A short essay on the exhibition of Alen Ožbolt and Žiga Kariž Love is a Battlefield / Ljubezen je bojno polje, Gallery ŠKUC, Ljubljana, September 2005
When two artists decide to exhibit together, there is usually some ’deeper’ reason to it: conceptual, emotional, productional or promotional. A kind of accord is expected between their works, which will lead towards an insight into an ’integrity’ or, at least, towards a promise of a real, fictional or promised ’harmony’ of the works in an exhibition. Integrity and harmony are expected in a maelstrom of formal parameters: similarity or complementarity of pieces which become works. When a visitor, however, with intention or by chance, enters the exhibition of Alen Ožbolt and Žiga Kariž in the Gallery ŠKUC (Student Cultural Centre) he will unexpectedly be facing very different works in both formal and phenomenological sense. He will have an impression that he entered ’micro-worlds’ which visually have very little in common.
He will pass through attentively and devotedly manually shaped spaces with objects of Alen Ožbolt which, within a located particularity of the imaginary and the symbolic, offer themselves as traces of an artist’s gesture which gets realized through a dynamic relation of gaze and hand in a basic visuality of material/substance.
He will then pass through spaces designed and selected with tactical preciseness, with objects and their relations of Žiga Kariž, which, within their located universalism of the imaginary and the symbolic, offer traces of an artist’s conceptualizations and simulations which get realized through dynamic relations of adopting and locating a symbolically situated material. To make it more simple, Ožbolt’s spaces seem to bring us back to ’primary’ powers of visual (plastic, pictorial) shaped material, and Kariž’s spaces seem to bring us into ’word game’ of readymade tactics of locating and relocating objects of culture. And it is only then, in a dilemma of a gaze striving to see their worlds of difference, that a discovery of a challenge or of a conflict of differences commences. Ožbolt’s and Kariž’s spaces, no matter how they seem and therefore are different, may have one common base in regard to visual incomparability and conceptual encounters. In fact, each of them resolves a specific problem of ‘shapeable material’ which precedes the entrance of a signifier into a sign (Ožbolt) i.e. ’usability objectiveness’ (Kariž) which comes after a consumption of sign or an evocation of a consumption of sign. However, on a secondary plane, behind primary concepts of realization of an artwork, an important ’conceptual similarity’ emerges: both authors provoke layers/strata of meaning or erased traces which lay beneath each particular piece or an installation of a piece.
Žiga Kariž initiates questions and sensory events on traces and potentialities of ’public opinion’ in arts and culture. He sets the referential world of existing objects in relation to himself. He is there between images which construct the moment of his, followed by the moment of visitor’s Self. Kariž performed two separate installations, but installations which operate with the traces from history of high and popular art of the XX century.
In the first installation IT’S SO SIMPLE AND THAT’S THE WAY I LIKE IT, a space of usage, simulation or revealing of art traces is invoked. The artist has realized an American room or, more precisely, a New York room-stage. Objects of a fancy New York daily life are scattered all over that room-stage, together with the objects from the XX century high art – from constructivist books and Duchampian objects, to photographs and copies of ’masterpieces’ of contemporary art, or traces of relaxed forms of living within contemporaneity. This room is one of such rooms from a maelstrom of fictionalization of actualities offered for instance by a TV serial Sex and the City or by prose constructions of Kathy Acker (Don Quixote, 1986), Paul Auster (The New York Trilogy, 1990) or Don DeLillo (Cosmopolis, 2003). In the maps of living, a seeming disorder indexes and therefore advocates a cool reality, i.e. its phantasmic representatives of appearance, interruption, pleasure, fear of death and fast consumption. As if an early Deleuzian parole is being demonstrated by this work: „Every depth is an illusion of surface“. The realization of the installation is performed with fake readymades. The readymades are fake because the artist performs an object which looks like an adopted item. But the seemingly adopted object is a simulacrum of a certain historical and cultural object (book, magazine, artwork). It confronts us thus with a ’horror of pleasure’ or a ’pleasure of horror’ of a post-Duchampian artist who cannot avoid entering an existential chaos of relations between a real and a simulated object in a place which is covered by the phantasm of the world of great art and great consumption, i.e. a promised or desired delirious New York before the 11th of September. Let’s not forget that pre-September-11th New York was a ’city’ which transposed great European, though always marginal and alternative, avant-garde practices into an atmosphere (Arthur C. Danto) or an aura (Walter Benjamin) of mass ecstatic consumption in the époque of design. For Kariž, however, design is not a method of achieving an artwork, but a medium of problematizing messages within contemporaneity.
