Three New Janez Janšas

By Jela Krečič

In the week when the media were short of events they could report on, the artistic community and general public were surprised or amused by the news that three well known Slovenian artists, theatre director Emil Hrvatin, painter Žiga Kariž and visual artist Davide Grassi, officially changed their names to Janez Janša. Many will probably think that we should not pay a lot of attention to this as the renaming can be understood as a bad joke or a personal decision of the protagonists. And it was indeed the argument that it was a completely intimate decision having nothing to do with art with which the artists dodged journalists' questions.
However, it is perhaps not an exaggeration to claim that this gesture of the protagonists' concerns the very essence of contemporary art. After the break of the historic avant-gardes, when not only the final artistic product but also the process of the creation of a work of art becomes a constituent part of art, when the artists' everyday attitudes - the way they dress, what they eat etc. - become important as well, the artists' private lives cannot be subtracted from their art. What artists do in their private lives can at any moment be part of an artistic action or of an artistic performance. The very denial that the renaming is an artistic gesture can be understood as part of their artistic attitude. After all, we can see that after the break of the avant-gardes the boundary between private and public cannot be clearly defined, which, returning to our case, means that we will now be watching paintings by Janez Janša, performances by Janez Janša and visual works by Janez Janša. The change of name, no matter how intimate an act it is, directly affects the understanding of works of art.
In contemporary art, the name has a key role. The only thing that distinguishes a ready-made by Marcel Duchamp from an industrially produced object is Marcel Duchamp's name. The difference between a urinal and the Fountain lies therefore in the fact that the Fountain is signed by Duchamp - an artist, while a urinal is not signed by anybody. Duchamp's name is the only material note of the artist's gesture that transferred a banal trivial object, a urinal, into the field of art.
A key feature that can be emphasized in the change of names of the three Slovenian artists, a feature that also concerns the modernist break is art reaching beyond its field and intervening in the socio-political tissue. The three protagonists suggest that there are more than ten Janez Janšas in Slovenia and that us seeing in their change of name a kind of affinity for the Slovenian Prime Minister is just the result of public's jumping to conclusions. But - is it not also true that a constituent part of a work of art is indeed its interpretation, its understanding established by the critical public? In other words: a work of art is not a final answer, but always a question addressed to a certain public, which means that artists do not have exclusive rights to interpret it. So, in the case of changing the name to the name Janez Janša it is completely justifiable that the first thing that comes to mind is the Slovenian Prime Minister. Therefore, it seems that renaming to the name that is accidentally carried by the first man of Slovenian politics has political connotations as well. However, it is not political in the sense of commenting on the daily political events in our country or commenting on the life and work of Janez Janša, but political in the most elementary sense: the political aspect of the change of name is that it instantly swings the net of meanings in a society, it shakes the boundaries between art and politics, between the public and the private. It offers itself as a riddle still waiting to be solved.

Translated from Slovenian by Denis Debevec