Viktor Bernik, Janez Janša, Arjan Pregl, Sašo Vrabič: PAINTING PROJECT
Everything is purged from this painting but art, no ideas have entered this work.
John Baldessari, 1966-1968
Every revelation, criticism and opposition uses the tools it despises and risks that it will become a victim of the very practice it reveals.
A number of factors influence the emergence of a work of art and thus it is impossible to describe the creative process exactly as it happened. Regardless of this, one of the goals of this text is to attempt to describe the process that led to the emergence of the Painting project. The project creation process has to be linked to temporality. The question therefore is which moment to choose as the beginning of the description of the exhibition Painting project which was opened on 7th December 2007 in the Gallery Ganes Pratt. It seems that the story leading up to the beginning of the exhibition is important, for the artists reach into their own history, to be more precise into 1997, when Janez Janša (then Žiga Kariž) and Sašo Vrabič prepared their solo exhibition entitled This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us in the gallery and centre P74.
At The Tradition of the New exhibition in the Guggenheim John Baldessari exhibited a painting that finally dismissed modernism. The white canvass with writing was read rather than viewed by the spectator and the ironic (or innocent, ambivalent) commentary revealed the final drama of modernism. The painting became a symbol that offered the spectator an idea. The painting became a concept, a pure thought, and this offered a chance to truly feel it – the basic manner of experiencing a painting constructed by the dominant ideology of modernism – only at the next level.
At the end of WWII when the importance of national art was on the decline (at least in the larger Western European nations), Slovene painting – at the time Slovenia was a part of the Federative National Republic of Yugoslavia – took a different spin on these events.1 The lyrical image of Slovene painting established itself as a hard fact that remained long after WWII in the works of criticism, art history as well as artist’s statements, i.e. in the numerous fields that influence the creation of art standards. At the same time it kept moving away from lyricism towards anxiety and melancholy – more and more in the direction of dark modernism.
Only recently, simultaneous to the great changes in the field of art, a realisation emerged within the Slovene world of art that the identity within a certain place and a certain moment is never a single one and that it is created through non-artistic factors, and is therefore a construct with a reciprocal influence, for it also influences the works of art. By advocating and encouraging a single line of expression which is formally confirmed by the majority of art institutions – critics, gallery owners, art historians and artist supported by them – grey areas start emerging on the art map. Once these fields are clarified the subdued art histories of the Slovene 20th century emerge.
Can we believe that modernist art exists separately from life? Modernism created its own mythology that has skilfully covered up the connection between true art and its commercial side and advocated a reading of art that saw the artist as a genius and his works as products of a genius mind. We can identify art with modernism for only as long as the only thing that we see in it is art itself. However, when we speak of modernism today, this is no longer possible. Regardless of the glorified freedom that was supposedly transferred onto the spectator through the work of art, in the post world war two period this artistic freedom was noticeable only in the artworks that came from the victorious countries, especially USA, which also exported it around the world with their art pieces.
How 20th century art is understood and which of the numerous expressions – as regards the contents as well as the form – dominate depends on which dominant groups establish – the also dominating – art discourse. At the beginning of the century this discourse was evenly balanced between the fields of art and politics, however at the end of the 1930s the leading role in Slovenia was taken over by politics. Approximately a decade after WWII painting became relatively uninteresting for the dominating political structures and the discourse was once again passed back to the field of art. As a reaction to the previously dominating discourse and an attempt of adjusting to the art directions favoured by the western world, the modernistic discourse established itself as the dominating one, and because of this the works of art that were not understood as a part of this discourse were pushed aside.
The idea of a linked development arch in modernist painting is of course an ideological construction, for in a certain historical period only a part of the artistic production was standardised – of course the part that was found interesting by the elite in power. Apart from the seemingly unified, linked line of development, the archive of modernistic painting offers a mass of marginal phenomena that are hidden in the cracks and on the margins, behind sometimes hardly noticeable indexes that enable an insight into the various possibilities of reading a painting as a work of art, which changes the ideological depiction of a certain period.
