Daniel Premec’s work takes society to task – holding it accountable for its trespasses, and responding to a range of issues, from the local situation in Sarajevo and the closing of its cultural institutions, to the broader issues of how society shapes human beings, including the oversaturation of that society with robotics and technical gadgets, and its resultant effects on man.
I first came across Daniel’s work online; I saw a photograph of his installation Spiked installed in Sarejevo’s Collegium Artisticum gallery in 2012. The piece is quite powerful, with its twelve spikes penetrating the underground gallery space – one for each month of the year. The piece responds directly to the closing of cultural institutions in Sarajevo – namely the National History Museum and the Art Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Daniel described the cultural situation as “spiked,” referring to one meaning of the word, which is “to terminate,” and the installation reflects that. The artist destroyed the gallery space, but with the intent of creating something new.
He continued the interrogation of this situation in a sound installation, which he created both in Sarajevo and Ljubljana. The artist sounded a warning alarm for 30 minutes – the amount of time reserved for a total catastrophe, such as a nuclear strike. Tornadoes, earthquakes and volcanoes don’t even warrant the sounding of the alarm for that length of time. He sounded this alarm in front of the Art Gallery in Sarajevo, indicating the severity of the situation that culture has found itself in in this city. He tried to recreate this piece in Ljubljana, but the law prohibited him from using the alarm in this way. So the artist found an alternative – he found a free radio station that could broadcast the alarm, and asked people to bring those radios to the main city square, and sound the alarms in unison.
It is not only cultural institutions that are under threat. Human beings face threats to the freedoms and individual liberties on a daily basis, and Daniel’s work addresses these threats in a profound way. In a 2007 video performance, Through Thorns to the Stars, Daniel has his hair cut on camera, and then uses the hair clippings to create tiny thorns, which he then surrounds himself with, in a vain attempt to defend himself from any surrounding threat. The piece is about basic human rights, and a number of different issues resonate through it. Domination of one human being over another, Daniel says, in many cases begins with cutting the other’s hair – for example, in prison, in concentration camps, and even soldiers have their hair cut when they enter the army. Thorns are the natural defense system of the rose, yet by making the thorns out of human hair (growing one’s own natural defense system), the artist demonstrates how fragile that system is. The taking of one’s hair is not only synonymous with the taking of one’s dignity, but it is also like taking away a part of the person, because of the fact that one’s hair contains years of that person’s history – their health, well being, and anything that the person ingested during those times.
While we may remain defenseless against our human enemies, we are equally defenseless against man-made ones, as well. We may have created robots and machines to make our lives easier, but they are in fact putting many of us out of work and compounding our own insecurities and inabilities. These ideas are behind the installation, I Bot (2010), which features a robotic replica of the artist himself, with artificial memory inside it, which projects a photograph of Daniel as a baby onto the screen opposite of where the robot sits. As Daniel himself states, this placement raises the question: “Am I he, or is he me?” Being the masters of our own destruction is a theme that is also encountered in a multi-media piece Pandora’s Box, from 2001, where he displays two cases for grenades – one covered in gold paint, the other, with a hole in the middle and a mirror at the bottom of the case, so that when we look inside, we see ourselves. Daniel talks about the historic significance of this piece, and the fact the parents of the people of his generation paid taxes that supported the Yugoslav Army, and then later those weapons and machinery were used against them. It is just one specific example of many more general ones where we are in fact guilty of destroying ourselves.
While robotics may not have always been part of human life, war has. In looking for connections between today and the past, for a 2007 performance, Daniel focused on the horse as one of the few things connecting human beings through all historical periods. For the performance, entitled Daily Routine, the artist rode a horse into the historic center of Sarajevo, Baščaršija, to get a cup of coffee. He used an older means of transportation to do a daily activity, using the horse as a sort of time machine into doing this activity in the past. He recreated this performance in 1998, when he surmounted one of the equestrian statues in Budapest’s Hero’s Square, raising the question of who, exactly, is the hero, as not all would agree that these historical figures were heroes for all who came under their rule.
Throughout his artistic work, Daniel responds to the critical position of man in contemporary society and the fragile place that he occupies among institutions, governments, and technology. His work demands that we question our role in these mechanisms, literally sounding the alarm and asking us to act before we, once again, become the masters of our own demise.