Collaborate, participate, perform!: On some artistic examples from Slovenia
or how to sharpen one's critical sense
An article written by Natasa Petresin for the Piemonte Share 2006 Catalogue, 2006
1. The premises
The last decade of Slovenian contemporary art may be perceived as a period of its increasing visibility and presence in the international art sphere and context. Its complex, experimental and political field has enabled artists and their various collaborators to become actively involved. The contemporary political situation – several years of the independence, the end of the war in ex-Yugoslavia and Slovenia's entrance into the EU in 2004 – combined with expansion into a broader international context denotes an increased international interest in recent and emerging production in the post-communist country; it also means addressing problems posed by hegemonic institutions on a local level. Criticism of the local artistic production and reflection on own position in the globalised world was triggered by a dispositive of West European and American modernist history and conceptual art, the perception of a developing geopolitical situation, the discussion of contemporary art institutions and the role of contemporary artists.
The changes, which originate from the early performative and experimental art practices from the 70s and which are, furthermore, amplified by new technologies, are taking place in all the elements and relations within the creative production in the field of contemporary art and new media practice. The freedom of exchange of the ideas and the author as the institution are the two main issues that are being thoroughly interrogated. Individual artist/author is more the basic link in the chain of the creative production. Collaboration between the artists is something we know about from the earliest stages of human tackling with art. Specially when entering into the digital era, collaboration evolves into an interdisciplinary and complex process where various contents and bodies of knowledge intervene and loosen the borders between art, technology, design and science. Taking the form of the online open collaboration, the model of a teamwork developed with loosely connected members within a non-hierarchical structure that each contribute to the shaping of the reality.
The connections between art, technology and science merge different knowledge models and cause interferences between them; they create various appropriation artistic and activist strategies and new reference points regarding artistic, social and political issues. During the last decade of Slovenian contemporary and media art, we have been observing the rise of many art initiatives and collaborative platforms. These shape the current artistic map and its relationship to the socio-political climate that has since the 80ies been largely under impact of subversive and political artistic practices (Neue Slowenische Kunst, Marina Grzinic and Aina Smid, Zemira Alajbegovic and Neven Korda – to mention just a few).
Generally speaking, in the post-structuralist theory the text is an open organic format that the readers perform and, through their own associations and identifications, contribute to the text's interpretations and meanings. Similarly, the ontology of the work of art in the last few decades has changed its itinerary away from its end-product goal, imposed on the art world by the laws of the capital and the art market. Instead, the work of art is inviting its viewers to be an engaged participant and a performer while in the reception process. Interactivity as the term, which has been a necessary companion from the beginnings of the digital media art, is today more and more omitted in favour of describing the dynamic communication and exchange between the work of art and its recipient as participation from the side of the public. Participation by the audience originates from the performance art and defines the direct intervention of the content by its various users. Parametres and protocols are set either by the artists or by the audience itself, and most often it occurs that the work of art appears to be content-less if the collaboration by the audience remains at the zero point. Thus, the participatory strategies were much favoured by Nicolas Bourriaud and his notorious relational aesthetics of the contemporary art of the 90s as analogue to the neo-liberal production of the exchanges and relationships in the consumer society. Contrary to the seeming freedom, the critical artists are using the participatory strategies to enhance the criticality and the open contribution to the content.
Performativity, which is in close relation to the participatory strategies, originates from the theatre studies, philosophy and linguistics. In visual art, performativity denotes the single actions or interventions, development or process of a particular event. As maintained by theorists, performativity establishes social action where the relationship between the subject and the object transforms into an intersubjective one. However, critics of performativity and participation strategies point out that due to inherent moment of pleasure, they are often connected without much reflection upon the spectacle culture, consumption and entertainment industry. Emancipatory function of both performative and participatory formats can be achieved thus through the continuity of the changing the meanings of the art works.
2. Self-Institutionalised Artistic Initiatives
Parallely to the self-proclaimed "NSK State-In-Time" (1992) by the artistic collective Neue Slowenische Kunst (1984-1992), without doubt the most powerful artistic movement that happened in the history of contemporary art in Slovenia, the self-institutionalisation of certain artistic initiatives started to emerge as an emblematic characteristic in the Slovenian visual scene. The other characteristics of these non-profit cultural nucleuses are the flexibility and much collaboration between the respective actors.
Marko Peljhan formed in 1992 his collaborative and interdisciplinary art platform Projekt Atol. The subject matter of Marko Peljhan's and Projekt Atol's projects are the source of technology originating in the military-industrial field and closed scientific research centres. One of most complex, developing projects is the laboratory and information base "Makrolab", conceived in 1994 and presented for the first time at one of the most important manifestations of contemporary art – the 1997 exhibition Documenta X in Kassel. The self-sustainable nature of the unit enables artists and scientists to collaborate at a specific time in locations that are usually outside urban areas (until now Lutterberg near Kassel, Rottnest Island in Australia, Blair Atholl in Scotland and the Campalto Island outside Venice).
