Ljiljana Mihaljević / Feast
Feast is probably the most recognisable and most popular work by multidisciplinary artist Ljiljana Mihaljević. Although it would be categorised (according to contemporary artistic production) as a happening, which is practised very rarely and only by a few artists in Croatia, during several years Mihaljević toured all over the country with Feast, creating deep resonance with local audience that intuitively and effortlessly participated in the realisation of the work. An artistic form, happening was first introduced into subversive world of neo avant-garde practices by Alan Kaprow. In comparison to performance as a dominant performative discipline in the area of visual arts, happening was a step further since it required participation of the audience. Like performance, happening always takes place ‘here’ and ‘now’, with the only difference in it being established as a work of art in democraticness of interaction of all participants according to an artist’s initial gesture or concept. The radicalness of happening is not just in the negation of artistic objects or the concept of its permanent value, but mostly in the social dimension of participation and catharsis achieved through artistic production beyond conventional division into artist and audience. Happening does not possess a linear flow, it is an open process in which artists provide initial impulse, leaving its development and ending to the will of the audience, i.e. their co-authors. While in its beginnings this artistic form, founded in the belief that a change towards better is immanent in the epoch of the emerging global democracy, had been exhausting itself in hedonism of complete liberation from social conventions, Ljiljana Mihaljević uses Feast to clearly demonstrate its capabilities sixty years later, in a civilisation and society aware not only they are not developing, on the contrary, in the mental eye of their disappointed, worried and cynical individuals they stagnate and devolve. Before her unconscious, frustrated and, in respect to the contemporary art production, mostly uneducated audience, the artist puts visual stimulus that in its own prudential abundance flawlessly provokes the targeted reaction of the public. A happening has been created.
The audience of Feast is greeted by a buffet with baroquely elaborate food arrangement. It is this proverbial supporting element of exhibition openings around which social aspects in the rituals of artworks’ inauguration usually take part. They are turned by the artist into means of transforming the convention of socialising over food and drinks at exhibition openings into charismatic event, an interactive artwork performed consciously or unconsciously by the audience. The trigger of the happening is the height of the table. As the artist elevated the lavish choice of delicacies to the height of 185 cm, the audience has to self-organise in order to get to the food. The naturally predisposed will have less trouble in doing so, the resourceful ones will use some kind of platform, the solidary ones will pass the food to the others, the socially sensible will leave the exhibition and those prone to reflection will understand the parable, because Feast carries in itself a deeply moral message. The production of wealth in our epoch is unprecedented in human history, yet there has never been so great a difference between social classes, and there is numbers of the poor are increasing. The civilisation of spectacle and the multimedia environment mediating it make abundance globally virtually present, however, in truth it is actually reserved for the privileged. This classification causes special frustration in transitional countries where the desire for democratic organisation has been stranded on criminal transformation of common ownership and general collapse of previously acquired labour and social rights, protection and standards. The society is turned into arena in which, under various politic agendas, at the expense of the majority of people, only the most pragmatic and insensitive individuals advance. In devising a metaphor for disturbed social relations through abnormal dimension of table that works as a trigger of Feast, Ljiljana Mihaljević has a rich culturological base in celebrated social satire Gulliver’s Travels by English writer Jonathan Swift (1726), and the visuals used to announce the event depicting the artist getting the food from the oversized table remind on absurd reality of the hero in Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol (1865). Like everything that creates and sustains life, food is obsessive culturological and artistic motif. The presentation of food as one of the clearest examples of human need to estheticize and ritualise primary existential needs is a frequent theme in visual art and occupies most of still life and cornucopia painting genres. Contemporary artists use food and meal in similar way to Ljiljana Mihaljević, as metaphors of complex mechanisms in social reality. In that respect, it would be sufficient to remember the works of our artists Dalibor Martinis (Tavola calda, 1987), Zlatko Kopljar (K12, 2007), Josip Vaništa and Mladen Stilinović’s pastries, or the notorious reactions to Vlasta Delimar’s performance Marička (2006).
Feast, as well as complete Ljiljana Mihaljević’s oeuvre, is based on high aesthetic and production criteria the artist consistently maintains in every variation of this happening. Its no less important element is the performing space, namely spectacular performances held at Saint Donat in Zadar (2012) and Varaždin synagogue (2013), which will be long remembered. However, due to the culturological connotations of exhibition display in Diocletian’s Basements, Split version will surely be a highlight in the history of Feast incarnations. The grandiose ambient, belly of the palace that belonged to the Roman emperor who during his lifetime developed almost untouchable status of being the only ruler in the history of ancient Rome to reach retirement, and contemporary Split as an urban centre enduring the doubts present in Croatian society in the most open and scandalous way, partly because of its citizens’ proverbial “happening”-inclined temperament, offers incomparable and barely attainable framework in terms of space and content.
It would be important also to mention the core distinction between happening and event so adored by the society of spectacle. As opposed to event that has, by name and content, been imposed by the corporate culture as a dominant communication channel of any product towards the public (which is thereby stratified as passive observer and consumer), contemporary happening still talks to the thinking individual in an effort to – at least during a happening – expand the space of mental freedom. Finally, the theme of Feast is vanitas, a gaping hole of meaninglessness into which we are rushed by the contemporary way of life and its political-culturological framework behind whose beautified media appearance humanity rapidly fades away.
Ljiljana Mihaljević (Županja, Croatia, 1969) is a classically trained painter and multimedia artist graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, Italy. She is a member of the Croatian Association of Artists and Croatian Freelance Artists Association. She won artist residencies in Paris, Leipzig and Istanbul and was a finalist of the T-HT Award competition hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb in 2016. She represented Croatian video art at the festival of Croatian culture „Croatie, la voici“ (2013) and participated in the XII Performance Days in Varaždin (selector Branko Franceschi) the same year. She represented Croatia at the international contemporary art fair „Hunterkunst“ in the Netherlands (Croatian-Dutch jury, 2010). She was finalist of „Josip Račić“ award held at Bačva Gallery for her work „Feast“ (2010) as well as „Gaetano Moresi“ award in Bari, selected by Italian art academies (2003). Alongside Amsterdam-based artist Mechaco Gabo she participated in „Le citta’ della gente“ worksho (selector Marco Scotini, Florence, 2003).
Her work was exhibited in numerous solo and group shows in Croatia and abroad, namely at Museum of Conteporary Art in Zagreb, Bačva Gallery, Prsten Gallery, SC Gallery, Klovićevi dvori Gallery in Zagreb; Kortil Gallery Rijeka; Museum of Fine Arts in Osijek; Garis&Hahn Gallery, New York; MC Gallery, New York; Halle 14 Centre for Conteporary Art in Leipzig; Ada Project Space in Rotterdam; Laznia Centre for Conteporary Art, Gdansk; Šiška Multimedia Centre, Ljubljana; Museo Virgiliano, Mantua; National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome; Accademia delle Arte del Disegno in Florence; Fabrica Europa, Florence… and 45th Zagreb Salon; XX Slavonia Biennale; VIII and XI Triennale of Croatian Sculpture, T-HT@MSU Award… as well as many others.
She lives in Zagreb, dreams in Florence and works in spaces in between.