Featuring Benjamin Kreže, Laibach (obviously), Speculum Artium, and a cameo appearance by Nikola Tesla
It seems I haven’t finished thinking about Slovenia’s Black region, I find myself thinking again about the industrial legacy of Trbovlje and some of it’s contemporary cultural forms.
A deep narrow river valley just outside the small industrial town of Trbovlje is dominated by Trboveljski dimnik [Trbovlje Chimney] venting exhaust gasses from the coal driven thermal power plant. The structure is both a feat of engineering and something of a cultural monument also, it is almost invariably the first feature mentioned on the towns tourism and civic information sites where you will find interesting metric factoids about its vital statistics. It is an undeniably memorable experience driving along the river valley towards under and past it, the first time I saw the chimney I couldn’t keep my eyes off it and barely saw anything else because I was twisting in my seat trying to maintain my view of it. Fortunately I wasn’t driving.
Some of the earliest work exhibited at Laibach Kunst exhibitions in the 1980’s reflects (among other things) the dominant influence of Trebovlje’s industrial architecture as an enduring artistic motif. Laibach produced and exhibited a series of limited edition of linocut prints titled Red District [Rdeči revirji] in the early eighties specifically depicting the industrial architecture in their home region, including the chimney of the powerplant of course. The set of images were originally intended as part of a politicised multimedia action planned by Laibach in Trbovlje in 1980 that was banned and only partially realised at the time.
Thirty years later in 2010, with the continued cooperation of ŠKUC Gallery which was a co-offender in the first planned event, the event was reprised and staged in Trbovlje at Delavski dom Trbovlje Cultural Centre [Workers Cultural Center] also known as DDT. Alongside the exhibition RED DISTRICTS + BLACK CROSS and various other spatial interventions and performances (involving the thermal powerplant and the somewhat notorious cement factory Lafarge) was a three day international Red District Symposium retrospectively addressing the concerns that were driving the original. A short article / press statement here explains the background more fully and includes an image from the original print series.
Incidentally next month Tate Modern in London is hosting a retrospective survey of the collective: Neue Slowenische Kunst: c.1984–1992, taking place Saturday 14 April. The same evening Laibach will give a special retrospective concert performance in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. I’m vividly imagining what that vast post-industrial space will contribute to the performance, it will be an unforgettable experience (with a potential for nostalgic post-industrial mimetic resonance between venue and performance? Both turbine hall and musical programme have acquired some historical distance from their original functional basis). Clearly Laibach fans in London agree with me because tickets are long since sold out. As of time of publishing is still possible to get tickets for the symposium sessions, available on the Tate website.
Another form of industrial monument that is having an unexpected cultural effect in Trbovlje is Croatian born inventor and pioneering electrical engineer Nikola Tesla [1856-1943]. The life and work of Tesla has become an ongoing artistic obsession for artist Benjamin Kreže, appearing as a direct and indirect reference in his work over the last several years.
The figure of Tesla reading Time Magazine makes a cameo appearance in Kreže’s most recent exhibition 12 cubic centimeter exhibition / tribute Duchamp [12 kubičnih centimetrov razstave/ poklon Duchampu]. The figure is in a pose recognisably similar to the posture Tesla adopted in the famous 1899 publicity shot of the scientist sitting nonchalantly calm amidst the blaze of electrical current crossing his laboratory. In all, the exhibition holds twelve figurative micro carvings emerging from the graphite of small pencil stubs held in small glass scientific jars and tubes.
This micro scale ultra-portable work, shown in an aluminium sample case, creates an intimate audience relationship as only one person at a time can reasonably view it -with the aid of magnifying lenses. The patient exactitude needed to produce the work translates into a slow and attentive viewing experience, which was a conscious strategy by the artist. The tiny carvings are loaded with symbolic, historic and cultural cross-referencing, much of which is reflected in the titling; Kreže tips his hat to populist mico sculptors Dalton Ghetti and Willard Wigan who dazzle with technical mastery and kitsch, as well as a lurking sense of epic labour and travail via Greek mythology, Duchamp and Tesla. The exhibition in a suitcase (à la Duchamp, Boîte-en-valise) made its debut on March 16th at Plevnik-Kronkowska Gallery in Celje.
Something of an inventor himself Kreže has developed a form of kinetic figurative sculpture, three-dimensional Zoetrope where the illusion of movement is created by the quick succession of static forms in rotation, creating the impression of holographic images. To date he has made three increasingly large scale works in this impressively well engineered series; Abakus1 (2009) the prototype, which was shown at the first Speculum Atrium (S.A. 09), Magus Rotarum (2010) , and Ubermensch (2011), the latter two of which were both shown at Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana.
These earlier large scale and technically challenging projects show the tactical use of micro scale of as even more of an introverted contemplative contrast, if only in the radical change of scale speed and volume (as in literal noise, the kinetic sculptures are loud, visually percussive and frenetically enveloping experiences). What is present in all of the projects noted here is a sense of industry, the epic labor commitment involved in the making of these sculptures is amoung the first strong impressions. It occurs to me to wonder if that embedded engagement with labor is an artistic magnification or reflection of an existing Trbovlje zeitgeist, in the shadow three parallel and inseparable monuments; the influence of the industrial character of the town, the historic and continuing strong virtuous attachment to the person of the Worker and attendant philosophical attachments to the value of work, or indeed the influence of Trbovljes art ‘fathers’: Laibach. It should be no surprise whatever that Kreže has a history of artistic collaboration with Laibach.
Speculum Artium new media festival began four years ago in 2009, the succesful and now annually occuring festival is part of a wider local strategy to strengthen and develop Trbovlje’s technological heritage into a contemporary high tech future with wholistic cultural, environmental and economic benefits through a strategy goal called the Trbovlje the New Media circle (Circulus Vitiosus). The TNM mission statement proudly announces that the overshadowing cultural monument that is Laibach is not the only reason to celebrate Trbovlje (my phrasing, not theirs!) -despite the artists proven loyalty to their home town and their ongoing work and legacy being arguably the main driver of cultural tourism in the area for some time. With the permanent population of Trbovlje dropping slowly but steadily in the post-industrial bite of urban drift, this festival and the expanding reach of the New Media exhibition program at DDT represents an important broadening of the artistic and civic identity of Trbovlje. It brings fresh currents into the town and provides air (and another reason to stay) for a new generation of young artists to do their best, in their turn, to wake up the Red District.
SA 2012 will take place this year on April 19th, 20th and 21st at Delavski dom Trbovlje Cultural Centre in Trbovlje, a program is available online now.
Ali Bramwell (gastarbeiter in Slovenia)