Nadja Zgonik

Metamorphoses

 

The work of Saša Bezjak is founded on drawing, on this primary artistic act, which is embodied by the ascetic leaving of lined traces on a bi-dimensional surface. Drawing is a way to record insights, display ideas and create concepts. In the instance that you bestow your attention to it, it removes you from the world. It isolates you in dazzling isolation, since as a draftsman you get close to the role of the one beginning with the creation of something new, big and important, with an unpredictable result. In the case of Saša Bezjak, however, her creative mood can change at any instant. From the role of the draftsman, isolated from the world and committed to her mission, she is transformed into a sculptor engaged with the existing world in a creative relationship with sub¬stance. At that moment, the attraction of the tactile and the appeal to work in a flexible material, clay, plaster or wood, simply prevails. At that point, she no longer cares for drawing. Without any previous drafts, she is imbued by the relationship with the substance, as she models the form and leaves sensual traces in the substance, or makes casts of her body or something else. This is just one of the exciting dualities within the work of Saša Bezjak.

 

The Primacy of Drawing

Yet drawing retains a primacy for her, since it is precisely this that opens her eyes and spreads insights about herself, the world and art. Through it, she can see into other spaces, those mysteri-ous, unexplained ones, about which we would otherwise not know anything. It is only the drawn diagrams - that arise spontaneously for a while, after which the hand, at times diverted by consciousness, adds elements of recognizable signs - that pave her way to new insights. Drawing allows her to venture into new spaces, while on the other hand it can be precisely that which enables her to return, from remote places through the analysis of existing reality, to the communi-ty, family, friendly relationships and relations in art.

The drawing of Saša Bezjak is elementary and simplified, yet a world away from the drawings of children, since it is too refined and ideographic, polished, without superfluous details and mea-nings. Despite the asceticism of line and the scarcity of diluted drafted gestures within the structure on the surface, her works volcanically spew out associations of the most diverse artistic examples from contemporary art, modernism or the more distant past. Instead of repeating the names that she most likes to state herself, such as Cy Twombly, Ivan Kožarič, Lujo Vodopivec, Giotto, Carl Gustav Jung and others, we may put in the forefront Paul Klee, Bernard Dubuffet, Louise Bourgeois and Lucian Freud. Let us see why. Like Paul Klee, Saša Bezjak also repeatedly draws our attention to the child's ability to observe the world, to the expressive power possessed by children's drawings. The hint at Bernard Dubuffet reminds us of the suggestiveness embodied in the drawings of the mentally ill - this also intensely attracts her due to personal experience. With Louise Bourgeois, her personal vulnerability in the roles of daughter, sister, mother and woman comes to light, whereas together with Lucian Freud, she reminds us of the psycho-physical fragility of the flesh of the body.

We are all aware of the therapeutic power of drawing, we know how important it is for psychoanalytic interpretation, as well as in the psychotherapeutic process. "It can happen that I have a difficult week, I go to the studio, relax and it begins to come out on paper. I am shocked, all negative. In fact, my drawing is a filter, and when I finish, I feel great, purified, reborn," can be read in the text that the artist wrote to accompany an exhibition in 2009.1 When Saša Bezjak prepared a more comprehensive show of work, for the first time including drawings and paintings as well as embroideries, at the Celje Likovni salon in 2008, she literally linked it with the title of the autobiography by Carl Gustav Jung entitled Memories, Dreams, Reflections. By doing that, she wished to draw our attention to the proximity of his reflections on the concepts of the archetypal and the collective unconscious, and above all hint at the comparability of processes between Jung's self-analysis and her work. The iconography of her work ranges from personal to archetypal symbolism, within which unconscious and conscious elements merge. Her way of working is not si-milar to systematic analysis. Rather, she carries out preparatory studies whose results take her by surprise, since they lead to the recognition that the world can be staged in one way or another, that the relationships in the world are polymorphic and that there are no fixed identities within it.

