Irena Borić for VOL.THREE
Bringing together art positions of different geographic as well as artistic origin can be fertile mostly because of an inspiring exchange of opinions but also in terms of potential future encounters. However, the multitude of displayed works sometimes disables serious conversations. A small exhibition format presenting the artworks of only two artists is the essential approach of the Viennese platform Coupé International founded by artist Michael Strasser. The particular features of individual practices of the artists as well as their artistic sensibility, as point of departure, become the main theme of the exhibition concept connecting and emphasising seemingly distant art practices. The platform, Coupé International, represents a series of exhibition projects of the same name, focusing on artists of a younger generation. The geographical element of the individual editions is determined by the cities of origin of the participating artists.
After two New York editions, the project’s third, entitled Coupé International VOL. THREE, returned to its region and arrived to Zagreb. Within the framework of the collaboration between Vienna and Zagreb, this edition is curated by Michael Strasser and Vanja Žanko, presenting art practices of Eva Engelbert and Maja Marković. These two artists share the interest in site-specific settings as well as in presenting their art outside usual exhibition venues. Their penchant has developed into the key feature of this newly formed collaboration.
Therefore, the French Pavilion, now part of the Student Centre Zagreb, plays a double role, as initial point of the artistic exploration as well as an exhibition venue. This location is hardly ignorable due to its dominant architectural form and the history of its use. The ostensive fragile architectural structure of the building consists entirely of steel not thicker than 5mm1. In 1937, the edifice was built at the site of Zagreb Rally as international exhibition pavilion in order to present the French automobile and aviation industry. Its structural form has been an architectural and technological experiment.The pavilion was constructed within a short time for the fair exhibition and as a result was prone to rapid abrasion, which explains the fact that the original structure of the pavilion became dilapidated to such an extent, thus leading to the renovation of the entire original structure apart from its columns. The particular appeal of the pavilion can probably be explained by the fact that in spite of being destined for temporary utilisation it persisted after the fair, however, not as an exhibition venue. At first, during the Second World War, it was used as a place to gather and detain people due to their Jewish heritage2. After that it fell into oblivion and was used as theatre storage. Hence, the pavilion’s purpose as an exhibition venue represented only a short period. Only with its renovation, finalised in November 2013, it has become a place for various art projects.
The original function of the French Pavilion as a place of presentation intrigued Eva Engelbert and Maja Marković, whereupon both artists take its complex history into account. Eva Engelbert is mainly interested in the economic and historical heritage of the location, particularly in the time prior to the construction of the pavilion, whereas Maja Marković looks into the modernistic structure of exhibition pavilions of the architectural heritage of Zagreb Fair beginning from the sixties of the last century. Although both their projections and approaches are fairly different, they rather complement than contradict each other, shaping fragments of narrative on commercial exhibition politics.
As a guest artist, Eva Engelbert familiarised herself with the context and the problem complex of the French Pavilion. The background of her research reflects links between Zagreb and Vienna. For this reason she focussed her attention to the furniture factory, Bothe and Ehrmann GmbH, which had a branch in Vienna and their headquarters at the terrain of Zagreb Rally. The factory, owned by the wealthy Jewish family Ehrmann, was a symbol of economic success and importance of the timber industry by the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, while its decline was marked by the French Pavilion, financed by Peugeot, which announced the rise of the automobile industry. The traces of the former factory directed the artist towards two chairs. Both are stored at museum depots, one in Vienna, the other one in Zagreb. Eva took pictures of the chairs and attached the photographs to two metal panels, leaving a third one empty. All three panels in form of circular segments reflect the cylindrical form of the French Pavilion as well as the shapes of the visitors. They are varnished with car finish from Peugeot’s latest range. In addition to the spatial installation, Eva Engelbert shows a video message with tweets by the Austrian ambassador. They contain photographs of the Austrian leather factory, Boxmark Leather GmbH, located in Varaždin, which is described as the most important Austrian investment in Croatia according to the ambassador. By highlighting his online statements on the production of leather seats for luxury cars and airplanes, Eva picks up and thus interprets fragments of the past. In her work Two Chairs, Three Forms, she contrasts already forgotten and rare specimen of furniture by Bothe and Ehrmann with the shiny finish of the car industry. The usual procedure of displaying industrial achievements is reversed and simple artefacts like chairs take the place of a hyper-designed presentation of the object. These chairs have lost their glamorous image and became a document of the depot itself, which invites us to reflect on its surrounding historical, social and economic factors.
