Greetings from Dubrovnik. It's smaller than I'd thought, but seems steeped in a peculiar, concentrated kind of history and significance. The weather is good; glad to be out of London for a few days and could get quite used to sitting around, drinking coffee and watching the world go by.
Speaking of drinking coffee though, or not, we went yesterday to the Museum of Modern Art. Let's be honest, the highlight of any trip to a European Museum of Modern Art can be the coffee and cake in the café at the end. With this in mind, it's fair to say that our hopes weren't high for the Museum of Modern Art in Dubrovnik.
First, the place didn't appear to be open. It looked as if some kind of structure had been placed right in front of the entrance, as if half installed or in the middle of being renovated... We ventured in though, to be greeted with rows of tables neatly spaced out and arranged ready for us to skip the art altogether and get straight to the best bit... A few clues however meant that it was obvious this wasn't the eagerly awaited café; the tables were old and mis-matched, rusting and peeling; there were no chairs and certainly no coffee machine or counter with cakes. Instead, what had looked like the detritus of installation was a viewing platform from which to look over the tables, an accompanying map of the city highlighting the location of cafes in the city's walls from which these tables had been borrowed. This was, 60 Tables and a Wooden Structure, the first piece of an exhibition entitled Low Season, of Dubrovnik-born artist Slaven Tolj. A little later in the day we passed a city map with the same design and key showing the location of damage caused during the siege of the city in 1991-2. Reminiscent of Victor Grippo's Meses de trabajo y reflexión recently shown at Camden Arts Centre, the work played subtly on our expectations of cultural tourism, the highs and lows of being in a city which depends upon such tourism and indeed the very idea of being a tourist in such a historically-important and troubled destination.
The exhibition continued throughout the building, using Croatian cultural and political signs; flags, the city walls, folk songs, to articulate ideas about heritage and its use as a tool of tourism. Low Season is a quiet, unobtrusive exhibition which shows off the building, a 1950s residential mansion, built to resemble both a traditional urban Dubrovnik home and a Renaissance villa, to its best. Ragusavecchia, for example, is a series of eight television screens showing the faces of a local a capella group. Together the singers give a synchronised performance of a Croatian song about returning to one's homeland and of the illusion that 'old love will return'. Another work, Reflection, is an installation featuring four large chandeliers resting on the floor as if pulled from their fixings on the ceiling. An accompanying photograph shows the reflection of their light when they lit the room. Together the works in the exhibition build a subjective picture of the city, a prism, through which to look at it in a new way.