Tomislav Gotovac

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Tomislav Gotovac (1937-2010) is considered the precursor of performance art in the former Yugoslavia. He began his career with photographic works and then he moved on to produce collages, films and performances. The artist made a number of avant-garde structuralist films, which positioned him alongside experimental filmmakers like Michael Snow and Hollis Frampton. In his works, Gotovac plays close attention to procedures of film directing, including quotes and extracts of images and music as references and homages to other film directors and musicians who have inspired him.

Born in Sombor, in 1937. Came to Zagreb in 1941. Graduated in film directing from the Academy for film, radio and TV in Belgrade, in Professor Aleksadar Petrović's class. Acted his first performance in 1954, in Mostar. Shot his first film in 1962, in Zagreb. His first collages came to light in 1964. In 1971, he acted in a school feature film Plastic Jesus, produced by Belgrade academy of theatre, film, radio and television. In 1980s, he played cameo-roles with Tošo Jelić in feature films by Zoran Tadić and two films by Franci Slak. Member of the Croatian Society of Visual Artists, director of avant-garde films and performer. His films were screened all around the globe. He acted in films by Zoran Tadić and Franci Slak. In 2005, he changed his name Tomislav Gotovac to Antonio G. Lauer.

He started working in late 50's when he made first photographic works, and at the beginning of 60's he produced collages, performances and films. As the author of numerous experimental-documentary films dating from early 60's and of numerous radical performances, Tomislav Gotovac is the key figure of the period. His early structuralist films positioned him alongside experimental film authors like Kubelka, Snow or Frampton. As a performer, Gotovac uses his own body and always act in the Ich-form. His earliest actions are based on registering everyday acts: "The action of taking 120 pills" in 1957, "Breathing the Air" or "Showing the Elle Magazine" from 1962 transposed the everyday into the public space and thus transformed the common daily rhythm into something of the spectacle. In Belgrade in 1964 Gotovac performed three actions and made three avant-garde films in relations to them: "Direction (Stevens -Duke)", "Circle (Joutkevic -Count)" and film "Blue Rider (Godard -Art)". Between 1962 and 1964 he was engaged with experimental and structuralist film: "Number 1", "The morning of the fauns"; "Circle" "Direction", "I Feel Good" and "Where Do We Go, Do Not Ask", which announced his later use of socialist symbols in his work.

The author's speech is characteristic for Gotovac, he is an individual who works independently of any artistic associations, groups or art institutions. He stepped into public space directly; radically connecting confronted categories of private and public. His work can be described as performance art in its broadest sense, and his activity can be described as a global set-up that includes unmasking of political manipulations. The main material and point of departure of his work are uncovering the politics of everyday and reinterpreting historical political facts, as well as his personality. The series of tautological performances after "Showing the Elle Magazine" in 1962 had been continued by actions such as "Watching the TV", "Listening to Radio", while in the 80's it would be expanded by actions like "Cleaning the City" from 1980, or "Begging for Money" and "Selling the Newspapers".

As a film director, Gotovac is aware of political power of film as the medium and in all his work, no matter in which media, he always uses precise procedures of film directing, appropriating political contents, public space as the location of realization, quotes and homages to other artists. Gotovac is a socially engaged performer and his performances are strong, minutely arranged structures. The concept of homage to other artists is so prominent in the work of Tomislav Gotovac that his almost every work bears elements of references and dedications to other artists who make certain pantheon of Gotovac. He often appropriates the music or sound record but he does not use the language of other authors, but in certain manner he absorbs their artistic charisma. Performance "Streaking" done on the streets of Belgrade in 1971 consisted of the artist running naked, and documentation of that action, and of actions "Hair-cutting and Shaving" and "Red Star on the forehead" are inserted in a film by Lazar Stojanovi*, "Plastic Jesus", that was prohibited for decades and its authors were sanctioned, mostly because of the documentary material where Josip Broz Tito took part. Film as a strong political means was more severe censored that visual arts, but this also points toward the shift toward more conservative views in the politics and culture, that will in the 70's result in the national movements in certain republics of former Yugoslavia, while the suffocation and prohibition of these movements proved very important in the process of falling apart of Yugoslavia in the 90's.

At the end of 70's Gotovac produced avant-garde film Glenn Miller (School Playground I), to whom Gotovac dedicated many of his performances. Many performances include the artist being naked in the public space, like "Action 100", from 1979 and "Laying Naked on the Asphalt and Kissing the Asphalt, Zagreb, I Love You" from 1981. One of the main problems that Gotovac had been dealing with is freedom of the individual in given space-time framework. Identifying life and art is also clear in the fact that Gotovac defines each decade of his life as art movement: 1956 -1967 Employment action, 1967 -1976 Art education action, 1976 -1986 Hair-cutting and shaving action, and the most important decade started in 1986 with the action Paranoia View Art (The art of paranoid view to the world) that forms a framework, a construct, a worldview that through a paranoid optic seeks to reinterpret political events, to position them within cause-and-consequence relations and to deconstruct the manipulation. "Everything is in supporting or negating the paranoia," says Gotovac. Paranoia View Art includes clear references to camp, kitsch, soc-realism, communism, torture, cliché, minimalism, irony, S/M, Hollywood, film and the term "directed by". In many of his performances Gotovac uses strong iconography of these terms, and he did the whole series of homage to J.B. Tito. His relation to American culture and fascination with American cinematography is quite specific. Although he did not travel to USA until middle 90's, he declared himself American artist active in Zagreb.

Shifting from direct soc-realism to a subtler modernist manner actually drastically changes the way of representation of the ideology that suggested the illusion of art not related to ideology. In the period since 1950's there was no system of official censorship, but the idea of being politically appropriate was very strong, although never consequently implemented. Generally speaking, censorship was much harder on film and literature, especially during the 70's, than on visual arts, since film and literature were generally considered more powerful means of influencing. During the 70's, in political life conservative currents were prevailing, and visual arts turned toward innovative art practices, a decade before announced in the work of Gorgona group and Tomislav Gotovac. The paradox lies in the relative artistic freedoms at the margins, and generally more conservative, centralist state politics, repression and economic problems. Although the art practice of the 70's was generated in an interaction with the social context, and was often realized in public, external spaces, it was despite this active on the social margin, which allowed a critical-polemical attitude toward the political system in the art expression.

Source: Ana Devic, "Reception of Modernism Within the Context of Croatian Art Since the 1950's".

  • Slobodan Šijan, Tomislav Gotovac: Life as Film Experiment, Zagreb: Tomislav Gotovac Institute, Croatian Film Association, and Multimedia Institute, 2018. [1]
See also