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Local Voices Croatia: Vanja Žanko, Lauba

I met curator Vanja Žanko when I toured Lauba, one of Zagreb’s newest and coolest art spaces, for an article I was writing about Zagreb’s booming art scene. As she was showing me around the former warehouse, she did it with so much passion and insight that I immediately realized: she’s a perfect “local voice”. So I caught up with Vanja to chat Croatia’s contemporary art, Zagreb, Lauba, and more.

Tell us a little about Lauba.

Lauba is my second home but also a new home for art in Zagreb. I am a curator at Lauba but I actually prefer to call myself a host. We did not name it People and Art House by accident. It was created as a place where people can socialize, interact and have fun.

Lauba features current art through an active program. It changes its exhibitions each month and organizes many interactive events. We communicate directly with our audience, pull on everyone’s sleeve and talk about contemporary art in Lauba’s way.

Zagreb has lots of “raw” industrial spaces but most sit sad and abandoned. Lauba is a pioneer when it comes to converting them into creative hubs. Can you think of any similar spaces in Zagreb?

Yes, I can think of two beautiful industrial complexes with new functions. Gliptoteka is a gallery in the heart of Zagreb, situated in a former tannery and leather factory, with a beautiful courtyard and impressive exhibition spaces over several thousand square meters. Founded in the 1930s, it grew into an institution whose program tells a story of the history of Croatian sculpture, but also much wider.

Another space is Katran, which is the oldest bituminous mass factory in this part of Europe. Two complete ‘lunatics’, in the most positive sense of that word, turned a part of the industrial complex into a club. Katran was also the venue of one of the most beautiful weddings I have ever attended, which ended with jumping on a gigantic trampoline with the first appearance of light in the sky before sunrise.

Conversely, Lauba is an unusual hybrid which transforms with incredible ease from an exhibition space into a conference room or party venue or a movie theater or dance arena. We have played all these roles in the past couple of months. This space is a platform for creative life in our part of the city, and each detail has been adapted to it.

We are open until 11pm every day of the week, and there is a bistro in our lobby that serves great coffee and carefully selected wines. We have created a space in which we love to work and spend our time, a space according to our taste and that is also what we offer to our audience.

Tell us a bit about Lauba’s art collection and the current exhibitions.

Lauba has at its disposal the largest private contemporary art collection in the country, the Filip Trade Collection. However, the idea was not to create a space for exhibiting the collection, but to create a vibrant place that will offer contemporary artists an opportunity to present their work in the best light.

A second important guiding principle was to have constant change in order to give the audience a reason to come back. Therefore we decided to change a part of the exhibition each month, and to present one of the up-and-coming artists.

In the ten months since the opening we have changed nine exhibitions and presented the following artists: Morten Andersen, Lovro Artuković, Ivan Fijolić, Ivana Franke, Kristina Lenard, Bruno Pogačnik, Marko Tadić and Zlatan Vehabović.

One can always see something new in Lauba. The rhythm is crazy but incredibly fun and challenging on the operational level. We have only two people in our organization and an army of hardworking volunteers. Every three months we train new recruits, try to pass on our knowledge. They are the face of Lauba.

What are some of your favorites currently on display at Lauba?

Currently on display is an exhibition by Ivan Fijolić. Not only is this the largest solo exhibition by this emerging sculptor, but it is also the largest solo exhibition in Lauba so far. The new series of sculptures by Ivan Fijolić, titled NEO N.O.B., refers to the art of Socialist Realism, however without its pathos or nostalgia.

This artistic production was marginalized in Croatia in the last twenty years, with sculptures from this period systematically destroyed. Nearly three thousand monuments have disappeared without a trace. Fijolić brings them into the spotlight once again but with a great deal of humor and a decent dose of cynicism and irony.

Tell us about a couple of up-and-coming artists we should be on the lookout for.

This is an excellent question, and here are my favorites for a five-star list, in addition to Ivan Fijolić, whose work I just mentioned.

