International Biennial of Contemporary Art Ljubljana,
23 June - 24 September 2000
News Archive
Micro Talks
Cankarjev Dom
M1 & M2

Manifesta 3 in Ljubljana - Opportunity or Threat?

As the curators of Manifesta 3 began to search for firm conceptual frameworks for their project, they decided to look for the really decisive and urgent issues in today's European art and society rather than for just any accidental or arbitrarily attractive "theme". In their statement Borderline Syndrome - Energies of Defence, they outlined the question of protection in situations where the definition of borders at all levels is being crossed, questioned or erased. What is to be protected? Which values are basic enough to activate the energies of defence?

It is important, it seems to me, that they address the issue of protection in the contemporary world seemingly without any pre-given moral or political judgements or views. At first glance it is exactly this aspect that might seem problematic. Being well aware of the atrocities and catastrophes produced by the idea that certain national, ethnic, cultural, racial, class or religious values represent the very basis of "identity" and should therefore be defended with every possible means, one could easily accuse the curators of supporting paranoid and potentially dangerous and aggressive positions.
Nevertheless, in the present world of increasing globalisation (and strong particularities as its other side), the issue of protection perhaps opens up several different (though interconnected) aspects. For example, globalisation is certainly not a neutral process; rather, it is inseparably connected with the expansion of global multinational capital and the power structures it introduces. A search for possible strategies of resistance and defence seems necessary in such circumstances. Moreover, the process of globalisation and the development of multi-cultural societies do not merely expand the pleasant possibilities at our disposal. A liberal and tolerant position, once it is confronted with radical Otherness, often finds itself in a paradoxical situation, where it cannot avoid the dilemma of "where to draw the line": should one remain tolerant towards the Other or faithful to one's own basic principles? In one of his articles ('The Confession of an Disillusioned Ideologist', published in the Ljubljana daily newspaper Delo in 1997), Slavoj Žižek wrote of such dilemmas: "It is easy to be 'tolerant towards differences' as long as the Other is marked merely by its cuisine, clothes, art and wisdom [...]; but what then, when we hit upon the very centre of the social structure of the Other, upon the way the Others (as far as they are - and the 'Others' in principle are - patriarchal) organise the exchange of their women?" Žižek's conclusion regarding the post-ideological and liberal political position is that "ethnic and religious fundamentalisms and violence are the other side, the necessary product of the 'post-ideological' universe of the pragmatic arrangement, where politics is reduced to apolitical 'management'." I believe that these two short suggestions show that the decision to question the issues of protection (in the context of globalisation) does not necessarily mean an attempt to legitimise the violent way of defending this or that fundament of "identity", and that it might open up intriguing aspects of the contemporary world.

International Art System Enters Slovenian "Territoy"
I believe that the curators chose the issue of borderlining and protection not only because it is essential for contemporary Europe in general, but also because it gains particular value from the contemporary geopoliti
As discussions about Manifesta 3 ical and cultural situation in Slovenia. As far as I can judge, following discussions and reactions relating to Manifesta 3 in Slovenia, the topic was well-chosen. In a sense the Manifesta 3 project in Ljubljana opened up discussions and considerations which could themselves be approached exactly from the point of view of borderlining and the strategies of protection. n Slovenian artistic and cultural circles have continued, they have become more and more critical (I believe that the texts in the present issue represent a good example of such an attitude). The general attitude towards Manifesta 3 remains positive, even enthusiastic. After all, even to become one of the candidates for the host city, Ljubljana had to ensure a lot of energy and a strong consensus in artistic and cultural circles. Moreover, Manifesta 3 in Ljubljana is understood as a successfully achieved goal of several years of development and effort. During this time, Slovenian contemporary artistic production made the step from a relatively isolated position to a dialogue with international contemporary art; Manifesta 3 seems to be an important result and confirmation of these efforts.
One could ask why connection with the international art world is so important. I believe that it means a connection with a living and active network where ideas, images and theories are circulating and merging, thus creating stimulating circumstances for artistic production. There is another reason why it is, for Slovenian artists, so necessary to break the isolation of local artistic circles and find a connection with the international art world. Slovenia is simply too small to be able to offer enough space for artists for their normal artistic development. But if this is so, why the worried and critical voices? With Manifesta 3, the international art system enters Slovenian "territory" (the term used by the Manifesta 3 curators) in the most clear and immediate way, and this means a more direct confrontation with it and its specific principles than ever before. It is also clear that the outcome of this confrontation will strongly affect the position and internal energy of Slovenian art in future years. Slovenia represents a small artistic and cultural "territory" and is thus even more sensitive to such an event. Manifesta 3 will undoubtedly have short- and long-term consequences for the nature of artistic production, for the status and position of contemporary art, for the circumstances of production, and for the size and attitude of the audience.

