Demonumentalising History / The haunting plots of Marko Tadić by Marco Scotini

“Where do objects that no longer have a purpose end up?” is the question Gilles Deleuze asked himself in The Movement Image, with the aim of elucidating the relationship between the temporality of an action and that of a situation. He proceded with the most obvious and immediate answer available: “usually they are thrown away in the bin.” However, he immediately corrected the scarcity of the answer with another possible explanation (this time of theoretical nature): “Bergson asked the same question and responded metaphysically: when it stopped being useful, it simply started being.” A farewell between the means and the objective, a liberation of words from a natural language, this progressive loss of man’s and objects’ proper place (becoming ever more displaced), is a sign of our times. However, the inability to reuse certain things or the condition of residual fragment of what once was is far from putting a halt to their history or symbolising their irrevocable disappearance. In fact, what Deleuze calls ‘a bin’ today equals a space of opportunity, a latency field, where any accomplishment may re-emerge as a possibility, at its own discretion: a generic possibility to articulate or to act, never lacking in determined articulations or all the accomplished actions. Where potential acts are never exhausted in a strict number of accomplishments, they always remain capable of new manifestations, of new potential beginnings. It is in the face of inertia towards the remnants of a past like the Yugoslav ‘socialist modernist’ that Marko Tadić decides to “make history starting from the waste of history” – as Benjamin would say, quoting Goncourt. However, this waste is not waste only because, after a critical date, it stopped working. These are things or signs that perhaps never really had a proper use and could be considered ‘toys’ in the Benjaminian sense. “Collective products”, i.e. the ones that always refer to a conflict with the adult world and each time return to liberate that primordial and original play, petrified in routine.

Postcards, maps, old slides, planners found at flea markets, personal photo archives, second-hand books – this is what constitutes the (static and motionless) Lilliputian arsenal that Marko Tadić is attempting to reactivate through the elementary process of animation video. Tadić uses these objects as sources of the past which, rather than conveying direct information about facts and dates, depict a temporal storyline.

The title he has been returning to several times in his work since 2013 is, not by accident, Imagine a Moving Image, which immediately expresses the obscure power of reinstatement and repetition that imbues Tadić’s entire work, through which a static image becomes dynamic, reintroduced in temporal duration, inside of a narrative. These objects once thought dead are now brought back to life and occurrences already way out of the infinity of events and long archived return to become topical, to start all over again. The very same Zagreb School of Animation – one of the most important phenomena in Yugoslav cinema in the 1950s and 1960s – becomes for Tadić a sort of workshop which needs reopening with all its symbolic capital and hints at the rhetoric of political realism. With the last chapter of this operation, Events Meant to Be Forgotten (2017), Tadić uses a series of post-war photographs instead of sequences drawn and edited in stop-motion. Here a neverending play of appearances and disappearances is put in action, in which urban or natural landscapes, such as monument building sites or industrial plants, become not only the stage, but also the very body of the artist’s creative intervention. Thanks to photo-grattage, progressive subtraction is engraved onto the physical surface of the photographic image, thus unveiling new possibilities of life that it can assume, while the surface is eroded to the extent of almost completely disappearing beneath the graphic intervention of engraving. The text appearing as intertitles often says “A ruined view” or “A search for a strange passage”; more than being a spatial field, an image becomes a temporal diaphragm which needs to be punctured to reappear the moment preceding the impression where the photo originated from. It is a deviation between the unavoidable character of document and the abstraction of drawing which depicts two different ways of time’s existence which meet, superimpose and juxtapose mutually: the actual and the virtual. Parts of unedited material take it in turns as edited sequences thanks to the in-camera editing technique, which breeds processes of development and growth of graphic designs arriving to the saturation of the previous image. The constructive utopia of Sisak, Tadić’s birthplace, the aftermath of the Second World War, is in the focus of this brief visual account.

Far from any sort of presumed memorability, this hi/story immediately declares its exhaustion and transience. Only this way can it profane time, reclaiming its potential. This exhausted and suspended time thus becomes what actually belong to us. But let us hear what Tadić has to say about this.

Marco Scotini: I believe your work, like the work of your colleagues in other regions of the former socialist bloc, could be attributed to the ‘spectrology’ Jacques Derrida refers to. The issue of spectre is the foremost element which appears, either in the content, or in the creative processes. There is a sort of inherent anachronism, naturally, only seemingly. However, it harbours propositions of different manners of comprehending the notion of time, the historicity of things. You exhibit old photographs and disused postcards, modernist cinematic and museum structures, radio plays and video animations, Kodak carousels, planners and different obsolete elements. Paraphernalia which could, therefore, belong to the ruins of the past, but you use it with a very clear awareness of the present. What kind of temporality is contained in such an experience?

