Sculpture, December 1996, Vol. 15, Number 10, pp. 28-33
Sculpture in the new Central Europe - Slovenia
"There are many answers to the question about
why to grow vegetables, maybe as many answers as there are vegetable
gardens. No single answer is the right one for everybody. Some gardeners
grow vegetables to avoid paying high store prices, or to get better
vegetables than the same amount of money will buy at the market -
fresher, tastier, picked at the peak of perfection, and served sometimes
In Slovenia, instruction in "tending the garden"
of art has been an exclusive domain of the Academy of Fine Arts in
Ljubljana since 1945. Out of the postwar pioneer work a respectful,
but conservative and rigid, art school has arisen. As the only one
in the whole country, this institution has surprisingly remained the
main source for new up-and-coming Slovene artists for generations.
In the beginning, the academy's sculpture department featured renowned
and respected professors who were also commissioned to do most of
the monuments glorifying the revolution. These works, however, were
never brought to the monumental scale of other examples throughout
the rest of the Yugoslavian republics.
One of the last ambitious public art projects in Slovenia was a monument
to revolution, placed on the square in front of the People's Assembly
in Ljubljana. The monumental sculpture commission went to Drago Trar
(born in 1927), a sculptor who belongs to the first generation of
the academy's graduates, and who became the assistant professor at
the same institution in 1960. Conceived in 1964, a sculpture - the
central part of the monument - followed the principle of Trar's
small-scale work. Due to the autonomy of the sculpture, which was
"unable to abandon the last traces of the figurative", Trar's
efforts were labeled by the local art critics as "abstract figurative
art". In the monument, his main preoccupation was how to transfer
the energy and dynamics of the "manifestants" and "demonstrants"
(that is - the crowd), into the sculpture. Trar stated for the
media: "My aim was to present 'revolutionarity' of the Slovene
nation in all its grandeur. In the left part of the sculpture, the
efforts made during the war are represented; it is built linearly
and has a peaceful character. The figures in it are composed with
the changing of masses and rhythms. The right part of the sculpture,
however, is more extensive, the figures are compressed and seethe
towards the sky. In the vertical, the aim towards the better has been
expressed..." (Delo, August 16, 1974)
Because of "objective reasons", however, the sculpture had
to wait in the artist's studio for more than 10 years before being
finally errected in 1975. Even today it represents a particular artistic
statement which has been established by the artist as a "doctrine"
at the academy for almost two decades. Nowadays, with no demand for
big, revolutionary topics, Trar continues to work on a smaller
scale, concentrating on the formal aspects of sculpture. He regained
attention in 1995 with an exhibition in the gallery of Cankarjev dom.
His sculptures lost their sinister and dramatic look; in this exhibition
Trar played with the contrast of rough and polished surfaces.
He has moved from "abstract figurative art" to "Modernist
"...There is no single right way to grow a vegetable
garden. The choice of what and where to plant is a highly personal
one, reflecting the interests, knowledge, and imagination of the gardener.
You may want your garden to be purely practical, or beautiful, or
a mixture of both..."
At the time when Trar's monument was erected,
a new generation which broke with traditional academic principles
has graduated. Although very different, its protagonists (Jiri Bezlaj,
Matja Počivavek, Duba Sambolec, Lujo Vodopivec, and others)
shared a common interest in the achievements of high Modernism. They
retained the concept of the object, propounded by William Tucker as
"an ideal condition of the autonomy of a work of art contained
within itself, according to its own order, with its own materials."
The first public steps in their careers were marked by the activity
of the KUC Gallery, a new non-profit public space, which started
introducing and promoting new concepts; its aim, however, was to penetrate
into the established local art system.
