The Ljubljana Biennial: A History of Sociopolitical Graphic Art

Pilar Quinteros, Cathedral of Freedom 2015. Courtesy of the artist
Pilar Quinteros, Cathedral of Freedom
2015. Courtesy of the artist

“Over You / You” is the title of the 31st Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts being held at multiple venues across the Slovenian capital, including the MGLC gallery and the imposing Moderna Gallery. The Biennial not only offers refreshing curatorial choices, but also a snapshot of an emerging yet esteemed artistic community at the heart of the city.

Eschewing the historic barriers that emerged while being part of communist Yugoslavia, graphic arts in Slovenia flourished even before the establishment of the Biennial in 1955. New Collectivism, the design section of the controversial Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) movement, also had a retrospective in the city, thus highlighting Slovenia’s continued interest in its sociopolitical art. The politically motivated collective used graphic arts as a way to communicate with the public throughout the 1980s. The MGLC exhibits images of the collective and their work on a huge scale, immersing the viewer in their world. Today graphic art has undefined borders, as declared by the students of the AVA school, who have formed the White on White collective in collaboration with acclaimed director David Gothard. Taking inspiration from Malevich’s “White Square”, the group aim to explore the fluid boundaries of graphic arts in the Biennial.

Will Benedict, from the series Bad Weather, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Overduin & Co., Los Angeles
Will Benedict, from the series Bad Weather,
2015. Courtesy of the artist and Overduin & Co., Los Angeles

The 2015 edition is curated by Nicola Lees, previously of the Serpentine Gallery and also currently curating Frieze Projects. Lees selected an extensive collection of works exploring different media – from traditional print to experimental film. Outdoors, the Jakopic Promenade is lined with Will Benedict’s posters (“Bad Weather”, 2015) that focus on how we psychologically internalise the differences between concepts like bad weather, nasty atmosphere, climate change and climate shame through the media in order to establish a political identity. While “There is no East or West” by Asad Raza is an exploration of mark-making through the reprogramming of the Plecnik-designed lighting along the promenade. Luca Frei contributes with “interventions” throughout: from installations of small white chalk rocks surrounding the works around the Moderna, to his paste ups, using the details from a lithography stone to create subtle, delicate, grey-hued prints (“Marginal”, 2015).

The exhibition explores, countless ideas and concepts; however, recurring ideas throughout the exhibits include repetition, reproduction and the accidental. There are also multiple references to the digital realm throughout the Biennale, fusing the modern and the antiquated through print media. The artist Andrea Büttner creates life size prints of her mobile phone display, tracking her everyday physical movements across the touch screen. Forming delicate yet aggressive mark-making through the printing process in pink-hued shades, Büttner addresses our utter reliance on technology by making us stop and observe her life-size prints.

Oscar Murillo, the retired 2015, installation view. Courtesy of the artist, Carlos/Ishikawa, London, and David Zwirner, New York/London
Oscar Murillo, the retired
2015, installation view. Courtesy of the artist, Carlos/Ishikawa, London, and David Zwirner, New York/London

The Moderna Gallery shows a photographic series by Stewart Home, “Becoming (M)other”, in which the artist reconstructs his mother’s 1966 modelling portfolio, merging his own persona and his mothers into one image. Alongside these works sits a vitrine of “Smile Journal”, which the artist self-published from 1984 utilising anarchic and politically driven cut-up and collage techniques.

Elsewhere, at the other end of the spectrum, Gabriel Kuri exhibits a monument to consumerism: “Superama III (2003-05)”, a giant receipt crafted painstakingly by an antiquated tapestry technique, highlighting the seldom observed details in such mundane day-to-day graphics. Thus the artist explores reproducibility of graphic art in the digital age by renouncing digital media, while giving his piece a kind of reverence, which in his native Mexico, is usually reserved for recording great events in history.

Ištvan Išt Huzjan, Exchange Banner – OHO and Walter de Maria, 2015. Courtesy of the artist
Ištvan Išt Huzjan,
Exchange Banner – OHO and Walter de Maria, 2015. Courtesy of the artist
David Maljkovic with the German designer Konstantin Grcic, Negatives, 2015, Detail. Courtesy of the artist and Spru?th Magers
David Maljkovic with the German designer Konstantin Grcic, Negatives, 2015, Detail. Courtesy of the artist and Spruth Magers

“The Thousand Eyes” (2015,) is an installation by Mike Cooter, who reassembled the history Fritz Lang using the Austrian filmmaker’s self-portrait in the guise of Bacchus. Inspired by Lang’s period of time spent in Slovenia on Austrian military service, the artist establishes a strong aesthetic through images, furniture and graphic motifs. Informed by “The Secret Beyond the Door” and “The 1000 Eyes of Doctor Mabuse”, Cooter pays homage to the cult filmmaker.

Bureau of Loose Associations Presents Luxus Watchman (Aggressive Innocence), from a series of 33 of Watchmen 1993–1994. Courtesy of Piktogram
Bureau of Loose Associations Presents Luxus
Watchman (Aggressive Innocence), from a series of 33 of Watchmen
1993–1994. Courtesy of Piktogram

Another standout exhibit is Giles Round’s documentation of the history of the Biennial, tracking the development throughout 60 years. The artist has included archival images from the 1969 exhibition printed onto lightweight curtains, which provide a literal yet delicate backdrop for the work. Ranging from intricate, detailed pencil drawings to the more playful, dynamic prints combined with ethereal sound design; the space plays a fitting tribute to the rich history of graphic arts in the area as well as to the Ljubljana Biennial as a whole.

Text by Harriet Welch

The Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts runs from 29 August to 3 December 2015

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