Documents/Sketches of the Production Process

Exhibitions, like paintings or sculpture, always confirm how important relationships are in art. A painting composed of colour contrasts where a light patch skips over to a dark one, creates a dramatic atmosphere, full of passion and tension at the most elementary level. In contrast to this, paintings in which colours are gradually toned from light to dark have a calm, even melancholic effect. The relationships that are important within one painting maintain their significance when one looks at several paintings at once. It is not all the same what order the paintings have on the wall, because each viewing is impressed by the previous one. Relations do not only determine traditional art directions. They are equally important in practices which define themselves outside the parameters of the formal or perceptional order of classic styles. Conceptual art, the most rigorous form of doing away with traditional definitions of representation and visualisation, acquires validity also by means of the referential context of relationships in the art of modernism and in contemporary society.

Numerous theories attest to the fact that both the physiological and psychological processes of observation are fundamental in the formation of relationships, proportions and shares. The fact that totally contrasting schools exist among theories of observation (Gestalt psychology, say in contrast to the evolution theories completely negate the role of human experience in observation and instead of this refer to an inbred tendency) does not reduce the significance possessed by the psychological process of observation. And in spite of some denial concerning observation we cannot ignore the role played by anticipation. When we position ourselves in front of a certain painting or sculpture we are in a relationship of recognising known codes. We can cite an example from E.H. Gombrich’s book Art and Illusion which illustrates what kind of anticipation we have when viewing a sculptured bust. We usually do not see it as the image of a cut off head. We consider the situation in which we are and know that the head belongs to the institution or convention of the named sculptured bust that we are familiar with from childhood. Gombrich continues by pointing out that perhaps it is for the same reason that we are not bothered by the white marble sculpture’s lack of colour, just as we are not concerned by the absence of colour in a black-and-white photograph. Quite the contrary. Some people may be shocked if they came across a sculptured bust that has been coloured, since it may have an unpleasantly live effect and surpass the sphere of symbols in which it should remain. Gombrich’s book was first published in 1960 and further developments in art, like the work of George Baselitz or Stephan Bankenhole, detracted the element of shock which was caused by coloured sculptures. In the meanwhile, the level of anticipation moved elsewhere. Today, alongside the naturalistic human limbs of Robert Gober, we hardly notice the wax figures which instilled uneasiness in 1960. And yet the level of anticipation in observing art still exists. In psychology this is called 'mental orientation’, and this has become the interesting subject of numerous studies of the cultural structure, particularly with the development and expansion of contemporary media, and has picked up a whole range of new names. However, the undisputable fact remains that every culture and every community depends on 'mental orientation’, on anticipation, on its achievements or disappointments, on its jackpots or false moves.

The leap to observation, relationships and 'mental orientation’ was necessary in order to introduce the exhibition which we have called Urbanaria. This is the first exhibition mounted by the Soros Center of Contemporary Arts (SCCA) and it has a lot to do with the relationships, observations and 'mental orientation’ of the artists and observers as well as the cultural structure. The foundation of SCCA which is part of the New York Soros Foundation and the network of SCCAs that were established after the fall of the Berlin Wall and which operate in the countries of the Eastern, Central, Southern and Baltic regions of Europe was conditioned with the purpose of supporting creativity and encouraging the creation of the new and different through the work of its centres. Urbanaria is therefore conditioned by the structure of SCCA and is in a kind of dialectic relationship with it.

Before we attempt to define what kind and which relationships are formed and defined by Urbanaria and which ones form and define it, we should describe the 'steps’ we took before the exhibition in the National and University Library (NUK) and which will take place after it. This is all the more important because in the production of art in Slovenia Urbanaria institutionalises a category tied to the creation of a site specific and conceptual exhibition outside the realms of conventional exhibition sites.

