About the work of Nika Oblak & Primož Novak which has been showcased on series of exhibitions entitled And Now for Something Completely Different, currently on at Kresija Gallery, Ljubljana.
Works of art generally reflect the zeitgeist in which they were created; the more effective ones furthermore universalise their subject matter in order to be topical and comprehensible years, decades and even centuries later. In 1893 when Norwegian artist Edvard Munch first painted his most celebrated and iconic work The Scream its appearance and its edginess prodded the very neuralgic points of society at that time. The painting caused unease among the audience as it showed the unthinkable – the expression of pure emotion. Munch painted it at the height of the Industrial Revolution and the Victorian era when the cultural code relating to public appearance and behaviour was extremely stringent and rigid. In the late 19th century in (what is now) Norway, as well as in other parts of Europe, a genuine display of emotions stood out in stark contrast to the expected norms of behaviour of responsible adults. The Scream sets up a mirror to the severe and uniform society of the old continent, a culture that was at the peak of its colonial hegemony against the rest of the world–importing cheap raw material and exporting rules and norms of the so-called “civilised world”. Hence, the self-portrait reflects the artist’s own anxieties and fears as much as the collective state of mind. It is the ultimate display of primal and animalistic instincts of human beings–characteristic increasingly suppressed in modern, urban societies. The Scream is (was) therefore a subversive work of art.
The world, however, has not changed in essence in one century. Even nowadays, one is a subject to number of social rules, conventions and expectations long perpetuated with significant help from mainstream popular culture as well as political and economic propaganda. The societies of the so-called “developed world” still export their basic social values (often by violently imposing parliamentary democracy and free market economics) to already devastated, marginal countries of the so-called “third world”, even though these principles have been proven unsuccessful and damaging again and again. The educated and engaged individual may be well informed nowadays; nevertheless, he or she will also very probably be powerless and frustrated.
The homonymous work by the collective Nika Oblak & Primož Novak, representing thoughtful paraphrase of Munch’s The Scream, focuses on similarly quintessential questions–be they intimate or political. In addition to uncensored expression of a human being’s most basic instincts and feelings reflected in the painful scream of the protagonist of the video piece, the installation may as well be understood and interpreted as a metaphor for the transiency of the superior position of the privileged part of the planet at the expense of others. The work is set in the present, i.e. in the period of fast communication devices and rapidly developing new technologies that largely distract one’s attention from the dissolution of the fundamental human and social values. The TV screen, on which the video is played, carries a powerful symbolic message: it showcases the shameless manipulation by mainstream media; people’s addiction to constant virtual interaction; and the dominance of catchy, simplistic media content. Among the cacophony of all types and means of communication available in the past couple of decades, television emerges as the ultimate medium that has irrevocably marked the periods since the mid 20th century, unopposed and uninterrupted. Nika Oblak’s & Primož Novak’s The Scream hints at their own disbelief in the prescribed world of everyday life, as seen in the media, while on the symbolic level it radically breaks with this spectacular world, as much as it is possible. The cracked glass of the TV screen, the consequence of the pitching scream, emphasises the fragility of television and other means of communication. They can still be unplugged or broken by a man.
Nika Oblak & Primož Novak, Reality is Out, 2012
In their kinetic installations the artists have always wanted to see beyond the usual self-evident status of contemporary technology and their works have always reflected their relative scepticism towards the conventions and expectations of the society. In the past fourteen years of continuous creative output the tandem has produced an extensive body of work including of videos, relational works and multimedia pieces which testify to the absurdities of modern life; to the subjugation to conventions of tradition and popular culture; and to contradictions within the world of art–with great sense of humour and self-irony. Their works commonly deal with the idea of expanding two-dimensional video into spatial installation by using advanced technological means. In this way, the artists address an individual who is unavoidably part of the multifaceted mechanisms of the currently prevailing neoliberal ideology with the inevitable entrapment of people in their everyday routines, reminiscent of the monotony of operating machines. The kinetic video installations therefore indicate humanity’s seemingly self-evident relationship with technological development, the imperative to adapt to any kind of change as well as highlighting the prevailing economic principle, which is a consideration above scientific and humanistic principles nowadays. The works showcased on the exhibition at Kresija Gallery, Ljubljana are therefore exceptionally direct, lucid and remarkably visual. In these works, the tandem enacts a number of everyday routines, which are creatively interpreted and reflected in the repetitiveness of relentless Sisyphean work.
© Miha Colner, May 2017 / proof reading Ana Čavić
Nika Oblak & Primož Novak, Sisyphus Actions, 2011