Ahistorical and Acontextual Retrospective

by Lara Plavčak

(Around the world of art in 4,380 days, an exhibition and documentary project, Alkatraz Gallery, AKC Metelkova mesto, 30 October–20 November 2009, Ljubljana)

In the course of the development of modern consumer society, we are now in a period of investment in fantasy and phantasm of self-realisation. It is a time when building an individual life and aesthetic style is considered of special value, and particular attention is given to constructing individual identities, including that of the artist.[1] “They (artists) consider it more important to express their originality in their work than to mark a place for themselves in the existing artistic family tree.”[2] A new sense of time, work and consumption has developed in which there is nostalgia for something lost, something that we have never possessed. This is not a nostalgia that replaces real loss; it is used instead of loss; it is nostalgia without real memory. Given this sentiment, we prefer collage, pastiche or bricolage.[3] One example of bricolage might be the exhibition by SCCA–Ljubljana in Alkatraz Gallery − an exhibition and documentary project[4] which looks back on the past twenty years of work on providing education on contemporary art. This is not an overview exhibition, nor does the selection of works seek to present all generations equally. The curator, Saša Nabergoj, examined the archives and selected five out of eighty-one artworks which she considered significant that were presented as concluding exhibitions of the World of Art school. “The selection was based on various criteria: the role of the individual work in the whole body of an artist’s work, positioning in the wider context of the course, and the premises of Alkatraz Gallery, which has been host to the school’s exhibitions in the past two years.”[5]

Therefore, the selected works included those that the curator found significant and pleasing, but which had been ignored. This is a bold statement, which always applies to exhibition installations, the institutionalisation of art and inclusion in the canon of art history, but which nevertheless few curators dare to admit to, as this means self-exposure and a possible re-evaluation of their competence − i.e., the competence to select on our behalf which works are worthy of seeing and to decide on the meaning of an exhibition. This is even more significant in the context of the current trend of ahistorical exhibitions. One of the phenomena of the post-modern age is that exhibitions are seen as works of art in their own right.[6] Visitors are presented with works of art in a significant arrangement which provides a thread; at the end, one can also read the introduction by the main curators. Visitors can draw the parallels and associations presented for viewing, and the work of one artist makes sense in the context of someone else’s body of work, which extinguishes individuality and uniqueness, leaving the exhibition a uniform mass of feelings and views. The exhibition Around the world of art in 4,380 days rejects this museum phenomenon at the outset, as it states that it is not democratic, despite being a retrospective of the World of Art school. In addition to the ahistorical trend, it also highlights the concept of acontextuality. It was decided instead to include five equal works selected independently which compel the viewer to stop. Instead of having a lucid memory of the context of the exhibition, the viewer leaves the room with an awareness of five individual artworks in a mosaic exhibition.

Upon entering the room, one sees five embroideries to the left depicting toilets, and the video Toilets, Made in India.[7] Lada Cerar and Sašo Sedlaček conceived the idea on their travels, when toilets proved to be luxuries attesting the standards of civilisation. They got excited by the different types of toilet, and by Slavoj Žižek’s article on the national character as revealed in the method of flushing excrement. At that time, the artists were traveling east, so they added a Euro-Indian toilet and the Indian squat toilet to the German, French and Anglo-Saxon types. These five sketches, along with descriptions, were then given to underpaid Indian textile workers to be embroidered. What is at first understood as a humorous Duchamp-like cultural-anthropological study proves to be socially critical art, as it addresses the issues of authorship and ideas, as the embroideries were made by cheap Indian weavers for a European person to take home and present as art.

“The installation Europe (Rubbish Bin of History) was first presented by the artist Marko A. Kovačič at the first World of Art exhibition entitled This Art Is Recycled in 1997. At the end of the exhibition, Kovačič prepared a sub-auction where the bidders did not raise, but lowered prices. The installation was sold in parts, and the prices lowered physically by damaging the work. To this end, he offered several tools, from catapults to a mallet.”[8]
The installation at the more recent exhibition is not quite the same as the original, but is the consequence of the same event of sub-auctioning, where the viewers struck and scribbled all over the artist’s works in his presence. Interestingly, the people at the first auction were completely unreserved and destroyed the artefact with no hesitation or awe for the works, while during the repetition, there was only minimal destruction, which lowered the price accordingly and kept the art work in one piece − which was probably the original idea. Despite this, these were two separate original artistic events seeking to question the artist’s work, the art market, the fetishisation of artefacts and the psychological reservations connected with respecting art or the artist.