Zlatan Vehabović is an artist I have collaborated with since university. He is a figurative painter whose works I noticed because they were narrative, woven from meaningful elements in which he used explosion of colors. His paintings are not merely objects placed on a wall, but a window to hearing, seeing and feeling his stories. Music influences him so much that somehow you get the same feeling when looking at his paintings as you do when listening to great music.

Lovro Artuković is one of my favorite painters, the only one on this list who is over 50. Ever since he moved to Berlin he has been painting new vibrant paintings, with the energy of Berlin in them. Theater and music scene protagonists inspire him, though he does not depict them literally. He uses phenomena from art history still relevant today and combines it with everyday life, investigating what the painting can become today, at a time when new media offer more economic and faster ways of creating. He is not only up to date with politics, sports and arts, but also always conscious of his own position he chooses to take.

Bruno Pogačnik has become one of the most prominent artists, indispensable for his clear focus and high-quality production. He is a process-based artist who nurtures collaborations with friends and professionals from different fields. His collages, animations, sculptures and performances all stand before us as spaces of celebration, a teeming world that causes memory and life to spring forth.

Marko Tadić, on a constant quest for knowledge, creates his personal histories through found objects. They trigger his own imagined histories and possible narratives. He works in his studio, listening to audio dramas, watching low-budget horror movies and listening to contemporary composers. His computer is an archive of paranormal and non-utopian materials. He skillfully uses different media and recycles objects which are carriers of collective memory (postcards, souvenirs, little black books, address books etc).

Ivana Franke creates installations which bring into question the relationship between perception and materiality (illusion and reality); Ivana challenges space and the temporal nature of images. Installations are usually made out of nylon lines and (LED) lights. Berlin-based Ivana puts the viewer in medias res, in the center of a process of perception; every work is meticulously produced to fully provide this unique experience. She usually collaborates with specialists from different fields, such as physics, medicine and mathematics.

Kristina Lenard researches the relationship between photographic image and its real reference. She makes symmetrical installations in her studio and then photographs them, exhibiting only the photographs in light-boxes. She is very precise in her work and constructs portraits, still lives or landscapes.

Who comes to Lauba?

We like to think that that we are a gathering place for young and urban people, but it turns out that grannies also follow us on Facebook! Just kidding. We truly are a platform where everyone can find something for themselves. People mostly like to visit us on weekends, when they can relax and spend several hours with us. People also pop in after work, and the free guided tours are always full in the evening. All the events start at 8pm and sometimes we party until the morning hours.

Would you share your three secret spots in Zagreb?

Zagreb is full of young creative people at the moment. I would recommend that instead of buying unimaginative souvenirs people take a peek at one of the following wunderkammers in the heart of the city.

Prostor is one of the first concept stores in the city that started following the designer scene in the region. They have the best clothes, accessories, magazines… They try to cooperate with top-quality and creative people and provide a platform for them. In its courtyard, there is a private gallery Marisall, one of the rare galleries that represents young artists and shows very interesting works.

I would also definitely recommend the store I-gle to fashion lovers, a duo whose designs have been sweeping me off my feet for years. They have been dressing an army of architects and product designers for years in their distinctively designed and meticulously produced pieces, made of carefully selected materials.

i-gle store

Describe your perfect day in Zagreb.

I can rarely afford to treat myself to a perfect day in Zagreb but if I could it would look something like this. After a long walk with my dog in Bundek Park in Novi Zagreb (Zagreb’s new part of town across the Sava River), I would sit in the car with my sweetheart and go to the city center. We would have lunch at Lari & Penati (Petrinjska 42A), a small unpretentious restaurant, where dishes are prepared with fresh ingredients and paired with fine wine. I recommend their chocolate cake with caramel filling, a pure sensory explosion! Dogs are welcome to this restaurant, which is a big plus.

