Sabina Mikelić – In Between

In Between
The artistic research of Sabina Mikelić is shot through with her own experience of moving from Croatia to the Netherlands. A change in the fundamental circumstances of life and in the personal perception of the artist triggered her adoption of the issue of physical place in her recent works – Ode to Joy (2019), Beyond the Choir (2019) and Looking for Her (2020). The artist assigned the main roles in these pieces to the participants of her researches, gradually circling in to the introspection conducted through a very personal multimedia installation, In Between (2022). Testing out her position, of being between two places, two cultures and three languages, the artist in her highly aware choice of the language of the title of the work designates English the bridge between her native language and that acquired in adulthood.

In association with therapist and writer Aida Bagić, the artist began the process of reflection on her own existence within her place between. The creative process resulted in intimate texts from which the work In Between developed, the artist transmitting the raw parts of it in three films – elements of the associative map of her places. The starting part of the narrative refers to the olive tree as that which characterises Rab, island of Sabina Mikelić’s birth. The viewer is faced with a static take of the island filmed from a distance, emphasising the physical distance between the place from which the artist derives and the place of her current location. The following part of this, as it were, cinematic triptych is dedicated to cows, the animals the artist meets during her fieldwork maintaining the land for the ecological projects on dairy farms in Frisia. While listening to the artist speaking about cows, the viewer sees in close up another static take, this time of grass, and instead of looking at the olive trees, looks at the distant island. In this act the artist invokes the imagination of the individual, inviting them to an internal journey and to a search for their own places of the spirit and upon earth. The subject of the last film is the road, metaphorical sign for the internal state of the artist, marked by incessant, demanding and exhausting journeying between the two destinations. At the same time, the ritual of travelling subtly suggests the importance that Croatia and Rab have for Sabina Mikelic, ramping up thereby the impression of melancholy and nostalgia present in all the films.

In Phase 2 of the work, the artist tests out the theme of place, of her own identity, describing the island on which she grew up through its indigenous vegetation. Linking Rab and the Netherlands, photographs of sorghum, grass, spurge, asparagus and other plants that the author connects with her childhood are imprinted on a characteristic Dutch cheesecloth. Since the artist collected these plants with her mother on Rab, she has published the mother’s recorded descriptions of the ways in which the plants are used in a separate booklet. The artist translated the mother’s descriptions from the Croatian dialect into Dutch and English using Google translate. This emphasises the traditional challenges in expressing and finding equivalents of the native language in later acquired languages, as well as the paradox of translation, during which the primordial, mother tongue loses any sense at all. Significantly, Sabina Mikelić today uses her native dialect only on Rab, in the family circle. Her grandfather spent his working life in the Rijeka Rope Factory, the ropemaking tradition being continued by her father and brother. Because of her continued encounters in the Netherlands with the sea and with rope, because of the popularity of sailing in the country, the artist plaited rope from Rab with the equivalent from Dutch sailing boats, symbolically thus interweaving the two cultures in the last phase of the work presented by documentary materials.

Sabina Mikelić does not position her own place between physically, rather determining it as a process of the personal transformation of an identity defined by geographic variables and feelings of belonging to culturally different climes and settings. “I was much more afraid of the cows, now less.” The artist’s words literally convey the positive outcome of a complex process of her adjustment to life in Holland, country that she today calls her “second mother”. In this virtual exhibition, the artist presents the physical relation with the Netherlands, with its soil and its grass, which she begins to experience as her own, through photos of powdered Dutch grass. For an exhibition recently held in Apoteka – space for contemporary art, Sabina Mikelić scattered the powder derived from chopped grass she had mown in the field in Frisia alongside the walls of the Vodnjan gallery, representing quite equally an attempt to bring the two countries together and a straining to belong. Unlike the physical exhibition in Apoteka, the show on the web site of the Art Pavilion does not manage to convey to the visitor the scent of cut hay, which underlines the problems faced by contemporary artists who endeavour to present multimedia works in a virtual space, particularly acute in the post-pandemic and post-earthquake times that are our reality. On the other hand, for the purpose of exhibiting In Between in the Virtual Gallery of the Art Pavilion she has supplemented it with an excerpt from the book Belonging by writer Toko-pa Turner, confirming the processual nature of this work in progress. The art of Toko-pa Turner is also marked by moving places – from England to Canada, albeit in her early childhood. Freely translated, Turner says: “Being able to move somewhere easily is not enough for this place to become your home.” What then is enough for a country to be called your own? How do you make a country your home? What is meant by the category of integration? Sabina Mikelić starts up these and other questions, offering us in this exhibition a kind of synthesis of film, writing, psychotherapy and documentary materials transformed into virtual form, into a place of contemplation.

Foreword by Aneta Barišić