On one of its levels of meaning the exhibition Painting project rejects the idea that the qualitative measure of a work of art is its tragic, existential and metaphysical dimension – the lack of which (especially in painting) is believed to be a great mistake: ‘Such viewing allows the art historian as well as the artist to operate or legitimize the metaphysical dimension through ownership, and the competition and the non favoured artists are then discriminatorily denied this ownership. Referring to metaphysics in an environment that does not have developed measures for evaluating art, can be one of the main axis along which the authors are divided on the right and wrong (i.e. owners of the metaphysics). Often a confrontation as regards who will be the one to sanction and award is hidden behind this.’2
The dominant modernistic view understood art as production with a special metaphysical value. This understanding was determined by the ideology of bourgeois idealism. Art was understood as a field of freedom, while the artist was believed to be a being with a special feeling for art.
Slovene modernistic painting was also encouraged by the dominant art institution and this is one of the reasons that it has remained the leading line in painting for longer than this was the case in Western Europe and USA. The 1990s and the emergence of the discourse of the so-called contemporary art that was in the local space most precisely defined by Igor Zabel,3 offered the possibility for a different understanding of painting. This new understanding accompanied the great changes in the painting production. When Slovenia accepted the capitalist system, i.e. the Western European cultural paradigm, it also experienced a turnaround in painting. The different way of creating and understanding painting was most likely influenced by the emphasised entry of the local environs into a new space. Due to the development of the world of mass media and new communication technologies the understanding of the image has changed. Painting, which stepped from within the picture into a dialogue with the digitalised image was called post-media picture or painting of the broadened status of the visual. In the new millennia this painting became the carrier of the dominant discourse in the local space, which corresponds to the events that took place in painting in the western art world (this is anyway the only one that dictates what is relevant in art, for it is the owner of the art system that it maintains through capital).
The dominance of the so-called contemporary art also enabled new readings of modernism. In Slovenia we can speak of the existence of at least two modernist lines. The first – dominant one – is the result of the work on concepts by art historians (Stele, Brejc, Mikuž, Medved, etc.) and has knowingly or unknowingly subdued the others. The established structure of Slovene modernism in art, which does not start with fin-de-siecle painting but with the impressionists and maybe Petkovšek, does not include a number of artistic phenomena of the 20th century. The avant-gardes, (especially the Slovene version of constructivism), certain works by authors in the post world war two period, the neo-avant-gardes, the new figuralics, hyperrealism, retro avant-gardes, etc., still exist as marginal phenomena that have not been included into the great story of Slovene 20th century art. In painting this second line can be constituted through their joint base: the presence of mass media in picture that has been understood in various ways. To a certain degree this line has already been established, mainly due to the authors themselves (OHO and the avant-gardes, IRWIN and OHO, etc.), however it has certainly not been totally affirmed yet. It is because of their emphasised marginality that a line of art parallel to modernism was created. This started during the period of Slovene historic avant-gardes and became the dominant field of art at the end of the 20th century.
The central field that is today supported by the cultural policy and its institutions has become the painting of the broadened status of the visual. With this the famous thesis of Jan Mukařovski is confirmed. His thesis states that the artistic norm is established in such a way that at first the new works oppose the existing artistic norms that are represented by the established art. Once they are established, the new works start representing the norm for the works and directions that follow. However, post-modernism also offers the realisation that totality can emerge only if a certain particularity positions itself into the position of the absolute, and this has to be linked to the abolishment of other particularities.4
Because of this the painting of the broadened status of the visual can today no longer achieve the role held by modernistic paintings, for the role of painting within art has changed. Painting is today only one of the particularities which does not have the intention or capability of achieving the universality that it could achieve at the expense of other particularities.
Painting – which has lost the leading role in the representation of the visible realm with the emergence of photography – turned towards interior art questions in modernism and experienced a new revival. If it was still understood as the leading technique of art in modernism it lost its supremacy with the appearance and affirmation of new art forms that emerged post 1960 (installations, performance, video, net-art, etc.). Due to the important role played by modernism within the Slovene cultural sphere this was prolonged to the mid 1980s.
