Marko Luli´c’s works to date have largely engaged with the formal vocabulary of Modernism – particularly public art and architecture – from a rather detached position or through the filter of pop culture. His sculpture series Entertainment Center Mies (2003–4), for example, elegantly reconstructs the monument to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg in Berlin, which was designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1926, and destroyed shortly thereafter in 1935. Luli´c’s miniaturized wood, aluminium and Plexiglas versions of the monument strip it of all political specificity (the hammer and sickle, the flagstaff, the brick masonry). All that remains is the cool tectonic form as a reference to Modernism’s self-delusion, which purports that its vocabulary is per se democratic, politically enlightened, or even leftist in substance. In fact its forms are just as able to be filled with whatever content may be desired – as the title of the work proves.
In contrast to such cool analyses, Luli´c’s new series, Psychogeography (2013), in his exhibition of the same name, evinces a far more personal approach. The series consists of twelve framed panels, all in the same format. Beneath glass and within a grey mount each frame consists of a large sheet of paper and two small black and white photographs. Each sheet of paper bears a large-scale image in graphite made using frottage. Luli´c created these images by making rubbings on the walls of the twelve buildings in Vienna that he has lived in to date. The sheets are inscribed with the names of the buildings’ respective city districts. (Hernals, Leopoldstadt, Erdberg, Favoriten, etc.) The two small photographs show the artist making the work as well as a view of the mostly deserted street. The series presents a sort of walk through the city as well as functioning as the notation of a journey through the artist’s life. A tour in the psychogeographic sense with Vienna as the medium.
The result, however, is far less anecdotal than it initially sounds. From a distance all of the images look virtually indistinguishable, an effect amplified by the uniform hang of the series. One almost has the impression of standing before a somewhat dry work of classic 1960s or ’70s conceptual art. This formal historicism, however, is immediately subverted: the longer one looks at the drawings, the more they condense into portraits of sorts.
Fully in keeping with Max Ernst, according to whom ‘frottage is nothing other than a technical means of intensifying the hallucinatory faculties of the spirit in such a way that “visions” automatically appear, a means of ridding oneself of one’s blindness’, Luli´c does not conceive the rubbing as a purely indexical technique. While making them, he turned and moved the paper at whim. The surreal faces that appear hazily behind the overlapping grey layers of shading are reminiscent of faces that artists such as Alexej von Jawlensky (Meditations, 1934–7), Arnold Schönberg (The Red Gaze, 1910) and Oskar Schlemmer painted in the early Modern era. These faces bring to light an entirely different facet of Modernism than his sheer, smooth architectural sculptures.
This is where the work’s initial retro charm suddenly gets serious. What literally pushes through here is not conceptual art’s prim aesthetic of administration, but rather Modernism’s fever and pathologies. Luli´c does not need to exemplify his memories of the places where he used to live. It is enough that he returned to them and that the frottage bears concrete witness to his presence. The silhouettes that shine psychotically out of the drawings elucidate the existential dimension inherent to living in a place – whether behind the specific walls Luli´c traced or behind other walls – far better than any anecdotal stories or details of the flats’ furnishings ever could. The oft-invoked ‘public space’ in the small photographs is likewise powerless against personal experience. The image of the individual and that of the city face each other all too immediately.
Translated by Jane Yager