(Everything is) Not What it Seems | 
20 Aug – 25 Sept 2022 |
Nitja Centre for Contemporary Art, Lillestrøm/Oslo, Norway | 

Participating artists: Primož Bizjak (Slovenia), Vincent Ceraudo (France), Nemanja Cvijanović (Croatia), Andrea Fraser (USA), Meta Grgurevič (Slovenia), Anawana Haloba (Zambia/Norway), Einat Cohen (Israel), Corinne Mazzoli (Italy), Ane Mette Hol (Norway), Emil Memon (Slovenia/USA), Hanna Filomen Mjåvatn (Norway) & Kira Senkpiel (Germany), Nika Neelova (Great Britain), Kathryn Smith (South Africa), Andrej Škufca (Slovenia), Lučka Šparovec (Slovenia), Robert Watts (USA).

PRESS RELEASE

(Everything Is) Not What It Seems is an international project co-organized by Piran Coastal Galleries, the central gallery institution in Slovenian Istria, and the NITJA Center for Contemporary Art in Lillestrøm, which also produced the exhibition. The latter includes a selection of artworks from the public collection of the Piran Coastal Galleries as well as works from the public collection of UGM Maribor and several Slovenian and international private collections (including Noire Gallery Turin, NGH Collection, Mengeš).

 

The exhibition was conceived, developed and designed by Mara Ambrožič Verderber, director of the Piran Coastal Galleries, at the invitation of the NITJA Center for Contemporary Art. The concept of the exhibition is designed around questions and themes that explore what is going on beyond the visible reality of things, which is something that the author has already written about in depth in her critical essay of the same name, published in the catalogue Momenta – Biennale de l’Image (Kerber Press, Berlin/Montreal, 2017).

The exhibition will open on August 20, 2022, at the NITJA Center. On the days surrounding the opening, we will prepare the following events for the general public, the professional audience and the media:

  • Formal reception on Friday, August 19, 2022, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
  • Public opening of the exhibition on Saturday, August 20, from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Guided tour of the exhibition on Sunday, August 21, from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., which will be led by the international guest curator Mara Ambrožič Verderber in dialogue with the participating artists: Meta Grgurevič, Anawana Haloba Corinne Mazzoli, Ane Mette Hol, Hanna Filomen Mjåvatn & Kira Senkpiel and Andrej Škufca.

 

The project has been conceived as a travelling exhibition and will be expanded in each museum or location that will host the project, inviting local artists and thinkers to investigate the topics addressed in the show. In 2023 the show will be set up at the Civic Gallery Piran and other exhibition spaces (to be announced).

CURATORIAL STATEMENT

by Mara Ambrožič Verderber

 

(Everything) is Not What it Seems includes a selection of artworks by sixteen artists well established on the international art scene and evolves around the idea that our knowledge of the world is incomplete and uncertain, and that our most deeply rooted beliefs about reality – as the physicist Carlo Rovelli reminds us – may be wrong or at least extremely naïve. The exhibition thus reflects precisely upon the ability to look beyond the usually visible and beyond the given reality of things in order to tackle the ordinary and try to understand the mechanisms that rule our perceptions of everyday life.

The purpose of the exhibition is to convey an understandable and clear message, so that the observers and participants become aware of the processes behind the scenes and understand that everything that we have learned in life is organized based on evidence and information from a given past. This knowledge has been communicated to us through narration and other sources of information, for example through visual data and other images that form approximations of objective reality (Georges Didi-Huberman). By becoming aware of the limitations of visual material we can understand that with our creative ability we can dismantle any imaginary of images and observe the effect of this deconstruction on people’s consciousness, in search of a more objective interpretation of the present and a peaceful coexistence.

The artworks on show will challenge the limits of what we think we know, as they were conceived in a truly investigatory spirit – using media ranging from new technology to classic techniques – which give the viewer an experience that is scientific, humorous, beautiful and widely accessible to the general public. These artworks are the result of the visual artists’ individual research methodology. We may see that the act of observation has already taken place in the artwork itself, although not in the phase of producing a definitive answer.

With an almost scientific approach to image restitution, the artists use, invent, extract and appropriate objects (moving sculptures, ceramics), images (photos, paintings, drawings), books (texts, data) and a number of techniques so that, through their synchronous action, they create a shift in our experiencing and reading of their meanings.

