Josip Vaništa

Deposition

1986, reprinted 2011

Not on display

Artist
Josip Vaništa born 1924
Original title
Polaganje
Medium
12 digital prints on paper
Dimensions
Support, each: 298 × 211 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Francise Hsin-Wen Chang 2016
Reference
P14473

Summary

Deposition 1986 is a series of twelve black-and-white ink jet prints. Each square image was printed in 2011 using Epson Ultrachrome K3 Ink from an Epson Stylus Pro 4880 printer, at the centre of a white A4-size sheet of 324g Epson Traditional Photo Paper. The prints are to be shown in an order set by the artist, as indicated by a number written on the reverse of each one. The series documents a performative action of the same name that took place in Jelenovac Forest in Zagreb, Yugoslavia (now Croatia) in 1986. The sequence of photographs shows three middle-aged men carrying a painted canvas through a snow-covered, wooded landscape. All three people are dressed in thick winter coats and hats, but in each scene the men are shown with their backs to the camera and their faces obscured. The men approach the camera, before resting the canvas in the snow, propped up against a tree. The men are then shown observing the work, gesticulating, and one of the group lays down in the snow in front of the painting. The men later retrace their steps, walking away from the camera down a tree-lined path, and in the last two photographs the painting is shown alone in the landscape. In the last image, the levels of snow around the painting have increased and a thin covering of snow has almost obscured the dark line painted across the canvas.

The action Deposition was initiated by Vaništa and performed by him with Radoslav Putar (1929–1994), a former director of the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb, and the painter Marijan Jevšovar (1922–1998). While known as Deposition in English, the original title of the action in Croatian – Polaganje slike u snijeg – could more closely be translated as ‘laying the painting in the snow’. At the centre of the work is Vaništa’s painting Black Line on a Silver Background 1965 (now lost). Vaništa planned the scenario, in which the painting was to be carried through Jelenovac Forest and left in the snow. The three men returned to the site on several occasions after some days had passed, to observe how the painting had become covered in snow, until the canvas had entirely disappeared from view. The artist intended this action as an investigation of the spaces reserved for artworks, and the importance attached to their condition and sustainability. The art critic and curator Branka Stipancic described how, ‘This uncommon and absurd situation is so poignant that we wonder whether rooms or museums are really the natural setting for the painting. We might then think of the vanishing of the painting in the whiteness, its destruction, its departure into Nothing, of the “immaterial sensibility” that we can find there in most of Vaništa’s work.’ (Stipancic 2007, p.178.)

Vaništa, Putar and Jevšovar were all founder members of Gorgona, an informal group of artists and theorists that gathered in Zagreb between 1959 and 1966. The Croatian curator and writer Leonida Kovac has referred to the artists as ‘a protoconceptual group, since its method of acting was akin to what was called conceptual art a decade later in the discourse of art theory’ (Kovac 2003, p.283). Gorgona organised exhibitions, operated a gallery and, between 1961 and 1966, published an eponymous magazine. Referred to by the group as an ‘anti-magazine,’ Gorgona advocated the abandonment of material works of art. The group was especially known for organising a series of performative actions. These were discrete events, not clearly perceptible as artistic interventions to external observers, involving activities such as walking in public spaces, regarding nature and playing football. Photography played a key role in the performative strategy of the Gorgona artists, with their meetings frequently documented by photographer Branko Balic. Explaining this characteristic of their practice, Leonida Kovac has written: ‘The demise [in the late 1960s and during the 1970s] of the modernist claim for the purity of a particular art, or more precisely medium, combined with attempts at the deconstruction of the institutional framework by which the notion of art had been defined meant that photography gained recognition as the vehicle for the performative power of the statement.’ (Kovac 2003, p.285.)

The scenario for Deposition is in keeping with much of Vaništa’s practice and other actions by Gorgona. Having graduated in painting from the Zagreb Academy of Fine Arts in 1950, Vaništa’s canvases and graphic works became increasingly abstracted during the late 1950s, until he embraced a minimalist practice in the 1960s. Seeking a ‘symbolic abolition of temporal and spatial perspective’ (Beroš 2013, p.21), Vaništa was particularly fascinated by the process of vanishing, in line with the iconoclastic impulses of contemporaneous neo-avant-garde practitioners across Eastern Europe. In his work on paper 13 Instructions on How to Read the Draft 1961 (Marinko Sudac Collection, Zagreb), Vaništa codified his understanding of Gorgona’s aims: ‘The Gorgona are for absolute transience in art ... The Gorgona do not demand that art should result in an artwork or anything else.’ (Translated by Branka Stipancic, http://www.openspace-zkp.org/2013/en/projects.php?y=2012&p=46.)

Deposition took place in 1986, twenty years after Gorgona had ceased to formally operate as a collective. However Vaništa continued to organise meetings and performances with former Gorgona members. This period has become known as ‘Postgorgona’, and Vaništa used that term as the title of a xeroxed magazine that he self-published in twelve issues between 1985 and 1986. The performance of Deposition was recorded in a series of photographs by Jevšovar’s son. The camera films were then given to Vaništa to enable him to publish several of the photographs in Postgorgona. Two photographs of Deposition were initially reproduced in issue seven of the magazine (published 7 May 1986), alongside drawings of winter landscapes by Vaništa. In the subsequent issue (published June 1986), further details of the action were included. Four photographs from the series, three of which show Black Line on a Silver Background laying in the snow, were reproduced together with an advertisement for the sale of the painting. A photograph of an installation by American artist Dan Graham (born1942), that showed glass structures placed in a forest landscape in winter, was also reproduced in Postgorgona no.8, thereby situating his work in dialogue with Deposition. The results of Vaništa’s action were recorded by the art historian, curator and producer Dunja Blaževic in the winter of 1986 for the television documentary 5 Artists and Gorgona (‘5 umjetnika i Gorgona’). Marijan Jevšovar led Blaževic and a film crew to the place in Jelenovac Forest where the painting was left, and Blaževic recalled that the painting ‘existed undetected by anyone for years’ (Dunja Blaževic, ‘Painting in the Forest’, translated by Iva Polak, in Beroš 2013, p.139).

Soon after the photographs of Deposition were reproduced in Postgorgona, an unknown number of prints were made that are now held in private collections. In 2006 Vaništa allowed eight of the photographs to be reprinted on the occasion of his solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana. The photographs remain in the museum’s permanent collection. In 2011, on the occasion of the exhibition Gorgona at galerie frank elbaz, Paris, Vaništa selected the twelve photographs which he believes to give the best representation of the performance. In collaboration with the exhibition’s curator, Zarko Vijatovic, Vaništa printed three copies of this series using scans from the vintage Kodak Tri-3 400 ISO 6 x 6-inch negatives, of which the copy in Tate’s collection is the third.

Further reading
Leonida Kovac, ‘(Im)possible Photographs’, in Dubravka Djuric and Miško Šuvakovic (eds.), Impossible Histories: Historical Avant-gardes, Neo-avant-gardes, and Post-avant-gardes in Yugoslavia, 1918–1991, Cambridge 2003, pp.270–92.
Branka Stipancic (ed.), Josip Vaništa: Vrijeme Gorgone i Postgorgone / The Time of Gorgona and Post-Gorgona, Zagreb 2007, reproduced pp.108–11.
Nada Beroš (ed.), Josip Vaništa: Ukidanje Retrospektive / Abolition of Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb 2013, reproduced p.136.

Julia Tatiana Bailey
March 2016

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