Interview with Marina Grzinic by Monique Langlois (1998)

Monique Langlois
Université du Québec à Montréal
Université du Québec à Hull
Æ – Volume 3: Fall/Automne 1998

Marina Grzinic is a researcher at the Institute of Philosophy at the Scientific and Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and a freelance critic and curator as well as a video artist. Her books include: Ljubljana, Ljubljana. The Eighties in Slovene Art and Culture (with Ales Erjavec; Ljubljana 1991); In a Line for Virtual Bread: Time, Space, The Subject and New Media in the Year 2000 (Ljubljana 1996, Zagreb 1998); Fiction Reconstructed New Media, (Video) Art, Postsocialism and Retroavant-Garde (Ljubljana 1997; Zagreb, 1998).

I met her during the xivth INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS OF AESTHETICS that took place in Ljubljana in September 1998 where she participated in the symposium on the aesthetics of virtual reality, and presented a very documented and interesting paper. We talked about her work as a video artist, and about her concepts of art and culture in general.

Her work as an artist began with the subculture movement in ex-Yugoslavia which started in the late seventies and the beginning of the eighties. She says « it was a very important movement that tried to define culture, society and politics against the so called rigid socialist regime ». When she started to work with video, there were the beginnings of a kind of cultural underground in Socialism that was influencing the video medium itself. « Video », she says, « is in its essence a medium of repetition and it is very easy to use and manipulate, hence it was well-suited to developing new contents and criticism. Video is interesting to explore theoretically too, and also because postproduction is almost not necessary. In Slovenia, in particularly, there was a kind of connection between theory and the underground movement. For example, the very powerful Lacanian school that arose in the end of seventies in Ljubljana, was also a cultural movement away from official ways of thinking. So, there was an overlapping of theory and practice that affected the video medium itself ».

Marina Grzinic has been working in video, for almost twenty years with Aina Smid. Until today, they have produced together about 30 videos, films and a lot of media installations. Last year, they presented an interactive video work at the InterCommunication Center (ICC) Biennial in Tokyo (Japan). I asked her about how they use the medium.

The way they approach the medium is the following : « We always ask ourselves about the internal workings of video, its state of technology, and its relation to other technologies. The question is: What is video ? In fact, video means the possibility to show immediately a document and also the possibility of incrustation. Incrustation is a special effect, which permits to replace a part of the image by another one, which is from another source. This transformation of the image permits to change the point of view expressed initially ». It means, says M. Grzinic, to produce a difference. Video understood in such a way creates the possibility of change and permits, moreover, to produce the so-called politics of the medium. In this process of incrustation, of emptying or saturating the image, is inscribed the political aspect of the medium. The final message depends on the image we incrust on to the initial one. The use of documentary material is therefore of prime importance, because the problem of documentary as a media-form seems to be its role as a point of intersection between fiction and reality, between institutionally (the archives) and artistic practice. We always try to search for the archeology of a document, I mean, that is, to go and to see who is making the documents and how and where they are preserved (archived). But, I have to underline that this archeology, has nothing to do with therapy, it is a theoretical act, and therefore close to politics.

For example, Bilocation, a video that was done in 1990, was a very strange work because it was produced just before the splitting of Yugoslavia and in it we used documentary material from the « civil war » in Kosovo, made by TV Slovenia in 1989, but never broadcasted. It was a political decision to show or not to show these events at that time, in the nineties, because the story about Albanians in ex Yugoslavia, and as well as today in Serbia, is a (hi)story about minorities and about civil and political rights. In this almost absurd footage that we used, it is possible to see Serbian-Yugo tanks and Kosovo Albanian people fighting them with stones. A. Smid and myself found these elements to be a predestination, a very bad sign for the future. A broad look at films and photography in Eastern Europe in Socialist and Communist documentary materials shows them to be very powerful tools. Let us say that for the Russians it is almost a kind of tradition. So, we try to dig out these documentary films from the televisions archives. We also look for old films that were censured in Communism.

In 1994 we made a video, The Butterfly Story in which we used documentary footages from one of the last bastions of communism, China. When I gave lectures in 1997 in Hong Kong, which was at that time already a part of China, I presented this video. In The Butterfly Story the video used footages, found in the Slovenian TV archives, of Mao Tse Tung’s wife, when she was put on trial. It gave rise to furious reactions. We used in the video a sequence that had almost a mythical signifiance for every Chinese person that being the sequence from this well-known political trial against the wife of Mao Tse Tung and some others collaborators. When she is asked in the courtroom (whether or not) she is guilty, she answers with the reply widely known amongst the Chineese people : «I was only the mistress of Mao Tse Tung ».

