Borut Krajnc: Pressure
Kindly invited to the opening of the exhibition "Pressure" by Borut Krajnc, on Thursday, 13th February, at 7 pm, at the Alkatraz Gallery.
Borut Krajnc's exhibition Pressure in Alkatraz Gallery is the last part of an integrated whole, only retrospectively connected into a triptych. In addition to Pressure, it is composed of two more photographic series.
The series Emptiness (2004-2008) marks rare moments of empty advertisement surfaces. The series Politics (2012-2014), on the other hand, is a photographic record of the populistically conceived pre-election campaign of our current President (who was trying to get voters by joining people at their workspaces) in the form of an eternal calendar.  The projects warn about the transformation of Slovene society in the past twenty years and speak about the unrestrained expansion of neoliberal values in the public discourse, shrinking of the public space, gradual move from the collective to the individual, increase of vulgar populism and decreased level of political debate in Slovenia.
Like his previous two series, the photographic installation Pressure thematises the working of the media. Similarly as Alfredo Jaar, who in his works speaks about the importance of (media) images and the danger of racist representations generated by the western world, Borut Krajnc focuses on the covers of leading Slovenian printed newspapers, but with a crucial difference. Unusual front pages, which started to emerge in 2016, include advertising messages, which take up all the space of the most exposed part of a newspaper – its front page. Famous and media popular persons or models on them present objects or services we 'must' have, and companies inform us about the technologies of the future we 'must' get to know. In congruence with this, they enforce normative ideas about relationships, gender roles and identities – through images of 'happy' nuclear families, socially adjusted women and men personifying power ‘beautified’ and adorned with jewellery and watches, respectfully. What we are dealing with are visually attractive ads, seducing with glamorous products, and, occasionally, ads that intentionally mislead the reader by designing their slogans like the titles of credible journalistic articles. With media’s blessing, corporations thus occupy the space intended for striking news, whereas media present messages intended to bring profit to private companies to us as daily news, which we expect on the cover.
The current consensus about new standards of advertising, which are blurring the boundaries between news and ads, did not arouse any public interest. The ads photographed by Borut Krajnc became a constituent part of newspapers' visual images, which the majority of people got accustomed to and accepted. It seems as if the public reacted to the new phenomenon with a tired shrug: ‘just another ad’. The author of the exhibition, however, entertains an entirely different opinion. As the visitors of the exhibition open the doors of the gallery, they are immediately attracted by a number of large format photographs on the opposite side of the exhibiting space. They represent a palette of newspapers’ front pages filled with advertising seduction strategies, attractive visual language, and skilful manoeuvring with (dis)information. Borut Krajnc – otherwise a renowned documentary photographer – is a collector of these new advertising approaches. The author is well aware of the fact how the ad-oversaturation is making us desensitized and indifferent to their meaning. By means of enlarging photographs, he creates a hyperbolic effect, to bring this topical issue closer to the viewer: ‘a complete privatisation of public communication’, in Dr. Sandra Bašić Hrvatin’s words in the text accompanying the exhibition. In this way, we simply cannot overlook the presented newspaper covers. The commercialisation of the medium that was supposed to defend critical thought is summed up into a few images – quotes standing in front of us like monoliths, so that we do not overlook them once again.
The opposite wall in a similar manner shows photographs of three biggest Slovene newspapers, which a business company hired on the same day for the purposes of promotion. We witness a peculiar scene: three biggest representatives of printed media de facto stay without a cover, while their readers remain without the selection of the most important daily news. Although one might say that the ad promotes a successful writer, this only pulls the wool over one's eyes, which serves the apparent reduction of the collateral damage of shrinking media space in the interest of private capital. Borut Krajnc marks the day of the publication of these newspapers as a black day for Slovene printed medium and warns about the tendency to commercialise print even further in the future.
The shrinking of the space of independent journalistic contents, intended for raising consciousness, informing the public, and for public good, is similarly pointed out by the 'study room'. What we can see there, among other things, is the cover of a newspaper with an advertising message from a foreign company, which was supposed to create 300 new work positions in the capital. On the other hand, there is only a marginal mentioning of 'softer' reductions in force in the same media house.
A photo wallpaper of a dark hall full of audience illuminated with red light seemingly looking at the exhibited photographs, wraps up the photographic installation. The work is a symbolic display of the public's inertia: monotonous bodies are giving the impression of an impersonal and uniformed crowd, passively consuming the contents chosen for them by decision-makers. With this gesture, the artist faces us with the facts and their consequences: we are that crowd of onlookers that is not able to form a protesting voice, but only to negligently observe the shrinking of the public space, intended for independent and critical thought. Borut Krajnc's works fulfil the role socially committed art was supposed to play: they warn and awaken. The visitors of the exhibition shall doubtlessly get an opportunity to see the media problematics in a brand new light.
