Janez Jansa

When I arrived in Ljubljana I was told by a number of people that I had to meet Janez Jansa. And also Janez Jansa. Unfortunately, I couldn’t meet Janez Jansa, because he no longer exists. But Janez Jansa does, and this is who this post is about.

If this sounds confusing, it is. Janez Jansa (of this post) is a performance artist based in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He is not, however, to be confused with the theater director Janez Jansa, the former Prime Minister of Slovenian, Janez Jansa (whose legal name is Ivan, but goes by the name Janez), or the painter whose name was Janez Jasna from 2007 until just recently. Now his name is Ziga Kariz, but I am told that he does use Janez Jansa as a pseudonym.

In 2007, three artists based in Slovenia, including this one, decided to change their names to Janez Jansa. They also joined the conservative Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS). Changing their names was part of an artistic act that, as Janez Jansa has described it, “practically merged our art with our life.” The project questions the role of a name in society, and the situations that occurred as a result of the name change underscored these various roles in different ways. For example, Janez Jansa was not born in Slovenia, so in Italy, where he was born, he is registered under a different name, Davide Grassi. Janez Jansa is in the same situation, having been born in Croatia. While the two tried to have their names legally changed in both countries, Janez was told that in Italy, it is perfectly fine to leave his documentation the way it is. However, having been born in Yugoslavia, Janez Jansa has no way to prove that he is a Croatian citizen, so he is only able to maintain his Slovenian citizenship.

After the three artists changed their names, no formal announcement was made. However, they thought about how to go about releasing this information to the public, and they came up with the idea that one of them should get married. Since Janez was in a committed relationship with a woman with whom he had children, they decided to get married, and break the news to their friends in this shocking way. Nothing was said prior to the wedding, but when the vows were taken, and his new name announced, there were gasps in the room.

Some of these unusual situations, for example, the wedding ceremony, are documented in the film My Name is Janez Jansa, a film that, as it proclaims, will “inspire you to Google your name again.” The film raises the question that is broached by the project – what is the significance of a name, what does it mean, and how does it create (or not) our individual identities?

My own personal experience with the project was also instrumental in understanding it. For example, Janez told me that their friends didn’t really know how to react to this, and in some cases avoided the issue entirely. Because they didn’t know how to address them, they simply didn’t. Others over-compensated and over-exaggerated, always introducing them to others emphatically as “Janez Jansa.” I have to admit that I had no idea what people were talking about when they said “Janez Jansa,” and often they would use hybrid names, such as “Janez-Ziga” (hyphenating the artist’s current name with his previous name) or “Janez from Aksioma,” in reference to the gallery that he had founded. Wikipedia lists Janez Jansa as a performance artist, Janez Jansa as a theatre director, and Janez Jansa as a visual artist. Others ways of identifying the different individuals is by their national origin, such as “the Italian one” or “the Croatian one.”

Individuality indeed has a role in this project, as Janez emphasized that the three artists are not a collective. They are three individual artists, with individual personalities, who work together and happen to have the same name. In fact, Janez told me that this project in effect does not hide their individual personalities but exposed them as individuals. Indeed, in forcing others to find different ways of identifying them, those other identifiers (nationality, profession, marital status) were highlighted. That said, it is easy to see how using the same name also obfuscated individual identity – for example, at numerous points in this post it is impossible to tell which Janez Jansa is being referred to (and the text is being written that way deliberately).