Media representations of characters, pop and contemporary art

Gallery of Contemporary Art, 21. 7. - 1. 10. 2017

Participating artists: Vesna Bukovec, Jure Cvitan, Tomaž Črnej, Gašper Kunšič, Tomaž Tomažin, Nika Oblak in Primož Novak, Iza Pavlina, Mark Požlep, Adrijan Praznik, Arjan Pregl, Oliver Pilić, Andrej Škufca, Manja Vadla, Mladina magazine*

Curator: Maja Antončič


"I'll always be there. Always. It's not the powers. Not the cape. It's about standing up for justice. For truth. As long as people like you are out there, I'll be there. Always." – Superman (Action Comics, #840)


A good sixty years have passed since the glittering images of advertising ads, star icons and film entered the field of art for the first time. The exhibition at hand attempts to show just how skilfully the references of media content and similar culturally interesting phenomena of everyday contemporaneity are being abbreviated by artists today. However, in contrast to the presentations of "pop art", which would relate to this specific direction of art particularly through historical connotation or association both in terms of form and content, it is the character, as the bearer of the popularization of cultural content and mass consumption that stands in the forefront of the exhibited projects. The emphasis is on using the well-known language of the mass media, which presents various semantic challenges, supported by the chosen character in the artwork. The character is in this case the player who already blurred the borders between reality and fiction in his original existence, but now constructs additional messages and creates a field of reflection or criticism within the context of contemporary art. Thirteen artists draw from an extensive dictionary of media images, online social networks, from the narratives of film and advertising, as well as the marketing apparatus. They speak of the "heroes" of contemporary society that fill our everyday zone of the visible and the perceptive. They are joined by a selection of covers of the Mladina magazine, whose authors – along with some other artists in the exhibition – satirically change the "heroes" into "anti-heroes", and less frequently the other way round.
The transition from the idols of the past – the "idols of production" to the idols of magazines – the "idols of consumption", took place in America in as early as the 1940s, according to the biographical research of sociologist, Leo Lowenthal. The classical hero, who fulfils his social roles, is pushed out by the "personality that no longer determines what he does, but the skill of self-representation, self-construction and the ability to simulate what this figure is supposed to be." It is precisely media representation that symbolically indicates the perception of the authority and legitimacy of someone or something. Pop culture is therefore always also a place of political and ideological conflict.
By using the elements and techniques of pop culture, the artists are making pop culture even more visible, entering the field of wider and closer politic strategies. The designers and photographers of the Mladina magazine covers (2016, 2017), for instance, play with the merger and semantic loops of current political and other phenomena. In the same way, the graphic series Fictional Portraits (2016) by Oliver Pilić combines two notorious political images, but only to achieve the ultimate effect with a more complex approach in technique and content. Tomorrowland (2013) by Adrijan Praznik, the only independently displayed painting piece, in the pop art manner, also contains several techniques and meanings. The use of the moving image and the language of film in the exhibition starts with the video 236743 (2015), a piece by artist Andrej Škufca. It deals with the consequence and effect of reading media images. The artist brings out the passive consumer of TV programmes and online channels with intense, content-rich narratives. Much like Škufca, most of the artists in the exhibition place themselves in the role of the central protagonist of the story. Precisely through this for instance that Tomaž Tomažin maintains a tension, either in his video Who's there? It's me. (2008) or photo panoramas Attempt to Levitate (2010). In their fictional documentary Going South (2009), Nika Oblak and Primož Novak stereotypically stage a true story from the Guinness Book of Records. A documentary is also presented by artist Arjan Pregl, who redirects the attention to the android Data from the Star Trek series in his film Painting of the Future (2007). The author as the researcher of the character and announcer of the story, tries to elaborate the android's tendency for humanity and artistic engagement. The star status is well outlined by artist Manja Vadla in her installation It’s time for revolution, Part 2: Alpen von Blond (2010). The image of a singer in the style of concert "merchandise" overflows the space. Instead of a helpless victim of fame, the artist builds the character into an emancipated representative of the object of desire and an activist against typical social anomalies at the same time. The abstract desire for success and happiness in life is, through parody of the suggestibility of the popular new age lifestyle, highlighted by Vesna Bukovec in her White Performances video series (2010). The desire of the viewer and the user of online sexual fetishes is explored by Iza Pavlina in her latest intermedia project Rule 34 (2017). Photographer Tomaž Črnej takes on the field of representation of characters from advertisements. He places the photographs of friends with a weird script, which is actually a trick to attract the attention of customers, into the central advertising scheme of a real bicycle catalogue (2014). Gašper Kunšič comments on the phenomenon of overwhelming images and empty consumerist slogans with the image of a gnome, which he plays himself, lost in a saturated graphic landscape (Lost in the Woods, 2014). The question of superheroes’ identity is concluded in the exhibition by the project The Last Supper of the Super Heroes (2006) by Mark Požlep and the project It's hard to be a Superman (2012-) by Jure Cvitan. In the first, the artist seats himself in the place of Judas in the costume of his own fictitious hero, who is the only one at the table that does not possess supernatural powers. In the second, the artist, in a Superman costume, literally assumes responsibility, and with this also a new social role, to help unknown people in real situations.
The story about us and them therefore unfolds. Through monitors, which replace picture frames, and travels into the world of media characters and artificially created faces of society, the artists either comment or take advantage of the phenomena that form an integral part of a complex circle of popular culture. The artistic presentations make a comment exactly where the effects of popularization do not leave us indifferent, but contain similar, if not identical, approaches of presentation. With a good degree of irony and humour in the representation of their heroes, the artists create a field of criticism, establishing a part of the discourse about contemporary society that sells its soul despite a clear insight into the problems of capitalism and collapse of social values. They recreate a ubiquity of buyable fictitious images that are always here. To reveal their own selves.


The exhibition is part of the programme Jeans Generation: The Popular Culture of Celje from Jeans to Mobile Phones, a project of the Museum of Recent History Celje.

* – design: Damjan Ilić, Tomaž Lavrič, Ivian Kan Mujezinović, Fabrika Sarajevo – photography: Uroš Abram, Borut Krajnc, Matjaž Rušt


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