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Art From the East: Željko Zorica

12/18/2012 12:45 pm ET | Updated Feb 17, 2013

Art includes not just works of formal beauty to be enjoyed by people with 'taste,' or works with beauty and uplifting moral messages, but also works that are ugly and disturbing, with a shatteringly negative moral content. -- Cynthia Freeland, But Is it Art?, 2001

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Željko Zorica is an intriguing Croatian conceptual artist whose visually stunning food installations have been presented throughout the Balkans, Europe and New York. He continually researches, expands and challenges the multi-disciplinary formats in which he works; a very contemporary blend of conceptual, installation and performance art. He usually works in an audio-video-edible installation format that is organized and presented alongside a controlled happening, such as the piece "KroaTisch-Amerikanische Freundschaft."

Playing with the concepts of signification and symbolization, in its semiotic contexts, Zorica lays down a table with a varied assortment of custom designed foods to signify or symbolize different aspects of his socially aware reflections.

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The depiction of food in art certainly has a place in art history, and the examples are many, from the pictograms in the walls of caves by pre-historical men to literal paintings of the Last Supper or of banquets offered by European monarchs. A frequent theme in Zorica's installations is the association between pigs and politicians, through visual approximation. Such an association is ambiguous in its very nature. Are the politicians pigs, to be consumed by the masses during or after they have completed their intended purpose, or are they like pigs, in their dirty nature? By presenting the audiences with food which can be eaten during the installation, the artist reminds us of our very human nature. That consumption is at its most basic core, and it offers a clue to interpretations of his work. Novalis, an author and philosopher from early German Romanticism also points to cannibalism: "All enjoyment, all taking in and assimilation, is eating, or rather: Eating is nothing other than assimilation. All spiritual pleasure can be expressed through eating." Derrida in his work As a Weasel Sucks Eggs: An Essay on Melancholy and Cannibalism (published in English in 2008 by Sternberg Press), goes further into this interpretation and takes the consumption of food as an act of futile resistance, in an allusion to Hegel and the concept of "Erinnerung," which means both memory and interiorization. "Everything shall be incorporated into the great digestive system -- nothing is inedible in Hegel's infinite metabolism. The figures of incorporation in hermeneutics and speculative philosophy are what I call the "tropes of cannibalism," said Derrida in an interview to the periodical E-Flux.

In addition to that, Zorica's installations go back and forth between imitation and conceptual abstraction. Such as in the piece "The Plaque Memorial" (2011), in which he had both actors dressed as Dutch soldiers alluding to Srebrenica; and a concept virtual memorial plaque -- a TV screen which changed its message according to the happenings of the piece.

Inviting itself into the audience's mental habitus, the artist usually proceeds to a series of speeches that emanate the gesture of contemporary performance in its relationship with and antagonism to the audience. While the ancient dimension of protocol and ritual that involves the giving of speeches since times long past is there, his works re-connect themselves to the present moment by digitizing their presence and format to videos, projected and/or shown live on television screens.

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The table and the speeches involve elements and people from both the local community and from the artist's native culture. By working with(in) the local cultures into which he is invited, he refuses the horizontal multiculturalist's colonial approach to art making -- using one or two foreign elements to convince itself and the audience of its engagement with the world -- while also defying the very possibility of a vertical approach -- in which meanings are built from within and at intersections. By doing so, the artist then challenges our very conceptions of world and good and puts in question the ways in which we have chosen to live together, or apart

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This article was originally published on the BCC -- BalcanCanContemporary magazine. To know more about the BCC project follow this link: http://www.perforacije.org/?page_id=149

All photos are by Darko Vaupotić and have been published with permission from the photographer.