24 September 2019 > 07 October 2019 Kindly invited to the opening of "Cheers to Women! 25 Years of Film and Video" group exhibition curated by Vesna Bukovec & Ana Čigon and performance by Ana Čigon, on Tuesday, 24th September, at the Alkatraz Gallery, ACC Metelkova. The exhibition is a part of 25th International Festival of Contemporary Arts – City of Women.
Artists: Zemira Alajbegović & Neven Korda,* Nika Autor,* Vesna Bukovec,* Jasmina Cibic,* Ana Čigon,* Andreja Džakušič, Ana Grobler, Marina Gržinić & Aina Šmid, Đejmi Hadrović, Maja Hodošček, Sanela Jahić, Neža Knez, Polonca Lovšin,* Aprilija Lužar, Nika Oblak & Primož Novak, Ana Pečar & Oliver Ressler, Nataša Prosenc Stearns, Marija Mojca Pungerčar, Pila Rusjan, Duba Sambolec, Zvonka T Simčič, Nataša Skušek, Metka Zupanič, Valerie Wolf Gang
* The works of these authors are going to be screened at the Cheers to Women! marathon in Kinoteka on 3. 10.
Curated by: Vesna Bukovec & Ana Čigon.
The exhibition will be opened by a new performance by Ana Čigon Cheers to Women! A Performative Appetizer to Video Art, dedicated to video art created between 1995 and 2015 by Slovenian female videasts. Through the eclectic merging of written, spoken and performative quotes, the artist is forming a performative tale, encouraging viewers to an in-depth viewing of the exhibited works. In that sense, the performance is formed as an experimental historical overview, otherwise different from the classical critical texts, but nevertheless awakening the video archives, contemporizing it and thereby encouraging a re-thinking of the meaning and position of artwork by Slovenian female video artists within the canon of art history.
The public programme includes guided tours of the exhibition and a lecture by Ana Grobler, MA. The lecturer will present the key artworks with feminist content, which were created in Slovenia from mid-1970s onwards.
Cheers to Women! 25 years of Film and Video
Upon the jubilee edition of the City of Women festival, we – the undersigned and Varja Močnik, who selected the female film directors – were assigned the honorable task of preparing an overview and selection of works by female video artists active in Slovenian space in the period of the past 25 years, since the beginning of the festival. The idea for the review of video- and film production was formed as a tribute to the first two marathons in 1997 and 200, organized within the City of Women festival by film director Maja Weiss. That was the first comprehensive screening of productions by female film artists in the history of Slovenian film. It left a bitter taste, however, since it was only in 2002 that we got the first feature film by a female director (Guardian of the Frontier by Maja Weiss) was released. Meanwhile, video art shows an entirely different picture, since Ana Nuša Dragan (in tandem with Srečo Dragan) was the pioneer of video art in our area.
Already 19 years have passed since the last marathon, so it is high time for another overview and research. We have taken on the demanding task by starting to set limits, since it is impossible, given the space and finances at hand, to present a precise overview and listing of all female authors and the entire production. We have agreed on a symbolic number 25: 25 female authors creating for the past 25 years, to be presented at the 25thfestival edition. In our search for the authors, we analysed the video archive DIVA Station at the SCCA-Ljubljana and looked through the former editions of the City of Women festival. We have focused on those who create video and film within the wider field of visual arts. Our selection is, of course, subjective and reflects our preferences to the works showcasing feminist and socially critical content, created after 1995.
The selected artwork features examples of diverse exhibition forms enabled by the video medium. Most works are presented in gallery space using single-channel, multi-channel or installation setups on different media. Some of the works will be screened in a cinema hall as part of the Marathon: Cheers to Women! 25 Years of Film and Video in Kinoteka on 3 October between noon and midnight. By screening their films in their regular programme, even the national broadcaster RTV Slovenia is to pay tribute to Slovenian female directors.
An important part of the exhibition in the Alkatraz Gallery, also available online, is the project Open Register of Female Creators. Thus, we are also including, by name at least, all female authors not displaying their work in the exhibition. We are inviting visitors to add missing names to the list to help compose and supplement an overview of creators once or still active in this geographical space in the field of video, film, animation or intermedia art (where the video medium also plays an important role).
