Kulturflux – The Platform for Visual Culture

Leopold Rupnik, Petra Galović, Jelena Bužanić, Silvia Roberta Zaplatić

Leopold Rupnik, Petra Galović, Jelena Bužanić, Silvia Roberta Zaplatić

Why did you decide to become part of Kulturflux? Which was your main goal? 

We were selected as the editorial board of Kulturflux in the end of 2017, when the portal’s founders, Klara Petrović and Luja Šimunović, launched an open call for a new board as they were themselves approaching graduation. The four of us – Jelena Bužanić,Petra Galović, Leopold Rupnik and Silvia Roberta Zaplatić – started with the new activities in March 2018, at the beginning of the Summer Semester, and soon started forming our own path and vision for the portal. The main purpose of the portal remained the same – to provide a platform where art history students could develop their writing skills and publish their art critiques, exhibition and book reviews, essays, commentaries and other forms in the fields of history, theory and criticism of visual culture. Over the time, we developed a steady structure of activities occurring each semester, which we based off observations and inquiries on the needs of students for their professional development. Having in mind that Kulturflux’s writers are volunteering art history students with usually none or little writing experience (except one being class-related papers), our main goal was to provide an additional education on topics or skills essential for one’s further professional growth, but which are insufficient or not at all included in the formal education we receive at the Department of Art History, or the Faculty in general. Each semester we would organise a workshop in cooperation with young professionals in the field, covering themes such as digital marketing, contemporary journalism, art criticism etc. In addition, once a year we would organise a panel on a recent, art-related issue, particularly concerning younger generations, and involving acclaimed curators, art critics, professors and researchers. In all of our activities, we are trying to transcend the traditional approaches of art history and expand our interests and content on visual culture (including applied arts, especially graphic, industrial and fashion design, architecture, performative practices etc.) Although our program is primarily designed for our writers, it often surpasses our expectations as student chief-in-editors and we get contacted by all sorts of experts and other art enthusiasts.

What kind of interests do the students who study humanities in Croatia have?

Humanities are differently positioned at each of eleven universities in Croatia, so it is rather difficult to generalize students’ interests as every department, yet alone faculty or a university has its own approach. Regarding art history, which could serve as a case study for that matter, it is evident that students have the initiative to work in student clubs and the enthusiasm to start their own projects in order to gain new practical experiences and knowledge. To illustrate, the Department of Art History of Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (University of Zagreb), which we attend, has four separate student activities: a student club, KSPUFF, that, among other things, organises contemporary exhibitions and various student art workshops (often in cooperation with the students of the Academy of Fine Arts, University of Zagreb), a web portal named Kulturflux, a student journal under the name Kontrapost and an annual International Congress of Art History Students. Each activity gathers more or less different people who often intertwine and work together on different projects with the same goals of creating various platforms for student practice, education, demonstration of skills and knowledge, sharing ideas and connecting with the students of other faculties and universities.

How is technology changing visual arts and history? Which are the common trends in Croatia?

There is an abundance of ways to approach the inevitable interrelation of technology and visual arts. Their dynamic creates immense possibilities and approaches for art, academic studies and entrepreneurship. The concept of the work of art and the image itself is incessantly changing, as well as the notion of human’s share in it. Debates on digital and post-digital age are still prevailing in the art theory, but are slowly approaching art history through criticism. On the other hand, art history as a discipline – if not dead as Belting argued in the 1980s – is still examining its methodologies, interdisciplinarity and question of integration with visual studies.

In Croatia, The Center for Visual Studies is a scientific platform addressing contemporary problems of the image. KONTEJNER, the bureau of contemporary art praxis, is a non-profit NGO engaged in the curatorial work, namely organization of art festivals, through which its’ curators investigate the role and meaning of science, technology and the body in society. One of their triennial festivals, the international Device_art festival, deals with technological devices, machines and robotics in contemporary art. In the underground scene, one of the most edgy collectives exploring new media art is Format ©, a non-profit artist organization involved in phenomena such as multimedia and hypermedia art, databending, digital ecology and large-scale artist collaborations, free education and open knowledge distribution etc.

Which are the problems that people occupying with arts face in Croatia?

Among many of them, we can give an example of art funding, which is always a problem. Because of a relatively small and undeveloped art market, contemporary art in Croatia is mainly government-funded, which is a two-edged sword. In a way, it is a good thing because art is not dictated by the market, which sometimes means subjecting quality and diversity of the art form and the content to current trends. To be precise, dominantly market-driven art scene means producing more of a “likeable” content almost exclusively in the medium of painting and sculpture, which limits the possibilities of art to develop in every way (for instance, as objects of new media art, performance art, engaged art rarely sell, it can significantly reduce their funding and the number of artists in that field). On the other hand, a strong market expands funding sources for artists, promises a tad more stable income and not an absolute dependence on countless applications and the government’s already weak culture investments. Moreover, many of the artists don’t have the status of a freelance artist, which is highly problematic because artist with the status of a freelance artist can legally demand the help of the government in times of crisis (such as during the lockdown). The independent cultural scene, which represents the most progressive part of contemporary art (which is evident from the selection made in the earlier question, as none of the mentioned is a part of the institutional sphere), is constantly underfunded, as most of the resources end with big, traditional and slow institutions rarely able to produce a status quo changer, or at least some form of change in the Croatian art scene.

