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Vesna Bukovec: Exploanation

22 April 2016 > 13 May 2016 Kindly invited to the opening to the exhibition "Exploanation" by Vesna Bukovec on Friday, 22nd April 2016, at the Alkatraz Gallery, ACC Metelkova mesto.

The artist received the impulse for the exhibition while observing responses to the migration crisis which has, in the media and the Internet space triggered a surge of negative emotions, often pointed toward the victims of the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of the recent years. A spectrum of negative reactions, articulated by the aid of hate speech has settled as a regular companion of press reports, chats in cafés and on social networks. There is an interesting fact about it – the mentioned discourse has emerged in the circles of the self-proclaimed patriots. While following the paradox (as love for the homeland was one of the crucial qualities to catalyze the uprising against the occupancy during the Second World War, as stressed by the author) the artist started to ask herself how it is possible that love for the nation can – in such a short time – turn into acts that bear witness  of hatred toward others exactly in the name of patriotism? Is a demonized image of a stranger a necessary condition to establish a national community?

Vlasta Jalušič, in her article Racism, Ideology and Hatred[1] claims that hate speech is only one of the elements of the wide spectrum of responses to the other that are based on racism. The roots of racism reach deep into the human construction. Differentiations and evaluation assessments established upon one’s race may not be politically correct any more, nevertheless their transformed image, based on ethnicity or culture is still well alive. As Vlasta Jalušič states: The access of the culture into the orbit of racism does not only show that racism is something  outstandingly persistent and that it needs no solid biological foundation of a race for its existence, but also that it may not be a prejudice or a false belief about others that could be done away with by campaigns, persuasion and adoption of anti-racist values. Racism obviously has deeper roots, as the replacement of  biology with culture, even cultural differences as the bases for racism begin to actuate as if they were eternal and unbridgeable.[2]

Hate speech is one of the forms of the new racist ideology, entering into the mainstream of public debate with the aid of soft practices such as discourses, referring to economy, security, or the so-called Western values, symbolizing progress and civilization. Referring to the principle of European modernity versus to undeveloped, un-European cultures of the newcomers or their maladjustment to the standards, valid in our native environment is one of the characteristic attempts to implement xenophobia as something logical. The image of the other as a threatening stranger represents the outset of the immigration policies of the European Union as well as the national states’ institutions, which are, as put by Vlasta Jalušič, drawn together upon the measures of cultural stratification and colonial differences.[3]. Institutionally supported discourse, based on the reproduction of neo-colonial ideology, is becoming accepted as taken for granted and actually the only possible, so the statements of the leading politicians, who resort to European agreements and bureaucratic regime which allows no dialogue, come as no surprise.

Accepting this kind of a mental frame justifies the absence of ethical responsibility at the level of the states. Why are we then surprised by the responses of certain individuals who do not favor newcomers, if the form of the debate established by the main actors such as international institutions, states and media, does not include any questions of ethical or political responsibility? The only natural consequence here can then be are indifference and resistance.

Vesna Bukovec has chosen resistance. Even the title of the exhibition, Exploanation, composed of the words exploitation and nation, provokes the thought that through the aid of the nation, intolerance and hatred towards Others are fomented. One of the two photo-wallpaper murals, opposing each other in the Alkatraz Gallery entitled The Patriots represents the fear that has already turned into hatred. The image shocks with its textual insertion in the piece, the sign “Proud to Hate!”, held by a few people from the group of protestors, alongside the EU and Slovene flags. Hung at the highest spot in the Alkatraz Gallery there is, as an warning, a drawing The Duty of All Patriots, which complements the drawing The Patriots. It’s actually a frozen, traced still frame from the news of Nova24tv television station of the 20th January 2016, from the demonstrations against the insufficiently restrictive migrant policy of the government, organized by the SLS (Slovenian People’s Party). In the still frame we find a crowd of people holding the banner which says: “The Duty of All Patriots Is to Safeguard Their Country From Its Government”. The quotation comes from the medium which is ‘in service to the truth’. The frozen still frame indicates an example of the thinking and acting of the so-called patriots, supporters of the right-wing political option, who are not critical towards authority as such, but only against the others. This means that they protest against a government only when the government is not theirs. In this concrete case, they protest even against a government who despite their cutting-blade wire fence, the army with police allowances and robocops at the border is, in their opinion, still not sufficiently restrictive toward the refugees.

