WHO IS AFRAID OF JANEZ JANA?
Txt: Antonio Caronia
Berlin, 28th January 2008, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe . It’s one past midnight. Three people wearing white windbreakers and carrying backpacks with GPS devices and a webcam turned towards their own faces, stop for a second, in silence.
Then, each starting from a different point of the trapezium’s perimeter, they begin to move following a precise chart among Denkmal’s pilasters built to celebrate Shoah’s memory. Walking steadily in the cold night of Berlin, each of them starts repeating obsessively their name, as a mantra : “Jaz sem Janez Jana, Jaz sem Janez Jana, Jaz sem Janez Jana ” (“My name is Janez Jana ”).Their faces appear in three boxes on the left of the screen when you log on to the site www.aksioma.org/sec . On the big satellite image of the Berlin memorial three green lines start to be drawn according to the path the three Slovenian artists are walking. Thanks to the GPS, their signal is received and transmitted to the site and the green lines start shaping some letters. At the end of the performance, the lines have shaped a name on the computer screen: JANEZ JANA . The three artists leave the memorial: nothing has been actually modified, yet their walking has outlined a signature which crept among Denkmal’s columns.
Signature Event Context ‘s performance took place during the exhibition CONSPIRE which was part of transmediale.08 , the historical Berlin festival of digital arts. The performance was first planned and announced in the exhibition’s catalogue and then canceled less than ten days before the opening of the exhibition because of “ethical beliefs” of the curator Nataa Petrein Bachelez , who is Slovenian too. The festival’s director Stephen Kovats first agreed with the curator’s worries, but then changed his mind and restored the performance in the festival’s programme (please note the performance had already taken place).
By the way, who are those three Slovenian artists whose actions always cause such a commotion? Why do they have the same name? Who is Janez Jana? It is hard to understand the meaning of that performance for those who do not know (and hardly anyone knows that outside Slovenia) that Janez Jana is the name of the SDS’s leader (Slovenian Democratic Party), who is also the country’s Prime Minister : a right-center politician (or , more honestly, a right-wing politician), famous for his aggressiveness and contentiousness with the opposition and anyone who dares to criticize him. Well, in August 2007, three Slovenian artists (one of them actually Italian and another Croatian, yet living in Slovenia for many years), singularly, privately and without any seemingly connection between them, legally changed their name into the political leader’s. Yet it caused commotion every now and then, as at one of the three artists’ wedding, where both the groom’s and his best men’s name was Janez Jana and apparently the town hall officer could not prevent himself from laughing It has been clear from the very beginning that the choice was actually public and it took watchfulness as well as courage to be made. If we analize the artists’ life, none of the three has slightly ever fancy right-wing ideas. And it is frankly unlikely that all of them have ever experienced a sudden conversion.
It is clear that theirs has been an artistic and, broadly speaking, a political action, which has crossed the borders between conceptual art, “artivism” (artistic activism), media and technology use. In next to no time Emil Hrvatin, Davide Grassi e iga Kari disappeared from the scene and all their previous works, as well as their activities on the Web have become Janez Jana’s . As far as Hrvatin’s name is concerned, the same happened in the performative art magazine Maska, in the NGOs he joined, the First World Camp and many other performances. Online and offline projects such as Problemarket The Problem Stock Exchange, Demokino Political and virtual Agora and Brainloop (v. Digimag 22, March 2007) created by Davide Grassi , are now signed by Janez Jana too, as well as iga Kari’s works and actions.
The conscious tie with Slovenian (as well as international) conceptual art tradition is very clear in the three artists’ first performance, Mount Triglav on Mount Triglav , set up on 6th August 2007 and exhibited at Ljubljana Museum of Modern Art and at Noema’s Gallery on Second Life at the same time in the following October ( http://www.reakt.org/triglav/index.html ). The work was inspired by a historical performance which took place in 1968 and somehow was the starting point for a generation of artistic “new avant-garde” connected to the fights and revolts of that time in Slovenia. On 30th December 1968 the three members of OHO group were photographed in Ljubljana Park Zvezda beneath a big black mantle that covered the three of them ; just their hippie mops of hair were visible. The title of the performance, Mount Triglav , referred to the three-peak shape of the mountain, which is in a certain sense the symbol of Slovenia.
