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© Renata Poljak, Great Expectations, 2005. Vidéo, super 16mm, HD, couleur, 17min. | Video, super 16mm, HD, color, 17min. Avec l’aimable permission de l’artiste | Courtesy of the artist.

Renata Poljak
From November 15th 2014 to December 20th 2014
Great Expectations

*Opening Saturday November 15 at 3 PM*
Renata Poljak’s work, which essentially revolves around memory and identity, reveals how ideologies shape individual and collective history. Merging documentary and fiction, her production articulates her personal experience within social contexts, in particular the traumas of war that ravaged the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001. The multidisciplinary artist is mainly known for her videos, a medium with which she has forged a close connection since 1996: “Though previously I was almost unfamiliar with the notion of video, it answered all of my questions and suddenly everything became clear, as if it awaited a form to get articulated.” 1

In Great Expectations (2005), one of three video works she is presenting at OPTICA, Poljak shares a polyphonic family narrative spanning three paternal generations, those of her grandfather (“king’s father”), her uncle (“the king—who taught me how to swim”), and her cousin (“the king’s son”). The narration—accompanied by point-of-view shots of the settings of the artist’s childhood—takes us back in time to the Socialist Republic of Croatia in the 1960s, then subsequently to the rise of nationalism and the market economy of the 1980s, and ending with the tensions fomenting in the Balkans today, a decade’s dismal legacy of conflict that has abetted the extreme right. This voiceless violence is conjured as much by its physical manifestations (ruined buildings and unbridled urban development) as through sound (the crackling of a fire whose troubling origin is eventually revealed).

Female figures come into greater focus in Jump (2000) and Things We Don’t Talk About (2014), in which Poljak appears to explore the same kind of tensions. In the first, it is rendered through a sterile leitmotif and ceaseless back-and-forth, elements that are somehow reflected in the second through an uncomfortable silence and oppressive male gaze. Beyond the avowed subject of the condition of women, the artist takes a look at the universal consequences of a lack of resolve or communication, suggesting a wider sense of malaise, doubt, and vulnerability inherent to the human condition. Yet the body of work presented in the gallery eschews defeatism: the photography and narrative in Blue (2010) afford us a glimpse of a possible, though (as in everything) ephemeral equilibrium.

Following her studies at the Arts Academy of the University of Split, Croatia, Renata Poljak completed postgraduate studies at the École régionale des beaux-arts de Nantes (1999) and took part in a number international residencies, including as guest artist at the San Francisco Art Institute (2002). Her work has been shown around the world: at the Centre Georges Pompidou (2010), the Palais de Tokyo in Paris (2012), the Stephan Stoyanov Gallery in New York (2013), and the Muzej suvremene umjetnosti in Zagreb (2013).

1. Statement taken from a conversation between Poljak and Branka Bencic concerning the exhibition "In Three Chapters" (2011). Online reference accessed October 21, 2014.

Author: Geneviève Bédard
Emerging curator and author Geneviève Bédard is coordinator of exhibitions and cultural mediation at VOX, centre de l’image contemporaine.

Translation: Ron Ross

Press Release (pdf)