During the same period the entire art field started loosing on its importance. From the second half of the 19th century onwards art gained a special status and became synonymous with the highest level of creativity and the highest level of work as such, for it supposedly distanced itself from repetition and alienation and preserved authenticity, directness, originality, truth and eventuality.5 The second half of the 20th century demolished, decomposed and criticised the term of art as a metaphysic, traditional, humanistic and bourgeois entity and value. In 1964 Arthur C. Danto could write that what raises the artefact onto the level of a work of art is the influence of the so-called art world (this was possible due to the emerging works of Robert Rauschenberg, Barnett Newman and Andy Warhol). This essay became the basis for the development of the institutionalised theory of George Dickie, which states that social institutions are the ones that create a work of art from a mere piece and these institutions are created by the general public, artists, buyers, gallery owners, critics, curators – i.e. the world of art. The theory that does not answer the questions as regards the inner laws of art pieces is the only one that is at this moment capable of including the entire variety of contemporary art into a unified artistic field. Because it is no longer necessary for art to relate to the outside world or to create the pleasure of recognition and it does not try to explicitly express the internal (subjective) world, there is no reason whatsoever why anything could not become a work of art – i.e. be recognised and appreciated as such.6 However, with this said, the post 1960s art – in accordance to the transformation from modernism to postmodernism – is loosing its definable character, its differentia specifica, and thus its previous position within society. Art is therefore merely another great story of modernity and modernism is one of its last and greatest instances. Contemporary art is loosing its privileged social, political, recognised and even ethic role and is being transformed into its opposite – visual art.
One of the modernist authorities in painting, established through the modernist discourse itself, is the absolute address of the artist, which was first brought to attention by Bazon Brock. The absolute address of the artist responds to the absolute ruler. It is shown in the address of the artist and the invention of the fine art and verbal dictionary, which can be transferred to all fields of life. From the point of power an additional note to this artistic address is added by the world of art – the discussion on art. Modernism wished to create the idea of universalism in art, but in reality it merely created and supported particular languages with the hegemonial address of universalism. The identity of the artistic practice was placed into some sort of a magical/religious field and this enabled it to exist in a certain autonomous field, separated from other social practices. This placement is based on the specific aesthetic division of values onto everyday, practical values that are close to life and metaphysical ones that are distanced from it. This Dilthian tradition of spiritual values, which can not be explained but merely experienced, places greater importance on the higher values – the goal of human activities.
In the introduction entitled The second Modern (Zweite Moderne) to his book Die Zweite Moderne. Eine Diagnose der Kunst der Gegenwart Heinrich Klotz draws attention to the increasing presence of images linked to media technologies (Medientechnologie) found in art. He marks the 1995 Venetian biennial as the turning point that confirmed this fact. To a certain extent contemporary painting reacted to the digitalisation of images and in the 1990s pixel images even influenced abstract painting – the flagpole of the modern – in the works of German authors such as Albert Oehlen, George Baselitz, Helmut Federle, Ghünter Förg, Sigmar Polke or Gerhard Richter.
At the turn of the millennium the works of the painters Viktor Bernik, Janez Janša, Arjan Pregl and Sašo Vrabič were described and placed within the frame of post-media painting: ‘Machines and media have completely changed our perception of the world. Media is mainly represented by telemedia. These are machines for watching, from television to the telescope, and in most cases they emphasise the feeling of distance. Picture machines, from a camera to the computer, have created an entire new line of pictures. An oil on canvas or drawings no longer remain the only pictures. Photographs, film, video, computers are all new technical carriers of the picture medium; the picture has therefore travelled from its historic carrier to the screen. We have experienced an explosion of the visual. Today artists have hundreds of various forms and techniques of creating pictures at their disposal. This explosion of the visual, this flood of images could lead to the devaluation of the picture. The process of producing pictures is becoming more important than the product itself. The technical transformations and expansions have also changed traditional painting. This now uses new machines and technical media such as photography and television. These ‘medialised’ paintings with new production and composition procedures emphasise the machine determined changes of our views.’7
In the new decade the works of Bernik, Janša, Pregl and Vrabič have shown considerable changes. The use of the previously existing images has changed from being a key element of content to being merely another possibility of abusing the image and its presence in the contemporary painting. The works of the four artists are still linked to the painting from which they all emerge, but they have started to understand the picture in new ways. Within the frame of the Painting project they put on show their new works, which are closely connected to their otherwise independent artistic practice. In his projects Janša consistently deconstructs the ideologies of painting and art. Pregl approaches the question of painting in a similar manner; however his deconstruction is more connected to the inner ideologies of modernistic painting, while Janša researches the operations of the art system. Bernik understands the contemporary picture in a different way, for he expands his understanding of the spaces in the picture, the social existence and the ways in which the image can be depicted within them, with the use of new media and the inclusion of the spectator. Vrabič’s current project is a soft deconstruction of the understanding of the picture as a creation of a genius and leads into the play between the painter and the pleasure of creation, which is in its last step annulled and changed into an event, predominantly due to the participation of other artists. However, in its concept Vrabič’s project links the practice that understands the creation of a work of art as a democratic process and the importance of the collective, yet intimate pleasure of creation.
