23.10.2015. - 21.11.2015.

Home, Centre, House, Platform

There is nothing unusual about the fact that the attempts to historicize institutions in charge of producing and distributing culture are accompanied by a certain ambiguity or even by a terminological and categorical confusion. The very notion of culture is in itself ambiguous, even inherently contradictory, so we cannot expect from the experts who deal in cultural practices to provide us with a clear and firm definition. For example, we have the culture of art, but we also have the culture of swearing – not to mention the custom of spitting on the street, even though spitting could also be considered as a part of the process of rural culture infiltrating urban culture – which is in conflict with the culture of good manners, so if you are not a linguist, writer or an anthropologist, you are more likely to notice the lack of culture in these practices. Be that as it may, there is one thing that everybody agrees on: culture consists of everything that people do on a daily basis. Therefore, the emphasis is on people and not on objects (books, paintings, movies, plays, etc.), on the experience and the process and not on the question of ownership or social status.

We approached the conceptualization of this exhibition from the position of a participant in cultural processes, that is, by taking the bottom-up approach of the users of cultural programmes thus rejecting to adopt the position of an institutional power. And why wouldn’t we take the perspective of our own experiences? Instead of focusing on historic foundation charters, political decisions, official documents, plans and programmes, it just might be the right time to recall how we made culture happen: by visiting libraries, watching movies, learning how to dance, knit, paint or by simply chatting and having fun – with a glass of wine in our hands – at an opening of an exhibition or a play.

Seen from this perspective, there are four different ways of participating in the production and consumption of institutional culture. Each of these ways is actually a particular cultural model. And these models are: home, centre, house and platform.

Home

In a small town where I grew up, the Home of Culture stood out not only on the basis of its content but because of its appearance. This simple standard-type building, the likes of which were built all over the country by the government, had an arched entrance consisting of four lean arches with a sizable balcony mounted on the top. Except of a couple of churches, no other private or public building had an archway. To us children, that was proof enough that this was an important place, something which transcended our daily lives divided between the school and the playground. However, these four arches did not disclose anything exclusive, nothing but a drab and rather small movie theatre. It’s true that there was also a small public library, but from the perspective of students, it was perceived as an unexpected and unwanted extension of school activities. In addition to the school and the playground, the movie theatre and its lobby was the centre of our social lives. It was where we celebrated important socio-political anniversaries and where we were collectively indoctrinated by partisan films; it was where we recited poems, played music and danced on stage under the supervision of our real and symbolic authorities. However, from these same seats – free from parental and teacher control – as conspirators shrouded by darkness, we immersed ourselves into the world of international cinema. It sounds almost unbelievable now that we, in the late 1970s, spent our Sundays – at the screenings of supposedly appropriate films for kids – watching Hollywood and European art films, thrillers, action, erotic and horror films. During our sensitive period of adolescence, we learned more about “humanity and bravery” by watching Bruce Lee’s films than we did by doing our ideologically saturated school assignments. Although we weren’t aware of it at the time – we were, of course, watching something completely different – we learned more about gender equality by watching Swedish erotic films than we did from the society we lived in (these were, of course, films of the soft-porn genre which were, more often than not, intended for Western European teenage audiences). And this wasn’t just what happened in my “little town on the prairie”. For example, on 10 January, 1987, at the Đurđevac Home of Culture, 130 people saw Wim Wenders’ masterpiece “Paris, Texas”, while the German erotic film “The Massage Parlour”, screened the same year in March, had an audience of 164 people. To be fair, not at the Sunday matinee, but not all “little towns on the prairie” were the same.

To me and my peers, the Sunday matinees were an unprecedented moment of freedom. While our parents were still strictly controlling our access to the TV, especially during late hours, in the movie theatre at the Home of Culture, where the smell of loosely-fitted wooden floors mixed with the faint odour of urine emanating from the bathroom, we were absolutely free cultural consumers. If we didn’t like the film for some reason, we would play pinball or arcade machines in the lobby. While the newspaper print – at least one available to us – was mostly lacking in colour or paper quality, the movie posters together with a couple of photographs – printed in full-colour on glossy paper – enabled us to take a peek into the wondrous world removed from our banal everyday life in the socialist periphery.

Till the breakup of the former state and the popularization of VHS technology, the movie theatre was the lifeblood of every cultural institution, and perhaps of what cultural studies call the culture of everyday life or the structure of feeling and the like. At least it was so in the periphery. In the instances where the House of Culture was equipped with film screening technology, the social impact of a movie theatre greatly surpassed all other contents: concerts, performances, book lending, courses, etc. Only with the emergence of multiplex movie theatres did the public movie screenings regain some of its importance, but this an issue for a different discussion.

