Autography, Uncanniness, Rebellion: the Photography of Božidar Dolenc
Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova
23 February – 6 June 2021
This first large-scale and comprehensive posthumous exhibition of the work of Božidar Dolenc (1950 – 2008), one of the most prominent and acclaimed photographers of the second half of the 20th century in Slovenia, is conceived around his legacy, acquired in 2016. A free, nonconformist spirit, Dolenc was drawn to street scenes, formulating a recognizable poetic of almost painful veracity and semantic bitterness, as well as to the visual aesthetic of the alternative culture events of the late 1970s, whose main photographic witness he is now considered to be. The oeuvre he produced is so complex, abundant and rich that we have decided to give equal attention to his well-known series which he himself chose for exhibitions and the large body of photographs portraying the alternative culture of the 1980s.
The exhibition comprises two units, two independent parts, differing in both content and the mode of presentation, conceived by their respective curators, Lara Štrumej and Rok Vevar.
The first part of the exhibition (curated by Lara Štrumej) thus comprises photographs Dolenc himself included in his well-known series (Situations, 1 Image + 1 Image = 1 Image, People Have Become Images, The Ljubljana Subculture Scene, Portraits, and Self-Portraits), and also lesser-known and unknown photographs and prints made from negatives for this exhibition. The latter round off Dolenc’s thematically and stylistically diverse oeuvre into a conceptually more unified whole than we had previously thought. The pictures show that Dolenc was an heir not only of modernism and the poetics of his role models Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, and William Klein, whose raw candor comes to mind when we see Dolenc’s Ljubljana Subculture Scene series, but also of surrealism. Many of Dolenc’s photographs are based on both main strategies of this heterogeneous style born at the time of historical avant-gardes and relevant throughout the twentieth century: on the one hand, the belief that there is nothing more surreal than the material and social reality we live in (this led to Dolenc’s pictures of various random street scenes found in his series Situations and People Have Become Images), and on the other hand, the various technical possibilities, such as long and/or multiple exposure, photomontage, photo collage, use of several negatives, staging, use of mirrors, and similar, which he used mainly in his self-portraits, his lifelong photographic dialogue with himself, and more rarely in female portraits. The exhibition shows that the photographs the artist included in his series from Situations to Portraits and Self-Portraits and his uncompromising and apparently detached laying bare of the ecstasy, creative outbursts, and drug-induced stupor of members of the underground cultural world in the disco clubs of Ljubljana (included in The Ljubljana Subculture Scene series) are both parts of the same narrative, i.e. Dolenc’s incessant quest for a world to identify with.
The second part of the exhibition, curated by Rok Vevar, an expert in the history of contemporary scenic arts, and a contemporary dance historian and archivist, presents virtually all key events occurring on the Ljubljana alternative or underground cultural scene between 1976 and 1990, from contemporary dance performances, concerts by cult punk and rock bands, legendary theater productions and performances by art collectives, to the night life in the Ljubljana clubs. Accompanied by the music from the concerts on the images, the digital prints and photographs on monitors try to bring back the spirit of a time when significant movements formed on the margins of socialist society, calling for changes of the art system and society in general.
The exhibition catalogue includes several texts and a bio-bibliography by Bojana Rogina. The text by Lara Štrumej, who is also the editor of the catalogue, defines the essence of Dolenc’s creative work through the terms autography, uncanniness, rebellion. A new insight into Dolenc’s photographs of the alternative culture events in the final decade of socialism is provided by the texts of Marina Gržinić, PhD, and Rok Vevar. Gržinić, philosopher, theorist, and artist who was herself active in the alternative culture scene, brings some new reflections on the significance of Dolenc’s photographs for the history and historicization of this movement, while Vevar underscores the special reciprocal relationship between the photographer and his subjects as he photographed contemporary dance performances and other alterative culture events, where Dolenc was no mere passive witness but became “a participant in the situation.”
Catalogue: COBISS ID 34384131