 

Loops - Entrapments

In 2005, a radical shift occurred in her work. Because of the dissatisfaction she felt with the drawn traces using black felt-tip pen on linen she decided to attempt to emphasize the lines using thread. This is also the first time she tried using linen in a circular, spatial form, rather than flatly against the wall. The Embroidered Inflatable from 2005,2 was at the same time her first embroidery and first spatial installation, which created a spatial, "bodily" image with the use of a circular form, floating in the air, tension and curvature, that alluded to female clothing through shape and material, thereby announcing a more intensive engagement with the theme of female identity.

The loops of thread on canvas are a possibility of expanding the scene of the drawn creation into the third dimension since the needle with thread passes through the canvas, connecting two spaces, the one in front and the one beyond. The spatial identity of embroidery and its special status and role within art - given that it is associated with the creativity of women, alongside which feminist art theory argues that this is precisely the reason why it was looked down upon as an artistic genre in the history of art in relation to painting - is the next important theme in the work of Saša Bezjak.

She presented her embroideries for the first time in a solo show at the Pomurje Academic Club (Klub PAC) in Murska Sobota in 2007, entitling the exhibition Vezenke. This is a dialectical term, which can, if we play around with it, arouse meaningful associations. The wordplay that can ensue in the Slovene language - vezanke, veženke, veženske ... that conveys the associations of "bind, loop, wife, woman" and creates connotations of the position and work of women, become the keywords of her work during this time. They can literally be used for the iconography of her works and technique, or the symbolic definition of the subject. The first loop of her work, which we have gotten to know, is the obsessive returning to the archetypal, which pushes her towards self-ana-lysis and uncensored display. The second loop we are caught into is that which society rejects and ignores. Her embroidered canvases are sometimes soaked with applications of paint that appear like traces of human fluids. Julia Kristeva defined secretions, bodily fluids, dirt, even the corpse, with the concept of the abject. She defined this in her book Pouvoirs de l' horreur (Powers of Horror, 1980) assomething "which disrupts and disturbs identity, structure, order, and ignores bor-ders, positions, rules." This secretion or discard disturbs the subject with its evasion, which is defined as the current whole, since the subject is constantly in process, never fixed, a constant given, unchangeable. For Kristeva, this is what is constitutive for the subject, being so with its most expressive feature, therefore it is the opposite of that which constructs and composes "I". Like two loops chasing each other.

The abject is the trace of human fluid or the image of a departed grandmother, while in terms of broader society it is that which is considered as social discard, the anomaly in the identities and relationships that society eliminates as unnatural, cast-offs. As the male and female body inter-twine in her drawings, they are in their close bodily contact transformed into intergender or trans-gender identities, by which the presentation of gender passes beyond the traditional binary defini-tion of male and female distinction.3 The entrapment that is described by the flow of line, always returning to its beginning, is like a loop of spun thread into which society is caught, that the artist wishes to force to constitute itself as an entity.

 

Art as the Stage for Exchange

An enticing aspect of the creative process of Saša Bezjak is also her active involvement in social relations through her artwork. She has developed a special relationship to the social and economic role of the artwork that can easily become the subject of exchange, reinforcing social relations. She developed the principle of the gift alongside the exhibition project at DLUM in Maribor in 2002, when she presented selected visitors at the end of the exhibition with her 6 x 6 cm watercolours. The plates under the artworks featured the names of the prospective owners of the small pieces of art, which the designated could take home once the exhibition had closed. In such a way, the work of art became an object that was included into a reciprocal emotional relationship with friends and acquaintances through the act of giving.

She developed her attitude towards her own artwork as a marketing and symbolic object even further. Sometimes she would sell her past works in the form of standard works of art, at other times she was prepared to use them as wallpaper for furniture, and was willing to destroy them (Retrospective-Sales Campaign, Media Nox Gallery, Maribor 2002). On other occasions, she decided that their value would not be set by the market, that she would do that herself, since their economic value should reflect the emotional value that a particular piece represents to her.

