02 September 2019 > 20 September 2019 Kindly invited to the opening of the retrospective exhibition "The Remains"by Damijan Kracina, on Monday, 2nd September, at 8pm, at the Alkatraz Gallery. Kindly invited also to the guided tour with the artist (in Slovene) on Saturday, 7th September, at 6 pm.
Alkatraz Gallery and The Last Contemporary Art Museum present:
Retrospective exhibition The Remains by Damijan Kracina.
For the 26th anniversary of Autonomous Cultural Centre Metelkova City (ACC Metelkova mesto), Arts and Culture Association Mreža (meaning ‘network) (KUD Mreža) connected with The Last Contemporary Art Museum, a worldly renowned institution, which is located in the settlement Logje, at the extreme west of Slovenia, in a building of venerable age. The title of the museum stresses the fact that, nowadays, contemporary art has reached its edge. The museum stands in the middle of intact nature. With its activities, it questions the methodology, approaches and creations of contemporary art, which is a par excellence link with the versatile artist Damijan Kracina, who it exclusively represents. The museum also hosts the artist’s permanent and permanently changing exhibition. Damijan Kracina is an academic painter and multimedia artist. Since 2008 and until recently, he was using his artistic studio at Metelkova. In 2018, he applied for and won a studio place in Švicarija (meaning ‘Swiss/sweat) in Park Tivoli, Ljubljana. Despite this, Damijan Kracina is still very much present in Metelkova City, both with current projects he is executing or helping to conceptualise and with numerous placements in a public space, which leave a mark on Metelkova City.
In Alktraz Gallery, we regularly host retrospective exhibitions of Metelkova’s artists. For the 26th anniversary, we chose the exhibition of Damijan Kracina in order to mark the turning point in time, characterised by the leaving of this relevant artist from the working space. According to the agreement with The Last Contemporary Art Museum, we decided to follow a successful model of their permanent exhibition, and conceptualise our exhibition as a cabinet of curiosities. In fact, this principle is typical of the artist, who ‘constructs the cabinets of wonder anew again and again by including curiosities he runs into on his journey into his own mental landscape’, as Klavdija Figelj poetically contends at the opening of his exhibition, entitled Discomforting Meaning, on 8 June 2019 in
Ciril Kosmač’s library in Tolmin, Slovenia.
The exhibition is an overview of Damijan Kracina’s work spanning over a decade, of his ‘wholesome imaginatively created world’, drawing inspiration from the animal environment and the author’s relationship with human civilization. Evolutionary development inspired the artist to build his own ecosystems, which are both original constructs of an unknown world and aesthetically perfective works of art. At his exhibition Passage (2016), in Pivka House of Culture, the curator Mojca Grmek wrote that he drew his inspiration ‘to create new living forms and futuristic beings’ from ‘the impression left by the landscape, connected with a brutal historical moment of human progress’ in Trinity, where the atomic bomb was tried out for the first time on 16 June 1945. Since 2002, as an artist in residence at Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the USA, Damijan Kracina has been creating original animal fiction, writing imaginary scripts of the evolution of living species and inventing hybrid species or even new ecosystems. Despite tense content and attractive visual image of his artistic address, ‘we can have a premonition of a political warning about unpredictable implications of established procedures of genetic modifications of organisms’. The author’s sculptures, drawings, installations, photographs and videos make us realise that we are a part of a rich, multidimensional world, which we can co-create at various levels, while it is simultaneously co-creating us.
The exhibition features the underlying theme of the author’s artistic work and a wider context in which his art was created, by presenting various activities, interests and inter-artistic as well as wider collaborations of this prolific artist.
Once Upon a Time at Metelkova
Damijan Kracina was stationed at Metelkova for 10 years and is among the artists who contributed a lot to the formulation of Metelkova’s image. He became a part of Metelkova’s activity at its very beginnings, already 26 years ago, when he was still a student, and was present there at all times, performing various roles. He describes his experiences in a video interview, which is a part of an extensive collaboration between Arts and Culture Association Mreža and Centre for Contemporary Arts Ljubljana (SCCA Ljubljana), taking place between 2011 and 2013, and was realised with the projects A Mid-Stop and The Closing Stop. In the interview, Kracina reveals that he missed the occupation of Metelkova, which is the reason why he could not acquire a working space there. But already in 1994, he had a studio in the building Šola (meaning ‘school’), which, unfortunately, burned down soon after that. He has good memories of that time: ‘A year after [the occupation], I had a studio in Šola, but I didn’t work much. All I did was welding locks. It was chaotic.’ Despite the disarray of the new autonomous space, he collaborated with the artists present there, predominantly with his classmates from The Academy of Fine Art and Design (ALUO), who had access to other working spaces, he could use. Yet, he was present at Metelkova with his artworks, which were decorating the image of the public space and clubs, even before he had his own studio there. On Autonomous Cultural Centre Metelkova City’s importance for himself and Slovene space, he says: ‘The occupation of Metelkova was an event different from everything we had experienced before.’
