Ivana Meštrov: Suburban Herbarium by Duška Boban, or a Visual Chronicle of a Town

Split. As always in this town, I let my journey be controlled by playful chance, and so happen upon a familiar passage-way leading to a paleo-Christian baptistry transformed from the Roman temple it once was. Then I am passing close by a museum, strolling through a residential area cluttered with restaurants before emerging onto the promenade. The place is teeming with people. An arch of the palace. I gaze at the sea. Split, a transit town that has been developing its image and our imagination through the centuries-long heritage rooted in its antiquity. A physical space of an ever changing street-plan genuinely reflecting the multi-layered reality of time. Because here, as rarely else where, we are faced with the past which so happily co-exists with our present.
However, I am just a passer-by drawn by the strong intentions of an attentive stroller and not of a real resident, which makes my insight into the town, linked to the central points between the port and the centre including Marjan hill, a limited one.
Still, it is this very route which makes me realize that the deepest mysteries are those in our recognizable everyday existence, although we always look for them elsewhere. And I ask myself if there are still chroniclers in this town as there used to be. Those who, emerging from this climate, observe, record and untwist the mystery of everyday life, waiting patiently yet prejudging the conclusions. Because a moment is usually a rare indicator of change which can only be retrospectively examined by a meticulous observation in space and time. (Except in snapshots of natural disasters, wars and economic collapses, which I leave to the observation of the ever eager mass-media).
Looking for a fresh chronicler/local flaneur, somewhere along my way I bumped into Duška. In her artistic work so far and in her activities in the visual comunications field, Duška Boban testifies about the town and space. First of all, she systematically deals with the town of her residence. Observing its growth and confronting it, she records its both positive and negative developments, the state of the area and the relationship between the town and the people who share it. She testifies about the rough transitional moment and the neglected recent past, but she also conveys the specific biographic urban environment. In doing so, she notices new urban areas, capturing those which we do not call public anymore almost by an invisible narration.
In her past explorations, she mostly specialized in photography. So, in 2004, in 33rd Split showroom catalogue which she shaped the visual identity of with her partner Luka Duplančić, she photographed forgotten urban everyday life. In 2005, within the custodian conception of Jasna Gruić, Split-New York for Splitgraphic, which aimed at demonstrating what, beyond picture-postcard stereotypical forms, makes a town’s character, Duška turned to the outskirts of Split, ‘’aesthetizing’’ what she sees and giving it back to its inhabitants.
As in every relationship, one’s relationship with the town changes and grows. Since 2006, Duška Boban has been a member of the Association of contemporary art KVART (Quarter), which, by means of the contemporary art tools, comments on urban reality we live in, proclaiming in a manifesto that the centre is where we are, the one we live in. Through their regular actions-exhibitions, this group of artists, all residing in the same district of Split, emphasizes participation-encounter through art. A neighbour thus, through an art form, becomes for a moment closer to his or her neighbour, something which urban everyday life is deleting from its programmes.
Suburban herbarium, the most recent work of this young artist, consists of 11 digital photo-pictures, 120 x 120 cm each. They are all impressions of Split, from Marjan along Turkish tower and Žnjan to the city port, with Duška Boban going a step further in her relationship with the town so that her walk becomes but a stimulus and what comes out of it becomes an experience.
The artist will say: “In relation to its peninsular shape, position and its total area, Split has a wide suburban zone, whereas with regard to the transitional feature of time and space, the suburb here usually refers to the parts of the town equally considered strictly central.”
Let us analyze the notion starting from the suburb. The centre in the urban fringe, the urban fringe in the centre. Infiltration and mixing. Awareness of the same and the critical dissection. Decentralization build-up. The artist guides us through her work by saying: “The ferry port is in close vicinity to Diocletian’s palace, which in turn is 15 min walk from the biggest shipyard in the country… The whole northern, coastal part of the peninsula, except for Marjan hill, is an industrial and military zone completely cut away from the everyday life of its inhabitants for decades… Despite the lethargic north, the south attests that the town has been undergoing visual changes…”
“Everything is interwoven with some other times, the past and the oncoming ones, but it is hard to outline the present”, the artist will say and take up the herbarium strategy. The spatial herbarium. The psychological geography of the spaces she comes upon. Thus we get the chaotic, expanding Žnjan with its weird architectural forms. The peaceful, spacious Žnjan with its spatial typologies awaiting some new modifications. The circular (I wonder where it’s leading to) Kopilica, Marjan hill’s soft cover in the twilight, the iconic and insect-like Stinice handing down its modernistic forms to the sea, the majestic machinery of the ferry port transporting us to summer pleasures and finally the spacious yet compact and isolated Turkish tower.
Each of these photo-graphics or digital photo-drawings defined by the content, form, sequence, shade of black and white photographic details, is really a communicational-visual sign of the artist herself, pointed at the observer, this one here but also the one to come.
Her diagnosing of the present through an extended photographic medium of stinted colorism is indeed universally communicating about what the eye has discovered. Whether we know or do not know Split enough, we return a comment nevertheless.
The specific feature of Duška’s technique lies in the very confrontation of the digital form as the primary medium and the conceptual motivations of more traditional graphic techniques, in creating the presentation. There is a new-media process of registering the environment and the world on one hand and drawing as the guiding thought of conceptual articulation on the other: it is the primary confrontation with an emerging world, which animates the coldness and aloofness of the new media.
Moreover, there is a strong psycho-geographic intention of the artist which should not be ignored. According to Guy Debord, psycho-geography is defined as the noticing of specific signs and impacts of the geographic environment on people’s emotions and behaviour. It is also about discovering the ways of modifying the usual perceptions of the close urban environment. It is only the awareness of the impact of the close environment which can encourage a critical attitude to the conditions of the everyday way of life, and which can become a basis to experiment with the potentials and opportunities of the same. As, for example, the artist’s walk which makes a forgotten city site, Turkish tower, suddenly seem potentially grandiose and thus present.
While writing this text, I saw again “Eternity and a day” by Angelopoulos after a long time. Among other things, it talks about a poet who, fighting against incompleteness and facing a new climate whose language he can no longer understand, buys words in order to finish his poems, with the last one, however, remaining incomplete. And indefinitely so, there are some new poets arriving and seeking words they will appropriate, thus appropriating the space and leaving a fresh and critical attitude towards it. The battle of the word, the battle of the image, the battle with the space – I’ll give you an image, you’ll give me a new word. In order to keep the balance with those who tailor the space, yes, that is why we need chroniclers such as Duška Boban, rich in all their contemporariness and eager to discover new spatial vitalities to invoke some new words inside us.

prijevod: Ana Mikačić