East Side Story 2006–8 is a two-channel video installation that juxtaposes documentary footage with a re-enactment of that footage through the medium of dance. The documentary film combines television footage taken from two separate gay pride events that took place in Grubic’s native Croatia, one in Belgrade in 2001 and one in Zagreb in 2002. At both these parades the participants became subjected to verbal and physical abuse, as well as organised violence coordinated by groups of neo-Nazi supporters. Passers-by who happened to be at the scene also became involved, joining in the acts of violence, resulting in footage that is both disturbing and uncomfortable to watch. Grubic alternates scenes from the two events on one screen. On the second screen (placed on an adjacent wall to the first) is a re-enactment of these events by a group of dancers based in Zagreb. There are four dancers who each make their own interpretation of events by mimicking certain movements and postures witnessed in the television footage. The dancers perform both as individuals and in a group, in the same locations where the original film footage was shot. The work was exhibited at the eleventh Istanbul Biennial What Keeps Mankind Alive? in September 2009, as well as in Grubic’s solo exhibition at MMC Luka, Pula, Croatia in 2008.
The title of East Side Story makes reference to the well-known American musical and 1961 film West Side Story, which dramatises the rivalry between two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds. In East Side Story the context of a divided post-war Yugoslavia is pertinent. The critic Dejan Stretenovic has explained: ‘the dramaturgic structure of the work focuses on the media representation of real events, foregrounding distressing and frightening scenes of violence, which constitute a warning that extreme nationalism, in the absence of an immediate “threatening” ethnic Other, finds a new victim in the shape of “internal enemy”, embodied by sexual minorities in this case.’ (Stretenovic 2008, p.5.) The juxtaposition of the busy aggressive scenes on the first screen with the seemingly calm movement of dance in peaceful streets initially creates a striking contrast – however the re-enactment also manages to produce an almost healing affect on the trauma of past events. This point has been argued by critic Shamita Sharmacharja, who has characterised the work as ‘unwatchable aggression syncopated with restorative balm, the work makes an argument for the redemptive properties of art, its power to educate coupled with pedagogic setting’ (Shamita Sharmacharja, Postcards from Istanbul – Through Crimson Tinted Glasses, www.artvehicle.com/postcard/40, accessed 10 January 2010.)
Grubic’s work is by its nature politically and socially engaged. He calls himself an artist and activist and produces multi-disciplinary work engaging with the society within which he lives – Croatia or post-war Yugoslavia – and its communist, now neo-liberal government. In his own words he describes an artist’s role as ‘[making] a spark in the viewer’s mind, to make them think about what the media and politicians serve us up’ (quoted at www.translocal.org/writings/glocalpractices, accessed 10 January 2010). In 1998, inspired by the incident referred to as ‘Red Peristil’, when a group of protestors painted the entire square outside the Diocletian’s Palace in Split red as an action against totalitarianism, Grubic, under the guise of a fictitious artist-group, painted a black circle in the same square. The resulting work is entitled Black Peristil. The motivation, as described by the artist was that ‘the past was red, the present is black. This had been the beginning of a work which was developed as a political provocation through the media’ (in conversation with Tate curator Jessica Morgan, December 2009.) The second part of this work was an exhibition where the artist pasted newspaper and media articles to a gallery wall. As the act was seen as vandalism, the court in Split decided to charge Grubic’s fictional group with the crime of defacing public property, and so a third wave of media attention ensued whereby people defended the right to provoke, criticise and protest through artistic practice; the charge was subsequently withdrawn. This use of the media as a means to inform and propagate his practice is something that Grubic has continued to exploit in his subsequent works, including East Side Story.
Maja Fowkes and Rueben Fowkes, Revolution is Not a Garden Party, exhibition catalogue, Holden Gallery, Manchester Metropolitan University 2007.
Dejan Stretenovic, ‘Igor Grubic: East Side Story’, in The Figuration of Resistance, Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade 2008.
What, How and For Whom/WHW (eds.), 11thInternatinal Istanbul Biennial: What Keeps Mankind Alive?, exhibition catalogue, The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts 2009.