In 2001, Vlasta Delimar rode a horse through the center of Zagreb, completely naked, just like Lady Godiva. Some who were there to witness the performance commented that no one was shocked or alarmed by this act. Perhaps they had grown immune to artists running naked through the streets of Zagreb. After all, it was just twenty years earlier that Vlasta’s good friend and mentor, Tomislav Gotovac, walked naked down Ilica Street in that same city, shouting “Zagreb, I Love You!” and kissing the asphalt as he went. Vlasta’s approach was perhaps more demure, but equally brave and powerful. Throughout her work she uses her naked body to convey a message about individual freedom of expression, and the power of the human body to communicate with one’s audience.
Vlasta started doing performances early in her career, in the 1980s, and told me that she liked it right away. She enjoyed working with her body in space, and mentioned that in performance you can use all of the senses – taste, touch, smell, sound, as well as the tactile – which you can’t necessarily do with other forms of art. All of these senses feature prominently in her works of art. For example, in Tactile Communication, first performed in 1981 with her partner at the time, Željko Jerman (an artist from the Group of Six artists, active in the 1970s, who is now deceased), involves communication with the audience through the means of touch. Vlasta also said that performance gives her more opportunity for contact with the audience, which is something that she likes very much. In speaking to the artist, I got the sense that this was perhaps one of the most important elements with her art – the communication and commingling with the audience, the human relationships it creates and stimulates.
This is evident in the annual project that she has been running for the past 9 years: My Land – Štaglinec, which is named after the village where her father’s estate and former rope factory, which the artist inherited, is located. Each year, she invites performance artists to join her there for three days; during the first two, they prepare their performances, and present them on the third. Sometimes, there is concept for the event, but regardless, the artists always respond to the land and incorporate it into their work. While they may arrive with preconceived notions as to what they would like to present, these ideas invariably get changed and altered once the artists encounter the land.
One relationship that the artist formed and cherished throughout her life was her friendship with artist Tomislav Gotovac. Following his death, the artist recreated several of his performances, together with partner Milan Bozic. They even performed at his funeral, appearing in the same clothes that he was buried in. In the final years of his life, the three had spent a considerable amount of time together, and even performed together as well. For example, one of Gotovac’s last performances was staged together with the two artists and entitled Two Men and a Woman (Croatian Masterpieces). On September 2, 2009, the three walked down Ilica Street, where Gotovac (who was going by the name Antonio Gotovac Lauer by this point) had performed Zagreb, I Love You! Nearly three decades earlier. The men were naked, the woman (Vlasta) wore her signature black hat, a black shirt, and black heels. She removed the shirt, and then the three started to walk hand-in-hand. At the end of the performance they went their separate ways.
While her overt use of the naked female body may conjure ideas of feminism, Vlasta insists that she is not a feminist. In fact, while she generally has no problem with her fellow man, she does have issues with feminists, who sometimes take issue with her work. She told me about a piece that she did in 2003, a billboard where the artists appears with her blouse open, breasts visible. The caption of the piece read: “men should be trusted.” The artist informed me that feminists reacted strongly against the piece, citing male violence against women as a reason not to trust men. But Vlasta is full of love and respect for all human beings, and her agenda is not a political one to liberate women, specifically, but to liberate all mankind from the bonds that constrain us and prevent us from being who we really are. It takes a strong woman to walk down the street naked, or ride down it on horseback, and Vlasta’s faith in humanity is what seems to give her the courage to do it. It is also her love for humanity that impels her to convey these ideas to her fellow man (or woman) so that they, too can feel free.