The subject of this article is an artistic project that began in the 1980s as a joint project of two (anonymous) artists working under the name of Veš slikar svoj dolg (V.S.S.D.) / Painter Do You Know Your Duty, and has continued since the mid-1990s under the name of one member of the duo, Alen Ožbolt. The time between the two periods is marked by both continuity and rupture. Ožbolt does not carry on as if nothing happened, yet he does continue to let himself be driven by something that drove him already in the V.S.S.D. period.
Ožbolt did his “work of mourning” (to borrow Freud’s term) in white. His first exhibitions and installations after the “death” of V.S.S.D. may have evaded intrusive stares with their whiteness more efficiently than a face covered with a black veil. The first among them, Sleepwalker, the Third Man, virtually screamed for a considerate gaze, for discernment in viewing (judging?), and for delicacy in stepping on the painting (an installation on the stairs).
There is a rare quality in which Ožbolt’s work (as well as that of V.S.S.D.) excels: it shows no fear of exposing itself where and when it is at its most fragile. It is an “open” work in a very precise meaning of the word: it is willing to meet the viewer. This openness has nothing to do with what has evolved under the term of interactivity. The viewers are activated on a completely different level that remains – dare we use the word – metaphysical, despite the fact that the viewers and the “painting” often come in physical contact.
A little digression might be helpful when trying to define this “openness” with more precision. Twentieth century art was largely driven by the antinomy between an artistic act and a work of art: is the thing that really matters in the end the act (of creation) or its result, a “work” that can be put in a museum or hung on a wall? A host of art practices and forms have opted to give priority to the act (not only happenings, performances, and various kinds of body art, but also readymades pertain to the category of the artwork being the very gesture/act that classifies an object as an artwork; contemporary curatorial presentations of art are “events” by both description and form anyway). Arising from the contrast between an act as temporal, transient (but living, real) and a work as absolute, “eternal” (but dead, de-realized), this tendency could roughly be summarized as art trying to introduce its works back into the act itself, into its temporality and thus into real life. Reflection on this antinomy is present throughout V.S.S.D./Ožbolt’s oeuvre, albeit it is articulated somewhat differently. V.S.S.D./Ožbolt could be said to rearrange the elements of the original opposition, which in turn dictates a different dialectic: here, the absolute is the act, while the fragility, transience, temporality reside on the side of the work, the “result,” which is not a monumental object intended to be contemplated and re-contemplated on return visits but is, in a way, life itself. For this reason (to paraphrase a statement in the catalogue of the first V.S.S.D. exhibition) a work produced, a created image is the area or site where the absolute risks the most, where it is exposed. This is what is here described as the “openness” of the work: the effort to introduce temporality and the act into the work – to achieve a “living painting,” so to speak; to introduce time into the object-result, to give it an immanent duration, life. The antinomy – to formulate it in other terms – between the changeable, transient, fragile (but animate) and the absolute, solid, eternal (but dead or inanimate) is not resolved by sacrificing the absolute for a moment of life, of the real. The wager is in a way more radical, going in the direction of their speculative identities: the absolute is not the opposite of fragility but is – to paraphrase Slavoj Žižek – the most fragile thing in the world. In other words, V.S.S.D./Ožbolt’s project is – to risk another philosophical analogy – Hegelian in a sense that the most generally accepted notion of Hegelianism often misses: the wager on the work or the “result” as the truth of the act, the wager on the absolute, is not simply an affirmation of the absolute as opposed to the temporal and the fragile, but a thesis about the temporality and fragility of the absolute itself.
