preface / Kristina Restović:

“I don’t get inspired, I get curious”. This is how Kristina Restović answered, when asked about the nature of her creative process. Curiosity is an irreplaceable incentive for creative thinking. Looking from the artistic perspective, curiosity is what guarantees vivid artistic vision, it drives towards research, quest for new solutions, does not accept limitations and safe choices. When curious mind unites with constant work, as is the case with Kristina Restović, exceptionally rich and interesting body of work is the only possible result.

Kristina Restović is an artist who has in the last couple of years gained a recognizable status within the field of contemporary printmaking in Croatia. She has been recognized by experts and wider audience alike for her combination of persevering research of medium and distinguishable motifs. Experiment, being the core of her work, is directed towards the process of printmaking. Although her nearly alchemic dedication to traditional technique always keeps her close to the intaglio print, she can by no means be considered a traditional graphic artist. She freely uses photography, silkscreen, digital technology etc. A good example of such free artistic vision can be seen in the work from 2006 entitled Driving where she used the actual impression of a car tire as a matrix.

In her work Kristina often takes motifs from everyday life or popular culture and with specific associative links connects them in series. Motifs are simple, unpretentious and often funny. Thinking as a typical printmaker, in creating series she repeats motifs, examines and changes them. During this process the motifs, whether T-shirts, bags or robots, gain wider narrative and associative characteristics that often, although never literally, introduce emotion or some segment of real life story.

Although works that have been selected for this exhibition are organized in three separate groups, they are connected by the same motif – a robot. But, not to be misunderstood, these are not images of robots, but of robot toys that were typical for 1950s and 1960s. Such selection of motif does not surprise when we consider Kristina’s usual practice of reaching into somewhat nostalgic registers of memory. In May 2013 she named her exhibition in Salon Galić Robotics, thus innitiating a play of dichotomous pairs that characterises the whole series. The title does not refer to a scientific discipline, not even to common collaboration between science and art, but to the images of toys produced in traditional media of printmaking and watercolour. This strategy of combining the uncombinable is particularly important in the treatment of watercolours. As Toni Horvatić has noticed in the foreword to the exhibition, the artist demystifies prejudices about watercolours and brings a “turn in belief that robots were created in technology much stronger than watercolour”. In the context of Kristina’s work, the watercolours represent a break that is caused by different rules demanded by the new technique. However, this choice becomes understandable as we recollect her need and wish for experiment which becomes the most challenging when it remains within the same theme, but with altered rules.

Probably the best example depicting Kristina’s process of work can be found in the exhibited print series entitled Portraits and Fred (2013). She is using a combination of etching, aquatint and drypoint and the actual prints looks very much like traditional print. However, using thematic turn she distances herself from the medium due to the fact that portraits were historically mostly reserved for painting, sculpture and later photography. This becomes the process of exchange and overlapping of old and new media. The fact that these are the portraits of robot toys and not people, further accentuates the ludic component of the work. While creating the portrait gallery of “protagonists” that can also be recognized in other works at the exhibition, Kristina includes two prints that signifcantly differ from the rest. The Moon and the poster for the hit called Guarda che luna by Fred Buscaglione, an Italian star from 1950s, represent a link to the Robots and the Moon series and provide a narrative frame for the possible deciphering of the whole story. Kristina Restović usually uses clear narration, but never insists on strong structure and literal meaning. She prefers to give a hint and leave the possibility of further reading to the observer. This strategy is especially visible in the Robots and the Moon (2013.) series. Robots, introduced through watercolours and prints, start telling their story in filmic sequences. Their humanlike qualities are most explicit in these works. One cannot but identify with the confused, angry, lost or merely tired protagonists of this unusual story. The author’s skill and easiness of mastering the medium can be seen through the technique used for creation of these works. Traditional paper is replaced by aluminium sheets, moons are screen printed and robots are painted with primers in various shades of grey. Combination of painting and printing on a metal surface has resulted in unusual compositions. By connecting the high-gloss of the metal with matte paint, large dimensions of works and nearly immaterial quality they gain when mounted on the gallery walls, the artist reveals the dynamic various layers of all of her works.