The process of creating the Painting project started with the decision of Viktor Bernik, Janez Janša, Arjan Pregl and Sašo Vrabič to prepare a joint exhibition. Artists who know each other and have previously co-operated have faced similar questions as painters. The process of creating the exhibition took place in a typically chaotic and overstuffed frame of contemporary visual art in which they were overworked and chronically lacked time. The first idea was to jointly paint the premises of the Centre and Gallery P74 in which Janša and Vrabič already had a joint exhibition in 1997. Due to objective reasons the project was relocated to the Gallery Ganes Pratt with which all four artists cooperate.
Out of the four artists, Sašo Vrabič is the only one who has at least partially preserved the idea of a joint work on a single surface. One can only speculate whether the motivation for such a decision was conditioned by Vrabič’s cooperation within the project Bad Girls & Bad Boys that was held in the Municipal Gallery Ljubljana this spring. For this exhibition the artists from the gallery prepared an installation that was created without the control of the curator.
Vrabič prepared four different sized canvasses, partially painted them and then handed them over to the other artists: ‘I toyed with the idea that each one would get his own canvass that he would enrich with his mark, writing, sketch, painting, whatever is currently on his mind. Due to the logistics it would probably be the best if they received all four canvasses at the same time.’8 Vrabič’s part of the project was represented mainly by figural compositions with a strong black drawing, limited to a part of the canvass and equipped with writing such as for instance Give me just one more night or Every little thing she does. Is magic. Magic. At least one of the paintings was most probably made in cooperation with his son Erik, with whom he cooperated already at the preparation of the exhibition in Žalec. Following Vrabič’s intervention the paintings were handed over to Pregl, who added attributes to Vrabič’s figures – three dimensional collages that were linked to his previous painting cycles, for instance Oil on the bible and our Tito and the series Damn good female painters. Pregl also added only small interventions thus giving space to future interventions. When Bernik got the paintings into his hands he intervened radically and painted three of them with white wall paint and added a small white square on the fourth. This made the three paintings empty, deleted, which could also be linked to the project that the author prepared for the Painting project. Bernik’s radical gesture caused that the painters as well as the spectators are faced with a new question that deals with the painter’s relation to his own work of art. One of the paintings did not experience a radical deletion. It is as if Bernik wanted to allow for the possibility that at least one work within the project develops in accordance to Vrabič’s shared creativity expectations, for which it seems that the painters imagined in different ways.
The last to get the paintings into his hands was Janša, but he opted not to intervene in the works and decided that his only addition will be to pass the paintings to his family so that they can sign them. Janša’s gesture is connected to the project Politics of painting, which the artist also exhibits at the exhibition (as an individual project). One of the levels of both Janša’s interventions is the questioning of the importance of the artist’s signature on the painting – an element that in fact gives the painting its cultural and market value, for it is important who signs the painting. The signature on the painting denotes the authorship, for it defines the painting with a signature that tells everybody that this is an original hand made work. The fact that Janša opted not to sign the paintings, or rather that he passed them on to his family so they could sign them, is additionally complicated with the change of his name and surname. Kariž is a surname which should ensure that the work of art was painted by a painter, for his previous works and their placement into the world of art ensure value also for his future works. However Žiga Kariž no longer exists. Today this artist is called Janez Janša. What is more important – who signs or what is signed? And what does it mean when a painting understood by Vrabič as a democratic process is now marked with a single signature. If Vrabič understood the canvasses as a sketchbook, Pregl brought into them the reminiscences of his previous work, Bernik emptied them so that they became a field for questioning the ideology of painting that could be then used by Janša.
Within the gallery Vrabič leaned the paintings against the wall and thus negated the typical placement of the painting as a window in the wall at the height of the spectator’s eyes. He exhibited the project as an archive which the visitor can use. The work phases are shown on photographs (that include the name of the artist of the individual phase) stuck to the backs of the paintings and evoking questions as regards the importance of the idea in relation to the direct surface, i.e. the painting. The spectator can move the paintings and view them from all sides.
In Vrabič’s project we also stumble across the question as regards the title of the paintings. An exhibited painting is usually equipped with the artist’s name, title, technique and year of origin. Vrabič’s project is equipped only with the following information: Sašo Vrabič, Arjan Pregl, Viktor Bernik, Janez Janša, 2007. It is not clear whether the four names mark the authors of the painting or is this the title. The names are in the same order in which the painters received the canvasses and most probably represent the title as well as the name of the authors. Vrabič thus fails to accept the authorship of the project that he came up with the idea for and divides the authorship amongst the four participants.
