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Scars

Ivan Grubanov

13/9 - 19/10/2018

Ivan Grubanov, in his artistic practice, utilizes the media of painting, drawing and installation to explore the boundaries of art as a platform for social reassessments as well as recording and interpreting of history.

Recent series of Ivan’s works such as “Smokescreens” (2012), “Dead Flags” (2010-2013), “Evil Painter” (2013), “Smoke, Nation, Screen” (2015), “Painting a Nation” (2017) by their very titles unequivocally evoke memories of the social-political incidents in the Balkans’ recent past striving to, after certain distance, offer new relevant explanations or interpretations. Military actions called ‘smokescreens’ that marked Serbian civil life in the 90s with fighting for democratic change, in Ivan’s work appear as a paradigm for obfuscated truths about historical events during the civil war in Yugoslavia, but also for many present-day manipulations of the public opinion as tactics for covering up causes of social or economic discontent. “Evil Painter” is, on the other hand, an individual, the one who owns a medium by which another side of the reality can be disclosed and shown.

Flags, which Ivan initially included in his creative painterly process in 2010 within the series “Dead Flags”, have been up to this day recognizable and inevitable element of his art. More a conundrum than an expression of patriotism or collective unawareness a flag is in many ways profoundly provocative for the artist. The flags of former Yugoslavian socialist republics, but also those of the Communist Party are used by the artist as instruments and means for reassessment of attitudes towards his own national identity and other patterns that are present even after one nation historically and formally ceases to exist. With the installation “United Dead Nations” Ivan represented national Serbian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, and for the first time included and assembled the flags of many countries that no longer exist, thus creating a family of grand vanished historical and cultural identities that gave birth to some others.

Modus operandi of Ivan’s work consists of scrutinizing the role of the individual as the creator of social events who carries both the national identity and the remaining collective historical memory. The artist, as a participant of some of the above mentioned historical events, stands as a homo politicus who by his actions, although apolitical, shows that no one is merely a bystander.

By treating the canvas as a territory for visual study, by abstracting and subliming the remaining memories and feelings, the very act of painting is for Ivan, almost a ritual process. On the previously well primed canvas, the artist, as he likes to put it, “attacks the surface of the painting” using flags, brush, and paint. Paint imprints, often with copied flag symbols, leave marks on the painting resembling scars. The scars are parallel to those left by disappearing nations, like marks of piled up emotions, and shattered ideals. They are the records of fears, and wounds inflicted by conflicts, sufferings, tragedies, brought about by any disappearance.

Each canvas, before being painted, goes through the sewing process in the workshops specialized for sewing flags. Besides seams, the canvases feature inscriptions of distinct slogans – the holders of former ideals and overall values, beliefs and aspirations. ‘Progress’, ‘Freedom’, ‘Unity’, ‘Prosperity’, are only some of them, and in an associative, layered, intellectual and provocative way, they have become testimonies of their time – new flags, no longer symbols of national identity, but a catalogue of historical grief, fallen and forsaken ideals, crumpled and relinquished hopes, crushed illusions, broken bodies and undergone ordeals.

The artist’s recent work, shown by means of this exhibition is part of continual project of long-term researching and interpreting ideological, political, and cultural aspects of the notion of nation in which he uses painting as a method of acquiring knowledge. Exposed works within the gallery space becomes a semantic and semiotic field for examining visual codes of vast spiritual heritage left by the process of ‘unnationing’[1].

If art is an opinion expressed through images that enables us to experience things visually, and ahead of constant geopolitical changes and new conflicts anticipating the unstoppable flow of future social orders, displayed Grubanov’s paintings stand before the viewer as a record, a testimony, a reflection, but also a trait, a continuous predicate before the changeable subject, a tool that attracts the inconsistent perceptions of all fallen ideals of former or future broken and dead nations.

 

Maja Kolarić

 

[1] The term coined by the artist in his PhD thesis, defended at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Leuven, Belgium – “Unnation”, Kehrer Verlag, Berlin-Heidelberg, 2016