to see = to be *

In Zagreb’s main street, Ilica, whose irregular, winding course displays traces of historic connections between ancient quarters, a tree used to stand right across from where "my" street turns off. In the small front garden of a long forgotten inn, attempting in vain to protect it against traffic and noise, the tree fought for survival and grew into a column propping and partly embracing the garden fence. With time, the size of its trunk surpassed the allotted space and the tree commenced its long lasting battle with the rough, plainly crafted fence which it was forced to adopt. Apart from the fence, the tree also "devoured" some floor tiles, conduit pipes and a portion of concrete, in a brutal clash that most passers-by never noticed; on the other hand, the tree became a metaphor for the deformation of the human soul resulting from the many afflictions, tribulations and hardships it is exposed to in today’s world. It was this tree, an unusual combination of the organic and the generated, that Antun Maračić spotted and photographed in 1997.Of course, the tree did not survive the urban renovation (or rather, the urban fraud). What remained of it were Maračić’s photos, documenting a special art action of appropriating images from the immediate environment – more precisely, a process of detecting, recognising and photographically capturing certain details which are not simply taken from their original context and transferred to the realm of art. For a special feature of Maračić’s artistic procedure consists in detecting and accentuating. It should be seen in correlation with the so-called "new", "analytic" photography, which is close to conceptual art and primary painting. The author focuses on the process, the connection he establishes with the place that he shoots, the spot from which he departs recording the photos, thus – in his own words – providing proof of his existence. Maračić does not use photography as a "mere" means, as if it were only a representation or image – on the contrary, he is above all interested in the process of shooting, and the pictures captured are meant to emphasize the connection with the point of his departure. Like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs, the photography confirms the process of detecting and recording facts, which in turn testifies to the author’s presence at a certain place in a real time.Maračić made his public appearance as an artist in the mid-seventies, participating in the conceptual art tendencies of the time. From the period of his occupation with analytic painting until today, his works are characterised by processuality, demystification of the artistic act, seriality, absence of narrative content and an interest in the position of the individual. Another typical feature is the legitimation of the different phases in his artistic process, where the transfer of meaning is understood as part of this procedure, marked among other things by sensitive and witty, sometimes also ironic, comments about the perceived objects.The elementary procedures employed by Croatian artists in the late seventies and early eighties resulted from an analysis of the language of painting, a scrutiny of the foundations of its existence and the process of its emergence. Research papers from that period were frequently dedicated to the problem of the artist’s relation to his medium. In his early works (the Layered Pictures), mostly paintings created after he graduated in painting from the Zagreb Academy of Fine Arts, Maračić explored and emphasised the work’s material structure or the time spent on its creation, which was always accompanied by a characteristic, ironically-critical comment concerning the established criteria and the (ever present) demands put before the artist by society.Pursuing this train of thought, Maračić began using photography in 1976, primarily in order to scrutinise fundamental existential postulates. Let us mention here the project Simultaneous View of the Face and the Back of the Head (photo sequence from 1978) and the sequence May ’78 – November ’79, comprising a period in which the artist recorded the growth of his hair and beard after he had shaved his head. This is a series of photographic digressions about "working and thinking as the basic forms of human behaviour", about the ways of representing (in the author’s own words) "bare time", the hair growth and the rotation of the body/head in 45° increments in each new sequence as indicators of the passage of time. The photo series Subject-Object Relation (Following a Point on the Mirror) from 1979 should be seen in the same context. It consists of nine photographs which record the process of the concentrated beholding of nine points fastened onto a mirror, their positions representing a pattern of "surface exhaustion". The artist’s reflection results from his intention to simultaneously represent the gaze and its object, where the object is symbolised by each of the nine points. This series illustrates the process of the outer world’s passage into the author’s perceptive system, the time span of "the loading of the gaze" in which this transition occurs.How can one represent spaces suggesting real time, how can one establish the existence of one and the same, the