Marko Marković was born in 1983 in Osijek, Croatia’s fourth largest city. Located in the historic region of Slavonia, Osijek is considered the nation’s breadbasket. The local population, their poverty and their difficult living conditions form a motif running through Marković’s work. The experience of the Yugoslav wars (1991 to 2001, in Croatia until 1995) and the post-war period have also strongly influenced Marković as an individual and as an artist. Today his art has greater relevance than ever. This is reflected in the distinctive actionist and performative character of his artistic practice as featured among the Sammlung Friedrichshof’s (Friedrichshof collection) exhibition activities.
Marković enjoyed a visual arts education, studying painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Split. But it was in his childhood, the artist says, that he learned to paint. Under his grandfather’s instruction, he drew an apple over and over again, for one whole year. This intensive, repetitive activity sharpened the artist’s powers of observation and concentration early on. His roots as a draughtsman and painter influenced the refined aesthetics of the diverse forms of expression which he later pursued – in special stagings of performances, drawing, photography, video/film, sculpture (including readymades) and installations, even music projects, with the musicians’ collective “Ausländer” for instance. Marković’s works constantly draw inspiration and strength from his own life experiences, both past and present, as well as the collective consciousness. He rejects pithy statements, preferring questions to clear-cut answers. There is always something enigmatic about his art works, something that resists straightforward interpretation.
Iron Waterfall (2022)
As mentioned above, this idea is linked to the concept of the Iron Curtain. This originally referred to a solid, structural fire protection system in places of assembly which separates the stage from the auditorium. However, the term acquired figurative meaning as early as World War One, before establishing itself as the ideological and physical border that separated Europe between the end of the Second World War and the peaceful revolutions of 1989. During this Cold War era, the world was divided between the Washington-aligned West and the Moscow-aligned East – spheres of influence of the two world powers that influenced the destiny of all humanity, as they continue to do today.
Following the rift between Tito and Stalin which arose in 1948, Yugoslavia ceased to be an Eastern Bloc state; from 1961 it was a leading member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a forum of countries not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc – a concept largely initiated by Tito. It was the only socialist country whose citizens were able to travel visa-free to Western Europe, North America, and other parts of the world – and vice versa.
In this context, Marko Marković speaks of the “intermediate position” of his country, one he illustrates with his work Iron Waterfall, in which he establishes the idea of the waterfall on a conceptual level. Through the elements of fluidity and constant movement, he provides a metaphor for the constant change of the Iron Curtain over time – rising, falling, transitioning, ostensibly disappearing only to re-emerge in the present day.
The sculpture Iron Waterfall consists of flexible strands of several thousand iron leaves that Marković hung together in a performative action. Are they miniature shields that protect us like iron skin, or are they razor-like fragments of bombs that rain down and injure us in wartime? On closer inspection we can see that the sickle-shaped ends drop, linking to one another and suggesting the form of swastikas. The artist also makes reference to the Maeander of Greek antiquity, symbolising the origins of Western, Eurocentric culture.
However, this “curtain” is not a partition, instead, it hangs like a monument on the high wall of the Sammlung Friedrichshof Stadtraum, with the vaulted space lending the artwork a sacred air. The countless leaves give the impression that they are flowing down an incline, like a waterfall.
It is precisely this ambivalence in the work – static and mobile, hard and soft, heavy and light, separate and permeable – that reflects a core element of Marković’s art and persona. With Iron Waterfall, Marković brings fragility to the form, creating the illusion of transparency in heavy materials such as iron. In this work, the artist reflects on power relations in general, and more specifically on the ambivalent “intermediate positions” of powerful societies. Transition political periods, the artist maintains, are significant in all the exhibition works. And they also reference Marković himself and his own ambivalent position between East and West, a continual, intrinsic, urgent question of identity. From his south-eastern European origins, his travels have taken him from one system to another for much of his life. The centre of his life is currently Vienna.
Stone Flower (2016)
First presented at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016, this work finds Marko Marković engaging with a period of historical trauma in his homeland. The Ustasha was a Croatian ultra-nationalist terrorist group that evolved into a fascist movement during World War Two. They set up an extermination camp in the Croatian region of Slavonia, Marković’s homeland, which is considered the “Auschwitz of the Balkans”. By 1945, tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascists had been imprisoned and executed at the camp. In the late 1950s, the renowned Yugoslav architect and sculptor Bogdan Bogdanović designed a memorial in a modernist style for the concentration camp victims on the site (Jasenovac), which was completed in 1966. A 24-metre high “flower” made of pre-stressed concrete and a small crypt below, where pools of water form when it rains, commemorates the victims. Marko Marković made a greatly reduced and relatively crude model of the Stone Flower out of clay and then cast the negative in cement. Remnants of the clay are still evident in the cavity of the sculpture. Once again, ambivalence is an important element in this work – hard and soft, heavy and light, as well as interior and exterior.
Marković opted for a negative image to symbolically emphasise the setting of the memorial monument, the site of the atrocities, a conscious rejection of the “monument culture” of post-war Croatia; the meaning of this tendency and the narratives associated with it change over the course of time according to the prevailing political system. Several of these Croatian monuments were destroyed in the 1990s.