The artist Tanja Lažetić carried out a project with the title Govedji gulaš (Beef Goulash) with the professional photographer Dejan Habicht which is presented by means of documentary photographs and an art object – a bag made from tins of beef goulash. In the summer of 1997, both artists visited museums and galleries in Berlin, Kassel, Münster, Amsterdam and Venice, where Lažetić was photographed with her bag. The photographs are tender and melancholy, and convey an impression of the homeliness and smallness of the world, as the artist carries her artwork to the grand exhibitions of established names. An invisible work of art amidst the institutional monster of the European art market, Govedji gulaš is the antithesis of Warhol’s Campbell’s soup.[9]

In a separate darkened room with a couch there was a light installation, Untitled, from an exhibition which focused on light as the essence of the visual.[10] The artist Ivan Marušić Klif made a moving metal body with a slot lit from below. Lighting and transparency create different colour panels which are projected onto the ceiling. The artist created a high-tech installation from no-tech, enabling us to face the neglected light, which is very significant in art.

A voyeuristic video by Alen Floričić entitled Untitled No. 01/01[11] shows an average living-room through a window. In yellow light, the author sits on the couch with a television set turned on, disappearing and re-appearing, but never really remaining, like a hologram. Although we are looking into an ordinary living-room, we do not feel a warm or relaxed atmosphere; we are rather uncomfortable as we gaze at someone else’s intimacy, which appears alienated, as the author seems to be an alien element in the room. The footage is frustrating because of (dis)appearance, and the artist’s rigidity, which is almost disturbing. The television set buzzes and displays images, but the artist does not look at it. Time flows with or without us.

The exhibition is small and manageable and allows for a detailed inspection of every work, which one cannot imagine in huge galleries and with our contemporary lack of time. We are one-on-one with the work, which is a unique opportunity. This is not nostalgia without memory, but a re-evaluation of the World of Art school, a presentation of previous work, and of a period which did not even give due credit to these works, but which younger generations can.

First published: Lara Plavčak, “Ahistorical and acontextual retrospective (Around the world of art in 4,380 days, an exhibition and documentary project, Alkatraz Gallery, AKC Metelkova mesto, 30 October–20 November 2009, Ljubljana)”, Artwords, No. 89, 90 (Winter 2009), pp. 140–143.

[1] More: Mirjana Ule, “Od dominacije potreb k stilizaciji življenja”, Časopis za kritiko znanosti 189/1998, pp. 103–116.

[2] Thinking About Exhibitions (eds. Reesa Greenberg, Bruce W. Ferguson, Sandy Nairne), Routledge, New York 2005, p. 14.

[3] More: Mirjana Ule, “Od dominacije potreb k stilizaciji življenja”, Časopis za kritiko znanosti 189/1998, pp. 103–116.

[4] In addition to works of art, the project also includes photographs of exhibitions and accompanying events, yearly anthologies and a projection where the names of course participants, tutors and artists are presented.

[5] http://www.worldofart.org/aktualno/archives/222, 18 November 2009.

[6] Lidija Tavčar, Zgodovinska konstitucija modernega muzeja kot sestavine sodobne zahodne civilizacije, Narodna galerija, Ljubljana, 2003, p. 184.

[7] The work was exhibited at Čisto umazano / Pretty Dirty exhibition in 2005.

[8]  http://www.worldofart.org/aktualno/archives/222, 18. 11. 2009.

[9] At the This Art is Recycled exhibition in 1997 the work was still called Hommage à Drella, referencing Warhol, but the artist later decided to change it.

[10] This was the Camera Lucida exhibition in 2002.

[11] The work was exhibited at Fade In Fade Out in 2003.