When I was in Ljubljana, I had the opportunity to sit down with Neven Korda, a member of the alternative band Borghesia during the 1980s, specifically from 1983-1989, when it was effectively a multi-media group. At that time Neven was stage director and eventually in charge of video production. A video and multi-media artist himself, in 1997, together with Zemira Alajbegović, he made the film The Old and the New, a documentary about Ljubljana’s alternative and punk scene in the 1980s.
It goes without saying that in the 1980s Slovenian had a vibrant punk, underground and alternative scene. The way that it is described in pictures, text and film, one would be forgiven with mistaking Ljubljana for New York or London at that same time. In 1984, Club K4 began hosting the Magnus Gay Club every Saturday night, the only official meeting place for gay people in Yugoslavia, let alone in any socialist country at that time. The student culture center (SKUC) and the Disco FV were popular venues for performances and other events. Borghesia performed at Disco FV, as did Laibach.
The presence of such a prominent and liberal alternative and experimental artistic scene at the Westernmost border of Eastern Europe is significant, and in this free space we may begin to see the banner of socialism beginning to unravel. The videos produced by Borghesia and other groups at the time bear a striking resemblance to those one could see on MTV, and their production contributed to the revolution in visual culture that was occurring throughout the world at that time, as the result of developments in film, video and mass media, not to mention electronic technology.
Borghesia performances were elaborate multi-media experiences that combined music, lighting, as well as video and other effects. In many performances, televisions were placed on the stage as another actor or player on stage. Neven described Borghesia’s performances as “concerts, but based on theater and theatrical experience.” Citing influences such as the Futurists, Russolo, Dada and Meierhold, Borghesia productions brought together a number of different sources in combination with contemporary music, electronics and video. Consequently a video recording of the performance can only convey some elements of it, much like with artistic performances and actions.
With regard to their music videos, Neven points out that usually bands will order video productions, whereas in this instance the video production came from within the group, and were conceived as part of their artistic creations, which included not only their music, but their multi-media stage productions.
Despite the liberal atmosphere in Ljubljana in the 1980s, one of Borghesia’s performances, at the Cankarjev Dom Culture House, was banned. The performance, entitled Naked City, featured pornographic images and film interspersed with images of political figures, among other visuals. While no overt message was conveyed, the audience was left to piece together the meaning of these flashing images themselves. The use of pornography was not meant to be deprecatory, but rather a comment on the media itself. As one of the most lucrative industries in mass media, pornography, and sexual imagery, pervades the contemporary landscape.
Despite the fact that Borghesia is specifically a music group, their influence on contemporary visual art production, including performance, cannot be underestimated. The 1980s in Slovenia was a time when all artists were crossing borders, and such distinctions into genres such as music, theater or visual art do not really apply.