– the cords

Andrej Škufca, Živa Božičnik Rebec, Kladnik&Neon – Next of Skin
Glass atrium of Ljubljana Town Hall

Image courtesy of Lara Žitko

Mute — not even speech as the thinkers of politicality of excluded minorities would put it, but mute uncommunicable, radically private (exempt from any possibility of equality or commensurability) — situatedness, determinable only in the context of a private sense, a sort of sensus privatus that even for Kant results only in madness.

And what is madness, for instance in the context of the psychoanalytic situation, if not putting into speech the unspeakable, the transition of an a-communicable neurotic into the communicability of analysis? The reading, the mapping, and the speaking. The path from sensus privatus to sensus communis. — Even as Kant’s certainty of common sense, the cognitive base of communality and sociality, the implicit presupposition of a naturally present and correct thought that founds its critique not only in Nietzsche but following his lead also in Deleuze, gives way to a sort of common non-sense, …

… The assertion of communality seems to persist. Which could also serve as a cynical ‘good riddance’ to the exhibition Next of skin that finds itself even more communicable at its attempt of a-communicability: in the neatly coded context of an exhibition space, an exhibition event and most importantly a conversation piece, where the snares or the obstacles (which the exhibited artworks present) fuel only the most frivolous conversational giggling of young cultural intellectuals.— The exhibition presents four Slovene artists Andrej Škufca, Živa Božičnik Rebec, and the duo Kladnik & Neon, curated by Tjaša Pogačar in collaboration with Marko Bauer, and consists of five artworks. —

However cynical formulas scratch the surface that these artworks dexterously avoid. Not with profound depth or an elusive essence that Art has woven through the many decades into its blanket of mystique, but with a surface that constitutes a completely different field than that of Art.

There is no more beauty behind the unrepeatability of everyday banality, no more profoundness in the surface of contingency. No more sense-less romanticism of Bas Jan Ader or the cynical ‘a-cynicism’ of NSK. There is even no blatant transparency of critique. What the works exhibit is the banal banality. A vast surface or rather a stain resistant plastic dish purchased on one of those infomercial-filled late nights of the past, where the stain is the beaten spirit behind the mysteries of life.

The surface does not emanate a communicable a-communicability. No sublime nor sublimation. It is cleansed of its authenticistic core, although cleanliness may not be the most suitable reference. It is a-communicable through and through. A semblance of sense or meaning that is not decipherable by Man, nor analysable by psychoanalysis. It is political, but only as long as it severs the Aristotelian tie between the speaking and political being.

So what is exhibited? The exhibition layout in its clean and minimalistic design forms a rather stacked effect: the artworks in a narrow exhibition space are all faced towards the entrance without the much deserving autonomy in the field of sight, making the usual walk around the exhibition space almost, if not completely, redundant. ‘Move along… nothing to see here folks’ — could as well be the curatorial voice, if my imagination (references to Kant’s economy of senses seem to persistently stalk me) insists on pinning one on the curator.

The artwork in the foreground — the smallest, the starting point — is an object by Andrej Škufca, entitled sk234, although named as such I wonder if the cursive is even suitable. The object evades recognisability, its identification as an Object, by consisting of almost nothing else but recognisable elements of design. The object is therefore without an apparent or intended function, as much as without any particular art related a-functionality or disinterestedness so prominent in the classic lingo of aesthetics. It is neither an object of everyday use nor of art and is not a provocation of anything but taste in general. It is simply lame. No profound articulation needed. It resists anthropomorphisation so I cannot even say that it does not intend to be anything more than that. It is not indifferent, nor does it induce indifference in the spectator, but is itself indifference that could point toward the implicit banality of consumer logic behind design, if that wouldn’t already be too much for it to handle.

AS1(1)Photo: Lara Žitko

In a near vicinity, it is TOWEL 1 by Živa Božičnik Rebec, a ‘latex towel collection’. It consists of a chrome-like stand and a hanging fold of latex that via reference to the title may resemble a towel with its associated hygienic intimacy of caressing one’s own skin. Especially with the latex’ pink or coral tone and wrinkly structure that inscribes the associated caressed skin into the towel itself (inscribing the relation of caress-ness into the object’s own becoming). However as the structure or the pattern of the latex differs on each side, and as these organic structures are disturbed by an inorganic straight line that resembles a manufacturing seam, the associated intimate becoming and its organicistic representation fall apart into an indecipherable drama of inorganic surface structures.

