Sculptor, public artist, designer
Australian sculptor Marijana Tadić grew up in a house alongside the banks of the River Sava, in Brcko, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the former Yugoslavia. Adjacent to the Tadić family home was the river’s harbour, where transport ships docked. The beaches nearby were popular swimming spots for locals—where twice the young Marijana Tadić came close to drowning. So, it seems only natural that she would absorb some powerful, if contradictory, lessons from the River Sava and its immediate environment.
Today, many of Tadić’s outdoor sculptures are located adjacent to water or other quintessentially liminal spaces—the space between. Ideas of ‘movement’ and ‘flow’, associated with water, permeate many of Tadić’s visual artworks, whether her large public artworks or the smaller scale sculptures she exhibits in gallery settings. The idea of ‘liminality’ applies not only to the physical positioning of Tadić’s sculptures, but is also conceptually relevant to her artworks.
Another formative influence was the diverse ethnic makeup of Srpska Varos (‘Serbian Town’, or ‘Serbian Quarters’, within the town of Brcko), where Marijana’s working-class Catholic parents Pavka and Joko raised her and her brother Ivo. The harmony and fluidity of ethnic identity in Brcko and in Bosnia at that time have exerted a lifelong influence on Tadić in terms of her visual artworks and life.
By and large, Tadić’s childhood with her parents and younger sibling was happy. The late 1950s and 1960s was a period of relative social and cultural harmony, neutrality, and rationality in the former Yugoslavia, preceding the turbulent times that would co-opt
many ‘Yugoslavs’ into virulent expressions of ethnic nationalism.
Apprehension about her minority status did not become an issue for Marijana Tadić until 1969, when her parents made the life-altering decision to migrate to Australia, ostensibly for economic rather than political reasons. Arrival in Australia in the late ’60s came as a shock to the 14-year-old, bringing the outsider status of Marijana’s migrant identity into painfully sharp focus. Her response to her new country was a sense of loss and confusion, coupled
with an overwhelming sadness. Longing to return home, the teenager struggled to make sense of it all.
Since the 1960s Australia has changed profoundly, becoming less insular. Ironically, this is largely a by-product of migration. Today, Tadić, like many other migrants of that same era, feels absolutely at home in Australia.
As a primary school child in Bosnia- Herzegovina, and in the course of her secondary studies in Australia, Tadić demonstrated considerable artistic aptitude. After leaving school she took on various jobs but eventually, encouraged by family and friends, found an outlet for her creativity in the building industry. In this setting, Tadić, meticulous by nature, excelled. Between 1974 and 1982, she took a series of courses offered by the Housing Industry Association and worked on various building sites. In 1983 Marijana Tadić became the first South Australian woman to be granted a commercial builder’s licence. At the same time, confidence boosted, she decided to take the plunge and enroll in the University of South Australia’s art school, majoring in sculpture.
Tadić began exhibiting as an artist in an art school group exhibition; later, in 1987, she staged her first solo show at Adelaide’s Contemporary Art Centre. Her 2001 solo exhibition Salacious Offerings, at Adelaide Central Gallery in Norwood, marked a turning point in her career. She exhibited two standout works: Bon Ton, Cabbage with a College Education, evincing an obliquely Duchamp-ian influence, and the more serious, harder-edged Social Lubrication, Translators, Traitors. Into both works she integrated written text. Later, solo shows of Tadić’s sculptures were mounted at the Hill Smith Fine Arts Gallery in Adelaide and Sydney’s Soho Gallery, as well as in Croatia, at the National Sculpture Museum in Zagreb, and at Zadar’s Arsenal Gallery. Tadić has also realised a number of significant public art commissions in Australia.
Although her decision to begin formal art training was underpinned by the security of an income stream as a builder, the twin pursuits of visual art and building have tended to coalesce in Tadić’s sculptural and public art practice. Indeed, this has opened up all manner of opportunities, including her work with urban planning teams and inclusion in multidisciplinary projects. Tadić’s germinal collaborative public artwork, Gateway to Adelaide (2000), created in conjunction with a wall design team comprising Neil Cranney, Mark Butcher, and Robert Williams, marks the entrance to the city of Adelaide from the southeast. Gateway to Adelaide comprises a freestanding sculptural work as well as ‘three major walls, paving insets, bus stops and bus shelters, a water feature.. and [a] screening wall called Fossil Forest… All are located in the intersection precinct’ (Fazakerley and Bonham, 2001, p. 354). Not only is Gateway…positioned at the junction of four major roads but it also marks the entrance to and exterior walls of a religious community of Carmelite nuns, a contemplative order.
Tadić is drawn to border zones, be they physical, psychological or existential. Enshrining this philosophy is her 2004 conceptual work balancing act, situated in the Mobara Park Japanese Gardens at Mawson Lakes in outer Adelaide. Balancing act comprises three finely (though apparently precariously) balanced precast concrete spherical objects made up of layered concentric circles of graduated, differing dimensions. At night, these objects cast a magical glow over the restrained orderliness of the Japanese gardens. Lit by computer-generated interior lighting, the subtle illumination enhances the other-worldliness of this unusual site. The works in balancing act are evocative of the strata of limestone rock formations and outcrops of the Dalmatian coast that were part of Tadić’s visual field throughout her childhood and youth.