The answer to the image of The Patriots is in the artwork Safety for Whom? on the opposite wall, where we see robocops, the police force fully equipped with anti-riot equipment, intended for interventions against violence at sports matches and protests. They have encircled female and male refugees as if they wanted to ”curb” them and prevent them from “fleeing” into all directions in their desire for a life without violence. Exactly security, the key notion for them, has been nowadays often abused for triggering fear in domestic population. Media-recognizable people as well as the press in their desire for sensationalistic articles have relocated the concern for the safety of the refugees over to the residents with a scare that the citizens are endangered by the refugees and that we are the ones that should be protected from the migrants who could in reality be terrorists.

There are several more terms that have been abused, as the artist shows in her video of the same title. On the background of the colours of the Slovene national flag, she lines up the notions such as the nation, homeland, defense, democracy… When the audio background of the Slovene national anthem fades out, in the silence that follows, the motif for the abuse is clearly written out - money. The money that brings power and influence. The preposterousness of the situation is very well depicted in the drawing Tweeting, with a clear reference to the Twitter and other social networks. People, sitting on toilets, holding their laptops and mobile phones in their laps, and posting whatever occurs to them in that very moment on the  Internet. In their comfortable position they are not aware of the fact that electronic equipment and toilets are a privilege not to be taken for granted. As they are excreting like this, in peace, one on the top of another, they are leaving behind some untruth, accompanied by insults; a gesture we are already used to from the leading politicians in the recent period. The work is therefore an obvious and direct metaphor for the hostilities on social networks. The On Whose Account? (2015) series, the only one that has not been created exclusively for this exhibition, deals with a wider scope of the consequences of un-reflected (consumeristic) functioning and the impact the Western society has on other societies. Asian textile workers, African children, Chinese underpaid labour, tortured animals, … grant us, Western consumers, comfort – without questioning the modes of production and the working conditions of the workers. We can read all this as a result of postcolonial and cultural racisms as well as the domination of the human species, says Vesna Bukovec.

Despite the topic, the artist is not frugal with a refined sense of humour, which transcends into quite a particular parody. In the Šenčur 1 and Šenčur 2 drawings, tracing the happenings at the demonstration against a refugee settlement centre in Šenčur, we see a mobilized crowd, who, with their militiamen and nationalistic iconography on the one side, and the banners calling for tolerance toward the refugees on the other side, show two sides of the social reality. On the banners with the space allocated for hate speech we now read statements of understanding and acceptance for the refugees. The insertion of the transformation and neutralization into an act of violence subsequently transforms the protestors into fighters for human rights.

Artistic creation of Vesna Bukovec is, at the Alkatraz Gallery, materialized mostly through the medium of drawing. Drawing as an independent medium has – on our territory - become established relatively late, beforehand playing a subordinate role as part of the preparatory process for the execution of an artwork. Its socio-critical role in relation to the autonomy of the medium has deepened with historical Avant-guards. Drawing represents a direct means of artistic expression, while it is – due to the bearer on which it appears – one of the most subtle mediums. Drawing is the basic medium; however its presence may exceed the realm of fine arts, so we find it in various spheres of our daily life. Drawings are conceived in conceptual language, where the form is stripped of authorship elements and based on formation of recognizable shapes, symbols and meanings. Its gesture reflects the energy, vitality, discipline, and the power of the stroke. The means of drawing is the line, which is capable, without any illusionistic modes like shading, of forming images of meaning. At any level, drawing can be a conducting medium, directly establishing visual communication. The basic element of the drawing of Vesna Bukovec is a line, with which she represents and illustrates very complex concepts of social reality.  Visually her drawings come across as fine-arts stories, comics, whose main matrix is the system of social relationships, frustrations and relations toward an individual and otherness.

Ana Grobler, Sebastian Krawczyk, Jadranka Plut


[1]              Journal  for the Critique of Science, for Imagination and New Anthropology, XLIII (260), 2015: 28 - 43.
[2]              Idem, p. 31
[3]              Idem, p. 34

Vesna Bukovec (1977, Ljubljana, Slovenia) completed studies at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana (BFA and MFA in sculpture). She works as independent artist as well as cooperates within KOLEKTIVA artistic group (with Lada Cerar and Metka Zupanič). Her artistic work finds its expression in a variety of media (drawing, video, installation) and post-conceptual approaches (research, appropriation, participation, etc.), with irony being a frequently used artistic strategy. During the past decade she has participated in several solo and group exhibitions at home and abroad.

Translation from Slovene: Lili Anamarija No.
Photos from the opening & of the exhibition: Sunčan Stone.

Vesna Bukovec, Safety for Whom?, 2016 Vesna Bukovec, The Partiots, 2016 Vesna Bukovec, Šenčur 2, 2016 Vesna Bukovec, Sencur 1, 2016