The lack of personal working space inside Metelkova City at the time of its beginnings presented no obstacle for Damijan Kracina. Metelkova was – and still is – marked by his artistic interventions. His famous Carnivores (2010), exhibited differently and thoughtfully each time, according to a new context, were in 2011, in collaboration with Edvin Dobrilovič, mounted as a part of the original arrangement of the southern façade of the building Garaže (meaning ‘garages’). To complement the installation, he planted a grapevine from his hometown area Posočje next to it, which has been successfully ramifying and exuberating for years, and gradually, more and more, peeking in the studios of other artists in the aforementioned building. The Vine – living sculpture – could be symbolically perceived as the heritage of the artist at Metelkova: seemingly static and completed, but incessantly spreading and toughening. Visitors of Metelkova who do not expect to find hybrid biological species in an urban environment are surprised also by Kingguru (2002-2005), a fusion of human and kangaroo, whose body is dangerously squatting on the roof of the building Garaže. Visible from far away, it makes the spectators uneasy since 2011, as a shapely tail, the function of which is to keep balance and serve as the third leg, decorates its human body.
Damijan Kracina left a mark in the space of the Autonomous Cultural Centre Metelkova City also with a project having a completely different focus. Soča’s Pearl (1997), done in collaboration with Katarina K. Toman, refers to Simon Gregorčič’s poem To the River Soča (the ad slogan ‘bright daughter of the mountains’ on the bottle of water).
A widely recognized artwork is a hyper-realistic acrylic painting, which mimics the form of jumbo posters in terms of both the design and size. An ingenious piece of work, which is mocking the oversaturation with ads, emerged at the time when similar ads have not yet been so publicly present. The artists were thus ahead of time, as they correctly anticipated the course of the events years before the flood of similar posters, and were thinking critically about the strategy of ad machinery of capitalist society, intended to stupefy people. By means of a fictional company with a brand Soča’s Pearl, the artists’ work stresses the problem of the exploitation of the river Soča for commercial purposes. The acrylic painting – the imitation of an ad – travelled from the library of Ciril Kosmač in Tolmin to the Triennale of Contemporary Slovene Art Vulgata U3 in Modern Gallery (2000) and,
finally, to Metelkova City (2001-2015), where the outdoor weather slowly disintegrated it. Contrary to the Vine, which is ramifying, the artefact Soča’s Pearl disintegrated, whilst both works or their processes of development include the moment of evolution – the main interest of Damijan Kracina. An integral part of the artwork was also a performance – the tasting of the water of the river Soča – by means of which the artists mocked the marketing of products and especially addressed the problematics of artificially created feeling of exclusivity of items on sale.
Moreover, Damijan Kracina’s artistic presence reaches also Metelkova’s clubs: his work in the form of an inscription, Decoration (1997), which was premiered on Grad Podsreda, at the exhibition Animalis, has been located in the Club Gromka for years. It is composed of letters, designed by means of the author’s notorious writing Proteus font (2003), which is composed of images of proteus anguinus, Slovenian pride, with which he celebrates the biotic diversity of home environment.
Damijan Kracina also initiated and co-founded the Night Window Display Gallery Pešak (Nočna izložba Pešak), an innovative space in the building Pešaki, where the exhibitions are accessible to passers-by visually, but not physically. Exhibitions are situated on the windows of the building. The visitors of exhibitions can see artworks closely through binoculars, located on the Tower, on the northern square of Metelkova City. Over the years, the artist creatively worked on several projects in collaboration with SCCA – Centre for Contemporary Arts, Metelkova 6. In addition, Alkatraz Gallery presented him at exhibitions and fairs abroad (Volta4, Basel, 2008; Viennafair, Wien, 2009 and 2010, Preview Berlin – The Emerging Art Fair, Berlin, 2010 and 2011). His works drew a lot of interest and, at the same time, caused unease in the visitors, who wanted to wash their hands with a masterfully made soap in the form of an unknown arthropod with sharp legs (Soap, 2009), or, similarly as in the radio play Marn Nemarn (2015), use the urinal in the shape of a bull’s head (Urinal or Elephant with The Broken Arm, 2008), who wondered about the riddle of a skeleton of undefined mastodon (Sanitarium, 2010) and let themselves be enticed into the world of imagination of the author, a skilful storyteller and – according to Dejan Mehmedovič – a director. 
