Who Come to Stand
On the statue, built in 1965, at the entrance to the 3 May Shipyard, a larger-than-life male figure cradles a model ship, watching over it in a gesture of profound attention, care, and pride. The man and the ship – a labourer-as-maker and the thing he has made – mark the long-standing relationship between people and the sea, humankind’s search for agency over natural forces, and its ability to build machines that conquer distances. Standing tall on the side of the road, with his head partially covered by the crown of a tree, the statue both celebrates and memorializes, and in the current context also mourns, the industrial heritage of shipbuilding and seafaring, the work of the port, and the labour of hands.
Installed in 1965 on the 20th anniversary of the liberation of Rijeka, the statue stands next to the entrance of the shipyard. In a gesture of solidarity with the statue, the artist Vlatka Horvathas organized a performance in the form of a vigil, an action of joining the statue’s inanimate figure, standing with him and holding other things worthy of being looked after or celebrated. Horvat invites artists and residents of Rijeka to join her at the statue, with an object they wish to watch over, take care of, or focus on – a work tool perhaps, a personal item, a photograph, an item of clothing, or a thing they have made.
Things to be held alongside the man holding the ship might reflect one’s work and pride in work. Or they might speak of personal narratives or social change; they might speak of things lost, of lives lost, of memories that persist, or of hopes for the future. They can be objects of actual importance or significance, or metaphorical objects that in some way stand for the thing a person may want to recognize, focus public attention on, or simply mark.
The task of the performance is to gather in a silent action on the side of the road – to stand there with something of personal or social value. A testament to persistence, perseverance, and to not standing down, Who Come to Stand creates a fragile human scale vigil in the shadow of the statue. The action of holding something becomes here a symbolic act of holding onto something – an actual object, an idea it encapsulates, a sentiment it evokes – as a quiet acknowledgment of things that survive; whether in material form, in memory, or in spirit.
Monuments depicts hands, the artist’s own, in a series of interactions with a set of everyday materials and objects – from cotton balls, elastic bands and pieces of wood, to a brick, a work glove, a tape spool and a door stopper. Transformed in the act of holding, crumpling, “inhabiting” or gripping these banal materials, the hand in Horvat’simagesis removed from its usual context and presented as both body and object, or as combination of the two.
Displayed ‘vertically’ – as raised fists, reaching fingers or open palms – the severed hands with objects become hybrid structures whose purpose and scale is playfully uncertain. The hands here are in one sense miniatures, demonstrably smaller than human scale, and in another sense gigantic, and manifest, as indicated by the title, as a set of propositions for imaginary or speculative monuments.Imagining a human body part as a monument (or as part-monument), Horvat draws out a tension between the body’s ephemerality and the more durable materiality of monuments proper; structures built for posterity and intended to outlast us. Invoking their more fragile temporality, Horvat’s monuments suggest a kind of monumentalizing of the fleeting, the temporary and the everyday. In focusing on mundane interaction, these makeshift structures can be viewed as memorializing the body’s temporary experience of the material world.
Vlatka Horvat works across a wide range of art forms and media, namelysculpture, installation, drawing, performance, photography, and text, presenting her work in various contexts – in gallery spaces, at theatre anddance festivals, and in the public spaces. Horvats’ projects often involve gestures of rearranging both the space itself and the spatial and social relations at play in it:moving between bodies, objects, materials, the built environment and the landscape. After living in the US for 20 years, she currently lives in London.