The Low Season Exhibitor – Slaven Tolj

Although academy-trained as painter and printmaker, Slaven Tolj, contemporary Dubrovnik, Croatian and internationally known artist, has developed his worldview and manner of action in opposition to the dominant but inert traditional models. Early on, immediately after his training at the end of the 1980s, he joined the artists of the New Artistic Practice, which in Croatia, as the heritage of avant-garde experiences and tendencies of the 20th century, has been present in all its media- and poetical diversity for some forty or so years. Slaven, then, was brought up on examples of expanded media art, and at the beginning of his work adopted an impoverished, arte-povere-reflecting and succinct manner of expression. He is an advocate of pithiness, material parsimoniousness, of the compact sign; he avoids any expressive opulence, motley, garrulousness. In the spirit of the aspiration to economy of expression he will very often use ready-made objects and situations, and his appearances, whether as performer, creator of video works, installations or ambiences are examples of a minimal but sublime utterance. The thinking by which he is guided is far from decorative flatness or ivory tower negligence for the world that surrounds him. On the contrary, he will always give evidence of his presence in his own space, with committed deliberation, immanent criticism, yet with emotion and concern for the object of his interest. Quite often his deed will take on the form of radical participation, of exposing himself to danger, sacrifice, self-destruction, in a gesture that goes beyond mere aesthetic symbolism.

Thus in his performances, as well as varying motifs of Eros and Thanatos (Community Spirit in Action, Fig. 13) and making explicit use of the theme of suicide (which is the title of one of the works), he will go so far as to put his own health and life at risk. For example, during the performance Nature and Society in Zagreb in 2002 (Fig. 22), running into a wall, with stag’s antlers fixed onto his head, he injured his spine; after the performance entitled Globalisation in New York in 2002 (Fig. 19), in which he used spirits, he had to be hospitalised because of alcoholic poisoning, and spent two days in a coma.

Slaven is certainly not the only artist in Dubrovnik whose obsessive leitmotif is the city itself, but he must be among the few that does not abuse it in the manner of unproblematic rhapsodising, self-sedating flattery, saprophytic exploitation of the inherited historical soil… Quite to the contrary, with an energy and persistence seen but rarely, qualities that tend to rise in proportion to the slenderness of his chances, Slaven has for eighteen years, not only as artist but as organiser of exhibitions, shows, festivals, as informal teacher and animator

(all in the character of the leader of the Lazareti Art Workshop, the logo of which, in a public rite, he had tattooed as a stigma on his upper arm – Fig. 21), with Promethean passion, fought for the survival of the spirituality of this brilliant spot on the surface of the globe, incessantly and varyingly under threat as it is.

In his guest appearances as creative artist at home and abroad, led by the instincts of an Antaeus, by his eros and fears, he has literally carried with him the sea, land, light… the very substance of this clime, its images and objects, its benches, torches, boules and lamps. He has also represented the woes of his town (stabbing himself in Valencia in 1993 with a mourning button, and in the same year in Helsinki performing with “survival rations”- Fig. 1), and denounced its gaucheries, its faults, but always weaving in his own participation and compassion.

(quotation from the text of Antun Maračić)

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