In Kariž’s other installation AVIDEO CLUB (after RODCHENKO) a transfigured replica is performed of a famous Rodchenko’s Club ouvrier, made for the Exposition des artes décoratifs in Paris 1925. The ’room’ is furnished in the manner of Rodchenko’s painting, but instead of a reading-room with revolutionary press, it is set as a video club for watching Hollywood B and C production movies. Three transfiguring interventions were performed: (i) an utopian space of constructivism - oriented towards the working class and therefore towards informing the laborers through printed materials - is performed as a provisory video club of daily entertainment consumers – course from a class to a crowd, (ii) a mass printed medium is replaced by a recorded electronic medium – a concept of reproduction of information is accelerated, and (iii) a constructivist space which was directed from an autonomous realm of art into the utilitarian post-revolutionary life of workers, and then transformed into an exhibit of political propaganda in a world exhibition, is recycled as a possible video club, and the video club is exhibited as an artwork in an institution (gallery) which provides autonomy of an artistic/aesthetic intervention free of utilitarian expectations of the consumers. Kariž has in a quite subtle way rotated the procedures of constructing the cultural and social functioning with the expected or unexpected relative autonomies of art. Different historical identities and functions are used as traces of provoking the unstable relation of the universal and the particular in art of today, where the borders between art, culture, and society i.e. between utopia and consumption are no more obvious and clear. To concretize a utopia today means to enhance consumption of potentialities. To use a Lacanian phrase, in place of an ’object small a’ (petit a) there is an unstable and open potentiality of promise, memory, invoking or imagining of fluxes of information which will create an illusion or decorate an actually impossible or actually absent object small a. Therefore Žiga Kariž chooses as his text for this exhibition not a manifesto, nor a statement, and also not an auto-poetical essay, but a collection of classified fragments which refer to the narratives of the films exhibited in his para-Rodchenko video club. A chaos of verbal fragmentary narratives does not explain art, culture or society to which the artist refers; it pushes, instead, the ’one’ of an artwork towards a potential multiplicity, towards a multitudity which falls out of artistic, cultural or social norms.
Both the installations of Žiga Kariž IT’S SO SIMPLE AND THAT’S THE WAY I LIKE IT and A VIDEO CLUB (after RODCHENKO) are the designed potential worlds of actuality which displays its usage of the past and anticipates future transformations between an object, space and a screen. Nothing is certain anymore, though it seams so familiar.
Alen Ožbolt performed a sequence of mural or spatial installations - pictures/sculptures which, at first sight, display two possibilities:
Possibility of searching for the pre– or post– in relation to a shaped object which is a trace left in a plastic material, and
Recycling of the proper history of the artist of recognizable visual and haptic trace, who invokes, relocates and multiplies layers of traces from his own artistic history, for example history of the V.S.S.D. group.
His pieces are carefully shaped and situated in an ideal space of a gallery/museum through which they act and provoke a happening of a factual ’artwork’ or of ’affecting’ an eye and body which through the eye describes paths from a gaze to a potential touch.
Already in his early works Ožbolt has elaborated formative principles of sculpturing and painting-as-sculpturing i.e. sculpturing-as-painting by which he provoked the concept as well as the emotion of Bataillean ’base materialism’, i.e. of what is entirely or really other. In his works emerges the incomparable other and the other which evades classification, though it emerges through classifications. Performing of otherness in the objective world is building the visual and haptic impassability (untouchability, invisibility) which isaccumulated by visible pieces intended for exhibiting. Therefore, although Guy Debord wrote that a spectacle is accumulation of capital which becomes visible, Ožbolt’s shaping of new or reshaping of existing objects is an event of a spectacle in the sense of accumulation of ultimate otherness until it becomes visible in its beauty or repulsiveness, i.e. in its unexpected attractiveness that can be a source or an abyss of love. Love is a flux which flows between objects, pausing on them as illusion of crystallization, disappearing afterwards in a stroke of images and touches as a concreteness of a fluid. While many Slovenian painters and sculptures of the postmodern époque struggle with Artaudian bodies without organs (Šalamun, Brdar, Bernard, Gorenc), bodies which exist as inscriptions, membranes, masks or screens, Ožbolt performs a radical anti-Artaud but a pro-Deleuze and pro-Žižek operation of exhibiting organs without bodies. His pieces, shaped from an empty place or inscribed into an existing shape, are ’organs without bodies’ which are in some phantasmic world between a body and an impossibility of a body. Ožbolt writes: „ Sub-forms: an pre/behind/by form. An after/at/near/up-to form. Wild forms and almost natural forms. Artificial forms of the multiple layers of past and future forms, images, contents, sub-forms and formative formations. “
Gaps where the forms emerge which are neither secretion, nor groups of organs, nor bodies, are the worlds of mythic formational practices, which emerge as leftovers of an attempt of overcoming procedures of adopting the readymades or the cynical postmodern design. Love for shaping is surprising and obscure, but it is there. Of course, ’there’ is problematic! In his text which follows and provokes the exhibition Ožbolt clearly expresses that problem, i.e. the event of a problem:
