The romantic effects of staging its truth

For the purpose of romantic presentations, a stage is created for unleashing your hidden desires and for reinforcing the uncompromising ideals.  You as the audience is entranced by its beauty and its flawless character.  Vicariously, you as the audience who is processing the emotions, simultaneously is staging another version of another romantic story with another romantic character.  The truth and untruth of our memories is a fascinating topic, for it never seems to reach a satisfactory resolution. For this reason, nothing in our histories nor in our memories can be recounted accurately for they are neither black nor white, but a combination of both each with its own unique ambiguity. 

For the present, we must be satisfied with just what we can remember and to not feel so ambitious as to take apart its magic façade.  It is partly for this magic façade of theatricality and romance that drew me to appreciate the works by Renata Poljak.  Born and grew up in Croatia, Renata has experienced the tumultuous changes of her home country both politically and geo-politically.  For some of her works, the interest focuses on the interpretation of history, memories, and how much of our identity is formed by a political ideal whether we care to admit it or to deny it. 

Renata Poljak
Staging Actors/Staging Beliefs (Set photograph), 2012
c-print
78.7 x 35.4 in. / 200 x 90 cm
Image courtesy Stephan Stoyanov Gallery and the artist
Currently on view at Stephan Stoyanov Gallery until February 17th is an exhibition of Renata Poljak's works curated by Zeljka Himbele called Uncertain Memories.  This is her first solo exhibition with the gallery of which encompasses works in video, photography and film made between 2007 and 2012.  Due to the complex and extensive political and sentimental interests conveyed through the works, it would be difficult for me to describe every work in this exhibition due to the limitation of the medium of "blog-writing."  To me, blogs should be concise but poignant as to leave a somewhat accurate impression of the artists' works and the main ideas. 

Interestingly enough, Renata in an interview is said to be also concerned with language, thoughts and the means through which how both can be used for communication.  For her, she has found her articulation through the use of photography and video.  For me, I would like to express to you why seeing her work is worth every minute of your time to contemplate. 




Staging Actors / Staging Beliefs (Hommage to Slavko Štimac) from renata poljak on Vimeo.

Staging Actors / Staging Beliefs is a multimedia series through which Renata experiments with iconic Yoguslav cinematography that she grew up watching in the late 70s, also with news-reels and still images combined with her own staged interviews and theatrical sets.  The latter, could be both interpreted and re-interpreted metaphorically.  By that I mean, the theatricality that Renata stages and re-stages in her works are partly the original interpretations of the bygone communist political ideals, but at the same time they are now being reinterpreted in the contemporary context without much of its original messages blatantly advertised. 

The above video is currently displayed at the gallery front, and through its transparent windows one can't help but notice the beautiful and melancholic motions of the snow-fall as it gradually accumulates onto an empty stage. This piece is visually inspired by the cinematography of Yugoslav cinema and a film made in 1976 called Train in the Snow.  It was a popular film targeted to the youth of a country that was deeply devoted to its communist ideals and belief in a socialist system.  In the film it called for the unity of its people and the promotion of a collective effort for fighting against its vicious enemies.  Metaphorically, the image speaks of a scene of which is the absence of actors without an audience.  Its message is as if it has been played over too many times and has been forgotten and left behind.  Furthermore, the cover image of this post also is a part of this series called Staging Actors / Staging Beliefs (Set Photography), it presents the same snow-falling image but in a surrounding of theatrical grandiosity.  In some ways, it sets the stage for a grand façade of ideals and romance but with no audience to make the play come alive.  The images are both romantic but with a touch of cynicism.  The cynicism that brings afront the harsh contrast between romance and reality. 


Staging Actors / Staging Beliefs 2011/12 from renata poljak on Vimeo.

This video is showing in the downstairs-gallery, also from the Staging Actors / Staging Beliefs series.  Although more narrative in comparison to the aforementioned work, however it also takes some inspiration from Yugoslav cinema and from a film called Boško Buha made in 1978.  The story of this film is based on a real-life child hero whose name was Boško Buha.  At the age of fifteen, he joined the Partisans or the official National Liberation Army and Partisan Detachments of Yugoslavia.  The young Boško Buha was unfortunately killed during his active duty of combat while riding in a Chetniks ambushed truck.  His heroic sacrifice became the stuff of a legend and an inspiration for young people of his era to follow his bravery and courage.  After the montage of the original film, Renata conducts an interview with the actor who played the young hero who is now about forty-eight years of age. She asks about his experience while playing the role and his ideology of the time.  But, if you are expecting a black and white truth of what actually went on, as the audience you would most likely feel perplexed about his stance and the artist's portrayal of the actor.  For the interview, Ivan Kojundžić (the actor) gives two opposing views of his stance and recounts contrasting memories of his experience and his enthusiasm upon receiving the appointment of playing the young hero by the government.  Here, what is most interesting about Renata's work is the complexity of truth-telling and the re-telling of history through memory.  What is history but records of individual memories?  And on whose account should that be considered accurately as historical? 

Personally, what inspired me to write about Renata's work is actually something in a story told by my father that resonated with her work and something to do with ideology versus its truth.  The story is about the moment when he was rudely awakened by the opacity of the Chinese communist regime of the late 70s.  I promise I won't go on and write you a novel about this story, but it goes something like this.  After cultural reformation as the goal of the 1960s cultural revolution, my father worked in a construction company.  So he thought by becoming a worker, he had shed off his bourgeois intellectual family background.  One day, he was assigned to deliver construction materials to his childhood school.  With all the worker's pride a young man could accrue during such confusing political times, he showed up with his delivery and expected to be warmly welcomed as a sincerely reformed worker.  To his surprise, just upon his arrival, he was told sternly by one of his old teachers to quickly drop off the materials and depart immediately because a group of Chinese communist officials were on their way for a visit to the school.  Feeling utterly demoralized, because in their eyes he was still the son of a bourgeois intellectual family and nothing more.  And thus my father left his childhood school with much mixed feelings.  In so many other words, a political ideology is just like a theatrical romance and one that is meant to be idolized but not to be fully realized. 

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