An essay about the practice of the artist Marija Mojca Pungerčar and about her current show in her studio N1 at Švicarija Creative Centre [MGLC – International Centre of Graphic Arts], Ljubljana (20 December 2018-18 April 2019).
Marija Mojca Pungerčar’s exhibition Three Botanical Stories (2018) – comprising of three new works: Overgrowing, Rise and Outbreak – encompasses three recent works that address small and intimate phenomena in her everyday life. By using photography and textile processing she creates petite, composed installations touching upon some of the fundamental existential questions such as the relationship between culture and nature as well as attitude of human beings towards their immediate surroundings, empathy, ephemerality and their own bodies.
In her relatively recent practice the artist has often focused on marginal social situations and followed changes in her own habitat and immediate surroundings. To achieve that aim she generally adopted a method of long-term observation and building documentation to produce works such as Outside My Door (2004), Special Offer (2005), Brotherhood and Unity (2006), or Singer (2003-2008) in which she was visually exploring same places over a longer period of time. Within the wider social and historical situation, these works represent instances of exceptional documentation and interpretation of changes in the cultural landscape during huge socio-economic ruptures that occurred over the past twenty-five years. With aforementioned works, she closely monitored tectonic shifts in the structure of urban spaces and industrial landscapes (the demolition of old and raising of new buildings, widening roads, and the transformation of local economies).
Recently, however, she has turned to much more intimate observations. In the photographic installation Overgrowing she, for example, followed the growth of an invasive climbing plant as it engulfed her building, reaching into her apartment. The resulting four images that show different phases of the plant’s proliferation were additionally stylised with a knitted veil, repeating and emphasising the process of overgrowing. This irrepressible process of overgrowing may be a metaphor for the universal motif of losing control, demise and conquest of nature over culture.
For several millennia humankind has been striving to dominate the space it inhabits. This need to control our own environment is most pronounced in urban areas. Today, the centres of many cities are in the process of accelerated transformation and revitalisation. The artist’s courtyard, where the aforementioned climbing plant was growing, is only couple of meters away from one of the busiest promenades in Ljubljana, however, it remains hidden from public view – excepting the small community of residents who tend to it. In photographing the same place over a period of time to produce a sequence of images of nature taking its course, Pungerčar questions the relationship between (man-made) culture and (autogenous) nature. Nowadays, in the period of ongoing urbanisation and industrialisation, one could rightly argue that nature is under threat.
And yet, despite this, nature is exceptionally resilient. Nature can turn human inactivity to its benefit remarkably quickly: only a decade or so of abandonment is apparently enough to begin the process overgrowing and afforestation in urban areas. An image depicting this process thus inevitably refers to fragility, transience and inevitable destruction. On the other hand humans commonly intervene in natural processes, protecting and preserving plants or animals that nature has already sentenced to death. That is the idea behind the diptych entitled Rise where the artist follows the fate of a young tree, also in her courtyard, that was buried and splintered by the snow but was saved and brought back to life by human hands.
While humankind mercilessly subordinates nature to serve its own interests, it often also admires it. Nature is therefore often seen as primal, pure and unspoiled system in perfect balance, regulated by an invisible force. This may be the reason why people throughout history have so persistently created floral and animal ornamentation that, in a variety of forms, has beautified so many public and private spaces. Pungerčar already explored this idea in her piece A Transitional Period is Foreseen (2017) and in a continuation of the same idea, in two recent triptychs entitled Outbreak, she similarly combined photographic images and textile processing to draw our attention to self-representation and representation of flowers in everyday life. Two photographic self-portraits on canvas show her figure positioned between rose bushes in full bloom while she embroidered stylised images of roses on her cheeks in order to make a symbolic connection between the roses and her own skin disease called Rosacea, in a visual and verbal pun. The natural cycle is thus complete. Even if humankind inevitably subordinates nature to its own culture, it can’t escape from that very same nature – because it is its integral part.
© Miha Colner, December 2018 / proof reading Ana Cavic