The most beautiful place in the World
Exhibited artists: Bojan Radovič, Jane Štravs, Jaka Babnik, Tanja Lažetić, Tanja Verlak, Boštjan Pucelj, Emina Djukić, Aleš Rosa, Roman Uranjek, Radenko Milak, Matjaž Rust, Robert Marin in Tomaž Gregorič
The exhibition was organized by Croatian Photographic Union, Galerija Fotografija Gallery and Klovičevi Dvori Gallery.
Curator: Sandra Križić Roban
The exhibitions which tend to bring together a number of artists under the same “national” category are rarely successful in providing relevant arguments that would support the claim of a shared cultural background, corresponding social practices and field of activity which could, if we insisted upon it, be inferred from the selected works. Therefore, before making this selection, I turned to my own shaky memories of what Slovenia means to me because they, to an extent, influenced what would be mediated to the audience on this occasion.
The most beautiful place in the World
Exhibited artists: Bojan Radovič, Jane Štravs, Jaka Babnik, Tanja Lažetić, Tanja Verlak, Boštjan Pucelj, Emina Djukić, Aleš Rosa, Roman Uranjek, Radenko Milak, Matjaž Rust, Robert Marin in Tomaž Gregorič The exhibition was organized by Croatian Photographic Union, Galerija Fotografija Gallery and Klovičevi Dvori Gallery. Curator: Sandra Križić Roban The exhibitions which tend to bring together a number of artists under the same “national” category are rarely successful in providing relevant arguments that would support the claim of a shared cultural background, corresponding social practices and field of activity which could, if we insisted upon it, be inferred from the selected works. Therefore, before making this selection, I turned to my own shaky memories of what Slovenia means to me because they, to an extent, influenced what would be mediated to the audience on this occasion. For more than a year, this exhibition had carried a working title Arbitrage that was eventually altered. For a long time, the news that defined the relationship between Slovenia and Croatia almost exclusively revolved around the occupation of one plot of land or the other. Then, the dispute over Piran Bay or Bay of Savudrija erupted – the issue of great political importance, judging by the increasing number of headlines. At that moment, I began to wonder if that was the only available optics – the one mediated by politics and defined by the impossibility of reaching an agreement. It was what suited the politicians who thereby diverted the attention from other, more relevant matters. Is this “magical” arbitrage really the only word that can be used to define this relationship, knowledge and interest that we have shown for one another? What was it that got entangled in that terrifying wire that blocks passage and whose blades inflict deep wounds? This exhibition is an attempt to disassociate from daily politics, from relations towards others imposed by politicians and the media – the others from whom we shy away for whatever reason and whom we criticize (due to their otherness), while we perceive ourselves as different – “better”, of course. Although the position of the curator – the one who always passes judgment, thus delineating the field of interest – should also be (ironically) defined, the focus of the exhibition The Most Beautiful Place in the World are the authors whose photographic works mediate explored knowledge seeking to establish dialogue. Because photography is not just a dispositive of the visual but rather a conversation. It is made up of rules (and breaking thereof), rituals, the relationship between the private and the public, the present and the historical, the subjective and objectification. Photography neither reconciles nor participates in a potential conflict; it is a research tool in a complex mechanism of creating conclusions with which we don’t have to necessarily agree. Appropriations Didi-Huberman describes the relationship between the image and text – i.e. visual thinking – through the processes of depositing and clashing. In a similar manner, layers of individual knowledge of what we have witnessed – an image of something that we remember and want to pass on, impregnating it with knowledge and thought – are deposited upon each other. What we do not pass on is the emptiness and the illusionary state; a non-existent image. The complexity of this process is represented in Radenko Milak and Roman Uranjek’s work Dates, which speaks, among other things, about the “impossibility” of coexistence between the objective (historical) and private (obsessive). Their dual diary-archive is a symbiosis of drawings, collages and photographs created on a daily basis, taken and appropriated, as well as deposited with other images, watercolours and sometimes supplemented by a series of small scenes that resist being completely deciphered. The obsession of gathering visual facts about (objective) historical events is subordinated to a specific understanding of the past, its circumstances and consequences that continue to this day, influencing not just the knowledge of details, but also the potential change of their meanings. And that change is brought about due to the concept of a composite work, whereby the author maintains autonomy in selecting and interpreting the content, while the date is a concrete element of cohesion. No historical