Kristina Leko

A possible ideological background of one’s interest in farmers

Kristina Leko


On this occasion, I would like to give you an insight into two of my projects and their ideological background. Both projects were dedicated to farmers. One was a collaboration with ten farmer families, and the other aimed to protect the milkmaids of Zagreb as a cultural heritage.

I guess that everyone with an interest and passion for farmers, must have similar if not the same ‘philosophical’ background. So I tried to articulate this background by composing a working ethics for people / artists like me. This ethics, I believe, can be easily modified to fit other professions as well. The following project presentation put into relation my artistic practice with its ‘philosophical’ or ideological background, in the way that each passage of my project description has been related to a set of moral rules.

Project description 1

On Milk and People was a documentation and communication project realized in collaboration with Hungarian and Croatian farmer families in 2002 / 2003. It included ten short films, interviews and an excursion to Hungary…. On Milk and People exhibition in ICA-Dunaujvaros in Hungary featured ten short films about farmer families and objects from their households, chosen and set up by the farmers themselves.

In March 2002 I spent three weeks in Dunaujvaros, Hungary and found five families willing to participate in the project. RULE 4 + RULE 5. In August 2002, I spent three weeks in Slavonski Brod, Croatia and found five families willing to join the project. RULE 4 + 5

Milk is the main source of income to all families involved in my project. They all work hard and mostly never leave home. Their days are similar. I filmed on entire day in each family. At the end there was approximately 3 hours of raw video material per household. RULE 2 + 3 Farmer families were all happy and thankful when I gave them my recordings. RULE 6 + 7

After five months of editing I had one short film about / for each family, and noticed they enjoyed much more my raw recordings than my final films. My tapes were then circulating through a few villages in Hungary and Croatia. Neighbors were curious to see. Some asked for additional copies. RULE 6 + 7

Later on I recorded interviews with some family member, edited them into one-hour tape, and subtitles into Croatian i.e. Hungarian, so that they can understand each other. RULE 1 + 5 The interviews show people with the same problems in the two countries. Croatia and Hungary share many similarities in historical and political development. RULE 2 + 3 Both Croatians and Hungarians complained mostly on insufficient retirement money and on not being paid on time for their products or work. RULE 1 + 3 Some got very angry about corruption and crime involved in politics nowadays. The other got angry because of the past communistic times. RULE 3

In one of the exhibition rooms there was also reading material prepared in collaboration with ICA-D stuff and University in Godolo, agricultural department. There were texts and articles in available subsidies for agriculture and dairy production, as well as different advisory material for Hungarian farmers to take away. RULE 1 + RULE 2 + RULE 12

In the same room, there was a wall text which consisted of two quotations from the interviews. It is an example of several matching cases, where a Croatian and a Hungarian farmer complain about being blackmailed in the same way from their agricultural agencies. RULE 1 + RULE 2 + RULE 3 + RULE 5

Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia funded my solo exhibition in Hungary with 4,000 Euros. It was just enough to organize travel to Hungary for the farmer families and for myself. RULE 9 From each of the Croatian families, I invited two members to travel to Hungary, meet Hungarian families and set up the exhibit together. RULE 1 + RULE 4 + RULE 5

I rented a bus with driver for five days, paid accommodation and gave an exhibition fee to every person involved. We all got the same fee. RULE 9 + RULE 10 Each family was asked to choose several objects from their household which are, according to their opinion, appropriate to be exhibited together with my films. RULE 5 + RULE 11

The following families took part in the project:

Torma Mihaly family, Dunaujvaros, Hungary

Torma Janos family and Falusi family from Nagyvenyim

Beregzsazsi family, Kiszentmiklos

Fulop family, Elloszalas

Samardzija family from Ruscica, Croatia

Zvirotic family and Blazevac family from Donja Bebrina

Ostojcic Family, Prnjavor

Kolesaric family, Zoljani, Croatia

As we came to Dunaujvaros, there was a reception party in the Institute of Contemporary Arts where we met ICA-D stuff and their guests. RULE 4 + RULE 8 + RULE 9 The next three days we worked on the exhibition. Most of the participants did set up themselves and helped each other. RULE 1 + RULE 4 + RULE 5

While working on the set up we had a meal in the gallery every day. RULE 4 + RULE 6 I insisted on eating in the gallery because I believe in democracy very much. RULE 4 + RULE 6


Project description 2

Cheese and Cream, a communication and documentary project in progress since 2002 is an initiative for protection of the milkmaids of Zagreb which included: actions in public space, research, archive, website, exhibition and media campaign. It has been realized in collaboration with [BLOK] Local Base for Culture Refreshment.

On 31st August 2002 at the Dolac market in Zagreb, 160 portions of fresh cheese and double the amount of cream were handed out for free to passersby. RULE 1 + RULE 4 + RULE 6 + RULE 9 It was the first happening of our initiative realized in collaboration with three milkmaids who had spent their entire working lives at the same market. RULE 5 + RULE 10 + RULE 11 While Marica Seeneaic, Katica Bzig and Marja Poljar were distributing their products, our team gave away fliers motivating passersby to sign their name in out Book of Requests for the 22nd Century. RULE 4 + RULE 5 In the fliers we proclaimed that one by-product of Croatian adjustment to the European economic and legal standards might well be the milkmaids’ disappearance, and that our goal was to save them from extinction, and to protect them as cultural heritage. RULE 8 + RULE 12 That day, we collected 227 signatures of citizens, who thereby stated their support for our initiative. RULE 9 + RULE 12. As part of our initiative, 2002 and 2003, signatures of support were collected on several occasions, in Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Ljubljana and Berlin, as well as online (4000 signatures were collected online), and we researched and documented the social position of the milkmaids. In December 2003, we publicized our research results via an exhibition, a website, a round table discussion, and a small-scale media campaign.

