemporary artist Nikolay Oleynikov, who created a new work especially for this place that questioned the role of gender, body and ideology in the public space.

Did the exhibition play with the private and the public spheres?

Sabina Sabolović: The decision to collaborate with many institutions and to introduce private spaces into the format of the exhibition was also grounded in the political situation when we started developing the project in early 2016. At that time, Croatia had the harshest right wing government in the last decade. The Ministry of Culture in particular represented an openly radical right wing position and started a direct attack. A lot of progressive, critical initiatives of the cultural scene have been closed, exhausted and diminished. It is very important to stress that we have a network at our disposal and that there are a lot of spaces that are working in a way that corresponds to the critical position of the artists who are part of the Kontakt Art Collection. We want to support this network. This is why we include a series of smaller progressive institutions. It is a sign that we will resist and build a multitude of opportunities, that there are cultural workers who will insist on the continuity of their critical works despite the government’s cultural policies.

Kathrin Rhomberg: What is fantastic with the Kontakt Art Collection is that we can react very fast and step immediately into such a situation. We were able to change content or subjects from one episode to the other and did not have to decide the list of works and the exhibition’s concept one year in advance. This distinguishes us radically from established institutions such as museums.

Does art have an impact on society today?

Ana Dević: On the international level of real politics we are witnessing a great lack of progressive political emancipatory ideas to tackle all the injustice shaping the world around us. Contemporary art has an impact on the imagination by offering people the strength to imagine the world otherwise; also cultural workers often are the ones that initiate and articulate actions like protests and develop tools for self-organisation.

Sabina Sabolović: The values that are in focus should be infused with questions about equality. We need personal, political, and artistic engagement and answers to the tremendous challenges of our time. I am not idealistic or naive about art’s role in that process. But its role is still important. On the occasion of this exhibition we have the chance to work with many fantastic artists, visionary artists, artist-philosophers of a sort. They do not offer a remedy or a solution but they teach us how to see. That is why we took Mladen’s quote as title of the exhibition: “My sweet little lamb (Everything we see could also be otherwise)”. His text is humorous, absurd, and poetic all at the same time. It is paired with the drawing of a little pig (not a lamb). This is a metaphor of contemporary life and the politics that we are facing now. Today, lots of data are available: on global warming, on contemporary politics etc. and still people refuse to see what’s going on. The challenge to see more clearly is the first step in changing politics, institutions or ourselves.

(c) All photos: Damir Žižic

My sweet little lamb (Everything we see could also be otherwise)
a series of exhibitions based on the Kontakt Art Collection
dedicated to Mladen Stilinović


sixth episode
11 April – 6 Mai 2017

Artists: Paweł Althamer, Mária Bartuszová, Pavel Brăila, Geta Brătescu, Boris Cvjetanović, Josef Dabernig, Marijan Detoni, Stanisław Dróżdż, Nika Dubrovsky, Róza El-Hassan, Miklós Erdély, Tim Etchells, VALIE EXPORT, Stano Filko, Heinz Gappmayr, Tomislav Gotovac, Ion Grigorescu, Tina Gverović & Siniša Ilić, Sanja Iveković, Julije Knifer, Daniel Knorr, Běla Kolářová, Július Koller, Jiří Kovanda, Ivan Kožarić, Edward Krasiński, Paweł Kwiek, Katalin Ladik, Victoria Lomasko, Karel Malich, David Maljković, Dorit Margreiter, Vlado Martek, Dalibor Martinis, Dóra Maurer, Karel Miler, Jan Mlčoch, Paul Neagu, OHO, Roman Ondak, Boris Ondreička/ Ján Zavarský/ Vít Havránek, Neša Paripović, Cora Pongracz, Nedko Solakov, Margherita Spiluttini, Tamás St. Auby, Mladen Stilinoviċ, Sven Stilinović, Petr Štembera, Raša Todosijević, Slaven Tolj, Milica Tomić, Goran Trbuljak, Mona Vătămanu & Florin Tudor, Clemens von Wedemeyer, Lois Weinberger, Heimo Zobernig, Želimir Žilnik
Curated by What, How & for Whom/WHW in collaboration with Kathrin Rhomberg

Tuesday, 11/04/2017
openings 19 – 21 h

Tina Gverović & Siniša Ilić, Collage from the Highway
Apartment Softić, Gajeva 2 / 6

Boris Cvjetanović, Milica Tomić, Želimir Žilnik
Gallery Nova, Teslina 7

Wednesday, 12/04/2017
opening 19 – 21 h

Home of The Croatian Association of Visual Artists (HDLU)
Trg žrtava fašizma 16

performance Roman Ondak Resistance
19 h performance Tim Etchells Work Files (Zagreb)
19:30 h performance Sanja Iveković Repetetio est Mater
20h Boris Ondreička/ Ján Zavarský/ Vít Havránek Discoursive conclusion on Stano Filko’s “White Space in a White Space”
20:30 h performance Slaven Tolj Untitled

Working hours:

Apartment Softić / Gallery Nova
Tuesday to Friday, 12 to 20h
Saturday, 11 to 14h

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 11 – 20 h
Thursday 11 – 22 h (18 – 22 h free entry)
Saturday, Sunday 10 – 18 h