Parva scintilla saepe magnam flamam excitat (1)
It is this Latin proverb that illustrates best the beginning
and the content of the project Animal Tour. Many art projects are born
from friendly connections, from sharing and developing of ideas, interaction
and communication and of course from the excitement inflamed by the words
while having a glass of good wine. This was also the way of making of
this project, which aims at offering possibilities to the non-established
artists, regardless of their colour, reference or back-up of an institution.
I am infinitely grateful to ®eljko Jerman (2)
, who by inviting me to collaboration, made it possible for me to present
outside Slovenia a group of young Slovene artists as well as the organization
within which I am actively involved and to lay the first stone on the
path I wish to follow in the future.
This invitation actually gave reason to the idea and the project itself.
It should not be overlooked that the Animal Tour project represents the
upgrading of the initial Galapagos project, carried out by the artists
Damijan Kracina and Vladimir Leben at the Alcatraz gallery in Metelkova,
Ljubljana, in October 2004. This means that the Animal Tour had from the
very beginning a good-quality artistic and conceptual basis.
The project intertwines the symbolic forms of science and art which by
definition exclude each other, but this is exactly what gives a special
feature to what emerges from their blending.
Animal Tour is undoubtedly a very topical project, since the fusing of
art and science and its new technologies, has been an on-growing phenomenon
during the last few years. We have to emphasize that this project aims
at a discussion on the content level and not the form as previously done
by the so-called genetic and bio art. Besides the promotion of the young
Slovene artists, the Animal Tour project would also like to draw attention
to the linking of the two medieval cities and their traditions, which
is of an immense importance for the artists themselves and the institutions
they represent. It is about intertwining two different art systems, exchanging
experience and knowledge, all of which enriches the participating individuals
as well as the society they live in. It is a project that links two cities,
both of which face an inevitable centralization of art and share the so-called
'Big city' complex.
Cultural connections have always been the means of enriching the existential
base of countries and cities. Therefore it is my sincere wish and hope
that the Animal Tour project might be the stepping stone towards a more
frequent and intensive cultural linking among different cities.
Formally the project could be separated into four parts (3)
that can be presented as independent units, but it is actually the joining
of the four that brings about the real, most exhaustive message. The central
point is definitely represented by the exhibitions in ©kofja Loka and
Split, since they are the starting and the final point of the project.
The two exhibitions make use of different media since Kracina and Leben
have used in their work the traditional media (paintings and sculptures)
as well as multimedia (video, photography, music). The two artists try
to humorously bring forward the idea of the endangered world we live in,
either through Leben's anthropomorphosis of animals in hundreds of different
colours or Kracina's vision of the future exciting the spectator's imagination
and allowing an individual interpretation of the form and the content.
Human cultures and their art have always supported the idea of hybrid
living forms (e.g. centaurs, fauns, sirens and others) which infallibly
speak in favour of intangibility of the body and its creation. The above
mentioned exhibitions try to pursue a story of the creation of a new world
which represents for the two artists a retreat from the commotion of day-to-day
life, its impersonal and inhuman attitude towards fellowmen and entire
The great constructor
The art of Damijan Kracina and Vladimir Leben wants especially
to draw attention to vanity of man and the way he treats nature and its
living beings. The message of the two artists is entirely clear and horrifying
at the same time due to its truthfulness. What future awaits us and what
will be the path of evolution, if the Great constructor(4)
continues his dominant attitude to nature and animals? The art laid before
us is most certainly a critique of the human politics making rash decisions
about the believable and the unbelievable as far as science is concerned.
Certainly science does brings positive discoveries for the human race,
but one should never forget to question oneself: How about nature and
its processes? Might this be an occasion of Sisyphean labour? An occasion
of disrupting and rebuilding the ecosystems past the processes of nature
and natural selection sustained by Darwin's theory of evolution? How many
living creatures will end as the first and incredible Dolly(5)
because of man and his existence? How many more exhibits will be necessary
for us to take precaution? The fact is that species mutate either because
of reproduction processes or certain geographical factors and isolation.
The message of these artists is that nature takes care of it by itself
without man and his big plan. It is most certain that science and its
branches are necessary and indispensable for our development and progress,
but we should never let the ethical questions pertaining to humanity and
nature be shut down by their pressure.
Was Darwin wrong ?