Centre

The name Centre for Culture or Cultural Centre or – even more telling – Cultural and Information Centre, always reminded me of something automated, of keeping a certain distance, evoking a feeling of coldness. When I try to visualize this mental image, I see halogen lamps, graphics under glass framings hanging on walls, brass, stainless steel, glass. Conceived in the late 1970s and reaching its peak in the 1980s, a cultural centre was a typical urban institution which, at the height of urbanization in the former country, penetrated into the periphery. Even when they had different technocratic names, cultural institutions in the periphery mirrored the paradigm shift of their urban counterparts which reflected on their architecture, as well as on their programmes. First – in Zagreb, of course – it became apparent that a cultural institution can be built without a movie theatre or a library. Some new loanwords such as multifunctional and multimedia entered the language, with catering services gaining prominence. Catering facilities were there before but they only worked the evening hours, or during celebrations of important social events. The catering services in these new cultural institutions or the so-called centres functioned as a business enterprise: this was a new form of a tavern which would later become known as a “coffee bar” and which had no individual owner but was managed by a work organization. However, perhaps it was the art gallery that gave this new cultural institution its distinctive character. In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, a number of old and newly built cultural institutions became involved in museum and gallery work, producing and exhibiting works of contemporary artists, as well as of amateur artists. The development of contemporary art and artistic amateurism in Croatia cannot be truly understood without taking into account this boom in galleries which – in accordance with the principles of the socialist society – did not have a commercial but a social and, in a way, an educational character. The galleries operating within the framework of cultural centres are the ones to be credited for raising the standards and making them more democratic in the field of museums and galleries during the 1980s. It became commonplace to exhibit your work in a decent-looking space or within the so-called white cube, to get an exhibition catalogue, a text written by a professional critic and a complimentary cocktail at the opening. Even the lobbies of cultural centres were being turned into galleries. At the beginning, galleries predominantly exhibited easel paintings and graphics thus reflecting the audience’s tastes. However, at the end of the 1980s, the cultural centres’ galleries started to organize experimental art projects (ambient installations, video-art, etc.).

To be honest, it’s difficult to say which of these two cultural forms had a greater impact on the development of cultural institutions – a coffee bar or a gallery. What connects them is their shared interest in paintings (oil paintings, graphics, drawings, posters, etc.), special (halogen) lighting, glass, brass and spending downtime with a coffee on the table or a cocktail in hand. It seems as though there were a couple of ways of expressing prestige in the 1980s, and one of them certainly entailed visual arts. The citizens were buying paintings and graphics; cultural centres were opening galleries offering a substitute for a non-existent art market, while the caterers decorated the walls of the restaurants and bars with paintings whose frames were several times more expensive than the paintings themselves.

House

This year in May, magazine Globus published a feature article on Lauba – People and Art House, one of a kind museum and gallery institution in Zagreb which garnered cultural public’s sympathy in a very short time. The article would probably go unnoticed if the journalist Boris Vlašić didn’t put forward some interesting opinions. Lauba, Vlašić claims, “pumps life into Zagreb”; it is “an alternative space which is not a museum or a gallery”; “it is not only an exhibition space but also (…) a space for social events”; Lauba also promotes “the sound of the asphalt” and “brings beautiful experiences to people” etc. At first I thought that this was an instance of the all-pervasive new form of journalism – the paid advertisement – but by chance, I discovered that it wasn’t the case. In fact, here we have an example of the so-called journalistic objectivity in assessing the work of this institution. Although Lauba is, as Vlašić says, a private gallery owned by a businessman from Zagreb, Tomislav Kličko, the point of this article didn’t lie in analysing the role of Lauba within the Croatian system of museums and galleries or the novelties which Lauba introduced into this outdated environment, but in emphasizing Lauba’s influence on Zagreb’s cultural life as a whole. Indeed, the content which Lauba produces isn’t just of a visual arts variety. In Lauba’s space, you can also watch a play, listen to a concert, attend a film or design festival or take part in various workshops. As a Cultural and Information Centre before it, Lauba is also multimedial and multifunctional and it is here to inform and entertain you, rather than educate you. Contrary to Cultural Centres founded by the local or state government, it invites you – in accordance with the spirit of the time – to enter in a business relationship which takes the form of the so-called co-working. Within the cultural field of the post-socialist Croatia, Lauba is a symbol of a public-private partnership, the possible form of a sustainable cultural development, a proof that cultural life – with certain concessions to the market – can maintain a high level of quality and recognition. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, given the proclaimed cultural policy of Croatian Government, it was Lauba which received the largest financial support from the Ministry of Culture this year.