Pregl’s project comprises of a video and three collages that use the paintings made by the android Data (one of the main characters of the science-fiction series Star Trek) as its theme. Pregl takes the issue of the future of painting seriously. He researches painting in the future, to be more precise in the 24th century or to be even more precise in the science fiction television series Star Trek. The analysed subject is lieutenant commander Data and his paintings. Due to his incapability of experiencing emotions and his desire to feel them, Data constantly exposes himself to situations in which humans experience strong emotions. He also tries to do this by dabbling in various arts, amongst others also painting.
The epic, slow tempo video-documentary entitled Painting of the future (edited by Gorazd Krnc) is comprised from three parts. The first part presents Data and his life. In the second part we can observe how the android dedicates his time to activities that he connects to emotions. This is commented upon by a number of invited guests: Sašo Dolenc, Jure Godler, Petja Grafenauer Krnc, Gregor Podlogar, Jožef Školč, Miško Šuvaković, Živa Vadnov and Urška Zupanec. Through the analysis of the fictitious character from Star Trek the guests help to reveal the questions that are currently relevant to painting. In the Painting in the future the author acts in the role of the commentator and narrator as well as the expert on Data and his artistic work. The video ends with various theses as regards Data’s attitude to painting and art.
In the 1.42h artistic video Pregl swings from art theory to science fiction, humour to being dead serious and fiction to reality. In the duality of this pseudo popular scientific work that constantly poses questions as regards the relation between reality and fiction, Pregl also helps himself with literature. When analysing the paintings that Data chose to decorate his home, he turned (as the commentator) to the analysis of modern art and with the same weight used quotes from the Star Trek encyclopaedia that defines painting as: ‘An artistic form that encompasses the creation of visual images with the application of viscose runny pigments onto a flat surface.’9 One of the possible readings of Pregl’s documentary is that it is an ironic commentary on the contemporary theory, which dedicates equal passion to unimportant as well as key life issues and is supported by the idea that anything can be placed within a theory.
The work of art – the video – is an attempt at theory as art, a contemporary revitalisation of artistic strategies that appeared in the avant-garde, but are in the present time taken to a level on which the difference between reality and fiction ceased to exist. The spectator has to decide which statements he will accept as true and meaningful. In this way the video operates on a number of levels. We can view it as a humorous statement on painting, as a fake anthropologic research on the life and work of android Data, as a serious theoretical analysis of painting, which took the frame of a sci-fi series to clearly pass on its story, as an attempt to analyse the contemporary myths, but most probably it has to be thought of as a constant mix of all these possibilities. None of them is less or more valuable, the greatest truth is hidden in humour and the most serious statement can just as easily be fictitious.
The series of collages depicts scenes in which android Data creates images. Is Data a painter? Why does he paint and what is a painting painted with no emotions like? On the other hand the painter Pregl places himself in the position of an enthusiast, a fan, i.e. a person who depicts motives from a popular series, because he has established – in one way or another – an emotional relation towards it. Collages are one of the stations on which the image stops and tension appears between what the image offers – a view into the high technologically developed civilisation in which there is also room for androids – and the place this occurs in. At this the traditional art form of a collage is revived with the introduction of the third dimension, for the collages are built in such a way that the paper layers are positioned in various heights and offer at least a minimal feeling of depth.
Pregl also toys with the meaning of slogans that are ripped out of Star Trek (To boldly go where no one has gone before, Space, the final frontier, To explore strange new worlds) and in the context of the Painting project ironically hints towards the constant questioning as regards the future of painting that is usually thrown into the world of art merely from marketing reasons, i.e. to market the painting and establish its value on the economic and cultural markets. As is the case with his previous projects one can notice a tension between painting as a social activity and its cultural functions. This tension is built on the strict but simple modernistic presumptions on painting which themselves originated from the social context.
Viktor Bernik’s project researches the existence of the image within the painting. In his work there are three repetitions of the image of a female crotch. First, the image is a reproduction placed on the glass surface of an overhead projector. The reproduction is projected onto the wall, but the wall is masked in such a way that the image cannot be clearly recognised. The wall has a stain on it that could be – through a modernistic viewing – understood as a painting awaiting the spectator’s interpretation. That which is drawn on the wall is painted in the gouache technique. The painted image covers or distorts the projected image. The painting on the wall is there to erase the image, for the painter painted it in a way that tried to equal the colour tones of the projection, which became poorly visible due to the painting.