What is your opinion on career orientation, career and creative development in your region? Is it important for people studying culture, humanities and arts to explore outside the academic field?

Since we are based in Zagreb, we are lucky to enjoy a relatively rich and diverse spectre of cultural content, as well as educational and career opportunities. Even more so, exploring outside the academic field is more than necessary for every student aspiring to work in culture or creative industries. With traditional humanities studies that put an emphasis on gaining knowledge rather than providing platforms for its practical usage, the academic education can provide only limited insight and experience. Adapting the idea of lifelong learning is crucial for breaking the myth of a university fully and finally preparing its students for a job market, especially with technologies rapidly changing arts, culture and career possibilities. There are several high-quality and tuition free (or very affordable) programs in Zagreb, usually aimed at the student population and mostly focused on developing skills of critical thinking and writing in the fields of independent culture, as well as women, labour, peace and political studies. Several film festivals and organisations are holding free workshops on film criticism, and occasionally a workshop on art criticism is held (music and performative arts – dance especially – are not as well academically explored or written about). On the other hand, many of the creative development programs – i.e. film making, photography, creative writing, acting, dancing etc. – usually require some bigger investments. However, this wide offer for both personal and professional development is usually not the case in other universities in Croatia (with the exception of Split and Rijeka), as there is a problem of strong (cultural) centralisation.

Is the business ecosystem looking to hire people from the creative fields?

Having in mind that about 18 % of the Croatian GDB comes from tourism only and that currently seven sites in Croatia are on the UNESCO’s list of cultural heritage, there is definitely a niche for art historians in the business sector. However, the academic and the business attitude and approach towards heritage is often conflicted. Omitting heritage and tourism-related classes in a five-year curriculum is a clear illustration of traditional art history’spatronising view on a career in tourism as something of a lesser value. On the other hand, the business sector is always in need for creative solutions, but the companies themselves rarely offer specialization in the needed fields (and as mentioned before, any quality classes in design, photography and videomaking, copywriting, screenwriting, etc. will usually be held by specialised private schools or organisations and require a higher tuition). Producing an analytical or critical content on any aspect of culture, written or oral, is to a greater or lesser extent encouraged and included in universities’ curricula, and can be perfected in many tuition-free government-funded programs. Problem with having a career by creating critical content is a lack of media to publish or broadcast it, as it usually comes down to a few mentioned, underfunded independent media outlets. In the end, it seems it is ultimately the arts and humanities academic institutions’ turn to be finally open towards the business sector and – by integrating possibilities for career orientation and specialisation – increase their students’ competitiveness on the market.

How do you prepare an intern for Kulturflux? How does the process go?

At the beginning of each academic year, and with the support of our professors, we have an opportunity to present Kulturflux and its program to art history students and invite them to collaborate. Every year, a group of about ten to fifteen students forms, bringing together both new aspiring journalists and our existing senior journalists and becomes the base of the portal’s main associates. We organise bimonthly meetings where we discuss our writing ideas, motivation and difficulties, and distribute the writing assignments, according to one’s interests and availability. This is also the opportunity to comment on the current situation of the art world, share thoughts on new occurring practices and theories, as well as marginalised aspects that would be interesting to cover. We usually call our associates journalists, primarily because the content we publish mostly includes upcoming exhibition and festival announcements, interviews with artists, curators, art researchers and other professionals, as well as exhibition reviews and critiques. When one proposes an article idea, we discuss possible approaches, sources for the research and useful contacts for the writing process, during which we are at one’s full disposal for any questions, check-ups or problems. Once the text is finished, we start the process of editing that usually takes two rounds, after which we send it for the proofreading which is done by our associates who study both art history and Croatian studies. Every article is promoted on our social media through which we are trying to promote our journalists’ work and make connections with other formal and informal art organisations and institutions. There is no mandatory quota for each journalist to fulfil, so we are very grateful to be able to keep an average pace of an original article or two a week. Although we are focusing on engaging primarily art history students in writing, we are always open to work with students of various backgrounds and study programs interested in writing about art. Since our studies and personal interests cover fields from prehistory to contemporary culture, together with art conservation and restoration, literature, film and performative arts – and we collected some bits and pieces from museology and ethnology – we are open to any writing concerning visual culture, fused with the above mentioned. As cliché as it may sound, our fuel is art enthusiasm mixed with the search for ways for all of us to grow both personally and professionally. We believe that the portal functions so well just because we’re not keen on putting pressure on our journalists, but at the same time we do provide some serious editing and learning opportunities for anyone willing to critically write, think and learn about art. With all that in mind, we’re open to any ideas and propositions for collaboration, writing or sharing art-related experiences! So contact us straight away if you’re keen to learn more about writing about art.