“As an economical and practical medium, photography is suitable for lazy people like me. I never considered myself a photographer, I use the medium in an ecological way. I think the world is contaminated with objects, cluttered, needlessly polluted with materials.”
At least three different people live in Antun Maračić: an artist, a curator, and a writer-critic. Having talked to him for some time, first in his office in the Forum Gallery in Tesla Street, and then strolling from downtown to Martićeva Street, I came under the impression that there are at least several more people of different professions living in Maračić ― that’s how lively the conversations was, and how rich his memories were. Memories of people, places, and events… As a personality that made many marks on the local artistic scene during the 70s, Maračić is at the same time an inexhaustible well of information and the right address for an honest critical view of the past and the present. The first thing that got my attention was his introducing himself as a photographer-ecologist ― read on to find out what this means…
Antun Maračić was born in Nova Gradiška in 1950. He graduated as an art teacher from the Faculty of Teacher Education in 1971, and as an academic painter from the Academy of Fine Arts in 1976. He authored a multitude of texts on art, and conceptualized and set up numerous independent and group exhibitions for other artists. He used to be the manager of the SC Gallery, Zvonimir Gallery, the PM Gallery in Zagreb, and the Museum of Modern Art in Dubrovnik, and today, he manages the Forum Gallery. He also published several books: Ispražnjeni okviri ― Iščezli sadržaji 1991-1994 (Emptied Frames ― Disappearing Content), Pavo Urban ― Posljednje slike (Pavo Urban ― The Last Paintings) (1998), Lokrum (2004), and Igor Rončević (2009), and co-authored an Ivan Kožarić monograph Atelier Kožarić (1995) with Evelina Turković. He was the winner of Vjesnik’s Josip Račić award in 2004. As a multimedia artist, he set up more than 40 independent exhibitions, participated in more than a hundred group exhibitions in Croatia and abroad, and has done numerous performances.
Bojan Krištofić: You have kept simultaneously doing artistic work, curating, and writing for all of this time. I don’t think there are many people on the scene consistently doing all three. How come you decided to work like this?
Antun Maračić: I never made a decision (laughter). Everything happened spontaneously. There was an insufficiency of texts about art, especially about the specific segments that I was interested in ― e.g. the New Art Practice, the 70s and the 80s… In the terminology of Vjesnik and other mainstream newspapers, they were all avant-garde, prescribing the situation in a way. Under these circumstances, I felt the need to do an exhibition or two, write something down… I began with a very argumentative text in the Students’ Paper, about the design of the poster for the Nova Gallery, managed at that time by Ljerka Šibenik and Mladen Galić. Galić designed the posters, and Šibenik wanted to exhibit unconventional, progressive, modern things. The posters were nice, minimalist and black-and-white, but ignored some semantic and artistic prerequisites. Galić set up a poster exhibition that was highly praise by Zvonko Maković, so I argued with the two of them, it was really intense, happened in episodes, we would respond to each other… That was the beginning as I remember it.
BK: Okay, but aside from the lack of critical texts about art, what motivated you in the start, how did you intimately approach that field?
AM: Well, first of all, I’m somewhat of an amateur, I’m not an art historian. I write from the perspective of a person inside the process, someone who knows how a work of art is created and what it is, even though, concerning motivation, that’s all very relative. It’s simply all about my personal affinities.
BK: Photography is the medium that dominates your work?
AM: It seems to be that way, even though I keep trying to correct that. I graduated as a painter from AFA, and did a kind of primary painting after the graduation, the most significant representatives of which were definitely Boris Demur, Željko Kipke and me, Marijan Molnar… It was the so-called analytic painting, but, at the same time, multimedia came to life, and so I began to do photography in a similar, analytical way, and kept doing it since. Still, I’m not as rigid today about the concept as I used to be. As an economical and practical medium, photography is suitable for lazy people like me. I never considered myself a photographer, I use the medium in an ecological way. I think the world is contaminated with objects, cluttered, needlessly polluted with materials. Instead of creating a two-ton object, I find already existing constellations in the environment, that are, in a way, projections of my ideas, mostly unconscious. Through such scenes, I explore my personal spirituality, psychology, or whatever it is.
For example, I published the book Ispražnjeni okvir ― Iščezli sadržaj (1991―1994), written during the war (he shows me the book of photos ― author’s comment). Overnight, all the shop windows in the city were covered with plastic tape that was supposed to absorb the shock-waves from the air raids. It was securing the glass from shattering, and if it did shatter, it kept it more or less together, preventing accidents. To me, this was the citizens’ collateral, unconscious way of artistically expressing themselves. My projection translated this protection into a kind of art. Every shop window was different – look at this, this is a rigid, mathematical type, and this one less so. Weird things happened. Furthermore, these doors in Bauerova Street seem like a crypt, they have a ceremonial aspect. I called it Rat Art.
BK: Besides this one, can you tell me about some other cycles of yours that meant a shift in your way of thinking?