A clear image – or rather its negative – is experienced by the spectator only when he actively participates in the work. When the spectator covers the light that falls from the projector – a mechanical image creating object – with his body and places himself in an intimate distance from what appears to be a stain, the negative image reveals itself in front of him. Only when the spectator cuts off the projection with his body and thus stops the possibility of the light to move and carry the image, does the image truly appear in front of his eyes. Only then can the image be seen at an intimate distance. The negative of the image is revealed when the positive of the projected image is hidden. Only when the spectator steps into play can it be seen that the image is not deleted but the deletion is the reason for the painting to emerge. Bernik’s work can still be read as a painting, but the image within it is unstable. At one point it is on the screen and at another point it is haptic, it appears and re-emerges, its position is not constant but temporary, with which Bernik faces the instability of the solid basis of the image in contemporarity and thus refers to the outside of art reality.
In order to experience the image, the choice of the motif is important. The motif abused by Viktor Bernik in his art project in order to lure the spectator into a trap is the iconic painting of Gustave Courbet carrying the poetic title The origin of the world. The work was created in 1866 and because of its interesting history it soon became a popular image in modern art. As a motif of various works of art it has been abused on a number of occasions and it has spread various and opposing interpretations, one of which can be depicted by the famous argument between Michael Fried who noted Courbet as a proto-feminist painter and the feminist critic Linda Nochlin, who strongly opposed Fried’s interpretation and marked Courbet as a hardcore chauvinist and his painting as an image that was created for the male view in which one can find the hidden form of domination and control over the female body.
The provocative image of a part of the female anatomy without the recognisable elements draws the spectator closer, however at the same time it also provokes a certain discomfort due to the closeness that the image demands. Female genitalia appear at an intimate distance in front of the spectator, and this is individualised merely with its sexual flesh. From below the view travels upwards across the legs that are spread wide apart. The view stops at the point which is richly overgrown by a shiny white forest of female pubic hair. This ends between the legs and reveals the entrance into the vagina and the lower part of the backside. From the crotch we can look further up and see the stomach that narrows in the waist and the right breast, while the left one is covered by a dark cloth. The slight background that is visible is covered in white. The work carries the title taken from one of the lesser known trademarks in woman’s clothing. When viewing the projected image the female name Sonia Rykiel is linked with the revealing body. Bernik names the unnamed. The image with the unstable meaning becomes the image with an unstable place of existence. The artist has used the attractiveness of the image to lure the spectator into the net of transforming images, their appearance and disappearance, existence and demise.
Contemporary art became the first hatching ground for more or less honest projects that brought images of violence and inequality, suffering, war and pain. However, the image of political is not political merely because of its motif. With the project Politics of painting Janez Janša reveals the other part of the political in art, one that does not exist in the motif, but in the structure of the painting.
With the intention to make a series of paintings the artist selected thirteen word combinations that evoke politically marked events within 20th century history. He handed over these word combinations to a graphic designer, who chose the font, size and colour as well as the colour of the background for each painting. He selected the colours from the selection of Liquitex acrylic colours and the canvass format from the three versions offered to him. By transferring the creative process onto the other – and at this it is important that the artist chose a graphic designer for this task, for he, in opposition to a painter openly cooperates in the market economy process – Janša dismissed the idea of the artist/author. He has opted for the division of labour, at which the artist became the performer of the designer’s orders with which he undermined one of the key elements of evaluating the painting which is – such is the modernistically constructed policy of the painting, upon which the designer decided – created through the creativity of the artist.
The graphic designer gave the artist exact instructions as to how to create the paintings. Janša intervened into the given plan with an artist gesture and his signature. The series that emerged was a result of two different approaches to creating the visual. The graphic designer and the painter approached the creation from two different structural ways of constructing an image and these two views merged in the project Policy of the painting.
The paintings are exhibited in the same order as the political events had through history. The paintings of Janez Janša pose questions as regards the politics of paintings. Are politics linked to what is in the picture or with the manner in which the painting has emerged and maintained its own policy as an object with special characteristics and the consequential ideology?
