Sinisa Labrovic “is on the way to becoming a professional artist,” his website tells us. However, the statement, he tells, me, is tongue in cheek, because of the sheer impossibility of actually becoming a “professional artist” in today’s world. How does one even do that? That said, the statement is partly true, because Sinisa started working as an artist later in life, and has recently begun to establish himself as an artist. The statement is also untrue, because for all intents and purposes, he is a professional artist, with a complete repertoire of works to prove it.
There is a cool simplicity to all of Sinisa’s works, whose content vacillates from serious to playful, heavy to lighthearted, pointed to ironic. For example, in the span of several years, the artist sold pieces of his own skin, carved a “Glasgow smile” into his face, danced on thorns and flagellated himself, then went on to host a reality TV show in which the participants were sheep, painted an array of vegetables in a variety of colors, and grazed, like a cow, on a grass lawn. The viewer is greeted with a simplicity of form that gives way to much more complex issues lurking beneath the surface. The artist deals with a number of serious issues facing today’s society – from the place of art and the artist within it, to politics and corruption. At the center of all of these issues is the artist and his body, putting himself forth as both victim and slave to his audience.
For example, in Perpetuum Mobile, the artist took to the stage, naked, and attempted to drink his own urine, straight from his penis. The task is an obviously impossible one, so the artist solved the problem by urinating into his hand and drinking from it. This seemingly grotesque act tells a much more poignant tale about the place of the artist in society, and the insurmountable task of being an artist nowadays. With little funding for the arts, the artist must be in perpetual motion to produce work and feed himself. If he must feed himself from his work, and there is no money from his work, then he must produce his own form of nutrition, and take directly from his body what it produces. For a performance artist, the artist’s body is his work, so he must consume himself to stay alive, if funding isn’t forthcoming. Furthermore, the artist must continue to produce and reproduce – and maintain those high levels of creativity – in order to sustain a living. It is a never-ending cycle, and Sinisa’s act demonstrates to society what the artist is forced to do in order to stay alive.
Aside from consuming one’s own waste, an artist can also sell what he has, and for a performance artist, what he has is his body. In 2010, the artist created a “pseudo-painting” by having parts of his skin surgically removed and cured, and then affixed to three canvases, forming a triptych. The pieces of skin form the shape of a square, circle and triangle – the most basic geometric forms that modern artists, reducing their painting to the most essential elements of color and shape, had presented in their paintings for decades. Here Sinisa, the ultimate performer, merges body art and formalist non-objective painting to produce a two-dimensional performative work. But the artist is not interested in removing imagery from his painting or producing a truly flat work of art, as the modern painters were. He is interested in putting food on the table. One of the works of the triptych was auctioned on eBay, with a starting bid of $ 0.99.
Sinisa is also consciously aware of his role as an artist in society. In Advertising Board, he offered his body as a space where people could write messages or phrases on his upper torso, which remained naked as he walked around in public. In Leisure, however, a piece performed at Vlasta Delimar’s “My Land” Festival in 2012, the artist asked his audience to support him as he rested and contemplated (his next piece, perhaps)? Giving the two ends of the hammock to the audience members, he asked them to hold it up as he lay in it, drinking wine. Even then, he did not abandon his public, as he encouraged them not to give up as they grew tired from the burden of supporting an artist.
In addition to recognizing his own role as an artist, Sinisa also takes politicians to task for their role in shaping society. In 2010, he challenged Croatian Minister of Culture at the time, Božo Biškupić, to a boxing match. When the Minister didn’t show up for the fight, Sinisa was awarded a belt that proclaimed him the new Minister of Culture. He even showed up for work at the Ministry the following Monday. He continued his challenge of local politics and law in 2012, with Marking, when he urinated in a circle on the main square in Zagreb, St Mark’s Square. The piece addressed a law that was in place from 2005-2012, prohibiting people from gathering on the square, which is where the nation’s parliament is located. The Croatian Democratic Union party in Croatia (HDZ) introduced this law when they were elected, in fear of protests or demonstrations that might occur on that spot. In marking his territory, the artist creates a free space inhabited by the individual from which he can protest.
While urination may seem to feature quite often in Sinisa’s work, it should be remembered that one of the most significant pieces of 20th-century art was, in fact, a urinal. In April 2012, Sinisa did a performance in Mariborg where he took an ordinary urinal, much like the one “selected” as a work of art in 1917 by R. Mutt, and urinated into it. Just like Duchamp’s Fountain, the urinal was unplumbed, and so the urinal did become a fountain, as the earlier artist envisaged. Sinisa talked about the fact that Fountain representation a unification between functionality and art, since Duchamp was able to take a mass-produced object and turn it into art. But in the end, these art works are co-opted into the same market that mass-produced, useful objects are, so this idea of “unification” actually failed. In this piece, Sinisa literally pisses on that idea, while also acknowledging the debt that contemporary performance art and postmodern art practices owes to Duchamp, whether his original idea was a failed one or not.
Overwhelmingly, the artist acknowledges the hard work that goes into being an artist. As a sort-of companion piece to Leisure, the artist created Work, which involved an endless loop of the artist being filmed, naked, holding a TV; putting that film on a DVD; then playing that DVD of him holding the TV on TV; filming that; then repeating the entire process, over and over, until he could no longer hold the TV. As the artist said, “it’s not easy when you don’t have anything but yourself.” Sinisa acknowledges the burden placed on artist by contemporary society, which has less and less funding for the arts, and requires artists to fight for funding more and more. Instead of buckling from this pressure, the artist makes art about it.