event should be forgotten, but the question is how we should equip it to withstand the expendability of the contemporary moment. The documentary photographs appropriated by the artists have been marked with dates which anchor them in real time. The method they use is diachronic: Milak’s work spans within a year, while Uranjek’s is stretched over a longer period of time. Belonging to different generations, they caution us about history not by negating or diminishing its importance, but rather by raising our awareness that it is an important part of objectification. The appropriated photographic motifs are redrawn – the photography is “stripped” from its documentary property and turned into a subjective expression about something Milak wasn’t a part of. The documentary nature of photography is put to the test. Although the motives for selecting the photographs are at the same time ethical and aesthetic, exchanging one medium for the other (photography for drawing, i.e. picture), brings forth the separation between the initial individual interest (that of a photographer) and its transformation into a subjective expression about something mediated by a reproduction – birth or death of an artist, horrors of war and political conflicts, encounters of important individuals or founding of certain institutions and manifestation. It is how this obsessive diary was created, in which documents are brought under the sign of the cross, as Uranjek’s ultimate signifier of everyday art practice. Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass (1968) was Ed Ruscha’s first colour photography book, the artist better known at that time for his painting. The frames reveal his pop-art background and the influence of graphic art, while spatial relations and specific viewing angles point to the strong influence of cinematography on his work. As many of his works, this series also exhibits an ambivalent relationship between the concept and reality; while reality exists at the edges of the frame, the mythologized American everyday life is placed in the focus. At about the same time when Ruscha created his series, a series of photographs of Yugoslav tourist destinations, regularly equipped with pools, had also been made. These photographs were found in a tourist brochure by Tanja Lažetić, who also refers to Ruscha in her other works (e.g. Twentysix Gasoline Stations Only). Nine Swimming Pools behind Broken Glass points to a specific aesthetic used in order to successfully launch a tourist product. Pools were a part of a holiday package during socialism, mythologized places imported from other cultures and demands. Especially at the seaside where they were an essential surplus, in discord with the surrounding landscape, they might have been considered a luxury available to guests for whom nature’s beauty did not provide a satisfactory level of accommodation or safety. The broken glass under which photo enlargements are laid is being held together with a red adhesive tape. The visible pattern unveils the latent scare left by the loss of a shared narrative, a frame within which Yugoslav tourism was once formed. Ruscha’s broken glass symbolizes a different kind of an atmosphere which permeates the picturesque parts of Los Angeles; the glass is placed on a smooth surface which reflects the blue sky (and whose colour and position within the frame is reminiscent of a pool). In contrast, the glass that is broken and then pieced together in Tanja’s series attempts to reconstruct the shattered image of pleasure. The red tape symbolizes the downfall of a political utopia (unfortunately bringing down with it numerous hotels and pools); it is like a filter for observing recent history which remains inaccessible and impossible to hold together. The photographs in Aleš Rosa’s series Edge show a vast clearing – a spacious plateau as though nothing could exist beyond it. Depending on the season, the grass can be green, sometimes golden, or in a soothing, dusky colour heralding winter. Loosely arranged plant life in no way designates a place. There are no signposts or villages; no roads. The place is simply marked as an edge, followed by another one. Aleš found it by analysing maps available on the Internet. Spaces that can be “reached” in this way are compromised, captured from a specific position which cannot be replicated in reality. What kind of an experience can we expect to gain from searching for a liminal space? Is it true that an Internet search can provide us with more to see, more places to visit without encountering any obstacles? The place that Rosa found is located at the cartographic “hinterland” of the border area between Croatia and Slovenia, above Koper. The satellite image shows a space unencumbered by borders, because they are after all only irregular lines whose existence is justified by historical decisions. An invisible trail connects the two villages, each at its own side of “the edge”. The landscape seems limitless and uncontainable, impossible to control; still, the artist defines it as an edge. Unlike other authors who interpreted the landscape by learning about it through walking, Rosa reaches his destination with a click of a mouse, an experience completely different from the one Nietzsche stood for (“It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.”). The author does not