Zoran Todorovic

  When I walked into Zoran Todorovic’s studio, the first image of his
work that he showed me was of his stomach. Covered by surgical sheets, only one
area of his stomach was exposed. It was sliced open, and a layer of fat was
being removed. From a drawer, he took out a bar of glycerine soap, which had
been made from that stomach fat. I shrank back in my seat, wondering if I had
told anyone I was going to meet him, and whether my body fat would also end up
in a personal hygiene product. Next, he showed me a meal that he had made for
the attendees of his exhibition, an aspic (gelatin with various food
ingredients set into it) made from discarded human tissue – ligaments and fat
left over from plastic surgeries. At this point, I really started to get
scared.

But I need not have worried, because Zoran is one of the
nicest artists I have met. His calm and friendly demeanor belies the extreme
works of art that he creates. Agalma,
the first piece mentioned, with the soap made from body fat, is in many ways a
token of affection for his viewers. The title, in fact, is the Greek word for a
gift offered to the gods. In fact, it is a gesture of intimacy, as the viewer
is invited to become a participant and benefit from the artist’s pain by
washing his hands with the soap. Artist and viewer could not be any closer
following the latter’s consumption of the work. When Suncica Ostojic and Olga
Majcen, two curators from Kontejner, a bureau of contemporary art praxis in Zagreb, invited Zoran to take part in an
exhibition, he turned the tables by asking them to take part in his work. The
two bathed with the soap, and offered to bathe visitors to the exhibition in a
private bath in a hotel room, which was rented specifically for this purpose.
The artist sees this as a sacrifice that he made for his audience. He had
stitches from the operation for one month, and it was very painful. But without
this pain, he told me, there would have been no sacrifice.

Assimilation,
which involved the aspic made from human tissue, was not a sacrifice made by
the artist. Instead, unwitting surgery patients offered up their discarded bits
that ended up in a small feast for attendees of Zoran’s exhibition. Those
attendees were aware of the contents of the food being offered them; some
tasted it, and others did not. The recycling of these pieces of human bodies
raises questions about contemporary notions of beauty, but in the gallery it
also gave rise to question about cannibalism (which isn’t, incidentally,
forbidden in the places where the exhibition was held…although the murder of
humans for consumption certainly is!).

The artist tells me that he wants to challenge his viewers.
He realized early on that there wasn’t much left to do with painting, so he
began creating situations – he became “a designer of situations,” he told me,
in which people were forced to confront taboos or even the limits of their own
bodies.

Take, for example, his piece Laughter, which involved the artist filling the gallery space with nitrous
oxide, or laughing gas. Because the gas is meant to relax patients, it produced
similar effects in the visitors to the gallery, causing them to lose their
inhibitions – some even started to dance! Canon
tested their limits in other ways: a device producing sound of 130dB at 10 and
20Hz is installed in the gallery. These reverberations can cause illness and
nausea. It produces vibrations that you can feel in your stomach, but can’t
hear, thus underscoring the physical limits of one’s body.

In 2009, the artist represented Serbia at the Venice
Biennale with his project and installation Warmth,
which consisted of 1,200 square meters of felt blankets made from discarded
human hair. This hair was taken from a variety of places – hair salons, as well
as prisons and even the army. While in the former, hair cutting is a matter of
choice, relating to ideas of beauty and hygiene, in the latter two, hair is cut
as a form of control, and to create uniformity. [I couldn’t help but be
reminded of Danie Premec’s comments to the same effect.] The installation has
obvious connotations with regard to Nazi concentration camps, but the
significance of the piece reaches far beyond that: for example, the piece can
be seen as a DNA map for the Serbian people, insofar as all of the hair came
from within that nation; the work of art becomes something useful, made from
the discarded and unwanted remnants of human life (unlike in the concentration
camps, this hair was taken willingly, or, in the case of prisoners, humanely);
it can also be bought and sold (£100/1
square meter) and turned into clothing (one fashion designer designed a dress
using the felt). For the artist, it is the viewer of the piece who produces the
final picture of the artwork – through his reactions and engagements with the
piece, the associations made, and the dialogue raised. He simply creates a
strange situation for the viewer to contend with, and leaves it out there for
interpretations and meanings to be created.