Ilaria Gianni

from NERO n.05 may/june 2005 It’s difficult to come across young curators at the head of successful, interesting spaces in the art world. But Alenka Gregorič, director of Škuc Gallery in Ljubljana, represents an exception. Škuc Gallery is part of the ŠKUC Cultural Centre, one of the pillars of non-government culture, which has been active in Slovenia for over thirty years. Škuc Gallery by now boasts a tradition in the Slovenian artistic arena, developing projects of experimentation and research since 1978. Its continuous cultural activity – debates, exhibitions and conferences – has defined it as a counter-altar to the dominant exhibition policy of the well-established galleries and institutions in Slovenia, and as one of the most important alternative spaces in Eastern Europe. One of the elements that contributed to establishing its anti-academy and, so to speak, antagonistic connotation, compared to the predefined and institutional art system, was the decidedly programmatic choice of placing the direction of the Gallery into the hands of very young figures. With a continual generational change, Škuc unceasingly questions its working methodology, while remaining faithful to the principles of a critical and laboratorial space. It thus lays the foundation for the creation of a cultural network and enables the extension of its spheres of competence and interests towards engagement with the territory and a dialogue with the international arts scene.

Ilaria: Škuc Gallery appears to be more interested in the development of a “cultural programme” rather than becoming a powerful and popular institution. Your approach to contemporary art develops the presuppositions with which to create an active dialogue with artists, demonstrating an interest in what contemporary art “could be”, as opposed to what the public thinks it “should be”. Is a concurrence, even if in dialectical terms, possible between the expectation of the consumer and the product of the artist?

Alenka: I think that art always has something to do with what it “should be” and what it “could be”. It only depends on the point of view of observation and approach. There are always ‘for’ and ‘against’ comments, and it’s important to respond to both with the same impulse. The statement “it should be like this, or like that” irritates me a lot because no one has the right to say what’s right and what’s wrong, as much in art as in life. One needs to leave creative and interpretative freedom to the people. The art is presented to the public in such a way that each individual viewer can form their opinion about what they see in the Gallery. I like to listen to the negative comments as much as the positive ones, but they have to be argued in order to stimulate, not to remain comments as ends in themselves. It’s not obligatory to have studied or to have read up on art in order to understand it. It’s really enough to read and interrogate the work that’s in front of you. To negotiate with the work and to find the right way to communicate with it.

Ilaria: Škuc’s exhibition programme is very extensive. It covers different historical periods and geographical areas: it has proposed historical retrospectives, given space to new artistic currents, it hosts international exhibitions, it’s the seat of conferences that address current themes in contemporary art, it’s a research centre and, above all, a showcase for young artists. Can you talk to us about this last activity in particular?

Alenka: When I was appointed artistic director of Škuc Gallery, I felt encumbered by an enormous responsibility. As a young curator I was very optimistic – and still remain so – thinking that all my desires would be fulfilled. But I immediately found myself confronted with reality and had to face the fact of having become the director of a space with a long and significant history. A place that is continually questioned, subject to criticism, expectations; a place that always laid the foundations for the cultural and artistic future in Slovenia. Although a lot of “big” names in art have exhibited at Škuc in the last ten years, one of the major criticisms was the scantiness, in recent years, of presentations of young, emerging Slovenian artists. The Gallery had somewhat lost its feature of a space of research and experimentation. I wanted to create a balance between the historical legacy of the space, the requests of the public, the secret hopes of the Gallery and, finally, my personal ideas and concepts that provide for the re-introduction of working with very young Slovenian artists and designers.

Ilaria: The Gallery is not inserted in the cultural market. You don’t only have commercial aims, rather you create opportunities for artists, promoting and producing their works, providing them with stimuli and proposing dialogue. You can be considered a sort of Patron of contemporaneity. This is not a very diffused role in contemporary culture…

Alenka: I wouldn’t define us as patrons, but rather as fighters. We’re a non-government institution that fights to survive. We try to do our best, but we have a gross economic problem that makes it quite difficult to move our work forward.

