The Family Portrait at HDLU, Zagreb - Photo by Juraj Vuglač

Across 7 projections, this animated installation depicts a poetic, dark, and somewhat humorous social observation, in which family ties and relationships are broken down and dissected to pieces.

Video from the exibition in HDLU – Croatian Association of Artists
Gallery Prsten, Zagreb 17. 05. – 11. 06. 2023.

Internationally acclaimed visual artist and animator Lea Vidakovic has created her work Family Portrait in two ways in terms of presentation. In the first case, it is an animated film intended primarily for viewing in standard movie theatres and projection rooms, and in the second, it is a gallery installation composed of synchronized projections and artefacts (dolls and miniature models) arranged in the space, with which the animated material was realized. Therefore, the gallery presentation of Family Portrait – which is the subject here confronts visitors with two compatible or complementary realities: a two-dimensional virtual and a three-dimensional physical one. In fact, the project was developed as a kind of work in progress, which Lea gradually revealed by intermittently exhibiting some of its parts. The exhibition at the Mestrovic Pavilion of the Croatian Society of Fine Artists marked the end of this process, and all interested parties can finally experience Family Portrait in its entirety. Unlike the film, in which the artist treats the basic narrative line linearly, that is, successively, by means of gallery projections – seven of them – she affirms the principle of simultaneity and fragments the entire plot into the same number of spatially conditioned segments. Why spatially conditioned? Namely, the action of Lea’s puppet animation takes place in a large family house in which there are seven rooms of different purposes, with each projection thematizing the events in one of them. Lea is a master of creating specific narratives, whose predominantly dark moods are sometimes imbued with restrained humour or irony. The protagonists of Family Portrait do not express their existentially intonated anxiety in an overtly pathetic or dramatic way; they primarily emanate apathy, the cause of which lies in mostly suppressed but fatally persistent tensions. According to her own words, when creating the basic plot of Family Portrait, Lea was inspired by a quote from the Japanese Buddhist thinker and peace activist Daisaku Ikeda, according to which every family has its own specific circumstances and problems that only it can truly understand. The artist lucidly brings all the recipients of the gallery version of this work from the potential position of uninterested, uninformed and indifferent passers-by into an active voyeur position from which they will be able to immerse themselves in – as Ikeda would say – the circumstances and problems of one family, fictitious but by no means unrealistically atypical. And thanks to the projections that treat the place of action fragmentarily and its temporal sequence integrally, various forms of immersion are possible, that is, according to individual perceptual judgement. We therefore, enter the plot through a character or a room that we choose ourselves. As one of the hallmarks of Lea’s creativity, it is certainly worth highlighting her exquisite sense for the virtuoso performance of meticulously chosen details. Let us mention just a few examples, such as indicating the reflections in the mirror, the recognizability of landscape motifs in room paintings, or the readability of the newspaper headlines, from which we can conclude that the action takes place approximately one month before the outbreak of World War I. As for the content itself, Lea humorously evokes the process of transformation from an everyday and predictable rut to a state of unrest caused by a sudden but also mass family visit. The disruption that ensues is symbolically foreshadowed by the vibrations caused by the vehicle in which the guests arrive, to continue through suppressed expressions of confusion, intolerance, and even minor human weaknesses. The household chores performed by the maid take on the character of unnatural forcedness, the animals add an additional dose of restlessness, and the new vibrations caused by the somewhat grotesque sexual intercourse also carry a certain symbolic charge. In short, in Lea’s interpretation, anxiety, i.e., indications of a potential impending collapse, manifests itself through ordinary, non-explicit dramatic actions or moods. Perhaps it is not an exaggeration to state that Family Portrait has something of the poetics that Raymond Carver expresses in his prose. Of course, with full preservation of the artist’s original authenticity and awareness, and therefore recognizability.

Vanja Babic