Peljhan, via Projekt Atol, is also the co-producer of one of the most exciting international network projects, MIR (Microgravity Interdisciplinary Research). MIR encourages the exchange of different types of skills, experiences, and expert knowledge, to accelerate the dialogue on the international space programme and on access to space as a potential place of experimental creative practices. In Star City, Russia, two projects were created in the condition of weightlessness inside an aircraft used for parabolic flights: "Biomehanika Noordnung" presented by the Cosmokinetic Cabinet Noordnung and directed by Dragan Zivadinov; and Vadim Fiskin's "Kaplegraf". This year, Star City was also the site of a second reprise of Zivadinov's lifetime project "One Versus One" (Noordnung 1995 –2045). The show opened on 20 April 1995, and its reprises will take place every ten years. As Zivadinov announced in 1995, the project will end in 2045 when the actors and actresses are replaced by sixteen inhabited sculptures.
Igor Stromajer founded the artistic platform Intima Virtual Base (www.intima.org) in 1996, through which he has been developing his net art projects and collaborations with other artists and theoreticians. He describes his projects as "low-tech net.WAP.GSM.GPS.org.wLAN tactical emotional art". The key issue that he has been focused on from the early net projects on ("0.HTML", 1996, or "b.ALT.ica", 1997) is the possibility and advocating of intimacy within the ubiquity of the online communication.
Davide Grassi works and collaborates with other artists within the platform of Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Arts, a non-profit cultural institution which is interested in take advantage of the new technologies in order to investigate and discuss the structures of modern society. It concentrates on artistic production that explores social, political, aesthetic and ethical concerns.
A year before Stromajer launched his artistic platform, Vuk Cosic appeared as one of the members of the small group of Internet art pioneers and, later on, also as a co-founder of the Ascii Art Ensemble (together with Walter van der Cruijsen and Luka Frelih). The term net.art was used to denote a variety of practices and activities by groups of leftist intellectuals, subversive and conceptual artists to which belonged. Exchanging ideas and distributing information through the Internet via Bulletin Board Systems, forming mailing lists and discussion forums like Nettime.org, Thing.net and Rhizome.org, the activities and domains encouraged and more or less united the net.art community from 1995–96. "Documenta Done", 1997, one of the artist's most renowned actions, is an appropriation of the website of Documenta X in Kassel which was declared as shut down by the organisers. Cosic cloned the website to his own domain just before the closing of the website happened, as a protest against the tendency of mainstream information distributors to delete (and thus privatise) the contents from the server when an event is over. All the information relating to Documenta X is still available on Cosic's domain (www.ljudmila.org/~vuk/). Another important project, "History of Art for Airports" deals with the question of the historicisation of a certain medium (time-based art in this case), which is also the question that addresses in his recent exhibitions and curatorial projects regarding the problems of the historicisation of net.art itself.
3. Participatory and performative projects
Participatory strategies encourage the exchange of skills, ideas, information and open public co-authorship of various works; they also place art in the sphere of everyday life. Since the mid-nineties, Darij Kreuh has employed technology, remote control and viewer interaction in his installations. In 2000, Marko Peljhan and the German conceptual artist and electronic musician, Carsten Nicolai, collaborated with the Canon Artlab, a Japanese new media lab, to create the complex project "Polar". Vuk Cosic, an ASCII Art Ensemble member (founded in 1998 together with Luka Frelih and Walter van der Cruijsen), combined, in his installation Instant ASCII Camera (1999), a critical approach to consumption and the low-tech style of ASCII characters. Participatory installations of the Russian artist, Vadim Fiskin, who has lived and worked in Ljubljana since 1992, deal with – much like his other artwork – the ephemeral, spiritual and metaphysical.
Davide Grassi's virtual parliament "DemoKino" brings the participation in the form of an anti-entertainment event that includes TV-voting, SMS-voting or streaming live over the Internet. Based on eight short interactive films in which the protagonist reflects upon bio-political questions (abortion, cloning, GMO food etc), viewers, as potential voters, are invited to react according to their own opinion with a "yes" or a "no" to the issues presented. Bojana Kunst wrote: "The project questions not only the utopia of contemporary virtual forum that is supposed to open ways for a more direct and influential participation but also points out a much deeper problem of modern democracy (virtual as well). With its reduced narrativeness - the story is built on the "pro and contra" inner dialogues of the protagonist who is led around his home in a parliamentary kind of way by the "voters", based on their decisions - Demokino shows how these ethical dilemmas of modern life suddenly become the core of our political participation." ("Virtual Biopolitical Parliament, Davide Grassi's DemoKino", by Bojana Kunst, 2003)
As an artistic tandem to "Problemarket", Igor Stromajer and Davide Grassi created the participatory project "The Problem Stock Exchange" (2001 –2006) and presented it as the first stock exchange where only problems are being traded. Those companies that deal with problems (buy, sell, borrow or deposit), were thus offered a special stock exchange situation. Grassi, as the president of the stock exchange, and Stromajer, as its executive director, launched the Problemarket's website and the news programme "ProNews". For example, art problems and problems of dealing with the ecological issues in Italy have been taken into account. Very often Problemarket collaborates with invited guests who are asked to provide the audience with a special problem that they might have, and thus launch it into the sphere of market dynamics.