base his experience on wandering through nature. The identity of his destination is enclosed within the primary experience available, in principle, to everyone, through the process that speaks volumes about today’s culture and its relationship to landscape. It reminds us of complex meanings that one place can hold and which we need to explore in order to represent it. Transformations To see in order to understand. To show in order to comprehend. Sometimes, due to our ignorance and disregard of others, we come to a conclusion that urbanization of some distant place can only mean progress of civilization. However, “the social laboratory”, as French sociologist and photographer Pierre Bourdieu termed the fate of the Algerian people in the 1950s, was marked by the destruction of traditional communities and their way of life, a fact that is usually overlooked. Jane Štravs, in his series Dahab, testifies about real events, exploring to what extent the changes in Egypt have influenced the way of life of the local Bedouin population. While writing about this series, Marina Gržinić refers to – and not without reason – Bourdieu’s term of subtraction, followed almost inevitably by its “counterpart” – destruction. When it comes to photography, less is indeed more, or at least it suggests more. At first glance, we might associate the constricted and mediated flow of information with a lot of other places. Dahab, located east of Sinai on the Red Sea, is a popular diving destination, a beautiful blue hundred-meter deep “hole”, with a tunnel connecting it to the sea. Štravs’ Dahab has been stripped away of its renowned beauty. It focuses on the town awashed by large amounts of sand every few years due to the flooding of a local river. Moreover, Dahab – a Bedouin fishing village for centuries – has in recent years completely changed due to intensive tourism. The clash of “civilization” and tradition might look charming, but the question is what kind of life is being led behind makeshift facades and what is actually going on in those unfinished and unsightly houses. Štravs’ saturated photographs don’t seem to have been placed within a precise historical context. They indicate a state of things yet to come; they are a station of sorts where we won’t find any participants to be registered or analysed. There are no tourists or natives, no blue hole. Only a dense atmosphere devoid of any specific identities that are yet to be imagined. In the empty, everyday, even ordinary spaces of Boštjan Pucelj’s series Missing in Action we find traces of social and economic consequences. They are symbolized by shopping trolleys left behind in a parking lot of a huge shopping mall, pushed and thrown into a nearby river, hidden in the bush or left in front of a house. Emptied out, they speak of the insatiable emptiness, of the desire to possess and buy things as a sign of power and convenience. They are auxiliary means in the phase of acquisition, by which we make known our wishes and habits. The trolleys are participants in the events that we know little of. The places where Pucelj finds them are not just their temporary repository but places that have been marked by numerous other events. They’ve probably been used by homeless people or for transporting stolen goods or displaced due to sheer wantonness, attesting to a social standard characteristic of more than just Slovenian society. Their expressive power lies in that what is not shown. The representational power of the camera as the central instrument is (also) obvious in this instance, and it is as though it has no need for words. On the other hand, it is impossible not to take notice of the emptiness permeating the frames in which we can seldom find any figures, as in the one taken at the end of the promenade that runs along the river Krka where two old men are commenting on the objects dumped into the water. We could probably link this act of vandalism with consumerism, if we insisted on that kind of a narrative. However, these poetic scenes are more likely to lead us to the conclusion that everyday life is expendable. Pucelj’s photographs are portraits of the time in which shopping malls have become sites of pilgrimage and shopping trolleys the symbol of mass production leaving desolation in its wake. Tanja Verlak photographed her exceedingly serious and melancholic series ZOO at the zoos in various European cities. And while these were once places where the public could learn about rare species, many zoos in recent years have been turned into coerced “oases” in which animals live seemingly undisturbed, yet confined to reside in cramped conditions. Zoos, the same as circuses, attest to the impossibility of coexistence; they bear witness to the violent human nature that insatiably exploits natural resources without thinking about consequences. Such are the portraits of the photographed animals, captured in this dissonance imposed by man. The black-and-white technique emphasizes the cold nature of that relationship, as well as profitability as the founding principle of these parks and gardens where animals’ movement is restricted and about which we are allowed to know only little of. These are no longer places of wonder or cabinets of curiosities, but cold, neglected and confined spaces which speak of our relationship with nature as a cultural construct. The