Genius and Anti-Genius in

UTTER/the violent necessity for the embodied presence of hope

by Duccio K. Marignoli


The Slovenian offering at the 56th Venice Biennale by the artists JAŠA, though fully integrated within contemporary art linguistic canons, nevertheless – to this reviewer –, seems to create its own conflict from two of the founding concepts in contemporary art, the Romantic notion of Genius, and [especially post-Marxist] Social Art. Of course, more than a harmonization, these two visions seem destined for a collision, as each would normally suggest the negation of the other. Yet, it is from the vibrancy of the tension created in its unresolved state, that its most unexpected achievement lies.

The first observation, and the most obvious, to be made of UTTER (of course a trait inherent in performance art) is that it does not exist in a completely reified condition but rather ‘happens’ before you as the result of a collaboration between many personalities, some occasionally present, some fundamental in the very conceptualization of the piece. The role of the artist JAŠA is not immediately thrust forward, as he seems intent on participating in a ‘society’ as formed by the project – at first impression. Therefore the system of relationships in which he presents himself is meaningful. The main collaborator to which it is evidently important to refer to is Michele Drascek, officially the curator, though it is equally obvious that the boundaries between explication – the fundamental curatorial duty – and creation – typically the preserve of the artist as author supreme, are constantly blurred, crossed and martialled into positions that are not coherent with their respective functions. The two roles held by JAŠA/artist and Drascek/curator are reflected in the coloratura of their presence, the first a volcanic, intense and uncontrollable personality that recalls the traditional concept of artist as a poetic force, the second rather more discreet and precise – methodical –, though in his own way also insistent, that seems to reflect his curatorial role. Yet, in the process of conception, daily planning and performance, each easily slips in and out of the other’s mission. Another register within the process of ‘bringing UTTER forth in existence’ – a constant need as the work only really exists in its moment of creation –, are the numerous contributions of ancillary disciplines, the most obvious of which are the musicians, the photographer and the architect, though there are others. They are ancillary because they impact but do not define the armature, the skeleton within the UTTER organism, not because they are less influential and, for example, when the musicians change, the tone of the resulting performance does too. A group of students from the Art Academy of Venice also participate as ‘understudies’ of JAŠA, symbolic artistic presences yet devoid of a true independent voice within the performance, a sort of artists in making, and finally a varied selection of other occasional ‘performers’ chosen amongst friends and acquaintances, appear episodically within the formation – a group to which in some instances, I too belonged. I have intentionally left aside the last significant autonomous personality within UTTER, the producer Rosa Lux as her role demands a procedural independence, yet here too boundaries are blurred and she has also participated as a main performer on occasion, and in developing the artistic direction always. Therefore, we observe roles, we have authorial voices, and we have an interchange of functions that both define artistic presences, and then proceed to confuse them.

This caravanserai of communal cooperation takes place inside and around a jagged architectural structure that itself both defines time, opening and closing weekly, for the whole of the Biennale in a repetitive loop, being painted and performed on, also repetitively, as the construction returns weekly to its original state. At the same time other elements of the process evolve rather than repeat; these elements change progressively. This process is been described with the neologism durational.

Therefore, in this defined little ‘community’, we could be reminded of one of the many collaborative art projects that are occasionally proposed within the art world mostly from the nineteen-sixties on (though in fact ideological ancestors to them appear as early as the mid-nineteenth century). Yet, as I will discuss below, the present example also expresses notable differences. Usually, collaborations of various types can be divided into two great families, the first, which does not concern us here, is a straightforward association between two presumably complementary talents where the cumulative effect would create another ‘vibe’, as it were –, while it is the other that interests us, that which relates to a conceptual artistic commune in whichever form this may appear – these seem to coalesce along varied directions – where the authorial voice is challenged by an art theory which sees the artwork as the fulcrum of a system of relationships rather than the consecration of a single authoritative articulation. These temporary cultural alliances are always precarious, as group dynamics are essentially unstable, yet their appearance on the art-scene is constant and evidently answers an expressive need. In any case, this micro-political structure, which, doubtlessly, replaces the romantic vision of the artist as ‘pure’ genius, and his production as absolute inspiration – favors instead art-as-language in its social form – a system, anti-genius. These doctrinal superstructures can be implicit, remaining within the realm of exploration and critique of language and its authority, or explicitly exploring themes such as forms of specific Green, gender or Marxist beliefs, for example. In this field of representation, the artistic alliance must on some level be emblematic of society and ideology at large, either proposing and displaying a new utopian form of collaboration, or underlining shortcomings of existing structures by performing their traits on a smaller, easier to conceive, scale. Certainly, the mini-society under discussion, that which forms itself within the UTTER space, does indeed follow in part these strategies. It does so on an implied manifesto (a frequent trait of these groupings is the need for a mission statement) for the return to hopefulness as an ideological stance, and indeed this is present. Thus, an unpublished text on the work (A. Walleston, The Bee Philosophy, the Venom Strategy, the Honeycomb Theory: Collaboration, Resistance, Hope, 2015) compares UTTER with the beehive as a political trope that, within a system of subtexts, expresses the positive implications of its implied hopefulness.