We cannot fully comprehend the artistic work of Kristina Restović without looking into the contemporary printmaking scene in Croatia. Over the last few years, the number of exhibitions promoting print has increased – besides the traditional exhibitions organized by the Department of Prints and Drawings of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts (from Zagreb prints exhibitions, through Yugoslavian to Croatian prints triennials), extremely active scene exists in Rijeka and biennial events organized in Split and Osijek have also matured (Splitgraphic has been organized since 2003 and Dani grafike since 2004). Obviously, this often undervalued and neglected medium is being re-established to the position it deserves. Works of numerous younger artists, Kristina being one of them, are based on the creative possibility of this medium, on the modernization of the traditional techniques and readiness to experiment. Lovorka Magaš Bilandžić, a Croatian art historian, has given a very interesting selection of such artists at the exhibition entitled Contemporary Croatian Graphic Arts Scene / Challenging the Medium organized in February 2013 at the Gallery of Fine Arts in Osijek. Besides Kristina Restović, works by Igor Čabraja, Mario Čaušić, Celestina Vičević and Silvio Vujičić were presented. What became obvious is the fact that there existed a number of authors that “perceive the medium in expanded field” , play with the limitations of the medium, sometimes annul multiplicity as its basic feature, form objects, installations and other. They are creating a very active medium that, with its dynamic relation between traditional and contemporary, forms one intriguing segment of contemporary art production in Croatia.

Jasminka Babić

preface / Nikola Ukić:

In the late 19th century, European sculpture went through various dynamic processes that modernized its artistic expression, which resulted in numerous -isms of the 20th century, with all their diversity, multiplicity, and pluralism. Among other things, the notion of sculpture was extended to include objects, installations, ready-mades, assemblages, and other artistic forms. Contemporary sculpture now evolves in different directions as a result of the dynamic processes of questioning, thematizing, and radicalizing the very notion of sculpture. Nikola Ukić belongs to those sculptors who have the tendency to explore and experiment, to use non-classical materials and working methods, and to appropriate objects from everyday life, thereby questioning or negating the traditional aura of an artwork.

Having completed his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, which he attended in the late 1990s, Ukić continued his education in the far more inspiring setting of the Düsseldorf Academy (2000 -2004). Better working conditions and access to various opportunities to explore different sculptural procedures and materials determined his further professional formation. It was already during his studies at the Düsseldorf Academy that he excelled in creativity and exploratory spirit, developing an interest in working with polyurethane, a material of the modern age which has a broad application in architecture, industry, and objects of everyday use. In those years, there was a younger generation of artists from Rijeka who showed exceptional vitality and innovation in their work. They first presented it at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Rijeka in 2003, at an exhibition called “Emerging Artists,” which featured various artists who have meanwhile become prominent and internationally acknowledged, such as David Maljković, Igor Eškinja, Nemanja Cvijanović, Nikola Ukić, and others. Ukić’s artworks were purchased by the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art after the exhibition for its Collection of Sculpture. This was certainly encouraging for a young sculptor, who would soon win several scholarships and international residences, and begin to search more assertively for his own place on the European sculptural scene.

Ukić’s choice of materials depends on their potential for change during the sculptural process, in which they are transformed or even materialized. His radical sculptural procedure – to develop the sculptural form in the process of creating the material – is particularly evident in his treatment of polyurethane, a material whose features he explores with particular enthusiasm. During the brief process of casting, Ukić guides the expanding material in various directions with the help of cloth, foil, or holders, whereby intervention is possible only during that brief period of time when the material is in between two aggregate states. In this process of sculpting, both the form and the material are equally primordial; they engage in a dialogue with each other. Therefore, the final sculptures preserve the creative spirit, revealing spontaneous action, creativity, and a liberal license to creation.

For his exhibition at Art Gallery Split, Ukić has selected artworks that testify of a synthesis of numerous conceptual, formal, and material specificities, for which purpose he has developed his own, personal techniques. They result from an innovative approach in which he has fused several visual disciplines, such as photography, performance, sculpture, and installation. He spills polyurethane onto the foil that has previously been treated with visual motives. On this flexible negative, polyurethane can expand uncontrollably, merging with the applied image while hardening and thereby adopting a sculptural form that carries the image at the same time. Unlike the classical sculptural process, in which the sculptor carefully shapes the form, while the material precedes the process of formation, here both the material and the form are created in a processual dialogue between the movements of the sculptor’s body and the barely predictable expansion of the material. The synthesis of sculpture, visual matrix, and performance results in a new sculptural reality, which simulates the external world, yet preserves the trace of human movement. In his sculptural experiments, Nikola Ukić makes reference to a wide range of artists, from César and Eva Hesse to Lynda Benglis and Gabriel Orozco.

