Marina Gržinić: Interferences (2004)

Martin Krenn’s project City Views maps a selected number of cities from an internally radical point of view. Today, cities are reservoirs of different strategies; complicated systems of power games and mistaken cultural politics exist in cities. Aware of all these levels of truth and realities that exert pressure on cities‘ histories and the present, Krenn decided to articulate cities‘ perspectives from a point of disruption of the city as homogenized and well-articulated totality.

Krenn’s project begins from a discrepancy between the photographic image, the construction and understanding of the city through images, and on the other hand, the city as a text spoken by its citizens. Krenn first filters the city, taking photographs of the city’s topical points: always traumatic and conflictual spaces in the city, where power and oppression, future and economic interests collide. Subsequently, the text is added to each photograph. Krenn’s view offers a paradox: the photographs seem to narrate, whereas the texts, written and attached to each photograph, seem to shape a powerful image of the city.

The cities‘ views examine the discursive production of cities, which occurs parallel to its images. The discursive moments clarify and interpret the city authority’s mistakes; more than ever before, today’s cities conceal the signs that exist in each and every city; places where urban pragmatism as dictated by the city administration clashes with people’s living and dwelling within the city’s symbolic suburbia. By responding solely to consumerism and economic needs of ever-increasing surplus value, the city administration ignores the decisive roles played by a variety of underground and counter culture movements. Politically induced economization of particular city districts, disregarding the needs of specific groups who are not driven only by surplus value and economic growth in the city, results in inner-urban clashes.

Each photo is a sequence of a possible film that serves to finally grasp cities as constructed narratives with stories of power and economic interests that fight against hopes and visions. Each city’s view out¬lines the twofold genealogy of the city: the genealogy of photography used to describe cities as modernist, rationalized structures and the genealogy of texts, discourses that capture cities‘ madness and chaos. Krenn weaves Foucauldian concepts into his project, which deals with discourse, visibility, and globalization. In Krenn’s project, processes tied tightly to the pragmatic economization of cities, centered on the constant need for control of citizens through excessive bureaucratization, thus generate views of evacuation and restriction of cultural production and public spaces in contemporary cities.

How should we think about these works situated in-between photography and text? They are not just specific interfaces (the trendy word!) in between the local community, citygovernment, and the history of conceptual photography, recording the urban mishaps of contemporary cities, but interferences.. I propose to think about these photographs with texts as subtitles as interferences within cities‘ views, becoming nodes of active intervention and subversion of contemporary cities‘ maps. Krenn’s work coincides with a shift from interface to interference in a context of contemporary cities‘ globalization processes. Krenn’s project emphasizes discursive moments of urban globalization, while displaying the (post-)modern hegemony of bureaucratic city authority thinking. Photographs with texts are interferences of meaning, contesting hierarchical structures and processes of local power within the city, while developing network-based processes of exchange and negotiation.

Finally, in Krenn’s city views, what is Ljubljana’s story? Slovenia’s capital…, in Krenn’s city view, Ljubljana is looked at, articulated, and re-imagined through Metclkova.

Until 1991, the army barracks of the former Yugoslav army were located on Metelkova Street in Ljubljana’s city center. After the Yugoslav army was obliged to leave Slovenia in 1991 (and just before the madness of wars in the rest of the ex-Yugoslav territory), the City Council of Ljubljana was asked to let the city’s various independent art and culture organizations use the abandoned military complex. While officially granting the public request, the City Council secretly planned to tear down the barracks and construct a commercial business center in its place. In response to these veiled intentions, the city’s activists, intellectuals, and artists squatted the buildings in 1993; today, a decade later, Metelkova still represents a battleground between the independent art and culture scene and the Ljubljana City Council. Why? The status of Metelkova has not yet been defined, and its future remains open.

Looking at Ljubljana through Metelkova, Krenn definitely proposes a radicalization of views on Ljubljana and cities in general. Krenn’s view is precise and I think the only possible view of Ljubljana. Through the eyes of Metelkova, not only Ljubljana, but every contemporary city has to reject notions of being eternal, and instead, open its »polis« toward new movements and environments, and, most importantly, towards the re-definition of categories such as new public, reconceptualised agents, and activist actors.

