17 cases of contemporary photography in Slovenia
Opening: Wednesday, 9 January 2019, at 8 p.m.
Duration: 9 January to 24 March 2019
Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova
Curator: Ana Mizerit
Uroš Abram, Jaka Babnik, Goran Bertok, Vanja Bučan, Jon Derganc, Tomaž Gregorič, Klemen Ilovar, Peter Koštrun, Borut Krajnc, Tanja Lažetić, Peter Rauch, Matjaž Rušt, Bojan Salaj, Jane Štravs, Aleksandra Vajd in Hynek Alt, Tadej Vaukman, Tanja Verlak
For this presentation of contemporary photography in Slovenia, an exhibition room amidst the display of works from the Arteast 2000+ collection has been chosen. The Arteast 2000+ collection features Eastern European art from the 1960s to the present, covering different periods and different conditions under which our subjectivities came to be formed. In this context, the 17 cases of contemporary photography implicitly lead us to reflect on our social environment, on the ways it has shaped us with the different conditions of life and work under the different systems of the past six decades, from socialism through the period of socio-economic transition to the now all-powerful capitalism, which today bends the entire world to suit its interests and profits, while denying any accountability for the consequences.
The common thread running through the exhibited works by 17 contemporary photographers is the images and situations that produce the effect of precarious environments, thus echoing the precarity of life in contemporary society.
A precarious environment is fragile, conditioned by conflicts and interests of power, and its end result is not only unknown but also difficult to predict or is altogether unforeseeable, since it is beyond the individual’s control. Such an environment is unstable, ominous, even dangerous. One can no longer rely on the permanence of human relationships, which are becoming increasingly flexible; nor on one’s income or even having one; nor on one’s perception of the world, which is constantly interrupted by the barrage of stimuli and distractions to which we are regularly subjected. Similarly, our past and our historical memory are hard to rely on, as they transform into instruments of politics or materiality of relationships, while thinking about how we might live in the future seems ever more daunting. All of this leads or contributes to a general crisis of identity and belonging. This is the unifying context of the exhibition that underlines the common elements among the works, which have also been selected based on Moderna galerija’s collecting policies both this year and last.
Another characteristic of precarious environments is the likelihood of their collapse. According to Derrida, deconstruction is composed of two stages, two binary opposites that are always unstable, since the two parts of the oppositional relation are dependent on one another, exchangeable and ambiguous. Something may have been prevalent, but has become uncertain for some reason, dangerous, unprotected and fragile. Existence is structured according to the conditions that prevail between opposites, which means fragility can appear both promising and ominous at the same time, since it indicates a possibility of change and, as a consequence, represents a threat to the predominant order.
The subjects treated in the exhibited photographs range from nature, culture and society to the deconstruction of photography as a medium. The cases these artists explore are politically charged, even traumatic, and at the very least, discomfiting.
In his series Gluttony (2014), Uroš Abram explores the problem of hyper-production of the visual through the concept of gluttony, one of the seven deadly sins. Abram used his own kitchen as the base, covering it completely with his photographs, so many that the sheer number of them stripped them of meaning. He then photographed the setup. Subsequently, again without measure, he put together a simple camera obscura from a part of the photographs covering the kitchen only to take another photo of the same immeasurable swarm of images in the kitchen.
Jaka Babnik’s photo series entitled Heroes of My Time (2016-2017) questions the relevance of some of the resounding events from contemporary history, and even more so the personalities that marked them, today largely excluded from public discourse, with their hero status now in doubt. Confronting his documentary images of the sites of the events with their archival images the author focuses on the trees that bore witness to the events, recognizing them as elements that stand the test of time.
Taken more than 60 years after the unthinkable experience of Nazi and fascist concentration camps, Goran Bertok’s intimate photographic portraits depict their survivors as the living witnesses of ultimate evil. The series Survivors (2013) documents and points a finger at the extremities of ideological violence and its relentless recurrence. Even though the portraits do not reveal any explicit signs of violence past, the author emphasized the awareness of the experience by darkening the photographs and with the disappearing surface of the images.
In her Mauerhasen (2017) series, Vanja Bučan employs performative photography, staged scenes and visual metaphors to thematize the geopolitical history of a territory’s physical limits. Although the title refers to the rabbits that made their home in the strip of land between the inner and outer Berlin Wall, the scenes in the photographs depict the coalescence of human bodies with an architectural surface. Both topics thus blend in a sort of corporeal-spatial unity with a single message warning of the unnatural confines imposed on a space and the life within it.
Jon Derganc’s photographic series Sinkholes (2010-2011) looks to shed light on the killings that took place in Slovenia after WWII. The author depicts the reiterated motif of sinkholes, natural objects directly linked to these traumatic events. Formed through natural processes, sinkholes are external to the event and as such completely indifferent to it. The essence of Derganc’s photographs, however, is what has become the integral part of the sinkholes, something that exists in his photos only as a premonition.
Tomaž Gregorič has been capturing people and landscapes from city outskirts for his extensive ongoing series Periferies since 1997. The author asserts that the series is not only about the peripheries of cities, but also the periphery of his perception. The photos are impressions that form a pattern, a recognizable imagery and a system that have evolved through years and continuity. Each photograph is thus the result of the subconscious at work, and the whole a carefully composed self-portrait.
