Vesna Bukovec: And yet I do bother

Nataša Kovšca

Can art have the power to change the world, do away with social and economic inequalities? We know from history that since ever art has reflected the socio-political reality. In the 20th century, avantgarde movements strived for a radical change of the social system, but their attempts failed altogether. However, it can be said with certainty that socially engaged provocative works of art, which instead of embellishing the world reveal its dark side, agitate and force us to think about reality although we as individuals usually have no influence on it.

One of the artists who critically respond to the burning issues of contemporary society is also Vesna Bukovec. Over that last decade, she has won recognition in the Slovenian art scene as a visual artist whose drawings and video as main forms of expression represent a direct critic of social and political reality. Her projects, complete in terms of content, deal with the consequences of neoliberal ideology, consumerist oriented society, socio-political reality in Slovenia, the role of women in contemporary society and the refugee crisis. This last has been especially intensively dealt with within the series of twelve stories and digital illustrations I’m a refugee (2015–2016), done in collaboration with the Italian writer Widad Tamimi. In these stories, published weekly in the Slovenian daily newspaper Delo, the two authors – through words and images – brought to the attention of a wide range of readers the immense distress faced by the people in the asylum centres. [1]

The present exhibition consists of a series of drawings that – in terms of content – summarize a large part of the artists body of work. In the cycle Do you not want me, because I’m critical (2012), inspired by the comic strip Tinza by Marko Pogačnik from 1969, Vesna Bukovec exposes the stereotypical role of women in today’s society in which criteria for their behavior and conditions for emancipation are still emposed by men. In the cycle At whose expense (2015), she raises the questions of consumerism as the central cultural practice of modern times and its adverse impact on living organisms and the environment. The consumer is not interested in the origin of materials but follows blindly his/her need for wellbeing and hedonism. Neoliberalism is as well the starting point of the collage entitled As if (2014) which with one sentence – Continue as if everything is right – gives a clear demonstration of the passive relationship of people towards natural, war and other disasters. The artist believes that the news about tragic events cause an uneasy feeling in people, but only for a short period of time, for the consumerist society forces us to continue our pursuit for material profit and success.

The indifference towards pain of the other was the basis of the triptych of colour drawings entitled Not in my name (2016), in which the artist deals in detail with the xenophobic relationship of wider Slovenian public and politics in relation to migrants who massively crossed Slovenian borders. Her latest cycle of drawings And yet I do bother (2019) is some kind of an answer to the passivity and lack of empathy of the wider society for the anguish of others. [2] The central theme of her drawings is represented by images of brave women from the 20th century history and contemporary time who fought and are still fighting for social changes as well as against social, political and sexual inequalities, from the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst to the Swedish activist for climatic changes Greta Thunberg, along with some unknown names. No matter whether known or anonymous women protesters are involved, images that according to the artist became “a symbol of the fight against oppression” create hope that the world can be changed.

Hope defines Vesna Bukovec’s newest work Women are Coming (2020) – a homage to the homonymous sculpture of the motorcyclist Duba Sambolec from 1976 – the first Slovenian feminist artwork. The drawing of the cycling women at the anti-government protests has a wide range of meanings. On the one hand, it outlines this year’s turbulent developments in Slovenia: the burden of the epidemy, the rise in anxiety, the deepening of social disparities, the disintegration of democratic values and the opposition to the politics of hatred. On the other hand, it reflects the history of feminist movements, for women on bicycles that give the feeling of freedom and self-reliance were demonstrating equality. At the same time, the work alludes to the recent censorship of the Mladinska knjiga publishing house which removed the illustration of women on bicycles from the cover page of the book titled Nepozabne (The Unforgettable) arguing that the image is to closely related to the current political events.

Vesna Bukovec’s works hold no hidden messages but address the audience directly. Her drawings are based on photographic material that is thoughtfully selected from the Internet, most often from stock image archives – wide collections of photographs in web archives which, as we know, significantly shape readers’ perception through mass media. Some of her cycles, such as And yet I do bother, also feature iconic images of women activists that are represented in mass media. The artist takes only the essential features of the motifs, in particular gestures and face expressions of represented figures with which she efficiently depicts her own thoughts and messages that remain firmly imprinted in our perception.

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[1] In 2016, Vesna Bukovec published a portfolio of silkscreen prints In search of freedom (Ecce Homo) with a selection of five stories.
[2] The title of the cycle and the present exhibition And yet I do bother was a response to her previous series of drawings with the ironic title I can’t be bothered … (2018) in which she exposes the passivity of people who only care about personal matters, neglecting altogether the wider socio-political issues. The title And yet I do bother is no longer ironic.

Featured text was written for the catalogue of the solo exhibition Vesna Bukovec, Vesna Bukovec: In vendar me briga / And yet I do bother/em>, GONG Gallery, Nova Gorica, 2020.

Info about the exhibition

Slovensko | English
Contact

Vesna Bukovec is a contemporary visual artist based in Slovenia.

She is a member of the art group KOLEKTIVA

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