OHO


Although I have not yet met any of the members of this group, one cannot write about performance art in Slovenia and not write about OHO. Most active in the late 1960s and early 1970s, this group of artists (with four core members and a few others who also participated from time to time), created works of art spanning the genres of land art, installation, performance and conceptual art. With regard to performance art, perhaps most significant are their actions and happenings staged in Zvezda Park in the center of Ljubljana – both as individuals and as a group, and the most significant among those is without a doubt Mount Triglav.

Zvezda Park in Ljubljana, the location of numerous OHO actions and performances.

Zvezda Park in Ljubljana, the location of numerous OHO actions and performances.

On December 30, 1968, Milenko Matanovic, David Nez and Drago Dellabernardina positioned themselves in the middle of Zvezda Park, cloaked in a black cloth that enveloped the three of them, leaving only their heads visible. Together, they formed a mountain of three heads – a literal visualization of the word Triglav. The selection of this mountain was not arbitrary – Triglav is the highest mountain in Slovenia, and also functions as the symbol of the Slovene nation; a stylization of it appears on the nation’s coat of arms, and thus on its flag. As both a symbol and geographic feature, it is very much embedded in the national identity. It is even said that to be a true Slovenian you have to have climbed Mount Triglav at least once in your life. So it was rather significant for these three artists, one of whom was in fact American (Nez) to embody this mountain themselves.

The fact that this performance has been reenacted and adapted by several other Slovenian artists is a testament to its significance. In 2004, the artistic group IRWIN reenacted the performance in Zvezda Park, and in 2007 the three artists Janez Jansa, Janez Jansa and Janez Jansa recreated it on top of Mount Triglav itself.

Aside from this action, members of the group have also spread rolls of blank paper across Zvezda Park and then crumpled them into small mountains; populated the park with hollow plastic tubes (filled with the air of a vacuum cleaner); drawn on the pavement; and outlined their shadows there. All of these events took place at a time when public protests, sit-ins and happenings were occurring all across the world.

A number of the group’s works suggest parallels with contemporaneous trends in art. For example, Milenko Matanovic walked the same distance, 1,000 times, in a field of grass, creating a line as his feet moved across the earth. Richard Long, the British land artist, made a similar Line made by Walking in 1965. Likewise, Matanovic’s piece Chair, cathedral, passers-by (1968) is an interesting expansion of the semantic study done by Joseph Kosuth in One and Three Chairs. In Matanovic’s piece, he creates a play on two words in Slovene: chair (stol) and cathedral (stolnica). In a series of photographs, we see alternating pictures of a single figure or more than one person, together with a single chair or more than one chair, all in front of a cathedral. While Kosuth examined the link between the word, the signifier and the signified, Matanovic explored the connection between the same phoneme appearing in different words. These works demonstrate the fact that Slovenian art was very much a part of contemporary trends and developments in the visual arts in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1969, David Nez tied 400 meters of transparent string around the Ljubljana Castle, and also sent small pieces of the string, affixed to postcards, to different addresses. His work with mirrors, where he places them in nature, recalls that of Robert Smithson, the American land artist. The ties between OHO and American Land Art were cemented in 1970, when Walter de Maria visited the group in Ljubljana, and even participated in some of their projects.

The group worked together on conceptual, land and performance art pieces in the 1970s, and then later abandoned their artistic work to found a commune in the village of Sempas. Their collective activity shifted its focus from artistic work to spiritual energy and living in harmony with nature. The group is significant for the long-lasting impact that their work had on subsequent generations of Slovenian artists. While the punk and alternative scene was soon to take over in the 1980s, Slovenian artists seem to still maintain a strong conceptual element that was certainly present in the work of OHO.