Interview Pogačnik - Franceschi

Interview with Marko Pogačnik by Branko Franceschi led in August 2010 during the preparations for the reunion and a one-day retrospective of The OHO Group organized by the Institute for the Research of Avant-garde and Marinko Sudac Collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb on September, 4, 2010.

Branko Franceschi: OHO is considered one of the peaks of artistic expression in the former Yugoslavia. Forty years after selfabolishment, radical ideas that motivated you have become a part of cultural heritage, and the public, as well as young artists and art historians, know little or nothing about them. Let us start with the etymology, what does the OHO abbreviation mean? And then, how was that meaning transformed when applied to The OHO Group, The OHO Movement and OHO as perception of the world and relation toward art?

Marko Pogačnik: At first we had in mind OHO! as an exclamation of astonishment. We considered astonishment to be the basic quality of a new relation to the reality of the world. It is the opposite of the cold rational approach. Astonishment opens the way towards the essence of things. OHO's original intention was to find a path to autonomous essence of things. Later we perceived the meaning of the word OHO as the synthesis of eye and ear, as the media to which we were dedicated in the OHO's first stage. In Slovenian: OKO (eye) plus UHO (ear) = OHO. At this stage of The OHO Group we were dealing much with the so-called medial systems, so OHO was more important as an intermediary word between two above mentioned senses, as that which is neither one nor the other, but is an object per se.

B.F.: You are one of the OHO's founders, and your artistic and public actions then were closely connected to your friends and associates from your birthplace, Kranj, Iztok Geister and Marjan Ciglič. After going to study in Ljubljana, you were called The Kranj Group. What actually enabled the appearance and development of progressive influential generation, for the culture of  former Yugoslavia and wider,  in small Kranj? What is the situation today?

M.P.: It is a cosmic inspiration that I experienced in the fall of 1962 when I saw the world as infinity of creative potentials. In that moment I became aware of how miserable our stay within the Yugoslav world and even within our rationalist civilization was. The second important moment was the discovery of the Slovenian dadaist magazine TANK, whose copy is kept in our gymnasium's library in Kranj. There I saw that there is an art that is able to express the truth about the state the world is in. Later on I discovered that Iztok and Marjan feel and think the same, we started to cooperate as a group and together we published the one and only issue of the newspapers Plamenica (The Torch).

B.F.: Most of today's generation thinks of the Yugoslav society of the sixties as liberal. In your case, the situation looks completely different. The publication of high school’s newspapers "Plamenica" was forbidden, you and Iztok Geister, as high school editors, were interrogated by the police several times in 1963, and the school director got fired. A year later the journal Perspektive (Perspectives) in which you published was also prohibited, and the editorial board of the congenial journal Sodobnost (Contemporariness) was dismissed. What was really the attitude of politics towards art, culture and a different way of thinking then? How were your ideas received by the persons in power of culture?

M.P.: Indeed, although unintentionally, we were able to find a weakness of the system. We have developed an artistic language in which the socialist society could see its evil face like in a mirror, a face of a society subjected to a disguised total control. The politicians were furious and tried to prove that we were destructive deliberately – what we in a sense were. But without the destruction of what is not true, there is no transformation towards true. 

B.F.: Who supported your actions?

M.P.: We mostly had to manage everything by ourselves. We made our works from cheap materials, I printed the books on a hand machine made during the war in a partisan printing plant… But we were supported by the intellectuals from Perspektiva (Perspective) and Sodobnost (Contemporariness) magazines, such as Rudi Šeligo and Dušan Pirjevec.

B.F.: To the socialist collectivism of that time you confronted the collective based on a mutual belief in the need of a peaceful change of the reality, and not one at the basic political level from which you experienced resistance, but on the essential, ontological level through the suprarational syncretic perception.

M.P.: The temptations of the Kranj period have taught us that we cannot "defeat" that colossus on his own ground, but that it is necessary to develop a field of a different perception of the world and relation towards the reality that will finally move the ground beneath his feet. But that does not apply only on the conflict with the Yugoslav reality of those days, but also with the modern anthropocentric civilization. We saw ourselves as anti-humanists in that sense.

B.F.: In communication of your creativity with the public you have accepted the notion of Reism, a term in which your point of view and the aesthetics that derived from it was defined by a philosopher and critic Taras Kermauner. What are the basic postulates of Reism and how were they reflected in your work then and today?

M.P.: We never completely agreed on the term "Reism". We were actually dealing with the existence of things a lot, but not in terms of the "new novel" of those days, were things appear instead of people. We were concerned in the perception of things as something positioned the lowest on the scale of modern society's goods. That principle that every, even the most banal thing, should have its own autonomy, later both Iztok Geister and I but separately, developed in the principle of nonantrophocentric ecology, in which plants, animals and elemental beings have the same rights as those of a modern man.