Alternative knowledge is produced to encourage the observer to question the seeming reliability of the world, which is actually based on an intertwining of coded rules, mediated global trends and stereotypes. In this way, the observer is asked to look at the given present from a different perspective.

As we have learned from the photographer and philosopher John Berger, images have the ability to fascinate and deceive, but they can also illuminate and restore the memory of historical quests and open up a whole range of current socio-political issues. The image has the power to became a tool in the process of analysis, contestation and reconfiguration, thus encouraging new re-creations and free ways of understanding our history and the contemporary world.

If we use images to profane the unprofanable, they can become a tool in the process of emancipation from the visual strategies and political ideologies used to both violently trade with culture and art and even accelerate their industrialization and politicization. The exhibition points out that this has never been more important than now; the artistic imagination and imaginary must be considered primarily as a site of resistance, as a means that contains the potential to challenge our beliefs and awaken the sense that it is possible to imagine new regions and novel forms of reality.

The central part of the exhibition is the installation Synthetic Zero by Andrej Škufca. It is made of black synthetic material with a shiny surface reminiscent of endless pipes filled with oil. These wind through the space like unfulfilled consumer desires that have led to the threat of non-degradable plastic on a global scale. This work of art could also be understood as a metaphor for a virtual (sub)world where the publicly accessible Internet and the “dark web” coexist, where parallel life takes place.

The focus is also on the sound work of Anawana Haloba and the drawings of Nemanja Cvijanović with his immediate, critical approach to political structural systems, while Vincent Ceraudo deals with a particularly interesting perspective on unsettlingly empty urban landscapes. These are the result of capitalist greed, which turned megalomaniac utopias into their complete opposite: urban dystopias.

Emil Memon’s diptych follows the guidelines of pure energy and street art abstraction. As spectators continue to explore, one can feel the fascination with optics and movement in the works of Ane Mette Hol and experience her studies of natural phenomena such as light and darkness. These are also the basis for the works of Primož Bizjak, whose poetic night photographs in the Carrara quarries show the intensive exploitation of this non-renewable natural resource.

Keeping time and controlling it are the central themes of Meta Grgurevič’s kinetic art, which explores the illusion of permanence through mechanics and other technologies. We will also encounter the works of Robert Watts (1923–1988), best known for his contribution to the iconic art group FLUXUS and its conceptual and playful enigmas. The decoding of a mathematical rebus is the fil rouge of a pair of ceramic sculptures by the artist Einat Cohen that draw attention to the political and social divisions in the Middle East.

Kathryn Smith and Andrea Fraser present two investigative art projects that were completed in the form of book editions. Andrea Fraser analyzes the public and private politicized structure of American museums, while Kathryn Smith uses an analytical and detailed forensic approach to examine data on extremely difficult topics, such as the disappearance of missing persons in South Africa.

The central themes of the exhibition will also be explored through performance and dance. Hanna Filomen Mjåvatn and Kira Senkpiel will perform a new choreography that reflects on the power structures within the social pyramid, while the performance by Corinne Mazzoli in collaboration with actors and activists from the local community of Lillestrøm will explore physical barriers and obstacles in public space and the “fencing of” urban parts of the city.

These are just a few thoughts on the artists featured in this exhibition whose works trigger a profound (self)reflection. The invitation is to walk through this sensory experience, which can also be seen as a visual record of attempts to understand the limitations of scientific and humanistic paradigms. The artistic imaginaries that appear here challenge our beliefs about reality and contain the power to weaken the totalitarian grip of the gaze, which is the only way to achieve emancipation and learn the unexplored limits and truths of our civilization.

MORE INFO ON THE ARTWORKS FROM PIRAN COASTAL GALLERIES COLLECTIONS

The Piran Coastal Galleries are the main gallery institution in the Slovenian Primorje region with the status of a regional museum of fine art from the second half of the 20th century onwards. Their intensive exhibition activities and dissemination of knowledge and critical thought about art strengthens the role of a promoter of high aesthetic experiences, especially in the articulated offer of trends in Slovenian and international contemporary fine art in all its expressive forms, even the most extreme.