Klemen Ilovar’s practice is based on the functionalist construction and deconstruction of images in pursuit of the minimalist aesthetic of emptiness. Type of messages (2017) is a series of images of the backs of notices left to customers to notify them of short, unscheduled breaks in the opening hours of the respective services. The motif, which serves as the focus of the artist’s interest, is ordinarily hidden from view, largely unimportant, invisible somewhere in the background; the artist exposes it not as the conveyor of information, but as a collection of component visual elements, forms, colors and raster, used here to construct a parallel narrative.
Peter Koštrun’s series Premonition (2016) is a subtle warning against the tricks played on us by our perception when it comes to our own environment. Similarly, the photograph Manure Heap becomes what it is, not by offering a direct commentary on a concrete event, but by depicting a situation that evolves into something different the very next moment – a landscape with a snowy hill turns into a snow-covered pile of dung. The landscape comes to convey the idea of a non-appropriating attitude to the world, and the red wash over the photograph reinforces the haunting discomfort created by the atmosphere.
Billboards are among the most popular forms of advertising, because they catch people's attention while they are driving, when they are relaxed and susceptible to information. Strategically located they provide excellent coverage both in urban hubs and in the countryside, where their purpose, totalitarianism of advertising and capitalism, as photographer Borut Krajnc puts it, comes out even more strongly. His project Emptiness (2007) is a topographic record of empty advertising surfaces that open up, if only for a brief timeout, a view of the white and into the experience of emptiness.
A series of 26 photographs by Tanja Lažetić entitled Gasoline Stations, Again (2016) references Ed Ruscha’s iconic book Twentysix Gasoline Stations. In 2010, the author took photographs of gas stations when she travelled from Ljubljana to Sarajevo, a journey that took her not only back into her family’s history, but also back to the hotspot of the dissolution of the former country. MOver those six years, most of the twenty-six gas stations have changed owners or were destroyed, which the author crossed out in red. Ed Ruscha described gas stations as monuments of the modern age, but for Tanja Lažetić they stand as monuments to the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
Peter Rauchʼs You’re the Dearest installation (2018) juxtaposes works from various periods and contexts. All of the works focus on the materialization of a relationship, the inscription of a relationship into an object and/or the establishment of a relationship because of an object. The object deteriorates and disintegrates while we maintain it. Parts of it are discarded, and new ones enter the picture. The object divides and multiplies. It is held upright by a supporting structure. The object is what holds it upright.
Photographs from the series New World (2016-2017) by Matjaž Rušt document the life and activities of Slovene diaspora in the USA, Argentina and Australia. The author’s first and foremost interest focuses on the visual signifiers used by Slovene expatriates to manifest their cultural identity. With irregular contact between the diaspora and the homeland, and with each new generation born, their cultural identity increasingly diverges from the original, and sometimes they appear more Slovene than Slovenes in Slovenia. In view of recent developments, the New World could also be seen as an emphatic reminder of the integration of emigrants into new cultural environments.
The Palimpsest (Still life), (2015) by Bojan Salaj presents a memory stick cast in resin, safekeeping a digital record of a scene documented by the photographer when he shouldn’t have. The significance the author attributes to the exhibit lies in the forbidden photograph that is kept there, and in substance depicts criticism of the usurpation of public space by capital, and the negative reaction of the usurpers, who demanded that the photograph be deleted as soon as they noticed they were being photographed. By putting his object on display Salaj alerts us to something that should not be happening, while at the same time exposing the problem of the ostensible durability and security of information in the digital age.
Rather than conceiving his series Motel Balkan (2010) as a documentary record, Jane Štravs uses the photographs as means of conceptual observation. The photographs focus on the power relations manifested through architecture. The photographer records the postwar situation indirectly, through the fragility of architecture and the psychological aftermath of loss of shelter. The series Motel Balkan speaks of a posttraumatic state, a psychological void caused by the loss of the sense of safety when architecture is deprived of its primary purpose. Three main preoccupations of Štravs’s photography are highlighted in the series: cultural contradictions, social hierarchies, and power relations.
Aleksandra Vajd and Hynek Alto in their series Untitled (studio lights), (2012), explore photography as a medium, highlighting fluidity and impersonality as its principal characteristics. This variability and inconsistency underpin their free, creative approach to the medium. Rather than use photography for straight-up narration – they are not interested in the purpose of the image or what it depicts – they explore its essence while creating an open situation within which one can discern multiple levels of understanding.
The motif of the photograph Pyramid (2012) by Tadej Vaukman comes from the series Dick Skinners. The series uncompromisingly documents the untamed, vulgar scenes and decadent exhibitionist moments in the circle of his close friends and their total rejection of the system and life that conforms to the established social norms. The reasons for such escapism could be traced to resignation, personal rebellion against life that makes no promises of social and economic security, and general disillusionment with the world.
Tanja Verlak’s ZOO (2004-2006) series focuses on the subject of freedom and our attitude to it. The photographs are melancholic portraits of animals in captivity, on display for the public, which the author sought out on her journeys between the Balkans and Southern Wales. Despite the love these animals receive from their keepers, keeping them in confined spaces in conditions that prevent them from living true to their instincts and natural urges makes them that much more vulnerable to controversial power relations.