Savičenta Portals

Marko Lulić — Savičenta Portals, 2019, Svetvinčenat (Croatia) / photo: Andi Bančić

Savičenta Portals or the reality of utopia

Tihomir Milovac

For Marko Lulić’s three-part installation under the title of Savičenta Portals, set in the natural landscape in an almond orchard1 in the close proximity of Svetvinčenat, one could say it shares something in common with the practice of the ‘land art’ phenomenon, i.e. ‘environmental art’ as a more recent branch of art focusing on nature and ecology and critically analysing the patterns of different changes in the environment, highlighting them in the language of artistic media. However, the cause for setting up the Savičenta Portals installation as an artistic intervention into the natural ambience resulted from reasons other than those primarily nature-motivated, opening up room for dialogue from other points of view. This was an action of designating the future Avanti! – Center Avant-gardes artistic centre whose launch was part of the two-year project Invisible Savičenta2. The Avanti! centre was conceptualised as a living artistic meeting point, exploring cultural and artistic traditions and contemporaneity, a place for education and stimulation of artistic and cultural activities, and primarily for the development of creative freedom in different spheres of art and its social practices.

Albert Frey, House No. 1 (1941 — 1947, Palm Springs, California, USA), Photo: Julius Shulman, © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10).
Lulić House No. 1 (Weekend Utopia), 2005
prefabricated house (fabricated by Oa-sys)
installation view, Kunsthaus Bregenz
courtesy by Kunsthaus Bregenz and Marko Lulić
This targeted designation procedure, carried out as a conceptual demarcation of location for the construction of a potential centre, introduced a new and added a symbolic dimension to the final appearance of the sculptural and architectural elements of the installation in the natural landscape of the almond orchard. What the artist did and what he made the three-part installation of was red orthogonal structures mounted in the almond orchard between July and September 20193. In the conceptualisation process the artist referred to his project Lulić House No. 1 (Weekend Utopia), carried out as a gallery installation in 2005 in Kunsthaus Bregenz, back then a quotation of the house designed by Swiss architect Albert Frey, House No. 1, built back in 1941 in California, USA4. This transition represents the artist’s attempt at translating the form and meaning from one time to another, from one space to another and from one medium to another. Here I am referring to the repetition of the house’s form in another material and the new, gallery context which acted as a sort of ‘thank you’ to architect Frey for his valuable contribution to the shaping of modernist architectural principles of design and building. Frey belongs to the generation of architects schooled on the formal principles of simple shapes and functionalism, new design without superfluous ornamentation, and primarily on the principles of socially (and politically) conscious school of architecture and applied art, the famous Bauhaus (1919–1933) from Weimar and its initiator, architect Walter Gropius. The torchbearers of the modernist idea as a significant cultural and artistic, as well as, first of all, civilizational paradigm, in the thirties they were forced to flee the surge of Nazism and fascism from Germany, and later from Europe too. In the formal and ideological sense, modernism returned to Western Europe after the war, in the fifties, indirectly by way of the influence of the new American art scene5. Eastern Europe under Soviet domination was put to halt in terms of any modernism. Only in non-aligned Yugoslavia it was recognised as the most suitable format for the representation of socialist ideas, which was accepted in almost all the segments of the social and cultural practice, particularly visible in architecture, design, visual arts, theatrical arts and music.

Savičenta Portals, 2019. installation view / photo: Tihomir Milovac

To understand this complex process of evocation and resemantisation, it is important to underline that Marko Lulić early in the new millennium as a young up-and-coming artist turned to the origins of modernity in the 20th century visual arts and architecture, i.e. the ideas of modernism in social and ideological reflections, primarily in the context of unfulfilled utopian social projects of the first half of the 20th century (such as Weimar Republic, Communist International etc.), and especially social practices in post-war Yugoslavia. He is trying to reinterpret, understand, often ironize them, but first of all transpose them into our time in the language of visual media. Reasons for such evocation of utopian modernist principles can be sought mainly in the consequences of social and political transitions of Eastern European countries, whose problematic side the artist noticed very early on. With the end of the Cold War period, these societies, burdened for decades by the lack of social and even more political freedoms, embark on the ‘temptation’ of western democracy, often stumbling in the process, and the nationalist political elites open up space for retrograde, anti-modernist policies, historical revisionism an revanchism which make an inevitable negative impact on social reality.

