VLASTA DELIMAR: 40 YEARS OF VLASTA DELIMAR’S ARTISTIC LOVE

 

Vlasta Delimar’s first solo performance took place in 1980, no less than forty years ago. On that occasion, at the Zagreb Student Centre Gallery, she performed a piece entitled Transformation of Personality (through Clothes, Make-Up and Hairdo), affirming her body as the most prominent medium of her art practice, in which she persists to this day. By examining the possibility of changing her appearance through a simple change of clothes, Delimar begins the exploration of laying oneself bare as the only true representation of one’s identity with a pronounced critical attitude towards bourgeois morality and the aversion to the naked body. It is not rare for her practice to be inseparable from life, which underscores the complete synergy between artistic creation and living. As an artist, a woman and a mother, Delimar entwines conventional roles with subversive departures from them, erasing the limits that constrain the heteronormative view of the female body, identity and existence.

Thanks to her performance art, Delimar came to be considered one of the key figures in the performative art practice in the contemporary Croatian art scene. Even though she is now recognized as one of the key figures in Croatian body art, there was a time when neither the audience nor the relevant institutions recognized her artistic endeavours. Delimar’s return to the Croatian Association of Visual Artists (HDLU) is symbolic since her application for membership was denied in 1982 with a note that her art degraded female dignity. However, by persisting in her exploration of the poetry of the body, which is at once intimist and exhibitionist, Delimar has opened the door for an unrestricted expression of repressed female sexuality, the representation of which has changed throughout the years, although the artist has never lost her authenticity.

Vlasta Delimar’s artistic career can be traced as far back as the seventies, which were marked by her collaborations with the Group of Six Authors, mostly with Željko Jerman. As an unofficial member of the group, Delimar claims to have developed the so-called elementary body as her medium, parallel to Jerman’s elementary photography, Demur’s elementary painting and Martek’s elementary poetry. She first took to the stage in a collaborative performance piece entitled An Attempt at Identification, which was performed in 1979 at the iconic Podroom Gallery in Zagreb. A hand-made performance announcement read, “The performance piece we intended to perform at the opening of the ‘Youth Salon’ will be performed at ‘Podrum’, 12 Mesnička Street, on Monday, 19 November 1979, at 8 pm.”, which put an emphasis on the lack of understanding for this form of artistic practice exhibited by the institutionalized culture of the time. In their collaborative piece, Jerman and Delimar foregrounded two aspects of approaching the existential: while the first one referred to a self-analysis of mutual relationships, departing from a personal egocentrism and establishing one’s “self” in order to build on it by developing a sense of community, the second one amounted to a critique of social conventions.

Forty years later, Delimar performed the piece again at the Mesnička Culture Centre, this time in collaboration with the audience, as a way of marking the beginning of the celebration of her long-time exploration of the body, intimacy, social environments and human relationships through provocative and striking performance art. Even though it was not rare for her to collaborate with other artists, Delimar has always put an emphasis on the affirmation of her own identity and individuality by using her body as a metaphorical representation of an identity laid bare. The fact that she has proudly used and presented her own body as a living sculpture, changing from year to year, in spite of, or even contrary to, socially and traditionally accepted standards is one of the things that make her an artist that has truly left a mark on history.

In the jubilee year of 2020, the artist returns to the venue of her first solo exhibition (1981) – the Home of the Croatian Fine Artists. The exhibition consists of forty black-and-white photographs that form a spatial installation and imitate an analogue camera film. The decision to print the photographs in black and white was influenced by a romantic sentiment, the fact that the artist started her career by making black-and-white photographs, which therefore bear a great, intimate significance. Opting for such a cyclical display, Delimar guides the observer through the tape of her life imbued with her artwork, which starts and ends in a passage, acting as both the entry to and exit from the gallery, preventing the circle from closing and leaving a symbolic space open for future artistic exploration. The retrospective venue therefore becomes a space marked by the possibility of extension, inscription and continuation.

The performance piece Ahh… My Artists, My Lovers, realized in collaboration with Milan Božić and the opera singer Neven Paleček Papageno, was created when the texts Delimar created in the memory of the artists through conversations, gatherings and experiences with whom she created her own performance art were set to music. Due to the specific spatial acoustics of the Bačva Gallery, verses dedicated to each of Delimar’s life companions resound accompanied by the echo of a male baritone voice, producing a near ritual atmosphere that reifies the bitter-sweet memories of closeness, loss and creation.

These histories are personal inasmuch as the artists in question have mutually shaped each other’s stories, but they also outline the elaboration of artistic practices these artists tailored together. Here, Delimar really emerges as an artist, friend and lover – her life is truly one with her work that now spans more than forty years. In the performance itself, it should be noted, she introduces a third person, a third voice, that of the opera singer who reflects on the past on her behalf: at this moment, the artist, whose own body is above all else a medium, gives a voice to someone else, a male baritone, in memory of those complex, multifaceted relationships.

Taken together, the exhibition and the performance piece represent the complexity of history, as well as the retrospective collection and contemplation of defining moments. Here, the photographic film serves as a tool not only for documenting one’s own practice, but also for redefining the meaning of that practice in both the personal and creative sense, as well as in relation to others. The same film is open to modification, new inscriptions and supplementation – it remains open forever. At the same time, sang as a part of the piece, the memories of friends and colleagues with whom Delimar produced her artwork are given enough space to come back to life in the full strength of emotion – the medium of performance art itself, the medium of performance, emphasizes the momentariness of all the minute moments in history, which go away, but, at the same time, stay forever.

An overview of Vlasta Delimar’s career spanning four decades entitled Forty Years of Vlasta Delimar’s Artistic Love will be displayed in cities throughout former Yugoslavia (Ljubljana, Zagreb, Rijeka, Sarajevo, Novi Sad, Belgrade, Podgorica, Skopje) in 2020.

 

Biography:

Vlasta Delimar (1956 Zagreb) is the most significant Croatian performer, uncompromising in criticism of society. In 1986 she received the Seven Secretary of the Young Communist League of Yugoslavia Award (Nagrada Sedam sekretara SKOJ-a). From 2005 to 2015 she was the head of the artistic organisation My Country Štaglinec and of the performance program of the festival held in Štaglinec near Koprivnica. She is the key figure in the portrayal of performance through the prism of her own body and the content of the female, the naked body, which in today’s society is still subject to controversy. Through her work, she explores femininity, male-female relationships and life cycles from youth and longing through partnership and motherhood to ageing. She introduces autobiographical narratives into the public space, questioning the demarcation of public and private and the norms of identity politics.

 

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