Whitehot Magazine

Summer Vibes: Dance de Luxe

Photograph by Juraj Vuglač.

By LARA PAN, August 2023

During my annual summer visit to Europe in June, a heat wave was already kicking in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, due to climate change. I was a guest at the opening of the unusual collaboration between Croatian artist Mariana Pende and German artist Olaf Nicolai. We all happen to share the same passion for the Croatian seaside, especially the Dubrovnik Rivera and its Elaphiti Islands, and their special spots hidden from the invasion of tourist hordes during summer months. So, of course it was a must to visit the exhibition entitled Dance de Luxe – and to enjoy our art gathering with a great sense of humor. In the same humorous spirit, I wanted to make a cross- examination interview with the artists about this very specific project.

The project is dedicated to Danče beach, a well-hidden site outside the walls of the old city of Dubrovnik, where only the locals and a few initiated art souls can find their peace and quiet… far from trendy spots like Hydra or Ibiza. As Branko Franceschi, the curator of the exhibition, says,” Over the years, Danče has become a kind of center for the locals, where multiple generations of residents hang out and exchange the latest gossip or the oral history of their town. The collaborative art project, Dance de Luxe, satirizing the hedonism of the infamous disco era in its title, celebrates Danče’s outdoor social lifestyle – and intends to recreate it in the interior of the Bačva Gallery."

LARA PAN: Who came up with the idea of making an exhibition that engages this particular ecosystem? and why? Can I call it beach interdependence? 

Olaf: The summer before last year, Marianna asked me if we should work together sometime. We have known each other for a long time, I spend a lot of time near Dubrovnik, where we often meet. I had seen her work in the

Pavilion of the Republic of Dubrovnik at the Venice Biennale, which impressed me, with its sensitive abstraction. Sure, I said. Some time later Marianna called me, said: „We need a title. Now.“ I immediately thought- Danče - but then, no, different- Danče de Luxe. It is such a place, to which exactly applies what Siegfried Krakauer once wrote about the Mediterranean port bars: a place from which the adventurous journeys begin. 

Mariana:  Danče Beach is one of the last remaining sanctuaries for the local population. In the past, Dubrovnik was a city where all the various neighborhoods used to have their own particular beach for socializing, or just hanging out. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Olaf and I share a mutual inclination for Danče, resulting in our wish to present this venue under a glass dome of a site specific installation during the summer months at the Meštrović Pavilion in Zagreb.

Photograph by Juraj Vuglač.

You like to investigate the cross-fields between architecture, literature, philosophy. You’ve made a topographic card of Danče beach. I wonder what is your connection to Danče? Can you describe this singular universe and its rules (if there are any rules)? 

Olaf: I knew Danče a little bit, but only through Marianna and Izvor, her husband, I slowly discovered what a world of its own it is. It is a place where all kinds of activities are slowly taking place, which is constantly changing, transforming, and thus resembles a living landscape. Even a small republic was founded here. Throughout the day you can meet different groups of people who come here, who know each other, who spend an important part of their lives here.

Those who visit Danče find themselves in an area that looks like a large playground made of stone, with a wide variety of small buildings of variable functions, which were created spontaneously and still seem to be changing. 

And for the exhibition, the informal architecture of Danče seemed to me the best "stage" – both, for Mariaanna's work and for various activities - reading, music, bar... even just "hanging out". 

What was your approach to this project? You told me that there is an urban legend – or is there a true story about Danče that you took as a point of departure? Please tell us more about it.

Mariana: When you spend a lot of time or years in such a place, you become familiar with all its details. Certain buildings at Danče inspired me to create a cycle of works that are based on the existing architecture. For example, the “ Caffe Bar”, also a storage room for balls and a changing room …. So, regardless of whether it is an urban legend or a true story, Danče, unlike other beaches, has its own history.

An interesting fact, which tends to be forgotten, is that during the Republic of Dubrovnik, Danče served for 200 years as the first quarantine, up until Lazarete was built. Another interesting fact is that nearly a hundred years ago, the local population founded their own Republic of Danče on the beach with its own statute. The beach was divided into three "municipalities", as symbolized by three sea urchins. Danče history is entwined in intricate details, each of which can individually or in unison serve as a point of departure. 

Photograph by Juraj Vuglač.

The material world comprises a network of inseparable patterns of relationships. By absorbing and appropriating this complex mini-ecosystem, how do you communicate this project to the audience? How do you want to interact with the viewers.

Olaf: At some point in the planning of the exhibition it became clear that a really built palimpsest would not be possible... I was then asked if I could change the plan I had made. At first I thought: How is that supposed to work? And then: Well, of course! That's better! The visitors enter an architectural "draft" and in which they can walk: a plan for the unplanned, for the construction of "ruins", a paradox.

They encounter both scupltural elements, and the drawing that makes proposals for possible buildings. The space of the pavilion is crossed with another architectural experience, transforming into a place of imagination of its visitors. You can continue, what would be this "Hang out of the Four" for example. The confrontation of the monumental architecture of the pavilion with a completely different structure, that becomes so much more a  place for and of imagination. 

I feel that Dance de Luxe does not so much hit the audience over the head with a message, but rather allows them to just experience it. There are a lot of side activities organized around Danče, including participative projects that create community. Can you tell us more about them?

Mariana: I think a very important fact about Danče is that we, the authors of this exhibition, always have fun, a good time, at Danče...so we created this project motivated by pleasure and fun one encounters at Danče. Some kind of entertainment or happening is always taking place at Danče, whether it is morning meditative relaxation or more energetic forms of fun, so the accompanying programs organized during the exhibition that included Yoga, meditation, concerts, etc. all fitted in well with the DANCE DE LUXE 

Dance de Luxe is a site-specific project designed for Bačva Gallery. How do you both feel about the possibilities for this project to travel to another country? Or was it only made specifically for Bačva? Can you say more about how you made this choice? 

Mariana:  Sa Danče is positioned facing towards the open sea, when you are standing there, gazing at the sea, you never know which direction the wind will take you....

Olaf: When a circus travels, the actors look at where exactly they are performing now - and also adapt the revue... Why not: Embassy Danče 

What are the next projects that you are working on?  Can we expect a new collaboration between the two of you any time soon? 

Olaf: We work together on a publication which will not be simply a cataloque or a documentation of the project – it should continue it in a different way. 

Mariana: Dance De Luxe. WM

Lara Pan

Lara Pan is an independent curator,writer and researcher based in New York. Her research focuses on the intersection between art, science, technology and paranormal phenomena.

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