Vilim Halbärth’s exhibition Škver (Shipyard) at Art Gallery Split has been conceived as a sort of culmination and summary of his eleven-year commitment to the topic of sustainability of shipbuilding. The impetus and framework of his artistic engagement has been the “Brodotrogir” shipyard, located near the artist’s home. The former gem of Trogir’s economy, the shipyard has meanwhile been reduced to a mere shadow of its former production and the number of employees, due to the logic of transition economy and politics. It has become rather certain that the once potent creative organism, whose slipways have seen many a tanker and ferryboat pushed to the sea, is now barely sustainable.
Since 2008, the production plants of Škver have been the sculptor’s atelier where he explores, constructs, and realizes visually attractive and conceptually elaborate artworks and objects, experientially dynamic and associatively incentive. This is also where he prepares his more robust and dimensionally ambitious ambience installations, which then obtain their temporarily final appearance at the exhibition venue. The closing of Škver would, besides the grave repercussions for its employees, Trogir’s respectable shipbuilding tradition, and its urban identity, also mean the end of the shipyard’s benevolent cooperation with the artist. Despite this possible outcome, the exhibition is not a requiem to shipbuilding, but a metaphor for this complex and creative industry. Thus, the artistic motive finds in complement in our desire to draw public attention to the need of preserving the industry of shipbuilding.
For Vilim Halbärth, “the entire shipyard is a creative setting. This is where ocean liners are built, and each of them is a miracle of human skill. In fact, such a ship is the largest existing sculpture... I am imagining the exhibition at Art Gallery as a collage of the unique space of the shipyard and the bowels of a ship.”
A temporary, imaginary shipyard will be created by combining the artist’s earlier and recent works, whose concept and performance have been adapted to the specificities of the gallery. There will be artificial displays of ships and ship cranes, objects, audio-video works, photo collages, photographs, and – especially important for the exhibition – installations. The artist has envisioned them as consisting of pipes used to transport liquids and gases, as well as ventilation tubes, large enough to allow the visitors to pass through and touch them in order to feel their texture and temperature, as well as capture the specific smells of a ship.
Since his earliest works, Halbärth has been counting on active interaction with the audience, gradually enriching the possibilities of mutual communication. As for activating the visitors’ perception, the upcoming exhibition foresees the inclusion of sight, hearing, touch, and smell. The artist successfully employed this concept last year, at his solo exhibition at the Museum of the Town of Kaštela. Although he has been working with shipbuilding elements of various purposes – coal barrels, ship plates, and so on – for years, or at least for quite a while, the artist has been constantly inventing new formal solutions and assemblies. Interventions in the form of cutting, grinding, drilling, welding, bending, and/or staining have been used to articulate new forms out of largely worn-out and discarded items and leftover production materials, while retaining a more or less clear link to their original appearance.
Halbärth reflects on his creative work without calculating with commercial attractiveness. When constructing forms and structures, his art relies on technical, professional, and logical rules and procedures typical of shipbuilding. However, there are also more or less recognizable references to those 20th-century art practices that altered and extended the concept of artistic, in this case sculptural work: the experiences of ready-made and the gestures of appropriation, site-specific objects and in-situ interventions tailored to a specific space, the use of industrial materials, and the aesthetics of seriality.
With Vilim Halbärth, we witness a creative interweaving of professional ethos and aesthetic instinct that establishes and follows its own rules. In other words, in his case, the artist’s role oscillates between the rational designer and the intuitive creator whose primary goal is to express his own and encourage other people’s emotional states.
Vilim Halbärth was born in 1970 in Trogir. He completed his high-school education in mathematics and computer sciences, and was trained as stone carver in Pučišće. He graduated sculpture in 2010 from the Art Academy in Split, in the class of prof. Kuzma Kovačić. He has had eleven solo exhibitions and participated in a number of collective ones. Member of the Croatian Association of Artists of Applied Arts (ULUPUH, Sculpture Section), Croatian Association of Visual Artists (HDLU), and Croatian Association of Visual Artists – Split (HULU Split). The artist lives and works in Trogir and Split.