consequences and reach of such “a culture” are devastating. These photographs do not only critique the system that allows such treatment but they are also an expression of man’s inability to recall his long-standing connection with nature, in relation to which he was cultivated and developed further actions. Consequences Jaka Babnik noticed the first traces of intimate activities engaged by his fellow citizens on his own doorstep. While walking his dog, he photographed many similar places in the perimeter with this kind of leftovers. Whether this can be ascribed to exhibitionism or the inability of securing a more private space, we cannot know for sure. What we see before us are wide frames of forest pathways, view of Osijek Crown Fortress, a hideout under a bridge, a pebbled coastline, Jarun in Zagreb. Not far from Maslenica, near the highway, Babnik captured the remains of a damaged monument. Judging by its modernist form, it seems that it originates from the socialist period and that it has been ruthlessly vandalized during the last twenty five years. Despite its harmonious aerodynamic shape, it has been functionally determined by today’s generations who inscribed the monument’s purpose on its surface. Jebodrom (Lovers’ Lane) overlooking the sea – there are some things money can’t buy! On the visual level, we are called to find a connection between a shabby house at the end of the road with walled up windows, forest glades and coastal pine groves. The position of the photographer is remote, but not hidden. His lens remains distant, interested not so much in the details but in the ambience. We actually don’t learn anything about the photographer’s personal attitude towards people who engage in sexual relations in public. Because that’s exactly what photographs are – images of places that might attract us with their natural beauty or leave us indifferent because they are so ordinary. However, Babik’s education, among other things, indicates his affinity towards social issues, also present in the backdrop of his other series, We are dogs! in particular. The influence that these places wield on social interactions is multifaceted. These places are at “the edge” of urban zones, at the same time close and far enough. They are occasional sites of intimacy, retaining their initial function for the rest of the time; they are portraits-consequences of the social arena which allows the private to venture into the public. Emina Djukić dedicated her work to the complex relations between man and nature. In the age when there’s not a single part of nature left unknown and when it is virtually impossible to imagine the expeditions once undertaken, we’re becoming aware of the extent in which nature can be considered a cultural product. In the series Coexistence, the author captures the space of nature by “occupying” some of its points and channelling other people’s memories primarily in relation to the objects found there. Sometimes it’s just a marking on the tree bark, a practice shooting target or some other significantly larger object whose purpose remains unknown. There isn’t a place that stays untouched, “innocent”. Although it might seem that the landscapes photographed by Djukić are quite ordinary places incapable of evoking strong emotional reactions, they are more than capable of doing so. These emotions arise from the uncertainty of coexistence, from the question of how much the civilization has influenced nature, and vice versa. Without scares and traces, nature would be boring, without smell, colour or meaning (to paraphrase Whitehead). This limitless space, as we usually imagine a natural landscape, has been rhythmed by disruptions – human traces that influence the perception of its importance. Within this space, the photographer acts like a hunter, listening and following the clues until she locates her “prey” which assigns some kind of a designation to the photographed space, an identity which deprives it of innocence. Serene and contemplative, the photographs open up to the viewers by virtue of the gaze filled with understanding. It seems as though we have entered a garden filled not with wonders but with their remains arranged to delineate the space of a personal testimony. Photography plays an important role in cultural geography; it tells us about certain places and participates in the construction of their narratives. Photography assists in the understanding of a certain scene beyond the terms of topographical evidence; it is a participant in the process of representing myths and memories related to a specific place. It helps us sense the particularity of a place even if at first we do not feel attracted to its plainness. It takes us back to its origins, to the time before that place was turned into a site of human culture, or it reminds us of those times with images whose atmosphere mediates something timeless. Although it is unable to convey real experiences, photography helps us understand what it is that defines a place and its history. Tomaž Gregorič, in his series Periphery, explores the potential of the medium to transfer information on social conditions and focuses on the fine line between the urban and that what surrounds it. If we agree with L. Wells’ thesis that photography provokes the construction of narratives, we also have to take into account that