The story of Metelkova is a paradigmatic story about the city of Ljubljana, and also about the 1990s transformation of European cities after the fall of the Berlin wall or because of it! For a long time, Metel¬kova was hidden in contemporary stories about Ljubljana. Metelkova was a password and became an attitude toward urban life; in the 1990s, Metel¬kova was a pure sign of resistance and struggle against the emptiness of content and formalization of infrastructure in Ljubljana, and many other contemporary European cities. Metelkova is also a story of how resistance and creativity transformed from the 1980s underground movements to the 1990s formation of anti-globalization groups toward the 2000 activism in the cyberspace of the Internet and back into the reality of contemporary cities. At first, artists and activists who called themselves the Network, or, the Action Committee for Metel¬kova, ran the Metelkova barracks. In 1993, the Ljubljana City Council cut Metelkova’s water and electricity in an attempt to prevent the artists‘ cultural programs from continuing by forcing the activists to leave the squat. At that point, the Metelkova Network began to invite public figures, from intellectuals to politicians, to sleep for one night in the Metelkova complex; in the cold, without water and electricity, and to write, by the light of a single candle, a one page reflection that rethought the position of Metelkova within Slovenian cultural and political reality. After a year, the Ljubljana City council returned the use of electricity and water, but the yearlong siege left deep imprints. Metelkova city was emptied of its art citizens (in such conditions of cold and deprivation, only the most resistant and truly homeless were capable of staying) and during this time, art production was cut in half. At the end of the 1990s, Metelkova re-named itself Metelkova City. Some of the buildings and open-air spaces in Metelkova also received new metaphorical names – for example, one of the outdoor places is called the »place without historical memory.« Through these processes of renaming, Metelkova now stands as a cynical reminder of its position in the very recent past. Along with exploring possibilities for the integration of already existing subcultures into dominant society, the activists were concerned with the creation of possibilities for the materialization of new, currently undefined cultural movements.

The process of establishing Metelkova City was an act of re-articulating a public space by a large group of artists and activists who endeavored to emphasize the possibility of revitalizing and integrating existing subcultures or alternative systems and to create new (dis-)functional systems of cultural and social action in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is also a symbol of the new meaning that the voids of modern cities have acquired. Ljubljana is currently a major city that has been totalized by a surge of middle-class architectural purification. It shows signs of a historical and inter-geographical amnesia, with objects, places, facts, and structures forgotten in a flash. In the cities, especially in the historical cities of old humanistic Europe, voids are generated and produced, but also very skillfully hidden by the cities‘ authorities. The empty zones or the a-topical city topos (they are a-located locations) are not to be found on official city maps; they exist invisibly, erased from the city’s official topography. The city’s administration feels ashamed and at the same time terrified by these newly created voids and by what they imply; a new political formlessness that forms the city.

Rather than just representing an expansion of the urban ethos, Metelkova replaces it; the entire community of Metelkova is creator and user at the same time, thus building a city within the city. Metel¬kova can also be seen as a symbolic protest against a city whose political and cultural atmosphere resem¬bles a dormitory. Due to its socialist background, Ljubljana and its official cultural institutions have been asleep for too long.

Metelkova is in a direct opposition to city realism, and also develops strategies for the fictionalization of the city.

It is necessary to mention that today, skillfully prepared plans by the city government, Trojan horses, do not impose a bright future for Metelkova. Some buildings within Metelkova were renovated in 2000. The reason for this was more to suppress the raw radically of the space, than to really give a decent infrastructure to this place that actually keeps and nurtures the importance of historical memory.

Marina Grzinic lives in Ljubljana. She is a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, and a researcher at the Institute of Philosophy at The Slovenian Academy of Science and Arts. She has been involved in video art since 1982. Grzinic has published nine books.

in:  City Views – A photo project: migrant perspectives, Martin Krenn, Turia + Kant, 94 p., German./English, 2004 ISBN-978-3-85132-414-3