Video stills from Savičenta Portals, 2019.

Savičenta Portals, 2019. installation view / photo: Tihomir Milovac

Here I should underline that Lulić’s earlier pieces were inspired precisely by modernisms in architecture and visual arts. His focus was mostly dual and encompassed a combination of culture and politics; his original motifs were in close connection with the socio-political context. He focuses on historical monumental sculpture on the examples of monuments destroyed in the thirties by the Nazis, works by Bauhaus professors, architect Walter Gropius, Monument to the March Dead from 1922 and Mies van der Rohe’s 1926 project, a monument to the killed German revolutionaries Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht (Entertainment Center Mies, 2004). From the resources of the ex-Yugoslav public monumental memorials he takes the motif of the Stone Flower, designed by architect Bogdan Bogdanović, erected in 1966 as memorial to the victims of the Ustashe concentration camp in Jasenovac. In this case too Lulić very subtly but unequivocally and responsibly reinterprets crimes, individual and collective injustices, racist pogroms, utopian ideas and their downfalls in European societies’ recent past, and sets them in the context of new, current, social regimes that advertise themselves as democratic and open. He focused on Vojin Bakić’s statues (Reactivation (Circulation in Space), 2002/2004), works by the Bauhaus student Otti Berger (Homage Otti Berger, 2004/2007), followed by the abandoned architecture of the former hotel complex Haludovo on the island of Krk, opened in 1972, as well as the ‘unfinished modernism’6 of New Belgrade’s architecture and the concrete post-war architecture of residential blocks in his native Vienna (The Moderns (Wien/Vienna), 2005). He has made video works with dancers7 inspired by memorial sculpture or simply large-scale public modernist monuments, created performances, all with the intention of evoking the ideas generally connected with the 20th century avant-garde and modernism, definitely the most significant phenomenon in more recent European cultural, as well as social and political history. Lulić finds form, as one of the most important elements of artistic expression, closely tied to ideology and all of his works could be said to be literally characterised by the leftist, ‘red’ ideology. This began with the manifesto exhibitions Organisiertes Dekor – verbesserte Partisanendenkmäler/ Organized Decor – Improved Partisan Monuments (2001)8 and Modernity in YU (2001)9, where he interpreted the sculpturally abstract 1960s and 1970s monuments on the territory of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, erected as tribute to the participants and events from the National Liberation Movement10. Metaphorically speaking, Lulić’s inclination to leftism is present when he ethically sets the course of his artistic activity towards the utopian subjects of modernity.

Savičenta Portals, 2019 installation view / photo: Andi Bančić

The Savičenta Portals installation should be observed in this context as well, its formal simplification and reduction of forms, in fact a spatial drawing set in the uncanny landscape of untamed almond trees. In this case too, as well as with the already mentioned reinterpretations of memorials, Lulić’s formal ‘inconsistency’, naturally, combined with dimension and material, bestows newness, unreality and intrigue to a piece. Such metaphysical impression in Savičenta Portals was heightened with the screening of a video Lulić had made with three dancers in the very same landscape shortly before the installation was mounted. The dancers completely improvised their movements, however a clear geometrical setting aided them to repeat the imaginary floor plan of Avanti! Center’s architecture; in fact they were drawing the installation’s geometrical form and thus created the wondrous autonomous ambience of a body and a landscape, whose initial purpose of demarcation has become completely superfluous. On the very same spot where traces of the three dancers’ choreography were still visible in the tall grass, a three-part installation structure made of steel pipes with several rectangles mutually intertwining at a right angle, signifying possible walls of a building, was mounted. In fact these were intangible, fully transparent sides of the house. Set in a way to indicate indoor and outdoor space in their mutual relationship. The author called the Savičenta Portals, moving away from the original motif of Alfred Frey’s House No. 1, i.e. his gallery version Lulić House No. 1 (Weekend Utopia) to embrace more recent notions such as internet portals or portals as entrances into the wondrous, uncanny world beyond reality. And setting them up in an almond orchard, in the natural ambience of Savičenta’s landscape, made it possible for him to create a symbolical space of juxtaposing the real and the unreal, which in this case engendered a permanent tension in the cognitive process with the question: which of these two, the landscape or the object, is indeed part of the real reality, and which is a construct of a new, utopian (Lulić’s) reality?