In 2004 the performance were repeated, as a post-modern ironic quotation, by the group Irwin, that was connected to the Neue Slovenische Kunst movement (New Slovenian Art, NSK) . By reproducing the historical picture of the OHO group in a political and social situation which had deeply changed from 1968 (the ex Yugoslavia had disintegrated and Slovenia became an independent country among European capitalist countries), the Irwin group wanted to underline the “fetish” character of their reproduction, thus expressing their disillusion and distance from current political and social changes.
The third time the work was performed by Janez Jana, Janez Jana and Janez Jana , the interpretation was completely different. The artists wanted to ironically criticize current politics (mainly through their name), thus distancing from the 68 avant-garde enthusiasm, as well as from the “cynical” fetishism of the Irwins. The three Janezes Jana (unlike their predecessors), actually went to Mount Triglav, and that is how they are showed in the pictures. Yet, that time the black mantle was wholly digital, a trick created by a computer programme; beside, the exhibit took place in a gallery and in the media capital of contemporary virtuality, Second Life, at same time. Moreover, the manipulatory and fake character of new digital technologies may lead us to doubt that the three artists actually went to Mount Triglav and so to believe that the pictures which show them in that setting are just usually (and even too simple) digital deception.
Yet, it would be wrong to believe Janezes Jana’s work is just an accusation of how the actions on the Web are not “authentic”. Their thought is subtler. For example, in the action Signature Event Context , the situation is overturned. It is only the “interpretation” on the Web that makes the signature visible on the memorial. per esempio, la situazione è ribaltata. È solo la “interpretazione” via rete che rende visibile la firma sul monumento. While a viewer of the performance would not be able to decipher the meaning of the performes’ movements live, those movements become evident when seen on a computer connected to the Web, thanks to the GPS data on the memorial’s satellite image. In that case, it is technology which has a semiotic function. It is thus clear that the way the three Janas argue about the concept and realization of identity is closely connected with the media and technology virtual world. Their actions, which some critics defined ” subversive assertion” and others, according to the ideas of the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj iek, “over-identification”, do not simply aim at questioning the identity of the original Janez Jana (the Slovenian prime minister) or to mock his statements. That is just a part of the job, as for example during one of the Jana’s wedding party, when he quoted one of the leader’s favourite statements: “The more we are, the quicker we achieve our goals”. In the wedding context the original meaning was completely overturned and we might interpret that as “The more Janez Janas are, the more evident the demagogic and populist character of his action is”.
However, the “artistic activism” dimension is not the one and only meaning of the work. Through the provocative and ironic use of a political leader’s name, Janez Jana places in doubt the basis of everyone’s social and individual identity and wants to deeply investigate on the social conventions that constitute and decode it, aiming at unearthing those processes which lie on the border between mind and society. That is the right context for the quotation of Jacques Derrida which the three artists uses to explain their performance Signature Event Context : “By definition a written signature implies the effective or empirical absence of who signed. Nevertheless, it marks and keeps its present state in a present past, which will stay present in the future as well. Thus, a present in general, in the transcendental form of a “quality of the present” (preservation). This general preservation is somehow linked to the present punctuality, always evident and unique, in the shape of a signature. That is the mysterious originality of every flourish beneath a signature. In order to connect to the reference, it is necessary to keep the complete singularity of the event of the signature and of its shape: the pure reproduction of a pure event.”
It has been on that idea that the project Re:act has developed( www.reakt.org ): the re-enactment , the repeat of artistic performances or historical events of the past century. A project conceived by Janez Jansa, once known as Davide Grassi, produced by Aksioma , which includes actions by Jansa alone and the three Janezes Jansa together (for example The Mount Triglav on Mount Triglav ), as well as collaborations with other artists (such as Eva and Franco Mattes, aka 0100101110101101.ORG, who repeated on Second Life Chris Burden’s and Joseph Bueys’ performances). Re:act does not mean to highlight, by re-writing and re-enacting, an assumed character of expressive universality; rather it asserts the historical and persistent character of the experience and the hard task of finding a “sense” in it: because it is by repeating , as Deleuze said, that the difference is created and it is that difference only that let us live and experiment.