As other human activities art is also linked to economy. Even the most unselfish practices that try to move away from this, try their best to approach the greatest possible material or symbolic profit. The level on which the work successfully covers its practical social function is synchronised with the level at which it ensures its autonomy as a poetic, merely cultural and non-market oriented object. The possibility of the work to ensure this illusion rests on the privileged status in the zone that should surpass the market value. The work of art is a product of negotiation between the creator, equipped with a complex, community shared repertoire of conventions on one hand and the institutions and social practices on the other.
An unchangeable meaning of artworks does not exist, for their potential meanings are generated by the structures that emerge from social exchange. Works of art need to be understood in their historic context as an expression of political demands and social desires of certain social groups. Even artists and their works are included in the social body, usually of course not in radical ways, but as commentaries or almost completely unknowingly. The artistic processes are linked in a complex field of social interactions and their meanings do not have a universal character that is often ascribed to them; instead they are linked to actual historic conditions.10
The Painting project emerged in a specific space and time. Painting has lost its dominant position in the world of art (regardless of the fact that it has still preserved a special position within the art market), however, or maybe even because of this it remains the ideal space for reflecting one’s (historically conditioned) position, the position of the image in society and through this of society itself. The question posed by the Painting project is not the question posed already a thousand times as regards the death of the painting, but one of the possible statements what painting is in the current time and what it might be in the future.
The exhibition is dedicated to the issues of painting; it deals with the medium (which is, due to its history and ideology created by modernism, much more than merely a medium) from which it is made. Painting project deals with painting. Painting researches itself. It is especially important that it does not perform this task self sufficiently. Even when it deals with its own issues, painting does not close on itself, for it is constantly capable of preserving a link with the outside world. The Painting project shows that painting today is the space outside of art where art meets with the social, political and personal. The image in this picture no longer has to be frozen on the canvass – the contemporary picture is also marked with the issues of duration, passing by and transformation of images. This is a painting that is capable of withstanding the confrontation with other media and technologies. It has descended from the pedestal of untouchability and can exist as an archive that can be moved and handled as desired.
The painting does not speak to the visitor of the exhibition merely as a spectator, but also as a user and active participant within the exhibition and with this it places itself into a dialogue with the world of contemporary communication technologies. Its value is not in its durability but in the dialogue between durability and the current moment. The painting is a place where a moment for reflection is possible and only on the basis of this reflection is it possible to truly experience it. The contemporary picture is well thought out, intellectual and conceptual. It lures the spectator with its visual image but what lures is not the art that belongs merely to painting, but the spectator’s knowledge and belonging within the attractively designed world in which he lives.
The painting within the frame of the Painting project is not a naïve painting. It offers a true understanding only at the second level. It has become such because it no longer wishes to believe in the truth offered by the true understanding. This is a painting which knows that the images do not offer the truth, but the truth of the image is defined by the context in which it is located.
Petja Grafenauer Krnc
- »Even the concept of European art was under question, for the American and European art markets were no longer seperated,« (Hans Belting, »Likovno delo v kontekstu«, ed. H. Dilly, W. Kemp, W. Sauerländer, M. Warnke, Uvod v umetnostno zgodovino, Krtina, Ljubljana 1998, (translated by Samo Krušič et al.), 108).
- Beti Žerovc, Rihard Jakopič – umetnik in strateg, *cf, Ljubljana 2002, 258.
- Igor Zabel, Eseji I, *cf, Ljubljana 2006.
- Wolfgang Welsch, Unsere postmoderne Moderne (Acta Humaniora), Akademie Verlag, Berlin 1987 [6th edition 2002].
- Aleš Erjavec, Ljubezen na zadnji pogled: Filozofija umetnosti in kulture, ZRC SAZU, Ljubljana 2004. Ibid.
- Peter Weibel, Igor Zabel, Mediji, stroji, slike, U3, 2. trienale sodobne slovenske umetnosti, Moderna galerija, Ljubljana 1997.
- Email from Sašo Vrabič to Petja Grafenauer Krnc, 25. 10. 2007.
- Michael Okuda, Denise Okuda, Debbie Mirek, The Star Trek Encyclopedia, 1999 (3rd supplemented edition) New York. Jutta Held in Norbert Schneider, Sozialgeschichte der Malerei vom Spätmittelalter bis ins 20. Jahrhundert, DuMont, Köln 1993, 10–12.
(text from Viktor Bernik, Janez Janša, Arjan Pregl, Sašo Vrabič: PAINTING PROJECT catalogue, Ganes Pratt Gallery, Ljubljana, 2007)