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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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Relive graphic design of the 1900s with 20th Century Design by Tony Seddon, an exploration of the graphic style throughout the decades of the 1900s. Each chapter contains an expansive overview of graphic design in one decade, with information about influences from other areas like politics, architecture, technology, and more. Each chapter also provides profiles of prominent designers, as well as a timeline of graphic design and other relevant fields. Discover even more about design of each decade with a look at the typefaces and color palettes that define each one, and find out how to recreate the look, feel, and style of each of them using modern software with included step-by-step guides.