No. This time Darwin's theory of evolution does not bump
into the wall protecting the advocates of creationism(6)
but presents itself as a secret vision from the standpoint of art as a
symbolic form which does not rationalize things but rather complicates
them. While Darwin's theory was based on the research of the past and
the present, Damijan Kracina and Vladimir Leben are searching to expose
in their work a component of the future, questioning the role of Homo
sapiens and his dominant attitude towards nature. As already put by the
curator of the Alcatraz gallery, Jadranka Ljubièiè, the Galápagos Islands
bear associations to Darwin's theory of evolution and the fact that all
species must mutate if the new ones should come into existence. The process
of mutation is therefore one of the basic components in the works of Kracina
and Leben. We know that evolution would not have taken place without mutation
and although the changes of the double helix that occurred throughout
history were few, we believe that these very changes have imprinted our
present appearance. Therefore without mutations and modifications there
would not have been any new species. Thus the two artists are writing
a story that has not been written before, a story that has been neglected
due to its secret or heretic nature and was let behind, piling up with
other theories. Could we say that theirs is a theory treading a solitary
path, halfway between science and art? Kracina and Leben are pointing
at a constant development of the species of animals, and if we go deeper
into their art we can recognize the latent message saying that all art
is constantly developing, undergoing changes and adaptations of all kinds,
thus providing us with an excellent platform for social criticism. It
might be for this very fact that this kind of art has been shoved away
to the brink of public discussion, as it has always been with all the
There are numerous myths retelling the creation of the world
and the species. There are numerous explanations for the natural phenomena
and as many reactions against them.
Different ideologies have tried to provide plausible interpretations of
our origin and history has constantly witnessed passionate, emotional
and irrational battles between them, let it be the Rig-Veda's hymns on
the creation of the world, the Scandinavian myth, the myth of the Tibetan
Buddhists, Hesiod's Theogony, or the words from Genesis, saying that in
the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (7)
Then, in 1859, Charles Darwin came up with his theory of evolution, placing
thus a new foundation for the research of the origin of species. At the
very moment Darwin published his work(8) , the
story of the creation turned into a battle between religion and atheism,
lasting for a whole good century until, in 1950, Pope Pius XII made the
first step towards reconciliation of the Christian religion and the theory
of evolution in his Humani generis.
The next step in this process followed two decades later, after the second
Vatican council(9) in 1986, when Pope John Paul
II tried to establish an even firmer alliance between the Christian religion
and the theory of evolution with his speech on St Peter's Square in Vatican.
The outcome of this course of action remained, as expected, within the
scope and the interests of the Vatican.
The present discussion certainly does not want to dig into the battles
of the past while inquiring the historical and religious data on the creation
of the world. We would like to point out that this theme, that Kracina
and Leben have been working on as well, has always been a subject of research
for the entire humanity, whether represented by individuals or institutions,
teachings or simply a way of life.
What is the truth and which the right course of action? This is certainly
one of the questions that Kracina and Leben have asked themselves. Is
there a mystery of the Big Bang(10) or can we
bring it all down to the simple but reasonable question of the hen and
the egg. A question as important for the human kind as is mysterious the
legend of the Parthenope(11) siren, which symbolizes
the basic ethical stance of the human being. The artistic vision expressed
through the works of the two artists is therefore an excellent platform
for placing a new myth without getting stuck with evolutionism but rather
sympathizing with it and accepting it.
The present work is a proper creation of two artists who are adept in
finding their way among different dogmas, theories, myths and teachings,
without rejecting them, but building their own world that allows retreat
and setting up of its own time and space.
Art and utopia
Could we then describe art as the moment when you release
your mind of all worries, prejudice, convictions and preconceptions and
let the work of art speak for itself? Then waiting for the bells to strike
and the ground sway beneath your feet(12).
Whenever we focus on studying art or its components, be it sound, colours,
moving images or sculptures, we always encounter a certain unity, a special
state behind the separated part. There is an emotional emphasis to this
state of deepest contemplation, which brings about pure aesthetic pleasure.
Still, the word "beautiful" did not always have the same value
or significance. And freedom was not always a necessary condition for
artistic creativity, the same as historical possibilities were not always
the subject of art. That is why contemporary visual artistic production
makes it possible for us to ascribe ever so new significance to the past,
the present and the future. Most certainly art is one of the best media
to postulate one's own position, moreover, Damijan Kracina and Vladimir
Leben project their own modified reality through the creation of their
own world and its ecosystem.
This urge to establish a new world is related to the aspirations of the
modern society which is getting more and more occupied with some fictitious
forms of existence representing a better but unachievable world. It is
via art that this escape, although temporary, is possible. Even though
Kracina and Leben express their disappointment with the human race, we
can still detect an optimistic stance in their common language regardless
of the human mistakes, while they are hoping to contribute to greater
awareness of man and his attitude towards nature. Which is then the true
nature of our relationship with other living beings? The world of Kracina
and Leben is offering an answer to that question. Kracina's 'Biothingies'
bear no connection to teratology(13) but rather
represent a story of genetically perfected species living in bleak, mutagenic
environments. On the other hand, Leben's artistic world is full of animals
speaking to us and trying to open up new doors in our imagination. The
world of the two artists is open to new, improved and unpolluted species.
