Today social analysis and engagement is sought from the artist, while photography, the most widely diffused documentary method is still tacitly considered the most powerful resource engaged in the perception of reality. In a word, what natural scientists need tens of questionnaires and hundreds of interviews for, an artist can sum up in seven letters.
Photography that potentially covers a wide field of knowledge, experience, recollection and accordingly meaning is the authorial narrative in which Darko Bavoljak has been systematically engaged since the early 1990s.
His exhibition The Future, in which he was concerned with the logos of department stores smashed up in the war, showed the direction of his interests. This is art as a part of anthropological knowledge through the ethnology of our quotidian, in the endeavour, through a change in the angle of vision, to anticipate reality.
A possible method for the positioning of his artistic work is that of contextualisation and is manifested in his attitude to the social, the cultural and ultimately through his attitude to the context of his own work, activity and thinking.
In the exhibition Dubrava, Bavoljak takes up the topic of graffiti written on building facades, streets, trash cans, abandoned shops and workshops. With precise research and persistent enquiry he has found seven letters in which he attempts to sum up the identity of this large Zagreb neighbourhood, and so the story acquires two layers. In the first stratum is the textual record written as form of communication of individual or marginal group with the wider culture, a provocation in public space, or simply just an announcement. For the readability of the second layer of his message, he uses the photograph, which serves him as a mediating resource in this survey. Naturally, he follows not only the traces that leave what is visible, but he also carefully selects and frames them, gets into a dialogue with those already in existence, already found and researched, and suggests new ways in which they can be read.
In his discourse of the work exhibited he shows and communicates his standpoint, ideology and contextual affiliation. In any case, he does not start of from the position of neutral observer. Every letter in a photo is for him a sign, and from a sign he starts off and gets into the “turbulent area of events” that is for him “turbulent because there is not only visibility streaming in the photograph but also meaning and knowledge” (Reinhard Braun, Camera Austria, in: Arhivi preraspodjele i premjeravanja, GKD, Zagreb, 2014).
Thus the first letter, D, a letter written in many places of this suburb, is the initial letter of the soccer club Dinamo. It is in addition incorporated into a blue and red checker board pattern and wound round with braiding. Love for Dinamo must be one of the strongest elements of the Croatian national identity of Dubrava-dwellers, and out of it stemmed the Bad Blue Boys, the supporters' club that is often linked with some form of radical politics, as shown by the swastika in the third letter B. Dinamo supporters are often given the message that neo-fascist symbols are not welcome in Europe by the big fines imposed after outrages at matches. But the symbols are in recent times ever more common in Croatia, as is the letter U in which a cross is inscribed.
This sign links as it were two entirely disparate concepts – the Ustasha or Croatian fascist movement with the cross, obviously the most widely disseminated and distinct symbol of Christianity – the iconographic element implicit in which is the cross on which Christ was racked and also his suffering and redemption of mankind. Whether it is possible to reconcile these two ideologies, love for one's neighbour on the one hand and the exclusion of the other (Serbs, Jews, Roma, coloured people, homosexuals) we do not know, and wonder if those who wrote the message do.
Having done with political and nationalist mottoes, Bavoljak moves on to messages of everyday. The chaos in parking places and the habit of parking in front of gates prompted someone to design his own no parking sign.
Towards the end of the work we can observe that from the area of ethics the author makes a shift off towards the field of aesthetics. In the letter A someone is having fun with contemporary typography, and in the letter V some hints of street art appear in the liquor bottles drawn on the door of a failed shop.
We might conclude that by broadening his meaning outside the actual frame of the photo and by bringing in the sequence he activates the manner of looking and expands the focus to the thinking process, and his ratio between the seen and the known comes into the field of performative activity.
His interest, and accordingly the interest of the spectator, is directed in a sense to the content that lies behind the object photographed: the bubbling city, the dilapidated facades, the rowdy supporters' groups, the unresolved political relations, the rise of extreme nationalism, the problems related to a confused urbanism and in consequence a confused traffic situation, abandoned shops and cafes, but also to the vivacity and merriment of the upcoming younger generations, graffiti craftsmen and their uninhibited aesthetic.
All this is Darko Bavoljak's Dubrava in a string of seven letters.
Ink-jet print on a paper base.
Measuring 1.3 x 13.65 metres
Camera Canon EOS 1 DS Mark III