A Footnote on Art in Late 1990s
From her first solo exhibition in 1996 until the late 1990s, Kata Mijatovic presented her work at a number of exceptionally consistent, relatively well-interrelated exhibitions. Her work from that period could be defined by using the common term of “installation in space,” whereby the objects by means of which her spatial ambiences were articulated ranged from visually barely processed material to objects of everyday use. Notwithstanding the type of objects, the artistic household of Kata Mijatovic was in its character always arte-povera, or pauperist, which has remained a constant aesthetic feature of her entire opus until the present day. Her first spatial installation, called Yearning, was exhibited at Otok Gallery in Dubrovnik in 1996. It consisted of a white circle of salt on a black square, made of daily newspaper covered in ink. A glass of water stood in the centre of that circle, and the entire fl oor composition was separated from the surrounding gallery space by means of a barely visible cage made of thread extended from floor to ceiling. The logical order of these pure, associatively direct metaphors articulated a relatively clear visual message: it was a decided negation of newspaper rumours, with thirst as a metaphor of yearning and the cage guarding that basic relation of humanity, separating the exterior from the interior and establishing a substitute for the body as a site of intimacy with its essential needs. The same motif of the salt circle with a glass of water in the middle was used again in the following year, in an installation called Traklo’s Life. Although the metaphorical meaning was preserved, the context was somewhat changed. There was no longer any need for the cage, since the poet’s body was no longer alive; the only remains of corporality were the starched shirt hanging on the wall and the closed black box standing next to it, but they no longer housed the yearning, which would go on existing regardless of them.
Salt and water, as symbolically pregnant materials, have remained periodically present in Kata Mijatovic’s art until the present day. At her largest exhibition during that period, which took place in 1998 at the Museum of Contemporary Art (at its former location), the artist placed an arrangement of six installations in a circular sequence of rooms at St Catherine’s Square, in which she used not only salt and water, but also wood, feathers, glass, and canvas – all of them being materials that denote some elementary biological need. Thus salt was spread out as a bed, the pillow served to rest one’s head, wood was prepared for heating, glass was meant to encourage refl ection on the world mirrored in it or seen through it, and so on. Under the unique title Preparations, everything was ready for the coming of the body, or rather for staying in the body as a site of welfare; regardless of the utter simplicity of this household, the artist managed to create an atmosphere of opulence from which alienation was temporarily banned.
Even though symbolically intended for an ideal physical and emotional sojourn, the installations included in the Preparations exhibition were still metaphorically perfected, closed forms. Regardless of the fact that they implied a potential subject of their action, in terms of meaning they functioned precisely in the absence of that subject. However, the projects that Kata Mijatovic began to work on in 1999 were becoming increasingly processualm – with artworks as the fi nal results of specifi c and unique artistic actions, in which the artist herself participated. Even though the installation called Coal from the Subconscious, set up in the yard of Student Centre, was still formally autonomous in relation to the process of its creation, the exhibition titled How Is It in the Subconscious…? at Gradska Gallery, although thematically continuing the previous one, was no longer such.
The artist made a series of images from her own old clothing, which she cut up, immersed in water, and then hanged on the wall. After the immersion, the wet images remained hanging on the gallery wall, with the audio background of showering and splattering, and there was also a pot fi lled with water, with a pair of scissors in it. The ambience thus created in the gallery no longer functioned as a metaphorically autonomous installation, but as a remnant of performative effort, a ”descent into one’s own subconscious,” as the author said. Unlike her previous artworks, in which the body had been merely implied as a sublime absence, here she left some quite specifi c traces of disorder; what was brought up from the subconscious could only constitute a trauma in the fi eld of vision, a site of symbolic instability – wet images had no meaning of their own, and the pot with the scissors, left in the gallery window, was utterly doubtful as a piece of information. Kata Mijatovic’s second exhibition that year, which took place at Miroslav Kraljevic Gallery, had an almost identical result. Its title was Return from the Subconscious and it consisted of a varied inventory of everyday objects, imbued by water from several blue pots and casually scattered throughout the gallery: there were pictures, a table covered by tablecloth, with a loaf of bread and some other objects on it, clothes hanging on the hook, a bed with linen, and so on. Unlike the previous exhibition, this one placed an accent on the artistic action itself: the artist and her assistant, both wearing diver’s suits, copiously watered and immersed objects that were normally intended for everyday use in a dry form. Although presented here in a sort of succinct narration, these two projects marked a crucial turning point in Kata Mijatovic’s opus: prevailingly performative in character, these and all her following artworks in the new millennium reached their climax in the very act of artistic performance. Ambiences left after the performance no longer functioned as desired places of symbolic adherence, but as a periphery of identity, an edge over which the subject slipped out of the field of visibility.