• 21.05.2021. - 02.07.2021.

    Denis Butorac, 15 to 19

    Home is not where you are born; home is where all your attempts to escape cease. 

    – Naguib Mahfouz

    Denis Butorac's exhibition entitled 15 to 19 refers to the time period from 2015 to 2019, within which the exhibited series of photographs were made and it also corresponds to the time he was a student of photography at the Academy of Dramatic Art in Zagreb.

    In the author’s statements that accompany each series (in the catalogue and in the exhibition) as well as numerous interviews, it is evident that he always deals with the same topics: identity and family. Denis Butorac emphasizes that in his youth photography served him as an escape from reality, and now he uses it to return to everything he wanted to escape from. It is with this sentence that he defines the position of an observer (and a reader) of his family’s story. All we are left with is to look for his reasons to flee, as well as the signs of his return. Although the photographs displayed at this exhibition cannot be narrowly defined as family photography – they are certainly photographs about a family, but also a kind of Denis's self-portrait. Inevitably mentioning the place and time of his childhood, the feeling of not belonging in his own family and environment in relation to social conventions and rituals, and finally escaping to his desired study of photography – all contributed to construction of his identity at the crossroads of his own desires and a need to belong. And it is through Denis’s perspective that we now look at the methods with which he builds (and renews) relationships with other members of his family.

    Denis's preoccupation with the topic of family began in 2015 in his second year of B.A. studies as one of the tasks for the "family photography" exam. In the series Three Brothers of Mine (the only one still in the making), he photographs his three younger brothers Patrik, Mihael and Toni over a period of five years. Originally an exercise for his study, this series outgrew its purpose as Denis took on the role of a chronicler of family history by recording shared (everyday) moments with his brothers. Deviation from the conventions of portraiture and to some extent resorting to the aesthetics of snapshot also corresponds to the age of his subjects. The teenage angst is evident in their disinterest in posing, traces of illegal activities, and is complemented by the recording of banal scenes of sleeping, walking, or driving thus creating a sense of familiarity with the observer.

    The portrait Mother is not a series of photographs, but it does speak of a series of events. It was created in 2018 as a portraiture exercise in the first year Denis’s graduate study. He rejected the idea of photographing his mother while doing household chores because it would reduce her to a heteronormative stereotype, and chose to show one of the moments of their relationship. For some, the uncanny activity shared by mother and son who colour dyes her hair during his visits to the parental home, can be seen as a deconstruction of his own gender identity, or in the context of the whole of these works as a redefinition and building a new relationship with his mother. Moving away again from the canon of studio portraiture in which the relationship between the photographer and the subject is based on the mutual desire to show the latter "in the best light", Denis chose to show the process, not the end result, and captured the moment when he managed to make his mother laugh while she waited for hair colour to set. And it is precisely this candidness of the emotion that affects us by showing photograph’s meaning – Denis's desire to portray his mother as he knows her.

    In the same year, Denis began to compose a narrative in which he addresses his father. The multi-award-winning Homesick series is observed in the context of his confrontation with the tradition of the place and time he grew up in. Through a performative re-imagination of the ritual of slaughter, he conducted his photo-therapy, as he calls it, by arranging scenes of animal carcasses and body parts into aesthetically finished compositions in the wake of Baroque still lifes. Thus, he relived his childhood trauma, but this time under his own control. The involvement of his father, who takes on the role of Denis's assistant in the demanding production of this work made in his native Iloča in daylight by the wall of the old smokehouse, also contributed to this therapeutical process. Denis's versatility in the use of colour and manoeuvring of light, by which he is already recognizable in commercial fashion photography, is fully shown in this series. And the aesthetic appeal is precisely in the juxtaposition between the rawness and cruelty of these constructions and the gentle pastel tones and soft light.

    Denis Butorac’s M.A. exhibition thesis entitled Epistle, with which he also won the Marina Viculin Award awarded by the Organ Vida Foundation in 2019, emphasizes the importance of childhood in the construction of identity. The most complex of all his works, it deals on several levels with memories through topics of religion within a patriarchal family, the Homeland War and a life in a small community with which he failed to coexist. The first, associative part of the series is related to Denis's childhood and societal expectations, while the second, performative part deals with previously imposed patterns of control. The role of the eldest son, who traditionally takes on most of his father's patriarchal roles was hindering for Denis. The lack of interest in war stories, as well as refusal to participate in slaughter (as in the earlier Homesick series) and interest in women's activities such as playing with dolls or embroidery created a breach in the father – son relationship. And now son addresses his father by articulating his traumas through visual language codes, however with the transposition of meaning in order to convey the message – the same message that he does not utter fully, leaving it to the father, but also to the observer to interpret it for oneself.

    In one interview, Denis states that you can sell intimacy only once and that he needed to bring to a close the family theme so that he could continue to create. And as the quote that stands instead of the title of this text says, (with which Denis identified his work) through these series and re-examination of his identity the escape from oneself came to an end.

    Dunja Nekić, curator



    Denis Butorac was born in 1992, Croatia. He obtained a master’s degree in Photographyat the Academy of Dramatic Art. Apart from two Rector’s and Dean’s Awards, he also received the Marina Viculin Award, a monetary reward given as recognition to Croatian artists for their outstanding achievement in the field of photography. In September 2018 he presented his first solo exhibition Homesick, as part of the 10th edition of Organ Vida International Photography Festival. His photographs were exhibited in several solo and group exhibitions in Croatia and abroad.

    In his artwork, photography is used as a medium for exploration of topics such as identity,family and tradition, thus building his own narrative series in which he combinesdocumentary and conceptual