Ištvan Išt Huzjan
Opening of the exhibition at Reactor Center Podgorica (Podgorica pri Ljubljani) is the first event of the 8th Triennial of Contemporary Art – U3, on Tuesday 31 May 2016 on the 50th anniversary of the Reactor. For visits in the time of triennial, please contact Nina Udrih email@example.com.
A Reaction in a Reactor
Internationally renowned artist Ištvan Išt Huzjan’s art melds unobtrusive intimacy, close observation of human activities going back to his early years, and, under the influence of his creative work, a sense of, and a sensibility for, everyday life. He is interested in art that understands production as alive not just during the creative process in the studio, but also in terms of its presentation to the viewers. In the art-historical sense, Huzjan’s art refers primarily to the neo-conceptual practices of the 1960s, after “Happening” of Allan Kaprow (1926–2006), who pioneered the concept of performance art and described his work as a fusion of his life and his artistic practice, with no dividing line between life and the creation of art. Huzjan explores the way art originates before and during interaction with the viewer, for which he also won the Grand Prix of the 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts in Ljubljana last year. The compelling installation reflected (symbolically also in mirrors) a complex network of historical references and formal means in their many facets; it was a polyphony of nature and memory, of art history and the artist’s intimate responses. Central to all of Huzjan’s projects over the last decade and a half is a returning to recent history and to his own personal mythology. Since his years as a student, certain developments in society have been reflected in his work, even if on the subtlest of levels. His highly personal artistic sense was apparent already in his earliest projects and their respective titles: Veliko tišine (A Lot of Silence) at the Finžgar Gallery in Ljubljana in 2004 and Jaz sem tisti večni otrok … (I Am That Perennial Child…) in the Meduza gallery in Koper in 2008. And so on – all the way up to last year’s performance Od tu do tu (From Here to Here) at the Blum & Poe Gallery in Los Angeles. The artist keeps well abreast of developments in art at home and abroad, working in residencies, while traveling, or in one of the two countries between which he divides his time. Virtually all of his projects, artist’s books and performances result from lengthy reflections, as does his latest work Jedra (Nuclei).
The Reactor Center in Podgorica is part of the Jožef Stefan Institute. Architect Oton Jugovec (1921) won the Prešeren Foundation Award and the Plečnik Prize for the nuclear reactor building, whose form, reminiscent of a mushroom cloud, is an antipode to the natural landscape surrounding it. The external form of the reactor building is characterized by the shaved edges of the cube and the dome-shaped roof, which also create a special, unusual interior space. The building, which has been nominated as a monument of national importance, is located amidst local fields. Half a century after its construction, the artistic object Nuclei was placed on the lawn that surrounds the building. Ištvan Išt Huzjan’s artistic intervention is completely original, with few comparable cases in the history of art. When invited to participate in the exhibitions program of the Jožef Stefan Institute Gallery, Huzjan responded completely within the context of his artistic vision. Ever since his first idea for the project back in the fall of 2014, Huzjan had envisioned that his project with the working title Reaction would be exhibited next to the Reactor Center in Podgorica. His idea was to conceptually transform the reactor into a studio for some time; after the work had been realized he would transform the reactor surroundings into a forma viva, an outdoor sculpture park, by installing the art object Nuclei, made in the reactor, on the lawn in front of the reactor where it would work in harmony with Jugovec’s building.
The Reactor Center in Podgorica near Ljubljana was constructed 50 years ago, and a TRIGA reactor was installed to provide a basis for collecting knowledge related to nuclear science and technology. This knowledge would later prove highly useful for the construction and operation of Slovenia’s first nuclear power plant, and subsequently for monitoring radiation and safety analysis. From the beginning the Institute’s research program has also been directed at research in the field of nuclear physics and the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Now, 50 years later, due to technological demands, the issue of energy sources has again become a charged topic, especially in relation to the environment, something Huzjan points to with his artistic intervention. The Department of Low and Medium Energy Physics performs research on atomic and nuclear physics and is also engaged in radiological environmental protection, which involves monitoring nuclear facilities and environmental radioactivity. The department also operates the Ecological Laboratory with a mobile unit. Parallel to any technological progress is also awareness of these issues, which is fast increasing in the developed world, as is the search for renewable sources of energy – that is, ways of harvesting energy from ongoing natural processes that do not deplete the source. The multidisciplinary research of the Department of Environmental Sciences focuses on combining reciprocal physical, chemical and biological processes that influence our environment.
“By exploring the Institute’s various activities I keep returning to exhibiting art and to the experience I had as a high-school student, when we visited the reactor in Podgorica on a school trip,” Huzjan recalls. The combination of Jugovec’s monumental piece of architecture and the powerful atmosphere on the reactor’s platform left a strong impression on the artist’s memory. Today he could compare the experience of the reactor in Podgorica with the feeling of creating an artwork, he says. In particular, with the moment when an artist feels that a work is finished, without really knowing why. The artwork, or the worked matter, somehow shines, releasing some kind of new power, new life. Frightening, but also extremely beautiful and satisfying at the same time. “I believe the artistic process is quite similar to the utopian alchemistic process of turning stone to gold,” says the artist. Driven by the vivid memories from his youth, Ištvan Išt Huzjan conceived and carried out a small happening-performance in the central part of the Reactor Center in Podgorica. Together with a number of people working at the center who were favorably inclined toward his project since inception (and who were also responsible for the safety of the execution) he mixed a 25 kg-bag of cement, sand, and siccative with water, triggering a reaction that led to the mixture solidifying into a unified body—a sculpture. After the mixture hardened, Huzjan removed the paper so that only the shape of the packaging remained. Not only did the new sculpture not require any further work, but the artist deliberately decided against it, since the form of the sculpture was secondary to the primary meaning of the project: the artist highlighted the event itself, which was best represented by the shape of the bag.
The resulting artwork was placed on the lawn in front of the Reactor Center building, where it serves as an attractive symbolic outdoor sculpture. Celebrated art theorist and philosopher Boris Groys (1947) and curator of the 8th U3 exhibition that he has conceptually framed under the title Beyond the Globe, has included Huzjan’s production in the exhibition—more specifically, the now already realized object Nuclei. The fact that Huzjan’s object is permanently displayed also represents the beginning of a new exhibition space for the Jožef Stefan Institute, an outdoor forma viva.
Tatjana Pregl Kobe