Alenka Pirman: Arcticae horulae, 1991-98

Alenka Pirman

1964, Ljubljana


Arcticae horulae1991–1998

40 hand-embroidered table pennants on brass stands


For the project, prepared by Alenka Pirman in the large reading room of the National University Library in Ljubljana, the artist had collected »Germanisms« appearing daily in everyday Slovene conversation, but which are not allowed in the written or formal usage of the language. The project, organised in the National University Library /NUK/, was  only part of a  larger process which the artist concluded with the publication of a dictionary of these words. The project was titled Arcticae horulae after the first grammar book on the Slovene language.


On the tables in the reading room she displayed little banners onto which examples of these collected words had been embroidered. (These little banners had an exceptionally homemade appearance reminiscent of traditional primary school »handicrafts«.) The location of this project was in no way accidental. The Slovene language is the foundation of the Slovene national identity, so to speak the »Slovene essence of being« and this foundation is most expressively reralised in the form of the book. The National and University Library is, so to speak the central tample of the Slovene book, Slovene literature and language and thus the Slovene national essence. So, the artist was introducing into this temple a kind of heterogeneity, a damaged language that has been spoiled, a deformation adopted directlyfrom foreign languages, particularly German. And yet this act should not be seen simply as an anarchic assault on established values; the unusual paradox to which she  draws attention lies in the fact that these inadmissible, borrowed wards are sensed as something genuine.  Whenever we wish to speak directly, »genuinely«, in »everday language« or in the vernacular we can hardly avoid them. Contrary to this we sense the correct usage of the language as something manufactured, artificial or laboured; we do not have the sense of direct andgenuine expression from a speaker expressing him or herself in this language, butrather sense a sort of distance beetween the act of pronouncing and the pronouncement. If, therefore, language is the foundation of our national identity, then registered in the very heart of this identity, where it is most genuine, are foreign languages and foreign identities.

online exhibition