The exhibition presents several groups of artworks produced in 2013, which explore various spatial and sculptural problems within the same medium. What connects them is the theme of the line, elaborated on three different levels. The spatial accent of the exhibition is the large object titled Eclipse, which consists of shell-like casts that have taken over the graphic matrix of the meander during the casting process. The object was made in August 2013, during Ukić’s residence at the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, where it was also first exhibited in September, at his first solo exhibition organized by the same institution: The Projective Casts / Projektivni odljevi. The process of creating that sculpture was an exciting dialogue between the author’s body, his will, and the nature of the material that observes its own, physical laws, so that the result could only partly be controlled. Ukić is attracted by the meandering line, which can be observed through the category of stylizing a two-dimensional computer vector graphics, but also as a prehistoric motive that triggers a sort of subconscious register of meaning in the observer. Resorting to the meander can be viewed as a sort of reinterpretation of a subject that was in Croatia adopted primarily by Julije Knifer, who used and explored it again and again in many of his cycles of paintings, drawings, and prints. In that direct reference, Ukić seems to be attracted primarily by the repetition of motives, the feeling that, when looking at Knifer’s work, we are facing the “density of hopelessness,” as Davor Matičević once called it.

Reference to the local tradition and exploring the spirit of the place is manifest in the series of collages titled Zuletzt vor Vierzehn Tagen I, II / Last Time a Fortnight Ago I, II. Photographs of nudes made by Ivan Meštrović and printed on a wall calendar from the 1960s, accidentally discovered in his grandfather’s attic, were used to produce an assemblage in which Ukić merged the cheaply printed calendar with the meticulously piled 1-cent coins, arranged in a Plexiglas box. Meštrović is unquestionably one of the most prominent personalities in Croatian modern sculpture, a part of our national and cultural identity, but also a part of forgotten and suppressed utopian visions about the cultural and political unity of South-Slavic nations.

The second group of artworks (Untitled / Štrik Theory Group) consists of a photographic matrix, a curving line of the rope on a surface of tense, bubbling volumes. Ukić incessantly searches for a way to extend the notion of sculpture by using visual techniques that are rarely considered in coexistence. By applying the technique of polyurethane casting onto a photograph, he has modernized the tradition of using photographs in three-dimensional forms, thereby creating a new quality of sculptural reality.

The surface of the cast floor and staircase of the gallery (The Field of Stairs) is made of a thin layer of rubbery, elastic polyurethane foam, which continues to take shape even when hardened. Casting the void is a procedure that was made famous by Rachel Whiteread, who produced and exhibited a cast of the empty inner space of various housing units, spaces where people lived. By producing a cast of the floor, Ukić has documented the traces and the sharp edges in which the surfaces of stairs converge, thematizing the line as a shallow relief. That cast is a permanent memory of a place where the dynamic and performative process of casting has taken place, as well as the participatory activities of the invisible traces of human presence in the “white cube” of the gallery.

Artworks exhibited on walls (Drawn from below I, II, III), made in 2012, discuss the relationship between the digital and the analogue, the combination of high-tech technology and low-tech processing. They are made in the technique of transfer onto rubbery polyurethane foam. When the plate is shifted during the printing process and the print is subsequently transferred onto elastic foam, the simple vector combines into new and unconventional structures with extraordinarily vibrant surfaces.

Before creating his artworks for an exhibition venue, Nikola Ukić carefully examines its spatial characteristics, the spirit of the place as a specific site of experience, in order to sublimate it in his sculptures and their spatial arrangement. On that level, the participants become an active factor in the play of spatial components, of full and empty, passive and dynamic. His interest in the processes of transformation of modern materials makes him a unique personality in the corpus of contemporary Croatian sculpture.

Nataša Ivančević

biography / Kristina Restović:

biography / Nikola Ukić:

Nikola Ukić was born in 1974 in Rijeka, Croatia. In 1993/94 he studied at the Faculty of Philosophy in Rijeka, Art Department. From 1995 to 1999 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, Painting Department. From 2000 to 2004 he studied at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldof, class of prof. Georg Herold. He lives in Düsseldof.