Hrvoje Slovenc is a Croatian photographer based in New York. He holds MFA in Photography from Yale University School of Art (2010) and MS in Biochemistry from University of Zagreb, Croatia (2000). Selected exhibitions include Relative Closeness: Portraits of Family and Friends, Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago; Biennial 2011, the Bronx Museum of the Arts; Past is Now, Münchner Stadtmuseum in Munich, Germany; Marble Hill, Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, Croatia; New Media, Sex, and Culture in the 21st Century, Museum of New Art in Detroit; New Acquisitions 2003-2013, Museum of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb, Croatia; and Young Artists’ Biennial in Bucharest, Romania. His work is in the permanent collections of Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, as well as Museum of Contemporary Art and Museum of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb, Croatia.
Croatian Rhapsody: Borderlands is about shifting subjects, changing places, passages of time, and geopolitical transformations that include war, genocide, disappearing maps, new borders, and lost languages. Born in a country that no longer exists, having a passport from another, and living in a third, Hrvoje Slovenc used a large-format camera with film to make a sequence of seemingly unrelated pictures. Whether staged or straight, heavily altered or barely touched, Slovenc’s pictures fuse photographic genres and formal conventions to remember and forget, to distance and reclaim the experience of becoming stranger in a place where he once belonged.
Alternating between sublime and kitsch, amusing and dreadful, sensual and bleak, his pictures are reminiscent of a perplexing cinematic montage or an idiosyncratic collection of personal memorabilia. The images range from diptych to grid, black-and-white to color, sharp contrast to atmospheric fuzz, positive to negative, microscopic to panoramic. They comprise portraits, nudes, and interiors, people pictured recto and verso, bodies photographed inside and out, alone and in groups. The heterogeneity of display strategies serves to magnify the variety of photographic subjects and their formal features. Whether collaged, printed on plywood, or appearing in a lightbox, Slovenc’s photographs defy taxonomy, order, and narrative cohesion.
What these pictures share is the depiction of a mute presence of callousness, violence, and anonymity. Traces of trauma and implied subjugation to power mark all of Slovenc’s subjects. The neatly arranged rows of barely noticeable lacerations on the back of male heads, the misplaced shadow of a plant in a visually overbearing interior, the microscopic cell samples of genocide victims, the grave intensity of a singing or shouting crowd: all are images of ghosts and memories of the flesh, each fraught with suggestions of unspecified violence. The persons and places in the photographs bear neither proper names nor recognizable identities—despite the promise of the work’s title, the images do not represent and locate, but instead probe identity and belonging. Through its quiet brutality, cruel sensuality, and the anonymity of its subjects, Slovenc’s work refuses to participate in the promptly commodifiable imagery of loss, longing, and trauma of the memorial industry. Croatian Rhapsody acknowledges the impossibility of picturing a country as a place of collective history.
By distancing and obscuring its own subject, Croatian Rhapsody does not chart the terrain it crosses—simulating Croatia as a contested site, it mimics locational identity. Marked by the post-photographic era’s doubts about the medium’s representational validity and the experience of hyper-reality that eradicated “the difference between truth and false, real and imaginary,”Croatian Rhapsody embraces, even honors, the photographic image’s incapacity to act as a narrative device. Broken and fragmented, Slovenc’s work plays on the silences that punctuate our conversations about the past and, much like memory itself, consists of displacements and phantasmagoric projections. The pictures falter, mumble, and speak in ellipses indicating how places affect us and the impossibility of direct speech when addressing our past.
Slovenc stages the mnemonic process as a continuous double of distancing and obscuring, recalling and reliving the past of a homeland that no longer exists, and another, where he no longer feels at home. His material processes (including collage and re-photography), his combination of staged and found imagery, and the diversity of the scale and display strategies that he employs violently remediate both the images and the subjects they depict. By merging the double work of memory with the conceptual and formal strategies of post-documentary photography, he creates inherently ambiguous pictures and thus jointly presents the treachery of memory and the deceit of the artifact.
Neither a representation of a country and its past, nor a symbolic homecoming and return to imagined lands and communities, Slovenc’s series is like the small and enigmatic diagram—a coded military map or a scheme of a constellation—that appears in juxtaposition with a female nude in one of his photographs. Croatian Rhapsody: Borderlands is a cryptograph, a concealed memory map. It suggests, as Salma Rushdie wrote of The Wizard of Oz, “[T]here is no longer such a place as home; except of course for the home we make, or the homes that are made for us...which is anywhere and everywhere, except the place from which we began.”2
 Jean Baudrillard, Simulations (1984), 5.
2 Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz (1996). Quoted in Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia (2011), 258.
Hrvoje Slovenc lives in New York City and completed his residency at Light Work in May, 2017.
Ágnes Berecz is a New York City–based writer and art historian. She teaches at Pratt Institute and Christie’s Education, and lectures at the Museum of Modern Art.