The 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts: An International Delight

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by Nadja Sayej

The 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts in Ljubljana, Slovenia offers the unexpected. Instead of your typical works on paper, it includes a sculpture floating down a river, films, park streetlights and kinetic machines.

You could call the curator, Nicola Lees, experimental.

The theme “Over You/You” is the biennial’s 60th anniversary edition. Founded in 1955 in Yugoslavia, it has always aimed to show graphic artists from the east and west. Over the years, it has hosted 5,000 artists from 80 countries, including Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol. The goal is to put graphic works under a critical lens — popular are newspapers, magazines and even photocopies. “The biennial is a site looks at how these ideas infiltrate individual artist’s works,” said Lees.

This year’s edition brings together over 40 artists who work in stone lithography, woodcuts, etchings, screen-prints, posters and artist books. Basically, it looks at graphic arts beyond the traditional definitions, including even experimental school programs, publicity material and literary artefacts.

Will Benedict | From the series Bad Weather | 2015 | Commissioned by the 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana | Courtesy of the artist and Overduin & Co., Los Angeles

Will Benedict | From the series Bad Weather | 2015 | Commissioned by the 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana | Courtesy of the artist and Overduin & Co., Los Angeles

Will Benedict | From the series Bad Weather | 2015 | Commissioned by the 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana | Courtesy of the artist and Overduin & Co., Los Angeles

Will Benedict | From the series Bad Weather | 2015 | Commissioned by the 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana | Courtesy of the artist and Overduin & Co., Los Angeles

It’s a nod to the past. Graphic design biennials from the 1960s introduced movie posters and political pamphlets into their shows. In Columbia, it was taken a step further when they included mail art and conceptual projects. “Unique objects and singular narratives are thus less evident in the show than prototypes, imperfect copies and immaterial forms,” said Lees.

The show includes a film by Karpo Godina, a Slovenian film director who helped propel the Black Wave cinema movement in Yugoslavia in the 1960s and 1970s. His aesthetic is dark, stark and iconic. Take his film “Artificial Paradise,” which premiered at Cannes Film Festival in 1990 but remains “an unfinished masterpiece,” said Lees, as the film was destroyed as the city changed after Slovenia’s independence in 1991. Shown in three parts here, it includes a rare look at the German-Austrian filmmaker Fritz Lang in his private sculpture studio in Slovenia, as well as a spooky scene of — what looks like — a séance.

Karpo Godina | Film stills from Artificial Paradise (Umetni raj) | 1990 |  Feature film; film still | Courtesy of the artist and Slovenian Film Centre

Karpo Godina | Film stills from Artificial Paradise (Umetni raj) | 1990 | Feature film; film still | Courtesy of the artist and Slovenian Film Centre

Karpo Godina | Film stills from Artificial Paradise (Umetni raj) | 1990 |  Feature film; film still | Courtesy of the artist and Slovenian Film Centre

Karpo Godina | Film stills from Artificial Paradise (Umetni raj) | 1990 | Feature film; film still | Courtesy of the artist and Slovenian Film Centre

A few highlights include Andrea Büttner shows a black and white piece called “Beggar,” which bridges art and design, as well as Asad Raza, who altered a promenade’s street lights to flash in a patterned sequence through the night. It’s meant to mirror the flashing lights of a distant shoreline one might see by boat or lighthouse.

Andrea Büttner | Beggar | 2015 | Commissioned by the 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana | Courtesy Hollybush Gardens, London and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles | © Andrea Büttner / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015

Andrea Büttner | Beggar | 2015 | Commissioned by the 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana | Courtesy Hollybush Gardens, London and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles | © Andrea Büttner / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015

Asad Raza | There is no east or west | 2015 | Commissioned by the 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana | Image © Blaž Janko

Asad Raza | There is no east or west | 2015 | Commissioned by the 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana | Image © Blaž Janko

The New Slovenian Art movement shows here, as well. Active since 1984, the controversial political art group focuses on the Cold War, including the Nazi occupation of Slovenia. Known for designing campaigns and posters that respond to Slovenian socio-politico issues, their most popular works are paper posters around the city. One reads “Buy Victory!” a postwar poster from 1991, which makes a return at the biennial. The group has used music, theatre, art and design for their work, which often mimics the aesthetic of totalitarian government propaganda combined with something more Dada (even their political appropriation has had their work banned). The group claim to be a state, like an unauthorized micronation, which has their own anthem, issues their own non-valid passports and shows their art work as a state or territory which is stamped with a certificate of approval.

