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Coral Island

'Coral Island' by Damijan Kracina is one of the many projects the artist has prepared in the recent years, and which he imbued with a recognisable and unique artistic expression. Kracina's approach to nature, seen by many as romantic, is in fact based on awareness – a virtue that the majority of human race does not possess. With it the artist re-visits over and over again the theme of endangered animal species, in particular those on the brink of extinction. Different animals enter his cognitive and often imaginary world: the Tasmanian tiger, the Soča trout, the cave salamander (Proteus anguinus), and also indeterminate creatures, natural and imaginary mutants. Each species adopted by Damijan Kracina for his artistic expression is given a unique presentation, most often with a view to warning the human kind of its destructive march across the globe. Grandiose words about human guilt are most often left behind on old newspaper clips. Humans only have short-term awareness of their carelessness towards nature and its ecosystem; they only start to feel pain, when their own survival is at stake.

'Coral Island', which was created in a predetermined context, is in line with the series of Kracina's projects, which subtly bring attention to the wrongdoings of the human kind, and (with a touch of cynicism) present alternative sub/super-species of microcosms (un)known to humans. At this point I would like to focus on a project entitled 'Galapagos', which the Kracina has been developing and exhibiting for some years in collaboration with the artist Vladimir Leben. The Island known to us mainly through Darwin's theories of evolution is a setting where mutants live. The artists thus question the foundations of genetic theories, which state that for new species to emerge, the existing ones must mutate. Their mutants present themselves as an image of future, as something which cannot be predicted or controlled in the face of all science and advanced technology. Such a display of the 'animals of the future' evokes in us different reactions and feelings, which most often span from laughter, mirth, and conviviality to the awareness of today's harsh reality. They may arouse us, albeit only for a few moments, from our numbness, or at least restore our good mood.

Karcina's tackling the animal kingdom is often based on animal species typical of the environment in which he lives; the inspiration and numerous of themes he finds here are impossible for him to ignore. In 1997 he set out to make the first Slovenian zoomorphic typography. His inspiration came from Proteus anguinus, or 'human fish' as it is known to people, which is ''...the only true cave amphibian in Europe, and is, as a living fossil, one of the monuments of our natural heritage (the species is found only in Dinaric Karst – in Slovenia, Italy, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina).'' Ź This amphibian is the inspiration and the material for Kracina's typography. In this way, the knowledge of this wonder of nature is spread beyond the borders of its natural habitat faster and above all, with greater ingenuity than with postcards. We must also not overlook an important fact, namely that Kracina's typography includes the letters č, š and ž.

In his 'Coral Island' the artist also makes use of endemic species, which he draws from the photographs and video footage compiled by Andrej Voje and Andrej Natlačen. The marine life recorded over a course of several years serves the artist as the first step in creation of statuettes. Tiny underwater animals, which Damijan Kracina creates together with children at the Paediatric Clinic, are given a home on the coral island or on an amoeboid structure of his design. The artist conceived the project following an invitation by the Škuc Gallery. In collaboration with the NGO Art dans la Cité and the Ljubljana Paediatric Clinic, the Škuc Gallery also invited the artists Jana Flego and Sašo Vrabič. At the Paediatric Clinic Kracina's proposal was considered the most appropriate for establishing a workshop, and most fit to include the children in. All three projects featured unique approaches, and confirmed that which is proved time and time again: that working with children opens up new ways (sometimes undiscovered or forgotten) to the imagination of adults.

Besides sculpting the workshop features painting on canvas which forms a part of the 'Coral Island' as stage scenery. With the joint effort from the three colleagues Katarina Toman Kracina, who was actively involved in sculpting and painting, Ajda Toman, the workshop's host, and the photographer Urška Boljkovac, the entire course of the workshop, and its participants, have been documented on tape and in photographs. Viewers can thus not only enjoy the end product but follow the entire course of the workshop and the work of all the participants.

Such collaboration among artists and children stimulate creativity of the young patients, and provide new possibilities for young people to get to know and appreciate contemporary art. Because learning about contemporary art is most often overlooked in the school curriculum, and since society is not particularly favourably inclined towards such forms of cultural production and therefore refuses to pay due attention to it, we see this project as one of the ways to effectively communicate contemporary art to the coming generations.

Text by Alenka Gregorič