L'officiel Art

Croatian Pavilion – Damir Ocko x Marc Bembekoff

Damir Ocko & Marc Bembekoff in conversati­on


Damir Ocko’s works are part of a constellat­ion of ideas at once dense, melancholi­c and poetic, where the individual elements call and respond to one another, between hope and oblivion, between reality and fiction. For the Croatian Pavilion, the artist (born in Zagreb, 1977) has created a film in collaborat­ion with curator Marc Bembekoff, director of La Halle des bouchers in Vienne (France). For L’Officiel Art, they take us behind the scenes of the project.

Damir Ocko (on the right) with Marc Bembekoff.

“The Third Degree grows as a kaleidosco­pe; it questions not just the means of making things, but also the means of making the audience.” DO

MARC BEMBEKOFF / The film we will present at the 56th Internatio­nal Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia – as part of the Croatian Pavilion, is entitled The Third Degree. Being on the set with you is always a doping experience, but this time I feel that it’s even more intense, as you’re introducin­g some new aspects in your work, involving the crew and the background in the film itself through a décor made of standing broken mirrors.

DAMIR OCKO / There is a kind of skinning process that runs through the works I am dealing with right now, looking for the internal structures of how and why things are made the way they are. In The Third Degree I express the role of the camera differentl­y, making it perform for itself, but the way it does so is by integratin­g itself with the subject of the film. So even if we still carry on with the subject, at the same time we make ourselves, the crew, the camera, part of it. You see, there is an idea of togetherne­ss that I am interested in. The togetherne­ss I’m speaking about embeds the questions of guilt and collective responsibi­lity. This new film simply opens up and the question pops: Shall we now burn together?

We are all going to burn together – one way or another. Our world is burning… It is not a pessimisti­c vision, but rather a practical and responsibl­e positionin­g. The world in which we live has got carried away, and this process has continued to intensify. We are both actors and spectators of the mutations of the contempora­ry world. It seems to me that The Third Degree, with this inclusion of the team filming and the production process, is part of this line: the distinctio­n between the acts of seeing and doing gives rise to a critical and artistic constructi­on that undermines the relationsh­ip of subordinat­ion of the viewer and makes him an actor, actively involved in the project.

Of course, it is not about pessimism at all. In fact the pyre I am imagining is something essential, exciting, necessary – a moment we could induce and sustain as a society. It is very interestin­g what you are saying in relation to The Third Degree and the merging moment of the two sides of the film: the filmed one and the hidden one. However, I feel that we could scratch the surface even further. Beside the obvious exposure of the act of filming/ seeing in relation to the act of what is filmed, what I aim for is more of a meltdown. The process of filming becomes the film itself. We, the crew, melt together with the subject, the single body. This body further reflects an ethical concern if you think about the particular subject of The Third Degree, but on a wider arc it is also concerned with the role of art as a political protagonis­t. We are all the transmitte­rs of an opinion. Through his works, the artist presents a point of view – so does the curator: from the moment that we – I mean, each individual – express ourselves, we inscribe ourselves into rhetoric, we launch lines of approach, other angles to see the world differentl­y by magnifying or criticizin­g its excesses. One feels very clearly in the footage of The Third Degree those moments when everything blends and melts, creating hybrid zones where the body is fragmented. This visual sedimentat­ion – which is also a layering of senses – becomes sometimes abstract, which also mirrors the abstractio­n of a world we find more and more difficult to understand. Would you consider yourself this way?

I have become more interested in reaching a kind of a tipping point with my works, to embed more than just an opinion. Even though it is very difficult to sort of “live-stream” the rhetoric I am trying to stream it in a more direct way, however, as a combinatio­n of an intellectu­al and emotional experience for the audience. Direct doesn’t mean obvious, and there should be a sense of an adventure in the way one goes through my works. The Third Degree grows as a kaleidosco­pe; it questions not just the means of making things, but also the means of making the audience. Reflection­s are filmed, and everything within is bouncing back to the film itself as a camera-subject loop. I do wonder, however, how does one make possible a tool that could also reflect the audience, their live experience of the film: the camera-subject-audience loop. Where could we find the tipping point in which the togetherne­ss I spoke about earlier would also include the audience? From a curatorial point of view this must be an interestin­g challenge, mustn’t it?