Lari & Penati

A short stroll in the city center usually ends with having coffee with friends on Cvjetni Trg (Flower Square) and buying a bouquet of spring flowers. Afterwards it is nice to spend the evening in the Upper Town, where my favorite location is the Museum of Broken Relationships, which knows how to put a smile on one’s face over and over again with its approach, exhibits and atmosphere. Not to mention that it is one of the rare places in the city that serves excellent spritz. In addition, the Museum has a gorgeous gift shop where I love to buy little things for my friends. And it is especially useful if I remember someone’s birthday at 9pm. The Bad Memories Eraser is my favorite.

A bar regularly frequented by architects, designers and artists, a place that is always completely crowded, is Sedmica (Kačićeva 7a). This small bar designed in the style of Zagreb’s old interiors has become a cult place, situated between the Academy of Fine Arts and the Faculty of Architecture. It is one of the rare places in which cigarette smoke, noise and crowds contribute to the vibrant atmosphere.

Across the street from Sedmica is a recently opened small gallery, Greta, which with its informal openings brings freshness into the neighborhood almost every week.

Can you describe a typical Zagreb moment?

Zagreb Film Festival has been this moment for me for years now. The festival takes place every October, with everyone gathering in one of Zagreb’s oldest cinemas at the very heart of the city. The equation is simple: great movies, great parties, great people.

Any strong stand about Croatia’s entry into the EU?

In the professional sense, I am looking forward to the inclusion into a larger and more global art market; young artists have already started to cooperate with commercial galleries around the world and our networking will become much easier. The fact that the art market will start to develop in our country is exciting in itself.

We will also be forced to change the way cultural institutions are financed. Institutions still mostly depend on the support of the city or state. Now comes a time when private investors will become more interested in contemporary art and will play a role in its life.

And personally, I am mostly looking forward to importing a Honda CN250 from Italy, a maxi scooter from the 1980s which is so cool and popular that it was being produced in Japan until recently.

To escape the city for a day, where do you like to go?

I discovered the beauties around Zagreb only recently, within a fifty-kilometer radius, either to the south of Zagreb, in Turopolje, or west of Zagreb, in Zagorje. Many of my friends and family members have nice small houses surrounded by nature, places to escape from the city. And I can see that there are lots of lovely houses for rent as well.

My parents have a ranch south of Zagreb, in Turopolje, a plain rich in various plant and animal species. Close to it is the holiday resort Ključić Brdo with rolling hills, pastures, orchards and vineyards and the breeding site of wild pigs, horses, mouflons, roe deer, deer, pheasant and all sorts of other animals.

One of the most beautiful houses in the world, or at least west of Zagreb, is Kućica. Their motto is “Replace asphalt with grass, smog with clouds!” The old wooden cottage has been restored, and even an occasional old dresser has been painted in a romantic manner. One can spend the night in the wooden attic, on the small beds on pallets with a modernist sewing box as a nightstand. In the yard there is the inevitable grill and wooden benches… It doesn’t get any simpler and more beautiful.

What’s your favorite spot along the Adriatic, your own special beach hideaway?

I spent a great deal of my summers with my parents in different camps all over the world and along Croatia’s coast. My father received a camper as a gift and we drove it to the places where our friends would be staying over summer holidays. For me, camping is the ideal way of spending a holiday, especially now when after a long time I again have a dog. My sweetheart is also the most capable camper I know, after my dad, of course! Last year we traveled by car along the coast and we would spend a night or more wherever we felt like. The Adriatic coast is made for this. We have wonderful memories of a small family auto-camp in Nin, right on the beach, with a surreal view of Velebit in the distance. Nin is peaceful, one can rest and eat well there, and Zadar is nearby, making it the perfect base.

Our goal was to reach Primošten and my sweetheart’s family house. On our way down we stopped at the first-ever Terraneo Music Festival in Šibenik. It immediately became a must destination for young urban people, and we are planning on going there this year as well. This year’s line-up includes The Roots, The XX, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, The Ting Tings, The Notwist, Dječaci, Gatuzo… All in all, five days of guaranteed fun with great food at the stands, great DJs, ecological workshops and a beautiful camp.

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