Progression of Art
Sanja Iveković's, early video works from the 1970s expose the pressures on women to conform to existing ideas of beauty and singular notions of self image. In Instructions No. 1 Iveković makes herself the subject and the lens of the camera is used as though it were a mirror, filling the monitor entirely, her gaze is directly fixed upon the viewer as she draws black lines and arrows upon her face. She also massages, pinches, marks, and twists her face and neck with her hands, as though physically manipulating her appearance in order to draw attention to usual, neat, and normalized ideas and standards of beauty. Towards the end of the performance, the artist rubs the markings from her face, but traces remain. Such faint reminders suggest pains and scars that social expectations leave upon us, even despite active resistance against unrealistic demands.
During the early 1990s the French artist, ORLAN, made a series of artworks, which document her experience of plastic surgery. The images that remain of the experience show the artist with pen drawing and marks on her face to indicate to the doctors where to cut. The same marriage of beautification, and the same closeness of possible violence, is a theme shared with Iveković's (much earlier) video piece. The work also strongly recalls a work by the Surrealist Meret Oppenheim called Portrait with a Tattoo (1980). Oppenheim has marks on her face that look like tribal adornment and as such the viewer returns to look at the work by Iveković and to see the arrows less as marks where to make incisions for cosmetic therapy, or where to imagine the application of make-up. Instead the marks appear as somehow ornate, like tribal warnings applied by a warrior preparing to do battle. Indeed, Iveković intends to portray herself as a fighter, as a woman sure of her identity whilst at the same time examining how it has been constructed.
Video performance, duration 6 minutes - Tate Modern, London
Make-up Make-down (1978) is a nine-minute color video that shows the artist's upper body within the confines of a television monitor. The static shot brings the woman's hands into focus; they lovingly twist a rouge-red lipstick upwards and down again. Following this, her fingers run slowly over the tip of an eyeliner pencil, and then tenderly handle a tube of mascara. Unhurriedly, Iveković strokes while delicately holding, even caressing, the cosmetics that are seemingly in use. We do not know if they are used for certain, as ambiguously, the artist applies make-up to a face that is never seen. Make-up Make-down focuses the viewer's attention on an ordinary yet private activity, and successfully subverts the representation of women in the media by withholding the image of the face. The video was produced by Galleria del Cavallino based in Venice, who had also produced an earlier black and white version of the work in 1976. This 1978 version was originally filmed on an open reel portable video recorder and was later transferred onto a digital betacam tape.
The use of make-up and cosmetics in art, especially lipstick, is a relatively common motif amongst other female artists, and has typically been used to explore the question of selfhood. Both Jessica Lagunas and Janine Antoni use make-up in their work by means to help defy and fight against the idea of a woman as an object for consumption. Indeed, instead of presenting the female body as an object of desire for the male gaze, Iveković redirects desire towards the eroticised cosmetics. It is not the finished image of the woman made-up that is displayed here, but the process or ritual of self-care - of love for oneself - represented by the act of putting on make-up. Thus the artist complicates even feminist ideas; she imbues make-up with positivity by suggesting that the application of such can allow space for self-reflection, and in turn, create a reflective space in which the viewer is invited to share. The work raises many questions: Does make-up help women to show how they really feel inside, revealing sexuality and confidence for example, or does the application of such products in fact hide the real person? Iveković has said herself, in an essay titled, Is This My True Face, "The application of make-up is a discreet activity performed between my mirror and myself ... The TV message is received in the isolation of a private space. The everyday movements that I make are slowed down, thereby giving to the ordinary act of applying make-up the character of a ritual performance."
Video performance, duration 9 minutes - Tate Modern, London
Triangle (1979) consists of four black and white photographs and a piece of text, all of which document an 18-minute performance that took place on May 10, 1979. The work is directly political and successfully exposes the high levels of surveillance and control experienced by the Yugoslavian people at this time. On one particular day, Iveković knew that Marshal Tito was making a state visit to the capital; he would be driving along the street below her apartment and security measures would therefore be heightened. In defiance and protest against the repressive regime, Iveković took herself out onto her balcony with a pile of banned books, including the British Marxist sociologist Tom Bottomore's 1964 study Elites and Society, started to read these, drink whisky, and simulate masturbation. The artist's text that accompanies the performance states, "...a policeman in the street in front of the house. Due to the cement construction of the balcony, only the person on the roof can actually see me and follow the action. My assumption is that this person has binoculars and a walkie-talkie apparatus. I notice that the policeman in the street also has a walkie-talkie. The action begins when I walk out onto the balcony and sit on a chair; I sip whiskey, read a book, and make gestures as if I perform masturbation. After a period of time, the policeman rings my doorbell and orders the persons and objects are to be removed from the balcony."