Lara-Zitko_Next-of-Skin-LowRes-10Photo: Lara Žitko

Next to it, Spirit Level, a piece by the same artist that consists of a hefty florescent water-ruler type object laid on a soft blue foam surface, resembling a yoga-met, where a similar reference-filled dynamic of the artwork takes place. Although the work varies from its previous presentation at the Academy of Fine Arts Ljubljana, where the object was placed on an upward-elevating foam with greenish fungi-scales looking surface structures and accompanied by a photograph of a man with long ruffled hair, dressed in white, supporting the presented object with open palms and a meditative gaze (the reference to ‘spirit’ was a bit more clear and direct then, whereas now it gets lost to a certain extent since the ground placement, lacking the previously present topology of ascent, refers vaguely only to yoga, which in its contemporary form as a fitness genre, where a yoga-met would have its place, has little to no connection to any form of spirituality), the structure of the work remains similar. The classic ascent to a desired spirit level (leaving the banal and pain-ridden earthly sphere behind) gives way to an expansion of a flattened or levelled sphere where the earthly and ideal collide and merge, replacing the value of height with the level of balance — where a completely technical approach can be taken, thus the water-ruler. Spirituality is here an immanent and highly technical endeavour: in the flattened world truth, god and the afterlife become a thing of measurements and proportions. Coinciding with the expansion of the egocentric subject through its attempt to better him- or herself by constantly tweaking his or her everyday routines (be it dietary, fitness or other); by bringing the spiritual to the level of personal wellness — a balancing act of tweaks and tricks.

AS5(1)Photo: Lara Žitko

Leading to the last two works by Kladnik & Neon, where the previously mentioned tweak in the presentation (the reduction to a yoga mat) gets its glorified exposition. Safe space, a CGI animation, and Quia ego sum tanti (‘Because I’m worth it’), a print on tarp, both address fitness as a process of degradation of the latin saying ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ (‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’), where both mind and health get lost in the inflation of the body: its endless growth of muscle that points toward a point where the expansion would surpass the question of taste and human form. Similarly, as they do on the subject of design, where a re-envisioned classicism gets polished to the point where it surpasses any notions of kitsch, although still remaining firmly rutted in the this-worldliness of neoliberal logic.

Lara-Zitko_Next-of-Skin-LowRes-6Photo: Lara Žitko

What binds these works together is a tendency to reach, if not actually realise, a surface where there is no depth of essence nor height of truth. No dark mysteries of art nor gleaming light of science. A surface that radically avoids meaning although it constantly creates a semblance of it. It speaks, but as long as we are the ones who put speech onto it. By itself it is a-communicable. Nothing worthy to discuss (with or about).

This defects from the already proliferated use of Ranciere’s conception of the politics of aesthetics in the local and international art production. If there is anything political in this exhibition, it definitely does not concern the emancipation of a spectator. Instead — if successful enough (and this is something that I do not want to be the judge of) — it addresses that, which is lacking in Ranciere’s conception of politics. It addresses the strange ambivalence surrounding one of Ranciere’s main presuppositions or starting points for his endeavour: radical equality.

The latter seems to replace the idea of consensual workings of a body politic (the possibility of a general agreement) with a dissensus that challenges the anthropologic foundation of politics (referring back to Aristoteles’ idea of a bios politicos on which politics is founded). But on the other hand, it also paradoxically reinstates a similar foundation. As it entails a sort of primary understanding that disregards the exclusions made by logos:

“There is order in society because some people command and others obey, but in order to obey an order at least two things are required: you must understand the order and you must understand that you must obey it. And to do that, you must already be the equal of the person who is ordering you. It is this equality that gnaws away at any natural order” (Ranciere 1998, p. 16);

it limits it to a subject with ‘an intention to communicate’ (Deranty & Ross, 2012), to ‘a speaking being’ (May, 2012), where communicability re-enters the scene and simultaneously pushes all the domestic pets and other liminal beings of understanding out of the political situation that Ranciere envisions as a solution to the excluding logos. 

… The a-communicable is yet again not a possibility for a political consideration. And if there is any political potential in it, the path through the banal banality, as the exhibition tries to traverse, can pose a way to explore it. It tests the limit of both interestedness and disinterestedness where the painfully un-sensical side of those rare moments in contemporary art provokes one to just kick it senseless — as little sk234 was at the exhibition opening.

To conclude, there is not much to see, and what is, does not require a lot of strain. Perhaps the spectator of the 20th century will not be abolished by the way of engagement or action, but of atrophy instead.


*Note: The article was later on revised for and published in all-over | Magazin für Kunst und Ästhetik. Please, find the revised version at allover-magazin.com (link to the article).

Deranty & Ross, 2012. ‘Jacques Ranciere and the Contemporary Scene: The Evidence of Equality and the Practice of Writing’. In: Deranty & Ross, 2012. (ed.). Jacques Ranciere and the Contemporary Scene. London & New York: Continuum, pp.1-14.

May, T, 2012. ‘Ranciere and Anarchism’. In: Deranty & Ross, 2012. (ed.). Jacques Ranciere and the Contemporary Scene. London & New York: Continuum, pp. 117-128.

Ranciere, J., 1998. Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy. Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press.

Author: Domen Ograjenšek

Writer, art critic, curator, PhD candidate at the Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien

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