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Mentorship + | Aleksandra Saška Gruden & Ajda Kadunc: Diving Into the Speculative

28 November 2023 > 29 December 2023 Kindly welcomed to the opening of the exhibition "Diving Into the Speculative" by Aleksandra Saška Gruden & Ajda Kadunc, on Tuesday, 28th November at 7 pm, at the Alkatraz Gallery. The exhibition is a part of Mentorship+ project.

The project Mentorship+ is one of the most recognisable programs we carry out under the auspices of the Alkatraz Gallery. Every year, we invite two artists to participate: one, who has an established position within the art world and a lot of experience related to many years of activity in the field of contemporary art, and the other, who is just entering this world and developing their expressiveness. The idea of mentoring that we formulated is not tied to one-way transfer of knowledge. It is rather conceived as a dialogic process that takes place over a longer period of time and is based on non-hierarchy.  Both persons assume the roles of advisor, mentor, (co-)curator and creator and produce the final exhibition through this process. The cooperation is based on the curiosity to familiarise oneself with different ways of working and mutual learning, and contributes to the creation of interesting results for the audience as well.

The collaboration continually takes place throughout the whole year, between January and December, and it culminates in the exhibition project at the end of the year. With each new dialogue pair, we are faced with the questions of how the issue of authorship will be resolved, how the duo will tackle the challenge of working in tandem, and how will they divide the roles in the project. Last but not least, there is also an open question whether a joint idea will be formed at all or if the two artists will choose another path. Each artist brings different experiences, perspectives and personal dynamics into the collaboration.

Collaborations, such as Mentorship+, when the participating persons do not know each other beforehand, is, however, risky – but if the participants are willing to step out of the comfort zone and adjust their own ways of working as well as establish intergenerational connections, they can lead to astonishingly innovative results, however if, on the other hand, there is lack of readiness, the process consequently becomes more difficult and may even lead to the creation of a failure study of some sorts.

This year we invited Aleksandra Saška Gruden and Ajda Kadunc to participate. On the basis of their interests, the opted for a joint exhibition that explores nature as a phenomenon of which humans are also a part. Throughout history, a view has developed that juxtaposes culture and nature; in the process of research, the artists, each in their own way, ventured out to find the pulse that is common to both poles. Like the growth process of fungi, which Ajda Kadunc has been exploring lately, the collaboration grew very organically, as both artists are interested in the blazes of nature in our common living environment and their mapping or acknowledgement, recognition and placement in the context of the whole. Just as Aleksandra Saška Gruden mocks the viewer with numerous, sometimes humorous interventions, and reminds us that we are neither alone nor self-sufficient, let alone honest and fair to other beings – both strive to draw attention to the duplicity of human society which has only its own best (short-term) interests at heart and thinks only about itself.

Through ingenious placements in the gallery space, the exhibition Diving into the Speculative thus focuses on the reflection on how to understand current relations between human and nature, domestic and wild, and urban and natural, and investigates possible future strategies for successful coexistence. As a matter of fact, artists draw a parallel between human and non-human beings or organisms, as they rely on the idea of the resilience of life that irrevocably colonises its surroundings. The question that arises here and offers a mirror to the human is how to occupy and inhabit the space in a less invasive way, with less damage, in short, more successfully and beneficially.

Ajda Kadunc builds her artistic process with the help of so-called hybrid objects, the starting point of which is an object produced by human or herself. She passes the object to the organisms with which she is in contact in her living environment (for instance, the growing mycelium of fungi and bees who fill foreign bodies with propolisation), and together they share the authorship of the work of art – the object in which they intervened.

Aleksandra Saška Gruden, meanwhile, is interested in speculative exploration of properties of nature itself. Her artworks stem from natural elements, such as rocks, trees and dead animals, which she places in a new environment, thereby structurally rearranging them and creating new content. For instance, in bee wax, she casts details from the structures of tree trunks, exposes them to the influence of running water, and thus assigns them a completely new meaning.

Ajda Kadunc similarly develops new meanings when she places elements that get transformed with the help of others in unexpected dialogues with found objects and her artworks. She focuses her attention on the constant transformation of structures and the newly created interactions between the organic and the inorganic and the natural and the artificial. Meanwhile, in her artistic contribution, Aleksandra Saška Gruden explores from another angle the intermediate space that is created during interventions in which she transforms natural forms herself or with the help of natural processes or elements.

The parts of animate (and inanimate) nature in the exhibition are not mere artefacts of elements, but rather de-facto participants in the building of the artistic contribution. So, the two authors together demonstrate interspecies cooperation and contacts between inanimate nature and humans, raising awareness of the indelible mark that all beings leave on the environment. The next step offered by the authors is the establishment of alternative coexistence strategies for a better tomorrow, whereby they analyse and dismantle current relations, put them in an interdependent relationship in a didactic way, and in cooperation with the other participating creatures, recreate and complement them, thereby raising doubts about dominant assumptions of the human world.

On the visual level, the project exposes the structure of the internal, invisible and unconscious field and the external, visible and conscious action. The artists, who present a critical view of human activity, add that observing natural processes such as symbiosis teaches us that the foundation of survival is comradeship and solidarity, which benefit everyone. In this spirit, phenomenologically, they investigate the recognition of the aforementioned processes. In them, they seek knowledge and inspiration for a harmonious development of the future (which is further emphasised by the sound input at the exhibition, a mixture of classical music and the sounds of nature), which is unifying, rather than exclusive.

Ana Grobler, Sebastian Krawczyk

Ajda Kadunc (1995, Ljubljana) graduated from the Department of Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana in 2018. She is currently completing her master's degree at the same department, and during her master's degree, she also attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki in 2020 through the Erasmus+ program. She participated in several group exhibitions, among others in the Knifer Gallery (Osijek, 2022) and the Alkatraz Gallery (Ljubljana, 2021) and at the Fourth International Student Biennial (Split, 2021). She exhibited at solo exhibitions in the Layer's House (Kranj, 2021) and DobraVaga Gallery (Ljubljana, 2020). In his artistic practice, she explores nonsense as a moment in time when changes begin to appear, opening up new possibilities of understanding. She is interested in the newly established meaning created by stories of different elements and surfaces in relation to the space in which they land. She lives and works in Šentvid pri Stični.

Aleksandra Saška Gruden is an academic sculptor. She graduated in sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana in 2004. Since 2006, she has been self-employed in culture and working as a multidisciplinary artist in Slovenia and abroad. She has participated in several sculptural or artistic symposia, moderated open discussions, and has been working as a cultural critic for many years. She also conducts art colonies and art festivals. She works in the fields of sculpture, spatial interventions, performance, video, photography, scenography, drawing, and explores topics such as human body and its boundaries, the relationship between the personal and public, the intimate world of the individual, interpersonal relationships, the image of woman in modern society and cultural heritage. Her works are kept in several international collections (Collection of Cultural Centre Novi Sad, Serbia, Benetton Collection, Imago Mundi Collection, Italy, DIVA Video Archive, SCCA Ljubljana, Heimschuh Outdoor Art Collection, Austria). She is also the author of numerous public installations in Slovenia (Grosuplje, Kranj, Dekani) and abroad (Austria, Croatia). For her work, she received the 2nd award for Slovenian photography of the year Emzin, the 3rd award for video at the exhibition Man-Monument (Velenje) and the 2016 award of the Association of Designers of Slovenia for the Zidnice project (EPK Maribor).

Photographies of the exhibition by: Nada Žgank.