Marko Tadić: I feel like some kind of parasite, as I always use old photos, old catalogues, old books and films. I regard it as a sort of direct intervention and collaboration with the past. I apply photo-grattage against vintage prints and slides, which breathes new life into this melancholy material in an almost Frankenstein-like manner, reanimating something which, after such an intervention, returns to life completely of its own. All these photographs came from personal archives and were found at flea markets, after being discarded by their owners or whoever took possession of their living spaces. These objects, once introduced into an artistic context, become projections of a possible future, equally familiar and distant. Time grows irrelevant and these works become universal, like general ideas. They illustrate what could have been and what still could be possible.

M.S.: Another important aspect for examining the works displayed in Imagine a Moving Image could be a consequence of previous hypotheses of time. Here I mean the process of miniaturisation you apply on the subjects and formats of your exploration, and which define a Benjaminian variation of, one might say, a ‘toy’. Agamben claims that “in play, man frees himself from sacred time and ‘forgets’ it in human time.” By way of miniaturisation, all which is old transforms (profanes) into a toy, without being an escape from history.

M.T.: The material I work with is debris. In our part of the world, certain ideas have been removed and quashed after big socio-political changes. One might say that they were eliminated by other facts and events, and replaced by new values, systems and meanings. These works illustrate a conflict between personal memory and political history. These photos, slides and objects illustrate fragments of a possible world which, accumulated (as they were in the exhibition at the Laura Bulian Gallery), transform in a narrative and an internal awareness of a scarcely recognisable time. These scale-models are here to allow us to take the position of a thinker, of a maker; a phenomenological step backwards for a better understanding of things. At this point they are simple, accessible and mobile; they evoke a combination of work and play. This is a strategy for a demonumentalisation of ideas and systems, since playing with ideas is allowed.

M.S.: Your work reinterprets the history of Yugoslav socialist modernism. By that I mean the abstract architectural explorations of Vjenceslav Richter, whose studio you will be analysing for an upcoming exhibition. I also mean Vladimir Kristl of the Zagreb School of Animation, established in the late fifties and immediately acknowledged as one of the finest in Europe. Particularly with the latter you have built your entire video production, with five or six truly important works. Thinking about the use of drawing, I could say this curve spans from Ivan Kožarić, to Vlado Martek, to you – finally. In what sense does this legacy turns from a potential to reality?

M.T.: I perceive this tradition as a spectrum of ideas, as a laboratory where I can examine the art works and practices preceding mine. These artists challenged the social position of an artist, the social duty of artistic practice, their own responsibilities to the society, the role of institutions in a contemporary world, and, in that sense, I am pleased to glide in their wake. We still aspire to open works and institutions, open from the point of view of meaning and comprehension, open to new theories and practices.

M.S.: Stop motion as an operational technique, impossible journeys as video content, the past and the present, document and fiction: you always put material time on display. However, there is first and foremost a metamorphosis by way of which drawing and stop motion (like a sequence of pages in a planner), with every image created to uphold the others, become a deposit or a pre-text to other images until they entirely drown in one another. The first image cannot be established; there is always something leaning on something else. This idea is not also the one which underlies the relationship between a display and the displayed?

M.T.: Given that all my work is pure research, there are no extremes, only chapters which deconstruct and reconstruct certain elements in a new way. All segments of my work (drawings, books, animations, installations) begin with the simplest essential idea and progress to evolve into more complex structures, always in communication with each other, in a neverending upswing and improvement. Throughout this constant principle of abandonment of ideas and rendering them obsolete, I strive to correct them and use what has value (cathartic recycling).

M.S.: In much of the post-socialist art, from Ondak, to Muresan, to Narkevicius, there is always an inescapable connection between childhood and history: a perpetual ‘restart’ which is always a different kind of repetition. In my view, you insist on the same mould, but in different forms. Your world is not so much built out of objects as out of (narrative, scenic, exhibitive) machines which portray them or serve as a means for their apparition: a screen is a recurring figure. However, these machines (once sacred) now stand beside us as pliable tools, without knowing if they register a loss (as witnesses of disenchantment) or they are ready to get back in the game (as subjects of a new enchantment). What is the concept of utopia that lives in your work?

M.T.: It is a concrete, specific utopia, a quest for practical solutions to the problems. My works cast a new glance on the ideas and ideals of the past to unearth new solutions and options for both today and tomorrow. I believe my work is more prescriptive than descriptive, a visual research that becomes a research of the ideas capable of surviving in this world. The work itself takes a step back to assume a new didactic role. Everything begins with a series of inquiries in an attempt to find the right strategy to comprehend and partially resolve the questions at hand. In that process, creating these machines or displays helps me understand the creative process behind these quests. Being involved in the creation of something is important for my ideas, and making objects helps me connect these existing ideas for a better understanding of the particular issues.