IGOR ŠPANJOL Monitor Knows the Secret

  IGOR ŠPANJOL Monitor Knows the Secret

Marko Kovačič built the conceptual framework for his video production around the tradition of the so-called alternative culture scene of the eighties, when video became one of the more tangible segments of the social conscience within the broader discourse on the theory of culture and within artistic practice itself. In terms of methodology and strategy, his works display some very personal artistic approaches. However, he can still be identified in the context of some prevalent themes, of which the most interesting one is the problematization of the body experience as it relates to urban space. It is a known fact that during the second half of the eighties the subcultural (mainly club-culture) social uses of video were marked by a pronounced erotic, sometimes even pornographic production. In the applications of video as a mass technology, protagonists of the alternative scene focused on violence, sexuality, social and political events, national myths and rituals. Through the combination of artistic and documentary materials and manipulations in deconstructing the predominant culture, their production included exploration of different sexual categories and alternative perceptions of the human body.

Even in his first street performances (Strike, 1984), Kovačič used his objects, paintings and his own body as materials, as well as passers-by as random spectators. His later performances and video projects include the mechanisms of electronic technology and mass media. Based on a performance bearing the same name, his video Mirror Knows the Secret (1987) features a metamorphosis of the image using the perfected chroma key technique, with dynamic multi-layering of the image duplicated in synchronicity with the rhythm of the music using digital mirror effects. Regardless of the variety of content reflected in individual conceptual solutions, it is no coincidence that the appearance of the performance in the Slovenian context coincides with the widespread availability of video technology in art and everyday living. We could say that it was the flourishing spread of media technology used in the work of Marko Kovačič that gave a significantly larger audience to the performance where the artist combined all disciplines and media to collect the working material, and freed him from the cumbersome restrictions of adhering to the dogmatic principle of the ‘here and now’ (although documentary records are mere media reproductions of the live interaction with the audience and as such they are inevitably limited in their ability to transfer the expressive power, meaning and spontaneous value of the event). Parallel to the growing and evolving meaning of this principle, the historic interpretation of which has become diluted over time, the performance as an independent artistic form was losing its significance in the context of the artist’s body of work, which partly correlates to the neo-avant-garde problematization of the existence of the work of art itself.

Although Kovačič's performances have always depended greatly on film, video and new reproduction media, the experience of the performance has spread to the field of video and left an important mark on inter-media artistic practices. The use of video technology heightened the author's and viewer's senses, in a way raising awareness about the meaning of ritualistic or performative structure of social qualities through the combination of image, sound and motion, i.e. of action and aesthetics. Using an assumed identity as a permanent artistic tool in video, Kovačič created a complex and flexible structure, which enabled him to experiment with make-up, costumes and acting, while the predominant manifestations of the colours black, white and red revealed a specific viewpoint on the relevant social and political position. In short, this is an artistic performance involving a metaphoric expression of a concept, which draws upon the immediate interaction with the audience and is marked by the syncretism of the artistic and the profane, of action and visualization. In this context, the original, strikingly subversive, shocking, political and social endeavour of the artist gradually took on a more poetic and playful form, while the language of video constantly articulated contemporary forms of subjectivization and representation within the relevant cultural and social structures.

Thus, ever since Song of Flesh and Image Was Made Body (1985), Marko Kovačič's videos have involved collection, composition and recycling of everyday environments with carefully selected subjects, interweaving on various levels with the seduction and exploration of unusual stories involving numerous metaphoric and contextual layers. Like all good fairy tales, the bizarre accounts told by Kovačič's protagonists created using elements of real everyday affairs taken from newspaper articles and fabricated accounts take time to develop, the fantastic scenes created by the artist in his studio immediately take us 'forward to the past'. Kovačič uses carefully select materials to construct convincing landscapes, which serve as the setting for his stories where protagonists find themselves in conflict situations and taking on daring and incredible adventures. So the video grotesque bearing the title and the obvious hallmarks of the performance No More Heroes Any More (1992) on the subject of the war in Bosnia, he uses the chroma key technique to 'sneak' the protagonists into one of the meetings between leading European politicians, which soon turns into a bizarre game of chess. The video Forward to the Past (1995) also features the chroma key technique and performance elements, complemented by digital animation. The composite graphic beings set against a backdrop of these videos inhabit television sets even when there is no video played on the screen: as key elements of spatial placement, television boxes are the theatre where metaphoric scenes taken from video reality are played out, featuring a foreign, horrifying yet sensual and emotional life. *

In his essay on the complex project Heroes Are Falling (1992), Janez Strehovec summarizes the key characteristics of Kovačič's video work: 'Typical for Kovačič, his "box-man" installations and objects, which take advantage of the monitor form and the semantics relating to the expectations and perception of fiction with regard to the phenomena of the monitor form, formed a significant part of the scene in the video project as well. The fallen heroes create the perception of violence, gradually increasing even, yet in this video they effectively stylize, aestheticize and ironicize it, partly with the Hitchcock quote, and partly by introducing the parallel play when the comically and grotesquely shaped toys on the chessboard run amok and begin to fight each other. This sets more of a Disney-cool atmosphere than a killing one. The acting of the performers is also stylized, especially in the choreography of the mechanistic mime; the actors move like protagonists on what could well be a stage from some hardware store, like the mechanical ballet tradition of Oscar Schlemmer and Lothar Schreyer. It is undoubtedly about a mechanistic, machine-like appearance of the performers; this is the man-machine created after the technology of violence brought about the anthropomorphization of the machines themselves.' **

The constructed creatures inhabiting the television sets acting as video monitors or as sculpted stages for these creatures, recount the artist's compassionate and engaged research on the Plastos civilization, the defeated victims of civilization. As a pseudoscientific discourse, these studies have been underway since the end of the nineties. Marked by the development of childlike phantasms, this research signifies the return to the basics of performance art and a commitment to the made-up identity, the alternative theatre, the public space and the video recording.

If the video projections of Kovačič's works reached cinematographic proportions in terms of size, which they were during their mid-nineties heyday, it is often hard to believe that his videos were created with the described method and under limited conditions of production. While recent cinematography, especially the high-budget Hollywood production, uses spectacular effects, action and dialogue to engage the viewer, the retro-futuristic videos of Marko Kovačič reconfirm the notion that early cinematography techniques and a genuine interaction of sound and visual sequences can still be used to deliver a strong dramatic effect on the viewer.


* Bogdan Lešnik, The Lull Before the Storm, exh. catalogue, Bežigrajska Gallery, Ljubljana, 1996.
**Janez Strehovec, Stilizirano nasilje, Delo, 20. 10. 1992.