Because of this, the question occurs, whether Damijan Kracina is Metelkova’s artist. Or, perhaps, whether he used to be one? He enigmatically explains: ‘I don’t know, I don’t worry about it at all. What does it mean for my production? I don’t know. I’m not concerned with politics, activism or sociology, as someone else might be. My standpoints might not be so easily connected with an autonomous zone. My artwork and production are independent of it. I’m both inside this space and inside my head. I’m influenced by everything, from amoeba to Metelkova.’ The last sentence describes his creative path to a T. It is winding through his own constructed biosphere, composed of ecosystems, full of possible evolutionary animal species of this or parallel universe. Those are entwined with imaginary worlds and engaged collective cooperation, characterised by deliberation and social criticism, which is focused on biological diversity of life and life as a part of a huge and interdependent system. The knowledge that humanity is a part of this broad community, on which it completely depends, is the fact we are often not aware of.
Artistic interests of Damijan Kracina are no secret. His artefacts are a part of an original vision, which holds its own place at Slovene art scene. The public, though, is less familiar with Damijan Kracina – the organiser of collective activity and instigator of initiatives for expanding the limits of contemporary art. Metelkova City is conducting the project Night Window Display Gallery Pešak, on which Kracina has until recently collaborated with a curator Anabel Černohorski, producer Nataša Serec and numerous artists and others from the top floor of the building Pešaki. He is a co-founder of the gallery and he used to be a member of its programming committee (2013-2018). His own words point out to his modus operandi: ‘I like to initiate socialising. On our corridor [Terrah, Mitja Ficko, Vladimir Leben, Boško Rakočević and Damijan Kracina], an idea emerged to make a gallery that would be open outwards. A gallery through windows. I think there’s positivist mentality at Metelkova. When you have an idea, you need to realise it. I think this is the responsibility of people who are here. They have to come up with something and realise it themselves.’ Indeed, up to this day, Metelkova still successfully functions in this way.
The author is also a co-founder of a widely recognised art collective, Domestic Research Society (DDR), which has been active since 2004. It has performed and created a number of attention-grabbing actions and artefacts, respectively, among which is Unleashed Tongue (Razvezan jezik), an open online platform and dictionary of live Slovene, which came to life also in print. Interested public shall never forget their humorously serious project Word for Word, Without Words (Dobesedno brez besed), exhibited at Ljubljana City Gallery in 2010, in the context of which the authors did not mind even butter on their heads (from Butter on the Head, 2010).
Collective work is doubtlessly an essential part of the author’s activity. He also co-founded the famous collective Provokart (whose members were also Katarina Toman, Maja Licul, Janja Žvegelj, some students of the Academy of Fine Art and Design (ALOU) and art lovers), which was, in the years from 1992 to 1997, jarring the ears of rigid passers-by and immensely entertaining the rest. We can only imagine how brave the realisation of the idea about a satiric poster AnusA- Investment Agency (AnusA-Družba za vlaganje) (1994) was. It was parodying the vocabulary of young Slovene capitalism at the time of its rise, when, under pretence of modernisation and westernisation, it was forming and strengthening the neoliberal dogma. Whereas, nowadays, it is clear that it was all just a fantasy, which did not bring any progress, the members of the collective were aware of that already in the 90s.
Damijan Kracina was also an artistic leader of ARTilerija Kluže during its all three operating seasons (1997-2000). It is typical of this artist to keep searching for new contexts and environments for projects of contemporary art through collective projects. The project was realised in a place, which does not have permanent residents and has a distinctly different (in this case, historical) context. The organisation of a permanent exhibition programme and other cultural events in the environment that does not have permanent residents is a sign of courage and trust into the power of contemporary art, and its ability to drown out the stream of the river Koritnica and echoes of the past of the Isonzo front. The connecting spirit and imaginative innovation of Kracina were demonstrated in a similar way in the project Coral Island (2006), which was designed in collaboration with the
organisation Art dans la Cité and Škuc Gallery. The project, in the framework of which sculptural, painting and photographic production emerged, also included pedagogic programme, addressed to the children of the Paediatric Hospital of the University Clinical Centre, Ljubljana. There, the artist was again, in his own way, unlocking the potentials of modern art, situated in a brand new environment. The dialogue between the artistic team, brought together by Damijan Kracina, and the patients created tangible effects for everyone involved. Barbara Rupel holds a similar opinion about Kracina’s artistic participation: ‘His casualness is reflected in both his choice of media and means of expression.’  To this we could add the easiness of opening new spaces of art and of persistence in fruitful collaborations with other artists.
