On the Shoulders of Fallen Giants


On the Shoulders of Fallen Giants

21/7/2018 – 28/10/2018 

2nd Biennial of industrial art

Curators: What, How and For Whom/WHW

Organiser: Labin Art Express XXI 

Co-organisers: MMSU Rijeka, Archeological museum of Istria

A part of the project: Rijeka European Capital of Culture 2020.

The members of the curator collective What, How and For Whom/WHW are the curators of the second edition of Labin industrial art Biennale, created by L.A.E. XXI in 2014, with the aim of revitalising the former mines in and around Labin, an Istrian town marked by decades of de-industrialisation and a growing dependence on tourism.  The Biennial originated from the Istrian peninsula, both as a region and a symbol – peninsula means “almost island” – that marks the geographic and historical specificity of Istria as  a place on the crossroads of empires, both isolated and connected, like a “little continent”. The extraction of coal sedimented in the bowels of Istria centuries ago sparked the expansion of capital, incited colonial and military campaigns, was used to process metal and sugar from the colonies, supported the fascist arms industry and participated in socialist construction. The concept of the Biennial is inscribed on the background of great historical lengths and changing epochs that formed social and cultural landscapes of the region: from the Greek and Roman empires, Venetian, Austro-Hungarian, French and Italian rule, through socialism and up to the recent epoch of the long, almost endless period of the so-called transition.

The title of the Biennial, “On the Shoulders of Fallen Giants”, is connected to the original meaning contained in this phrase, which refers to the necessity of leaning on earlier achievements to attain new insights and knowledge that intertwines with the feeling of loss of future horizons, in a time when the concept of social transformation has turned into a violent preservation of the existing condition.  The mental image evoked by giants attempts to intertwine various associations and to inspire the creation of new narratives on the ruins of existing ones. The interest in the marginalised, neglected and repressed is connected to the existing narrative; it complements and sometimes even contradicts it. Using a variety of heterogenous subjectivities with a feminist streak, the Biennial dissolves the androcentric tone of the title associated with the dominant masculine identity of the topos of mines. For instance, the legacy of the poetess Giuseppina Martinuzzi, who fought inequality and participated in the rebellion of miners and the founding of the Labin republic in 1921, the first organized resistance to fascism. The title “On the Shoulders of Fallen Giants” also refers to known Istrian legends and folk tales. It is, for instance, the famous legend of the last Motovun giant Veli Jože, the symbol of Istrian resistance, fictionalised by the writer Vladimir Nazor, whose tale summarises the destiny of many rebellions.  The Biennial also evokes the fantastical Istrian imagination in which the identification of Istria as a magical land (Terra Magica) attempts to question the normative effects and social conditions of the concepts of magic, nature and history. It also intervenes into mystifications of Istria as a “place of secrets which are originated at its interior” (Boris Perić i Tomislav Pletenac: Fantastical Creatures of Istria and Kvarner), which itself reflects the growing touristic exploitation of the region’s “specificities”.

Storytelling, history, poetry, tourism, magical thinking, rebellion, colonial implications of industrial production, marginalised identities, ethnic cleansing, extractivism, the underground, sugar, fossil fuels, mushrooms, ruins, remnants, collections – these are some of the key terms that arise from the local context. Working with these terms, more than 20 local and international contemporary artists exhibit their works, many of which are new productions connected with the local context. The exhibited works are grounded in questions connected with the formation of contemporaneity through art practice, and intertwined with stories that struggle for the advantage of identity in understanding “regional” specificities: from Labin’s mining past, the history of strikes and worker rebellions, abandonment of extractive sources of energy and development of ecological projects; through antique and antifascist monuments, fascist architecture, felled oaks; to the development of tourism, exodus and deindustrialisation in the last few decades, as well as tolerance and cosmopolitanism. By underlining this entanglement, the Biennial not only presents contemporary artists, but also some of the local monuments and other traces of past times, which are equally represented in the structure of exhibitions. Through a polyphony of artistic voices, the Biennial will attempt to present this local context in a larger and broader light, and attempt to unmask the ‘ideological’ surplus which (luckily) exists in every specific location and which connects it with other locations and other struggles to preserve the possibility of utopian thinking for the future.

Realised as a collaborative project of L.A.E. XXI, MMSU Rijeka and the Archeological museum of Istria, and taking the mining locality of Labin as its starting point and imaginative center, the Biennial will expand to various localities in Istria and the Croatian Littoral connected to the ancient, industrial and contemporary history of the region: the Cultural Center Lamparna; the abandoned cinema in Rasa; The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka (MMSU); Augustus’ temple in Pula, the Arena Amphitheatre Gallery; SENSE – Center for Justice in Transition in Pula; and Apoteka – Contemporary Art Space in Vodnjan. This organisational and spatial expansion is highlighted by including existing locations or fitting in parts of museum collections in the itinerary of the Biennial, in order to excavate historical layers, so that fragmented threads of stories about the region become intertwined again.