dualism of existence and non-existence, the burden of personal responsibility, perhaps even the fear resulting from an action (or from the uncertainty preceding its beginning)? The gradual spread of the artistic practice of photography lead to an emphasis of what has great importance in art anyway: the intellectual position of the individual, the sensitivity, the mental plan, as Maračić puts it.He started the series Lokrum in 2002, when he was appointed Director of the Museum of Modern Art in Dubrovnik. Through his office window he saw a scene that today still inspires him to taking pictures almost daily. To photograph an island means to confront one’s own, personal solitude with the solitude of the island. It means to follow the time of a space and a form which are constantly changing, yet remaining the same, and to measure them with the time of one’s own life. Hundreds of shots show the same scene centred in the frame – the island of Lokrum near Dubrovnik, functioning as a focal point. Maračić does not change the viewing angle; the frame is determined by the coincidence of the viewer centred in the middle of the motif and it contains as much surrounding space as his wide angle lens allows it to. The author takes up the position of the spectator who, like Roland Barthes, has an emotional interest in photography.It seems as if a camera was constantly mounted in Maračić’s office at the Dubrovnik Museum of Modern Art, reducing any photographic styling, i.e. possible interventions and gaze constructions, to a minimum. One could perhaps assume that such a procedure aims at drawing attention exclusively to the island, but then the process of the beholding itself and the joy of the anticipation of the scene’s viewing would be disregarded.Maračić’s intervention only takes place at the second level – at the moment of the presentation. But even then he repeats the simple procedure of stringing together photographs accompanied by short notes (colour, light, atmosphere, date). At the same time, this data stimulates the reflection on the concepts of Here and Now in relation to the actual duration of the beholding and the shooting, which are not necessarily identical, as "chronology objectively has no particular meaning, any order can be legitimate, because transformation, the essential thing here, its incredible vastness, is always present". Temporal sequences "grow thicker and become thinner, and what seems to occur is a deceleration and acceleration of real time", whose rhythm is as accidental as the rhythm of the gaze and the choice of the motif’s daily characteristics. In these encounters with the vista, which determined his life in the course of a certain period, and which he beholds on a daily basis and regarded as an existential but not the ideal, idyllic picture that it may have seemed at first glance, Maračić accompanied each photo with a note (primarily in order to distinguish them later) containing data about the time when it was recorded (day and hour, camera aperture, exposure time) and a brief description of the scene: "Tuesday, 13 November 2001, 11:50, 22/60; heavy sea, all grey except a bright hole above the island with a shred of blue in a peeled-off, third layer below the clouds"; "14 January 2002, 13:14, 16/30; soft, blue sea, the island in subtle contrast, grey and black, pink to the left behind the island"; "12 April 2003, 12:04, 8-11/1000; everything covered in calm grey, blurred horizon line"; "11 February 2004, 16:13, 4/60; soothing, expressionless grey, rain".The island as the centre of a happening amounts in fact to the establishment of the existence of one and the same, the changes being visible under the meteorological and chronological aspects. The contents we associate with it are universal and understandable, they remind of ephemerality and of eternity at the same time. The neutral landscape of Lokrum became a personal diary of the artist’s existence, able to reflect anyone who chooses to take part in the process of beholding his own self-beholding.In a photo something is shown. At the same time, according to Hubert Damisch, through it something is proven. The aforementioned processuality as a permanent artistic strategy employed by Antun Maračić and the absence of narrative content are characteristic of an authorial process in which not emptiness, but absence is recorded. It is precisely in the absence that the artist recognised the topic which allowed him to express his personal doubts in different periods of his life. The cycle Appropriated Pictures from 2000 is based on photos taken from the daily press – the artist appropriated pictures recorded by photojournalists which he found among accident and crime chronicles. He cut them out, scanned and enlarged them, printed them on heavier paper used for traditional graphics and framed them adequately. There were no subsequent alterations of the frame, the "works" were taken over in their entirety, together with their captions, the brief explanations of the "abstract" scenes whose meanings can only be guessed if one tries to imagine the contents of the original articles. The depictions of the crime scenes, mostly uninteresting, "ordinary" places, as well as of the objects appearing in the investigations – stolen goods and evidence