What do all 25 works presented in our selection have in common? The answer is complex but somehow akin to the open form of feminist thought, constantly verifying the foundation of its assumptions and adapting its objectives and criticism given the current social, economic and political conditions. We were interested in how culture, economic-social regime and politics directly influence the lives of women and people in general. In their works, some female authors tackle the topics of social, economic (class) and political position of women usually ranking in the public sphere, while other female authors reach into the private sphere in their works. The issues of gender and reproductive rights, the female body, pain and violence against women are the topics the authors disclose, represent and thereby make visible in the public space. They direct attention towards silenced topics and discriminated social groups, and they expose the absence of a critical perspective at the current social and political events. Those topics are rarely represented in the media. The exposure of these problems is perhaps often a motive of their creativity also due to the fact that the recognition of many important women and events from the past, especially those that were relevant for the “other half”, was frequently concealed from history.
Established artist Duba Sambolec discusses exactly that in her two-channel video Shadowless A and B (2000) – gaps in the media space. And it is quite scary that her questions: “What really happened? What is going on?” make us wonder whether this video wasn’t perhaps filmed yesterday. How many banal news are being presented to us daily as something relevant, and how many actually important information is withheld? A human being with binoculars around her neck constantly craves information, but with her eyes blindfolded and her repeating plead for explanation and guidance, she seems a grotesque image of the present time.
However, knowledge- and information transfer does not only belong in the domain of the media. It is, first and foremost, tackled by schools that transfer knowledge dictated by the ruling ideology to youth by selecting their learning content. If it seemed, in the former political system, that ideology was too embedded in school, and that school is ideologically neutral today, Maja Hodošček shows otherwise with her video Učna ura (The Lesson, 2017). The Partisan school system topic, no longer part of the regular learning curriculum, thereby remaining part of the forsaken history, was proposed to the teacher by the artist herself. In the background, we can follow the discussion on the meaning of education in the radical conditions during the National Liberation Movement of the WWII and the relationship between the teacher and the kids. The author frames shots exclusively on those pupils that are uninterested in the conversation. The silent, passive majority of the class thus reflects today’s wider society, where people mostly deal with their own problems.
The once ideologically biased form of the newsreel is proficiently used to pierce through the media silence by Nika Autor, a member of the Newsreel Front (Obzorniška Fronta) with Newsreel 63 – The Train of Shadows(2017). The film form of the newsreel which was informing the audience of the current events in pre-television times is actualized by the author to be used as a socially critical reflection on the humanitarian tragedy of the refugees in Europe. Through film history, she seeks space for representation – to outline an image of those that have no right to an image. In her animation Okrožnica (Circular, 2016), Vesna Bukovec further discusses the image of Slovenia and Europe; their relation towards the period when larger groups of refugees were arriving; and directs attention towards the most important thing from the humanitarian viewpoint. After the media has bombarded us (they still do) with information on the number of people crossing our border (by which they, of course, speak of the so-called unwanted foreigners, not our neighbours to the North and West), the amount of money spent for this (although we spent it mostly for the police, the army, the shameful cutting wire and the panel fences), and explanations of how the migrants endanger us, the Okrožnica animation reminds us of the values that matter from the humane viewpoint, encouraging solidarity instead of fear.
So, how are the media, school and the topic of refugees connected to feminism? In many ways. The society does not construct the identity of an individual, male or female, simply based on their sex/gender (which is, in itself, a social construct), but also on other aspects, such as class, nationality, sexual orientation and identity, religion, etc. A woman can at the same time be a refugee, Muslim, a lesbian, a rich Westerner or Eastern European, middle-class, etc. Any of these parameters can affect her reality differently. In feminism, this is called intersectionality and is commented in the work Silent Observer (2017) by Đejmi Hadrović. Although we don’t see her most of the time, this work is essentially one of the most frequent feminist art forms – a self-portrait. However, it is not a romantic portrait of an ingenious artist that would disclose the origins of her creative force. The author does not talk about when in her youth she first picked up a pencil, but instead about how she was defined by the world. The self-portrait is placed within a social and political context: we see her presentation in the form of a mirror, showing a critical reflection of viewership – the society – through defining personal circumstances. Simultaneously, the author plays with us by returning the gaze – she gives a misleading presentation of her job, discloses its precarious nature and hardships. However, only at the end are we to realise she is not talking about the job of a prostitute, but an artist, instead.