The topic of performativity in the physical and virtual spheres was considered in several projects by Marko Kosnik. For example, Paparapapa (1998) was a continuous one-week performance by actors located in Frankfurt, Paris and Ljubljana, synchronized via real time video/audio transmissions over the Internet.
Performativity on the Internet is also the focus of the multi-phase project "Ballettikka Internettikka" by Igor Stromajer and Brane Zorman, in cooperation with Davide Grassi (on the phase of "Ballettikka RealVideo Internettikka"). This series of projects (2001-2006) is an ongoing research of the internet guerrilla performance. After internet ballet performance (2001) and invasion to Bolshoi Theater (2002), the series culminated in wireless illegal remote-controlled net-ballet invasion to the microlocation of the Milan Scala (2004) and in entering the office of the director of the Belgrade Ballet. The act of appropriating public territory is a tactical method for claiming visibility in today's disappearing public space, which is subjected to increasing surveillance and hyper-regulative legislation. At the same time, the series of internet guerrilla performances questions the constructed hyper-mediatized reality in which still a large amount of the world's population believes ultimately.
SilentCell Network challenges the role of artists as reality-checkers who transgress certain models or boundaries in social relationships and offer an altered view of everyday life. This is achieved through creativity and the potential that lies in small or larger scale interventions in it. As Jaques Ranciere says, "the real must be fictionalized in order to be thought".
SilentCell Network is an international open research platform for interventions in public spaces initially established by Mare Bulc, Davide Grassi, Bojana Kunst, Igor Stromajer.
The project is described as "a capital-free zone laboratory maintained by a group of multimedia artists and theoreticians. It is programmed to mine a corpus of cells for associated strategies or connections (linking between concepts as a tactic) -- like connections between two unrelated concepts". The group's actions, interventions and performances operate in various physical and geographical locations (Ljubljana, Graz, Venice, Bordeaux), as well as in most existing media and distributive contexts (Internet, magazines, national and commercial TV channels). The accidental present audience, unaware of the actual artistic codification and context of these events, as well as the audience later on directed to the documentation of the events, is confronted with the group's tactical manipulations of the thin line between real-time inserted fictions and constructed realities (in Graz, for example, the visitors and guards in the Kunsthaus encountered two men, one of whom claimed to suffer from electrical hypersensitivity - a certified medical disease that causes symptoms of weakness, headache, and chest pain or heart problems when exposed to electromagnetic fields. The man attended the museum in a special protective suit that shielded him from the electromagnetism generated by the artworks in the exhibition. The two men navigated with care through the exhibition, explaining and bantering with guards about the technical aspects of each work in the exhibition). The documentation of the events furthermore questions the basic dilemma surrounding the truth and lies spread through various media networks and PR politics.
The nineties were marked by a conscious acceptance of sound as an artistic practice existing between contemporary art and new media. The concept of sound comprises the collaboration between a musician and a visual artist (multimedia operas, dance spectacles), sound events stressing the perception of the audible (sound installations), audio projects in public spaces, intermedia and multimedia high-technology projects. It also comprises interactive and participatory projects where the viewer's movement and participation affect the artwork itself, and sound poetry on the border between literature and music.
Brane Zorman has established himself as one of the first electronic musicians who has been active also in the field of visual and media art, besides as the composer of soundtracks of many important theatre productions. Quite a few other Slovenian new media productions utilising sound define the medium as a tactical tool. In 1996, Borut Savski, Marko Kosnik, Luka Frelih and Chiron Morpheus established the "Ministry of Experiment" that operated in the framework of Radio Student, but also organised occasional live events in the Kapelica Gallery, at Metelkova and Ljudmila. Since 2000 there has been a flourishing of series of sound events (such as "Bitshift" at the Kapelica Gallery, "FooBar" in the Museum of Modern Art, RE-LAX at the Minimal Salon and Metelkova, and "Zarobotko" at Metelkova). Presented in galleries and other non-club spaces, these series involved computer-generated music or laptop electronica, the experience of listening to microsounds, electric acoustic music and the interactive audio landscape.
"Signal Sever!" ("Signal North!") organized by the Projekt Atol is an audio-visual performance lasting several hours where the participating authors follow changes in the electromagnetic spectrum within a specific time period (from dusk till dawn); they translate intercepted non-material data (radio signals) into an acoustic and performative experience of different audio-visual forms, and then present them in real time.
Another audio-visual project is BAST, initiated in 1998 by Aldo Ivancic, former member of the band Borghesia, Vuk Krakovic, former violinist of 2227 and the artist Davide Grassi.
Projects focusing on political implications of (un)democratic cooperation examine methods that may empower an individual to participate in the decision-making process and in the mutual creation of various themes. Thus, in recent years, multimedia centres in Ljubljana, i.e., Ljudmila (the Ljubljana digital media lab, established in 1995) and Kiberpipa, and in Maribor (Kibla) have made a decisive contribution to the flourishing of the open source movement and free software.
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