acrylic on canvas, 2014
The large canvas by Uroš Potočnik entitled Workers is a direct comment on the famous painting The Stone Breakers (Les Casseurs de pierre) by French painter Gustave Courbet (1819–1877). A staunch socialist, Courbet displayed this work to draw attention to the difficult conditions faced by the European working class in his day. His painting, destroyed during World War II and only known through photographs, depicted two workers, one old and worn out, the other still half a child, breaking stones on the road. By juxtaposing the youth and the old man, Courbet openly pointed to the vicious circle of repetition through generation after generation in which workers were trapped in his time, as well as to the fact that both workers were, by reason of their respective ages, unsuited to their gruelling labour. According to the painter, The Stone Breakers were a perfect expression of human suffering.
Potočnik adapted the original motif by Courbet, while retaining the posture of the kneeling worker and his face hidden in the shadow cast by his hat. Transposed into the present day, wearing a uniform, helmet and gloves, Potočnik’s worker offers a non-spectacular depiction of back-breaking labour and of the most exploited class of labourers. At the same time, the painting also draws attention to the issue of representation of reality, so often manipulated and artificially constructed through mass media.
Nothing Is What It Seems… We Are in the Draft of the Century
Society is experiencing change on all levels. We are grappling with environmental and political problems/conflicts, usually related to natural resources. Issues that seemed resolved once and for all are again being questioned. Previously given human rights are now on their way out. Old values are under revision, recycled and adapted to the new circumstances. War = peace. Justice = the power of capital. Efficiency and cutting the cost of labor = modern-day slavery. Coexistence and helping one another = egoism.
Environmental problems, the negative impact of globalization and neoliberal capitalism, small islands of accumulated wealth – these have brought humanity up against a new challenge: How can 8 billion future people coexist on this planet and what should the new world social order be?
Humans are highly adaptable creatures. Good at blending in, quick to recognize the needs of other fellow humans, and constantly adapting (changing their colors) to achieve personal or political goals. They know when to step back and when to take a stand against impending 29
danger. Fear has always been a useful weapon of political manipulation to agitate the populace. Like fear of the unknown, fear of a strange color and culture. Fear always divides a nation, never unites it. Refugees and migrants soon run up against a wall of consumerism and the disapproval of the other culture. Nationally protected autochthonous food symbolically already enjoys more rights than does the exploited working class.
The media’s work of disseminating information never stops. It is difficult to bring into focus. There are constant corrections, diversions that obstruct the view of and focus on the real situation or core problem. Mud-slinging is the most frequent form of public political face-offs in the media, serving as excellent smokescreens for the listeners or spectators. Nothing is what it seems. Paradisiacal islands are long gone. Only alluring photographs in brochures remain… In the Maldives, islands of paradise, neat little anti-erosion walls are being constructed from non-autochthonous volcanic rock on the hot sand… We are in the draft of the century.
Uroš Potočnik, Ljubljana, 3 April 2016