Lujo Vodopivec (born in 1951) has been teaching at the academy's sculpture
department since 1985 and has been exhibiting since 1975. He brought
vital conceptual changes to the study of sculpture. His work has gone
through several stages. In the '70s he made metal constructions, one
of which was titled The Music for Bill Tucker (1986). In the first
half of the '80s he created wooden and metal space-drawings, corresponding
to the then-fashionable new image painting, and later he started developing
composed sculptures. Their construction reminds the viewer of odd
landscapes, machines, or furniture. A local critic defined these works
as "a production of simulacra", a "territory for performing
the artist's most personal and quotidian impulses, which derive as
the consequences of the momentary, fragmented desires and games".
Vodopivec combines several materials such as Styrofoam, copper, bronze,
and wood. The use of artificial, brightly colored material, on one
hand, and traditional materials, on the other, creates an ambiguous
situation in which, according to the artist, the works occur "somewhere
else". Indeed, the personal stories, associations, obsessions,
and admirations are hidden in the complex structure of his work; sometimes
they appear as a rather insignificant detail, a readymade accessory,
or as a "recycled" older work. For example, the use of Styrofoam
in a shocking orange or pink color can, according to the artist, "shove
the work from the sublime and real into an ice-cream parlor".
The artist's affection for sweets and confectioneries can also be
seen in his recent work, first shown in a group exhibition in Lithuania.
A readymade antique ceramic vessel, once used in grocery stores, was
erected on a pedestal. It was filled with chocolate bonbons and the
visitors were asked to decide whether they preferred to take "a
piece of art or a candy". In any case, the visitor got the same
bonbon but he or she had to decide whether to eat it or keep it as
"a piece of art".
The whole generation of younger sculptors (born in
'50s and '60s) emerged with astoundingly articulated statements. The
term "New Slovene Sculpture" has been used to point out
this exceptional phenomenon. At first glance it appeared as if the
concept, derived from Lacan's and Merleau-Ponty's theories, and, again,
referring to the New British Sculpture, had emerged within a homogeneous
artistic generation (Joe Bari, Mirko Bratua, Roman
Make, Marjetica Potrč, and Duan Zidar were considered
to be its protagonists); the artists, however, took separate paths.
Since 1992 Joe Bari has been teaching at the Academy of
Fine Arts. Bari (born in 1955) has continued the study at the
academy after graduating from the Faculty of Architecture. This experience
enabled him to perceive and question the self-evident characteristics
of the academic representational model of the human figure on one
hand, and the achievements of Modernist sculpture on the other. From
the beginning his work has been a melange of formal studies and peculiar
pragmatism. On the top of tall Minimalist iron sculptures he installed
mattresses (Klara Klausberger Production, 1993), and when he exhibited
the work outdoors, he covered it with yellow transparent plastic (Klara
Klausberger's Island, 1993) "in order to protect it from the
rain". Bari's work embodies the boundaries between the
artifact and the everyday object, or between art and everyday life.
Nevertheless, there are no easy ways to do this; every formal change
in Bari's work is connected to a personal experience and is
a reflection of his position towards his artistic practice.
In 1995 Bari participated in the Istanbul Biennial. As is often
the case with such exhibitions, during the first days his project
was not working according to the original concept. In desperation,
he started shoveling the soil which was originally supposed to be
put onto a special table (the table arrived only at the last minute).
This action became a metaphor for artistic failure, commonly concealed
by artists. This fragmented but - paradoxically - monumental work
suddenly changed character: from the idea of an art object it changed
to a site-specific, dispersed installation. Bari's interest
in exposing the hidden sides of life (such as failure) is present
also in a series of simple works involving personal stories. In this
series Bari confronted found chairs, actually belonging to people,
with ones that he made by hand. Each was a simple stool, hung from
the wall, so that its function was lost. Each was accompanied by dates,
which functioned as titles. These simple, minimal operations loaded
everyday pieces of furniture with emotion and insecurity inferred
from the sinister character of the dates, which seemed to signifying
the beginning and the end. The use of wall paint intensified viewers'
feelings of connection to the chairs by changing the museum character
of the work into an almost domestic experience.
