The Center of the Periphery (Zagreb / Žitnjak, Croatia) ...and its values within the art world as a part of social fabric
Žitnjak (Serbo-Croatian) ― a place to grow wheat, a meadow, a field
During the past few days, weeks and indeed months, so much has been said about the central topic of the Reshape Project's Trajectory 3 ― value of art in social fabric that I, Bojan, unfortunately the last Reshaper to send my share of thoughts and scribbles to colleagues after our Workshop 1 in Prague, am a bit at odds with how exactly to contribute. Overall, I agree with Jean-Lorin that sharing some more of our professional and intimate background in written language can't hurt; and by expressing what is deeply personal to us concerning our subject and practice, I believe, we are bound to articulate the core of problems and crises which we, the cultural workers and Reshapers, will face in the very near future and possibly even in the course of this project.
As for myself, I got used to changing shapes a long time ago. And contexts. And environments. And workplaces. And to some extent, communities. Sure, such brand of shape-shifting, now ten years in the making, has influenced my growing affection for the question of space, for the urgent need to build fresh and safe spaces in order for anything valuable in art as a fruitful part of social fabric could be imagined and created. Of course, by spaces I don't mean only material ones, but spiritual as well as symbolic; and all kinds of safe spaces are more important than ever ― for example, a bond we are trying to build between us is also a space ― however, I think that for things to go forward on a not-so-small scale, it is necessary for material spaces to naturally evolve out of spiritual ones, out of bonds between like-minded souls. And they must be intended and open to its immediate communities, and they must address and support people usually deprived of culture, education and related commodities; meaning people who are not socially inclined to artistic and/or cultural content, which usually means lower class people, citizens with less opportunities and rights given from day one, people whose well-being is not a concern of political, financial and “intellectual” elites, people who are economically, socially and culturally deprived. In Croatia, a majority of the former middle class is slowly but surely succumbing to such ranks, and a middle ground and common language with working people has to be finally founded, while new, truly participative and inclusive spaces have to be won.
With an academic background in visual communications design, over the years I have lived as a print / digital / radio / television journalist, a designer, radio host, curator, writer / art critic / essayist / poet, researcher, artist, performer, cyclist, traveler, etc... Partly because I wanted it to be so, and partly 'cause I had to maintain a diversity of roles in order to make a living by working in cultural field and this field only, in order to survive. While I still practice most of those roles on a daily basis, lately I've been working more than before to gradually unite 'em all, which is heavily linked with the fact that I found a space I could call my own, a space which is not only a workplace and a shelter, but also a room to grow, to breathe, to stop and think about stuff when needed. It began in January 2019 when I came back to Zagreb from the fellowship at Academie Schloss Solitude (Stuttgart) and related voyages in the latter half of 2018, and when I became a member of the Ateliers Žitnjak artistic organization, and began to work as the head of its gallery program, while still preserving my freelance position.
Artistic organization Ateliers Žitnjak was founded in 2004 by Zagreb-based artists, "tennants" of art-studios located in ex-elementary school in the Žitnjak neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of the city. By the decision of Zagreb's City Council for Culture, the abandoned building was transformed in 13 ateliers / studios in former classrooms and given to artists for long-running use, according to contracts with the City, an owner of the object. Gallery AŽ was founded in 2005, international artist-in-residence program (in cooperation with NRW Kulturamt Duesseldorf) in 2010 and off-program Centering the Periphery in 2017, with program lines hosting at once exhibitions of local, regional and international contemporary artists (both affirmed and upcoming); residencies; screenings; public talks and round tables; workshops; site-specific interventions and artistic actions, etc; forming a rhythm of about 10 to 15 events per year, annual Days of Open Gallery being the focal point each October or November. Nowadays, artistic organization consists of 14 members, some of the most renowned Croatian artists among them, such as Hamo Čavrk, Alem Korkut (president), Boris Cvjetanović (representative of Croatia at Venice Biennials of Art and Architecture two times, in 2003 and 2012) , Hrvoje Mitrov, Kata Mijatović (representative of Croatia at the Venice Biennale of Art in 2014), Zoran Pavelić, Vesna Pokas, Vlasta Žanić, Mirjana Vodopija, Boris Greiner, Dražen Grubišić, Predrag Pavić, Frane Rogić and Bojan Krištofić (head of gallery), focused on enhancing the local community, both in cultural sense and that of general well-being. Ateliers Žitnjak were established according to the model of international cultural centers in abandoned post-industrial and post-agricultural zones, with the intention of forming artistic center that would contribute to the cultural and social revival of the peripheral, culturally neglected half-urban, half-rural zone of Žitnjak. Apart from focusing on visual arts field, with various local actions we've been trying to make the number of social problems public, as well as to suggest possible solutions to open issues. Therefore, our program guidelines are designed around the concept of the term “peripheral” both as a location and/or artistic choice or determination, which eventually gave us a nickname The Center of the Periphery.
This space we perceive as a permanent focal point of our community, a 15-years-in-the-making urban vehicle for the exploration of common goals and needs, and above all else, as both a tool and a purpose around which we came together. Join us, wherever and whoever you are, to continue building it together, more engaged, merrier and unavoidable than ever before.
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