Developing the concept of art as a space of exchange did not stop just with material interchange. The field of art can also be a space for the division of labour. She began to develop her collaborative practices in art when she became attracted to embroidery. This is when she began to incorporate her mother into the process of making artwork as the embroiderer, who co-creates the final piece of art. So the artwork became a scene, where a specific exchange of thoughts and emotions between mother and daughter develops.

She also includes other loved ones into her artistic life. Her sister, who is her best patron since she knows how to form the commission in such a way that they both get something out of it, also writes the text to accompany the exhibition,4 while her aunt hems every embroidery with a finishing stitch, adds a hanging loop and produces bags for their safekeeping.

 

About Intimacy

Intimacy is a topic around which the titles of her exhibitions have revolved for some time, at least since 2008, when she prepared the Intimate project at Maribor Art Gallery, to her Intimate Insight of 2012 in Škofja loka's Sokolski dom, and her most recent exhibition The Unveiling of Intimacy in Kazemate of Ljubljana Castle in 2014. The Unveiling of Intimacy can be a process, like discovering a new continent, something unknown, which is so remote, or a glimpse into something close by, which has up till now been concealed and therefore unknown. The repetition of the intimate spreads like a ripple in concentric circles from the centre point outwards to the community and back again to the personal.

In her work, we are as viewers enticed into a dialogue and process of perception by the su-gestiveness of her active drawing. This is a drawing of transformation that shows the relationships with others, with one's own body, surroundings, the world of objects, as a changing process. Rela-tions are constantly being established that are, because of the dynamic drawing before us, alive and active, perhaps painful, yet bring a sense of relief. We often feel that the uncovering of female identity has triggered greater turmoil in her than the exploration of artistic identity, but it is also obvious at the same time that it was precisely the field of art which she deals with, that was the only possible production space for all her explorations. If her identity as a woman is so forceful that it can transform the dominant male world, then she wishes to change social relations with her artistic identity. "My drawings are ugly, vivid, strong, shocking," she once wrote.5 It is only the awareness that art can excite and rouse the viewer from his lethargy, into which he has been eased by consumerist and manipulated pleasures in a world of readily available goods that gives her a satisfaction, which can easily be compared to that of a child. And the child does not settle until he senses that he has provoked the ordered world of the grown-ups. The transformative power of the act of drawing is Saša Bezjak's guide. And she follows it consciously.

It could be said that Saša Bezjak is primitive by the structure of line, savage by colour, primal by the impulse that creates a visceral materiality, since she would like to create by the impulses applied by nature. The subjects that her works embody, however, show her as a respectful guardi¬an of the human body, which she honours regardless of gender, age or appearance. "I have everything, but I feel as if I give nothing," is written in big capital letters in her catalogue Drawings from 2006.6 To have and to give, to discover in order to share with others, is precisely the tissue that connects all these amazingly direct, clear and versatile traces of the artist, which draw us into the maelstrom of knowledge about ourselves, the world and art.

 

 

1 Saša Bezjak, My World MyView (text by the authorto accompany the exhibition), DOSOR Foyer, Radenci 2009.

2 It was first publicly presented in 2005 at the 2. m exhibition, in which 2nd year Master Degree students from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design, University of Ljubljana, presented themselves at the Miklova hiša Gallery in Ribnica.

3 This and the option of identifying the work of Saša Bezjak as one of the few examples of queer iconography in Slovenian art was written about Ana Grobler, Pornography in the Interactive Art Space as a Means of Liberation from the Heteronormative Understanding of Sexual Identity, Master's thesis, Academy of Fine Arts and Design, Ljubljana 2012, p. 55.

4 Saša Bezjak. An Intimate Insight - Sculpture Exhibition, Sokolski dom, Škofja Loka 2012.

5 My World...,Cf.fn. 1.

6 Saša Bezjak. Drawings, Kibla, Maribor 2006.