A Eulogy to Everyday Labours
Tanja Dabo is an artist based in Zagreb, Croatia, who works in performance, video and installation. Her practice is dominated by the simple ritualistic act of polishing. Taking advantage of this richly evocative act , she enacts her performances on a range of different objects and in a variety of spaces to invoke the complexities of intimate and personal and social and public relationships.
‘Polishing is an intimate act, a desire to get closer and to communicate’.
In 1998, before the official opening of the 25th Zagreb Youth Salon in Croatia, an artist was already in the midst of her performance. Tanja Dabo, a young artist born in Rijeka could be found on her hands and knees, polishing every inch of the 160m2 gallery floor in preparation for the impending arrival of the public.
This was the first in a series of performances and installations where polishing, described by the artist as ‘the process of giving or adding a shine to spaces and objects’ becomes the central metaphor in Dabo’s practice. Through this simple, repetitive and ritualistic action, she invokes a complex of intimate and social interactions, involving an entire cast of identities constructed by gendered categorisations and consummated according to unspoken public and private social contracts.
As Dabo herself says, ‘In its concept, the appropriation of a simple action from everyday life experience corresponds with the experience of two my roles as a woman: the housewife and the artist.’
Such a convergence can be found in the work ‘Earliest Reminiscences’ (2000), a series of four diptychs of pairs of shoes and boots photographed in the ‘before’ and ‘after’ formula of consumer advertising or fashion ‘make-overs’; before and after Dabo has polished them, that is. Two pairs of shoes, one men’s and the other women’s look as if they belong to an older generation; the other two, to younger people. Short, intimate texts disclose the identity of these absent owners: Dabo’s mother and father, brother and partner.
The artist has said that, ‘The concept of each of these works is based on the possibility of polysemic interpretation that originates from a real and/or symbolic/metaphoric interpretation of the act of polishing, depending on the realisation within the intimate, private context, within context of social relations, or the relation between the artist and institutions.’
Indeed, while the act of polishing a public space such as a gallery might pertain to the maintenance of society’s standards of cleanliness, in this intimate work the gesture becomes one infused with love and care, and is expressive of Dabo’s sense of self.
‘When I polish objects which belong to other people or spaces where other people live,’ she says, ‘the act of polishing connects me on a symbolic level not only with those people, but with all my identities: an artist, a house \wife, a member of my family, a friend, a woman.
For Breda Beban, curator of the UK touring show ‘Imaginary Balkans’, one of the many exhibitions in which this work has been displayed, the work brings to mind Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’. ‘He writes that the horrors and pain of yesterday can in time be transformed and become a source of joy,’ she explains in a conversation with Chris Darke published in the show’s accompanying catalogue.
‘It also made me think of ‘Gravity and Grace’ by Simone Weil’, she continues, ‘where gravity and grace pull in opposite directions.’ For, she argues, ‘Dabo makes these pulling forces work simultaneously and transforms heavy and painful experiences from her life into a gracefully economical piece about compassion and forgiveness.’
In 2001, Dabo shifted again from the domestic to the public realm, this time setting herself the daunting task of polishing the floor of the Miroslav Kraljevic Gallery in Zagreb. This was not a one-off performance: Dabo was to polish the floor prior to the opening of each and every exhibition held there that year. The following year, she took her labour abroad in ‘Berlin possible/impossible’ and polished the doorsteps of 10 art institutions in Berlin.
Despite the public nature of the gallery as a site, Dabo is keen to de-emphasise, indeed, blur the distinction between domestic and civic spheres. ‘I am bringing the mechanics of everyday house work into the gallery space,’ she says, ‘My artist´s desire of the shiny and beautiful in the gallery is actually a projection of the house \wife’s desire of the shiny and beautiful in the home.’
The choice of staging such performances in the gallery rather than any other public sites also indicates the parallel drawn between artistic and manual labour. As the artist has said, ‘In the works where I polish gallery spaces I have developed my thoughts about the position of art and the artists, and I have also questioned the meaning of art and the production of art works.
For Dabo, where the act of polishing is akin to the communication, her activities within the art institution becomes, as she says, ‘a reflection of my desire to overcome the distance which is present in the relationship between the institution and the artist’.
