|"The more of us there are, the faster we'll reach our goal!"|
In the hot days of August, a bizarre yet very amusing piece of news spread across Slovenia - three prominent Slovenian (internationally renowned) artists, Emil Hrvatin, Davide Grassi and Žiga Kariž, changed theirs names to Janez Janša
By Rok Vevar
Along with the news, rumours brought other (unofficial) information, for example that the three new JJs (even before changing their names) entered the SDS (Slovenian Democratic Party) and that at the recent wedding of one of them, a confusing situation arose when - besides the groom - both best men also bore the name of "Janez Janša". Rumour had it that the registrar had terrible difficulties in trying to remain solemn.
Just prior to that, the three artists (under their former names) reconstructed the famous "Triglav" by the OHO group (originally of 1968) on the place the performance got its name from and presented it to the media as a multiple ("state-forming") jubilee, an attribute that has lately become a kind of unwritten prerequisite for artistic events in our country to gain any public relevancy. I personally understand their "Triglav" as subversive affirmation registered into the paradoxical, anachronistic cultural horizon, which more than 15 years after the creation of the Slovenian state still conceives art as state-forming, because the official (cultural) policy conceives the state as a kind of reserve for the endangered Slovenian ethnic group rather than as an autonomous formation. Regarding their change of name, I am wondering how to think their gesture.
The three artists emphasise that the change of name is not a public but a private matter and I see no reason not to believe them (at least to a certain degree). Their declarative registration of their change of name into the private sphere lends this writing the stamp of yellow journalism and along with it the risk of the said artists suing me for this interpretation. But let me carry out this interpretation nevertheless. Although their gesture is not an artistic act, it still can be thought within the framework of performance, because all three of them will, as artists, i.e. public persons, use their new names to sign their works of art, which will, indeed, be available to the public. For example, one of Janez Janšas is currently in Berlin at the "Tanz im August" festival, where he appears at events together with Meg Stuart, Xavier Le Roy, Giselle Vienne, Felix Rucket, Olga Pona, Alice Chauchat.
The theoretical apparatus available in the field of artistic and/or political activism allows us to categorise their gesture as that kind of subversive affirmation called over-identification; however, we should know that in the case of the said artists this gesture is, from now on, in a constant process: it will be semiotised in connection with their every new work of art and public appearance, therefore it is not excluded it will take some turns not known until now. What is subversive affirmation about? "Subversive affirmation is an artistic/political tactic that allows artists/activists to take part in certain social, political, or economic discourses and to affirm, appropriate, or consume them while simultaneously undermining them. It is characterised precisely by the fact that with affirmation there simultaneously occurs a distancing from, or revelation of, what is being affirmed. In subversive affirmation there is always a surplus which destabilises affirmation and turns it into its opposite. /.../ Subversive affirmation and over-identification - as 'tactics of explicit consent' - are forms of critique that through techniques of affirmation, involvement and identification put the viewer/listener precisely in such a state or situation which s/he would or will criticise later. What the various tactics and parasitic practices have in common is that they employ the classical aesthetic methods of: imitation, simulation, mimicry and camouflage in the sense of 'becoming invisible' by disappearing into the background," can be read in one of the latest issues of Maska magazine, which in fact deals with different types of subversive affirmation in the history of contemporary arts and political activism.
Regarding over-identification, Slavoj Žižek in his 1993 article "Why Are Laibach Not Fascists" mentions several parameters that define over-identification. I have already described the first parameter above, the second one involves performing the unwritten, obscene law or "nightly code", which supplements the official, written law of a legal system (the violation of the public law, which does not suffice the authority, is NOT punished as drastically as the violation of the illegal code of a given authority, because it is precisely by violating the illegal code that an individual adopts a distance because of which the authority does not have him or her in its power any more; e.g. a journalist is forgiven for distorting the truth (withholding information) about a given authority, but when he or she breaches the article of the illegal code that reads "do not write critically about the authority" he or she is immediately punished, even if his or her assertions are true). The third characteristic of over-identification is that because of its affirmative nature it puts the receivers (readers, viewers) of this gesture off their stride, as they cannot rely on the desire of the carrier of this over-identification ("Tell us, guys, what do you want to achieve with this renaming of yours?"), but instead have to define their desire regarding this gesture by themselves (the receivers are thrown into countertransference, where their desire ceases to be the "desire of the Other"). The problem is as follows: if the receivers knew that with their gesture the guys adopted an ironic distance towards the authority (the Prime Minister), the matter would be solved, because with that the receivers' ironic distance would gain a subversive sign as well, however, as Žižek says: "What if this distance, far from posing any threat to the system, designates the supreme form of conformism, since the normal function of the system requires cynical distance?"
Based on previous gestures of the three artists, what can I write about their over-identification? "The more we are the faster we will reach our goal!" is a sentence the Prime Minister uttered during a public appearance. What does this sentence, which was taken literally by the three artists as the scenario for their performance, say? Above all, it expresses a form of demagogy of political egalitarianism, which was characteristic of all totalitarian regimes so far. What is its meaning? Within the frame of democracy it means, above all, an ontological incomprehension of the difference, which is otherwise registered in democratic pluralism and which is, with its defect, characteristic of the Western hegemony of human and any other rights: "I am willing to respect you being different if you are equal to me." To this perhaps refer the pamphlets of the entire Slovenian political spectrum, a spectrum that thinks in a distinctly single-party manner and that has lately been publicly striving to overcome "the old differences between political blocks" (e.g. Pahor with the Social Democrats, the Zares society). This obviously makes one ask oneself where the need to exit the former single-party system came from. Retrospectively it more and more seems that the need derived from the frustrations of some "impossible political elites", from people who could not realise their political ambitions and who did not have the possibility to establish themselves as the authority. With their over-identification gesture, the three artists point out, in my opinion, a historical characteristic of the Slovenian people, who can neither think nor act in accordance with differences, who in scientific community like to pride themselves on the "richness" of different dialects surviving on a small geo-political territory, without realising that these dialects are one of the most striking proofs that people in this area talked to each other and heard each other very very poorly. Therefore, we will be in breach of the nightly code of the current political elites (right right, left right and centre right) until we ourselves take part in "the more we are" and change our names to Janez Janšas, Dimitrij Rupels, and if someone wants to be ahead of time, also in Borut Pahors. In short, ideological uniformity offers us a wide selection of different options. "And then we will be able to win our bread, our rights!"
Subversive affirmation allows artists to take part in certain social, political, or economic discourses and to affirm, appropriate, or consume them while simultaneously undermining them.
Translated from Slovenian by Denis Debevec