Tanja Deman / Temples of Culture
The artist was born in Split, a place where she spent her first and formative years. It may thus be tempting to start off with a biographical reference and to assume that the artist’s tendency of connecting unexpected content is related to the environment she grew up in; a pastiche of architectural styles and a combination of small-town attitudes, yet with metropolitan ambitions, and developing through parallel processes of urban planning and stylistic construction. However, her photographic collage series Temples of Culture, suggests the contrary. Tanja Deman was growing up unlike the majority of Split’s citizens, not adapting to the environment, but instead developing and occupying an active attitude towards it. Her experience of Split gave her the opportunity to be not only visually, but also cognitively aware. The artist’s professionalism lead me to believe that it is precisely the chaotic aspect of her living environment that contributed to her carefully planned and disciplined implementation of each gesture in the realization of her works. The focus is on the experience as a whole, suggesting that an active considerations of the environment’s functioning is the first step to making life noticeably better.
Deman, sculptor by education, chose the digital photographic medium, which allowed her to manipulate recorded content through techniques that can be reduced to subtracting, adding or replacing selected parts. The results of this procedure are precise and fine compositions, which would be classified as photographs. Yet, the methods used to realise the final compositions, manipulations of individual pixels, denote the photographs close relation to more traditional art forms. Considering the fact that the artist used her own previously recorded content, Tanja Deman relies on two key production methods of the 20th century: montage and collage. Although these methods, as well as the expressive language of photographic media, have been rudimentarily present in earlier periods, they flourished in the 20th century along with the overall development of technology and visual communication. Collage proved to be the ideal expressive method in a period marked by the ambition to reform reality as a whole, because it enabled the dynamic confrontation of artistic materials and content. Moreover, collage also shifted the attention from formal aspects of artistic creativity to the communication of message and meaning, along with the democratisation of the creative process. The development of digital technology and its massive application in contemporary visual creativity have enabled a high standard of connecting disparate visions into homogeneous, convincingly continuous displays. This is in stark contrast to classic collages in which the clear differences of individual components are the actual driving force of narration – the tool and goal of expression.
Temples of Culture are composed of six large-scale photographic compositions made in 2014, with the focus directed at Croatian cultural institutions which are museums, exhibition spaces, libraries, reading spaces and theatre houses. The starting point of the composition is an interior, which is, according to the concept of its social and institutional function through the dissemination of arbitrarily determined and accepted knowledge and truths, consistently rational, symmetrical and hieratic by its architecture. Deman records these interiors, capturing their entire width, height and depth. In such representative and representatively recorded spaces, the artist introduces lush vegetation, situations from public spaces or various elements of accentuated hypertrophied dimensions. The basis for the achieved effect of astonishment lies in the artist’s awareness that photography is usually perceived as a direct recording of reality in order to print an objective situation. The photographer’s skill is valued by how well the key moment is recorded, but if the artist has other ambitions, the photographer’s praise lies in her ability to communicate the targeted content through a substantially documentary-type shot. Yet, the formation of the collages, through pasting segments of different photographs, based on content and visual associations and thereby linking different visual elements, sets up a fictional narrative for the audience. The digital collage advances this principle, as it enables the creation of a unique scene, without visible transitions from one image to the next. Those who do not recognize the architecture on which Tanja Deman based her collages might perceive them as fully documentary photographic images of high aesthetic value. It is precisely the clash of this impression and expectations with the reality of the fictitious composition that points to the narrative characteristic of the series. The impression is that the artist doubts that ‘temples of culture’ work for the benefit of the human species. They are closed, authoritarian, out of contact with real life, separated from nature – which is treated as an object of human study instead of the subject of human survival, nature – that will soon cover and dissolve their arrogant anthropocentricity. An analysis from a different perspective, may come to the conclusion that the artist suggests that the role of cultural institutions and culture as a whole should focus on sustainability and the preservation of us as a species. Civilisation is indeed stuck in a moment when culture becomes a battleground for our survival. Temples of Culture is thematically and procedurally related to another digital collage series by Deman, viz Collective Narratives (2012/2013). Both are powerful contributions to the genre of environmentally-conscious art that aims to focus human attention on urgent preservation affairs. What art can do about this subject was done by Tanja Deman in the only true way – convincing, in content and form.
Tanja Deman is a visual artist working in the medium of photography, collage, video and public art.
She was born in Split, Croatia. She obtained a BFA (hons) and MFA (hons) in Fine Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts Zagreb.
Her work has been exhibited in a large number of exhibitions including, 15th Venice Biennial of Architecture, National Croatian Pavilion / Kunstmuseum Bonn / Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb / Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Rijeka / Fotogalerie Wien, Vienna / Central House of Artists, Moscow / MUNTREF Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, Buenos Aires / TENT, Rotterdam / Unseen, Amsterdam / International Film Festival Rotterdam / Galerie Reflex, Amsterdam / Museum of African Design, Johannesburg.
Among others, she had solo exhibitions in Gallery Dulčić Masle Pulitika and Atelier Pulitika of the Museum of Modern Art Dubrovnik / Witzenhausen Gallery, Amsterdam / CCA Galleries International, Jersey / Gallery MKC Split / Museo Revoltella, Trieste.
She has screened her work at a number of video festivals, including Videonale 14, Bonn / Kassel Documentary Film and Video Festival / Vidoex Zürich / Video Dumbo at Eybeam, New York City.
In 2015 Tanja realised a large public art project ‘Sommerfreuden’ by wrapping the Ringturm tower in the centre of Vienna.
She received several awards for her work, including Archisle International Photographer in Residence Award, Jersey / New Fragments 5 Award / Audience Award at T-HT Award / Award of Academy of Fine Arts / Rector’s Award and she was a Radoslav Putar Award finalist. Many of her works are part of public and private art collections.