Et In Barbaria Ego
The exhibition »Et in Barbaria Ego« in the Meštrović Pavilion, home of the Croatian Artists Association in Zagreb, is the first step taken with the aim of acquainting the general public with the Milivoj Bijelić project of the same name. Since the 1980s, this one-of-a-kind native of Zagreb has been a resident of Dusseldorf. The exhibition, accompanied by two simultaneous exhibitions in the Josip Račić Gallery entitled U-zor [combining the meanings of model, U and gaze] and Oče-vid [Oh father, sight, eyewitness] in Galerija Canvas, where a selection of works from the painting, printmaking and photographic oeuvre of this artist is presented, with a focus on the new, is an additional segment in the work of Bijelić in the last three years. He is here adding to his art work a broader dimension, one that includes reflections about the experiences of art current since the 1990s, known as institutional criticism, art in public space and art as a service activity, all the way to community-based art and condition art. But rather than referring to similarities with these phenomena, Bijelić’s project reveals a divergence from them, which is particularly evident in the very specific place for the project √ Bribir, Dalmatia, Croatia, with its distinctive topology and history, which by chance determines to an extent Bijelić’s biography, thus implying issues about the relations of the personal and the collective or territorial destiny, and also giving rising to new considerations about what it is that creates and determines the contemporary culture industry in general, about (anti-)globalisation and the influence of corporations, about the autonomy and context of the system of art.
Et in Barbaria Ego is a comprehensively considered, open, artistically devised and socially committed project that implies, among other things, creations that combine and further elaborate forms of artistic work known already to date, such as the permanent installation and the work in progress. These can be manifested in site-specific works, as well as in processes in which the working and existential experiences of domestic and foreign artists and creative minds of the most diverse origins (architects, sociologists, philosophers, writers) are swapped and compared. Apart from being internationally oriented, the work is site-specific and concretely located in the premises of the old school building in Bribir (made available to the project for the next twenty years, thanks to the support of the Ministry of Culture). It is intended that in this old school, after the necessary renovation of the war-devastated fabric, one of the first steps towards effectuating the programme, activities of invited artists and other participants will go on. These will be one-off affairs, and yet the programme will also aim at the development of a permanent display, of a collection and an archive, the creation of which is the result of a processual approach to the polysemous thematic framework and further elaborations on the project.
This concrete hub of the project was preceded by an art history background, which relates to the utopian inspiration and often semantically modified history of the theme Et in Arcadia Ego, which drew the attention of creative artists from Antiquity to for example Goethe, Schiller, Schubert… Arcadia, which is considered a place of happiness, is often represented in word and image in a setting of pastoral games. These features can be found in the Croatian, local-patriotism oriented dramatist Ivan Gundulić, for example, whose dream, a few centuries later, was painted by his fellow countryman Vlaho Bukovac. In the modern age the topic and phrase Et in Arcadia Ego has been attentively interpreted by the scholar Erwin Panofsky who has led us from the idea of Arcadia as a place of primordial happiness and beauty (in Virgil for example) to the polysemous possibilities for responses and interpretations. There is for example the reading in which this admonition resounds √ Even in Arcadia, there is death (Guercino, 1621-1623), or that which speaks nostalgically √ I too lived in Arcadia (still used today, although an ungrammatical and impossible reading) to the consolatory “Even in death there can be an Arcadia”.
At the exhibition Et in Barbaria ego there is a reproduction of the Poussin version of the Arcadian theme (the second, 1640-1645 version of the paint
ing, now in the Louvre) in the form of an enlarged section of the familiar painting as mere staffage, just leaning against a model of the school building in Bribir. It possible, and at the same time questionable, that Bijelić is thereby making the theme current in relation to the concrete place of Bribir or that he is subjecting the post-modern fondness for the quotation mode to irony.
In any event, the historical background is evoked metaphorically in the project with the very name of Barbaria, which corresponds both with Arcadia and with the concrete history of the selected location: Bribir, a place in the Šibenik and Knin County, located below the important architectural site Brbirska glavica, the ancient and Liburnian settlement (Varvariae), which was in the Middle Ages the seat of the rulers of this part of Croatia, the Šubić family. Its present day state (and that of a number of other, similar places in Croatia) is marked by no traces of cultural and historical continuity but rather of the devastation and despoliation of the last war. In its wonderment of the fact of this current situation, the cultural and social project called Et in Barbaria Ego is directed at the revitalisation and culturalisation of the area, less with a propagandistic call for a better future, and much more with a belief in the checkable real effect of the presence of the activity of artists in real and actual givens √ with for example issues at the level of the meaning of barbarianism as against culture. On the other hand and at the same time, the place of Bribir, as genius loci and as the place of an artistic project (Bijelić’s), with its specific, geo-cultural and political position marks (in the past and future projection) a not entirely isolated contemporary context of the peripheral space, which is defined by those (increasingly more evident) forms of artistic approach typified by a departure from the routine mechanisms of culture production with the effect of a historical insight into the process of the origins of cultural parameters. Such efforts prefer the periphery, the marginal as against the centre, and set new criteria in cultural identification √ the older pioneering examples of this kind of activity in the last decades were, for example, Marfa, Texas, realised by the American artist Donald Judd (christened by critics as Bauhaus Texas for its need to rely on the tradition of the Modern); the Mariposa/Tenerife project put on by Helga and Hans-Jurgen Muller); Bruce Nauman in Arizona and Insel Hombroich in Germany. The interest of these projects inheres in their being persistent in work that is organised locally while retaining an international determination, resisting the charms (recently called the mainstream) of the global, insisting on a critical distance, without demands for elitism. This is an experimental approach that elaborates seriously considered (market-oriented only and hence evaluated as successful) and alternative models of cultural and artistic activity within the Western and globalised world. Such examples are clearly in want of the naïve of the pre-post-modern impetus of avant-garde origin, but they are not at all in want of the characteristic trait of the still more distant relative of homo ludens. In this combination the position and real genius locus (Bribir) and utopia (Arcadia) become a “different space” close to the heterotopias of Michel Foucault, the space in which there is interference of the public character of cultural activity and the autonomy of artistic and creative orientations.

Prof. Dr. Blazenka Perica
Düsseldorf, July 2007