New Collectivism | New Collectivism action of distributing posters “Buy Victory” during 10 days war in Slovenia | 1991 | Photograph by Barbara Čeferin

New Collectivism | New Collectivism action of distributing posters “Buy Victory” during 10 days war in Slovenia | 1991 | Photograph by Barbara Čeferin

Pilar Quinteros | Cathedral of Freedom | 2015 | Commissioned by the 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana 2015 | Courtesy of the artist

Pilar Quinteros | Cathedral of Freedom | 2015 | Commissioned by the 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana 2015 | Courtesy of the artist

One of the most fun works in the show is Pilar Quinteros, a Chilean artist who uses public space for her projects. The work looks like a piece of sculpture, it is, after all a small-scale model of a Slovenian parliament building — one which has yet to be built — floating down a river. Lees defends the work as graphic design. The building doesn’t exist, yet, we can find it on the 10 cent coin of the Slovenian Euro. “Its image is multiplied and distributed yet it only exists as an image,” said Lees. “The artist became interested in the idea of floating this building down the Ljubljanica River, as there is no place for it in the city.”

View more work from the 31st Biennial: 

Bureau of Loose Associations Presents Luxus | Watchman (Aggressive Innocence), from a series of 33 of Watchmen | 1993–1994 | Acrylic on canvas | 200 x 200 cm | Courtesy of Piktogram | Photo: Bartosz Górka.

Bureau of Loose Associations Presents Luxus | Watchman (Aggressive Innocence), from a series of 33 of Watchmen | 1993–1994 | Acrylic on canvas | 200 x 200 cm | Courtesy of Piktogram | Photo: Bartosz Górka.

Becky Beasley | Literary Green | 2009 | Courtesy of the artist and Laura Bartlett Gallery, London / Francesca Minini Gallery, Milan

Becky Beasley | Literary Green | 2009 | Courtesy of the artist and Laura Bartlett Gallery, London / Francesca Minini Gallery, Milan

Becky Beasley | Foresight | 2015 | Courtesy of the artist and Laura Bartlett Gallery, London / Francesca Minini Gallery, Milan

Becky Beasley | Foresight | 2015 | Courtesy of the artist and Laura Bartlett Gallery, London / Francesca Minini Gallery, Milan

Oscar Murillo | De marcha, ¿una rumba? no, sólo un desfile con ética y estética | 2015 | Installation view (detail), Art Basel, 2015 | Photo credit: Robert Glowacki | Courtesy of Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie, Berlin; Carlos/Ishikawa, London; and David Zwirner, New York/London

Oscar Murillo | De marcha, ¿una rumba? no, sólo un desfile con ética y estética | 2015 | Installation view (detail), Art Basel, 2015 | Photo credit: Robert Glowacki | Courtesy of Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie, Berlin; Carlos/Ishikawa, London; and David Zwirner, New York/London

Oscar Murillo | the retired | 2015 | Installation view, De marcha, ¿una rumba? no, sólo un desfile con ética y estética, Centro Cultural Daoíz y Velarde, Madrid, 2015 | Courtesy of the artist, Carlos/Ishikawa, London, and David Zwirner, New York/London

Oscar Murillo | the retired | 2015 | Installation view, De marcha, ¿una rumba? no, sólo un desfile con ética y estética, Centro Cultural Daoíz y Velarde, Madrid, 2015 | Courtesy of the artist, Carlos/Ishikawa, London, and David Zwirner, New York/London

Luka Savić | Sketch for Revolution and Letatlin | 2015 | Couresty and © the artist

Luka Savić | Sketch for Revolution and Letatlin | 2015 | Couresty and © the artist

Andrea Büttner | Grid | 2012 | Woodcut | 115 x 173 cm | Courtesy Hollybush Gardens, London and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles | © Andrea Büttner / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015

Andrea Büttner | Grid | 2012 | Woodcut | 115 x 173 cm | Courtesy Hollybush Gardens, London and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles | © Andrea Büttner / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015

Sanya Kantarovsky New Collectivism_2 Giles Round_1 Andrew Hazewinkel

Ištvan Išt Huzjan | Exchange Banner – OHO and Walter de Maria | Commissioned by the 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana | Courtesy of the artist

Ištvan Išt Huzjan | Exchange Banner – OHO and Walter de Maria | Commissioned by the 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana | Courtesy of the artist

Hilary Lloyd | Movie | 2015 | Film still | © The Artist | Courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

Hilary Lloyd | Movie | 2015 | Film still | © The Artist | Courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

Gabriel Kuri | Superama III | 2003–2005 | © The Artist | Courtesy Monsoon Art Collection, Sadie Coles HQ, London and Kurimanzutto, Mexico

Gabriel Kuri | Superama III | 2003–2005 | © The Artist | Courtesy Monsoon Art Collection, Sadie Coles HQ, London and Kurimanzutto, Mexico

David Maljkovic with the German designer Konstantin Grcic | Negatives | 2015 | Detail | Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers

David Maljkovic with the German designer Konstantin Grcic | Negatives | 2015 | Detail | Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers


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