Savičenta Portals Alen and Nenad Sinkauz, Live performance 29/6/2019 / photo: Andi Bančić

1 On the location in the close proximity of the town, in the 1950s the local Agricultural Cooperative planted dozens of young almond trees on a one-hectare plot of land. However, ten years later the orchard was abandoned and remains so all until the present time when the Svetvinčenat Municipality turned it into a mixed use building zone intended for tourism and family homes. Nevertheless, the orchard still exists in its original form with a clear grid of almond trees which, albeit unmaintained for years, still bear fruit.

2 The project Invisible Savičenta – Translating Tradition into Contemporary Culture between 2018 and 2020 was financed by the European Structural Funds, the European Social Fund and its open call Culture in Focus. The aim of the open call was good management practice development in culture by strengthening collaboration between civil society organisations and local government and improvement of the existing and establishment of new models of collaborative management in culture and strengthening the capacities of everyone involved in the processes of collaborative management in culture. The main partner of the project Invisible Savičenta – Translating Tradition into Contemporary Culture was Savičenta Municipality and its partner associations: Šikuti Machinae, Zagreb Dance Company, Apoteka – Space for Contemporary Art, Kaštel Historical Association and Avanti! – Center Avant-gardes, whose establishment was part of the programme activities implemented by the Invisible Savičenta project.

3  Although the installation was conceived as temporary, because of its impressiveness and the uncanny relation with the landscape it nevertheless remained on said location for a longer period of time. However, one night around 20 September 2019 it was stolen and probably ended up as recycling material. An official inquiry was launched and to this date it hasn’t yielded any results.

4 For the 2005 exhibition in Kunsthaus Bregenz Lulić made in the gallery space a prefabricated house model inspired by Albert Frey’s architecture of House No. 1. Shortly afterwards the artist, aided by independent curator Branka Benčić and the Pula City Authority, made a donation of the object to the City of Pula with the idea of remounting it and making it a residence centre for contemporary artists. The idea wasn’t carried out and the dismantled object remained property of the City of Pula.

5 Arriving in California in the thirties at a time of big political changes in Germany, Frey – along with many other refuged architects and artists – conveyed this important trait of functionalism and Bauhaus to a whole new cultural and market setting.

6 Ljiljana Blagojević in the catalogue of Marko Lulić’s exhibition Modernity in YU, Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, 2002.

7 Examples of video works with dancers: Space-Girl Dance, 2009, 2009; Jasenovac, 2010; Proposal for a Workers Monument, 2014; Red Triangle Penetrating a Hexagon, 2016.

8 The exhibition was held in the Gabriele Senn Gallery in Vienna.

9 The exhibition was held at MAMA Centre in Zagreb in 2001 and in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade in 2002.

10 National Liberation Movement is the name of the unified resistance of the partisans against the German and Italian invaders and their local collaborators on the Yugoslav territory between 1941 and 1945.

Prostor za suvremenu umjetnost
Trgovačka – Merceria 20
52215 Vodnjan, Hrvatska | Croatia

Centar Avangardi
Ulica Ljudevita Posavskog 13A
10000 Zagreb, Hrvatska | Croatia

Tihomir Milovac

Curator Assistant
Maša Milovac


Marko Lulić

Marko Lulić

Marko Lulić
Marko Milovac
Jan Pavlović

Martina Benić
Korana Daić
Ivana Vojnić Vratarić

Video editing
Marko Milovac

Musical performance
Alen & Nenad Sinkauz

Technical Realisation of the Installation
IN-metal-proizvodnja i montaža (Žminj)

Video Projection
Ava Electronic (Pula)