The V.S.S.D. universe could be said to start out as a universe of an image thinking about a word thinking a word. A word in its dimension that has the power to create something out of nothing and is, in a way, more material than the images in which it is materialized. The abstruse, “biblical” language of the texts accompanying the early V.S.S.D. exhibitions (1986–88) stands in direct contrast to the fragility of the images that are not so much exhibited in space as they are exposed: exposed to the gaze, to time, to destruction, to death. The images are everywhere, we walk on/in them (the so-called “spatial painting” is a constant in both the V.S.S.D. and Ožbolt’s oeuvre), their fragments crunching underfoot. But, as already mentioned, the idea here is not of “interaction” where viewers co-create a painting, change it, “communicate” with it. The encounter between the viewer, or more precisely visitor, and the painting is – like any true encounter – at the same time more brutal, subtler, and less self-evident in its reciprocity. (Indeed, the apparent reciprocity in the so-called interactivity would call for a more detailed study, as would the contemporary ideology and imperative of “dialogue,” which for the most part just frenetically covers up an emptiness on the site of the event, that is to say, the fact that hardly anything ever really happens in the interaction between a word or an art object and its addressee.) A visitor can only enter a painting and follow its convolutions and mysteries by – unintentionally and marginally, as a rule – altering it slightly on the way, “destroying” it by spending time with it.
In this sense it is, paradoxically, precisely through the spatiality of the painting that time, duration, is introduced into it. Only a moment can be eternal: whatever lasts longer than a moment is too long for eternity. This might be a summation of the spirit and the words of the early V.S.S.D. exhibitions and installations. In other words: only the act can be eternal (because it is outside time in a way), while the work, the “result” can only be either alive or dead. This “motif” is one of the threads running through the creative production first of V.S.S.D. and subsequently, Alen Ožbolt. “The ‘path or life’ of an artwork,” writes Ožbolt, “can be described as creation, as birth in the studio; and, when that happens, it is then placed in a museum or private collection as dead. On this ‘life course,’ the gallery facilitates an interim state when a work lives, breathes, is alive.” The motif of the result/work as a “dead body” is thus present also in this reflection, without, however, being contrasted with the simple act (of creation) as being alive, but rather with a singular “in-between” that allows the inconceivable moment of transition from the not yet born to the already dead to acquire a scene, a place and time. From the vantage point of an artwork, the gallery is then essentially an interspace, a limbo, a terrain between “not yet” and “no longer” art. But this in-between (“between two deaths”?) is by no means simply a given, and even less something provided by the existence of galleries. The gallery in the sense understood by Ožbolt (i.e. as the space of the life of an artwork) first needs to be created each time, anew.
This is the origin of something (almost) constant with V.S.S.D./Ožbolt: an artwork does not “come to show itself” in a gallery, but is often fatefully dependent on it in one way or another. It is not so much the logic of an installation (of something in a space) as the installation of the space itself. Soft installations, sand paintings produced at the gallery and thus not transportable and destroyed at the end of the show, are more than a mere expression of the transience of an artwork. They are just as much, if not more, something that primarily creates the space itself, the “gallery” in which they display themselves – as well as its “aliveness”. In this context a gallery as the space of an artwork’s life is not an empty frame to be filled with some specific content each time, but also always already a concept. Before the appearance and the ultimate dominance of the curator as the conceptual creator of individual exhibitions, V.S.S.D./Ožbolt practiced his own unique variant of this same thing: the space or concept within which it is displayed must be created by the painting itself.
There is no lack of “exhibition spaces” today; what there is a shortage of (or is rather rare) is something that could be called “a space of art,” that is, a space or “opening” created by art itself, where it imposes its “laws.” This is what constitutes the difficulty of the position of not only art but every form of creation in “modern time,” that is, the time when the big Other – as the instance that can provide a work with an echo, a life, a possibility to produce an effect of the real – does not exist. Curators now have the role of providing a context, creating an echo, offering a theory of what we are viewing, creating an event. A large part of the conceptual and physical effort of V.S.S.D. and later Ožbolt has moved toward a certain alternative to that, which is at the same time nonetheless well aware of the reality of the problem to which the figure of the curator responds. This is the sense in which I understand the creation of an artwork as internally duplicated to both itself and the space/context of its manifestation. Which means that, simultaneously with a work (and immanently), the work’s conditions need to be created. And this requires a certain withdrawal, an exception, an inward hollowing-out to create a “resonance chamber” where a work can breathe, resound, escape the present.
