A few days after I met with Janez Jansa, I met another artist that he works with, Janez Jansa. It was easy to tell them apart, because they look different, and work in different places. But prior to my meeting either of them (or the third artist that they collaborate together with, who once was legally named Janez Jansa and now uses that name only as his pseudonym), it was very difficult for me to tell them apart, because prior to my meeting them, their names were just (empty) signifiers. It was after seeing and meeting the signified that I was able to identify them. But not knowing them initially, and meeting them in this manner helped to really cement what their project, which was officially presented in the exhibition “Name-Readymade” was all about. As the title suggests, they treated the name “Janez Jansa” as a readymade, taking it from one context (a name that was well known, as that of the name of a prominent politician) and putting it in another context – that of not only their art, but their lives. In a move that Duchamp would have applauded, the artists managed to merge art and life completely, but only through a complete and total commitment somewhere on the level of getting a face tattoo.
Prior to these three artists changing their names, the name Janez Jansa was perhaps best associated, in Slovenia, with the leader of the conservative Social Democratic Party, SDS – although the politician’s legal name is in fact Ivan Jansa. He has been known throughout his life, however, as Janez. The choice of the name to select as a readymade took the slogan of SDS quite literally: “the more of us there are, the sooner we’ll reach our goal.” So, three artists responded to that rallying cry and augmented the numbers by changing their names and joining the party.
In addition to the ambiguity that the names project creates, regarding one’s name and identity, there is also the ambiguity about the artists’ motivations for changing their names to this particular one. Demonstrating their support for the cause, they are seen in the film that documents the project, My Name is Janez Janza, attending an SDS rally. However, it is never entirely clear why they have joined the party. Some might interpret it ironically, yet others might take it literally – and if so, three artists joining one of the country’s right-wing parties would be taken as a sign of selling out. In some ways, their project utilized the tactic of over-identification that is best associated with the Slovenian rock band Laibach. Indeed, the project raises more questions than it may answer.
One of the strongest identifiers that an individual has is his name, and yet it is something that is changeable. In one fell swoop of an administrative procedure, Emil Hrvatin had a new name, and it was Janez Jansa. But what happened to Hrvatin/Jansa, and how does one deal with a person who has a completely different name, especially an artist, for whom assignation of authorship is about attribution and naming? Slovenian art historians came up with one solution, and that is to kill the three artists off, for example, after Emil Hrvatin’s entry in the online glossary of Slovenian art (pojmovnik.si), his birth and death dates are listed as 1964-2007, the former being when he was born and the latter when he changed his name. Likewise with Janez Jansa and Janez Jansa. Janez told me that in some ways, changing one’s name is like dying in some ways. At least for some people, it is equally traumatic – especially for the parents, who usually give you just two things in life: life, and your name.
This writer has also experienced the challenge, faced by Slovenian art historians, of dealing with three artists with the same name. Since a URL can only be used once, how do I create three pages named “Janez Jansa”? Since I am not a computer person, I couldn’t figure out any other solution than to place the most innocuous character after the name Janez Jansa when it appears the second time: a full stop.
A new project by Jansa, Jansa and Jansa expand the examination of identity and moves also to examine the relationship between art and the market, drawing a parallel between the trust that one puts in banks and the trust that an artist puts in museums. Each of the artists opened a new bank account and ordered new bank cards, using the customizable debit card feature. On the face of each card is a painting of the artist’s signature. On the back of each card each of the three artists sign it. There is just one identifying number for each card, but with regard to the names attached to the cards, they are interchangeable. The men put their trust in the banks to keep their money safe, and the artists put their trust in the museum to keep and preserve their artworks, which are in fact paintings, but reproduced and preserved on small plastic cards.
As works of art, the cards function as a triptych, and another series of cards features the three human instantiations of Mount Triglav: OHO’s 1968 happening in Zvezda Park, as well as IRWIN’s later re-staging of it, and finally Jansa, Jansa and Jansa’s reenactment of it on the mountain itself. Thus in many ways, these works are very much part of art historical tradition, of the series and the triptych. They are also a play on the readymade, which now becomes something that can be personalized in today’s society. But unlike the readymade, which usually becomes useless in the museum, these cards still function, because it is the numbers on the face of them that make them work.