Exhibition opening. Photo: Tanja Kanazir / Drugo more (Flickr gallery)

With an exhibition inspired by a collection of spelling books, the well-known writer Dubravka Ugrešić introduces herself as an artist in a different genre. In the framework of the Dopolavoro flagship of the Rijeka 2020 – European Capital of Culture project, the exhibition Red School will open at Filodrammatica Gallery (Korzo 28/1, Rijeka), on Thursday, 25 February, at 19:00.


Visit the exhibition until 26 March, from Monday to Saturday from 16:00 – 20:00. Admission is free.

At the beginning of the war in Yugoslavia in 1991, Dubravka Ugrešić accidentally ran across a spelling book from 1957, which, by the year of publication, could well have been her own. In her words:

“Suddenly I had two new worlds emerging in front of me: a remote, forgotten world of the spelling book promising a happy future, and another, real, present world that was brutally denying that future..”

The episode was an introduction into her collecting of spelling books which in turn has resulted in a series of texts and visual works presented in this exhibition and in the accompanying catalog.



When asked what exactly is she doing in the exhibition, Ugrešić will answer:

“Honestly, I don’t know. The truth is, I am not unfamiliar with concepts such as appropriation art, intervention art, soc-art… I was once fascinated by the concept of soc-art by painters Ilya Kabakov, Alexander Melamid, writer Lev Rubinstein and others. I also discovered the dislocated amateurism of Henry Darger, I love the paintings of the Yugoslav social artist Dušan Otašević, I adore the films of Dušan Makavejev, but I don’t think the answer should be sought in that direction.

I am by no means an “artist”, and everything in the exhibition is recycling, a process of alienation or astonishment, which I try to achieve with small interventions. As far as intervention is concerned, I also use school techniques: repeating motives, crossing out, emphasizing and hiding, and the like. When I say everything is recycling, it primarily refers to the material I use. There is not a single sentence of mine, not a single one of my drawings (because I am not an artist). From today’s perspective, it is archaeological material, and this type of archeology is rarely addressed.

Photo: Davor Konjikušić

A visitor to this exhibition will notice the remains of a miniature red school bought a long time ago in an antique shop in Amsterdam, and my obsessive (mis)use of a five-pointed star and a sickle and a hammer. Since the day when Croatia was declared an independent state, which is exactly thirty years old this year, the Croatian mental and visual field has been gradually occupied by swastikas, black as cockroaches, in all sizes. The five-pointed stars scattered around my “works” belong to the compulsive gesture of the loser. Although the red star was not my “ideological badge”, nor was its presence so intrusive in my childhood that, judging by my work, it could be concluded — it became one. The red star is not a defense, nor a protection, nor a political strategy, it is a weak but constant alarm. Beeper. The red star is here to ask if the swastika cockroaches really overwhelmed us?”






Over the past three decades, Dubravka Ugresic has established herself as one of Europe’s most distinctive novelists and essayists. From her early postmodernist excursions, to her elegiac reckonings in fiction and the essay with the disintegration of her Yugoslav homeland and the fall of the Berlin Wall, through to her more recent writings on popular and literary culture, Ugresic’s work is marked by a rare combination of irony, polemic, and compassion. Following degrees in Comparative and Russian Literature, Ugresic worked for many years at the University of Zagreb’s Institute for Theory of Literature, successfully pursuing parallel careers as both a writer and as a scholar. In 1991, when war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, Ugresic took a firm anti-war stance, critically dissecting retrograde Croatian and Serbian nationalism, the stupidity and criminality of war, and in the process became a target for nationalist journalists, politicians and fellow writers. Subjected to prolonged public ostracism and persistent media harassment, she left Croatia in 1993. In an exile that has in time become emigration, her books have been translated into over twenty languages. She has taught at a number of American and European universities, including Harvard, UCLA, Columbia and the Free University of Berlin. She is the winner of several major literary prizes (Austrian State Prize for European Literature 1998; finalist of Man Booker International Prize 2009; Jean Améry Essay Prize, awarded for her essayistic work as a whole, 2012; Vilenica Prize 2016; while Karaoke Culture was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism 2011. She is the winner of the 2016 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Ugresic lives in Amsterdam. (Photo: Shevuan Williams. Norman, Oklahoma 2016)

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