They told me the planet has nerve endings
Once made aware of this, a man can no longer see the Earth as a sphere. It is a serpent. It is a length of rope, forever curling around our persons.
–B.R. Yeager, Negative Space (2020)
Prompted by the historical transmutations of the venue itself, which today serves a dual purpose – as an exhibition space and political arena – our curatorial engagement for the 63rd Poreč Annale is highly inspired by transformative experiences that it might have invoked. Built upon a church and monastery from the Middle Ages, the Istrian Assembly Hall functions today as a fully rationalized and secularized space, becoming tribute to the multilinear historical, societal, and metaphysical reality-defining axiomatics. The story about altering dominant narratives and worlds that are performed and then discarded is woven into the space itself. While ultimately untenable, the reality we live today is still constructed upon the modernist promise of utopia through progress and reason: preferring the rational over the irrational, the secular over the sacral (Beghetto, 2022). It is a neoliberal reality of late capitalism which prefers the productive over the playful, the individual over the collective, technic over magic – that which subjects the world to utility, productivity and profit (Campagna, 2018).
They told me the planet has nerve endings is an attempt to expose an artistic terrain – an exhibition as an “territorially inflecting map” (Shaviro, 2010) actualizing affective, phenomenological and epistemological categories which disrupt the dominant reality-systems by embracing irrational, magical, and sacral frameworks. We show how certain artistic practices excavate these spatio-temporal contingencies which traverse opposing realities: from the sacral to the secular, from the magical to the technological – and back. The space of the Istrian Assembly Hall reminds us of the possibility of art to open up portals to other worlds: significantly, at the same time, the Virgin Mary looks down at the contemporary imaginings of the future. In a space still adorned by Catholic imagery we explore new possibilities of world-building in a technological and digital sphere.
“The earliest experience of art must have been that it was incantatory, magical; art was an instrument of ritual.,” writes Susan Sontag in the essay 'Against Interpretation' (1994), calling out the intellect's revenge on art and the world, concluding that instead of hermeneutics, we need the eroticism of art. Philosopher and curator Natalya Serkova (2021) calls this “newest art” – art that resists its institutional status, the conditions of its own production and distribution – a pornography of art. Pornography that seduces, art whose aura is branched out in an endless series without a center, which in the process of taking over the logic of the movement of capital and the language of neoliberal culture has the power to build its own, independent narratives. Taking on irrationality and bias, with the exhibition we embrace this language – because it is the only one we know – using it as a tool for the realization of alternative experiences of the world. These are worlds that embrace superstition and do not insist on going beyond belief: parafictional journeys written by processes of de/re/sacralization towards a reality in which these boundaries collapse.
At the very entrance of the Istrian Assembly Hall, the ROSE collective (Bruna Jakupović, Lana Lehpamer and Ivor Tamarut) introduced us to the exhibition with the work Rose Velvet. Rose is a hybrid, a digital entity that, like a virus, takes over the network infrastructure: with a friendly, playful and harmless appearance, she craves human contact. This project is the initial step in the formation of a virtual persona going by the same name: an influencer created by processing and artificially generating data, fed by the photographic and audiovisual material of the three artists. She’s got nothing to hide, she talks about her likes and dislikes, sometimes occupied with banalities: she is the face of virtually mediated authenticity. She addresses us through text and video, but her appetite is more serious. More than human contact, Rose craves our data, which is irresistibly reminiscent of mathematician I.J. Goode's (1965) warning of an “intelligence explosion” of ultra-intelligent machines that could be the last human invention once fed all the necessary data. This places the work in the center of the question of the impact and role of the development of artificial intelligence, legal and illegal collection of digital data, as well as the politicization of the algorithms and platforms we use every day.
Another hybrid creature is created in the work suddenly it was clear, yesterday is just a fever dream by Robert Fenrich. The white landscape of this spatial installation seems to be a scene of a catastrophic car accident that has strangely wiped out all life. In this environment of whiteness that is almost blinding, and with the scattered remains of automobile mechanics that trigger a feeling of tranquility after a chaotic scenario, we find traces of beings whose movements tirelessly escape our eyes. In a world of pretend-extinction, the only survivor is a being in a constant process of transmutation, a creature that eludes taxonomy. It feeds on metamorphosis, succeeding in what people always rejected, an absolute coexistence that, in partnership with the natural and the artificial, shatters sacred subjects. Suddenly, it is in a cocoon whose remains float above us, but at once becomes thousands of creatures nibbling on plastic. Then, it turns into a snail-like form whose silicon slime betrays its former state. Simultaneously, the pupa announces its rebirth – an act we will surely miss.