However, the spatial painting is not the only way V.S.S.D./Ožbolt’s art creates its own conditions, giving itself space and time to resonate. The other mode of this gesture concerns what we might call the motif (in the sense of the subject matter of the “painting”) of a major part of V.S.S.D./Ožbolt’s creative production: fragility, elusiveness. This must be understood literally, not in the sense that these creations “convey” the fragility, elusiveness, transience of everything; fragility is literally the subject matter of the “paintings,” the thing that structures them internally, giving them shape, image, rhythm, color, texture; it is the thing that animates them. The dust (and fine sand that numerous pictures of both V.S.S.D. and Ožbolt are made of) is not ashes, the remains of an impermanent body, proof of its fragility and transience, but on the contrary, “such stuff as dreams are made on,” as the Bard says; that is, the very stuff of the painting (as “animate”). A “sand painting” made directly in the gallery (e.g. Sand in Your Eyes, 1991) is fragility itself, an area or site where the “creator” risks the most. Not only because the erasure – and thus death – is inevitable (the painting is neither “fixed” nor transportable), but because he exposes his own life there. Death, erasure is an empty event in this sense, an event in which nothing happens. For this reason the fragility, the exposure of life is not simply its exposure to death, but exposure to the unforeseeable, surprise, ruptures and reunions. Unlike life, death is not a risk; death is certainty, peace (“A dead artist, a happy ending,” writes Ožbolt). This sand painting is “countered” with other paintings, fixed (baked sand) paintings of petrified fragility (the Dust-Memory series). The dichotomy is not of life and death, but rather of life and memory. In its execution this theme is surprisingly Nietzschean. “A thing must be burnt in so that it stays in the memory: only something that continues to hurt stays in the memory,” says On the Genealogy of Morality. Painting techniques as “mnemonic” techniques? One’s memory is not memory of life, but is what is burnt into life itself as its immanent obstacle, its internal impossible, its lacuna. (Here we should mention the Untitled exhibition/series, where also the materiality of the lacuna gets its place.) Memory is a “loss of time” – this expression must also be taken quite literally – and time is a loss of memory. Sand in Your Eyes is a loss of memory, life without memory, it is a painting lost in time, while Dust-Memory is a loss of time, it is time lost in the painting. We could say that, if V.S.S.D./Ožbolt’s constructions, installations exhibit anything, give-to-see (donnent-à-voir) anything, it is precisely this moment of elusiveness, the slip, the missed encounter, the fragile instant of transition of one into another. Here we again come up against that “in-between” of which we spoke earlier.
A more general thesis could be formulated about this. The issue of “motif” is undoubtedly one of the central preoccupations for V.S.S.D./Ožbolt. What is a “painting” a picture of? What is the “motif” of a painting (not only in the sense of what is “represented” in the painting, but also in the above-mentioned sense of motivation, animation of an artwork)? In one of his project proposals Ožbolt calls it “exploring the absent motif” or “working on the absent motif.” But V.S.S.D./Ožbolt’s art is not simply a thesis of absent motif or an “artistic presentation” of the fact that the motif (or the original) is absent. In this respect, V.S.S.D./Ožbolt evades one of the pitfalls of what we might call “postmodern enthusiasm”, where art often settles for conveying postmodern truths (of the nonexistence of totality, the questionability of great metaphysical boundaries, the death of the Subject and its dispersion, etc.) through its medium (in “its own” way). Conversely, V.S.S.D./Ožbolt takes such truths as a starting point or challenge from which the work, the exploration, the innovation then depart. A propos the issue of motif and the lack thereof, V.S.S.D./Ožbolt gives, or more precisely, creates an answer that is astonishing in its radicalness and simplicity: the motif of a painting is, literally, its matter. One of the V.S.S.D. “paintings” is titled Painting of a Painting (which was part of the project V.S.S.D. presented at the Venice Biennale). This might call to mind Plato and the “copy of a copy”, or the postmodern replication of appearances moving toward the autonomy of appearances. But what we see in the painting mentioned does not bring the satisfaction of recognizing these familiar references. What we see is literally a painting made of paintings. A painting is the subject matter of the painting, its material and motif. It is not a montage of already made works, a two-stage work, but an incremental and continued painting of a painting of paintings (98 highly differently painted wood panels: mixed media on panel, mirrors, photographs). Painting of a Painting is in fact a painting depicting itself (and not some other painting), it is a painting of itself, and this is where the “absence of a motif” coincides with its transformation into a real painting. The real is not beyond (and presented in) the appearance; the appearance is inherently incapable of being “merely an appearance.” Painting of a Painting is not a retreat from the Real, but precisely its most material presence.
