Since the end of V.S.S.D. in 1995, Alen Ožbolt has been pursuing a solo artistic career. While essentially growing out of the basic aesthetic and topical premises of V.S.S.D., Ožbolt’s profuse solo oeuvre has broader dimensions, broaching issues already addressed in V.S.S.D. work and expanding on them. Initially, the artist’s transition to solo work was marked by the trauma of rupture with, denial of, or distancing from the work and heritage of V.S.S.D., which, however, has since become a “working history,” constructive ground for formulating new artistic concepts and ideas.
One of the central subjects in Ožbolt’s art is, first and foremost, a continuation and an increase in the potential of the spatial painting or a spatially conceived work of art. The basic premise here is that such a work of art necessarily determines its space of existence upon its every realization, only for the duration of that realization, exclusively and bindingly. This is a further development of the proposition that the precondition for a work of art is defining the space for art. Whether reinventing the use of sand in new ways or employing other materials, such as wax, paper, or a million (former Slovene) one-tolar coins, Ožbolt’s spatial paintings are limited in time with their unique, one-off gallery installations. This introduces into the core concept of such an artwork its (short) duration, its transience, its physical, material (and also symbolic and metaphorical) vulnerability, fragility and terminability. Creating an inner space proper to the artwork (e.g. in Sleepwalker, 1996, The Sower, 2001, Edge, 2003, Open and Closed, 2003) also addresses the issue of the autonomy of the artwork (in contemporary art, often considered an issue of crossing the line between the autonomy of art and its actual impact on the world), which in Ožbolt’s work turns out to be an interpretively ambiguous (and materially subtle) thematization of the social space of art. The issue of the edge is thus not merely the issue of the material edge of an artwork in the modernist tradition, but always also the issue of creating (and transcending) the edge or limit of the artwork’s context, the institutional space of art and its social, structural and political position.
Another key basis of Ožbolt’s art is the material and the matter of an artwork: their cause-and-effect links with the form and the way this changes, evolves, metamorphoses, “lives”, and their functional and intuitive interdependence with the space and the body. Most of Ožbolt’s works/projects are characterized by an exceptional diversity of materials and his physical, hands-on working of them, his “artisanal” approach to producing incredible, suggestively fascinating or repulsive forms (e.g. The Life of Forms project, 1998–2011, or Entartete Kunst, 2017). The expressiveness of matter itself – never understood in a conceptually tautological way by Ožbolt, but neither merely in a sublime metaphorical way – is crucial for the genesis of his work and ideas; his works’ suggestive material manifestations allow them to avoid semantic pitfalls and mechanisms of metaphor. This is probably the reason this type of “untamed matter” – often in relation to physicality, to the physical production and the bodily perception of his work – has in Ožbolt’s case been linked with a Bataillesque “base materialism” and its potential for subversive emancipation through primary matter.
Furthermore, the matter is the generator of the artwork’s potential on yet another level for Ožbolt: in the shift in the cause-and-effect links between matter and form. While usually the former determines the latter, the opposite is frequently the case in Ožbolt’s works, culminating in the representation of a substance precisely due to its form, its traces, its (natural but artificially, artistically enabled, that is, mediated and thus in reality un-natural, formed) manifestation. Already in the V.S.S.D. period, certain works were ultimately completed with flames; Ožbolt initiates situations where fire, water or air in-spire the image, which subsequently – after having been completed with the artist’s manual intervention – becomes the artwork at some point (e.g. paintings in the Before and After series, 1995–98, Aerobium (Breathing and Air Studies), 1999, From Up Close, From Far Away, 1998–2004, or the suggestive environment Black Cloud, White Matter and Fake Fires, 2018).
At first glance, Alen Ožbolt’s works often appear to stand in contrast with the trends and tendencies in contemporary art, an impression that is not misleading, at least not insofar as they lack any unequivocal reference to contemporary mediatized reality or do not come close to the sphere of contemporary art that pursues emancipation through (or at least fascination with) alternative uses of technology and science and/or renounces the art object for the sake of process, discourse or event. Of course, this does not mean that Ožbolt’s works cannot be interpreted as reaching the horizon beyond art; indeed, his works do not preclude such a reading of context, while Ožbolt’s texts accompanying his exhibition clearly refer to the contemporary social context of (his) art.
All of this notwithstanding, Ožbolt’s installations, images, works, paintings-sculptures, sculptures-paintings, objects, acquiring all manner of diverse, undreamt-of forms in their “lives,” seem to manifest themselves elsewhere, in the spaces of the absence of the image, in edge spaces, where speech, faced with matter, fails, be it in an impermanent sand drawing or in the mute impenetrability of tar (“what we see on screens,” to paraphrase the title of an Ožbolt text), also still in the parallel medium of text and, above all, where the object of art resists the gaze. A key experience of Ožbolt’s art seems to be that the artwork is defined by a gaze that is barred (that can never see the image in its entirety, that can never be filled with it), which is the only way to keep the desire alive, since what is seen always also includes what is absent and what cannot be truly encompassed (“A view of a material form is always partial and incomplete,” A.O.). All of the above comes together in one of the most multilayered and authentic artistic oeuvres in Slovene art.