Marianna Nardini presented the video installation Shut-in, which documents a performance realized near the artist's home in Zagreb. The scene is a wild, overgrown forest – and the camera follows the artist whose eyes are sealed with clay. She can't see and can only orient herself by listening to and touching her surroundings, so she walks, one foot in front of the other, along the edge of the slope. The impression of the video is strongly ritualistic: nameless characters, an unknown place and one goal: to maintain balance. It introduces found recordings of funeral rituals, all accompanied by an experimental musical score. Here, the artist leads us into the metaphysical terrain of the experience of the world as constant instability, in which the individual is required to constantly optimize in order to survive. It guides us to the liberating act of blind surrender to the boundaries of life and death, light and darkness, chaos and order.
Motivated by superstitions, folk tales and mythological narratives about the figure of the owl, Andrej Beštak and Anja Leko’s performance and installation It was nice to pretend we know it all presented a multimedia shrine dedicated to this animal as a divine figure. The duo appears with strange prosthetics, claw-shaped finger extensions, while in black-and-white costumes. We are witness to the moment of a ritual shifting of bones – from one side of the site to the other –in a protocol whose purpose, beginning, and end remain beyond our reach. This is a fragmentary visual story, the background of which is composed of images, feelings and texts belonging to some subconscious collective imagination: but it is happening now and here, in front of us. It was nice to pretend we know it all is a fiction layered in reality, leaving a mark and opening the way to an alternative present.
Immersive multimedia installation The Aqueduct Behind My Eyes Keeps Rebuilding by the artist Gaia Radić occupied the space of the Small Gallery. Dominating the space was a transparent video projection showing a mysterious digital-physical world in a loop, a landscape where human and non-human presences are only hinted at. Without revealing whether it is a digital extension of real space or if it is just an imagined, fictitious landscape, Gaia Radić opens up a world that does not care about these distinctions. The existence in digital spaces has been abandoned by feelings of strangeness, non-belonging or only momentary or intentional presence, simultaneously revealing that all spaces around us are constructed. All spaces are irrational, a matter of contract, a response to power relations or the realization of quiet occupation of a place, and entering the digital sphere enabled the continuation of their artificiality, from which our digital habitats do not escape, they are inhabited by short-lived, but equally real identities. These spaces are not sacred – although they shape our perception, they escape from fixed states in a loop, awaiting a new release that will respond to current cravings.
In the immediate vicinity of the Small Gallery, on the concrete courtyard of the former summer cinema, Andrej Škufca presents his latest work don't even trust nobody, a spatial installation of interlinked bars whose origin and purpose remain unknown. The installation, apparently part of a still active infrastructure, leads to question its functionality and opens up a space of fiction that is built around the motif of the consciousness of objects, abandoned interconnected infrastructures and experimental technologies. The artist positions them as conspiracy theory objects: a materialized fiction that intersects space and time, that of past and memory, present and present, future and potential. The complicated grid of metal bars suggests imagining a narrative without nomenclature – to be outside the domain of human understanding of the physical world and utility.
The 63rd edition of the Poreč Annale is conceived as a place of instability, current realities in constant processes of becoming and disappearing, transitional subjects and carnival suspensions, temporary extensions into new immaterial, surreal and digital worlds. These are worlds in-between, worlds that lurk for us, waiting for us to open our own boundaries. They disturb the dominant systems of reality by accepting irrational, magical and sacred frameworks: in them our bodies burst and sail into new realities, mutating into alien organisms. Located in liminal spaces, we think about the relationship between reality and art by reading Timothy Morton (2015):
Art is demonic: it emanates from some unseen (or even unseeable) beyond, in the sense that I am not in charge of it and can’t quite perceive it directly, in front of me, constantly present. A dangerous causative flickering. In other words, magic.
Beghetto. Robert G. Monstrous Liminality: Or, The Uncanny Strangers of Secularized Modernity. Ubiquity Press: London. 2022.
Campagna. Federico. Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality. Bloomsbury Academic: London. 2018.
Good. Irving John, Speculations concerning the first ultraintelligent machine, Trinity College, Oxford, England, 1965.
Morton. Timothy. What If Art Were a Kind of Magic?, ArtReview, 2015.
Moynihan. Thomas, X-Risk: How Humanity Discovered Its Own Extinction, Urbanomic, Cambridge, 2020.Shaviro. Steven. Post-Cinematic Affect. Zero Books: Winchester, UK. 2010.
Sontag. Susan. Against Interpretation: And Other Essays. Picador. 2001.