Alenka Sottler: Good Afternoon
27 April – 29 May 2012
Illustration, the medium many female painters have used, enabled – especially women – to survive. It used to be a marketing niche for female artists as the space of ‘art’ was conquered and controlled by their male colleagues, better accepted and recognized in it. Despite the current multi-disciplinarity of male and female artists, the expert field today still understands illustration as second-rate and ultimately non artistic. However, this kind generalization is not always accurate, as beside the fact that the female and male artists nowadays undertake varied projects – including such with an evident artistic engagement – what is important is the contents invested in their works and the approaches they use. Reflections on art and contemporary society as well as the innovativeness in their expression and execution are, regardless of the media they are executed in, what tags the attribute of artistic to their creation. The exhibition of Alenka Sottler exposes illustration as a ‘real’ artwork. It negates the stand taken towards illustration as the Second, in relation to art, overlooked and inferior, affirming its importance as equivalent to the one of painting.
Alenka Sottler, a recognized and reputable artist that has already received numerous awards and prizes, always thoughtfully incorporates critique of the contemporary society and its relations. This time, she will represent herself to the viewers in a way, different to the usual one. Alenka Sottler creates the works that are not based on commissions conceiving ever new innovative and creative solutions, speaking primarily about the economics of consumer system we are surrounded with. These rarely exhibited works are critical, with a refined sense of humour and cynicism.
In 2008, at the beginning of the current financial crisis, the author started to create visual commentary composed exclusively of bar codes, intimately documenting globalization and genesis of the financial crisis. Beside the ‘Good Morning’ cycle that she first presented independently at the Kibela Gallery in Maribor at the beginning of the year, she will, at the Alkatraz Gallery exhibit its second part, entitled ‘Good Afternoon’. The project bears the critique of market economy, neo-liberalism, consumerism and stressful lifestyle, when we are ceaselessly bombed with advertisements and commercials. The pulsation of the contemporary life is materialized in the illustrations, stemming from one single element; the bar code. With absence of any text, the illustrations show the scenes, visualizing the transformation of the world into an exclusively financial cosmos.
Due to their omnipresence, the codes, the object of play for designer grip in the sales function – quite contrary to others, in a uniquely simple way – change into a powerful means of expression for a critical and engaged artistic message, reflecting upon the world and calls for sobering. The artist uses them in a completely different way to the most famous bar code artist Scott Blake, who uses them in connection to the mobile technology, transforming them into interactive installations. Their approach differs in the way that Scott acknowledges them as an inseparable part of our life, whereas Sottler uses them as symbols for danger. With reference to their critical engagement contents we could compare them to the advertisement a London advertising agency Leagas Delaney created pro bono, for a global movement Stop The Traffik, fighting against human trafficking.
The concept and a draft of the artist book, represented in Maribor and now on display in Ljubljana, have attracted a lot of attention also at this year’s Bologna Book Fair. The fil rouge of a series or the origin for the title of the exhibition in Maribor is the illustration of a smiling Sun, emitting, beaming with bar codes instead of rays. The illustration entitled ‘Good Morning’, points out and warns us that the first thing we see in the morning when we wake up is not the Sun any more, but we are greeted a ‘good morning’ by a consumer’s day through the radio, television and jumbo posters by the sides of roads, with all their advertisements and products that we ‘must’ possess as well as instructions for a ‘happy and fulfilled’ life.
The title ‘Good Afternoon’ stresses that the exhibition at the Alkatraz Gallery is a continuation of the series’ first represented at the Kibela Gallery, however, with a slight detour. The contents concern the woman as a consumer, and the artworks exhibited deal with her position in the society critically. The key work from the exhibited ones is the one entitled Somnolence 1. On it there is a woman with a three-storey hairdo, made up of bar codes, sucking her thumb. Somnolence (drowsiness) is a minor disturbance of consciousness, similar to sleepiness.
The artist evidently alludes to drowsiness and apathy that the contemporary consumer-orientation causes to female consumers, by day-to-day advertisements increasingly compelled to take care of – especially of their appearance. Slim figure, neat look, perfect make-up and hairdo are top priority and the most important things expected from women, and once taken care of, the proximate environment are satisfied, and the women should be consoled and apparently safe from the critique, indicated by the sucking of the thumb. Nevertheless, the ideal keeps moving away with ever new requirements, merchandize, and imposed images, leading to a no-way-out revolving in a circle, encouraging ever ‘new and better’ purchases.
The illustrations depicting a woman of no expression and a couple in a room or a bedroom, composed only from bar codes, speak about our lives being saturated with thoughts of what more we could still possess, while at the same time completely emptied of quality contents, mental and spiritual progress as well as of real and sincere contentment. A graphic of a settlement, consisting only of bar codes – houses, this time displayed on paper carrier bags, framing them, also speak about an omnipresent overwhelm-ness and captivity in the consumer system. We have consented to this trap following our wish or weakness for the new, something ever better and more beautiful. The houses also represent the home, that is, sadly, still primarily the domain of the housewife; the space where women do most of the chores. The story continues by the artworks composed of women – housewives. They sweep or hoover the floor, vacuuming heaps of bar codes, but the works can also be read in a different way. Their work can represent the cleaning of the clutter that we have accumulated during shopping sprees, and don’t need it any more, as it was replaced by new things. But perhaps they are hiding a clue for a solution and the sketched activity represents cleansing of our addictions to things, beautiful items, glittering at shops, luring us to shop for unnecessary things.
The trap we have caught ourselves in and of which – in the transformation of the Descartes’ „Cogito ergo sum“ that Barbara Kruger in her work from 1987, entitled ‘I Shop, Therefore I Am’ already talks about back then- Alenka Sottler illustrates in a simple, but effective and penetrating way, with a symbol that everyone knows and understands. It is exactly the simplicity and persuasiveness that we have lost with our way of living. Alenka Sottler, with minimalistic interventions, emphasises that the essence of life is not to own as many things as possible, and that not everything that glitters is gold. It is the contents that matters, the essence hidden from the eyes.
The desire for never-ending novelties, on the shelves of shops, as well as at galleries that can – considering our shallowness – still shock or thrill us is what Alenka Sottler with her exhibition resolutely stands up against. The author believes that by gasping for fascination, stupefaction and easiness of consumerism being offered to us as a magnificent service for all our needs conceals its very opposition: a fatal trap, like a swamp that we can easily wander into, and drown passively. The only thing that can save us from ‘drowning’ is the awareness that we are the only ones responsible for our deeds and their ultimate consequences.
translation: Lili Anamarija No
Alenka Sottler lives and works as a free-lanced artist in Ljubljana. She graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana in 1981, where she also completed her post-graduate studies in 1983. In 1981 she was awarded a Student Prešern Award. For several years she was writing articles on fine art for children for the children’s magazine Kekec. She illustrates poetry, is engaged in graphics as well as works on paper. She has illustrated over 45 books and was presented at numerous solo and group exhibitions in Slovenia as well as abroad.
For her works, she has received several awards and prizes. She has received international awards in the field of book illustration for her black and white interpretations of the World’s Fairy tales, and a Golden Apple at the World Biennial of Children’s Book Illustration in Bratislava for the illustrator interpretation of the fairy tales Cinderella and the Golden Apple. She has been nominated for the ALMO and Andersen Award. Last year, she was a finalist at the international tender for the illustration of the Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger (or The Outsider); Getting Inside the Outsider, of the House of Illustrations and the publisher The Folio Society in London. She is a member of the Slovenian Illustrator Section with DSL as well as a member of the NY Society of Illustrators.