In essence the Urbanaria exhibition is envisaged as a complex process comprising:
- the decision itself to mount an exhibition of this kind that is to be the result of the process and investigations into the state of art;
- a public invitation for applications published this spring in the daily newspapers;
- the lectures and discussions on site specific creations and public art by Irwin, Hans-Urlich Obrist, Victor Misiano, Barbara Borči}, Helena Pivec and Lilijana Stepančič. The discussions and lectures were organised prior to the physical realisation of the exhibition and not during the exhibition as is normally the case. They directed attention to the significance of communication among theoreticians, artists and the public as a constitutive part of the project;
- a meeting of the international jury that studied the submitted proposals and selected those which will be presented next year;
- a conceptual exhibition in NUK of all the documents/sketches of the creative process;
- the realisation and materialisation of the selected proposals (Vuk Ćosić, Matej Andraž Vogrinčič and friends, Maja Gspan Vičič and Petra Varl Simončič, Irwin, Mizz Art & Strip Core, New Collectivism, Marko Kovačič, Marko Peljhan, Alenka Pirman, Tadej Pogačar, Marjetica Potrč, Nika Špan, Metod Vidic, Rajko Vidrih) from January to December next year, concentrated in May;
- a joint discussion on the significance of Urbanaria which will conclude the overall process.

In contrast to the hitherto established methods of preparing exhibitions where, for example, the organisation and selection are considered as ballast and non-constitutive elements, Urbanaria introduces a different, re-evaluated viewing. All the procedures leading up to the exhibition are as important as the exhibition itself. In this process the organisation, selection, discussions and lectures are all equally important. The novelty of Urbanaria is therefore found in presenting works - that are constituted through discussions as well - in a new form of exhibition / a process that contains the materialisation of the methods of the creation of an exhibition or process.

The parameters of this process are related in at least one aspect to those used by Valerie Smith for Sonsbeek 93. The process incorporates a constant deviation and suggests the principle of chaos. It is therefore in contrast to the hitherto comprehension of the process as an aim of the orientated activity formed by conceptual artists in the seventies. Urbanaria is more closely related to Sonsbeek 93 than to other site specific project for another reason: that being that it does not want to design an exhibition of objects for specific sites in the urban context, but shifts its weight towards works which should be materialised in the urban context. (This was also the point of departure in the international jury’s selection.) However, Urbanaria does not aim to be a repeat of Sonsbeek 93. It introduced a public invitation for applications (in Sonsbeek and most other projects artists are individually invited to cooperate) thus offering a different comprehension of the role of the artist in the institution called exhibition. We could say that the first step towards cooperation was left to the artists themselves. The invitation for applications represented a challenge and an opportunity to work. With the public invitation for applications the concurrent process of documenting or sketching the situation in art in Slovenia concerning site specific and conceptual art also began. The submitted proposals can be seen as documents or sketches, as statistics on the situation of a certain time and space which do not have documentary value, but more about this later.

Of course, Sonsbeek 93 unfolded in a different cultural context and in a way is a continuation of the site specific projects of the western cultural sphere. Urbanaria forms a different “mental orientation”, it is the first conscientious project of this kind in Slovenia and lacks the continuity of the history of conceptualism, the situationism and aesthetics of site specific works. The strategy that Robert Morris stimulated in the second half of the sixties when he mounted sculptures in the open-air, outside the walls of galleries and museums, did not gain force in Slovenia. It came to life only in the Land Art of the OHO group at the end of the sixties and beginning of the seventies. Only Duba Sambolec of the classical sculptors effectively tried this in the early eighties. Marko Kovačič’s street events with the Ana Monro Theatre and the activities of Irwin both in the mid-eighties, and also the projects of recent years including Matej Andra` Vogrinčič’s House, Vuk Ćosić’s Hollywood, Petra Varl Simončič’s Nose to Nose, Nike Špan’s Doors, and the group work The Ljubljana Metro have their roots elsewhere and not in Land Art or conceptualism, which were stimulated by Morris’s move. The first are post modern projects which through retro-logic reffered to the classic avant-garde works and transformed them in accordance with the altered historical, social, ideological and cultural context. The other projects which can briefly be described as extra muros are linked to the activities of the younger generation whose works represent more of a registration than analysis. Another thing that did not gain a real foothold in the cultural space of Slovenia was the replacement of the spatial and perceptual experience of the object with the linguistic experience that was introduced by Duchamp, and, by the way, strongly fascinated Robert Morris. In addition, the criticism of the institution of art, which is also tied to Duchamp’s ready made, is more a matter concerning a lack rather than an abundance of artistic production in this area.