With this work, my intention was to use all my artistic as well as other skills to document and mediate the situation of the Zagreb milkmaids as a significant part of Croatian social reality. In spring 2002, I spent 2 months at the Zagreb central market filming the milkmaids every morning and talking to them. The plan was to create an archive on all the milkmaids who come to sell their products in Zagreb. Later on, in the course of 7 weeks, our team interviewed 448 milkmaids, and gathered information on milkmaids’ personal, familial and financial situations with a 30 year perspective.

The project archive consists of photo and video recordings of milkmaids and their products, their video and audio statements, information on their schedules, different for every milkmaid, as well as the statistics based on the questionnaire; all accessible on the project’s website. The same video recordings I used to create my art works: a single channel video work and a three channel video installation.

The website was our tool to test and influence public opinion and generate communication. I consider it to be a paradigm of what an artifact / artwork should be. On it is possible to sign the ‘Declaration on Milkmaids’ and search trough the archive of Zagreb milkmaids – on 474 personal pages of milkmaids who sell on 6 main Zagreb market places. Also, a collection of stories on cheese and cream and on milkmaids has been written online by the Zagreb citizens.

The exhibition in the PM Gallery, Zagreb in 2003 was an open office for the project, where visitors were each given individual attention. Our hostesses would explain the position of the milkmaids and our initiative to each visitor, guide them to sign the petition book, show the project website and eventually help visitors write their comments or stories.

The round table ‘Could Zagreb Milkmaids possibly join the EU?’ took place parallel to the exhibit. Its objective was to provide the opportunity for responsible officials from the regional and national administration and several field specialists to discuss the issue and create a platform for their eventual future activities.

During the time of the Cheese and Cream exhibition, we wanted to place the milkmaid issue at the centre of media attention for one week. An important point of our media strategy was to announce the happening that took place in one of the main city squares. The cow Beba, one of 5,500 cows from the region, accompanied by her owners, was brought to assist the exhibition opening in order to draw media attention. And it did: three TV programmes, six radio stations and all Zagreb printed daily papers reported on the event. On the other hand, systematic contacts with the journalists were also part of the project. Our collaboration with the TV programme ‘Good Morning Croatia’ comprised a TV adaptation of the project: several milkmaids, the participants in our round table, and a few citizens were featured in a series of short reports and studio visits dedicated to the issue and broadcast daily for nine days,

In the following 2 years, cheese and cream became and important issue in Croatian politics. Every couple of months since, there has been a new wave of interest: newspaper articles, YV reports, and politicians talking about Cheese and Cream. Nobody remembers that there was an exhibition of the same name. Some politicians who participated in our round table used the theme later for their self promotion without mentioning our initiative.


Background of the above described projects

What should I do? An ethics for artists in the Twelve Simple Rules


Through your art activity / work you should initiate, increase, moderate and shape a public discussion. i.e. communication among the people around you, which has a public interest to it and which would not happen otherwise. (A social definition of a fine and free art)


The issues brought up by your artwork / activity / should be of public interest, be relevant and useful for the site / community where work / activity takes place. (A negotiation of abstract art. ‘Yes’ to documentarism.)


You will enrich the public polylogue if you add new standpoints to a common perception of your chosen issue/s. If the common perception of an issue is influenced, reality related to it will change as well. The place / community will never be the same after taking part in a documentary endeavor / project of quality. (On a critical / independent attitude being obligatory. On perception and pluralism.)


Keep your work/activity/events accessible for everybody. Include those who are usually excluded. (For a cultural democracy. Unlimited general right of use for public venues)


Include people who are from the location in your creative process as much as you possibly can. Let them take control over the way they are represented. Let them decide how they should look like, what they should State. Explain as much as you can about the context you are working in and with. Do not show material that people are not happy with or that they are indifferent to. The right to present people’s images and documents is to be earned through their involvement and by having personal relationships with them. (For democracy and for cultural democracy. Also for authentic documents/artifacts)


Always give presents away. Create artifacts that relate in a personal way to people around you and give these as presents to them. Create happenings in order to increase the feeling of brotherhood and equality in the group you are working with. (Another social definition of artwork. Also on cultural democracy)


Create artwork in an environment where artworks are usually not created. Distribute it in an environment that usually does not witness such things. (Same as previous)


Make friends during and through your artistic work/activity. (On the final criteria in judging the quality of an artwork/activity)


Never use public money towards a private profit or possessions. Use public money for an artwork/activity as described above, i.e. for an artwork that takes place in public sphere, formulates a public interest through addressing and involving a local community with relevant issues, that is open and accessible to all, easily reproducible, and that will never be applicable to exclusive private ownership. (The ontological implications of public funds for an artwork.


Fully respect people that your work is about and that you are working with, always state their names and credits, and treat them equally to yourself in every aspect. (For true cultural democracy)


Fully respect the aesthetic preferences of people you are working with. The artifacts created by them are valuable in the same way as the ones that you / an artist might produce. (Negation of masterworks)


Your activity has to have real / concrete consequences, and lasting effects. Create pragmatic, useful and socially interactive, people friendly artifacts and events collaboratively on site and for the community, with clearly stated aims that correspond to real / concrete needs, which you have previously systematically researched. (Another functional definition of artifacts. On activism) (2004)