A Profile of an Artist: Ana Mušćet

By Staff Writer Anja Ivić

This year's Passion for Freedom exhibition ended with an unexpected conclusion for the Croatian artist and student at the Academy of Fine Arts, Ana Mušćet, who was awarded with second place. This was her first big success in the United Kingdom. Prior to this, Ana had been acknowledged for her work in other competitions; she was the winner of the Austrian Essl Museum award in 2015, winner of the Rector’s and Dean’s Award and she is soon to exhibit in Vietnam, as she is included in the project organized by New space art foundation run by Le Brothers (Hai Le Duc and Thanh Le Ngoc). 

Although she is currently studying Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in the class of Slavomir Drinković, she already holds a MA Degree in Croatian and Russian language and literature. Having a very linguistic oriented past education, most of her work today uses language as its primary tool. Using letters, words, texts and presenting them as gathered codes that need to be dissolved results in works of various mediums. Her work bursts with symbols taken from popular every day life embodied in the cultural memory of people belonging to the same community. The works and project done so far says much about Ana’s strong and founded esthetic and ethic background. They define her as a strong socially engaged artist whose works fill galleries with strong vibes. Also, her art pieces shout out her name and the name of us all, as we recognize certain pieces of ourselves in the statements her works make.

A Change of Air(Na promjenu zraka), is her awarded London piece, a work dedicated to the former prisoners of the Communist work camp Naked Island (Goli Otok) situated on the island barring the same name. The work is made in combined media, consisting of a video and a flag. A woman, whose late father was a former prisoner of the work camp, pulls up a flag in his honor. Not only to honor him but to honor all those falsely convicted imprisoners who were molested on the island. The video was filmed on the same site where political enemies and people considered “dangerous” for the socialist regime were brought and held for a certain period of time, sometimes even several years, and on the day that her father and Josip Broz Tito, the president of the former Yugoslavia, died. The title of the work and the sentence on the flag is A Change of Air (Na promjenu zraka), a quote from one of the letters that was sent to families to indicate that a family member disappeared. A Change of Air indicated that their uncle was sent to the work camp to get a change of air, which in colloquial Croatian would indicate a positive and short change of environment. Yet, he returned from the Naked Island six years later. The plan is to repeat the video numerous times during an exhibition as the iteration and re-enactments (more in the publication by Amelia Jones and Adrian Heathfield Perform, Repeat, Record: Live in Art History, 2012) represent a chance for creating a better and positive view to this taboo topic that has an established position in the dark side of society.

via Darko Bavoljak

via Darko Bavoljak

This project wasn’t the only one playing with negative cultural memory, taboo topics of the contemporary society, and “the pink elephants”. The work Welcome also deals with the Naked Island, referencing to the presentation of the work camp in the 2008 magazine interview of Jovica Kapičić, a general of UDBA (State Security Administration), the secret police of former Yugoslavia. After taking photographs of the site, she printed them as postcards and exhibited them on a very cutting edge postcard stand, inviting visitors to the island as it is today. 

via  Darko Bavoljak

via Darko Bavoljak

Monuments are supposed to serve as public marks reminding us of strong individuals, fallen fighters, historical events, maybe even to the “small man”, but not usually to molested convicts.

How did the audience react to this piece? It is enough to say that of six hundred postcards only twenty of them were left on the postcard stand in The Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb. Another one of Ana’s works that relates to the Naked Island is Samantha Fox was here, named after a 80s porn actress. However, that was also the nickname of the youngest convicts who were sexually harassed in the work camp Naked Island. The piece is made of stone letters, the same material the convicts worked with, and stands in space individually, being a monument to all of the individuals molested on the island. Monuments are supposed to serve as public marks reminding us of strong individuals, fallen fighters, historical events, maybe even to the “small man”, but not usually to molested convicts. Continuously playing with the stereotypically addressed meanings some mediums and artistic forms carry, she disturbs the commode foundations of these artistic expressions and opens a number of new perspectives and contexts.

Lastly, her work System is a strong allegory for a critique of the monetary system. Besides the human size wood sculpture, which is made by a concise plan, the second part of the work are black letters on the floor. The length, wideness and depth of the parts are calculated in such detail that when built, the shape is actually unmovable, which once again shows us the nature of our position in the general system. Even when we try to move or to move Ana’s System, we fail and look as silly as Don Quijote tilting his head at windmills.

Every one of Ana Mušćet’s works stands bravely in the space, splashing us with inner text and complex sets of code derived from bold research on particular soft spots of the contemporary society. In each of the works we recognize certain topics or roles we are forced to play although it makes us uncomfortable. Taking us out of our comfort zone and placing us in front of the bare problem, taboo topic or negative cultural memory, she changed our experience as viewers of the art piece and engages us, making us a part of the theme itself.