The gesture described above is also one of the key elements of Ožbolt’s work. The motifs of the trilogy Burning Paintings, Before and After and Air Studies are things that are the hardest to capture despite being “elemental” (fire, water, and air respectively), literally becoming the matter of the paintings, the thing that “draws” or animates them. Burning Paintings are paintings on wood made with fire; Before and After are “wet,” “liquid” paintings produced in a long-lasting wet horizontal process; and Air Studies are paintings made with the aid of a “power air jet,” i.e. an airbrush on glass. The “motif” (e.g. “air) is not what we see in the paintings, but what hollows the paintings out inwardly to the point where they become their own “resonance chambers,” creating an inherent, “inner” echo. Or, to try to formulate it more precisely: the absent motif is not a painting without a motif, nor is it simply a painting of the absence of a motif, the so-called “absence made present.” The painting does not represent anything, not even absence or lack; rather, it integrates this very lack (“air”) as that inner lacuna that leads to the duplication of the form, thus enabling its resonance. And this is what makes the form most sensuous, most “material.”1 We can find an analogous effect in the installation Measure and Sense, where the insistence and work on the (“right”) measure, that is, on something supposedly “regulating” sensuousness from a rational point of view, is what really produces sensuousness as such. In fact, this effect of physicality, sensuousness and aliveness of the paintings often arousing an irresistible urge to touch, to feel, is one of the strongest components of V.S.S.D./Ožbolt’s work. “What is this made of?” and “What is this material?” are questions often (over)heard at V.S.S.D./Ožbolt “exhibitions.” Indeed, these two questions are indicative of a lot of what we have written here about the transformation of the motif into the matter of a painting. The matter itself, the “material” of these painting often looks like something “unknown,” not from this world. Perhaps this might be the most concise summation of the gist of V.S.S.D./Ožbolt art: it is not concerned with how to create new forms, but how to create new matter, new material by patiently working on the form.
This is, at the same time, what makes the V.S.S.D./Ožbolt project appear to go against time, the “current” time and its demands, that is, the relentless imperative to invent forever new forms (of communication, of conveying, disseminating ideas/information/matter), where what is frequently lost is precisely the creativity of the form, that is, its power to create something and not just “convey” it in a novel, more interesting, exciting, different way.
INTERVIEW: THE POSSIBLE IS IMPOSSIBLE
- What do you think of interviews?
- I don’t have a sexual approach to them, although interviews nowadays – on television, for instance – are becoming precisely that: public-collective sexual relations (to give a Slovene example, Jonas with his women visitors on his talk show), onanism or masturbation. In this contemporary form of interview, you are put on a stage of sorts, a stage that everybody tends to use for self-promotion, even going so far as to calling it “public relations”. In this form of public relations, it’s a must to talk about one’s successes – about potency – and thus promote oneself, make a name for oneself in public, raise one’s price, increase one’s power, have an erection. It’s necessary to be strong, upright, say a few wise-sounding things and conceal one’s misery, incompetence or listlessness. It’s necessary to know, and never answer “I don’t know.” In this modern era of capital and profit it isn’t proper to show one’s poverty, loss, ignorance. But what is real is both impotence and potency, the existence of decrepit ruins and high-tech new buildings, the existence of poverty, social indigence and immeasurable wealth. That’s the truth, and not reiterating the media, political, journalistic, cultural, and other lies and deceptions. Are we even allowed to publicly speak about “blood, tears, and shit”? In this context I feel obliged to admit that most of my work or projects haven’t been realized and there have also been many failures, tragedies, a lot of sadness. In an interview, there’s also the command “Speak up, tell us everything!”, but it’s impossible to evade censorship. And last but not least, let me here force myself not to feel like a victim, or like a lunatic that has been offered an opportunity to explain the symptoms of his madness and needs the “talking cure” primarily for himself. That’s why I take this babbling to be talking or even communicating, revealing and discovering, illuminating and seeing FOR YOU, despite the fact this isn’t about looking, but listening. YOU are the ear.
