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Maribor Theatre Festival — Archive 2010 - 2016

Lela B. Njatin: “A Nation shall write the Verdict for Itself by Itself”

Exhibition presented by the Regional Museum Kočevje, co-producers The Municipality of Kočevje and the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Ljubljana

Dedicated to the 140th anniversary of the birth of Ivan Cankar

Lela B. Njatin is valued as a member of the generation of Slovenian writers born around 1960. Her most recognised book is the novel Intolerance (Književna mladina, Ljubljana 1988, reprint. Aleph, Ljubljana 1991). Treated with less attention so far is her visual art, which she has been creating since 1977, at first in a post-neo-avant-garde manner. After 2010, she has been generating practices of contemporary participative art. Her visual art is always motivated by and located in Kočevje. Today she keeps a studio there, although she lives in Ljubljana. B. Njatin places her performative art in the field of theatre (for example: I didn’t want to know but I have since come to know; Muzeum Institute, Ljubljana 2005) and in the field of fine arts (for example: I didn’t want to see, but I have since come to see; Gallery Vžigalica/MGML, Ljubljana 2013).

The exhibition Lela B. Njatin: "A Nation shall write the Verdict for Itself by Itself” was originally displayed at the Regional Museum Kočevje from 21 June until 15 September 2014, in the regular yearly programme Summer with Artists and at the ZRC Atrium in Ljubljana from 29 September until 31 October 2014 as part of the programme of the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. It was later repeated at the Slovene Permanent Theatre in Trieste and at the Cultural Centre Ivan Cankar in Vrhnika. Since 1963 the Regional Museum Kočevje has been residing in the cultural centre Šeškov dom, the former home of Falcon Gymnasts. Still new and fresh, in September 1943 its grand hall was painted with the words "A NATION SHALL WRITE THE VERDICT FOR ITSELF BY ITSELF” and "Ivan Cankar” beneath it. It was painted during the brief period when Kočevje was a free territory. Later on, the inscription was shot through and after 1945 it became a national monument along with the gunshot wounds. In the presence of this inscription many different events have taken place until the present day. In 2001, the entire complex of Šeškov dom earned the status as a national cultural and historical monument.

Lela B. Njatin addresses the quotation and its path through the local history as an example of how the power of art expresses itself in everyday activities. She observes the quotation during its spreading of the literary word from books into life and as a visual element of Kočevje’s urban landscape, which she finds as relatively lasting and unchangeable. Looking at its iconic role and at the force of a word, which does not die away, B. Njatin empowered some functional and historical features of the building during the primary constellation of the exhibition. She used art installations, authorised displays of artworks and performances to do so. Her artwork is related to the colour and shape of the inscribed letters, which were painted in specially designed avant-garde typography. Using artistic tactics she calls for people’s awareness, addressing those who are living with the quotation to think of the past for the future, just to strengthen the present cohabitation. This is what the curator of the exhibition, Vesna Jerbič Perko underlines as the guiding theme of the exhibition. Using participative actions, B. Njatin invigorates the audience to tie up the collective memory, the memory that in Kočevje was split so many times, while the region was suffering from war, poverty and migration. So the individual memories are now turning into a cultural paradigm.

The exhibition at the Maribor Theatre Festival presents her work using documentation as well as pictures and sound. The destiny of the quotation after 1945 was researched by Vesna Jerbič Perko and presented as a story on the panels alongside the artwork. In a catalogue published by the Regional Museum Kočevje, Miklavž Komelj wrote of B. Njatin’s artistic approach: "Lela B. Njatin explores Kočevje, the place in which she grew up, with almost obsessive punctuality. She records all data, all dates, her documentation resembles a criminal dossier. She puts attention to every dating, every signing. She speaks very comprehensively about social problems and examines the historical situation very thoroughly. This town was marginalised and on the one side isolated, but on the other – quite emblematically – it became a place of thickening tensions and those tensions were significant for the entire Slovenia. But she punctilliously credits also the relations which the sociological and historical analysis would never take into account.”

Writes Lela B. Njatin about her artistic method: "It is an intervalisation of the timespace on philosophical grounds. I respond to the local trauma of a fragmented community by calling for an active role of the audience, to whom I offer the opportunity to fill the void. The latter one is captured from the collective consciousness by my artwork, which leans on rare common points of identification, the inscription with Cankar’s quotation in the museum’s building being one of them. The inscription has an additional visual quality of being full of holes. I am thinking of holes as of philosophical figures, therefore they are also an abyss, a vacuum, nothingness, death. With my artistic action I am conceptually affirming seeing as understanding. My starting point is that anything new – also a new artistic work – always appears along with an unease, mostly because it has not been seen before. From this point on, I collect art works into cycles, which are nets of differences and deferences and of immediate and mediate in the process of repetition.

Curator: Vesna Jerbič Perko

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