AM: You mean, a shift from what I just described? It’s permanent, it’s a constant. In general, my approach to photography resembles ready-made. As I said, it’s an ecological principle. To me, Marcel Duchamp was one of the first ecologists, recycling the existing instead of creating something new. It’s a terrific idea, like the invention of the wheel. On the other hand, there’s the laziness. Maybe it’s my excuse not to create, but pack in instead.
BK: Did you ever develop your own photos?
AM: Yes, when analog photography was still around, I usually did it myself.
BK: Besides art and critical writing, you have been working as a curator for some time now. Since 2013, you have been managing the Forum Gallery, and the Museum of Modern Art in Dubrovnik before that. What did you do before that?
AM: There was no special decision here either. I wanted to do things I considered worthy, and that no one else did. For example, when the PM Gallery opened, I did a lot of exhibitions there, some independent ones, some merely initiated by me, or some that I just wrote about… It’s something I can’t explain, it were the circumstances concerning the PM Gallery in the 80s. Also, in the late 80s, I rented out a beautiful, large apartment with a huge hallway at the corner of Martićeva and Bauerova streets. I considered it natural to start exhibiting there. It was the first ‘illegal’ gallery in Zagreb. I codenamed it AM M14/ZG, like a formula or a rifle model designation. I did some really interesting things there. It was something that had to be done.
For example, in 1990, I worked there with Ivan Kožarić, exhibiting a series of his drawings that he would create by spilling a bottle of India ink on a piece of paper hanging from a wall. I found it funny, so nonchalant, like a paraphrase of action painting, but subtle, without the fighting. Kožarić made fun of whether it’s worthy enough to be exhibited in the apartment, but it was so good. Then, in 1987, the first serious worker’s strike happened in old Yugoslavia, the miners’ strike in Raša near Labin. Boris Cvjetanović used to work with the Students’ Paper as a photo reporter and he photographed the miners, those were exceptional photos. Since I liked that news story in the Students’ Paper so much, but just a fraction of the photos were published in it, I set up an exhibition overnight in PM and opened it on May 1st, almost against his will. I don’t even know myself how I managed to do it.
Later, Boris went to Labin and took photos of the miners once again, doing their portraits, and I exhibited these photos in the apartment. It was ’88 or ’89. At that time, I hanged out a lot with the crew from Sarajevo, with Zabranjeno Pušenje and Emir Kusturica. They were just having a gig in Kulušić, so I invited them to the exhibition after the concert. It was crazy. The gig finished at about 11 P.M., but they lingered there, taking their time, and I waited and waited with a huge bowl of beans I just made, prepared everything for the opening, had people waiting in my apartment… The exhibition opened at 1 in the morning, a whole bunch of people came from Kulušić. In the end, it all went well, everyone had their fill of beans and checked out the exhibition. Boris told me to be careful because some visitors might have been spies, so anything could happen (laughter).
I also set up an exhibition of mail-art by Greiner & Kropilak (Boris Greiner and Stanislav Habjan), with works they kept sending me all the time, maniacally… They hanged from the ceiling. I lost track of how many exhibitions I had in that apartment. After that, and after the PM Gallery, thanks to being invited by Ivan Ladislav Galeta, I managed the SC Gallery for a short while in the early 90s. Galeta was still the manager of the MM Center, we decided to put ourselves into it and see where it goes… We did four more exhibitions, I think. It was wartime. Everything was dead. Galeta kept saying: ‘No work can be done.’ You know what they say, the muses are silent when the guns aren’t. But I never had a greater desire for art than during that time, during the war. I felt that art was the most important thing, I kept painting and taking photos and writing… Wherever I could. The first exhibition in SC was opened as an air raid alarm blared.
BK: Can we jump into the present, to the Forum Gallery? How do you feel about the whole story today? Is art still equally important?
AM: I was driven out of SC after a mere month and a half, so I switched to KIC, back when it was managed by Bojan Munjin ― he supported me even though he was skeptical at times… I took whatever opportunity came my way. It was a sort of a diversion, improvisation… They kept throwing me out of everywhere, but not because I kept doing bad work, on the contrary. Five years later, I was in the Zvonimir Gallery in the MORH (The Ministry of Defence) building, also in the neighborhood. I started with Atelier Kožarić, and ended up with Joseph Beuys, with his only Croatian exhibition ever set up. Afterwards, the management had had it with the ‘international stage’, as they said. However, Beuys’ works stayed in Zagreb, were purchased by the MSU (Museum of Modern Art), but they are staying hidden, the MSU doesn’t want to exhibit them… Fuck, every other museum in the world would build a special hall just for Beuys’ works, for fuck’s sake! From 2000 to 2012 I was in Dubrovnik. I was never the typical gallery manager, I was a always a bit wild, just a bit.
The great intensity of creativity that I felt during the war never happened again, which is a paradox, but a man still has the imperative to do certain things. My work might sometimes seem a bit schizophrenic, but sometimes as a coherent, unanalyzable whole. However, if we say that art itself is anarchic, then it’s all art, you see?