The modern history, rise and legacy of Velenje, a small city in North-Eastern Slovenia, are related to coal mining. In the 1950’s, when the region was still part of Yugoslavia, a group of people drove an initially non-official (not supported by the federal government) plan of architectural and urban development aimed to significantly improve the life of workers. Most of the applied projects, some of them very sophisticated in this context, were done through voluntary work and transformed a town of cabins and shacks into a model of “socialist miracle”, visited by some of the most important leaders of Eastern Europe. Its most conspicuous face was a series of extremely modern buildings for living and communal use such as schools, galleries and workers’ clubs, and a very specific urban design. Even more important, they produced in the people a sense of proud and belonging that still persists, while the migration of workers from other Yugoslavian republics strengthened the openness and diversity of the social landscape. Velenje was one of the eight Yugoslavian cities named after Tito (between 1981 and 1990) and still shelters, in spite of some wills, the tallest (10 m) statue of him in the world.
Francisco Tomsich was invited by Kunigunda Festival of Youth Culture to carry out in Velenje an artistic research conducted to produce an exhibition in Stara pekarna [Old Bakery], a building in the old center of the city which was used as the town industrial bakery and it’s now subject to demolition plans.
Between April and August, 2016, Tomsich visited Velenje and met local organisers and cultural and tourism workers, collecting information and images.
The proposed procedure, Theory #Velenje, integrates the on-going Theory # series of art projections dealing with the representation of complex creative processes in specific coordinates of time and space through video, photography, painting, drawing, installation, text, sound and sculpture. The applied methods include portraiture, historical research, conversation, walking and progressive occupation of an exhibition space as metaphor of the whole process and its acquired or intuited meanings. Images, themes and questions arisen from these research strategies are analysed, re elaborated and combined in order to produce a narrative which deals with the traditions of history painting, anarchitecture, realism and allegory.
In the context of this approach, the concept of theory is extended in order to surpass its contemporary use as a synonym of abstract, axiomatic or philosophical discourse (“intelligible explanation based on observation and reasoning”, definition dated in the 1630’s) and the modern meaning of “conception, mental scheme” and to embrace praxis, models of actuation related to the original Greek notion theoria, “contemplation, speculation; a looking at, viewing; a sight, show, spectacle, things looked at“, from theorein: “to consider, speculate, look at“, from theoros: “spectator”, from thea, “a view” + horan, “to see”, possibly from PIE root *wer- “to perceive”.
Theory #Velenje was produced in between 5th and 29th August, 2016. During that period, the artist lived in Velenje, meeting local people, participating in the activities of the Festival and occupying the whole Pekarna building as an open studio, spreading all around signs, images and works and permuting scale and use of the space, sometimes with the help of local artists and cultural workers (see full list of names in the last page of the exhibition guide):
Doors were covered with cardboard, corridors and closets converted into passages and cabinets, some rooms were closed to the public, and the whole space, from the entrance to the main exhibition room in the first floor was transformed through the construction of an installation made of discarded cardboard and wood, staples, nails and wire, linked to the Melusine’s Works series. This kind of tunnel, badly illuminated with low bulbs, was decorated with drawings and paintings made with coal and lime and displayed a series of “stations” (groups of printed photos, archaelogies from Melusine’s works #Lendava, drawings, installations, objects) related to local and regional recent history and poetics of space and former related research projects.
Once traversed the tunnel, the visitors came out into a slightly lighter room containing a series of paintings produced in Velenje during the work process. One of the walls displayed a big poster-like portrait of Jovanka Broz as a partisan, painted with home-made black oil directly on the tiled wall and surrounded by two paintings of Yugoslavian Honor Guards (taken from a photo of Tito’s mausoleum at the end of the 80’s) covering the side doors. This work refers to the highly symptomatic story of the dead and burial of Jovanka Broz in 2013.
Another wall displayed an tryptich of paintings made in Velenje,
while one side room, non accesible but visible through a metal sliding door, presented an installation called The horse inside the flat (Ne spadamo na balkona) which humorously points to some local urban legends about the customs of some migrant workers’ families while reflects at the same time on the effort made (1950-1960) by the local government to “educate” them in the modern life style the new architecture demanded, life style which, as seen in another piece (the projection The Velenje Diaries) is constantly subverted and defied until today.
After that, the visitor has no other option than going back into the tunnel to access the second floor of the building through the staircase. This tour also presents some stations, like a drawing made by local artists upon a diagram shown in a room of the castle’s museum which presents the statistics of miners’ accidents and the parts of the body usually affected by them, or a curtain made with an archaelogy of a painting from the series Cy, produced in Ljubljana in 2016.
The main room of the second floor exhibited the series of paintings Open Allegories #1, while one of the small ones hosted a serpent made of cardboard by local artists and volunteers which was threw through the window the day of the opening. In the exhibition guide, that room was called Nehushtan, linking it to another piece produced in Ljubljana in the frame of the association of artists Meta City Symptoms, making a link between Pekarna and Rog, an autonomous center of activities of artists and activists in Ljubljana that is also in danger of being appropriated and demolished by the city government.
The last room of the tour displayed a video installation, The Velenje diaries, a sketch:
The exhibition lasted two days more after the opening, 23rd of August. It was dismantled on Monday 29th, August, and paintings were transported to Ljubljana in order to produce a series of new Archaeologies.
Tour trough Theory #Velenje (VIDEO)
Photos of the opening
A spot about Theory #Velenje produced by EU volunteers working for Kunigunda Festival of Youth Culture Velenje
Two texts about Theory #Velenje produced by two EU volunteers working for Kunigunda Festival of Youth Culture Velenje: Mireia and Ugur
Open allegories #1, Ljubljana, 2015-2016. Series of 10 paintings, 200 x 140 cm each. Acrylics, oils, pigments, lime, coal, pencil, ink, paper, pastel, plaster, wax and charcoal on cardboard.
Five pieces from the Archaelogies series, fragments of installations and paintings made on cardboard then torn and burnt and pasted on paper, 297 x 420 mm each
A small selection of drawings, drafts, studies and sketches made in ROG in 2015. | Una pequeña selección de dibujos, esbozos, estudios y apuntes hechos en ROG durante 2015.
Darovanje (Ulyssesov pogled & pet Leninovih glav) | Offering (Ulyses Gaze & and the Five Lenin’s Heads) | Ofrenda (La mirada de Ulises y las Cinco Cabezas de Lenin)
Dogodek ob Ljubljanici, Trnovski pristan, pred grškim veleposlaništvom. | Action at theLjubljanica River, Trnovski Pristan, in front of the Greek Embassy. | Acción sobre el río Ljubljanica, Trnovski Pristan, frente a la Embajada de Grecia.
Photos | Fotos: Henrike von Dewitz