It was after 18 minutes that the policeman knocked on the artist's door. His visit revealed that Iveković was indeed being watched. It also exposed the total lack of privacy available to citizens living within this rigid socialist system. As the policeman unwittingly becomes a part of the performance however, there is a comical aspect to the work as well. He becomes a voyeur confirming the abused status of woman as objects in the system. Ultimately, and interestingly in reverse of what seems to be the case, it is Iveković, the artist, who is entirely in control of this situation.
18-minute performance, gelatin silver print photographs on paper - Museo Nacional Centro de Arte, Reina Sofia
In 1982 Sanja Iveković presented Personal Cuts on prime-time Yugoslavian national television, on TV Zagreb's 3, 2, 1 - Action! The video was later displayed for at MoMA's retrospective Sanja Iveković: Sweet Violence (2012). In the video she confronts the camera wearing a translucent black stocking mask pulled over her head. Reminiscent of Rebecca Horn's violent piece, Cutting Ones Hair by Two Scissors Simultaneously (1974-75), Iveković uses scissors to cut one hole after another, slowly revealing her face. Each cut is followed by a short sequence of archival footage taken from a television program on the history of Yugoslavia, produced by the state shortly after Marshal Tito's death, in 1980, and chronicling 20 years of the socialist republic. The artist thus makes the statement that every political happening has had a direct personal impact on her life, and positions herself as a terrorist fighting against the level of dangerous influence that a government has on its people.
Cleverly calling the work Personal Cuts, Iveković informs the viewer that this is her way of compiling a narrative, always to reshuffle and collate together, rather than to suggest a smooth and linear false narrative. Her stance, as always is quite confrontational, and during an interview in 2012 she stated, "Since the beginning of my career I have been interested in reflecting my own position as a woman, as an artist and as a citizen in a certain socio-political context and that has never changed". Towards the end of the video, the footage changes to become somewhat more light-hearted and colorful. It ends on an image of the artist who although tired, is now without her fighter's mask, no longer at the mercy of a close sharp edge, and 'free' from an earlier phase in history.
Video (black and white and color, sound) 3:35 minutes - The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Lady Rosa of Luxembourg
Deemed Iveković's most notable piece, Lady Rosa of Luxembourg (2001) - an altered reproduction of Luxembourg's Gëlle Fra (Golden Woman) - is a war memorial and national symbol dedicated to the Marxist philosopher and activist Rosa Luxemburg who was executed in 1919 for her radical political ideas. The original sculpture depicts Nike, the goddess of victory, but Iveković's version had been significantly and thought provokingly altered. The iconic female figure became visibly pregnant and was accompanied by a plaque that read in English, French and German: "Whore, Bitch, Madonna, Virgin", "Resistance, Justice, Liberty" and "Kitsch, Culture, Capital, Art". There was an utter uproar at the idea that Rosa Luxembourg was to be remembered as a real, multi-faceted woman, as opposed to an ideal, unobtainable, and allegorical representation of such.
Despite widespread disagreement surrounding the monument, due to its placement in a public park, it has become one of the artist's most widely accessible and famous pieces. The sculpture gave rise to much discussion on gender, unearthing many of the brave but all too often ignored efforts of women throughout history. Such were typically replaced by stories of men, or if women were to be revered, this work shows that they were to be perfected somehow, not real women who carried babies and gave birth, but some other more isolated (more masculine?) version. Iveković sought to re-address this outdated balance and like Alison Lapper - the at once pregnant and disabled artist, whose portrait sculpture became a monument in Trafalgar Square - to let all heroes rise, and to be visible in whatever their actual physical state may be.