B.F.: OHO's comprehension of the artistic creativity did not accept separation, but has, according to the postulates of Reism, practiced the synthesis of music, poetry, theater, visual arts, film etc. You gave the same significance to magazines and books as you did to exhibitions. From today's point of view it seems prophetic, as does the presentation of your own body in an exhibition in 1965 instead of your rejected work.

M.P.: Back then we knew nothing about body art, Fluxus, conceptual art, land art… We came to know about that at the end of 1967 when Biljana Tomić and Ješa Denegri came to visit us in Kranj. They recognized the modernity of our work and opened Yugoslav scene to us. We followed our intuition and interaction between different above mentioned media. That generated a creative flow, which was obviously in resonance with the spirit of the time, and that led us from project to project in an almost ecstatic-creative way. There is also an inspiring role of the pop-culture headed by the Beatles… and the philosophy of Wittgenstein and Zen Buddhism.  

B.F.: Fluctuation of collaborators around the OHO's core was huge. Then there are some parallel groups like the Catalogue, whose member you were and with whom you have exhibited as OHO. Today the fact that Slavoj Žižek and Dimitrij Rupel were members at the same time seems paradoxical. Was it because of the spirit of that time?

M.P.: Besides the aforementioned resonance with the spirit of that time there is also our conscious decision to create some kind of a parallel culture, encompassing all spheres of civilization, and not only the domain of art. The term "Catalogue" means that this new culture would include a lot of different approaches to the new reality, which are located next to each other as, for example, different types of shoes in the department store catalogues. People found themselves inspired by our ideas, they gave their contribution and went their own way later on.

B.F.: Despite of the dramatic start, OHO's success was fast and far reaching. You exhibited in all the leading institutions and cultural centres in Yugoslavia, and in 1970 even in MoMA. Only a few months later you collectively anounced the abolishment of the Group and withdrawal from the world of art. You and your like-minded retreat to the virgin valley of Vipava, where in the The Šempas Family project you aimed to realize the harmony of individual, community and nature through identification of art and life. At the time of my youth, life in Šempas had a legendary status in certain circles. What was it like to live in Šempas and how did the project come to an end?

M.P.: Actually, we never stopped our work. We were just abolished as a formal OHO group which began to function successfully within the art scene. We did not want that to happen, taking in consideration our initial visions of revolutionizing the modern rationalist civilization. We have abolished so we could continue on a different level, where art and daily life would not be separated. In Šempas we wanted to build an archetypal cell of the new culture, which today I refer as "geoculture". The new, co-creative relation towards the planet Earth and nature, who's part a man is, was of crucial significance here. Therefore, we decided to create an agricultural commune, which was also creative in the field of art– for example, we represented the Yugoslav art at the Venice Biennale in 1978, which was dedicated to the relation between art and nature.

B.F.: Your solo work is entirely based on a holistic vision of art. You have developed a method of healing the soil, Earth, by monolithic stone pillars which you position on lithopunctural points in the landscape or urban tissue, a procedure that is easiest introduced by comparison with acupuncture. In Zagreb you have presented a monolith in front of the Museum of the Contemporary art and it refers to another, in your opinion, esoteric artist. What was the motive?

M.P.: You are thinking of Ivan Meštrović and his three works with which he established the principle of Trinity in Donji grad (the Downtown): Zdenac života (Fountain of Life), Strossmajer's monument and the Art Pavilion, according to my geomantic research. I am thinking of the principle of Trinity in terms of a sacred landscape, as it was formed after the Paleolithic through different cultures. Thus Meštrović made a significant mark to the identity of the "old" Zagreb. I transferred that principle to the area of New Zagreb through that megalith and three bronze cosmograms located on it. The fourth cosmogram on the megalith refers to the importance of the place on which the megalith is set. It is a place of grounding in the core of the planet. But do not forget the "Solar Plexus of Europe", a composition of 45 megaliths, which me and my associates from Croatia and Europe had set up on the Island of Croatian Youth at Jarun lake.

B.F.: You have forsaken art as a system closed in itself and developed by the Western culture, but you never gave up art. What kind of art do you believe in and what role do you give to art today?

M.P.: I believe in art that is able to embody a counterbalance to the modern rationalistic culture. Art can be irrational, sensitive and enter into spiritual spheres that rationalism by his nature hates and displays as esotheria. In that way, it can be creative in restoring the balance on our planet, the balance between the rational and intuitive. If art would not close itself within its imaginary world, it could have a complementary role to science. On the other hand I see art as a relatively free space, within which new visions of integral human being and complete civilization that might then come to life in daily reality, could develop.

Marko Pogačnik & Branko Franceschi 2010/8/3

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