“Privacy” has become one of the most profitable market items. How do you see the public/private issue in the context of your work?
I’m not a private entrepreneur, nor am I a public servant… In the context of my work the matter is a bit more complicated: I’m not even alone in my bedroom, and I’m not alone when I dream either. No matter how “privately and intimately” I work in my studio, I work – as is the convention – also for the eyes of another. The “hidden” process becomes at least partially – visibly – public as soon as it is exhibited, since galleries and museums are public institutions (closed only at night). And it is a characteristic of my work that it is only finished once it is installed, exhibited. “My work” is in this sense “mine” only conditionally, since it is immediately – simultaneously – also for others, for other eyes. We all work for the other. The private is immediately the other, public – and isn’t the private merely the reverse side of the public and vice versa? This transitioning – from inside out and from outside in – is so obvious, but at the same time also very subtle and at times indeterminable. So far apart and yet so close together.
The word “culture” is increasingly replacing the word “art.” Do you see a difference between them, and if so, what is it?
This is not a urinal, it’s an attempt at a reply: Culture is for everybody, art is for a single person. Culture is food, art is hunger. Culture is prison, art is being free. Culture is consumption, art is want. Culture is functional, art doesn’t function. Culture is convention, art is violating conventions and culture. Culture is language, art is barking. Culture is clothes, art is a woman. Culture is old, art is beautiful. Culture is, art is not.
How would you describe the 1990s? Which events, phenomena, shifts, inventions of the past decade appear as crucial to you?
While it’s true I’m more interested in the past than the future, the 1990s aren’t over yet, they’re still here, still happening, so it’s hard to talk about them. I don’t have a special attitude to the 1990s, I don’t favor them, they don’t seem any more or less interesting than any other decade. So I don’t have the necessary distance or “historical” memory to be able to say what they’re like or in what way I see them differing from the 1980s or the 1970s… – they’re probably more digital, faster than the previous decades, in commerce, communication, traffic… But the crucial, most characteristic and influential invention in the 1990s art system is for me definitely the ultimate and overt rise and predominance of curators in the art world (okay, in the 1980s, for example, the role of dictators was still played by the critics), that’s more characteristic and defining than any other invention, work, artwork, museum… The curator is the symptom of the 1990s. Of course, the art system is much more intricate than the relation between the producer and consumer or the relation between the curator and the public (for instance, the former triad of artwork/viewer/critic has expanded considerably, at least to object/medium/author/critic/institution/public), but it is symptomatic how the curator’s statement – not a text, not verbal – has come to be the exhibition. To the point that the curator has become the author of the exhibition, which entails full authority over the title, the selection of the “material,” the exhibition design, the intention… the curator is the primary author of the exhibition. The curator has assumed the author’s position as the producer of exhibitions, while authors/artists are here basically of secondary importance; they are the substance, but substance in the sense of material, more or less exotic wild animals or pets, while everybody’s wondering “what exactly it was the curator wanted to say.” As a matter of fact, hardly anybody writes or reads anymore these days, so the statements – if they even exist – have to be simple, short, concise, and economical, TV soundbites – the direct opposite of my replies here.
So let me try a different tack: if I hear the word museum I become sad, I think of transience, of dying; and if I hear the word curator, I go for my gun.
The next question is somewhat metaphysical, but may be relevant in this time of general relativism and randomness: Why do you do what you do, and not something else? Why do you do it the way you do it, and not in some other way?
