Students Center in Zagreb (Croatia) has been a vibrant vein of urban culture and meeting point for students, artists and intellectuals for several decades. It is situated in city’s broader center, around the spatially very important area, which also hosts the Museum of Technical Sciences as well as the Sports Center Dražen Petrović dedicated to Croatia’s most renowned basketball player.
Cibona Tower, visually the most spectacular part of the latter, is—by a symbolic coincidence—the headquarter of the largest private corporation in the region, Ivica Todorić’s Agrokor. It makes sense to underline that one of the city’s more important cultural venues and Croatia’s leading archetype of economic transition are placed as opposed to one another—it’s a logical reflection of how things are done in Croatia. There is rarely a quality dialogue between private and public sectors, and this permanent situation, it seems, is spreading its wings on Students Center, too.
During prewar years of socialistic self-management in Yugoslavia, from early sixties to early nineties, Communist party of Croatia was intelligent enough to let Students Centre be some kind of social laboratory or artistic and humanistic playground. From students’ protests of June 1968 to the legendary concerts of confrontational foreign bands such as Washington DC’s Fugazi, held in the very dawn of war, Students Center was always living on the edge of subversive social practice—but not entirely over the edge of it. While always intensely creative surroundings, SC wasn’t politically “out there” at all times. Its programs remained essentially harmless for the ruling elites of all local political systems, so it’s no wonder they were and are tolerated.
At this very moment, the thorough, much-needed readaptation of the entire complex is nearly finished, and it also didn’t go down easily and without controversies or debatable consequences. On a lighter note, SC is a popular, if infrequent party place, which as such means a lot to several subcultures of young people. And it’s widely known that besides art and media itself youthful restlessness craves for strong and distinctive visual imaginary to identify with, too. Truth be told, contemporary, original, poetic and witty visual communication is precisely that “little” something which SC never lacked.
It’s worth mentioning that SC is unified, but loose association of more than many cultural joints, projects and offices. The most significant may be Theater &TD, perhaps as adventurous and cutting-edge theater as Croatia can get. Since Vjeran Zuppa, respected renaissance man of Croatian theatre articulated its position of a space dedicated to postmodern and experimental stage practice, Theater &TD needed broader and looser visual communication as well; and it got it in terrific posters, leaflets and entire identity by Mihajlo Arsovski, one of the most praised and enigmatic figures of Croatian and Yugoslav design history.
Other notable artists and designers did their share of work for Theatre &TD, such as Željko Borčić, Boris Bućan, Mirko Ilić and many other people. Arsovski’s provocative and humorous images, like a man dressed in early avant-garde style, but in an instantly recognizable psychedelic setting, or William Shakespeare chewing an ordinary baby’s toy, are perhaps best metaphors for playful character of this theater.
Less than a minute walk from Theatre &TD is located Gallery SC, one of the key exhibition venues in town. Like everything else in SC, it had its ups and downs, but it always maintained the status of a cultural institution with flexible and provocative program, whether it was based around more classical artistic presentations, or performances, installations and mix-media pieces in recent times. Notable curators and artists, namely Vladimir Gudac, Helena Klakočar, Želimir Koščević and others, have been heads of Gallery SC in the past, while under contemporary guidance by Ksenija Baronica, it had lost nothing of its appeal.
Finally, public can attend various cross-media events in the famous MM (Multi-media) Center located in the same complex, from movie screenings to poetry nights, etc. Coordination and organization of this rich stream of cultural activities are in the hands of SC’s association Culture of Change, which organizes various annual festivals such as Culture Fair, too. Moreover, during the last few years Culture of Change has been the chief commissioner of graphic design for programs held in SC, so it created raving job opportunities for a number of talented and devoted young professionals.
Among this loose group of individuals, designers Dario Dević and Hrvoje Živčić, born in 1986, are the dudes most closely related to the notion of what Students Center’s visual communication is about nowadays. (However, not since always and, perhaps, not for too long before boys stepped into the scene. SC’s chief young designers were a couple consisting of blistering ladies Dora Budor and Maja Čule; and most recently, another rising female designer has been cutting her teeth in SC, her name is Lana Grahek.)
Hrvoje Živčić and Dario Dević (or simply Hrvoje and Dario or Dario and Hrvoje as they are commonly known) were at the spotlight a while ago because the exhibition of their design centered solely around the work they’ve been doing for SC. It was staged at the Croatian Designers Association gallery in the core part of the city. CDA Gallery, a program of which is curated by art critic and author Marko Golub, is devoted to promoting design in various forms and media.
Hrvoje & Dario’s exhibition marks the pivotal point when Croatian designers who haven’t turn 30 yet have portfolios wide enough to fill an entire gallery with just a part of it. And we aren’t talking only quantity here, it’s quality by all means. Visual communication designed by Dario & Hrvoje, empowered by their thorough knowledge of the field and enhanced by their profound wit varies accordingly to the media they use and the function upon which they respond, but it’s always colorful, intelligent and refined, and, most importantly, culturally aware and critically potent.
Of course, the results may vary whether they are doing posters, leaflets, small print and publications, as well as other types of editorial design in printed media; or if they are creating illustrations, typography, using photography, or perhaps animating and programming some online stuff, banners and videos, for example. The sheer broadness of their scope exemplifies the vast number of skills absolutely needed to survive in contemporary graphic design, but the distinctive qualities of their work abundantly show that pure technical (and digital) virtuousness isn’t of much use if it’s not rooted in deeper understanding of design process and its inseparable social context. Make no mistake, Dario & Hrvoje are entirely familiar with this.
Pop culture, both local and global, is their acquired playground and their way of operating in it is unique. Hrvoje & Dario knowledge of offline and online worlds beyond design is precisely what gives their work mass appeal, while their proficiency in design is what makes their communication believable and essentially relevant. Apart from the vast quantities of simplified and in essence conservative commercial design (conservative not in the sense of identities it promotes, but of system values it continually reproduces), Dario & Hrvoje are not afraid to speak—with pictures and words equally. Moreover, the entire body of their mutual work is a fine example of clear structural connections between visual and verbal languages in contemporary design, and it underlines the fact that one cannot be separated from the other. It’s no coincidence that Hrvoje is praised typographer, too, while Dario often writes pieces on movies and music for local online and offline media.
These individual activities of the two are supposed to be viewed and rated on par with their togetherness in design because they also show ever-growing tendencies in designers stretching their traditional roles, becoming some sort of complex cultural ambassadors in the process. Of course, this is a global Western phenomenon now getting its offspring in Croatia, too, and it appears to be a fine way of evolving for local design culture. Hrvoje & Dario proudly, if unintentionally, are sitting in the driver’s seats. And they’re not about to slow down.
Source of the photos: Dario Dević & Hrvoje Živčić’s archives