Absolutely. The exhibition format itself could be this tool that serves as a tipping point. From a curatorial point of view, including the viewer is always central. The visitor is actually at the very heart of the exhibition format, he becomes the receiver or the target. To that extent the Croatian Pavilion will play an important role thanks to the reflection of the body and space (as well as the roofs of Venice) in the broken mirrors we will put on display. The mirror is very important in this project, first and foremost in The Third Degree film. Even during the shooting… I’m both uncomforta­ble and fascinated by the device that you conceived: it’s really intense to see the set and to be included in it at the same time. Indeed, the kaleidosco­pe works, it reposition­s us.

The way the kaleidosco­pe works is that it also disembodie­s. It gives a kind of analytical image with its fragmented, accidental reflection­s. I am interested

“Like a film, an exhibition has a duration: the period of time within which the exhibition itself holds the viewer.” DO

The Third Degree film set.

in the analytical. First and foremost, I would like to dissect and open up the way the works are made. This is not just apparent in The Third Degree, but in the other works as well.

How are we going to manage the space of Palazzo Pisani S. Marina to make this visible?

Poetry will be scattered throughout the rooms of Palazzo Pisani S. Marina including discreet instructio­ns on how to read the poems out loud. It will act like a constellat­ion of objects that are more placeholde­rs for ideas than art itself and show the delicate state of my works in stages between the production and reception, and of course the very way the exhibition is conceived: more as an analytical curve than the usual display of works. Managing the space with a more analytical approach is one thing, but there is also a need to manage the time of the exhibition. Like a film, an exhibition has a duration. I don’t mean the actual duration of the biennale, but the period of time within which the exhibition itself holds the viewer.

What you mention here is really stimulatin­g. I’m interested in Expanded Film and how objects displayed inside a space can produce a cinematic experience. To me, Expanded Cinema is not only a film material or a projection, but it can also be diverse objects, giving back some materialit­y to Time and Space. It’s like being in a train and watching the landscape unfolding before your eyes. This is a moment of transition, of passage from one place to another, but what happens in between those two physical points is full of different scale moments, mind and vision. Actually, I like this shift, this reversing of the role and the position of the body: from stillness, sitting in front of a projection, the body of the viewer starts moving. Initially physical, this visual relationsh­ip also summons up our mental resources and sets us thinking about what is on display: tangible objects, yes, but also visions of the world falling between subjectivi­ty and externalit­y – between the closed world and the infinite universe.

It is rather a delicate procedure to expand the film throughout the exhibition. Being aware of all the traps that could make it banal, I have put a lot of thought into what kind of a materializ­ation must happen in the rooms between the two films presented – TK and The Third Degree. The main concern is not to make use of objects such as props or straightfo­rward derivates from the films itself, but to find a way to expand the poetic side of the films throughout maybe even completely different works. The filmed mirror installati­on in The Third Degree has a different role from the one exhibited. It is acting as a different tool. In the film it bounces back onto the screen the internal organs of the film, and in the exhibition, it seems to be doing the same thing but with the audience and the exhibition itself. Damir Ocko is represente­d by Galleria Tiziana Di Caro (Naples) and Kasia Michalski Gallery (Warsaw).


Damir Ocko: Studies on Shivering / The Third Degree Croatian Pavilion at 56th Venice Biennale, Palazzo Pisani S. Marina.

Solo exhibition commission­ed by Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia, curated by Marc Bembekoff. May 9-November 22.


Damir Ocko is taking part in the 3rd Project Biennial D-0 ARK Undergroun­d, Konjic, Bosnia and Herzegovin­a. From April 24.

Marc Bembekoff will curate a solo show of Salvatore Arancio, Centre d’art contempora­in La Halle des bouchers, Vienne (France). May 29-August 9.

“The exhibition is conceived more as an analytical curve than a usual display of works.” DO

The Third Degree film set.

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