By bringing the private into the public, by making visible the usually degraded, unnoticed and unappreciated labour predominantly of women but also men, Dabo dignifies the act of polishing, and by extension, affirms the value of the everyday work of maintaining life, and raises it to the level of art.
Sources include: ´Imaginary Balkans´, catalogue, Site Gallery, Sheffield, 2002
Author: Diana Yeh, Visiting Arts
Tanja Dabo was born in 1970 in Rijeka, Croatia. She studied at the School for Applied Arts and Design, Zagreb from 1985 to 1989 and then at the Art Department of the University of Rijeka from 1989 to 1997. She undertook her postgraduate studies at the Art Academy in Ljubljana, graduating in 2000. She has exhibited widely in Croatia and has also participated in group shows in Italy, Germany and the UK. She currently lives and works in Zagreb.
Exhibition / Installation
2005 iL.H.O.O.Q. after Duchamp, 18th Adria Art Annale, Split, Croatia. An intervention on a poster of general Ante Gotovina
2005 Outside sources (exhibition), Galerie MAERZ, Linz, Austria; a selection of younger Croatian artists by MAERZ curators
2004 Polishing pages, a work contribution for the Performance Research journal, Dartington, UK; work made for the Performance Research´s issue "On the page" - b/w photo
2004 Welcome, One Take Film Festival, Zagreb; international festival of films that are made in one take
2003 Prayer (joint work with Boris Kajmak), 11th Biennial of Young Artists from Europe and Mediterranean, Athena, Greece; Prayer is a project that took 3 months and included 3 persons: Tanja Dabo (artist), Boris Kajmak (artist), and Ratko Martinis (a sailor on the Mediterranean)
2003 Maintenance: Fridericianum, Kunsthale Fridericianum, In den Schluchten des Balkan, Kassel, Germany; an interactive video installation that was working particulary for each of the visitors at the exhibition
2003 Meeting point: you and I, Zagreb, Croatia; 7-days action during the exhibition and 2 video installations in 2 galleries; a story about Dabo’s relationship with her partner
2002/2003 Imaginary Balkans, Site Gallery, Sheffield and Cornerhouse, Manchester, UK; touring group show curated by Breda Beban
2002 Berlin possible/impossible, Berlin, Germany; action, video; polishing the doorsteps of 10 art institutions in Berlin; video toured
2002 Sanitation, Zadar, Croatia; project; action, performances; relocating the City Sanitation into a City Museum
2001 Earliest reminiscences, installation, Zagreb, Croatia; included 4 photographs and texts; a work about relationships and emotional conflicts within Dabo’s own family members; toured
2001 Miroslav Kraljevic Gallery, Floor Polishing, Zagreb, Croatia; a year-long project polishing the gallery floor before every exhibition in 2001
2000 Earliest reminiscences, installation, MIB Art for Economy of Eye, Trieste, Italy
1999 Urban Intervention (untitled), Museum of Modern Art, Rijeka, Croatia
1999 ‘Resting’, (joint project with Igor Grubiê), Rijeka/Mljet, Croatia
1998 Ambient with Sea Water, one day exhibition, Mali Salon, Rijeka
1998 Ambient with Pine-Needles, one day exhibition, Mali Salon, Rijeka
1998 Blue Copper Installation, one day exhibiton, Otok Gallery, Dubrovnik
1998 Untitled Ambiance (spatial intervention), 25th Youth Salon, Zagreb
2002 Radoslav Putar Award, Zagreb, Croatia
2002 36th Zagreb Salon Award, Zagreb, Croatia
2001 26th Youth Salon Award, Zagreb, Croatia
2000 2nd Croatian Printmaking Trienale award, Zagreb, Croatia
1998 Tokyo International Mini-Print Triennial 1998, Tokyo, Japan, Museum Award
1998 10th International Miniature Print Exhibition (Biennial), Seoul, Korea, Grand Prize
Miroslav Kraljevic Gallery
Artist biography in Croatian, images of works and ´Spaces of Cleft´, article on Tanja Dabo by Ana Deviç on the Miroslav Kraljevic Gallery website
Brief information on the artist on the website of the Broadcasting Project, a non-governmental organisation for visual arts in Zagreb, Croatia
Institute of Art History, Croatia
´Streets are our brushes, squares are our palettes´, article by Silva Kalcic including information on Tanja Dabo on Institute of Art History, Croatia website