When I was in Ljubljana I had the opportunity to sit down with Jurij Krpan, director of the Kapelica Gallery, a space renowned as a venue for the extreme performance art practices that it hosts. For example, in 2010 the French artistic duo Art Orienté Objet performed The Horse May Live in Me, where one of the artists was injected with horse blood. Other artists known for their extreme body art, such as Ron Athay and ORLAN, have performed there, as have those from the local scene, such as Eclipse and Ive Tabar.
Controversy and shocking content aside, Krpan maintains that an artwork needs to be sincere to be included in the gallery’s program. He is not after shock for shock’s sake, rather, he believes that art has a role to play in society, in that it has the power to make people think, and possibly change. Good art almost always does that, and art that produces extreme reactions can function as a catalyst to that end. The gallery maintains that it would like to present art that cannot be seen elsewhere – art that no other gallery will accept.
Kapelica is a unique space in that it has consistently provided a platform for artists creating work that is not aimed at mainstream acceptance, and it is nice to know that there is a space for this type of art when no one else will take it. Krpan takes this role seriously, and conducts risk assessment to ensure the safety of the performers and viewers. There is also an ethical committee that evaluates the work of art before the gallery even decides to host it, and if the work does go ahead, the appropriate medical and fire safety services stand by during the performance to make sure that no one is hurt.
This is certainly the case with Ive Tabar’s performances in Kapelica, for example. Tabar is not trained as an artist by trade. Rather, he is a medical professional who began with an interest in expressing himself through medical performances. In Intubation, one of his first performances at Kapelica in 1997, the artist was anesthetized and then intubated. With his body unconscious and his lungs operating through a machine, the artist is suspended somewhere between life and death. Tabar’s development as an artist seems only to have been possible through collaboration with Krpan, who is both able to recognize sincere, true and good art, and willing to accept the responsibility of the risks involved with presenting it.