Duchamp would say choose and be chosen, or put differently, designate and be designated. Life and work are complex, multilayered processes, where free will is neither a given nor unlimited. There is also the (internal) injunction and the dependence on the order of things, as well as flight from the order of things. This is where my duty, my destiny, and my urge lie, more alive for me than anything else today, right this moment – despite the fact that art has died many times over. If I tried to be the same and similar, no matter how hard I tried I could only come to the conclusion that I’m here because I’m not the same and I do not repeat myself, and so I don’t disappear. I don’t try to make my art similar, universal, common, general. Just the opposite, it is highly restricted, subjective, particular, dependent on the moment and the detail, the place, and above all, the subject. But “my” subject isn’t singular, it is manifold; the subject is unwhole, split, even dispersed. Thus, I’m not an individuum, nor am I individual.
As already mentioned, I have a duty; however, it is not my duty to repeat or say everything, but only to thematize certain states, views, perspectives, and issues, and thus it is not my duty to provide answers. I have my calling, which is at times even an inner injunction that is not mute, but has a call, a voice, even more than one, many voices. These voices are not just self-referential, oriented inward, or egocentric; they are polyphonic, decentered. “Here” many voices meet and intertwine, and some among them overpower, erase others, so I have no illusions about transcending my “composition/piece of music,” or, to put it differently, I don’t think of myself as larger than life, I know I have my “frame,” my limits, so I don’t assume any broader position of preacher. While I do acknowledge the existence of others, I cannot lie about being caught within myself and condemned to myself.
VSSD’s project for the 1995 Venice Biennale was titled Painting of a Painting. Can you tell me a little more about this title, which, for me, sums up so well an important component of your work?
I can tell you more about the work Painting of a Painting II¸ which is a “variation” on the theme and topic of the motif in the dimension of the smaller painting Painting of a Painting from 1990/91. The “original sin” of that painting, “produced” for the Slovene Athens exhibition/project (initiated by Irwin), where the motif was dictated, predetermined, to wit, the highly familiar, even mythical motif of The Sower by Slovene painter Ivan Grohar. The solution of the painting is precisely the absence of the dictated/predetermined motif, i.e., the figure of the sower; its “main” image or motif is the field, actually, the field of the painting itself, a (geometrical) grid of numerous images that enables a chain-reaction gaze. What is important, of course, is the unnatural and dangerous floor position, horizontal position of the painting lying on the ground and not standing like a screen, like a painting-window vertically on the wall. Here, the gaze is “vertical” or, more precisely, “diagonal”/“aerial,” the painting is viewed from above as one circles around it. The image and the appearance of the painting are thus in the grid of images: the Painting of a Painting does not have an arrested, paralyzed single motif, and thus also the movement of the “absent motif” is not absent. The painting consists of images, of paintings/images (Painting of a Painting II of precisely 98 of them) executed in numerous (22 different) V.S.S.D. techniques and set in a grid that allows transitions and interconnections between the images. The image is thus made up of images, a dense grid of paintings, and the grid of their images does not have a dominant image, a unified and whole form, since the latter is segmented and broken up into pieces and practically has no limits in terms of assembling and disassembling. The other moment of the (second) Painting of a Painting II is also more vital, yes, perhaps existential, less rural, agricultural. The absent motif of the second painting is actually a self-portrait of the artist, a kind of multidimensional portrait of V.S.S.D., a mysterious self-portrait, mysterious because it remained a secret that nobody noticed, although I wrote about it in the catalogue: “The eye is on me. Can the one who is lost find himself again? Back into the past, back to oneself. … Searching for oneself… The future does not exist, years from now it will no longer matter what I look like today, how I see today… Me on me… I stood in front of myself and looked at my face, my hands, my body. Observation. Recognition of non-similarity… Not a single face, there are faces, changing faces, a person can even be faceless…” and so on. Everything that was written came true, and Painting of a Painting II was the final V.S.S.D. project.
Let’s stop here awhile, “in the middle,” at the moment V.S.S.D. stops and you continue on your own. With a long past and yet at the same time without a past (without past works or installations bearing your name). The question is really threefold: Seen from the point of rupture, what is “V.S.S.D.,” what is “Ožbolt” and what is the rupture? (This is not a question about the identity of the artist, but about the work and the reflection that goes into it, the “drive” behind the work.)