these narratives change just as we do. Thus, photographs should be read in relation to our knowledge, aspirations, beliefs, etc. In a way, Gregorič’s photographs of nature and peripheral urban zones where inhabited areas touch upon nature are a logical continuation of his portrait work in which he photographed people from similar surroundings. In both works, Gregorič absorbs everyday life, showing nature in dramatic, black-and-white photographs of a darker tonality. Only occasionally, in the background, we can notice details of a constructed, fixed framework within which someone’s existence takes place. The elements of nature almost entirely engulf the space; they dictate the rhythm, light effects and hinder the furtherance of constructed matter. Huge trees cause discomfort – they are reminiscent of the wilderness in which we cannot longer get by and where the traces of the past and history dissipate into oblivion. Beautiful Pictures Bojan Radovič made YU & me series during the 1980s, the decade which defined numerous generations and remerged as the focus of recent comprehensive deliberations. This was the time when Yugoslavia began to dissipated, a time filled with many indications of what would follow. Political tensions that began to be openly discussed were also addressed within one of the most interesting fields at that time – that of popular culture. Despite the circumstances that, one way or the other, complicated things for everyone, the everyday life went on. And it can be characterized by intimate photographs, the likes of which we all, at least in part, inherited from the past – pets, spouses, friends and acquaintances with whom we lost touch. The working class exiting a tavern, soldiers in uniforms, places that we visited, where we were happy or where we simply wondered what we were doing or where we were going. Same in format and display, Radovič’s photographs are at the basic level of meaning a functional archive. The details remain known only to the author who has created a composition of an unencumbered narrative from a large number of photographs. On the basis of this personal “archaeological” collection, it is difficult to deduce anything about the past. Bojan’s archive has neither the intention of reconstructing the past nor constructing historical meaning. Perhaps it’s best to understand it as an archive of what was left unspoken, as a loose structure completely dependent on today’s memories about the past. Certain photographs can be characterized as instances of “collective social memory” ; however, memory is individual and every attempt to collectivize it is doomed to fail. And in the end, what is left from the image of Slovenia that I remember? My relationship with that space and people began in the 1980s, i.e. during the onset of Yugoslavia’s disintegration. At that time, when I still didn’t fully comprehend the scope and meaning of “toying” with kitsch and nationalism, Slovenia, at least for some of us, meant Laibach, Neue Slowenische Kunst, the new collectivism, theatre, mythology of space and history. Postmodern architecture of the Kras Group, collaboration with magazines that are no longer in print …The list of individual experiences revealing a truly superficial “knowledge” about our neighbouring country could go on, but it is mostly a non-functional requirement for understanding the present. To us, dežela was always beautiful. Matjaž Rušt and Robert Marin’s series The Most Beautiful City in the World mediates some of the memories of what has been seen. However, most of these photographs in the series could as easily be depicting some other city, because the politics of beauty are not idiosyncratic to only one surrounding, not even Slovenian one. Nevertheless, the statement made by the mayor of Ljubljana and to which these two authors refer, introduces us to special circumstances that have contributed to Ljubljana’s unique beauty – alienation and tension captured in numerous photographs portray an image which we certainly won’t find in any guidebooks or election campaigns. These quite simple photographs, taken “in passing”, with no pretences other than being documentary photographs, speak of the margins of that beautiful picture. Taken during night outings, sometimes under the influence of alcohol, they are the testimonies of its participants, rather than comments or criticisms. “Autobiography is not the story of a life; it is the recreation or the discovery of one. In writing of experience, we discover what it was, and in the writing create the pattern we seem to have lived.” Rušt and Marin’s photographs are also a pattern of “writing” which seeks to give the audience a more complete picture than the one they are accustomed to. They are the ambassadors of everyday life, of ordinary life whose protagonists remain unknown, but not less interesting. In this kind of documentary photography, ordinary life is far less important than the fact that the photographer participated in the events he captured. As in other instances, this kind of documentary photography mediates to us the scenes of “stigmatized others”. The Most Beautiful City in the World is an authentically personal experience. The interesting thing about this series is its honesty in recognizing moments that are autobiographical but whose narrative remains open-ended. Sandra Križić Roban