Bari has focused primarily on the "everyday" or even
marginal aspects of contemporary artisitic practice. In 1993 he conceived
his first newspaper, titled Klara Klausberger and subtitled Newspaper
for Sculpture, Architecture, and Advertising, and published an issue
to accompany his personal exhibition. It was intended as a response
to expensive, glossy catalogues. It didn't speak about his work; the
articles by other authors spoke about the issues that interested him
at that time. This new form of advertising turned out to be ideal
for expressing the everyday phenomenon noticed by a sculptor. The
magazine (the last issue was published in November 1995) has thus
become part of Bari's endeavour to place art into everyday life.
"How important, then, are gardening directions?
And how important is instinct? The answer is that both are of value
but mostly when combined with another crucial factor: experience.
Use the instructions and measurements (dates, pounds, and inches)
as reference points - places to begin and revisit as needed - but
make all the adjustments necessary for your own climate and soil."
During his studies at the academy, Damijan Kracina
(born in 1970) received "gardening directions" from all
three sculptors presented in this article. His "adjustments"
show already in his experiments at the academy: the formal aspect
of the work and the medium itself were chosen according to the artist's
semantic intentions. In his installation, TV (1995) - first shown
at the Biennial of Young Mediterranean Artists at the Museum of Modern
Art in Rijeka, Croatia - Kracina showed a hyper-realistic self-portrait
gazing into seven lit "television" screens which were placed
on the floor. On the screens were frozen images of dead run-over cats
from the streets. The work exposes the paradoxical effect of the television
media. With the static, frozen character of this tragic sight, Kracina
manipulates the gallery visitor - a latent TV viewer - who is prepared
to invest more emotion here than while watching the everyday bloody
violence depicted on television war reports.
In a subsequent work, Kracina again used frozen images: a series of
enlarged photographs of several trout species. These were installed
on the gallery's walls and lit from behind. The installation provoked
the sensation of the gallery as an aquarium. However, in the "Natura
Naturans" exhibition, held in the Museo di storia naturale (Natural
History Museum) in Trieste, the situation was quite different. The
lit trout boxes were placed above the vitrines with different species
of actual preserved fish. This site-specific installation exposed
the contrast between dead animals with preserved bodies (the vitrines)
and living animals, frozen in their movement (the photos).
For some years now Kracina has been obsessed also with the extinct
Tasmanian tiger. In the video installation, titled Thylacinus cynocephalus
(1996) (the Latin name for the animal) - shown at the City Gallery
in Piran, he juxtaposed the recorded documentary image of the last
animal - filmed in captivity in 1936 - with the empty cage. On its
sandy floor, the tiger's traces could be seen. This pathetic contrast
reflected the double captivity: although it is frozen and forever
present through the electronic media, the animal itself is absent,
In Kracina's work we seek in vain for the reflection upon the Modernist
postulates. He is more concerned about the extinction of the animal
species than about the extinction of sculpture as a medium. But at
the same time, he is questioning the role and function of art itself.
PROVOKART, the informal artistic group of which Damijan Kracina is
a founding member, is currently preparing for an adventurous Australian
invasion, during which Kracina is planning a "safari" to
search for the extinct marsupial.
For this article I have chosen a particular "slice"
of contemporary sculpture in Slovenia. This walk through several generations
of sculptors and educators enables us to perceive that there are very
different concepts constituting the phenomenon of "contemporary
Slovene sculpture" (whether we like it or not). It shows also
how the perception of the medium itself has been changing. The academic
frame of sculpture has loosened - from abstract figurative art to
recycled Modernist sculptures, from Conceptual sculpture to media-bin.
The gardening quotes used in this article, by Joe Bari,
remind us that, in fact, the "biosphere" of Slovene sculpture
is fertile and diverse. Therefore - let's garden!
1 Walter L. Doty, All abbout Vegetables (cited in a
work by sculptor Joe Bari)