Renata Poljak is a prominent Croatian mid-generation artist working mostly in the media of video, film, photography and installation. Poljak’s work refers to both local and global political, economic and social phenomena.
At the Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Renata Poljak will present two video works, Partenza (2016) and Yet Another Departure (2018). Yet Another Departure is a three-channel video installation that will premiere on this occasion. Since Poljak often uses documentary and archival materials for production of her works, and also particular phenomena she tries to isolate and transform into complex and intriguing motifs, these two videos are formally and symbolically concerned with the notion of island that the artist aims to examine through understanding of the ontological position of a site in relation to the rest of the world.
The video Partenza (Italian for departure; the term in use in many island and coastal dialects of Croatian) and Yet Another Departure are filmed on two islands in the Adriatic sea. Partenza is shot at the island of Brač, and Yet Another Departure on the Brioni islands, where the official summer residence of Marshal Tito was located from 1947 to 1980, well kept from the eyes of the public, and visited by almost every major world statesman of the day. In both videos one sees the same actress as a common rather symbolical than narrative thread between the two; she is there to put the stress on the main character―the sea portrayed as a site and a subject of political and emotional relevance.
Drawing on current migrants’ and refugees’ stories, the situations repeating throughout the history, Partenza points to the human condition as a fragile and susceptible to political, economic and social changes. Partenza refers to the early years of the beginning of the 20th century when the golden fever called Tierra del Fuego attracted thousands of Croats from the Dalmatian islands to embark on the pursuit of happiness at the Argentinean and Chilean coastline. The work Yet Another Departure is about the event that took place a hundred years later, when in 2016 an admiral ship called “Vis”, the leading and the single most important vessel of the Yugoslav Navy, was purposefully sunk down to play the part of a diving attraction.
The weight of history is evident in both of the works. In Partenza, the camera focuses on minutiae aspects of waiting with characters that register the aftermath of trauma eliciting empathy for what lies in and out of the frame. The politics of waiting are a key aspect of Partenza as there is direct gender imbalance between those who had the opportunity to leave and those who had to stay behind. While today’s situation is seemingly different (in Yet Another Departure), the soft power constellation stays the same. Partenza is a story of exclusion told through aesthetic employment of abstractions and absence. Yet Another Departure follows the same line of thought with some different premises.
Reexamining the historic and superficial remoteness of the sea, the pieces do not rely on a completely fixed narrative but rather unfold in shifting story that pays close attention to the articulation of space with room for contemplation. The location itself equally becomes subject matter.
Renata Poljak graduated at the School of Fine Arts in Split and got her MFA at the École Régionale des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, France. Her works have been shown at numerous national and international solo and group exhibitions, biennials and film festivals. She received many awards, like Golden Black Box for the best short film at Berlin Black Box Festival held in Babylon Cinema in 2006, or the T-HT award – one of the most important contemporary art awards in Croatia, in 2012. In 2002 she was a visiting artist at San Francisco Art Institute, and in 2008 she has been selected for Art In General residency program in New York. She was also a resident in Cité des Arts and in Recollets in Paris. In 2010 Poljak screened her films in the program of Prospective Cinema (Prospectif Cinéma) at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and in October 2012 at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris. In 2013 her solo show Uncertain Memories in NYC was selected as the best in show by Village Voice. A retrospective of her work was featured in 2014 in Montreal, Canada, shaped as the two parallel solo exhibitions in the art centers Occurence and Optica. Recent group shows include exhibitions such as Prophetia at the Fundazio Joan Miro in Barcelona and Stories from the Edge at the Kunsthaus Graz. In 2016 she had two major museum shows in Croatia, Paris and in Danubiana Art Museum in Bratislava, featuring her newest project Partenza. In 2017 her artist book entitled Don’t Turn Your Back On Me was published by Verlag für moderne Kunst GmbH, Vienna.