art, coffee vol. 1/ goran trbuljak

Goran Trbuljak (second from the right) in Poland during the 70s, pictured with local farmers. Copyright of the artist.

Goran Trbuljak (born 1948) is a renowned Croatian conceptual and video artist, photographer, graphic designer as well as cinematographer. He first emerged on the international art scene through his association with the New Art Practice – a generation of Yugoslavian artists who turned their focus on art production outside the traditional work setting. Members were Marina Abramović, Boris Bućan, Sanja Iveković, Dalibor Martinis, Neša Paripović and Raša Todosijević. Trbuljak recently exhibited at P420, Bologna; Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Rijeka; MAMBo – Villa delle Rose, Bologna; to name just a few. 

LUCIJA ŠUTEJ: How do you understand the complex relationship between printmaking and video art?

GORAN TRBULJAK: I see various print techniques and video as different mediums solely connected due to their ability to reproduce artworks in identical editions through reusable tableaus. Both require technical assistance to produce artist’s ideas or alternatively an artist has the skillset to individually create the whole artwork from initial concept to final print or video. Ultimately they both require the experience gained through practice.

LŠ: Aside from your work in the field of performance, video and print, you were also active in graphic design. How did your practice as a conceptual artist manifest itself in your work as a graphic designer?

GT: While still a student at the Fine Arts Academy in Zagreb, professor Kuduz introduced me to the director of the VN library. The latter entrusted me to create their catalogue and the logo of the gallery. The symbol they ultimately accepted was in use until almost a year ago. For me, graphic design was always a separate practice, which I understood as a sporadic action.

LŠ: What were your most interesting and challenging graphic design projects from youth?

GT: After working for the newspaper Film, I received an offer to design the youth publication Polet, which at that point in time underwent a large transformation. The publication transitioned from lead printing into offset, creating a distinct change in the visual identity. I was not as young as my co-workers or the publication itself.

LŠ: Your exhibition at Zagreb’s Gallery SC in 1972, where you presented the poster with inscription, I do not wish to show anything new or original, brought to the forefront your radical questioning of what is art.

GT: I would not say I questioned as much as my colleague and fellow artist, who brought to the opening a rope for me with the idea that after such an exhibition and such stance, all I can do is hang myself.

LŠ: We could argue that you entered the art world with questioning –  similar as your Referendum of 1972, that marks a particular turning point for perception of what art is and who is an artist.

GT: The Referendum was envisioned with the idea that it would play out in the streets, where the public would determine who is an artist without seeing any artworks nor knowing of the artist’s existence. Referendums were a common occurrence in those times and people often participated without fully knowing what they were voting for or if it is even important for their existence. But this sense of importance was present, as in my case. It was important to democratically decide on unimportant issues.

LŠ: This concept of evaluation of the art world was also transferred as an authored exhibition in a commercial gallery, the Venetian Il Cavallino, where you redefined their old exhibition catalogues (of artists such as Pollock, Calder, etc.) by anonymising the institution.  How was this idea created?

GT: It all started from my own situation-  as an unknown (emerging) artist exhibiting in a famous gallery. Through observing their old catalogues, it was clear that they also started from this space or position of unknown and they achieved affirmation for their institution by exhibiting renowned artists. So, essentially the process was the same. What particularly excited me was to change the name of the gallery into obscurity by renaming it and by creating an equal relationship with myself (through font and size of letters) on the invitation. I forgot how the public reacted, but recently a young and new gallery P420 has acquired these old catalogue blow-ups and approached me for an explanation of the concept. They only had one work, while the whole initial exhibition consisted of photographically enlarged analog prints of old catalogues by artists such as Pollock, myself and the invitation to an exhibition with the wrong name of the gallery.

LŠ: Could you comment on the importance of Belgrade and Zagreb Student Centre’s Galleries in presentation of your work and that of your contemporaries. How would you define the particular roles of Želimir Koščević, Ješa Denegri and Biljana Tomić in promotion and interpretation of your artwork?

GT: For me personally both institutions were of the utmost importance, these people were full of enthusiasm, understanding and support.

LŠ: How would you place the exhibition Mogučnosti za 1971 on the developments of your practice?

GT: The mentioned exhibition was an important show, but not for me personally as much as for a whole generation of artists. I was not keen on big interventions and approaching the public through large visual signs. My actions were of a low visual attraction. The exhibition was envisioned differently and the assessment a few of us was to participate as to not be excluded from a generational framework. It proved accurate as artists from a different generation opposed the exhibition due to different artistic perspectives. Some even went so far as to destroy the exhibited works. I remained with my generation in our seeming ‘failure’. But it only further determined me to disregard opinions of others and concentrate on the only importance- my work is my happiness and nothing else matters.

LŠ: Photography is central to your practice and you were a Graphic & Photo Editor at numerous publications such as Spot (1978-1981) as well as Polet. How did your editorial and photographic work mirror itself in your artistic production?

GT: Photography was always very important to my work. During high school years I was a student in the photography department. Photography is a phenomenal machine, similar as today’s youth is focused on the internet, for my generation it was photography. Everything happened through it, with it and around it. At Spot magazine, I occasionally wrote on the matter of photography and they used to publish some of my photographs, while at Polet I was the Editor.

LŠ: Could you define the role of curator Marijan Susovski in the presentation of your work and (perhaps) connecting you with international art figures?

GT: Marijan Susovski was a central figure (Curator at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb) that exercised much patience with us artists, who used to visit his office while he had serious work. He was always full of enthusiasm and he invited me to the international art residency Motovun Encounters where I met Paolo Cardazzo. The latter brought with him his video equipment that just emerged from the USA and I subsequently exhibited at his Venetian gallery.

LS: Who else offered their support in the production of video art in your early video experimentation?

GT: Art critic Vera Horvat- Pintarić invited a few artists: Sanja Iveković, Dalibor Martinis and myself to Trigon manifestation in Graz, where the focus of that year’s edition was video. After that I have not worked with video for a substantial amount of time.

LŠ: As a cinematographer I wonder what is your favourite film?  

GT: I have always loved and still do, Breathless by Jean-Luc Godard. And from literature I enjoyed in my youth Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun. It was and is for me a thrilling book and I still find myself today reminiscing of the laws he set out for robots to protect the humans.