Martin Marenčin - Slowly Slovakia

The exhibition will last from April 7th until May 2nd, 2004
Opening hours: daily from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. except Mondays

Martin Marenčin – SLOWLY SLOVAKIA
„Let us not have illusions about the way we really are.“

2nd year of the grant program PHOTODOCUMENT.SK VACULIK ADVERTISING.

Documentary projects analyze and interpret a selected subject on a long term basis. They are very time-intensive, as well as very expensive on the grounds of organization and financing. Their primary function is not to inform or to give an account of something, the subjects are often siocio-critical, thus their commercial usage is limited. There is a whole series of grant programs throughout the world which support this type of photography for her undisputable importance. Mother’s Jones Foundation, Eugene Smith’s Prize, Erna and Victor Hasselblad’s Foundation are prizes that have achieved a considerable social credit through their activity. In Slovakia, the program PHOTODOCUMENT.SK of the VACULIK ADVERTISING agency has gained the status of such a prize. In it’s second year this prize has been awarded to Martin Marenčin for the realization of his project called SLOWLY SLOVAKIA.

Martin Marenčin has been significantly formed by the environment in which he grew up. His father is a well known surrealist and pataphysician, Albert Marenčin. Thus the principle of interchange between dream and reality can be identified in his photographs. The visual aspect of his work has been equally influenced by him being active in the environment of the best known Slovak artists. He earns his living by reproducing artworks. However, his work’s focus is on the unarranged expression of documentary photography. Already his early photographs made in the 1970’s at exaggerated communist-style celebrations determined the center of his work. His photograph of May 1st, 1977 can be taken as a typical example. The endless rows of an anonymous crowd carrying images of representatives of the regime turned upside down are symbolic for the loss of one’s own identity, of a pervasive inner emptiness and of a degradation of social relations. In the cycle “Slowly Slovakia” the ideological symbols of power have been replaced by fetishes of mass consumption. The social appeal on the triviality of a manipulated crowd has remained. For Martin Marenčin, anonymous festivals, commercial events and senseless assemblies are merely means. In the process of depicting them he offers a general view of our society, making use of his visually sophisticated, sarcastic and ironical images. To put it in his own words: “The present era is equally absurd to me as the past one.” Whereas the author only used the black and white process for his personal photographs, today his work is a flood of aggressive colors. It becomes obvious that in the form of black and white photography he expressed the dullness of the former regime which stood in stark contrast to the aggressively colorful consumer world of today. The colors are deliberately shifted, his high-contrast images often have a rough raster, which aids to underline their expressive tone. This new series is divided into several subgroups. A unique part is formed by landscapes, devastated, marked by senseless and negative human activity, resembling images of the apocalypse. It is not a mere account of ecologically undesirable phenomena. Similarly as it is the case with photographs of people, you will find here many encoded symbols, hidden meanings, but also a lot of humor and of sarcasm. The land constrained by adhesive tape and by omnipresent prohibitory signs, an abandoned rusting boat in the middle of a meadow, a boy trying to move the globe. “The chaos in the environment is a result of the chaos in our souls and heads. I love and hate this country at the same time,” says the author.

In his photographs of people he differs greatly from the humanistic point of photographers like H.C.Bresson, W. Eugena Smith and others. His people cannot hope for anything better than what the devastating pop culture offers them. In the banality of every day life, their basic values have been reduced to consumption and an illusion of wealth. Marenčin’s view is merciless, cynical and skeptical. He doesn’t show respect of any authority. He ridicules in national symbols, icons of consumption and worthless pseudo-values of nowadays. A parody of the cliché about Slovakia as a country of shepherds is his landscape with sheep herding on a waste dump. With his disillusioned view of the society Martin Marenčin is closer to the photographers of the rough, so-called New York-school, or to the sociologizing new English document. Similar authors are not numerous in the Slovak documentary photography, which is more humanistic, lyrical and poetical. A rather suggestive and equally merciless image of the 1960’s has been created by Jozef Ort-Šnep; in the decades to come it was mainly Miro Miro Pokorný, Stano Pekár, Peter Šimončík, Jozef Sedlák in the series “Odvody” and another absolvent of the FAMU in Prague, Ján Rečo, in his photographs of social institutions. Similar photographs of the American consumer society have been made by Mišo Suchý after his emigration in the 1990’s. From amongst the most recent documentary photographers, Martin Kollár devotes a part of his work to a similar subject, however, his critics is not so direct and his playful shots deliver more of an understanding humor. In his series called “Iné Slovensko” Andrej Bán is more concerned with the search for basic human values, even though he sometimes creates his work in socially problematic environments. Tibor Huszár also celebrates man in the position of a hero, nevertheless, a critical tone can be recognized in his work as well. Lucia Nimcová is not too optimistic in her series called “Periférie”, in her generational document called “Pankáči”, or in her photographs about women. She delivers a sentiment of frustration through her work. However, her photographs are socio-critical only on a secondary level, their main aim is to become psychological probes into a generation, gender, the depicted subject and into the author herself. Alan Hyža is most similar to Martin Marenčin in his project about the chaos and decadence in the post-communist countries, Filip Vančo in his series on Petržalka and Andrej Balco with his photographs of people in an urban and industrial environment.

As a working definition Martin Martin Marenčin describes his series Slowly Slovakia with the words that he makes photos of “... everything that Slovakia needn’t have and needn’t look like.” Strangely, he finds the sense of his work in what he considers to be nonsense. His images are most powerful in the cases where he reduces the artistic stylization down to the minimum necessary level and only makes use of it in an unobtrusive way to point out the meaning of the reality depicted. In his age of almost fifty Martin Marenčin deserves the predicate “concerned photographer” in the young Slovak documentary photography.

Bratislave, March 19th, 2004

Jozef Ondzik, photographer and doctor


Born in 1956 in Bratislava, in the family of a surrealist & pataphysicist, the regent of Ubudoxology for Slovakia and adjacent areas. He graduated the EF SVST / Electrotechnical Faculty of the Slovak Technical University / and after that he worked in the Slovak Radio as a sound operator for 10 years. Since 1992, he has been working as a freelance photographer doing documentary and portrait work. At the present he is working for the FORMAT weekly as a photoreporter.