David Maljković: With the Collection, curator’s text

Exhibition as installation, aesthetic medium and culturological practice is one of the primary fields of contemporary aesthetic practices.

As the representative and backdrop to transformations of artistic facts, a reflection of development of new technologies of perception and ways of seeing, an exhibition is a kind of time capsule and a manifest of endured pictorial forms, aesthetic gestures and attitudes. In his artistic practice, David Maljković uses the exhibition as raw material and open form, through which narrative reflections and material facts of his previously accomplished forms and presentational structures circulate, thus cumulating new site-specific installations, collages, and assemblages.

In the exhibition With the Collection, this author is engaged – for the first time in such comprehensive manner – in a public collection that is not a direct reflection of his own material, spatial, and contentual research. Here too, however, albeit not at first glance, autoreferentiality is far from missing. Specifically, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka is the environment of the author’s early artistic beginnings in the 1990s (Maljković was also born in Rijeka in 1973), and a potentially stimulating space for perceiving and reviewing authorial positions after around twenty years of continuous presence on the international art scene. The titular exhibition revolves around a network of Maljković’s subtle visual signs, but also around specific narrative fragments and observed local references. The museum – whose collection has been built since 1948, with one of the initiators and the first director being Vilim Svečnjak, also an artist – has changed several names and locations since its founding, and has recently (as of 2017) been situated in a location that would give it a broader and more enduring context within the artistic realm of Rijeka through Europe’s cultural mandate of 2020. The museum manages a heterogenous collection consisting of approximately 8000 artefacts marked by specific ambiences, but also by programmatic exhibition events such as the Biennial of Young Artists of Yugoslavia (1960-1991), Biennial of Young Artists of the Mediterranean (1993-1997, and indirectly as part of the BJCEM network throughout the year 2000), international exhibitions of drawings, and modernist salons (1954-1963).

With authorial intervention (or ‘gesture’, as termed by Maljković), the museum’s collection is processed nonhierarchically and nonlinearly. Museum objects have been set up at the same level, above the standard viewpoint of the observer, on a specially designed solid shelf that extends along the 40-meter length of the exhibition space. Often invisible and confined to the depot due to ongoing lack of space for exhibiting permanent collection throughout the museum’s history, and perhaps also of the general need for it, they are treated as collective, panoramic facts rather than singular artefacts. Displayed on view, some more, and some less in their material presence, they are ‘zipped folders’ of a community’s collective memory, as well as the general marker of artistic creations of modern and contemporary period, which can be read by every visitor sans a museographic crib note, by using the keys of own references. Such exhibition scenography draws up an open spatial layout for the future collection of programme activities, behaviours, and gestures that will take place alongside the museum collection.

Within the exhibition, there is also a museum bar managed by Damir Čargonja Čarli, former head of MMC Palach, Rijeka’s prominent social and cultural space in the 1990s and 2000s, who remains a vital animator of the scene of Rijeka until the present day. During the exhibition, two evening( meal)s will take place in the open layout, which will give importance to protagonists of Rijeka’s former and current cultural and art scene who are deemed relevant by Maljković. Some of the upcoming exhibition events include a workshop with students, at which the collection is treated as a reader, while the digital museum database serves as a communication tool and incentive for students’ interventions and observations. The students will approach this specific collection from different viewpoints, from the relativizing geo-culturological proximities, but also distances. Their translations and views, woven into a dialogue with the collection, will become an integral part of the exhibition.

With the Collection also opens up space for three younger-generation authors, who touch upon its subjects – the collection and the museum as social base and infrastructure – in different manners.

In correlation with Villa Ružić, a civic collection based in Rijeka, Nora Turato constructs other manners of approaching the collection. Turato – who, in her recognised artistic practice of performative character, continuously collects linguistic debris from various sources (from internet to social networks, the media, advertisements…) and transforms it into truism pools – views language as the genius loci of present-day murmuring, but also internalises it through own authorial metabolism and coproduction of new meanings.

Furthermore, With the Collection will host the Museum of the Crystal Skull, founded by visual artist and graphic designer Niko Mihaljević in 2019. The crystal skull is not merely a mythologised artefact situated in the imaginarium of the relativizing popular culture (the crystal skull as the object in one of the instalments of the Indiana Jones film franchise, in an episode of Bonelli’s comic book Martin Mystère…), but is also a ‘false fact’ (an incorrectly dated object deprived of aura). In the saturated exhibition space, Mihaljević’s ironic and spirited subversion takes place on the margins of that which Hito Steyerl termed the poor image. Illegitimate bastards of a seemingly original image of questionable genealogy, presented in a sequence of generations, are displayed in the exhibition space. Heritage, national culture, and even copyrights are defied, the promises of digital technology are mocked, while the image is conveyed as bait, index, mecca, or reminder of its former (if there ever was any) being.

As part of the exhibition, the façade of the museum building, which is yet to be renovated, has been covered in lustrous and thick red paint, a monochrome art intervention by Dora Budor. It specifically marks the building and all of its details, indicating certain scenarios for it (spatial expansion of the museum to the second floor), but also opening up space for community fictions. By using examples from cinematography, in her work Budor refers to architectural features in film, whereby the colour red is associated with the film Red Desert by Michelangelo Antonioni. The sentence sequence taken from the film is also symptomatic: There’s something terrible about reality and I do not know what it is. No one will tell me, after which Dora Budor named her intervention, and which is a perfect fit to the exhibition. And to the present day as well.

The exhibition With the Collection is a complex compound and an open system. It will attain its integral contours over the course of the exhibition, and in the series of interactions with uncertain outcome. With the Collection opens up the question of values and social responsibilities constructed inside and outside the museum walls, among museum objects, programme activities, museum workers, and museum users.