The question of the economic position of the female artist, tackled in Hadrović’s video, is upgraded and supplemented by Andreja Džakušič. In the Survival Tactics (2011), we hear the experiences of Slovenian and international artists about the ways of survival in connection to artistic practise, recognized by everyone as a precarious form of work. In the existing art system, their work is unappreciated, does not provide social security, is usually underpaid, all too often unpaid. Džakušič discusses the lowliness, indecency and humiliation in this line of work, when everyone involved in the process of preparing an exhibition can get paid – except for the artists. They remain down, at the bottom. In the video, we therefore cannot see any faces, only feet and shoes of the speakers, and in the background, the outlines of their flats and studios.
Most Slovenian artists exhibit in institutions funded by state or city. As Džakušič already points out, this fact unfortunately doesn’t vouch for a just approach towards their work, but besides the financial starvation, the production co-financed by the state can also meet other types of pressure. In her work Fruits of our Land (2013), Jasmina Cibic discloses the state’s interests in the financing of art projects. Through her reconstruction of a parliamentary debate from 1957 on which works would be most suitable and representative for the décor of the newly built parliament building, Cibic shows that numerous factors are at work in drawing decisions on large representative projects. In this instance, art is shown to be a polygon for the battle of interests regarding the construction of a national identity in line with the current ruling political option, simultaneously under the impact of such banal parameters as the limited time scope for the availability of decision-makers and keeping the politician’s conscience clear when they hurry their selection, acceptable to almost no one.
More contemporary trouble in the art world is discussed in the work by a younger generation artist Valerie Wolf Gang. Due to scarce working conditions, young artists often turn to artistic residencies, which are of course welcome, especially for those interested in travelling and working abroad. However, they do have their down sides. This lifestyle also has a considerable impact on our personal life and partnerships, which is what Valerie Wolf Gang addresses in her installation Sorry, I can’t make it today (2018).
Of course, the position of artists should also be investigated in the wider sense, through the critique of neoliberalism, which is a research topic of several female artists. Some works of this kind have been included in our selection, however, we will be returning to this topic later on. The installation Sorry, I can’t make it todaynamely also opens the issues of the private sphere and the woman’s body, both classic motives of feminist art. In her video Migraine (2007), Ana Grobler tackles the disease affecting three times as many women as it does men, asking if its frequency is rooted in biology or in society. The society and helthcare are setting the issue aside. Usually, migraines are dismissed as a nuisance to put up with, as something women should learn how to accept.
A woman’s body in connection to reproductive rights and motherhood is discussed in the videos Ekstaza (Ecstasy, 2005) by Nataša Skušek and Ad Utero Ab Ovo (2007) by Zvonka T Simčič. Whoever thinks that the regulation of reproductive rights and thereby women’s bodies in the Western world is a thing of the past is simply wrong. Even though the world population is growing rapidly and will soon surpass this planet’s capacities, the idea of decreasing birth rates is ungraspable to society. A woman is still expected to have a child, to want one. And a lot of them do. However, it is telling that our society does not wish to raise the birth rate by means of migrations. Moreover, it does not let single women conceive by artificial insemination. Zvonka T Simčič does not accept the society’s dictate. In the video, she depicts her own experience of artificial insemination, pregnancy and giving birth. She points out the hypocrisy of society (and religion) by depicting herself as the pregnant Mother Mary. But the regulation does not end there. Motherhood is publicly pictured entirely in positive terms. The negative experiences are rarely discussed. As breast-feeding is not encouraged in public spaces, we also rarely publicly discuss the pain that can be involved in it. Through a series of self-portraits during painful breast-feeding, Nataša Skušek closely films her face, thus introducing the theme of complexity of motherhood and depicting a reality she has recognized in her own experience.
A special kind of body regulation is depicted in the animation Rebellious Essence (2017). In it, the author Ana Čigon discloses the absurdity of the system of bureaucracy, denying the right to legal gender confirmation to persons that cannot or will not be defined by the binary gender division. The author transfers this problematic to the animal world in order to avoid another frustrating element in communication – language –, given that non-binary persons already face problems due to the gender bias of Slovenian language.
