Apart from the actual name of the artist, Damijan Kracina, "RETROSPECTIVE" is the most prominent word on the screen when we open the home page on the Internet. In our recent conversation, the author himself described his "exhibitory tour" through Slovenia as being retrospective; the "Tour de Slovénie", which took him from Ljubljana's Škuc Gallery to the Kluže fortress near Bovec, will end in the Podsreda Castle. On the Ljubljana-Podsreda route, the present catalogue of the exhibition represents a kind of autonomous act aiming not only to be documentary, but placing itself - with its pictorial and textual substance - side by side with the three mentioned installations. And to begin with, I was genuinely surprised that the young artist with a relatively small opus uses the word "retrospection".
Let us start with the Zoo exhibition at Škuc Gallery. In every room of the gallery, the viewer of the exhibition was confronted with an ambient installation - he/she could observe images of different animals.
The ambiance of the Aquarium video spreads itself into the most indefinable space, as the viewer enters a dark room where his/her eyes only slowly adapt to the bluish video projection on the screen. Trout - perhaps the Salmo marmoratus species which is especially dear to Damijan - filmed in an aquarium, move in peculiar slow motion through the muddy water on a narrow slit of the screen. It seems as though the fish could acquire "true" swiftness only if we were to move around the projection screen illuminated from both sides. But if we step into the projection beam, our silhouette becomes a part of the observed image. This intervention not only discloses the technical execution of the illumination of the transparent screen; but it is only with the physical, corporeal experience - by walking - that we become acquainted with the "hidden fact"*1 that the final product of the perceived images is still a construction in our minds. The reality - or the "reality" - of the image in this case does not depend on other, artificial worlds, or mandelbrotian "trees": it is we who define, to a certain extent, the speed of the fish by our own walking, only that we are literally led to this recognition by the power of the image, the charm of "living" beings.
At first glance we see a slightly modified situation in the work Thylacinus cynocephalus (Tasmanian wolf). In this video installation Damijan Kracina extends a historical sequence showing the presumably exterminated Tasmanian wolf by means of en editing technique, thus "prolonging" its life. But he does not let the viewer down: a label on the wall, containing data on the wolf, informs us that the creature is extinct in the natural world. Nevertheless I could not avoid the temptation to look more carefully through the steel cage placed over the video screen and the layer of bright sand on the floor. Regretfully I could not see the wolf's traces in the sand.
The tension resulting from the depiction of "actually" (and conceptually) living beings, and from the "frozen" photographic, or "live" electronic, images encountered day by day "live" on television or computer screens or in the media, is - among other things - a consequence of the perception sourcing from the ancient principle of culture-nature. It is this dichotomy that led our Greeks to invent the word mimesis. The installation Without Title (Fish) also depicts a form of such tension. The images of fish, "photographs of trout in the aquarium, immersed in the neon-lit Plexiglas",*2 continually follow one another in a horizontal line high on the walls. They remind one of a frieze, a decorative element in architecture. The Latin word decorum - related to the word decoration - is the expression of what is permitted, decent, or noble. Thus the frieze speaks of orderly, or culturally determined, matters which we conceive and define through our notions (or laws); it does not speak of disorder, distress, of polluted, uncertain, irrational (and instinctive) pleasure; it does not speak of nature.*3 From the unusual perspective of some small animal we look at the frieze placed high on the wall ...; we look at the orderly human notion of nature. Previously, I had only seen fish from this perspective in under-sea aquariums (or seated low down near aquariums in some of the better fish restaurants) - I feel a bit uneasy.
Among the media informing us about the animal world, Damijan Kracina also uses printed material, i.e. postcards. The relationship between man and the animal world is somehow figured precisely in institutions such as zoos. What remains of the "outer world" when visitors to zoos return to their homes, is frequently an exotic image od an animal on a postcard, or an entrance ticket. In the Zoo exhibition, the visitors also see images of animals on postcards placed on a wall rack and presented to the customer. The gallery "inner space" becomes the zoo of our own perception of the outer world: a gallery as a panopticum of the conception of nature.