What most stands out is Damijan Kracina’s long-term collaboration with Vladimir Leben. Together, they conceptualised a renowned project Galapagos (2004), which was exhibited in Slovenia and abroad during the years 2004 and 2009. The exhibition travelled through various important spaces of contemporary art, from Alkatraz Gallery to Ljubljana’s Castle – Pentagonal Tower, Modern Gallery Ljubljana, Likovni salon Gallery in Celje, MMC Kibla in Maribor, Gallery Loža in Koper (a part of Coastal Galleries), Gallery A+A in Venice, Italy, Stanica LAB in Žilina, Slovakia, Centre Euralille in Lill, France, Künstlerhaus Graz in Graz, Austria, and 12th Art Biennial in Pančevo, Serbia.
The overall image of rich fictional ecosystem, which the artists are revealing, exploring and cataloguing in an old, colonial style, is not built only from primary painting and sculptural material, but also richly equipped with curators’ texts (from Tevž Logar, Jani Pirnat and Jadranka Plut, among others), Jani Pirnat’s poetry, Tea Hvala’s short story Explication of the Great Muddigger (Izvajanje velikega blatarja), music (Vladimir Leben and Damijan Kracina in the role of the members of the band Ape Boys), animations, experimental videos etc. The majestic mosaic of multimedia puzzle entertains with its mixture of absurd and humour, meanwhile making a strong impression on the viewer by exploring current ways of human’ cohabitation with nature. Without exaggeration, we can claim that the project is a part of the most recent history of Slovene contemporary art. The collaboration with Vladimir Leben continued in the form of a tour, entitled Animal tour, which was an upgrade of the project Galapagos, later realised also in the framework of other projects, such as a group exhibition Paintings and Sculptures in Equrna Gallery (2012) and the project entitled 2πr (2012), initially conceptualised for the Lighting Guerrilla Festival, where the artists continued creating ingenious habitat, hidden deeply in the sea. This time, they placed it into a panoramic painting, on the inside of a wooden installation. Dark ambient light and Sašo Kalan’s music leave the viewer with the impression that they are far from civilisation, where they can explore the natural world, usually hidden to the eyes. The cast Kracina, Leben, Kalan and Pirnat returned to work again in 2016. They designed Genetic Altarpiece (first exhibited in Krško Gallery in 2016), a humorous reference to the masterpiece of European art, the spectacular Ghent Altarpiece (1432) of van Eyck brothers. According to Jani Pirnat: ‘The idea of Genetic Altarpiece was waiting for a favourable opportunity for a comprehensive artwork. It is appropriating the church medium for a dogmatic shift. It offers more contemporary scientific theories of life in the universe and artists’ view of the future of life.’  In their own peculiar style, the artists Damijan Kracina and Vladimir Leben originate in deep existential content – here, a mystical overflowing Ghent Altar they saw years ago in person, and filled it up with playful content in their own work, which has a deeper meaning. Altar a la Leben & Kracina is a vision of life at the end of the world; it is full of futuristic beings, which survived apocalypse (unlike humans), and various big and small objects (such as a Kinder egg). The grotesque portrait of the world makes viewers both laugh and afraid, as it is not that much different from the already familiar absurdities of the present.
Damijan Kracina collaborated with Vladimir Leben also in the context of the exhibition Sleep of Reason (2014) (Night Window Display Gallery Pešaki). He returned to the gallery two years later when he joined forces with the artist from the neighbouring studio at Metelkova, Misanthrope. Together, they prepared the exhibition HyberNation (2016). In addition to the connecting work and the aforementioned, Damijan Kracina professionally transmits knowledge to younger generations. He works full-time as a professor at the Secondary School for Design and Photography and occasionally works as a mentor at Lighting Guerrilla Festival.
With his works, Damijan Kracina is also an inspiration to others. There are at least three known cases of his influence on others’ art. Jani Pirnat began writing his radio play Marn Nemarn to critically justify the work Urinal; Tea Hvala wrote Explication of the Great Muddigger before she met Kracina and then started to collaborate with him; and Sebastjan Vodušek made an artistic video in the context of his study obligations. The video is a recording, which is, in terms of music and shots, similar to popular-scientific documentaries about nature. In a poetic way, with a good measure of calm aesthetics, it outlines his exhibition Menenitu/ I’m not There (Museum and Galleries of Ljubljana, 2012). 