It’s virtually impossible to answer this question, or rather, it should be answered by professional interpreters, critics… I myself hope that most works haven’t been finished or even started yet. As an artist, I can only speak from my current position, and as for V.S.S.D., the phrase a dead artist is a happy ending applies. When it comes to me, the thing is more complicated, since I’m still a “living elusive substance,” I’m “just” a human, but a human who has experienced a shock, a rupture that was not instantaneous but lasted a considerable time. A rupture is not a line, it is – despite a strong and rational desire to the contrary – a space between love and hate, between dependence and rejection. But with regard to “my beginning” I would speak more of rejection, erasure of, discontinuity with my previous work: I saw white, I had headaches, insomnia, I felt paralyzed and wanted to make a clean break, distance myself from V.S.S.D. Lately, I haven’t been turning away anymore, which is evident in the projects and exhibitions Before and After, Aerobe, Introspective, where I have ceased erasing my past. As a matter of fact – speaking rationally and linearly – I have reached the point of no longer denying my past and being aware that V.S.S.D. is a part of me, a part of my – living and dead – nature.
- (Your) texts are constant companions to your projects, showing the extent of the reflection that goes into what you do. Things are clearly, carefully thought-out. At the same time your art could never be said to be “conceptual” – on the contrary, in its deliberateness, precision, and mediated-ness it is highly physical, sensuous, direct. A good example of that is your installation Measure and Sense. Can you tell us something about that “painting”?
- We don’t only live in houses, we also live in language, we’re destined to read, name, interpret things… That’s why I cannot forgo words, writing, texts that are a parallel medium of sorts for me, a parallel articulation that is never a comment on or interpretation of the work itself. Words are my “material,” my repertoire, and have the power – e.g. in the role of title – to strongly define or mark a work, and in particular, its reception. Of course, works exist – also – outside the words, outside language, in their muteness and their silence. But as I always seek sense and meaning in what I do, language is the handiest tool for finding and giving sense, meanings, although there always remains the dilemma of why we should look at something instead of simply looking out the window.
Thus, if I try again to put into words, not my intention, but some of my ideas and contents that “underpinned” the work entitled Measure and Sense, I’d be inclined to say this: You have to have a sense of the right measure, and a measure of sensations and emotions; without that you get knocked off, derailed, unbalanced. The Bible – a book about (the right and wrong) measure, among other things – teaches that it’s wise to choose with care and deliberation, to control one’s desires and needs. At the same time it’s about that basic measuring and temporality that fundamentally govern and determine the world: measure and time, money and the clock govern the world in an inharmonious inequality which is nonetheless a kind of stability, although it is not an equilibrium or a just distribution of life or wealth. The measure between too much and too little is important everywhere: in development, in education, in food, in banking, e.g., not only the measure for gold, an ounce, but also the interest rate. Measure is critical in medicine, physicians are usually in white, drugs are usually white (just as Measure and Sense is white), the quantity, the dosage of active compounds in a drug decides between life and death, the same as in a dose of illegal drugs, which are also usually white (“white shot of heroin”). Last but not least, measure and dimension are also critical in art. Many components vital for life appear to us in powdered form – powder or dust can be a symbol of memory, one of the key human traits, and also the titanium white pigment is white (in/on the work Measure and Sense), which is, as far as I know, the whitest substance in the world. Many vital and emotional elements in people’s lives are transient, just as a sand installation is transient and ephemeral. Then there is also the “technical” presence of the laws of nature, such as gravity and weight, the dimension of inner space, the settling of space with the uneven rhythm of uneven piles of sand, the intense “breathing” of the horizontal surface and its strong pulsing of light…
The enthusiasm surrounding the “new technologies” has somehow left you untouched. But at the same time your art is far from that academicism that continues to “do its thing” as though nothing were happening around it.