„Matter. Material is of the world, there is continuity between the world and materials. Material, matter passes through the hand, by the hand, from the hand. But also from the body, the mouth, the head, the shovel, the concrete mixer, the foundry furnace, and also from the spoon, the refrigerator. It seems that in this very narrow space one could still fight out the impression of uniqueness and unrepeatability. Form as an event. “
In the ŠKUC Gallery Alen Ožbolt has performed entirely different rooms with traces of shaping. A trace of a hand which touches for a gaze, and a trace of a gaze which creates an opportunity of a touch in plastic material. For example, his pieces for a wall installation entitled „Left, Right, Left Hand, Right Hand (Fire / Water) 1-17“ (1988-2000) are simultaneously: traces depositing memories of iconography of V.S.S.D, but also primary material traces of the artist’s manual inscription, as well as ’pieces’ which are both pictures and sculptures, and which are neither-pictures-nor-sculptures. A promised multiplicity of a piece which seems to simultaneously exist in numerous registers of the phenomenon is very Badiouian, which means that it is promised as a traditional plastic shaped work i.e. as one, and, at the same time, as a multiplicity of existence in a personal history of an artist and in material openness of a form/non-form of a visual sample shown to the senses. Opposite to this work there is a cabinet with trophy cups, entitled “Winners”(1997), which is at the same time a readymade installation and a subtle indication that a ’form’ (shaped material) acts as a shape itself even when it is not a direct trace of an artist’s hand. Actually, searching for the relation between the events of shapes, Ožbolt demonstrates how relative it is a difference between a sensorial affectation provoked by the material set in motion by the artist’s manual work, and a sensorial affectation provoked by a selected and relocated material of an adopted object which becomes an imported element or a readymade.
One of Ožbolt’s obsessions is shaping of an impossible form or a pre-form (Pre-form II, 2005 or Game(of an Infinite Chain of Form) 1 - 4, 2005 or Pre-Behind-By Form 1 - 4, 2004/2005). He searches for what evades the artist’s act which becomes a production of a designed object, his product being a work which evokes its potential or far more often its annulled explicitness of a finalized piece, and indexes some kind of a pre-state. Iconic invocation of ’bio-geometries’ or ’organic fragilities’ in opposition to mineral stabilities is an allegoric possibility of such an action which refers to the Bataillian ’formless’ (world of secretions, crushing, rotting, melting, leaking) but also to the Guattarian metaphoric processualism which offers and performs a concept of event of chaining of molecules, substances, even machines. Each of those works emerges in the field of ’human’, for example - pain („In the Name of Pain (Hidden Forms)” 1-3, 2003-2004). His pieces, series of pieces or simply relations of several pieces create an illusion of visibility of the micro-world which is the world of multiple instabilities, slip-outs, unfinished shapes as well as decayed shapes as leftovers after a catastrophe of shaping. Emotionality indexed by those works is not a simple expression of artist’s experience, but rather an affectation or provoking of emotion set in motion by a substance set into an uncertain form and alienated from a human being.
Alen Ožbolt displays another important and, certainly, obsessively repeated problem – the problem of classifying shapes as specified pieces. Series of pieces or classified shapes are in conceptual orders which suggest themselves as systematization. Systematization is performing of an order of accordance and correspondence among isolated, indexed and classified shapes (“Vie des formes/The Life of Forms; a. Dialogues of Form, b. Changes of Form, c. Arrangement of Material Forms“ 1-42, 1998-2005). Ožbolt perceives that it is about two worlds which ’refract’ in his works: concepts and material pieces. A relation between a concept and a piece is not a simple relation of visualization - of an idea which searches for a beloved object through shaping of material. On contrary, the relation of a concept and a piece is an immensely more complex relation which is not only based in deriving a visualization from an idea to a shape, but which is based in unexpectedness and multiplicity of affectation of the event of an idea, and of the event of a phenomenon of the visual. In the context of searching for complexities of affectation between ideas and shapes, the role of obvious and intentional classifying and presenting classification is to emphasize ’relationism’ which ’essentially’ determines a work.
A joint exhibition of Alen Ožbolt and Žiga Kariž Love is a Battlefield / Ljubezen je bojno polje points to a provocative field of interrelations of two different artistic practices. Their works are at first sight different and incomparable: Ožbolt works with the principle of shaping and Kariž with the principle of using. However, any sensory or conceptual involvement in the interrelation between their works leads us towards a more complex map of possibilities. By this exhibition they have mapped conceptual homologies and sensory hiatuses. They got confronted in a battlefieldof love between an idea and a form, i.e. between a concept and an object, i.e. absence and presence of function. The question of love is the question of unsolvable relation of one and two where neither ’one’ nor ’two’ are simply given and present. Within the multiple modes of ’battle’, Ožbolt and Kariž offer possibilities for realization of art. Art is, however, not exhibiting objects, but performing a visible and reflexive battle of relations of ’one’ and ’two’.