The collective creativity, spanning over many years, which the author has been both encouraging and performing, deserves more recognition and attention than it had received until today, as in this manner, and more than we are generally used to, the artist is creating an original dynamics and broadening the settled borders of discourse about contemporary art.
Damijan Kracina’s larpurlartism
Damijan Kracina’s creativity comprises of numerous collaborations and contains evident socially-critical elements. Regardless of the latter, the artist, in the aforementioned interview, contends: ‘I enjoy when I’m alone and I work. I’m not interested in making a political statement out of this.’
In her opening speech at Kracina’s exhibition in Tolmin, Klavdija Figelj said that ‘when the artist is creating, he is indulging in the stream of consciousness and doesn’t want to force a previously imagined picture. The hand, which is contact with internal images, thus draws internal mental landscape.’ A visitor of one of his numerous exhibitions, described this landscape as ‘beautifully painted horror.’ The artist himself also wonders why his paintings manifest an organic intertwinement of gruesome nightmares and spooky feelings. What he finds most important in his painting is that his works are not defined beforehand, and that they are changeable and changing, and allow erasing and copying. This is visible in his video Animation – Computer Drawings (2008), which is a demonstration of changing and developing of undefined organisms. In painting, he achieves this with the medium of charcoal or airbrush technique, in combination with the mentioned pallet of colours, black and white mostly. He is focusing on the form, and sees drawings and paintings as two-dimensional sculptures, which can become the basis for a sculpture. This is the case with Mosquito (2004), a three-metre-long sculpture, which was made after paintings created during his artistic residency in Mexico. This year, two new sculptures were created in this way.
It is evident that in addition to numerous collaborations, what the artist also finds important is independent creative work for the sake of creative work itself. The exhibition The Waiting Room in Gallery Domžale, where some of his already established sculptures
have been exhibited, is, at first glance, completely different from his collective projects, such as the Swan (2013), pierced with an arrow, which, when X-rayed, shows its multiple layers. We could also see a monumental object In the Year of a Dragonfly (2013), which one could stick to one’s shoulder, and black and white pictures of gruesome humanoid and other unknown beings and unusual dystopian elements, the rendition of which reminds us of his earlier works, whereas content-wise, they move away into a different direction of evolution, more serious and spooky.
Even though the artist’s gesture might be natural, unrestrained and flowing, it is obvious that he is overwhelmed by the disagreement with the current social situation, whereas his hand is outlining environmental problematics and boiling with concern about the development, adjustment and future of species.
Damijan Kracina, who we watch on selfies with renowned artworks (the project Selfportraitswithveryimportantartworks, 2001), with messy hair and teen face from the time when no one knew what the word ‘selfie’ means, meanwhile became an elegant man in black suit with venerable opus, established style, publicly known themes and 25 years of experience in exhibiting. Finally, but importantly, since mid-2018, his statues adorn the façade of the protocol entrance of National Gallery. 
In the time when we still thought that we could save the world from ecological disaster only by means of recycling, the artist was already ascribing us the role of observers of dying animal species (the project Kracina TV, 1995; research and video Thylacinus Cynocephalus, 1996–1997; video Interview with Endangered Species, 1999/2006). At the same time, with the help of utopian notions and scripts, the artist kept searching for impossible solutions and their transformative role. In the time of the supremacy of neoliberalism, with an entrenched belief that the most we can achieve is a modification of the prevalent way of thinking about the world, which puts capital and economic indicators before nature, we have somewhat forgot about those solutions.
Damijan Kracina dared to think about large topics and explore them by means of playful humour and uncompromising imagination at the time when the majority of people did not have the courage to look far into the future. In addition to his original poetics and distinct thematic thread, his contribution goes even further, as his actions are in contrast to the stereotype of the artist – a genius, whose ego allows him to work only alone, convinced about his magnificent role. The artist’s CV is a proof of the opposite: art can also be a team ‘sport’, where joining forces can bring forth quality production and create surplus in the form of human connection, solidarity and formation of inspirational collective practices. This is in contrast with the prevalent trends, trying to convince us that we should be fighting to achieve our goals alone.
The imaginary world of Damijan Kracina, full of intense colours and unusual shapes, radiates warmth and hope for a better tomorrow. This world is not present only in such projects as Galapagos, but in various ways, in all his projects. Thus, we can argue that Kracina’s art has a humanistic message and is, despite the first impression, deeply connected to our reality.
Ana Grobler & Sebastian Krawczyk