Identity or Conformity:
The OHO Case It is therefore only natural that the Slovenian artistic scene tries to question critically not only the structure and possible consequences of Manifesta as such, but also the structure of the world of international contemporary art, its internal relations and the way it functions. These relations seem far less ideal from a greater distance; games of interest and power at the micro and macro levels are visible much more clearly; and the danger that Slovenian art could, in an attempt to adapt too directly to the demands of this system, lose its particular energy, become merely "professional" (and thus uninteresting) and let itself be consumed too quickly becomes more real. Almost three decades ago, in the early 70s, the Slovenian group OHO was confronted with a similar dilemma. The group had been extremely active and creative since the mid-60s, researching, experimenting and inventing new forms and approaches. Their work was developing in dialogue with contemporary developments in international art, e.g. happenings, arte povera, process art, body art, land art and conceptual art. The OHO artists, however, did not merely use existing forms and transfer them into a new context; instead, they used them to develop new forms and approaches. These new forms were adapted to the specific conditions and possibilities, but also to the specific interests of the group members. Through their land art and conceptual art projects, for example, they were developing a peculiar approach based, among others, on ecological reflections, esoteric traditions and a strong interaction between group members (one unusual result of such an approach was group projects based on telepathy). The group was developing contacts with artists and groups working in a similar vein, publishing a great deal of information on the work of such artists as Günter Brus, Valie Export, Jiri Valoch and Peter Weibel in the magazine Problemi. In the early 70s it really looked as if they had started a successful international career: they took part at the Information show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; they had an exhibition and a series of actions and performances at the A4 Aktionsraum in Munich; some of their projects were included in Lucy Lippard's influential book Six Years - The Dematerialization of the Art Object; and they received a visit from Walter De Maria. It briefly seemed as if they were about to be included in the international art system. This was precisely the problem they had to deal with.
As they had more direct contact with the international art system, it became clear to them that if they wanted to continue on the path that had brought them to that point, they had to radically change their methods of work and their behaviour. This does not mean that they were not successful in their own context; however, the network of institutions in Yugoslavia which dealt with contemporary avant-garde and innovative art represented relatively small and friendly surroundings where one could simply work without worrying about status and (financial) success. As they came face to face with the international art system, they became aware that, in order to succeed, they would need to sacrifice their spontaneity, and to behave in a calculated and strategic manner. It also became clear to them that they would, in their artistic production, have to follow the expectations and demands of the system: spontaneous and free production would be replaced by a constant desire to fulfil the (putative) desire of the Other.
They faced the following paradox: a relatively naive wish to succeed internationally was a force which had channelled the energies into production which was - exactly because it was not yet included in the international system - free and unfettered, and they could therefore produce rather interesting work. This energy and these results brought them to a point where they could seriously be included in this system - but this would have cost them precisely that dimension which gave energy and interest to their work.

Energies of Defence
The decision by the OHO artists not to start international careers but to renounce art as a separate and isolated area, and to try to find, living in a community in the village of Šempas, the unity of art and life can thus be understood as a deep reflex of defence. The questions surrounding their decision remain unanswered. There is no doubt that the artists took this decision as the most moral thing they could do; but for Slovenian art and its further development, it meant a lost opportunity and even a big step backward. It was not only an active connection with contemporary artistic production and an important source of information about new forms and ideas that was lost; the group itself was no longer present on the Slovenian art scene. With few exceptions, the spirit of the avant-garde and of experiment disappeared from Slovenian art for some time. It is probably meaningless to guess what could have happened if…, but I would still like to ask myself: Could OHO have solved the paradox? Would it be possible for them to continue their art and to move to new levels of work without sacrificing their specific artistic qualities?
What the Slovenian artistic and cultural scene seems to be trying to do today is thus to develop certain "energies of defence" that will, hopefully, enable it to cope with the energies inside the world of international contemporary art. What is important, however, is that these energies should not return Slovenian art to isolation. Quite the opposite, their task is to confirm and ensure the position of Slovenian art deep inside international circulation. But it will only be able to take part in this circulation and exchange if its own position is secured and protected.

Address: Manifesta 3, Cankarjev Dom, Prešernova 10, SI - 1000 Ljubljana. Slovenia
phone: (+386 61) 1767143, 210956 fax: (+386 61) 217431 e-mail: