artist / participant
VLASTA DELIMAR | PUT YOUR FAITH IN WOMEN curator: Marko Stamenković
opening: Thursday, 8.9.2016, 6 pm
Performance, Thursday, 8.9., 8 pm:
Monumental BANG - Vlasta Delimar & Marko Marković
Performance: Friday, 9.9., 6 pm:
Vlasta Delimar - Conversation on the bed
Performance: Saturday, 10.9., 12 - 15h Vlasta Delimar - Late Breakfast In Bed
WHERE: Galerie Michaela Stock, Schleifmühlgasse 18, 1040 Vienna
… nudity is something towards which everybody has a certain relation to, be it positive or negative, be it Church or porno stars. And nudity is not only the body, it is also the genitals. And the genitals and the relationship towards them, it is something on which the dogma of the Church is based. The amount of clothes taken off, the amount of clothes put on […] and now there’s this terrible puzzle; the pussy, the dick, the asshole, fucking… So then you realize that all religious complications are somehow set around the question: to fuck or not to fuck, to cum or not cum.
Tomislav Gotovac (2007)
More than any other contemporary visual artist from Croatia, the position of Vlasta Delimar (1956, Zagreb) has been characterized by a sense of controversy. Best known for celebrating erotic communication through her autobiographical portrayal of a nude human body, in her first solo exhibition in Austria she takes upon herself the power of a ‘priestess’ and a ‘porn star’ to address, once again, the issue of uninhibited sexuality. However, this time she is doing so in the face of a society whose covert privileging of faith- and race-based initiatives remains, despite denials, a deeply rooted norm in the collective subconscious. Uninitiated readers should be reminded of a cellar ‘sub-culture’, peculiar to Austrian households, and its sexually charged, obsessively psycho-dramatic real-life scenarios, often revolving around phenomena such as incest, sado-masochistic rituals and neo-nazi cults. This has been exemplified, for instance, by the notorious Fritzl-case (2008) and witnessed by Ulrich Seidl’s documentary film Im Keller (In the Basement, 2014). Continuously tortured by their own inglorious experience of a human body (spread on all fours, tied up, malevolently touched and stripped bare, fingered, penetrated, raped, even burned – all in adoration), spectators are now invited to see something ‘new’: not a nude female exhibitionist, who pretends to be a priestess and a porn-star at the same time, but the reflections of their own collective subconscious taken, once again, out of the cellar onto the Viennese daylight.
Born into a proletarian family, Vlasta Delimar has emerged onto the art scene of former Yugoslavia in the late 1970s and continued to pursue her practice internationally over the period of almost four decades. Between 1978 and 2016 she produced a number of works encompassing performances, actions, happenings, video-documents, photographs, photo-collages and installations, thus leaving an indelible mark on the evolution of visual culture and body politics in Central Eastern Europe, crowned in 2014 at the Zagreb Museum of Contemporary Art by her retrospective exhibition This is Me. Well into her sixth decade, Delimar remains true to her fearless and shameless approach to image-making and, despite biological aging, her body keeps provoking attention whenever undressed and overexposed in public. In her own words: “My beginnings in the early 1980s were very turbulent as regards the official and civil criticism, because of the works that had explicit erotic and sexual connotations. What offended me the most back then was the superficiality of common perspectives onto my works: this went hand in hand with the trivialization of eroticism and sexuality, which are the basis of our existence. For instance, the black-and-white photo-collage from 1981, entitled Fuj, Beee (Phew, Beee) – showing the blown-up ‘portrait’ image of a male sexual organ, uncut and with testicles exposed full frontal, with a discreet violet flower and a lacy white ribbon decorating the upper parts of pubic hair - only ironizes this false bourgeois morality, which in turn remains closely linked with clerical world views.”
You only have to look at her many and various bodies: bare naked or nude, they all pertain to the concept of one (elemental) body and the necessity of rudimental, primordial relationship to it, as she has pointed out on numerous occasions: “Elemental body means existential body, in either physical, mental or sexual terms.” This comes very close to Tomislav Gotovac’s bold wisdom of nudity: “Give up all stupidity, because we are all created by dear God, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of, not even the genitals. […] because the message of a naked body is: I’ve got nothing to hide, God created me as such through my mother, so what’s obscene about that? What is obscene about your dick, your balls, your asshole?”
Contrary to normative concepts of behavioral regulation that has been the axis of political, cultural and religious mainstream in socialist, post-socialist, and capitalist societies, Delimar’s manifold appearances in public spaces, in person or through images, work upon people’s minds because they touch (often very intensely) what is ‘not supposed’ to be touched: their consciousness and their conscientiousness, without leaving anyone indifferent. Her ‘icons’ penetrate viewers precisely at the spot where their moral (learned) and intellectual (also learned) narcissism has found an allegedly safe refuge: where they think they know who they are while acting their roles in front of the others – always behind golden masks.
PUT YOUR FAITH IN WOMEN examines how unremittingly corporeal communication is dominated by ongoing preconceptions about sexuality and nudity nourished by social taboos. Delimar’s iconography associated with these taboos deliberately triggers attention by her power to perform timeless visual orgasms, in full view and in public, in order to transform the audience into direct participants in her own sacrament. Either involved in acts of real sexual intercourse, or only evoking a feeling of pleasure/guilt/pain associated with sexual acts, Delimar’s acting in persona Christi de-prioritizes the patriarchal, puritan form of reason, as a means to bestow her own grace (through her image-making as a means of sexual authority) upon the ‘penitents’. By mere act of looking, the exhibition viewers in Vienna become implicated in Delimar’s unusual rite, integrating themselves into her heretic conception of visual self-realization, which promotes the liberating power of sexuality as the possibility for a new humanism. What her self-representations of accumulated sexual excitement – now discharged in Vienna – reveal in front of the viewers is not yet another image of a playful, seductive woman, undressed for the sake of arousing someone’s sexual desire or nourishing a sense of disgust. No. Her ‘visual orgasms’ disclose a great deal about humankind that is unlikely to respond to a single question: can people unlearn their naked shame?
Still very much a ‘woman’, but at the same time less ‘female’ than some feminists, perhaps, would have preferred to see her, her iconic works from 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s are an ongoing testimony that Vlasta Delimar is the reflection of her decolonial Other – that primordial, indigenous human body, liberated in itself and liberating for the viewer; undressed without being ‘naked’, and ‘undressing’ while inviting us to detach from ‘who we think we are’. So, if “the crucial question for all the normal people is: why the fuck are you taking your clothes off, why are you showing those genitals of yours, and what the fuck does that mean?” (Tomislav Gotovac, 2007), there is at least one answer to be given on the occasion of this particular exhibition. Vlasta Delimar’s undressed body is a pan-African body, neither male nor female but essentially human. This body invites us to strip our colonized gaze bare from a violently 'normative', forcefully installed, allegedly singular, rational and universal worldview and calls upon our consciousness to have our one and only, elemental fe/male body restored to its natural, indigenous state: liberated and decolonized from the pan-European, pan-Christian, white-minded, racist, chauvinist, capitalist and imperialist matrix of power.
It is our hope that Vlasta Delimar’s appeal to people’s eyes and minds to unlearn their naked shame resonates throughout this exhibition.