The limiting social frameworks of frustration, powerlessness and anger are felt by individuals of any gender. They are depicted well by Nika Oblak and Primož Novak in their installation The Scream (2015). The female artist, dressed in black in an empty dark space, performs the existential Munch’s The Scream to break the glass wall of a digital cage. Could this be the “hysterical” scream aiming to break the glass ceiling? On the opposite site of The Scream is the work For-nothing (2016) by Neža Knez. Both works contain a humorous gesture of the absurd, unproductive act, causing a fracture or a hole. The title For-nothing (when read aloud the Slovene title Za-nič could be understood as ‘for nothing’ and ‘worthless’ simultaneously) encompasses two meanings, essential to the creation and reception of art works, namely the issues of artistic intention and the quality of the work. Through the physical work of digging a hole, the author also establishes the connection to the economic value of the work, which is precarious in art, as shown already by Andreja Džakušič. Neža Knez dug a hole in the lawn, then filled it again. The act left physical traces in the space and triggered a reflection on the creation of an artwork. The work is composed of the video documentation of the action and the selection of statements written about the meaning of this action by random passers-by.
Zemira Alajbegović takes on the private sphere from entirely different inclinations. The painful documentary Med štirimi stenami (Within Four Walls, 1999) she directed together with Neven Korda features statements by brave women who temporarily sought refuge from their violent partners in safe houses, and portrays the flaws of Slovenian judicial system and welfare that fail to provide true protection to the abused. At this point we are returning to the visibility and disclosure of taboo themes on which the female video artists shed light. Thus, violence, rape, trade in girls and women, homo- and lesbophobia, paedophilia and the escape route from violence are also discussed by the portrayed women in an international project by Aprilija Lužar Ženski Taxi – Govoreči portreti (Women’s Taxi – Talking Portraits, 2002–2006). In her taxi, the author managed to create a safe space to face the trauma of individual women, for whom this was the first time to publicly speak out.
The private sphere is also the focus of a documentary video by Pila Rusjan Elisa, 5 (2010), filming the 5thbirthday celebration of Elisa, living in a squatted building in São Paulo. However, her party is interrupted by a forceful eviction and consequently, the loss of her home. The video Reposition (2015) by Nataša Prosenc Stearns addresses the trouble of adolescents, regardless of gender. With her video the author returns their dignity to five members of a Californian youth programme for adolescents on the margins of society and is simultaneously paying tribute to mutual trust among them. In several attempts, the members of the group reposition and intertwine their own bodies, observing whether they feel good in the new pose/role. The video metaphorically depicts their attempts to find a new, better position in society.
In their videos, Pila Rusjan and Nataša Prosenc Stearns do not explicitly present the cause of their protagonists’ poverty, however, it is clear that the given situation is also the result of rampant capitalism which is not at all concerned by social inequality. An indirect critique of capitalism is also present in some of the aforementioned works. In her work Sanela Jahić applies a more direct critique of capitalism. In a two-channel video and kinetic object Tempo Tempo (2014), she wonders about the effects of the ever wider and faster automatization of the production process. The reason for introducing machines to the production industry is, of course, not the unburdening of the workers. The essential objective is to accelerate effectiveness and thereby increase the profits. Since we know that in capitalism, every moment is an element of profit, the machine does not adapt to the speed and movement of the worker, but vice versa. The body becomes more and more caught in the tempo of the production process. Thus, we are again returning to the regulation of bodies, this time in line with the dictate of capital. However, the results of capitalistic pushing towards profits are not only felt by the industrial workers, but also the employees in the service sector. This is abstracted by Marija Mojca Pungerčar in her work Career Fitness (1998), where she is dressed in a business suit only to demonstrate exercises to “stay in career shape”, a topic which can also be transposed into the field of artistic endeavours. Bureaucratization of the job, competitiveness, fake cheerfulness and communication skills are supposedly essential for career progress, however, in her video, the artist drives them to the absurd, disclosing mantras on personal accountability for one’s own success as a farce.
