By: Lan Seušek
As the curator of the Fortunat Bergant Gallery, I spoke with the initiator of its establishment, Mr. Jože Biščak, this holiday season. At the time of the creation of the gallery, Biščak was the director of the company Nova obzorja and editor-in-chief of the magazine Demokracija. As a sharp pen of Slovenian journalism, my interlocutor did not disappoint this time either. In the conversation, we looked back at the cultural events of the past year, talked about the pressing problems in this area and – although we did not find a magic wand – we nevertheless listed some things that are worth fighting for or should be preserved. Jože Biščak did not shy to call a spade a spade in the conversation, so I believe that you are in for an interesting read.
Mr. Biščak, the initiative to establish the Fortunat Bergant Gallery was yours. How did you come up with the idea?
When I was the director of Nova obzorja and the editor of the magazine Demokracija, I met various people, including artists. For example, Jiří Kočica, who is the cartoonist of Demokracija. He is an excellent and superb artist who would make a good living by sculpting in some free country. But because of his views on what is happening in society and the world, he is unacceptable to the left, which also controls art. In order to give a chance at least partially to young artists who are excellent but ideologically unacceptable to the mainstream, which means that it is difficult for them to access exhibitions in established galleries, I initiated the establishment of a gallery, which is only at the beginning of the journey, but it is going in the right direction.
When you founded the gallery, you said: “Our wish is that people who are rejected by mainstream art, where the criteria are dictated by left-wing ideology, exhibit in this gallery. These are artists, schooled as well as self-taught, who are excellent painters or sculptors and would deserve more attention. Above all, our aim is to return fine art to its origin – to beauty and the beautiful.” After one year, how far do you think we have come as a nation in our search for the beautiful? Are we any closer or have we drifted further apart?
I am afraid we are no closer than we were. If I am pessimistic, I can say that in Slovenia (which is no exception compared to the rest of the world) we have moved further away from the search for beauty. As philosophy is the search for truth, art is the search for the beautiful. It is a general, universal value that is rooted in human nature as a reality. It is originally rational and good, so uncorrupted it can immediately distinguish between beautiful and ugly. Postmodernism suppresses this, if I may call it, primal instinct in every way, and I must admit that it is successful in this.
In the last century, the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar said that in a world without beauty, even goodness and truth lose their appeal. And we are losing our sense of beauty more and more, to the extent that in this ultra-modern time (which is based on the redefinition of some concepts) bad is equated with good, truth with lies and manipulation. Unfortunately, the sense of beauty is no longer a question of aesthetics or quality, it has become an ideological question. Just look at how Lynn Yaeger, the editor of the world-famous fashion magazine Vogue, which once set global guidelines and was followed by famous fashion design houses, evaluated Melania Trump. For a common-sense and well-intentioned person, Melania is a beautiful woman with a sense of style and dress, but Yaeger constantly criticised her. The background is of course ideological, Melania is the wife of Donald Trump, but if you look at the way editor Yaeger is dressed, I recommend that you have tranquilisers next to you. And if someone criticises such an ideological attitude to the beautiful, the whole mainstream accuses him of being lazy, a peasant and of not understanding the beauty (or art) of modernity.
At this point, I would like to borrow the thought of the late British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, who taught that beauty is to the soul what a mother’s arms are to a child. Beauty in art works in the same way: it also shows tragedies, misery, that is, what is ugly in life, but the beauty is in the painted, because it offers comfort. This does not exist in modern art; modern art communicates that there is no salvation. I believe that, with rare exceptions, art in the postmodern era has followed ideological guidelines and sunk into a kind of moral failure.
In this year, an incident took place in the Slovenian Youth Theatre with a play entitled Farmhands; this triggered the revelation of the backgrounds of the privileged working in the field of culture and events such as the Fotopub affair. How negative are these developments on individuals and generations, and how destructive are they for art as such? Do you think there is less interest in culture because of this?
