The Death and Death of Darko Maver
In paying tribute to the short-lived career of performance artist Darko Maver, the artworld got more than it bargained for. Ada Veen reports.
Last May, news started trickling through the European artworld that the Serbo-Slovenian artist Darko Maver had died in enigmatic circumstances in a prison near the Kosovan border. Maver’s brand of nomadic performance art, which consisted of placing gruesomely realistic models of murder victims in a series of hotel rooms and empty houses dotted around the former Yugoslavia, had been attracting press attention since the previous year. The Bologna-based webzine Entartete Kunst (‘Degenerate Art’) had spotted him first, and profiles had followed in Tema Celeste and Flesh Out. His arrest, for distributing ‘anti-patriotic propaganda’, had prompted the ‘Free Art Campaign’, with hundreds of Italian artists calling for his release. Shortly after his death, Ljubliana’s Kapelica Gallery exhibited his Tanz der Spinne (‘Dance of the Spider’) project, and published his texts Disappearance of the Body and Anaphoragenetica. In September, he was included in the 48th Venice Biennale and a comprehensive retrospective was mounted by Rome’s Forte Prenestino, complete with biographical films and theatrical tributes. His habilitation, so it seemed, was signed, sealed and delivered.
Then, this February, the whole cosy-if-sad official history was blown wide open by the revelation that Darko Maver had never, in fact, existed. He was the creation, it transpired, of the art collective 0100101110101101.ORG — who also (sound of a thousand red-faced people kicking themselves here) edit Entartete Kunst. But a further revelation turned red faces sickly pale: the horrifically maimed, bleeding and decapitated waxwork figures Maver had made his name with — photos of which had been widely circulated — weren’t models at all, but rather photographic documents of actual atrocities, several of which had taken place in Maver’s ‘home’ patch of the former Yugoslavia.
0100101110101101.ORG have stressed in interviews that their creation — perpetration — of Maver was intended to do more than simply highlight the inadequacies of the artworld, in the manner of the recent Nat Tate retrospective in New York (at which critics queued up to declare how long they’d been fans of a painter Bowie and his friends had invented the month before). Maver, they claim, does exist — in hybrid form, skulking the networks from which he’s been teased and wired (the photos, for example, are imported from the stomach-churning rotten site; the name Darko Maver itself was found in a bibliography). But Maver’s reality is more than semiotic: it’s mythopoetic too. With the revelation of his inactuality, a real death and a hundred simulated ones were suddenly transformed into a portal opening to our age’s own grotesque political — and ontological — Unconscious. Pan, it turns out, lives.