On the evening of September 22nd at 10pm I stood with a large socially ecclectic group of people in a studiedly derelict Ljubljana carpark recently waiting for something to happen. The work about to begin was advertised as Napalm Your Personal Disco Mark Požlep 2010–2011. The parking area we collected in is part of an old military compound (Metelkova) and the large surrounding walls are all covered entirely, to the last inch, in the kind of colorful appealing graffiti styles that can be found in places where graffiti artists aspire to artistic acceptance (as opposed to graffiti as urban expressions of disaffection and rage). On the evening in question the area was taped off with hazard tape and a fire tender parked in one corner, the uniformed firemen and the two policemen who arrived on bicycles formed a separated watching circle off to one side, a small distinct club of authorities ready for action. In the center of the area stood a three by three meter cube constructed from cardboard which was the focus of our attentions.
The temporary structure suddenly came to life, emanating sound light and color. It housed a small bar manned by Jure Cvitan and dj desk operated by Požlep and Saša Šuštar and was also pre-populated by Mia Špindler in full dance party mode. The rickety structure was quickly completely packed with people, some trying to dance, others elbowing their way to the bar for one of the stiff drinks being handed over for free. Twenty four bottles of hard spirits were consumed in less than an hour, the intention being to ‘totally demolish’ as many people as possible. While the drinking was underway several people added fresh spray paint to the outside, more up-your-nose and far less stylistic than that on the surrounding walls. Shortly after the last drop of alcohol was consumed the principles stripped everything they wanted to save out of the disco and vacated, shooing the large crowd back a short distance from the structure while Požlep liberally doused the outside in petrol. As the crowd retreated it left a carnage of discarded cups and cans littering the ground. The guy standing behind me threw his beer can over my shoulder to add to it, sniggering with self-congratulatory daring.
The inevitable denoument when it finally came was short and fierce, the heat from the flames pushing the people back. There was some audience whooping at lightup but otherwise a quietly restive watchfulness. Perhaps there was a mood of destructive avidity in that short quietude, but my own response was oddly melancholic with a wave of tristesse accompanying the heat washing over me. A melancholia which did not immediately disperse, standing watching as the fire department got out their hose and efficiently quenched what was left of the frame as the crowd of watchers quickly thinned, perhaps seeking further gratification elsewhere.
The precinct Metelkova where this work was re-staged is already a cleverly ghettoised zone of contained disobedience in the city, a tolerated alternative/artistic/anarcho squat that began in 1993 in post-military compound that has mutated into something now advertised as an ‘Autonomous Cultural Enclave’ and is the home of many cultural NGO’s and artist studios as well as a cluster of semi legal clubs and bars. The whole is a poster child for Florida’s much quoted ideas about the cultural attractiveness and economic potential of tolerated difference. This carnivalesque dynamic of cultivated contained disobedience was the dominant coding for this most recent iteration of the work Napalm Your Personal Disco as it took place on the eve of the official opening of the The 29th Biennial of Graphic Arts in Ljubljana. Even the programming of the event, attached to the Biennial and yet not quite within it reinforces the ambivalent outsider position of the project. I am reminded strongly of an anecdote told to me recently about an artist who is regularly introduced to curators as ‘an underground artist,’ an oxymoronic self conscious positioning of a recognised rebel, loaded with provisional institutional acceptances and refusals.
This project in its current form functions as an interesting socio-political mirror in several parallel ways. Hidden histories of collectivism are part of the architecture of the work and its situation. Attributed solely to Mark Požlep in the official Biennial catalogue the work first arose in neighboring city Celje during the artist initiated and run festival of urban intervention: Vstop Prost/ Admission Free 2010. In its first iteration Napalm Your Personal Disco was catalogued in the festival programme as the work of Jure Cvitan, Mark Požlep and Manja Vadla. From back catalogues of Vstop Prost and oral histories of the work collected from the artist community in Celje it is apparent that although structurally almost identical in its first location the logics of the work were significantly different to what emerged in Ljubljana. Cvitan in particular brought an urban structural critique to the formation of the progenitor work, showing a progression from earlier works of his that were targeted towards infrastructural lack in the small city. In the case of NYPD 2010 that structural logic was directed towards a total lack of good alternative dance venues in the city. The collaborating artists took matters into their own hands and created a temporary zone on the bank of the Savinja river and it was fully supported by a close knit group of people who primarily wanted a good party, together, riotously and with full nihilistic enjoyment.
There were echoes of the real sense of community ownership of the first Disco project evident in Ljubljana, as a large contingent of Celje artists travelled to support the work. However I had several conversations with people during the event that reflected a wistful nostalgia for the ‘better atmosphere’ of the first. The infrastructural logic of a genuinely emerging and socially required TAZ, so central to the success of NYPD 2010, was completely missing from this programmed Biennial event, as it was sited directly nextdoor to the seven most alternative bars and clubs in Ljubljana and contained by a raft of visible and invisible structures of formal control and individualised agenda. Moreover in the new context, amoung the foregrounded posturing of commodified alternative culture, the work lost much of its original affective power, becoming just another formalised disobedient gesture amoung many. One audience member, by dress clearly differentiated from the usual night denizens of Metelkova, commented to me that it was nice to have something for ‘the young people’ in the Biennial programme, another similarly diferentiated both by age and visible respectability commented that it was no different from what they also did when young, only it had seemed much more important when they had done it…
The genuine structural problematics of relocating situational work into large thematic and summative exhibition projects such as the Graphics Biennial is highlighted. Practical problems alone leave their mark, for example official permissions to burn something in the inner city are not easy to obtain in any city, and inevitably in every case these institutional requirements alter the structural form and tactical possibilities of a given work. However the tensions that arise from the attempt do so also have the potential to enlarge the discursive possibilities of this years curatorial theme from curator Beti Žerovc which seeks to explore the priviledged and repetitious nature of the ‘art event’ in relation to four central recurring themes of ‘violence, generosity, emptiness, and the search for the sacred and ritualistic.’ I would argue that another form of violence is evident in the layers of domestication necessary to reiterate and restage a genuinely autonomous event within an arts-institutional structure. NYPD is not the only project affected by this institutional reformation, New Zealand artist Kim Paton’s work Free Store in the MGLC also suffers a similar peculiar dislocation from its original location intention and tactical effectiveness. While the difficulties of restaging site works and events is far from a new problem, it is more acute with projects that have specifically embedded locational logics, and more so again when those logics are oriented to a specific group of people who do not or can not access the work in its new setting. I anticipate some interesting debates about this subject in the coming days as the Biennial events continue.
Celje, 24 September 2011