Both Jahić and Pungerčar take on certain negative effects of the capitalist system. People were most directly affected by its brutality at the time of austerity measures and the decline of the welfare state due to restricted public consumption after the crisis of 2008. Its results are still present in Europe. Criticism of American neoliberal ideas that had caused the crisis, the outrageously free market, minimal state interference, unleashed privatization and hasty increase of loans that got hundreds of thousands of Americans into a state of enormous debt, practically impossible to pay off, is commented by Ana Pečar with her co-author Oliver Ressler in the work In the Red (2014). The documentary has a special value also because it, in contrast to most of the other works, does not simply expose a certain problem, immanent to neoliberalism, but also introduces one of the solutions collectively designed by a group of protesters and implemented within the framework of the Occupy movement. The group responded to the repression of the financial markets against the indebted population of the USA through a refined system of reselling debts with solidarity and a witty action that saved a number of people from debt. The solution that the young rebels offer is simple: “Rise up or die.”
In this text, we’ve often mentioned the documentary, which seems more of a film form. The issue of difference between film and video is an old one, and divisions between them were never clearly defined. Since technology became more affordable and digital media dominates, it is even harder to discuss the differences. As the exhibition Cheers to Women! shows, art video is heterogeneous and can therefore be presented in diverse forms. It appears in single- and multi-channel forms, as a multimedia installation, as video performances or as performance documentation. Videos are often accompanied by texts and other objects. Sound could be emphasized or absent. Some works can be presented even on the big screen of a cinema hall. At the exhibition, our selection attempts to stress the formal aspect of exhibiting video art. Exploring new forms is also important because by resisting against the routine forms of film and video narrative, artworks can convey their critique of capitalism through form. This aspect of video art is questioned by internationally acclaimed video artists Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid in the work Obsession (2008). In it, the authors experiment with form and select several theoretical views to reflect on the creation of a radical knowledge, antagonising the new as well as the old colonial context of capitalism.
And Here We Are (2016), the work by Metka Zupanič could also be placed in the context of videos that consider the negative effects of capitalism and larger social aftermath on people’s lives. In her video installation, the author establishes a situation of hypnosis, symbolising the indifference of people to the world arms race, which seemed to have stopped for a brief historic moment after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The greed of the military industry is the dominant reason for the aggressive spread of neoliberalism and raising new and new wars and armed conflicts, taking place far away from the western world, coming to us only as media images. The USA have the largest war budget, followed by China. Slovenia and the rest of the European states, members of the NATO, are by no means neutral in this game. Military investments are increasing, we respond to weapons with more weapons. The once important institutions for ensuring world peace, such as the UN, are rapidly losing their power and credibility, while fear and tension grow in people. The world has been under a threat of nuclear war for decades now. It could be caused by a narcissist leader or perhaps an error in the storing of nuclear weapons. After Slovenia declined its signature of the ban on nuclear weapons by the UN and after the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was terminated in August, it seems like humanity has slept through this news. Hypnotized by a mantra of urgent safety precautions, we are standing still at this critical point in history.
We are closing our reflection with the honeybees, depicted by Polonca Lovšin in her video animation Back to the City (2011). In addition to the militarization of society and the potential nuclear disaster, our survival is also threatened by the climate crisis. One of the reflections of our irresponsible treatment of nature is the problem of massive bee killings due to pesticides, which can have a devastating effect on plants, animals and people. Lovšin presents the possible extinction of bees with a cheerful stop-motion animation, however, the consequences she introduces are nevertheless creepy. Similar to the video by Ana Pečar and Oliver Ressler, this work also provides an answer – care for the bees, seeking space for them. If we have transformed the environment through intensive farming to the degree that the bees can no longer live in it, we are obliged to find a space for them to survive, otherwise their extinction will also be our own.
Moreover, we are closing with the honeybees because they can provide a good example for us, as well. They namely work and survive exclusively as a community. Saving a single bee is impossible. The entire hive must survive, or they all die out. The solution for the future of humankind is probably the same. We have to think and act in the direction of collective survival or else face extinction. To conclude, we are returning to the critical thought from the videos Shadowless A and B. The solution does not lie in asking further blind and passive questions: “What is going on?” while keeping our eyes blindfolded in spite of the binoculars in our hands. Instead, the solution lies in the decision for action. Or, as the thought of resistance concludes in the video In the Red: “Rise up or die.” So, let’s throw off the blindfolds and look the truth in the eyes together.
And cheers to women!
Ana Čigon & Vesna Bukovec