Lady Rosa of Luxembourg was presented in MoMA's atrium during the retrospective exhibition. The towering statue was surrounded by an installation documenting the work's reception, including vitrines full of newspaper clippings and magazine articles from across the globe, as well as monitors playing recordings of television broadcasts discussing the piece. Iveković appropriates the outrage, incorporating it into her work as a comment on the public's discomfort felt towards a woman who dares to challenge symbols of heroism and national pride.
Bronze monument - Luxembourg City, Constitution Square
Women's House (Sunglasses)
Women's House (Sunglasses) was made in collaboration with the Federation for Women and Family Planning in Croatia and is part of a bigger project. Iveković has spent much time in women's shelters, which protect women from violence, and has been greatly impacted and humbled by this experience. Indeed, here we have images of beautiful women that upon first glance simply appear to be women advertising sunglasses. However, on closer inspection the viewer reads the accompanying text that recounts a name, other personal details, and this particular woman's experience of domestic abuse. The sunglasses suddenly take on another role altogether and the viewer wonders if they serve to hide bruised and black eyes beneath, no longer are they fashion accessories.
Again Iveković has gleaned imagery from advertising and then re-appropriated it to impregnate a work with a political and emotional message. With this particular work, Iveković sought to bring domestic abuse to the forefront of media. The piece also plays on ideas of that which is seen, and that which is hidden. It exposes how greatly influential and manipulative the media has the power to be. When displayed at MoMA, Women's House (Sunglasses) lined the entrance to the exhibition. The artist immediately introduced her interest in the contrast between bright, glossy, and luxury media imagery and dark, brutal, and everyday narratives of suffering. She exposes the complex entanglement between consumerism and exploitation, and also in this work - through its title that references Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro's Womanhouse project (1972) - reasserts her assured status as a feminist.
Photomontage, digital print on paper
On The Barricades
On The Barricades was a live installation that aimed to remember and protest against the Gwangju Uprising that took place in Korea in 1980. At least 606 people were estimated to have lost their lives when the ordinary people who rose up against repressive martial law were brutally and unmercifully massacred. The work was initially presented at the Gwangju Biennial in 2010. A group of Korean volunteers sat, stood, and curled-up upon on a raised platform in the centre of the room. Meanwhile, surrounding the platform on one of the walls was ten small monitors displaying found and collected portrait images of some of the people declared dead or missing during the Uprising. The portraits had been slightly manipulated by Iveković to close the eyes of the subjects to indicate that they had died. At intermittent intervals, humming could be heard from the volunteers whom Iveković had asked to hum the melody of a song composed for the funerals of the first victims.
The work became known as a "living memorial", with the aim to always re-assess history and to remember it in order to avoid cultural amnesia, and thus further humanitarian disasters in the future. Whilst memorials can be static monuments, to set up a "living memorial" whereby the audience must encounter, and come face-to-face with living representations of a tragedy, seems in many ways more poignant and affective. As in the artist's earlier work, Rohrbach Living Memorial (2005) that makes reference instead to Nazi brutality, the audience is forced to share in an emotionally-centered and politically-charged space, and is thus highly likely to remember the experience.
Eve's Game with Enrico Lunghi
This is a performance that took place in 2009 at Bétonsalon, a cultural center dedicated to art in Paris surrounded by a crowd attending the Platime Festival organized by Pierre Bal-Blanc. In 2011, the scene was recreated for a photograph. Naked art historian and writer Enrico Lunghi, and fully dressed Sanja Iveković sit together at a chess table. In total, these pay homage and reinterpret the famed photograph by Julian Wasser, which depicts the Dada artist Marcel Duchamp playing chess with a naked woman - Eve Babitz. Iveković replayed an interview that had taken place between art writer, Paul Karlstrom and Eve Babitz in 2000, during her chess game with Lunghi.
There are significant differences between Wasser and Iveković's images. Most importantly, the roles of the man and woman in the situation have been reversed. Lungi, the man, is now naked and exposed whilst Iveković, like Duchamp was, is fully dressed, with her gazed fixed on Lungi, and in control. The piece also interestingly recalls Marina Abramović's work, The Artist is Present (2010). Both artists create a piece whereby two people sit opposite one another across a table; they push past perceived limits of the mind and body and explore the complex relationship between artist and audience. Furthermore, both artists share origins in former Yugoslavia; they exhibit great interest in the dynamics of relations between people, and express an overarching interest in the position of women in society.