About Jaka Babnik and his Jebodrom series of photographs displayed at Photon in September-October 2014!
In his series of photographs Jebodrom, Jaka Babnik deals with contemporary phenomena concerning public spaces by taking the role of an active observer, documentarian and commentator. Jebodrom is a slang term used across the Balkans to denote popular locations known for their adventurous public sex activities. Babnik documents these more or less concealed spots, (usually) on the margins of the urban environment, in a distinctly topographic manner and from a sociological and anthropological perspective. Despite being seemingly deserted, these spots nevertheless serve a very particular function.
Babnik sublimates these marginal, derelict, disreputable places, which have become infamous for their function, making the locations themselves his focal point. The photographs show spaces without figures or action, wholly emptied out and static, except for the accumulation of a very specific type of waste. Babnik’s attention is on locations themselves. Formally, he draws on the long, prolific tradition of landscape photography (and even longer traditions of vedute painting and printmaking) that have exerted their influence on contemporary art as well as so-called aftermath photography, which depicts and commemorates the visible consequence of some past action rather than the decisive moment itself. Thus, first and foremost, these images seek to communicate something of the social context to which they belong, something often indiscernible at first sight. As opposed to his previous series, Babnik now deliberately moves away from the principles of documentary photography, being interested not in the people who come, for whatever reason, to these obscure places to seek moments of intimacy, but in the geography, iconography and attributes of these spaces. Unlike controversial Japanese photographer Kohei Yoshiyuki, who would stalk and watch people having sex in parks around Tokyo in the 1970s, for Babnik the phenomenon of sex in a public place is merely a frame of mind used to raise, through visual means, some key issues of our time. The empty spaces allude to adultery, recreational adventurous sex, or simply suggest the lack of private space.
While on the one hand the omnipresent social stigma attached to these places is rooted in stereotypes and perceived immorality of sexual intercourse in public spaces, on the other hand these spaces are what they are: a product of their location. Most often, they are located in urban and suburban environments, close enough to be accessible and far enough to be unfrequented (at least) at night-time. They are usually suburban forest spots, secluded parts of industrial zones, places near rivers and under bridges, deserted parking lots and other public spaces that have lost their original function or perform several different functions throughout the the day. Instead of rendering them sinister, the artist portrays the numerous locations recorded in Slovenia and other countries of the former Yugoslavia as tranquil and peaceful, with only urban legends and barely visible remains of activity testifying to their true function.
© Miha Colner, 25 August 2014