– Autumn/Winter 2006

Ivan Grubanov: Close Encounters

Philippe Pirotte

Ivan Grubanov, Behind the Amici, 2002, TV still, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist.

Ivan Grubanov, Behind the Amici, 2002, TV still, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist.

Megalomania could be identified as the - possibly unconscious - subject matter of Ivan Grubanov's art. This is perhaps a bold statement, but a productive one when analysing and discussing the significance of his work to date.

Grubanov's artworks offer a complex narrative in which he positions himself amid reconstructions of events of more-or-less 'historical' importance. This strategy accompanies many of his projects, and often takes the form of a distanced role-play (the artist playing himself ), which has as its goal a self-portrait, albeit an indirect one. In April 2006, Grubanov gave a 'political' speech in front of the National Parliament in Belgrade, Serbia. The rhetorical exercise presented Grubanov in the role of a politician (possibly former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic), overlapping the artist's character with the speaker's, and at the same time referring to earlier speeches given in the past at the same location: 'Welcome to share this square with me once more. Welcome to wish for a new tomorrow with me. Welcome to write another paragraph of our difficult and glorious history.'1 The speech condenses different moments in time, exorcising painful memories and ghosts from the past, but Grubanov avoids being specific at any moment. The speech is made of hollow phrases that, oddly enough, seem to acquire a certain 'political weight'. With a faked naïveté and invoking a bright future, the 'artist as political hero' speaks in front of a small audience and bears witness to the political ineffectiveness of art, trapped in its own realm despite making a political claim.

An earlier piece, Ceremony (2002), featured the artist as an intruder in another system of representation: a Chinese wedding album.

  1. Transcript of the speech, made available by Grubanov to the author.

  2. Ivan Grubanov, 'Elsewhere', artist's statement on his personal website: www.rex.b92.net/grubanov/elsewhere.html. Last accessed 31 July 2003.

  3. www.rex.b92.net/grubanov/preface2.html. Last accessed 31 July 2006.

  4. See, for example, Ana Peraica, 'Medien vor Gericht. Über das kürzlich wiederbelebte Genre der Gerichtszeichnung im Milosevic-Prozess', Springerin, April 2004.

  5. I am borrowing this term from Martin Jay, who borrowed it from Christian Metz, hinting at the ubiquity of visual impulses of modernity. See Martin Jay, 'The Scopic Regimes of Modernity', in Hal Foster (ed.), Vision and Visuality, New York: Dia Art Foundation, 1988, p.3.

  6. Rosalind Krauss, A voyage on the North Sea. Art in the Era of the Post-Medium Condition, London: Thames & Hudson, 1999, p.56.

  7. 'Sketchy Characters, Christopher Bollen on courtroom drawings', Artforum, April 2005, p.63.

  8. See Eyal Sivan, 'Archive images: Truth or Memory? The Case of Adolph Eichmann's Trial', Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and the Process of Truth and Reconciliation. Documenta 11, Platform 2, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2002, pp.277-88.

  9. Ibid., p.281.

  10. Because most of the remaining footage records victims' testimonies, 'their images work similar to the crucifix on the church wall'. See E. Sivan, op. cit., p.285.

  11. Emily Pethick, 'Critics' picks', www.artforum.com, June 2004

  12. E. Sivan,op. cit., p.285.

  13. Gerardo Mosquera, 'Self-Portrait with Milosevic', Ivan Grubanov/Visitor (exh. cat.), Belgrade: Museum of Contemporary Art and Kunsthalle Bern, 2005, p.7.

  14. Ivan Grubanov, 'Stages', written statement sent to the author.

  15. Ibid.

  16. Documenta 11 (exh. cat.), Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2002.

  17. The participants were Ekkehard Ehlers, Andreas Fanizadeh, Judith Hopf, Rahel Jaeggi and Tobias Rapp, moderated by Clemens Krümmel and Aram Lintzel. See Texte zur Kunst, no.55, September 2004.

  18. During the conversation 'Kunst als Ornament der Politik', held at the Kunsthalle Bern on 26 April 2005 with Barbara Basting, Sylvie Defraouie, Luc Tuymans, Hans-Rudolf Reust and Philippe Pirotte.

  19. 'An exchange between Ivan Grubanov and Zoë Gray', featured on the artist's website: www.rex.b92.net/grubanov/preface2.html. Last accessed 31 July 2006.

  20. I. Grubanov, 'Stages', op. cit.