As I said. Dark clouds have hung over art for a long time. Today, it is enough to know a few mainstream journalists, to invite them to your show or exhibition. And then they declare you a top artist. Look at Boris A. Novak, whom the media and even critics (where have critical truthfulness and feeling gone?) consider him to be an excellent poet. No, he is a bad poet, a disaster of a poet. But since he is a progressive and against Janša, this is a good enough reference that he is declared almost the greatest living Slovenian poet. And whatever he writes is pure gold, right? Anyone who does not agree with this is a stuffed animal, a stubborn conservative, even a Nazi and a fascist, who does not understand, if I am being cynical, Novak’s songs and coinages, the sexual message from Fotopub or the trampling of the Slovenian flag in the play Farmhands. But some authority (I believe there are still truth-loving critics) should say: The emperor is naked!
Do you think that people who are close to democratic values and traditions are more interested in literature or are they also interested in fine arts?
Now, whether people who ideologically place themselves on the right side are more interested in literature and fine arts, it would be difficult for me to judge. But they certainly recognise real and high-quality fine art and literature more. I will say that we on the right, or conservatives, cultivate a love for reality, on the other side there are leftists (socialists) who have as an ideology something that sounds good, but in practice does not work. It is a difference in the perception and preservation of tradition and the natural, so on the right we recognise reality (truth) and good (quality) and do not mix this with politics and ideology, while on the left they try to define fine art, literature, architecture, or art with ideology. I want to say that faith in God puts us on a realistic ground and shows us that we are small, so we can see and appreciate the beautiful and the good, while secularism is placed high above the clouds, which leads to the relativisation of the good and the beautiful.
With art, there are many times that offense is caused because it opens up conflict. Personally, I have the feeling that mainstream art in Slovenia prefers to insult itself in advance simply so that a real conflict would not occur at all and, consequently, no catharsis; thus, it offends only with the aim of consolidating an already existing view of the world. How do you see it?
It is true. Precisely critical debates, which were also offensive in places, made a selection in history between what was truly beautiful and high-quality, and weeds, i.e., bad and ugly. The latter may have been marked as good in real time, but the future showed the true value. Today, such criticism can be labelled as hate speech, especially if you criticise an artist who is trans or of other races. The mainstream immediately labels you a transphobe or a racist, they do not even care if your criticism is justified or not. Here, too, it can be seen that in fact everything has become an ideological issue.
We have a left-wing elite that has taken over all the key positions in art as well. It is supported (financially) by the state, and this elite, from the position of power it has usurped, marks something as bad in advance. As you say: there is no longer any constructive conflict and exchange of opinions, and therefore no catharsis. And since this is impossible, that is why anyone can be an artist today, who is the progressive caviar of the art elite.
Do you think that we, as artists who derive our work from traditional values, do enough or not enough? Maybe you should expose yourself more?
Lan, you are, if I may call it that, one of the lone art warriors who distinguished himself by accepting the curatorship at the Fortunat Bergant Gallery. I say this: despite the barbarism of the left, we must be courageous. We must not pay attention to insults and persecution; we must not allow them even a sense of triumph. Everyone should expose themselves according to their conscience and as much as they judge to be right and if they think it is right.
In the speech you gave at the meeting of supporters of Nova24 and the magazine Demokracija, you said that we should not resort to the sounds of silence! (https://kavarnahayek.wordpress.com/2022/09/25/moj-nagovor-o-svobodi-govora-na-srecanju-podpornikov-nova24tv-in-revije-democracija-ne-smemo-se-zateci-k -sound-silence/) What do you think each individual can do to raise culture, dialogue, to raise plurality in culture?
The Fortunat Bergant Gallery is one of the things that helps, as you say, to raise culture, dialogue, and plurality. It is a gallery that curses the sound of silence in art. You know, the most deafening sound is the sound of silence. And we, with the gallery, cut through it in art. The very fact that it even exists and works bothers many. It bothers because this gallery tries to be a place of coordination and a centre for sparking ideas, so that we get the best and that some young artists can establish themselves through this gallery. In no way does the gallery want to be a place that is already forced and commanded to conform by the mainstream.