Alenka Pirman (1964, Ljubljana) is an
artist and administrator worker. In the years 1991 - 1996 she was an artistic
director of Škuc Gallery. From 1996 she was volunteer researcher on the
institute for home studies. In the year 1997 she was a trustee of RIGUSRS
(stands for Research institute for geo-art statistics of Republic of Slovenia)
and become a assistent director of Soros Center of Contemporary Art in
I come from the Ljubljana Academy
of Fine Arts and it is comical that it was my housework reflex that
encouraged my work in the Škuc Gallery. That is to say, in 1990
I had my first exhibition in the Škuc Gallery and I noticed that
it was rather messy. It seemed as if the whole thing hung by a thread
- that no one really knew what the following year would bring. Therefore
I openly offered my help to the-then programme redactor Joško Pajer.
Since Tomislav Vignjevič was similarly disposed to work on the programme,
it happened that we jointly prepared the 1991 programme. Our arrival
signified a new expansion of the Škuc Gallery in terms of personnel.
At first we did not give much attention to the naming of functions.
Former programme creators in this space were called redactors. It
was a function within the ŠKUC Society, and it primarily concerned
communicational and operational protocol between the administration
and colleagues from other ŠKUC redactions. The tradition of redactor
in the role of artistic director was first broken in the moments
of the severest crisis, when there was practically no one left to
continuously and responsibly work on the programme. This was when
Joško Pajer stepped in as a redactor - in 1988, I believe.
After two years of joint work with
Tomislav Vignjevič, I became solely responsible for the programme
for the following three years. I did not have any particular vision,
which is clearly evident in the fact that I chose rather neutral
and technical exhibition cycles and series as a "crutch" (e.g. first
personal exhibitions, exhibition by prominent foreign artists or
guest curators, socio-cultural exhibitions and so on). These were
subsidiary partitions, helping the annual programme to enjoy a sort
of cohesion. I had no vision, since I did not know what art was
supposed to look like; in fact, everything seemed equally legitimate
to me. It is a distinctive weakness of the Škuc Gallery that it
was always looked upon as a "corrective", an exhibition premises
in relation to something. I see such a relationship as an impediment,
which had endured since the "heroic" beginnings and was inherent
in the very reason for the foundation of this "space of difference",
which was supposed to show things not showable elsewhere, and where
art theory and practice were to be produced in a different way.
This is a surprisingly non-emancipated starting point, is it not?
I believe that due to my dilettantism, it did not assert itself,
and I see it as an advantage. For the principal advantage in that
period was the fact that the projects, exhibitions and events taking
place in the Škuc Gallery were essentially unimportant. They did
not aim to change the world or wish to influence cultural policy,
but were simply a testing ground for unexperienced artists, curators
and artistic directors.
It is very important that we succeeded
to establish the Škuc Gallery archive in that period, in spite of
the specific conditions of "non-institution" that lives from hand
to mouth and where the keeping of one's own documentation is sheer
luxury. Today, the Škuc Gallery keeps an archive of basic documents,
available to whoever wishes to investigate the phenomenon of the
existence and functioning of this space as as whole. My experience
suggests that the power of self-historisation (which is a classical
trick of avant-gardes) is so convincing that if someone writes about
the Škuc Gallery today, he/she does so on the basis of secondary
evidences procured by the protagonists themselves.
With the innitiation of additional
activities and services at the beginning of the nineties, the Škuc
Gallery became a very popular social space, which increased to unimagined
dimensions (it was mentioned in tourist publications, such as Let's
go and the like). In addition to the gallery at Stari Trg 21, the
premises also housed the Karantanija bookshop, which was one of
the best in Ljubljana; the Vinilmanija second-hand record shop;
and the famous bar, of course. Therefore it is not a coincidence
that every exhibition in the gallery was seen by over 1,000 visitors,
which even today represents an enviable achievement in the context
of galleries in Slovenia. I certainly do not assume that the reason
of this popularity was an attractive exhibition programme
rather a lucky coincidence, but this situation also meant a stab
in the back, since it led - because of business dilettantism on
the one hand and naive enthusiasm on the other, both combined within
the same people - to the fact that the Škuc Gallery lost its legal
prospect of running these activities in the future. The revocation
of these activities also unfortunately happened alongside the pending
procedure of denationalisation - and we were utterly unprepared
for such developments. In this period of outmost weakness, the Kapelica
Gallery was established, which did not influence my work very much,
but it did - and justifiably - divert audiences. With regard to
the Kapelica Gallery, I can say that it had a diametrically opposite
method of work. Jurij Krpan knows what art is supposed to look like,
and therefore he has designed a strictly profiled programme. The
Kapelica Gallery has planned its programme with the hope of breaking
petty-bourgeois prejudices about art. In its essence, every profile
is a sign of limitation, but on the other hand operation based on
strong standpoints is an extremely effective method, which I did
not know, or even master, at the time.
Regarding the fact that we did not
have firm programme standpoints at the Škuc Gallery, we did not
have them - regretfully - in our relationship with the new state
either. The indicators of cultural policy, e.g. the amount of money
you get and the way you get it, showed precisely the opposite: the
tendency that things are being arranged, that society starts to
recognise the Škuc Gallery as a relevant exhibition space. When
I started to work in the gallery we were not getting any subsidies
from the Ministry of Culture, while four years later its share reached
some 30 percent of the entire budget. I am not certain whether this
fact should be ascribed to our bureaucratic diligence, programmatic
tepidity (and thus harmlessness), or the emerging principled preference
on the part of the younger set of professional bureaucrats. Today
I know that this matter was dubious at its core, since the Škuc
Gallery has started to change into a decent exhibition space, a
decent youth centre, a decent space where young people will have
a chance to express their ideas unhindered and to socialise. At
that time, of course, this process seemed quite incontestable.
I think that the biota of the Škuc
Gallery has less to do with changes in the political system and
the emergence of the young state, and more with the ageing of those
"independent" socio-cultural centres, societies and, later, institutes
which were founded in the late seventies and early eighties (e.g.
Forum, Dance Theatre Ljubljana, Glej Theatre, ŠKUC). These approved
guardians of non-institutional culture have been turning rigid,
becoming ever more professional and administratively competent.
They have gradually become good partners of the state institutions.
As such, they were recognised and also rewarded. Art the same time,
of course, they have turned conceptually insipid, predictable and
unimportant (although not in the sense I would wish them to be).
Today, the Škuc Gallery is one of
the guardians of professional contemporary art. Together with other
galleries with which it (still) measures itself (e.g. Kapelica Gallery
and the Ljubljana Museum of Modern Art) and which do exactly the
same, it forms the line of defense for Slovene contemporary art.
I can only discern slight cosmetic differences between them. In
their programmes they all offer the definitions of global, Slovene
and contemporary art.
It is the tragedy of Škuc Gallery
that it has become an institution which itself redeems and canonises
every - even the most artfully devised - attempt at a laboratory
clash with the postulates of contemporary art. Therefore I say:
Abolish it, or protect it as a historical monument - but in no way
be enticed by it.
Based on interview with Alenka Pirman, respectively,
put down on paper by Gregor Podnar.