« So this kind of documentary footage has completely different meanings for different people. Older Chinese people were furious when I presented the work, because they were thinking : How can somebody appropriate something that they just don’t know, and moreover is not theirs ! As a matter of fact, to use a document towards fictionality and construction in such a way as to touch the core of a real or imaginary trauma, is very interesting.

For myself, I do not rely on the accidental in my work. Every element in an image, let say a costume, or make up — speaks, speaks clearly, and therefore can make a difference, can produce a different meaning, because these elements are there for a specific purpose ».

M. Grzinic is also a curator and had organized festivals and exhibitions. She mentioned that she was the director of the fourth edition of a very powerful festival of video and films in the eighties in Ljubljana : « In the time of socialism, it was one of the first international video festivals in the Eastern Europeans countries. But after while, this event was cut for political reasons or maybe because of pure ignorance on the part of the socialistic bureaucratic state. Anyway, this festival in general brought us a great deal of new information and was a connection between East and West.

Then, through the eighties, I ran the Gallery of the Student Cultural Center. This Gallery was a very underground spot because a lot of concerts and a kind of new approach to art displayed there. We organized a concert of, for example, the group Laibach, a very well known underground music group, connected to the industrial wave in rock music in the eighties, and used totalitarian images and texts. I also organized in 1994, an important event called War-torn Sarajevo in Ljubljana. It was an artistic and cultural production, inviting people who lived in Sarajevo. At the time, we had thousand of refugees in Ljubljana and they were not visible. So with a help of the Soros foundation from New York, I organized a festival, a kind of interchange between people and activists in Sarajevo and Ljubljana. We had several round tables and we tried to integrate the refugees with people here in Ljubljana. When you have the war so near, you have the feeling that you know everything and you have a kind of disgust, it is a normal reaction. Also in such a situation you just think about political consequences and not cultural ones. This festival was very important for its new look. Although Festival is a very rude word for this kind of event, basically it was a rearticulation of people and practices. This question can be also put as, how can they persist to be intellectuals andcultural activists in such a situation ?

Also in 1991, after the immediate splitting of Slovenia and Yugoslavia, I was working on a curatorial project, on an Exhibition of Modern Art in ex-Yugoslavia. Works from people who were no longer living in ex-Yugoslavia, but were well known internationally, were also shown, for example, the work of Braco Dimitrijevic. With the exhibition I raised, in collaboration with IRWIN, the most important fine arts group in Slovenia in the eighties and the nineties, the question of modernist practice in Socialism, and the question of avant-gardism ».

Finally, knowing that Ms Grzinic wrote a text on « Media and War », I asked her to share her thoughts about the media. She talked to me about time : « I think that time in media is definitely structured. It is not natural time, but rather an absolutely processed and mediated time. It is very important to think about this question, because today it is passé — it is very old and contracultural — to fight the media on the premises of naturalness. The media, and especially electronic media, let us take TV for example, constantly show that the basic process in the media is not the one of naturality, but of pure artificiality. And moreover, if I can make a reference to two Canadian theoreticians — Arthur Kroker and David Cook who wrote the book The Postmodern Scene : Excremental Culture and Hyper-Aesthetics, especially to the passage where they discuss J. Baudrillard’s work — the consequence of this pure artificiality is that it is not television that is a reflection of society, but on the contrary, today society is a reflection of television. It is crucial to understand the different approach taken during the sixties towards television when everything was contracultural and the fight against the media and the medium was to find an alternative, in the name of naturalism, and today’s view. It is not only opposite, but subversive, being so artificial ».

During our conversations, Ms Grzinic made a remark that I think would conclude very well the interview because it explains her social and political engagement toward art and culture. « I always feel as if I am a partisan intellectual. I think that if you are an intellectual, it is very important to have an active engagement with society, to be connected with the media, modern art and culture, not only in a theoretical way, but, moreover, in the process itself ». And that is what she does very well.

Posted in interviews

Bilokacija (Bilocation) (1990)

Post-socialism + Retroavant garde + Irwin, video, 1997

Deklica z oranžo (The Girl With Orange) (1987)

Moscow Portraits (1990)

Cindy Sherman or Hysteria Production Presents a Reconstruction of Sherman’s Photographs (1984)

Trenutki odločitve (Moments of Decision) (1985)

Labirint (Labyrinth) (1993)