This 6th U3 Slovenian art triennial focuses on how artists from across the generations reflect on realism and reality today. The works both depict (as in realism) and take a direct part in (as in reality) activities and relationships in the world. The exhibition foregrounds artistic proposals that suggest ways to read history anew, focus on the environment and the social and reflect intimate relations among communities, families and friends. In general, the works are not centred on the inner life of the artist but on his/her relationship to external conditions. This choice for reality was made because it reflects the current strengths of the Slovenian art scene. In addition it emphasises a continuity with Slovene artistic practices in which realism and, later, a readiness to include techniques and subjects outside of the traditions of l?art pour l?art are very present. For this reason works from the collection of Moderna Galerija going back to the 1940s have also been included in U3.
Realism: a brief history
The question of realism has produced many of the sharpest debates between radicals and conservatives in visual art over the past 100 years. As the first modern artist, Gustav Courbet's realism shocked a bourgeois art public looking for beauty and drama in painting. Later, the battle between the painters of everyday life and the ambitions of the avant-garde for new visions of a new world defined modernism. Realism at this time was understood as a safer or less radical choice for artists, yet it always retained its value as a more direct form of communication with a wide public than abstraction or concept art.
Indeed, the doctrines of socialist realism as developed in the Soviet Union were intended to produce an art that was comprehensible to and inspirational for the proletariat, as well as a means to control undesirable questioning and experimentation. Throughout the period of modernism, both realism and the avant-garde battled against each other across Europe and beyond, neither gaining a final victory. The growth of new media, first through art photography and later video and digital imaging added new levels to the realism debate with the capacity to directly capture an image of the real and reproduce it in a form of art. Photography offered an even more direct relationship to surrounding reality than ever possible before, while collage and later digital editing created the means to fictionalise these apparently direct, indexical media.
The Slovenian context
Since 1989, realism and 'the real' itself has made something of a comeback in general, and not only in terms of image making and depiction of reality. Artists in the last twenty years have been intervening directly in surrounding conditions, or bringing those conditions and relations between people into the gallery or museum unaltered except through naming it art. This exchange with the real is particularly present in the Slovenian context, where it has an even longer history going back to the beginnings of NSK. Here, from techniques of over-identification to the construction of self-organised institutions that hover somewhere between fact and fiction, artistic projects write new histories or campaign for change in social conditions.
There is also an access to the corridors of media and political power for artists in Slovenia that is quite exceptional in Europe and sometimes allows for direct intervention in the system. While some works here are determinedly political, other actions are carried out with a playful irreverence that charms as much as it raises political awareness. It seems there is a particular sense of absurdism here that provokes the status of things and challenges the rhetoric of state and institutional identities. This humour extends to making objects as much as to depicting people and social institutions. In this environment, social interventions can be direct without losing critical distance, appearances can be taken seriously and realism allows itself to both comment on and document reality.
This exhibition will have at its core a small, eclectic historical selection through the realism to be found in the collection of the Moderna galerija, supplemented with the films of Tomislav Gotovac and Želimir Žilnik, crucial Yugoslavian filmmakers in the genre. Having set up the existence of histories of realism in the Slovenian context, the exhibition will look at contemporary artworks that reflect on subjects as diverse as the history of flight, party politics, domestic interiors and art education in the playful ways common across the exhibition.
It is interesting that while these topics are in themselves fascinating for the artists, they are also often the excuse of coming together, and acting together in ways that perhaps reflect the loss of a collective sense in the post-communist period, not only here but across former West and East Europe. Thus this exhibition, An Idea for Living, becomes a specific national investigation into a broader condition. Can artists, by thinking about and directly showing us the world around, create conditions in which concepts of living together and working in common can be re-energised for the future?
Nika Autor, Jože Barši, Berko, Boks, BridA (Tom Kerševan, Sendi Mango, Jurij Pavlica), Matija Brumen, Vesna Bukovec, Jasmina Cibic, Vuk Ćosić, Delavsko-punkerska univerza, Lojze Dolinar, Leon Dolinšek, Domestic Research Society and Amir Muratović, Vadim Fiškin, Samo Gosarič, Tomislav Gotovac, Dejan Habicht, Irwin, Ištvan Išt Huzjan, Marco Juratovec, Jaša, Bogoslav Kalaš, Tine Kos, Tanja Lažetić, Vladimir Leben, Polonca Lovšin, Anja Medved, OHO, Borut Peterlin, Nikolaj Pirnat, Tihomir Pinter, Tadej Pogačar and P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. Museum of Contemporary Art, Marko Pogačnik, Uroš Potočnik, Marjetica Potrč, radioCona (Irena Pivka, Brane Zorman), Sašo Sedlaček, SMALL BUT DANGERS (Mateja Rojc, Simon Hudolin-Salči), Slavko Smolej, Bálint Szombathy, Nika Špan, Miha Štrukelj, Matjaž Wenzel, Dunja Zupančič::Miha Turšič::Dragan Živadinov, Želimir Žilnik.