Life: A User's Manual
Prozori Gallery / ZAGREB (Croatia)
12.11.2015 – 22.11.2015

The exhibition owes its title to the novel by Georges Perec La Vie mode d’emploi (1978), written as a book within a book with numerous extratextual and intertextual references. The author, experimenter and playful melancholic, characterised the process of writing as the reshaping of found material, which takes into consideration that which was already written as… a promise and requirement for discovery. In this way, one revives their personal library, reactivates their literary stockpile. By following different relationships between word and image, visual and textual imagery, it addresses the question of the role of book and reading in contemporaneity, with a growing stockpile of physical and digital publications, with accelerated fluctuation of merit points of orientation. By reorganising determinants brand new – worn out, established – expired or omitted, it follows the life of the book in everyday use, beyond clear finiteness of the point of expiry. By using the seemingly benevolent book format, the artworks indicate the porosity of memory and the persistence of forgetting, but also the possibility of rearranging time and establishing alternative ways of reading the traces of memory.
Life: A User’s Manual ranges from the revision of art history textbooks and the book on the life of Tomislav Brajnović to the collection of books on different projections of the ‘end of the world’ by Jaro Varga. It re-enacts interpersonal relationships in their dystopian components through teaching at a dog school (Dog Luv) by Ciprian Mureşan, or through the autobiographic tale on the School in War and Revolution by Ana Bilankov. It delivers the diagnostics of works by Vladimir Nazor adapted for the reader of today (Siniša Labrović), and additionally satisfies the need for self-help literature with Magical Recipes for Love, Happiness and Health based on Capital by Marx (Anetta Mona Chisa & Lucia Tkacova). The book is being mediated as the counterpart of food, either as the indigestible residue in Excretions by Iva Gobić, or as the bearer of joint rituals in Lunch by Ana Hušman. The artist states the following: The rules of good manners, which we find in manuals-books on etiquette, consider themselves as assistants to people in better mutual understanding and facilitation of communication, and enable us to socialise more easily and with more self-confidence. They originate from the Western culture and, according to the level of observance, it is easy to distinguish those who are civilised from those who are not… A similar description can also be applied to the library. In its space we find close and distant kin of the book format, artworks inserted between shelves and similar props. The library is highlighted as one of the spaces of forming the public opinion, the book serves as the interspace of individual and collective memory – a site where they both come into contact and collide. By using the methods of duality, parallelising levels of reality and time, the artists approach the books as if they were a medium of communication, contemplating the relationships between their primary reception and purpose, and their reflections today. The practices of readers, from enjoying the book to discarding it, are exposed as variable, alongside with the question on the dependency of choosing certain literature on cultural and historic trends, which – in obvious, or in less predictable ways – conditions the accessibility and attractiveness of reading content. Due to its elusive faces, the book is labelled as inspiration, but also as a cult and fetish, as the object of despair and conflict, as a discarded artefact. It is frequently used as a living organism, as equally prone to regeneration as to damage, scarring, aging, fading, obliteration… By summoning the bends, blanks and cracks of the readers’ experience – contrary to the opinion that we no longer fear the dead letter on paper – the artworks remind us of the potentially subversive role of the book that can sting, astound, haunt… Or, to use Barthesian discourse, the book becomes the nonchalant person who bares their backside to the Political Father, thus leading to the fabrication of scenarios outside of the established rules and habits.
By reshaping the existing books, the artists translate them into performative or video media, or into new covers in the series of erased or complemented, recycled and re-enacted reads. In this new application, the book appears as the unexpected doppelganger of existing publications. Thereby the existence of the doppelganger entails a solid knowledge of primary material – to the threshold of overdose. Outside of negative connotation, overdose would entail a conscious moving along the edge of binary schemes, fiction and factography, history and everyday use, in an attempt at absolution from defined boundaries and trained conventions. In chosen works, the logic of the page or moving image has been shaped ranging from minimal interventions to thorough changes, at which the initial material is nearly unrecognisable. Alongside literary works, the repertoire also features expert material such as handbooks and compendia, but also different genres that are hard to be reduced to a single-type denominator. We find the specific examples of re-enactment of decommissioned material that has officially been declared outdated, whereby the generic consensus as to what is useful and for whom is expressed through a dilemma. Any venture at vacuuming the directions for proper usage is declared questionable. From the aspect of dark humour, an attempt is made to indicate the discrepancy between the idealised image of reality and stained reality itself, thus suggesting an unequalised ratio of preservation and destruction, openness and strictness of the so-called society of knowledge. It is exactly through methods of obliteration by which the artworks are predetermined that the social dimension of both book and reader is underlined in a seemingly paradox and inverse manner. The individual has been invited to overdose with reading, in which the visible and orderly side and the concealed, opaque and discomforting one remain in an unbreakable connection.

Curated by Kseniaj Orelj

Photocredits: Grgur Zućko and Tomislav Brajnović