Lilijana Stepančič

Director and
Member of the Board
Soros Centre for Contemporary Arts-Ljubljana

It is appropriate to open these introductory words with a mention of the initiatives which influenced the development of the rather extraordinary procedures leading to the realisation of the exhibition. Media in Media is a result of public invitation, which is neither an ordinary nor a frequently used method of finding a relevant subject of an exhibition. The board of the Soros Centre for Contemporary Arts chose this method not only because it fits in with the nature of the work performed by the Centre, but primarily because of the “mobilisatory” effect which any invitation has on the public. The definition of the purpose of the invitation also determined the problem which was supposed to be solved. This problem lies in the insufficiently stimulating Slovenian gallery system, and in the inadequate level of the analysis of contemporary fine arts production.

The immediate response to the invitation was surprising; considering the small size of Slovenia, a lot of proposals with interesting themes were submitted. The executive board decided on Vanesa Cvahte’s idea, and the Media in Media exhibition project was prepared as a joint effort. The expression exhibition project, deliberately used instead of exhibition, indicates that the works are simultaneously presented at the exhibition in the gallery and also in other media, or spaces: film in the cinema, TV video spots on television, and web projects on the Internet. Media in Media is a real micro festival of visual images.

The subject of the Media in Media exhibition offers a “cross section” of several artistic forms of expression, or a “view” on them through the eyes and laws of reflection in other media. It deals with a demanding and intriguing task relating to the content of the iconographic motif, seldom employed these days, of picture within picture. Despite its seeming anachronism, the comparison provides an adequate basis for the understanding of the principal intention of the exhibition.

It is known that the picture within picture motif which blossomed in the 17th and 18th centuries, featured veristic depictions of the interiors of collectors’, merchants’, and fine art lovers’ dwellings. The walls of their rooms were abundantly hung with pictures and every corner was filled with piles of objects, including statues from all periods and of all different styles. Usually, two men engaged in intense discussion would be standing amidst all these wonders. However, not everything depicted was real, and the documenting painter kept open doors for the fictitious, for the depiction of imaginary paintings and statues. This duality of the motif — reality on the one hand and illusion on the other — has received very varied interpretations. The classical art experts see such paintings with depicted works of art as items of documentary value, representing either documents for the history of particular work, or evidence of the existence of something already lost. Culturologists and sociologists of art history frequently claim that the motif serves as a metaphor for the context of art and the art system. Gallerists see it as a trademark of their activity. To artists and art historians, however, it speaks of the originality of art; a work of art assumes the role of reality and becomes an incentive for the creation of a new work. This diversity of meanings can be applied in the context of the Media in Media exhibition.

When a painting becomes a “new”, “parallel” reality, a manipulative character emerges alongside its visual function. We can also find both these elements in the mass media, and their recognisable and stereotypic images are the main topic of the exhibited works. Just as paintings in the past, the mass media are currently turning into a “new” reality. Their significance is expressed in the parable stating that when modern man wants to find out about the weather, he does not look through the window, but turns on a television set situated beside the window. The works at the exhibition, be it avant–garde films, video installations, or photographs, connect reality and illusion into an endless loop. They present documents of reality which the media have turned into fiction, and media fictions which are being adopted by reality.

The exhibition also refers to another loop, namely the one which originates in the numerous contemporary meanings of the word “media”. Beside the most common connotation — modern mass media, i.e. television, newspapers, or the internet — the term also implies, in areas of art, the means of artistic expression, or the technique of creation. Thus we speak of the media of painting, sculpture, graphic work, or video art, emphasising especially the specifics of individual modes of expression. It is here that the term preserves the most of its primary, archaic meaning, which originates in the Latin medium/medius. This term denotes either the means of the transmission of messages between “other” and “our” worlds, or something which is in the middle, or in between. This analogy shows that the analysis of the complexity of mass media, based on the specific characteristics of art media (which is the main intention of the exhibited works), points to the validity of the old wisdom.

I shall conclude this introduction with the thought that the exhibition — itself seized in the loop of the media since it represents a means of mediation between art and public — could never have been realised without the understanding, help, and advice of colleagues, artists, writers, and experts from very diverse domains, from classical philologists to Internet hackers. Without their support, the unusual nature of the first initiatives would have remained merely a curiosity, and the idea of the exhibition merely an unrealised fiction of reality.