of police efficiency (found jewellery, weapons, drugs) – escape the usual context of photography, its representativeness, its intent to record the world of appearances. The choice of objects in the scenes found and appropriated by Maračić shows how much he remained true to the first-person perspective as he spoke about his relation to the environment, or maybe rather about the consequences of this relation.Maračić’s relation to his environment is oppositional, determined by a negative approach or by concepts invoking that "other" side, that empty, disappeared, annihilated, absent one. Contrary to the cycle Emptied Frames – Disappeared Contents (1991–94) – consisting of photos of empty spots or frames where plates with the names of liquidated companies and abolished institutions once used to be fastened, which he appropriated by adding an engraved plate with his signature and a date – the Appropriated Pictures were removed from their original context and thus found their way into the world of art. Maračić’s "revitalised susceptibility to the imperceptible" concentrates on anonymous places which the artist calls "carriers of meaning", because these photos show places and objects that are linked to certain events. The way in which we picture these events depends on ourselves, on our powers of imagination and visualisation, which play a key role in the process of proving something – not of representing it. The author does not direct his attention to the aesthetic quality of the scenes he appropriates, but seeks to disturb the automatism of perception by insisting on a procedure in which he proves that what we see has a certain roughness to it, resisting the identification of the seen with the recognised."I did not invent this method of repetition, but I have often applied it since I started to engage in art consciously and with conceptual intent. In 1976, I made a series of self-portraits – every morning at eight o’clock, immediately after getting up, I took a picture of myself, down to waist level. It is interesting that those photos also had their parallels in my diary entries. Situations occurring in a sequence, displaying a fascination induced by the changes that living in time brings about, are characteristic of some other works of mine too. For example, in the late seventies I took pictures of my desk and the objects on it at irregular intervals. I am fascinated by all sediments of change in a given framework – by the fact of the existence that can be ascertained or whose automatism can be recorded, but without the category of a premeditated plan, which so often occurs in art. To a certain degree, such works have their origin in surrealism, in its affirmation of the subconscious", Maračić remarked in a conversation we had some years ago.The photos from the cycle No-City and its Subrealism were captured in December of the war-stricken year of 1991 in Nova Gradiška, a small town in Croatia. The dark, misty, empty scenes are an expression of real fear, of existential nausea that seized the author after an attack on his home town. The dimension of nothingness is expressed in a relatively small series in which emptiness appears on two levels – in the pictures of the cityscape and in the obituaries "filling" the local noticeboard. In this case, the fear is tangible, free of the conceptual doubts present in the work Alea Iacta Est, which documented the fear preceding a decision (however banal it may seem from today’s point of view). The absurdity of assuming responsibility for taking or not taking a book from the shelf, for getting up or staying in bed, is a stylisation of the fear of possible consequences, of the danger that upon the completion of a concrete action life will no longer be the same.Circumstances have already shown that human life and its immediate environment are subject to constant changes, just like the benches at Porporela, the promenade by the lighthouse in the harbour of Dubrovnik. Their destruction in a bombardment of the city in the early nineties took place simultaneously with far worse devastation, consequences of which are felt and remembered even today. These degraded, mutilated objects bear witness to Maračić’s visual and empirical work on the topic of breathing and lasting simultaneously with his environment, marked by a nearly automatic procedure of taking photographs – of transferring content. Similar is the Tornado (distant painting models, such as the one which might be connected with this series, are an abstract, though not necessary reference of his artistic identity), photographed on 19 September 2005 from the same office window in Dubrovnik. The beauty of this unusual scene has a timeless dimension. This may possibly be ascribed to a kind of resignation, to a demonstrative turning away from everything that determines the social environment and the ultimate turning towards the self and the appreciation of lasting at a given moment, in this time free of any commitment or comment, in which the artist, immersed in the beauty of colours and temporary forms, paused and rounded off his artistic development, in a way.

Sandra Križić Roban

* First time published in Camera Austria, 99/2007, p. 33-44. Translated from Croatian: Ivir & Karaman; proof-reading: Marina Vishmidt.