Ana Grobler in Sebastian Krawczyk
The calendar is a part of the artistic project Made in China
(1995), Searching for Africa in Life
(1996), From Time to Time
She was carrying Mercator's bag.
What is the meaning of a newspaper cover? Why is an advertisement as a newspaper front page a contentious issue? The front page was supposed to present to readers daily news. That which is worth mentioning on a certain day. That which is important for the understanding of the world we live in. That which causes a public discussion. That which is important to know. A newspaper cover is an editorial selection of the most important news. Personal interests or the interests of those who are using the media space to advertise their products or services should not determine the importance of the news. The cover as an ad is a complete privatisation of public communication. Unless the journalists and editors think that news are exactly that: She was carrying Mercator's bag. That the news of the day is that one can be the cover story by buying it.
If newspaper space is for sale to anyone who has money (even if it is marked as an ad), then any part of the newspaper space can be sold without restraint, including the cover. Since media memory or the memory about what media do is as short as goldfish's, let us remember how the newspaper in the form in which we know it today came to be. Newspaper formats, the shape of the ads, journalistic genres, and the size of the paper were adapted to the demands of the mass industrial production – every reader bought exactly the same copy of a newspaper.
Newspapers were organized like factories, where a different specialist executed each step in the work process. Editors decided about contents, journalists wrote articles, designers set up pages, while printers printed and sellers sold the product or delivered it to a subscriber. The whole process was precisely coordinated, as the workers had to meet deadlines to hand in articles and prepare ads if they wanted to catch printers in the evening. Due to an increasing complexity of the work and size of newspaper factories, only the biggest publishers remained on the market. Media industry thus was not only politically and culturally influential but it also became profitable – it was creating money for its owners.
Initially, advertising money strengthened media companies and enabled them to widen their contents and their business growth. Yet, as journalists soon experienced, the new funds mostly did not support their work and finance quality contents. For advertisers, media was predominantly a distributional platform for mass communication, from where they addressed the mass market of consumers of their products and services. This model of financing based on advertising turned out to be, in the long term, the biggest problem of the press industry.
New forms of online communication or new forms of the acquisition and transmission of information did not cause media industry crisis. The crisis was caused by ‘an incestuous relationship’ (according to Serge Halimi) between the media and centres of power. The more the media distances itself from those whom they should serve (the public), and the closer the media gets to the ones who they should be controlling, the more is journalism becoming a business of selling attention.
The media became attention merchants
, as the Canadian lawyer Tim Wu calls them. Their major business goal became drawing attention with the purpose of selling and making profit, whereas the ultimate goal of that business was receiving attention. The readers believe they are buyers of the newspaper, while, in fact, they are only its product. Journalistic contents used to be the central part of a newspaper and ads were situated around them; however, the opposite is true for attention merchants, for whom advertising is the central part of a newspaper and contents are to be situated around ads. Newspapers are sold on two markets: the market of readers and the market of advertisers. The exchange currency is attention. For advertisers, the peak of this relationship is to attract as much attention as possible – which is precisely with an ad as the cover.
It is not enough to condemn an advertisement on a newspaper front page as only the violation of standards of the journalistic profession. The differentiation between advertising (following private interests) and journalism (public interests) was supposed to be the foundation of the special function media performs in our society. Yet, it is clear that private interests gained control over journalism a long time ago. The idea about the existence of some kind of a firewall between the advertising and journalistic work was thoroughly buried at the moment newspapers had to accept advertising money as a subsidy for their basic work – journalism. In such a case, media's care for public interests is similar to pharmaceutical industry's care for public health.
For the critique of the press industry, we can borrow Charles Foster Kane's (from Welles' film Citizen Kane
) statement: 'If I hadn't been so rich, I might have been a really great man.' We can concern ourselves with the media being (un-)professional, (non-)ethical, (not) objective, (un-) balanced (and (un-)stable)), with the way they represent certain social groups, with what they report about, and with what they leave out. However, when it comes to the economic system inside of which they act, furies of personal interests are activated. The matter is clear. We cannot change the workings of the media without changing the system inside of which they work. We cannot adopt an appropriate legal framework, because any legal framework (of the past or future) is a consequence of precisely those ownership relationships that have to be legalized. The press industry is literally a symptom of the capitalistic system. If we do not understand that, we got caught up in a similar snare, contend Baran and Sweezy, as representatives of the ‘economy of welfare’, who try to mitigate ‘the most harmful implications of capitalism, to strengthen precisely the system which necessarily produces and reproduces these harmful implications’.
Sandra Bašić Hrvatin, PhD
Translations from Slovene by: Ana Makuc.
Photos from the opening by: Nada Žgank.