Monuments by their creation denote importance to the people who live around them, but often have different meanings according to the changing of time and attitudes. The artist duo Fokus Grupa in their latest exhibition ‘People Love Monuments,’ at the Transmission Gallery, examine what importance monuments have in relation to national identity.
In the first gallery space is a timeline of small photos showing the creation and removal of monuments in Jelačić Square, Croatia. The statue of Josip Jelačić, a symbol of Austrian Imperialism, is dismantled during Communism, followed by various monuments built and removed on the same spot. Finally, the neon soviet star gives way and rather mysteriously the last photo shows a pole covered in assorted national flags. In the middle of the room atop a pedestal is a ghostly cast of a horse’s head, monumental in size. It looks to be part of a huge statue—possibly Jelačić’s horse.
However, even the horse’s head is barely noticeable. For a exhibition about monuments there is hardly anything monumental about Gallery One; which is slightly disappointing but probably deliberate. Fokus Grupa create a feeling of transience; these seemingly permanent creations come and go according to who is in power and what ideology is in vogue. Love for monuments is fickle.
Downstairs the exhibition really comes into its own. In the near-dark, on the other side of a landscape of chip-board pedestals, plays a video addressed to “you”— a personification of “homeland”. Overall there is a feeling you just intruded on a personal elegy to the artist’s own national identity.
Filmed around the Croatian countryside, the video is beautifully shot and the vibrant colour of nature is a welcome refreshment from the man-made works. The accompanying narration is both revealing and strangely poetic. The narrator explains he is not filming the sunset because of the sunset its self, but because Hitchcock said sunsets in Croatia were the most beautiful, and that he does not see “you” instead he sees Brazil. It becomes clear Fokus Grupa’s art is about using your head more than your eyes.
Ultimately Fokus Grupa seem disillusioned with their own national identity, more specifically the identity others have asserted over them across history. Considering the recent history of Croatia’s separation from Yugoslavia and the many current national identity crises, including Scotland’s own, ‘People Love Monuments’ is definitely worth visiting. Fokus Grupa can’t explain why people’s love for monuments is mercurial, but show the prosaic reality of why they are built. Creatively, they reveal the landscape of society is always changing and perhaps nationality is less important to identity than it used to be.
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