A hundred meter around the world
The sun had just set over the old town of Rovinj, on the Istrian peninsula. James and I left our mirador, our eyes filled with orange light, and started stumbling down the narrow, cobbled-streets leading to the fishing harbour and the ice-cream parlours. We had passed dozens of souvenir-shops and art galleries showing a dubious mix of local talents and commercial dross, when we stopped to photograph a cat hissing at an oblivious neighbour’s dog. A narrower street appeared on our left and we could see the silhouette of a small chapel in the distance. I hurried through the street and almost slipped on the paved stones, polished by the feet of all the passers-by over the centuries, and carefully climbed the stairs to the entrance porch. I was then quickly ushered in by the complaints of James who was trying to capture a picture of the chapel unspoiled by my human presence. To his enchantment, the chapel had turned into an art gallery inside. To my greater surprise the artwork hanging there was actually well worth the visit.
Three of the walls were covered by a few layers of bright and colourful cartoon strips – what was described to me as ‘100 meters of wallpaper for sale’. Indeed, each cartoon strip was one meter long and exactly one hundred of them were stuck to one another to form a wall mosaic. Demarcation dots with scissors had been drawn on, so as, in the words of Sonja, the artist, to enable the art buyer to cut his or her favourite piece to hang on his or her living room. Sonja’s 100% decoration openly criticizes the Croatian art market which sees art primarily as a commodity, paintings and sculptures mainly for decorative purposes. Rovinj’s galleries come to mind, catering for tourists and locals with a taste for warm-coloured brushstrokes reminding them of the sunset they have just witnessed from the rocky shore.
Most of Sonya’s cartoons are of animals, a Far-Side comedy turned into bold statements about the absurdity of the world we’re living in. E.T. go home shows the familiar, lovable extra-terrestrial drawn on an American flag. Beyond the obvious pick on America’s harmful global policy, one wonders who exactly is the good, who is the bad and who is the ugly? Personally rejecting the capitalistic, twisted values of our Western societies, I felt like the strange creature myself, dubious and dismissive towards my fellow humans. E.T. is intrinsically part of these values, the product of a people’s imagination, desperately clinging to their long lost innocence. Another cartoon shows a group of sheep gawping at the viewer. James and I are gawping back at them. Here again, I am being reminded of the dazed, afraid, comfort-seeking individuals sleep-walking around the planet – including myself. Sarcasm usually helps to deal with these sorts of daunting thoughts but Sonja’s sense of irony was too fresh to let the viewer go through it with their usual sense of self-complacency. Her cartoonish ideas stuck, long after the visit, like the bitterly sweet and earthy flavour of Istrian truffles on my tastebuds.
Sonja Gasperov: 100% Decoration is showing at Galleria S Tommaso in Rovinj, Croatia, and includes 2 tapestry-like illustrations of balkan-punk band Gogol Bordello. http://sonjecka.blog.hr/