Lara Ritoša Roberts: Retrograde

5 April–30 April 2019 @ artKIT / Glavni trg 14, Maribor

written by Petar Tomaz Dobrila

Lara Ritoša Roberts’ exhibition in ArtKIT Gallery is her first solo exhibition in Slovenia. In her works, Lara touches upon various areas of visual arts. Although here she’s presenting herself as a sculptor, she can most credibly be labeled as an interdisciplinary and intermedia artist, who – taking (her own) body and the constant changes it undergoes in time as a starting point – defines our space through a continuous and critical response to the environment in which she resides and creates. The external, formal, structural and sculpting body, is also an internal, contemplative, responsive and personal one.

Under the title Retrograde, she attempts to capture the past, and commemorate it through her work in the form of a contextual retrospective exposition which connects several periods of her artistic career to the periods of history witnessed by her as she grew up. The fact that she does not indulge in nostalgia is highlighted by the audacity of her artistic process, in which she brings together singularities to form a universal and distinct personal poetic with a strong personal touch. Taking a three-dimensional object as a starting point, she plays with material use; papier-mâché appears like stone or bronze, into which she incorporates latex and bandage cloth, while metals create the impression of ceramics.

The dichotomy between (external) appearance and (material) reality is not mimetic, it is critical, not to say ironic – in the sense of miniaturizing monumental sculptures of superhuman dimensions and the hard, brute traits into gentle, childlike faces with marks on their foreheads to define their adherence, and into sculpting miniatures, which she decapitates to strip them of their recognizability, generalizing them into everymen and everywomen and placing signal flags in their hands. Impersonality is seen as the most defining characteristic of a collective; a collective is a functioning mechanism of similarities, driven by the clockwork of the system.  

Still, Lara Ritoša Roberts’ insights are not even metaphoric, rather than that, it could be said that her artistic expression is a form of mimicry used to process her life journey through periods of history. She is also not interested in mythology, which might occur to someone at the first glance, seeing carefully chosen symbols of the society she grew up in incorporated into traditional sculptures. Rather than that, her position could be labeled as ironic (by no means sarcastic, let alone cynical) and critical, coming from a fully (perfectly) rational distance, which she reevaluates by means of her imagination and highly expressive artistic encoding.

The latter becomes all the more evident in her video works, whether these are documented recordings of performances, which she most often performs in group settings, inviting the audience to participate, or in autonomous video productions, in which she combines her storytelling methods, joining them into unique visual meta-fictional collages, or pastiches. Quotations from popular culture are mingled with historical references, politics becomes art, and art is ideology (although by no means mythomania). 

An excellent illustration of her pasted collages is the participatory performance Yugo Yoga, in which she attaches to the current exercise trends the historic memory of the erstwhile stadium slets (mass events in Yugoslavia, celebrating Youth Day on the 25th of May each year), including the act of presenting the baton of the Relay of Youth to Josip Broz Tito. In a typically proletarian outfit, wearing blue clothes and with a red cap on her head, she invites the audience to become part of the art work, as they listen to the sounds of revolutionary partisan songs while observing poses copied from former socialist heroes and performed by the artist, who invites them to repeat after her and become an element of the Yugo Yoga. To top off the experience, she adds a projection with political/activist slogans and messages promoting self-discovery, health and care for a harmonious development of the body and the spirit.

Plenty of references to society, politics and arts, to history and the present, sail like a space ship through Lara’s machine. Futurism, constructivism, avant-garde, modernism and postmodernism, minimalism, classicism, soc-realism (social and socialist), pop-art and popular culture, meld into a collective body of the artist’s creation work, with which she replaces the individual body, in order to re-question the role of community. Individuality of expression is replaced by the collective spirit, the foundation of which is common action, and acting inside a community.  The symbols used by Lara Ritoša Roberts in her works are signals of collaboration, unity, and uniformity.

In this unified collection of various media approaches, the intimate is exposed at the same time as the spiritus agens and spiritus movens of her oeuvre, which, through an artistic encoding of the present and the past, of contemporaneity and history, processes a social/sociological, political and economic reflection of a peculiar space-time. The latter can be frozen in a sculpture or drawing, set up in a spatial installation, carried out as part of a (group) performance with Performance Klub Fiskulturnik, or forged into an audio-visual production.

Regardless of the medium employed, Lara Ritoša Roberts remains consistently engaged and committed in the purest sense of the words, whereby she is able to cut right to the heart of the viewer, encouraging us towards a reflection and re-questioning of ourselves. Professed by all systems, the unity of the body and the spirit becomes – by way of group exercises, where everyone repeats after (the) One – manipulation and mass hypnosis at the same time. The rehearsed and unnatural repetition becomes ideologically charged. When in fact, it is ridiculous. It undermines. It builds. It has reference. It is a means of disclosure, which is presumably the essence of all art, and this essence is continually and relentlessly stirred by the artist. She stirs us up as well. No beating around the bush.

For the exhibition in Maribor, Lara Ritoša Roberts displays her sculptures, drawings, video recordings of her performances, photographs, collages, words and sounds, created over the last fifteen years. She showcases a sort of mini-retrospective, hence the title of the exhibition. The extraordinary combination of selected works of art points to facets of her life’s journey and to the scope of her artistic endeavors. Systems change, people stay the same. Either as persons, individuals, or, through de-personification, as a collective. The system is one, whereas we are everyone and all of us. Let us join Lara in her walk backwards through the works, in which a personal narrative embodies a historical context … There is NO place like home.

Am Strand beim Yugo Yoga – Stadtschreiberin Rijeka/St. Veit am Pflaum 2020 (stadtschreiberin-rijeka.de)

Belgrade Part Two: Understanding Yugoslavia Through Performance Art | Solo in the Balkans (wordpress.com)