Marijana Tadić has also created a number of sculptural works located contiguous to large stretches of water, where bird life proliferates. For Tadić, water has symbolic meaning, as do birds, with their peripatetic migratory and nesting patterns, their connotations of flight to and from unknown destinations, their resistance to terrestrial resting places and their connections with, and dependence on, aqueous environments. Contemplation, located at Marino Rocks, a southern suburb of Adelaide, is arguably Tadić’s finest public artwork to date. Situated under a steep cliff face on a low, flat, rocky beach that stretches out to a reef, Contemplation speaks eloquently to all of Tadić’s thematic concerns.
Adelaide-based art critic Wendy Walker has written that Contemplation entails ‘three discrete, but complementary elements [that] are abstracted interpretations of a ship’s mast, a boat deck and an overturned hull of a boat’ (2007). These works look out to sea but also make reference to that which lies inland. Distributed across the three integrated elements of this bravura set of sculptural works is a brilliantly understated, liminal-place poem. Written by Tadić’s childhood friend Miroslav Mićanović, it expresses the complex nature of migrant experience:
I’m quiet with
the land I come from.
Just as I don’t say the name
of the sea to the boat.
In that same Marino Rocks/Hallett Cove precinct there is evidence of earlier Aboriginal occupation and ancient geological formations, also evoking layered histories and layered identities. These are represented in Contemplation by means of the white, layered structure near the seashore that makes dual reference to the dry stone walls of white rock along the Adriatic coast, and to the vertically layered rock formations found in the Hallett Cove area near Marino.
Tadić’s reciprocity (2008), a bipartite public artwork positioned at the entrance to the Port River Expressway, makes explicit reference to the Indigenous genius loci by incorporating a drawing of emu tracks by local Indigenous artist Mark Blackman into the design. Interior lighting illuminates this work at night, offering benediction to passing motorists and transient pedestrians.
Light also plays a defining role in an earlier, more dramatic work, Eucalyptus Ablaze (2007), which captures the essential nature of heat and light generated by Australian bushfires. In this work, Tadić, who in recent years has been using computerised lighting effects in increasingly sophisticated ways, uses aluminum laser-cut tubes as stylised vertical trunks of burning Australian gum trees to evoke the licking flames so necessary for the regeneration of our native flora. The artist’s understanding of this technology is equally apparent in her captivating, mandala-like, laser-cut steel work Seismic Scan (also 2007), a work alive with vibrant flecks of colour and light that dance along and through its surface like tiny, animated bolts of lightning. Tadić hand-cut templates for Seismic Scan from acrylic and cardboard, passing these on to professional fabricators for laser cutting.
Tadić frequently makes use of ceramics, cast glass and stainless steel in her gallery works, to exhilarating effect. Examples of this include her marvellously tactile works Cradle and Seasonally Adjusted (both 2004), and her graceful, spiralling, 2009 sculpture, Within 111.
Marijana Tadić’s most recent work, provisionally titled Wandering Albatross, to be exhibited at the BMG Gallery and AC Arts Light Square Gallery during the 2011 Adelaide Fringe Festival, demonstrates her versatility. Into this work she intends, for the first time, to introduce sound, via the use of recycled, vibrating acupuncture needles. Reflecting her fascination with energy, flow and movement, the needles’ flexibility allows for movement, which gives rise to sound and shadow. Wall panels, timber-like screens, have been made from recycled Australian hardwood strips that double as light-filled crevices of the kind that might be glimpsed through the crooks and crannies of large native trees. Each screen is equipped with a spectrogram that is derived from bird sound, evoking a natural bush ambience. Gentle birdsong will fill both gallery spaces.
Conceptually complex, meticulously realised at the technical level, rehearsing ideas about migrancy, belonging and ‘unbelonging’, navigation and the environment, nesting, and notions of ‘home’, Marijana Tadić’s public artworks and smaller gallery sculptures contribute significantly to the South Australian artistic landscape. Her public sculptures, located mostly at the borderlands, speak eloquently to the extraordinarily generative effects of dislocation and relocation on cultures and identities. That Tadić is capable of realising and expressing such complex and interconnected themes in visual terms is testament to her artistic originality and power.
For more information on Marjana Tadić and her work, please visit her website, www.marijanatadic.com.au.
Fazakerley, R, and Bonham J, 2001, ‘Intersections: public art and road space’, 20th Century Heritage, Our recent cultural legacy, ed. D Jones, Australia ICOMOS National Conference, Adelaide, 28 November–December 2001, pp. 352–57, http://arrow.unisa.edu. au/vital/access/manager/Repository/ unisa:40151, accessed 22 June 2010.
Mićanović, M and Walker, W 2007, Bounty of Light, exhibition catalogue accompanying display at the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Glyptotheke, Zagreb and Arsenal, Zadar, Croatia.