06 July 2012 You are kindly invited to the group exhibition Electrifying The Epic, a part of the project Removed Together, curated by Brian Willems. The opening will take place on Friday, 6th of July at 8pm at the Alkatraz Gallery. Participating artists: Sandra Sterle, Gildo Bavčević, Dan Oki, Toni Meštrović and Ante Verzotti.
This exhibition represents second part of the REMOVED TOGETHER project, a curated exchange between media artists working in Ljubljana and Split. The exchange is taking place in two phases: in March and April extensive exhibition of ten artists from Ljubljana and Split took place in Multimedijalni kulturni centar Split. The second part of the project is marked by the upcoming exhibition of five Split based artists in Alkatraz Gallery in Ljubljana. Five artists from each city were selected by local curator and put into the specific thematic context closely related to the immediate local environment where these artists live and work.
The principal theme of Split part of the exhibition, titled Electrifying the Epic, follows the concept of “dialogic” and on the other hand “epic”. For Mikhail Bakhtin, the epic is concerned with an “absolute past,” meaning a time which is “walled off absolutely from all subsequent times” and is thus a part of what could be called traditional time. In contrast, the dialogic takes “contemporary reality” as its subject matter. As a result, dialogic work involves a mixture of domains, meaning that whenever contemporary language is used it will inevitably engage with traditional forms. Following this analogy, artists included in this exhibition are all engaged in developing a space for the dialogic multiplication of voices to exist within an epic cultural environment permeated by a rich and domineering heritage.
Electrifying the Epic
My mother and her husband live in a nice condominium along the Mississippi river in St Paul, Minnesota. However, their view of the river is disrupted by the ruins of the St Paul Municipal Grain Elevator and Sackhouse. This industrial elevator stands about five stories tall and was expanded to its present state between 1927 and 1931. This expansion was done in order to centralize and standardize the transport of grain along the route of the Mississippi. However, because the building has sat in disuse for decades, it is now an eyesore. On a recent visit back to Minnesota, I heard a lot of discussion about what was the best thing to do with the elevator: convert it into a restaurant, a museum, or perhaps tear it down. Most of the locals were on the side of some form of preservation because it seemed a shame to tear down such a rich piece of cultural heritage. However, two residents who had recently emigrated from Turkey had a different point of view. Coming from a country with a much deeper sense of history, the 20th-century building was not such a holy relic. “Tear it down,” one of them said. “I mean, who cares? It’s not even a hundred years old.”
As a Minnesotan living in Split, one of the strongest cultural concepts that I come up against is tradition. Split recently celebrated its 1700th birthday, and the city is centred around a Roman palace. This means that in Split, tradition is impossible to ignore. And I don’t like it. I don’t like it because I don’t get it. I can read about it, have it explained to me, and walk about in it, but such a rich sense of tradition is something from which I will always be distant; I will always think the grain elevator should be preserved. I guess in this sense it could be said that I am “dialogic” rather than “epic,” a distinction coming from Mikhail Bakhtin.
For Bakhtin, the epic is concerned with an “absolute past,” meaning a time which is “walled off absolutely from all subsequent times” and is thus a part of what could be called traditional time. The epic, in this form, has some advantages. For example, because it is a closed system it can be compared and contrasted to other systems, and it can thus take the form of a scholarly area of study. Another advantage is that a sense of the epic can unify a region, even providing for a sense of dignity. In contrast, the dialogic takes “contemporary reality” as its subject matter. This is important because, in the words of Bakhtin, the contemporary “is the starting point for understanding, evaluating and formulating.” As a result, dialogic work involves a mixture of domains, meaning that whenever contemporary language is used it will inevitably engage with traditional forms, since very rarely, if ever, is anything “new” created out of nowhere. The interplay of this “polyglossia” of languages is important because when more than one voice is present then there is the potential for humor and critique to arise, and thus for change to take place. While Bakhtin located his discussion of the dialogic in an evaluation of the novel as a form of literature, I believe that it can also help in an understanding of the task of new media artists in Split today. The artists included in this exhibition are all engaged in developing a space for the dialogic multiplication of voices to exist within an epic cultural environment permeated by a rich and domineering heritage. The techniques that the artists in this exhibition use for the creation of this space are various, but all involve a multiplicity of practice, form and theme.
However, there is another dialogic aspect of the exhibition. The artists from Split are not “alone” in forming such a critique, for the exhibition actually represents a curated exchange between new media artists working in both Split and Ljubljana. This exchange is taking place in two phases: an exhibition of five Split artists in Ljubljana and an exhibition of five Ljubljana artists in Split. The exhibition taking place in Ljubljana is being put on by the Alkatraz gallery in the Metelkova quarter of Ljubljana and the exhibition in Split consists of both Ljubljana and Split artists at the Multimedijalni kulturni centar. Both exhibitions also feature performances and single-channel works which expand the exhibition beyond the five artists chosen from each country.
The structure of the exhibition attempts to show how by gathering together a number of artists who are taking aim at epic tradition it is hoped that a more dialogic approach to tradition is being developed. Another word for dialogic here could be “scientific” in the sense of an experimental disposition that is continually open to new ideas, hypotheses and languages, rather than constantly bolstering the traditions of the past. However, it might seem at first that by “removing” these artists from their contemporary environment and exhibiting them together that a kind of “epic” version of their kind of critique is actually being created. But I propose that something else is happening. As Marcel Proust says in A l’Ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, “our age is infected with a mania for showing things only in the environment that belongs to them, thereby suppressing the essential thing, the act of mind which isolated them from that environment.” In terms of this exhibition, this means that when a number of works which engage with a similar environment are removed from that environment then it is perhaps the “acts of mind” of the artists which begins to come forth; in other words, what becomes foregrounded are their processes of critique. Thus perhaps what could be amended to Bakhtin’s understanding of the dialogic and epic is that there is the potential for a kind of “electrified epic,” meaning that a more positive notion of tradition can be formed, a tradition of digital experimentation and openness. Perhaps the coming together of the work of these artists outside of their natural habitat will help make the multifarious languages that they speak clearer, louder and all the more vital.
Photos by: Sunčan P. Stone