This art is active

Vasja Nagy

By using simple means like a statement, a repetitive phrase, a line drawing without shading or the illusion of space, or by creating collages from iconic images that she finds in media, Vesna Bukovec has already developed into her personal style. Her artworks are visual and textual, partly rooted in the old conceptual practices, while always an aesthetic whole and with no need for a special context. The motives, collected from the media world of the Internet, television, popular magazines, tend to be universally comprehensible within the consumer society. Her works are particularly devoted to the themes relating to how the individuals in such a society seek instant gratification and to the kind of frustration from which they are suffering. The artist addresses the individual directly, and the elements that find their place through paraphrasing or some other transformation in her artworks most possibly concern everyone, at least to a certain extent. In fact, the aggressive impact of media reaches even the most obscure corner, and the means of popular communication shapes the thought of individuals and groups no matter how much one may try to avoid it. According to how the individual in the society is treated in Bukovec’s works, we can observe two major groups. In one group, the individual is seen as an unconscious and unemancipated, yet independent, entity, one who wants to build up his or her self-esteem. In the end, participating in various tests and courses for self-improvement (in every way) found on Internet sites cannot bring the expected results. Already from the beginning, the participants are assumed to be dissatisfied with themselves and clinging to external approval. And the Internet as a means of interactive communication has all the necessary attributes of a society and even community. In the other group, the individual is a fundamental and active, although sometimes passive, builder of the frustrated and frustrating society. By trying all the time to be a part of a community, one constantly observes how the community behaves. Of course, in the end, the individual always conforms to the larger group in which, although self-identification and personal differentiation in regard to the mass are possible, every true expression of individuality ends in unwanted isolation. Because activity is expected to be promoted from the outside or to feel like a natural collective move of the group, responsibility is not individual or personal.

Amateur psychology and illusionary spirituality are among the main societal aspects in Vesna Bukovec’s art. Looking at the decline of religious rules and the ideals of working class ideologies, it is possible to observe how other remedies take their place in the spiritual emptiness. Following the tempo of production and the nature of modern products, even spirituality has become a serially produced commodity which today, with the development of technology, is expected to work instantaneously just like receiving a message through an instant messenger or at least like installing new software on a computer, or an app on a smart phone. Not much is left from Dino’s old satirical meditation on growing better every day in every aspect in Emir Kusturica’s 1981 film Do you Remember Dolly Bell?. It seems like in the 21st century everything is already here or just one click away somewhere in the cloud and reachable to everyone. This illusion supports the feeling of a community, the feeling of membership, the feeling of belonging to a group, which in fact is on a cloud, too. And the cloud is just another metaphysical metaphor for data stored on computers all around the world. There is no space and no time, just this life and the eternal, invisible bonds between people. And it is true, the society itself has created these new substitutes for religion and ideals which help the individual to take part in the community but without carrying much of the responsibility for it.

The language in Vesna Bukovec’s artworks, drawings, collages or videos is almost always English. At first glance, it seems possible that the artist has decided to use it for the same reason that Mladen Stilinović pointed out with his finger in 1992 when he stated that an artist who doesn’t speak English isn’t an artist. Perhaps that statement did truly influence her decision. However, if in that choice someone can see an easy recipe for quick fame and is satisfied with the cynicism of the context, it would be best to ask whether the use of language isn’t a conceptual aspect of the artwork as such and, with that, a paraphrase of Stilinović’s statement. Nonetheless, it especially strikes the cynicism of the social-political-economic state of the contemporary, globalised society and the domination of the Anglophone culture over most of the globe. Probably it is both. One cannot deny that English is today a lingua franca and among other things it helps artists to reach a much wider audience than their mother tongue would. But on the other hand, for the same reason, the communication language choice supports the general attitude of Vesna Bukovec as a critic of the state-of-mind in contemporary so-called western society. The individuals that her artworks humorously address are aware of the things that aren’t working, yet she individually points out the weaknesses and traps. The artworks pull the spectators into a theatre to attend a tragedy, experience it from a distance and contemplate the relations, patterns and stereotypes in real life. They are meant to break the hypnosis of everyday life ruled by the function of media, the means of communication and the economic and political relations. Without a hint of superiority towards the audience these artworks could act as simple old magic for staying sane. Some would call them activist, I prefer active.

Featured text was written for the catalogue of the exhibition La fine del Nuovo / The End of the New.

Slovensko | English

Vesna Bukovec is a contemporary visual artist based in Slovenia.

She is a member of the art group KOLEKTIVA