Damijan Kracina probably agrees with the methodological approach of Claude Lévi-Strauss stating that "every ordering is better than disorder".*4 However, his works are not governed by such a strict taxonomy as required, for instance, by the museological procedures of artist Tadej Pogačar, the director of the P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. Museum of Contemporary Art. Installations, collections and outdoor projects by Tadej Pogačar first demand a "scientific" definition, until they cross the rigid boundary between external and internal, domestic and foreign, museum and world, culture and nature. The savage thoughts of Damijan Kracina are reflected in a more open, indefinable manner: every ambient installation in the Zoo exhibition stands alone. We can imagine that each particular "installation", if shifted away from the gallery context, does not lose its aesthetic potential (and meaning); it is only the ambient experience which changes - and this is crucial. It is interesting that Kracina's works with this kind of autonomy are much more pieces of sculpture, or artistic artefacts, than, say, Pogačar's exhibition objects presented from a more contextual perspective.*5
Damijan breaks the boundaries between external and internal rather instinctively. On the other hand, he is also aware of the acclamatory effect of the installations placed outside the gallery. If the posters with the pattern of orderly arranged trout in Škuc Gallery still figure as something suggesting the exhibition from behind the gallery windows, the fish pattern in the Kluže exhibition*6 is already more exposed. We can see it at the hoardings hung by the artist on the massive outer walls of the fortress. The mighty, dim fortress turns into a colourful mansion - the airiness pleases the eye. The pattern can also be seen on flags which flutter seductively in the tourist town of Bovec, inviting one to visit the exhibition.
There is one aspect that I have not previously dealt with: the feeling of repulsiveness and destructive (physical) lust. This aspect is most evidently expressed in the work Ant. The Ant video installation was presented in Ljubljana, and an altered form also in Kluže: an ant on the miniature screen built into the gallery wall, or into the floor of the fortress, makes futile efforts to escape from a sticky substance. Its efforts to escape also denote the last moments of life before imminent death. In my childhood, I was inclined to tease (certain) animals. Sometimes the result of my arrogance was even death. I remembered these experiences when I was looking at the Ant under the paving of the dark, disagreeable place in Kluže. Why did Damijan Kracina decide to emplace the screen in such a way? Was he actually tempted to crash an animal (of a lower order)? In as early as 1995, at the Ljubljana Academy of Fine Arts, he thrust beneath the skin of his sculpture Sheep. He placed a butchered mass of seemingly real meat composed of artificial material and skin, on a table, just like a traditional sculpture on a pedestal, and illuminated it with a low-hanging light-bulb. Here the view of the orderly human conception of nature (and of the courteous society) reveals its dim, but no less real visage. Damijan breaks down the boundaries also in order to understand himself.
When looking from Kracina's last exhibition in Kluže back to his previous ones, we cannot fail to see that all these works - except the remote-controllable Badger (Without Title), and the seemingly naive Aquarelles which function as a mistake, or an experiment, in Kracina's system - had all been exhibited before, that they come as a repetition. How does the repetition correspond to the role of the artist who, within his own genre, should not repeat himself, who must be innovative? Speaking of Cronenberg's last film, The Crash, Melita Zajc presumes that "by adopting the genre of pornographic film, Cronenberg also adopts the basic structural formation of this genre, that is: repeat. Repetition. Only that he sees the repetition of the given as a mode of speaking about the unknown. Cronenberg repeats the old to speak of the new."*7 Is it not a similar case with Kracina's creations?*8 By replacing his works, time and again, in different ambient (and substantial) contexts, Kracina speaks of the unknown; in this way he also shows that "installation", or ambient emplacement, is something more than a mere technical term from some artistic genre. Nevertheless, the artist finally meets the expectations of art criticism and history: he does not insist on the re-presentation of one and the same thing. A cautious and regular visitor to Kracina's exhibitions perceives tiny and also more evident changes in every new installation of individual works. Ant moves from the wall to the floor; Thylacinus cynocephalus is at one time in the cage, yet the next time it is not; at one time we can walk around Aquarium, next time it is projected onto the wall; The Fish Frieze (Without Title) is always defined within new dimensions of physical space...
We could say that the artist takes note of Darwin's heritage of "descent with modification": the older is not worse, the new is not better, it is only different. From this point of view, the "Tour de Slovénie" by Damijan Kracina has figured in the light of attractive retro-spection.
When I was writing this text - it already had a title - I spoke again with Damijan expecting him to tell me what he had been preparing for the Podsreda Castle, I had to laugh. He described a work in which a number of proteus anguineus would compose the inscription: DECORATION.
Translation: Borut Cajnko