Ana Kovačić, Gatherings

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20 February 2017 (Writing a Text for “Gatherings”)[1]

What is gone can only be re-enacted, repeated, reconstructed, reshown, rethought and restored by an artificial act, by mimesis. In other words, what is past comes along with the present, via re-presentation, a present that contracts parts of the past in its actualisation, and can also include imaginations of the future.

– Katharina Niemeyer[2]

We’ve all had the experience of repeating a word over and over again until it loses all meaning. But what happens when the repeated object is not a word, but an experience, a ritual, a film, a work of art? The result is not a loss of meaning, but rather meaning’s multiplication: echoes, reflections, unexpected resonances.

Ana Kovačić’s exhibition is a gathering of previous gatherings. It is, ultimately, a meditation on space and time. The exhibition itself is located in a particular place, for a fixed duration of time. But the works that make up the exhibition refer back to other spaces, and to the very specific times in which very specific gatherings took place. And some of these gatherings are themselves recreations of other times, other spaces: Croatian people in Stuttgart, Germany, re-enacting traditional dances in a new location, in an uncertain present; workers returning to their former workplace, re-creating a traditional brunch. The exhibition – and the gatherings represented within it – involve multiple acts of spatial, temporal and linguistic translation: of rural routines to the city, of outdoor cooking festivities to art studios and gallery spaces, of Croatian dances to southern Germany, even of this text itself (from English to Croatian).

The echoed and multiplied times, spaces and languages of these gatherings are mediated by memory, by nostalgia, by human bodies and human minds. In this way they are intensely personal. They are personal for Ana herself – they include interactions with her mother, her sister, her friends – and also for those who appear in these gatherings: workers struggling to find new jobs, expatriates building a new life while holding on to the rituals of a previous one, villagers grappling with an increasingly empty home. And yet these gatherings are also deeply, inescapably mediated by the political, by events far beyond the control of any individual: by war, by mass migrations, by decades of economic turbulence brought on by an increasingly unstable capitalist world system.

Ana’s exhibition thus sits at the uneasy but inescapable intersection of the personal and the political. It reflects the ultimate artificiality of any boundary put up between the two. It is an intimate exploration of the formation of “imagined communities,” to use the memorable phrase of Benedict Anderson.[3] Though Anderson was referring specifically to the social construction of nation and nationalism, the phrase captures more generally the shaping of identities by the (re)invention of the past, through the (re)creation of larger groups with which we can identify.

The gatherings gathered here show, in the end, the deeply ambivalent nature of nostalgia. Nostalgic acts of reconstruction can have a dark side: they can open the door for jingoism, xenophobia, harsh cultural exclusivism. But they also represent a potent way of processing and refiguring past and present traumas, even, paradoxically, of working towards a new, more promising future. The works gathered in this exhibition seek to recapture a set of spaces, and a set of times, with the full knowledge that this is, strictly speaking, impossible. This nostalgia is somehow bending the space-time continuum – but it is poignant, because it never really returns, in a full sense, to the original gathering. The exhibition is old, and at the same time, completely, irreversibly new.

Thomas Crowley

 

[1]     Revised 23 February 2017.

[2]     Niemeyer, K. (ed) Media and Nostalgia – Yearning for the past, present and future, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, Memory Studies Series, 2014.

[3]     Anderson, B. Imagined Communities. London: Verso, 2006.

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