It has become evident, with the benefit of hindsight, that with her first video work I, the Housewife! created as far back as 1996, Renata Poljak has already established a creative principle that she would develop and make ever more complex throughout her career, reaching the very pinnacle of Croatian media art. The titular I establishes personal experience and personal position as the perennial wellspring of her creative impulse and inspiration aimed at the interpretation of its narrower social or broader civilisational context. Where appropriate, her first-person narrative form will include family experi- ences, narratives and heritage as its natural extension. The Housewife!, in turn, points to an understanding of the gender position as a neuralgic viewpoint, according to and from which she will shape content that is reducible, in the broadest terms, to the inter- pretation of individual existence and entanglement in socio-historical events beyond our control. The video work I, the Housewife!, was produced in Ivo Deković’s summer workshop, which at that time represented one of the few opportunities for education and experience in the production of media art within fine arts education, and we can also consider it symbolic for the formative process of the second generation of Croatian artists who will integrate media art into today’s standard academic curriculum. In her work, Renata Poljak has developed the range of expressive possibilities that media art introduced into the post-conceptual creative paradigm, into a wide array of variations that, starting from video, film and photography, encompassed different levels and modalities of their respective spatial presentation, with a constant dichotomy and interaction of visuals and text as basic vehicles of content and form. In this seemingly narrow repertoire of expressive means and disciplines, Renata Poljak has developed a wide range of complex narratives determined by personal emotions, facts, experience and reflections on the local and global visual culture and its social context, with pinnacles reached in the precise detection and deconstruction of persistent social hypocrisies and their roots.
Renata Poljak begins The News cycle and develops it in the period that started with the recent pandemic upheaval, and ended with the tragedy of the war in Ukraine. In conditions of mandatory quarantine and faced with the phenomena that will forever, and obviously not for the better, change global civilisation, Poljak turns from a complex production of media art that presupposes intense collaborative work, to the self-suffi- ciency of the most intimate artistic means of expression – charcoal drawing on paper. Her approach to this traditional artistic medium is unorthodox. It is basically an appropriation of newspaper photographs, which she traces on transparent paper, highlighting their key visual segments, and then, after enlarging she finishes them with charcoal, and an infrequent addition of pigment. The resulting realistic monochrome drawings with a rich texture are superbly executed artistic facts in themselves, which Poljak, following her well-established creative method, pairs with text, paraphrasing the very methodology of newspaper production. However, the appropriated images of daily events are not accompanied by the corresponding newspaper article, which in principle presupposes an objective presentation of facts and events, but she pairs them with texts in which she presents an emphatically subjective interpretation of the phenomena that the global media attention is currently focused on. The transfer of a newspaper photograph into a traditional fine art medium, gives its proverbially secondary status as a visual design
element of a newspaper article, the aura of an artistic act and, implicitly, eternity. The aura also includes the associated text written in a confessional, diary atmosphere and style, which takes us directly inside the artist’s emotional state and thoughts. In synergy and relying on each other, the textual and visual elements of the work combine the ubiquitous media image of daily events, now recreated and appropriated by hand with a written and published textual description of the artist’s subjective reflection, thus achieving the fullness of the intended effect. A work of art as a point of convergence of the public and the personal, the informative and the reflexive, the factual and the emotional, the objective and the subjective.
The reality that we live together with the artist, appears as a gradual reification of dysto- pian content that burdens and shapes, in all artistic genres and disciplines, the culture of the modern era. The global pandemic, the war whose consequences cannot be isolated to the level of local or regional wars that we have become accustomed to, the increasingly certain possibility of nuclear strikes that would easily bring off the cultural concept of Armageddon, the systematic collapse of everything that was considered civilisational achievements, values or peculiarities, and the incessantly widening spiral of systemic violence and its dark media image, are the context and impetus for the creation of The News. We are aware that we have no escape. The syntagm the end of the world no longer represents only its geographical end and reducibility to the sphere of a miniature planet, but is primarily and by all accounts a question of the end of reality as we know it.
In 2019, while she was recording material for the film Porvenir and the eponymous preceding series, Renata Poljak’s pursuit of her ancestor led her to the Tierra del Fuego, the geographical end of the world located at the very southern edge of Chile. It is a magnificent, literal and metaphorical wasteland, a landscape reduced to only sea and rocks and that infinitesimal amount of the most persistent organic life. In an attempt to visually enhance the monochrome of The News with colour and movement, and a symbolic vision of the wasteland, the artist found a solution from the perspective of her native Mediterranean paradise in Bol on the island of Brač. It is the “end of the world” that is geographically located just over 200 km north, in the craggy landscape of the island of Pag ravaged by bora wind. The lone video in the exhibition shows her walking through her ravaged world. It is not just a matter of a fortuitous and deft location swap. Specifically, the end of the world is metaphorically and realistically much closer than we ever dared assume.
From the phenomenological standpoint, The News indirectly demonstrate the status of the mental space that modern civilisation is shaped around. Our experience of reality is completely immersed into the system of generating and shaping “the news of the world” as the starting point of our personal experience of existence. From the aspect of the current creative paradigm, in turn, by introducing her long-neglected drawing skill into the repertoire of performative strategies, Renata Poljak tells of the wider phenomenon of overcoming the dichotomy of traditional art disciplines and media art that marked the decades at the turn of the millennium. We can optimistically conclude that the nearness of the end has its good sides.
— Branko Franceschi