Nataša Skušek is a visual artist of the middle generation, who is already established on the Slovenian art scene and occasionally also exhibits abroad. Although she is essentially a sculptor by education, her art practice passes between different mediums and practices. She works in sculpture, installation, video, photography, printmaking, performance and interventions into the public space. Her work is concerned with the exploration of the basic positions of the Western cultural paradigm, especially those related to reproduction – that is, gender relations, eroticism, sexuality, the body, motherhood, family, feeding, food production and similar – and in this regard, especially the issues related to the possibility of the self-realisation of women through social, cultural and personal accomplishment.
This time, the set-up, specifically conceived for the space of the Krško Gallery, which is a former church, bears the title Bed and consists of three parts. The central part of the installation, positioned where the altar usually stands in a church, is represented by a wooden bed. The mattress is dressed in a bedsheet with hand-embroidered short stories on it and covered with white bedlinen, scented with a refreshing aroma. The installation is complemented by two separate sections, installed in the apses, where the side altars usually stood in churches. On one side, there is a simple cupboard with a bowl of water, jug and towel, and on the other, a stand with a glass, filled with red wine.
As the title suggests, the bed is the key part of the installation, which also represents the starting point for interpretation. It is a French bed, therefore intended for two people, who are intimate enough to lie closely together. In contrast, there is enough bedding just for one, with one pillow and one blanket, and this ambiguity is also accentuated by the other two parts of the installation. One bowl, one towel and one glass are ready for either two, who are so intimate with each other that they can share everything, or just one. And if we go back to the bed again as the key element for interpretation, we notice that the bedding is unmade, which means that someone is using it. Given these ambiguities, we naturally wonder if the bed is used by one person or two. And we wonder, for what purpose? To sleep, lie down, take an afternoon nap? Or something fourth?
The answer lies in the short stories embroidered on the bottom sheet. Already at first glance, one can see that these are erotic stories, which address sexuality in more or less explicit ways. However, an in-depth reading shows that they speak primarily of mutual affection, attraction, seduction, even infatuation. That is to say, anything that would sooner or later lead to an intimate relationship. However, this never happens in stories. And if it does, it happens, coincidentally, by accident, with the wrong person, therefore – as a mistake, a lapse, a slip-up. The implied sexual desire is thus never realised in action and the fantasy of an intimate relationship remains an eternal potentiality.
In light of the short stories, the whole set-up turns out to be a space ready for an intimate (sexual) relationship. Here stands a bed with clean white sheets and a pleasant scent, simple aids to cleanse the body and a glass of wine to purify the spirit. However, all this is just a phantasm. What appears at first glance to be a love nest, in fact, turns out to be a single apartment. What could be the symbol of a close union of two, is actually a sign of the yearning loneliness of one. The person who is using the bed, therefore, lies there on their own and dreams of a relationship that cannot happen. The water remains clean, the towels unused, the wine undrunk.
From all of the above, it is obvious that the exhibition as a whole essentially speaks about the possibility and impossibility of an intimate (sexual) relationship. And indirectly, through this, it also raises many questions about mutual relations within contemporary Western society. Strolling through the minimalistically conceived and simply furnished space, imbued with aromatic scent and subdued lighting, leads us to think about how little it takes for two people to become intimate, yet this is nevertheless so difficult to achieve, about instant relationships without intimacy, responsibility, mutual understanding, even without knowing anything about each other, about sexuality as a one-off act with no obligation, about bodies being offered as objects at every step, about alienation and the extreme individualism of people today, about the loneliness of present-day men and women. And this thinking is finally recognised in one of the short stories: They look at each other when they meet. He is a juggler and she is a fire-eater. They look at each other even though they do not know each other, and they look at each other as if they were one.
Text: Mojca Grmek
Nataša Skušek (1967) studied Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana, where she graduated in 2002 and received her master’s degree three years later. During her studies, she received the University Prešeren Award. She has presented her work in numerous international exhibitions, most notably the International Festival of March 8th in Yerevan (2005), the 2nd FemFest Feminist Festival in Zagreb (2007), the 2009 Incheon Women Artists’ Biennale in South Korea (2009), Feminist Art in Slovenia in Ljubljana (2010), the 25th City of Women International Festival of Contemporary Arts in Ljubljana (2019), and in many solo exhibitions, the most prominent being Mommy, Wet Nurse, Caregiver, Wife, P74 Center and Gallery, Ljubljana (2006), Insideout, House of Culture in Pivka (2013) and Real Man, Alkatraz Gallery in Ljubljana (2014). Her works are also part of many private and several important public collections. She lives and works in Ljubljana.
Mojca Grmek (1974) graduated in Art History and Philosophy from the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana. She has been working as a curator and an art critic since 1996. During this time, she has prepared more than 180 visual arts projects independently and has participated in the organisation of many other cultural events. She has written 75 expert studies, some of which have also been translated and published internationally. Among others, she was appointed curator at the P74 Gallery in Ljubljana, at Domžale Gallery and at the galleries of the Kosovel Culture House in Sežana. Since 2013, she has been the artistic director and curator of the exhibition programme at the House of Culture in Pivka, the central gallery for contemporary art in the region between Ljubljana and Koper. She lives and works in and around the Pivka countryside.
Ambient photographs: Nina Sotelšek