Technology is here to stay, it is a fact, the world has become technological through and through, and a person can live without technology only alongside technology. But… computers today are not what they were in the 1950s and 1960s – strange, unapproachable, cold, large, cumbersome, complicated machines used in experiments only by odd avant-gardists such as Stockhausen or early Cage; today, computers are nice and tame machines, personal, smartly designed, even portable “household gadgets” with one important difference: they demand the entire gaze, and thus the entire user (and are thus more possessive than a vacuum cleaner). A personal computer is not a neutral machine, just as its screen is not neutral – windows are very definite frames – and the limits of a computer and its software are also the limits of its user. The funny side of this is the way sophisticated technology is often reminiscent of attractive toys for big kids, oftentimes transforming adults into idiots amazed and fascinated by magic tricks. New technologies are so seductive, so attractive and wonderful, even useful, and so very fast and so highly efficient. They have the power of creating dependence, the kind of dependence that if computers – these sophisticated machines – stop, the world comes to a halt. But right now, there’s technology between the two of us, technology that allows us to have this dialogue, this contact, and we wouldn’t have this interview without it.2 Anyway, what is most subversive today is certainly not the use of technology – using them, depending on them is the imperative of new technologies; what is subversive is the hand that has been virtually ousted from the labor process, since only the fingers are used to press keys to guide machines in production processes. What is subversive is problematizing or even mocking technical and technological progress, using old, traditional tools and instruments, small-scale production, primitive equipment… Obviously, there is no way the hand can jeopardize digital capitalism, but there is, in a tragicomic twist, also this strange situation where sophisticated computer simulations and games produce highly classical or traditional contents and visualizations in the framework of perspectival, almost Renaissance codes, anamorphosis, metamorphosis, metaphor and action at the level of Greek drama and tragedy – sometimes it feels like the Ancients Greeks had come up with everything in Western civilization – while on the other hand people reject machines and blow the Aboriginal didgeridoo. I’m not technologically primitive myself, but it is true that I am far more excited by other – also manual, artisanal – processes and procedures that seem at least equally – and sometimes more – complex and multilayered, or in popular contemporary terms sophisticated and interactive, as typing on a keyboard, moving a mouse, or looking at a screen.
Do you believe revolutions are still possible (generally in society or perhaps in art)?
That depends on the theory and the approach. I believe in evidence of the evolution of life, I mean biological evolution. Although I am not Che I nonetheless believe that the human world is constantly being shaken up by revolutions, either ideational or scientific or technological or political or economic… Changes, shocks, slashes, leaps, turns… there’s plenty of this – fire – throughout human history and art as well. Obviously, transitions and changes and turns can also be slower, more subtle, less conspicuous, but I believe also in quiet revolutions.
You like quoting Bunuel’s thought: To liberate one’s imagination, one must kill one’s father, rape one’s mother, and betray one’s country. This in itself eloquently answers another question I was to pose in this interview, concerning your attitude to the attribute of “Slovene artist,” to determination by nationality, to tradition. Would you care to add something?
May I add a quote of my own? “…There is teaching in the name of the Father and the Son. Teaching means that there is a Father, that there is a Law, teaching even means that there is a Teacher. But who are the teachers and who are the students? Does teaching speak the language of wisdom? Teachers are not those who think they are teachers, and students are likewise not those who think they are students. Therefore, if I have no teacher and no students, does that mean I do not exist? ...” The thing about quotes is that they mean what they serve as, what we “use” them to mean. So and so many things limit and define us as users, consumers, followers, fans, supporters, citizens… So and so many things are over-determined, conventional. We were given parents, a language, a country, a culture, an economic system, a moment in history. But imagination is truly boundless, almost infinite, without it the world could stop. Although I am far, far freer in “art” than “on the street,” I do not regard my art as liberation from codes, conventions, stipulations. There is no liberation, but art is not a fact, and for this reason it can explosively expand, skip or distance itself from these stipulations.
So what would be your reply to this question: To which of these spaces do you feel you belong the most: the Local, the Western, the Eastern, or the Global?
These spaces define me and my identity, so it is they that should be asked where and how they define me. I don’t feel I belong to any of these spaces.
Translated by Tamara Soban