Artistic director of Škuc Gallery from 1991 – 1996.
Alenka Pirman (1964, Ljubljana) is an artist and administrator worker. In the years 1991 – 1996 she was an artistic director of Škuc Gallery. From 1996 she was volunteer researcher at the Institute for home studies. In the year 1997, she was a trustee of RIGUSRS (stands for Research Institute for geo-art statistics of Republic of Slovenia) and become an assistant director of Soros Center of Contemporary Art in Ljubljana.
I come from the Ljubljana Academy of Fine Arts and it is comical that it was my housework reflex that encouraged my work in the Škuc Gallery. That is to say, in 1990 I had my first exhibition in the Škuc Gallery and I noticed that it was rather messy. It seemed as if the whole thing hung by a thread – that no one really knew what the following year would bring. Therefore I openly offered my help to the-then programme redactor Joško Pajer. Since Tomislav Vignjevič was similarly disposed to work on the programme, it happened that we jointly prepared the 1991 programme. Our arrival signified a new expansion of the Škuc Gallery in terms of personnel. At first, we did not give much attention to the naming of functions. Former programme creators in this space were called redactors. It was a function of the ŠKUC Society, and it primarily concerned communicational and operational protocol between the administration and colleagues from other ŠKUC redactions. The tradition of redactor in the role of artistic director was first broken in the moments of the severest crisis when there was practically no one left to continuously and responsibly work on the programme. This was when Joško Pajer stepped in as a redactor – in 1988, I believe.
After two years of joint work with Tomislav Vignjevič, I became solely responsible for the programme for the following three years. I did not have any particular vision, which is clearly evident in the fact that I chose rather neutral and technical exhibition cycles and series as a “crutch” (e.g. first personal exhibitions, exhibitions by prominent foreign artists or guest curators, socio-cultural exhibitions and so on). These were subsidiary partitions, helping the annual programme to enjoy a sort of cohesion. I had no vision, since I did not know what art was supposed to look like; in fact, everything seemed equally legitimate to me. It is a distinctive weakness of the Škuc Gallery that it was always looked upon as a “corrective”, an exhibition premises in relation to something. I see such a relationship as an impediment, which had endured since the “heroic” beginnings and was inherent in the very reason for the foundation of this “space of difference”, which was supposed to show things not showable elsewhere, and where art theory and practice were to be produced in a different way. This is a surprisingly non-emancipated starting point, is it not? I believe that due to my dilettantism, it did not assert itself, and I see it as an advantage. For the principal advantage in that period was the fact that the projects, exhibitions, and events taking place in the Škuc Gallery were essentially unimportant. They did not aim to change the world or wish to influence cultural policy but were simply a testing ground for inexperienced artists, curators, and artistic directors.
It is very important that we succeeded to establish the Škuc Gallery archive in that period, in spite of the specific conditions of “non-institution” that lives from hand to mouth and where the keeping of one’s own documentation is sheer luxury. Today, the Škuc Gallery keeps an archive of basic documents, available to whoever wishes to investigate the phenomenon of the existence and functioning of this space as a whole. My experience suggests that the power of self-historisation (which is a classical trick of avant-gardes) is so convincing that if someone writes about the Škuc Gallery today, he/she does so on the basis of secondary evidence procured by the protagonists themselves.
With the initiation of additional activities and services at the beginning of the nineties, the Škuc Gallery became a very popular social space, which increased to unimagined dimensions (it was mentioned in tourist publications, such as Let’s go and the like). In addition to the gallery at Stari Trg 21, the premises also housed the Karantanija bookshop, which was one of the best in Ljubljana; the Vinilmanija second-hand record shop; and the famous bar, of course. Therefore it is not a coincidence that every exhibition in the gallery was seen by over 1,000 visitors, which even today represents an enviable achievement in the context of galleries in Slovenia. I certainly do not assume that the reason of this popularity was an attractive exhibition programme It was rather a lucky coincidence, but this situation also meant a stab in the back, since it led – because of business dilettantism on the one hand and naive enthusiasm on the other, both combined within the same people – to the fact that the Škuc Gallery lost its legal prospect of running these activities in the future. The revocation of these activities also, unfortunately, happened alongside the pending procedure of denationalization – and we were utterly unprepared for such developments. In this period of utmost weakness, the Kapelica Gallery was established, which did not influence my work very much, but it did – and justifiably – divert audiences. With regard to the Kapelica Gallery, I can say that it had a diametrically opposite method of work. Jurij Krpan knows what art is supposed to look like, and therefore he has designed a strictly profiled programme. The Kapelica Gallery has planned its programme with the hope of breaking petty-bourgeois prejudices about art. In its essence, every profile is a sign of limitation, but on the other hand, an operation based on strong standpoints is an extremely effective method, which I did not know, or even master, at the time.
Regarding the fact that we did not have firm programme standpoints at the Škuc Gallery, we did not have them – regretfully – in our relationship with the new state either. The indicators of cultural policy, e.g. the amount of money you get and the way you get it, showed precisely the opposite: the tendency that things are being arranged, that society starts to recognize the Škuc Gallery as a relevant exhibition space. When I started to work in the gallery we were not getting any subsidies from the Ministry of Culture, while four years later its share reached some 30 percent of the entire budget. I am not certain whether this fact should be ascribed to our bureaucratic diligence, programmatic tepidity (and thus harmlessness), or the emerging principled preference on the part of the younger set of professional bureaucrats. Today I know that this matter was dubious at its core since the Škuc Gallery has started to change into a decent exhibition space, a decent youth center, a decent space where young people will have a chance to express their ideas unhindered and to socialize. At that time, of course, this process seemed quite incontestable.
I think that the biota of the Škuc Gallery has less to do with changes in the political system and the emergence of the young state, and more with the ageing of those “independent” socio-cultural centres, societies and, later, institutes which were founded in the late seventies and early eighties (e.g. Forum, Dance Theatre Ljubljana, Glej Theatre, ŠKUC). These approved guardians of non-institutional culture have been turning rigid, becoming ever more professional and administratively competent. They have gradually become good partners of the state institutions. As such, they were recognized and also rewarded. At the same time, of course, they have turned conceptually insipid, predictable and unimportant (although not in the sense I would wish them to be).
Today, the Škuc Gallery is one of the guardians of professional contemporary art. Together with other galleries with which it (still) measures itself (e.g. Kapelica Gallery and the Ljubljana Museum of Modern Art) and which do exactly the same, it forms the line of defense for Slovene contemporary art. I can only discern slight cosmetic differences between them. In their programmes, they all offer the definitions of global, Slovene and contemporary art.
It is the tragedy of Škuc Gallery that it has become an institution which itself redeems and canonizes every – even the most artfully devised – attempt at a laboratory clash with the postulates of contemporary art. Therefore I say: Abolish it, or protect it as a historical monument – but in no way be enticed by it.
*Based on the interview with Alenka Pirman, respectively, put down on paper by Gregor Podnar.