Even within a somewhat narrower field of museum and gallery culture, Lauba is a good example of the implementation of hybrid, private-public, commercial and non-profit organization principles. In fact, the synergy of economic and symbolic capital in culture – which many consider blasphemous – was first conceived under the roofs of museums and galleries. More than 30 years has passed since the reopening of the Museum of Modern Art in New York under the generous financial sponsorship of the AT&T telecommunications corporation – which later, as it turned out, also came under their programme sponsorship – but the exchange between those who possess cultural (art) and financial wealth doesn’t seem to be waning and it is no longer exclusively linked to the United States. Culture is becoming a brand to be consumed as it adopts the vocabulary and methodology of liberal economy, while capital is becoming more social, following the mantra about public good, cultural and civilizational heritage, etc. Thus, going into a debate about the commercialization of Lauba, the balance between cultural and “other” contents (corporate parties, weddings, etc.) is quite pointless. Even if we disregard the fact that Lauba is a unique example of a private business enterprise in culture, a new model of a museum and gallery institution which radially expands into the entire field of Zagreb’s cultural scene, it is still a sufficiently innovative phenomenon which mustn’t be excluded from any deliberations on cultural policy.

The name of this institution incorporates some of its novelty. I remember my disappointment with Lauba’s extended name People and Art House. I expected something more neutral, general, democratic, something which has the word centre, gallery, collection or institute in its name. I thought that putting house in the name would make it sound too exclusive and obscure. However, the opposite turned out to be true. Although Lauba appeals to a new, perhaps previously invisible audience, it also manages to attract a wide range of Zagreb’s audience, slowly but surely drawing them away from other cultural institutions. 

Platform

The problem of self-sustainability, achieving a perfect balance between commercial and art programmes, between popularity and quality is in the focus of yet another cultural institution’s programme policy. I’m referring to the Zagreb Centre for Independent Culture and Youth, better known as Pogon. This new model of a cultural institution, initiated by the Alliance Operation City and established in partnership with the City of Zagreb in 2008, is actually a parent institution of all grassroots organizations – including social (civil) and art organizations – going beyond the Zagreb city area (negotiations are underway on the establishment of similar cultural institutions in Split, Pula, Rijeka, Karlovac, Čakovec, etc.). At first glance, it is difficult to distinguish between the programmes of the old cultural institutions and that of Pogon. Its main programme revolves around the same art practices: dance, film, concerts, exhibitions, workshops etc., so as the end user, you have to ask yourself what is the point of yet another cultural institution of this sort. (It is interesting to note that among the represented programmes, the publishing activities are almost non-existent. Since the famous publishing house of the Zagreb Centre for Culture and Education, active during the 1970s and 1980s, not even one cultural centre has made a name for itself on the publishing scene. The reason behind this lack is quite simple: among the cultural activities previously dominated by old cultural institutions, the private businesses are most interested in taking over the activities involving education, publishing and film). However, these identical genres (media) and practices cover other issues, more relevant social problems and use different communication channels. Instead of workers' rights, these new cultural centres now address the rights of LGBT minorities; instead of the problem of alienation, they concern themselves with the privatization of public goods; instead of bulletin boards, they communicate via websites and social networks. A series of turbulent events and turning points in the early ‘90s drastically changed the paradigm of cultural institutions at the local level. If we, in addition to the unexpected political and economic upheavals, take into account the revolution in technology and communications, the need to urgently respond to these new circumstances through some form of an organized and shared social reaction – at the level of both culture of art and the everyday (civil) culture – seems as a reasonable course of events. The Center for Independent Culture and Youth was initiated by young people who could not satisfy their social and cultural interests within the old cultural centres (the gap between the old and the new institutions has somewhat decreased, but the dynamics, especially of Zagreb’s cultural and art scene, is still being determined on the basis of that difference). Thus, we have two responses to the newly-emerging circumstances: the public-private partnership of Lauba and Pogon, as the representative of the so-called civil-public partnership.

A platform is one of the most commonly used terms in the communication between the actors of independent culture and the public. It is a word which, perhaps, best represents the organizing principles of this new model of a cultural centre. First of all, a platform suggests a space organized horizontally from a bottom-up perspective and not hierarchically, from a top-down approach. In other words, Pogon provides you with a communal infrastructure and basic technical requirements for the production and distribution of your cultural products (plays, exhibitions, concerts, lectures, festivals, etc.). There are no dozens of official documents that have to be certified and stamped or negotiations with hierarchically ranked mediators which stand between your idea and its realization. Everything is devised to function quickly and economically. In addition to the conceptual compliance with the general orientation of the programme, all you need is an available time slot and computer with Internet access. In the words of Ana Žuvela from the Institute for Development and International Relations, Pogon is still an experiment which should become a standard in time. (Klaudio Štefančić)

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Curator: Klaudio Štefančić

Curators assistants: Sonja Švec Španjol, Andrea Vujnović, Katarina Zlatec

Due to the shortage of the money, we were not able to publish text Cultural Centre: Paradigm of the Past or Potential for the Future by Sonja Švec Španjol and Andrea Vujnović in the catalogue of the exhibition, so we put it on this link 

Thanks to Edita Janković Hapavel, Joško Jerončić, Dubravko Kuhta, Krešimir Kvočić, Morana Matković, Vladimir Nikša, Anja Planinčić, Zdravko Šabarić, Tomislav Štriga, Željko Šturlić, Miranda Veljačić, Svebor Vidmar, Emina Višnić.