In her work Specimen of Space, Maja Marković also focuses on politics of presentation. It consists of three wooden geometrical constructions each of them carrying pattern paper charts. Two of them feature displayed readymade charts on a shelve, while large paper sheets dangle centrally from the third wooden construction. Characteristic of Maja Marković’s art practice is a drawing technique which often turns into spatial installations and thus giving them fragility and lightness. Although paper relates to drawing technique, at this point it is entirely treated as an object. Readymade or artistically formed, the paper is exclusively a displayed object and not a surface for drawing.
The title of the work, Specimen of Space, reveals that her spatial installations as well as the readymade pattern paper charts lose their purpose outside of the exhibition context. Transparency, reduction, and geometrical measure of the wooden constructions indicate modernistic tendencies, however, their abstraction reflects the very act of exhibiting. The artist bases her conceptual point of departure on commercial practices of display and presentation of products characteristic of the many exhibitions held at Zagreb Fair. At such occasions the fantastic architecture of particular pavilions becomes only a shell, whereas everything takes place in micro exhibition spheres where screens, supporting constructions and panels play an important role. These apparently unimportant, provisional, quickly assembled constructions are in Maja Marković’s centre of attention. Therefore her installation in the French Pavilion consists of fragile materials like wood and paper, which represent exclusively the structure, i.e. the material itself. These temporary materials oppose to the steel shell of the French Pavilion. The created installation adopts some recognisable modernistic forms, characteristic of pavilions designed by architects Miroslav Begović, Marijan Haberle, Božidar Rašica, and Ivan Vitić. By introducing these reference points, aside from this specific design vocabulary, Maja tackles a vision of a future inspired by the sixties of the last century. In a contemporary context this promise probably works better as a question. Wooden constructions suggest the impression of a provisional solution. Thereby, the artist additionally emphasises their character as a falsework, which at the same time has the potential of becoming a perfect presentation design or waste materials in a decrepit pavilion converted into a storage.
In their conception of the French Pavilion as a place of presentation, both artists are aware of the fact that the pavilion itself is exhibited apart from its existence as an empty exhibition venue. It is impossible to overrule neither its distinctive form nor the void of its space. The artists had no intention to do so in their response. They were not interested in a perfectly designed exhibition installation characteristic of fair presentations, but rather in approaching the problem complex of commercial exhibiting through the backdoor of the exhibition architecture, i.e. via the storage space. This symptomatical transformation of the exhibition sphere into a storage space, and vice versa, is the source of their inspiration. By selecting materials, which could easily be stored in a depot, no matter whether those are just raw material or forgotten artefacts, both artists refer to the fact that material is transitory as well as the pavilion itself.
Although the aspects of meaning of both works derive from a very specific spatial and historical background, their visual language is sufficiently abstracted by resuming characteristic forms of the exhibition architecture, allowing room for recontextualisation of the works within the scope of other exhibition venues.
Maribor, June 24th, 2016 Irena Borić
1 7. Vidim budućnost … (I see Future)@ Francuski paviljon. Život umjetnosti. Retrieved from: http://zivotumjetnosti.ipu.hr/7-vidim-buducnost-francuski-paviljon/, 20 june 2016
2 Goldstein, Ivo and Goldstein, Slavko(co-author) (2001) Holokaust u Zagrebu (Holocaust in Zagreb). Židovska općina Zagreb; Novi Liber. Zagreb. pp 252