Ilaria:The Škuc is very tied to the territory in which it resides. I have noticed in recent years that many Balkan artists have “surfaced”. Their work is rich in content, impregnated with lived history, with memory, and with a confrontation with the present. Can you tell us a little about the Balkan art scene?

Alenka: I would say that people are becoming increasingly less sensitive to an authentic notion of time and space. The artists that are labelled as Balkan, or from the East, tackle reality and quotidian situations in their work, trying to communicate a possible response. The slogan “WORK-BUY-CONSUME-DIE” is definitely absent in a large part of the works, which are critical towards that approach to art and life. In the works coming from this part of Europe, this kind of social criticism has a lot to do with the history of the region. When all’s said and done, we’re all victims of geography.

Ilaria: Can you speak about an exhibition held at Škuc in recent years?

Alenka: Rather than a particular show, I prefer to name some of the artists that have exhibited here in the last twenty years, all of whom are active at the international level: Ingold Airlines, Maja Bajević, Raimond Chaves, Attila Csörgő, Tacita Dean, Leif Elggren, Olafur Eliasson, Vadim Fishkin, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, IRWIN, Antal Lakner, Juri Leiderman, Maja Licul, M+M, Olaf Nicolai, Cesare Pietroiusti, Tadej Pogačar, Marko Peljhan, Goran Petercol, Marjetica Potrč, Nebojša Šerič-Šoba, Nika Špan, Apolonija Šušteršič, The Designers Republic, Elulalia Valldosera, Sislej Xhafa, and many others.

Ilaria: Do you believe that this alternative way of producing culture works? Confronting myself with the art world, I believe that it is more important to create spaces, rather than to enter into official ones. If the objective is to develop the promotion and diffusion of culture in a serious and non-commercial way, and at the same time, to try to make it as accessible as possible, it’s very difficult to identify pre-existing spaces. Today’s society obligates the young to create alternative spaces; many don’t agree with the institutions, they don’t find a dialogue and relationship with them. Given your exemplary experience, what advice would you give to those who feel the need to work in the cultural sphere using a non-institutional modality?

Alenka: The Škuc Gallery immediately adopted a rather provocative line of conduct by nominating very young artistic directors to run the space. It’s a big risk that, however, also becomes an advantage: the young bring fresh ideas and energy; they keep the Gallery alive. The younger generations ride a subtle line between creative chaos, success and disaster. From this point of view, the space can be alternative, but it still remains a kind of institution with its own rules and identity. I don’t believe that I can give you advice; I can only say that my way of working in the field of art and in the Gallery as director, curator and organiser is to have fun and to enjoy the work. I follow my instinct and what I like, moving everything forward with the utmost seriousness and commitment, trying to bring my ideas into the Gallery’s programme, contributing to its growth in the most coherent way possible with its past.

Ilaria: Škuc Gallery also now runs a commercial activity. How are you able to coherently integrate this activity with the history, principles and the original ideas of the Gallery?

Alenka: Škuc always had a very organic structure and all its artistic directors have contributed to the space with a piece of their own personal history. This is the principle or, better still, the concept of how the space has functioned over the years. Each individual history, in the collective history of the Gallery, is an important and indispensable part of the space’s spirit and image. Expanding into the commercial field doesn’t subtract from the historical and fighting spirit of the Gallery. I prefer to think of the new activity as an added chapter. Given the social, political and economic changes in the country, it was logical to conform. The artists living in Slovenia have to pay their rent, daily living expenses and their work, and we try to create the conditions with which to make it easier for them. The Government has drastically cut funds for culture and we’re trying to create a system that meets the material needs (that unfortunately exist) of the Gallery and of the artists. Through the revenue from sales, we try to put artists in the best conditions possible for them to work, and to provide the Gallery with the means with which it can continue its activity as a cultural centre. We absolutely don’t want to become a money-producing machine, transforming artists into mere executors and works into merchandise, but unfortunately we have to face reality. In order to make our activity work and to diffuse culture in the way we want, we need resources.

Ilaria: Do you notice a particular trend in Balkan art criticism and curation?

Alenka: Yes. A rather critical position towards the West…

Ilaria: Thank you.