Hence, their artistic fond, kept in depots, is diverse and rich. It comprises paintings, graphics, drawings, sculptures, photographs, posters, watercolours, videos, artist’s books, and others. According to the manner of their acquisition, these objects as subjects with their own meaning and artistic value are arranged in thematic sets, i.e. collections.

It was the international openness of the Piran Coastal Galleries that enabled the extension and enrichment of the artistic fond in past decades through donations from abroad. An example of this is the Laboratory of Avantgarde Francesco Conz Collection, which is assembled of works of art that were presented as a gift by the Italian collector. In collaboration with the Piran Coastal Galleries, Francesco Conz (1935–2010) from Verona, the owner of the archive of the Fluxus international artistic movement and other avantgarde movements, conceived and prepared a few important exhibition projects and donations at the end of the 1990s. These include the Flux-Med graphic series by the American Robert Watts and the Last Supper by the Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch. There are few museums in the world that keep the works of the Fluxus international artistic movement (Vienna, Stuttgart, Los Angeles, London, New York, Zagreb, etc.). In a declarative way, this precious donation pays respect to the Piran Coastal Galleries for their high profile and internationally open exhibition programme.

The Meduza Collection is certainly one of the most important collections. Its name is directly connected to the logotype of the Piran Coastal Galleries which is in the form of a stylised head of the Greek goddess. With her gaze mythological Medusa could petrify anybody who looked at her. Thus, Medusa is also a kind of a metaphor for contemporary visual art that frequently charms and attracts, but often also creates discomfort and repellence. In one way or another people are amazed by it. Meduza is also the name of one of the exhibition spaces of the Coastal Galleries, which, ever since its foundation in 1972, works as an open and communicative space in the old town centre of Koper, a hub of different ideas and initiatives intended for Slovenian and foreign artists, with an emphasis on young authors. It was the contextual openness in the operation of this gallery that created the conditions for continual supplementation of the fine arts fond. Therefore, the collection is the result of lively exhibition activity through which the galleries monitor and evaluate current artistic currents and opuses of selected artists who have marked the period of the closing decades of the last and the beginning of this century. Hence, a great part of the artistic material kept in the fond are the works of important Slovenian and foreign authors of the older generation, including the works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Ivan Kožarić, Mimmo Paladino, Braco Dimitrijević, Günter Brus, and others. In recent years, this fond has been growing rapidly with the works of promising young artists, such as the Slovenian artist Lučka Šparovec.

The focus on the artistic production of the south Primorska region and lands just beyond the borders from the second half of the last century onwards defines the concept of the Collection of Artists from Primorska. It is composed of selected works by authors the creativity of whom is linked to the south Primorska region, which is the area where our institution operates. The basis for the collecting is the programme direction of the galleries, which has in recent years presented all key artists from the Primorska region through extensive and retrospective exhibitions. The most recent in the series of such complex projects was the exhibition by Emil Memon. Upon the visual artist and musician’s return to Koper, his hometown, from New York, where he lived and worked for decades, the Piran Coastal Galleries this year prepared a large overview exhibition. A few selected works from this exhibition, which the author donated to the galleries, added to the fond of the Primorska Fine Arts Artists Collection.

Unique in content and genre are the Ex-tempore Piran collections of international painting and pottery. The works of these collections were acquired with purchases at traditional gatherings of painters and potters of the same name. The competitive nature of these events is illustratively explained by its name, ex tempore, which is Latin for “out of the moment”. The participants are thus challenged to create a piece in a short time (a few hours or days) that in itself unites the ideal balance of originality of the artistic expression and skill in the technique of the chosen discipline. An expert jury later selects the best works and their authors are awarded. Since its foundation in 1996, the painting Ex tempore has attracted numerous participants, primarily amateur painters, but also academically formed painters and young artists at the beginning of their creative journey. It is a high-profile and well-visited manifestation of the Piran Coastal Galleries that leaves a visible mark on the artistic life of the Slovenian coast. The second event, the pottery Ex tempore, primarily encouraged artistic creating in clay during a limited period, from 2000 to 2015. Within the fond of this collection, works of international authors stand out, including the Israeli artist Einat Cohen.

 

 

Majda Božeglav Japelj, Phd. Collections curator at Piran Coastal Galleries