As Sigrid Schade put it : "In our bodies we are contained. But bodies
move on". Identities turn into hybrids looking for universality and
the double helix changes from generation to generation, mutating and forming
new progressive species, which might become endemic again in the new world.
Whenever a human being is alone, existentially endangered and despaired,
he/she begins to consciously create his/her own constructions, assigning
them an ontological dignity on profane level and establishing an existential
balance on the minimal level. Can this be balance for everyone? There
must certainly be a deliberate reflection involved and an aspiration towards
better living conditions.
Kracina and Leben are offering us a marvellous fantasy about coexistence
of human and animal species, something that has not been in actual existence
for a long time or, as Men Zel put it, is a reproduction of reality.
Real art will always be the one most sincere to itself and in this way
apt to mock all teachings, science, history, great ideologies and theirs
apparatus, since art can independently create what the former have been
and will continue to battle for on and on and on…
The message of the artists is laid before you. Let me therefore conclude
with the following thought: Art employs method for the symmetrical formation
of beauty, as science employs it for the logical exposition of truth."
(14) Man, what art thou looking for?
1. A tiny spark will often excite a great flame.
(A Latin proverb)
2. ®eljko Jerman is a Croatian visual artist, active since 1970.
He is one of the founding members of the post-neoavantgarde art group
called »Grupa ¹estorice autora«, and has been the programme and art director
of the Ghetto gallery in Split since 1999.
3. Part 1: ‘Intermedia art’ exhibitions in ©kofja Loka (the oval
tower of the ©kofja Loka castle) and in Split (the Ghetto gallery). Part
2: the transport of the works of art between ©kofja Loka and Split, complemented
by thematic discussions, performances and other events; Part 3: release
of a publication containing theoretical arguments of the project and visual
material, that will be exhibited; Part 4: documentation of the entire
project, publication of the individual part of the documentation, also
on the internet site to make the project available to everyone. Our main
goal is to distribute and make accessible the documented material to a
broad public and to enliven the archives of the movable cultural heritage.
4. This expression wants to draw attention to the superior attitude
of man towards nature; it is a play on words, related to Charlie Chaplin's
1940 film, The Great Dictator
5. Sheep Dolly was the first cloned mammal. She died on 14th February
2003 at the age of six, having been put to sleep due to lung cancer. Her
body is exhibited at the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
6. The doctrine that ascribes the origins of all things to God's
acts of creation rather than to evolution.
7. The Rig-Veda hymns of creation say that when Purusha was slaughtered
to pieces, the universe, the world, and the seed on earth arose from those
pieces; the Scandinavian myth claims that in the beginning there was a
land of heat and a land of cold, and a giant and a cow rose in between;
the cow licked all the ice and then man came into existence; the Tibetan
Buddhists believe that the world comes into being, exists, is ruined and
then comes into existence again.
8. Darwin, Charles (1901), On the Origin of Species by Means of
Natural Selection or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle
for life, London, New York, Melbourne: Ward, Lock & Co.
9. The second Vatican council (1962-1965) gave rise to a large-scale
discussion on evolution and the Church, based on encyclical Humani Generis,
in which Pius XII demanded for theologians to be concerned with questions
of faith and be able to discern facts from hypotheses which are more or
10. When I was writing this article, I read in daily newspaper
about a discovery of the oldest star in space, which according to its
composing elements presumably came into existence fifteen minutes after
the big bang. The scientists claim that such a star should contain very
little heavy elements, such as iron, and a lot of light elements, such
as lithium. It turned out that the newly discovered star contained unusually
little lithium and immense quantities of heavy strontium. My purpose is
not to use this information as an argument supporting my claims but as
an indication of the numerous mysteries that still surround the creation
myth, which makes man's superior attitude towards nature seem powerless
11. The legend of the Parthenope siren says that her body was cast
ashore the gulf of Naples where she was discovered by the local people.
None of them knew what species Parthenope belonged to and where she came
from. And yet there she was, right in front of their eyes, and remained
untouched despite her mysterious origin and the unresolved perplexity
of the inhabitants questioning her strange hybrid form. The myth can stand
as a metaphor for the things you never knew about.
12. Harrison, Charles (1997) Konceptualna umetnost in problem predstavitve.
V: Svet umetnosti 1997. Konceptualna umetnost 60-ih in 70-ih let. Ljubljana:
13. The scientific study of congenital abnormalities and abnormal
formations in biology.
14. Edward George Earle Lytton, British writer and politician