The artists who joined forces for the Jesenice Project are Roman Uranjek, Tihomir Pinter and Tadej Vaukman. In the project, they focused on Jesenice, the mining centre of the Gorenjska region. However, the town of Jesenice is only a backdrop in this project, which in reality is an exploration of each other's artistic practices.
The collaboration was started by Roman Uranjek, a visual artist and longtime member of the IRWIN group, who deals with various ways of appropriation and building of the new inside the existing in his practice. Although Uranjek doesn't consider himself a photographer, he is fascinated by photography as a medium and uses it both autonomously as well as a part of his signature collages. Uranjek is an artist, who is deeply involved in the broader art scene and frequently collaborates with other artists – he considers himself a collectivist at heart. Thus, one of his projects, devoted to cooperating with photographers, is 'The Storefront', in which he has already performed twelve artistic projects (with Stojan Kerbler, Igor Andjelić, Uroš Abram, Meta Krese, Aleksandra Vajd and others). In 'The Storefront' series, Uranjek enters a place significant to the artist and approaches it with his own interventions. He applies different artistic actions onto the storefronts of a given place, most frequently by adding his signature Greek (Malevič) cross. He sees storefronts as spaces that define the passing of time, quickly forgotten with their ephemeral nature. The Covid-19 pandemic, during which the Jesenice project was performed, corroborated this theory, as many once successful shops had to empty their storefronts and close their doors. With his artistic intervention into these spaces, Uranjek draws attention to the transience of all things not immortalised by art.
In the Jesenice Project, Uranjek is appropriating work by Tihomir Pinter, a photographer who began his career by photographing ironworks all over ex-Yugoslavia. Some of Pinter's most interesting shots were made in the Jesenice ironworks, where he was mostly shooting in the 1970s and 80s. His depictions of ironworkers and their workplace became famous due to his keen eye for composition and focus on hidden details, which, taken out of context, take on abstract, geometrical forms. Pinter focused not only on the work being performed in the ironworks, but paid attention to looming iron structures, piles of iron chains, enormous reels of wires and piping. He established himself as an artist whose works are marked by an astute sense of composition and detail, structure and form, that in more than one sense reminisce of the tradition of New Objectivity (parallels can be found in works by Janko Skerlep or Slavko Smolej). Even when he photographed ironworkers at work, he managed to bring out a sensibility and poetry in his shots of this otherwise difficult and thankless work. In the 1980s, Pinter began to shift his focus toward portrait photography. In his work Artists in studios, he began to portray Slovene visual artists in their workspaces, and soon expanded the project to include writers, poets and other artists, whom he also photographed for the newspaper Delo. Perhaps because of his experience in ironworks, where a good photograph in bad lighting conditions demanded an enormous amount of patience, he turned out to be exceptionally adept as a portraitist of artists. He was a calm and unobtrusive presence, capable of waiting for the right moment to press the shutter. In the Jesenice project, Pinter effectively combined two of his past series. The project clearly refers to his photographs of the ironworks of Jesenice, while also continuing his series of artists in their studios, since he photographed Uranjek doing his interventions onto storefronts of the town. By doing this, he shot Uranjek 'in his studio', since he is an artist who isn't bound by the confines of his atelier.
The youngest member of the group is Tadej Vaukman, a photographer who came to recognition for his incredibly intimate projects, that always possessed a raw yet poetic character. Vaukman established himself as a documentary photographer, but not in the classical sense. He is known by his projects Dick Skinners and Grandheroes, in which he told stories of his friends and grandparents in an unembellished, honest, often brutal visual language. Yet he is also known as a chronicler of Ljubljana's everyday life, whose technique of quick-shot, unselective photography captures the strange, bizarre and often hilarious moments without any corrections or filters. This is the aesthetic Vaukman brings to the project. If Roman Uranjek directly intervenes with Pinter's work, Vaukman is the photographer who captures the backstage as a unique documentarist of both artists.
The relation between Vaukman's and Pinter's photography is especially interesting, since conceptually, they are worlds apart. Pinter's work ethic, persistence and discipline, required by analogue dark-room photography, are characteristics much admired by the younger photographer. Although Vaukman's practice is much different and his shots swifter, Pinter's patience fascinates him also as a photographic subject. Consequently, his photographs show the character of the other two artists perfectly – Pinter patiently maneuvering his tripod, Uranjek hurrying from the 'crime scene' or the revamped storefront. The series even contains a group 'selfie' in the reflection of a shop window. Each of the contributing artists has their own aesthetic, their own approach to work and own preferred medium. Tihomir Pinter is exhibiting a series of photos showing Uranjek 'in his studio'(doing interventions), Roman Uranjek his series of representative collages, which reinterpret Pinter's famous ironworks shots, Tadej Vaukman the fleeting, yet telling moments, made during their day of artistic creation. Despite their seeming incompatibility, the artists together manage to tell the fascinating tale of the Jesenice project.
Text by Hana Čeferin. Press release courtesy Galerija Fotografija.