With the ready made Marcel Duchamp introduced an additional category which has not really grown roots in Slovenia, yet which is decisive to Urbanaria. It concerns the significance of the awareness that ensues from the transformation of the ordinary, non-artistic object into art when we move it from the factory to a museum. We are familiar with Daniel Burren’s reactions and how Michael Asher reacted in contrast to Burren’s strategy. This pre-history originating in the sixties was followed by creativity that gave shape to the “white cube” syntagma. Recently, particularly in the writings of Denys Zacharopoulos, theoreticians and artists have been trying to define art as something that takes place - which does not signify physical space - between work which is not only a painting or sculpture and the institution which is not only a museum. To illustrate this point Zacharopoulos mentions the example of Pollock’s studio and the fact that segments of the floor were made in the dripping manner. And yet the art world did not accept this floor as a segment of Pollock’s work, even though it was created by the same person, in the same way and in the same physical space that other works were created. And this is because Pollock’s works occupy a place on cut pieces of canvas, hanging on walls, all this constituting what we understand as painting (work + institution) in a given historical and cultural context.

In its basic concept Urbanaria exposes the issue of place, above defined, through the issue of site. In the case of the artists this should be the active factor which determines the carrying out of the artists’ working principles and investigations. Urbanaria is inclined towards the institutionalisation of a timely form of art presentation.

The exhibition in NUK has an important status within the Urbanaria process since it materialises the aforementioned statements. Compared to other exhibitions in Slovenia it is different. In spite of the fact that the invitation for applications started the process of 'documenting’ or 'sketching’ the art situation, the exhibition in NUK is not a documentary exhibition of the kind organised by historians or architects, or hunters and anglers, in which certain facts or achievements are shown. Likewise, it is not merely a simple public presentation of all the submitted proposals (with the intention of unveiling to the public the proposals from which the jury made its selection). The exhibition of sketches, photographs, photocopies, documents and other paraphernalia in the corridors in front of NUK’s large reading room concern the institution of a national or central library and with the institution of transformation which was introduced by conceptualism for the 'format’ and 'site’ of the exhibition as such. The library is not a museum or gallery which would bestow the sketches, photocopies or documents with the status of works of art with all the weight of the originals and authorship in the sense of Duchamp’s ready made. This is not the purpose of the library. A library in which enkyklios paideia is symbolically and physically embodied enables the exhibited sheets of paper, objects or photographs to preserve the meaning encompassed in the title of the conceptual exhibition of Mel Bochner Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant to be Viewed as Art. If the times in art today are such that work can be anything, then in this projected context work too acquires a different meaning than before. The exhibition aims to take the paper, documents and photocopies and eliminate the irrationality which would suit the ephemerality, media pressure and everyday repression. The contribution made by the exhibition in NUK to the generally valid relationships, relations or shares in the sphere of art is a conceptual foundation for a new 'mental orientation’ of creativity, observation and critical evaluation.

The exhibition in NUK concludes the first part of Urbanaria. It now awaits the realisation of the selected projects. The first among these is the NSK Post Office which starts with the opening of the NUK exhibition and which will accompany Urbanaria throughout its duration due to the symbolical, mental and actual significance of communication which it represents. The remaining texts in the catalogue define the other contexts which Urbanaria took into account. The nature of the selected projects is described by Marina Grzinič. The relationship between art of the recent period and the structure of the paranoiac and post-socialist contemporary city which the works will confront is defined by the example of Moscow by Viktor Misiano, while Braco Rotar exposes the still valid ideological dominion of the city structure in a reprinted text. In an interview with Hans-Urlich Obrist which took place immediately after the Gulf War, Paul Virilio draws attention to the changes in public opinion, or in other words 'mental orientation’, brought about by CNN television and which decisively set the dividing line between before and after. The topicality of Virilio ideas has not lost its since then, it has even ganed in actuality.

(Translated by I. H.)

Lilijana Stepančič

-Urlich Obrist which took place immediately after the Gulf War, Paul Virilio draws attention to the changes in public opinion, or in other words 'mental orientation’, brought about by CNN television and which decisively set the dividing line between before and after. The topicality of Virilio ideas has not lost its since then, it has even ganed in actuality.

(Translated by I. H.)

Lilijana Stepančič