However, the appearance, as if from one of the many trap doors of the structure, of that more unexpected other presence, a murkier, seductive, febrile and capricious manifestation, that of the artist as genius, the artist as hero, the expressive register as Romantic. This matter complicates proceedings, as it is destined to do, and pushes the work into generating an unusual and surprisingly exhilarating experience. The group, as groups must, in some ways sacrifices individuality, yet in the texts declaimed, in the differences of physicality of the actors, in the independence allowed to the musical contributions, distinctive personalities are no longer relinquished. In fact, they are accentuated. Accents, for example, are emphatically never homogenized, recalling their use in Peter Brooks’ Mahabharata, for example, where their difference was used to allow each character to underscore his personal individualization when faced with the inevitability of oblivion. The creative process, which at a first impression might seem a form of hyper-linguistic incantation hewn from repetition, in fact, reclaims narrative and its epic inferences as its driving creative propulsion, as both performance and physical structure change over time, a ‘prodigious’ event. Above all, the two main personalities shine (or loom) forth. Drascek – the curator frets his way across the space like a worried host intent on having his guests understand, writing constantly across surfaces – not so much a curatorial role, as the exposed soul of the curator. Above all JAŠA’s voice booms over UTTER’s small society, singularly not melding into a virtuous whole. This ‘inspired’ note follows rather classic Romantic notions of art, reaching right back to the fundamental description of artistic inspiration as a form of ‘divine’ illumination, F.W.J. von Schelling’s lessons, The Philosophy of Art of 1802. The UTTER setup is carefully formed, the characters are the result of precise planning and the structure is an elegant, yet also functional entity; even so, the dynamic that happens in it is somehow separate from these preliminary efforts, almost as if a type of natural phenomenon. Thus, our small society, in appearance historically determined, again durational, forming and regrouping around its mobile vessel, is at the same time conversely reflected into the nineteenth century print of a landscape covering the installation – an image which is constantly over-painted, both altering it (it is getting lighter in tonality) and confirming it (it never changes) – that now turns into a version of that cliff, so beloved by romantic painters, over which viewers experience vertigo as both terrifying and invigorating. Therefore, when facing the chasm ahead of them, viewers can consider the absolute. Also, the image at the entrance, an enlargement of a sculpture– the original UTTER – formed by two broken teacups and personal memories of the artist, is also constantly being repainted and reconfirmed as the image never changes (called they are convinced that it is all for the greater good, that this is for the sake of the sky), and remains as the stubborn guardian of the artist’s irreducible, unexplainable, relation to us.

This leap across two antipodean concepts, in its bracing audacity, is not the least of its rewards. The artistic process forces us to look in two directions at once.


Duccio K. Marignoli

President of The Marignoli di Montecorona Foundation 

Supporter of UTTER/the violent necessity for the embodied presence of hope 







 By Aimee Walleston


For so work the honey bees, creatures that by a rule of nature,

teach the art of order to a peopled kingdom.—Shakespeare


Unlike many contemporary artists working within the tendency of social practice, those who create flashes of spectacle with negligible moments of authentic connection, Jaša’s work requires that viewers be activated toward near total participation. The big-eyed bystander is not a part of the situation presented. Jaša’s work extends an invitation, and follows up by pointedly demanding an instant and total engagement vis-à-vis an RSVP in human thought, flesh and form. Visitors are not observers of the work; they are accomplices. And even those who opt out are still a part of the narrative action, notable for their politic of refusal.


I would like to, for the length of this essay, take Jaša’s work out of the contemporary moment—out of ideas around relational aesthetics and social practice—and place it in the realm of an event that has, to my knowledge, never been properly contextualized in contemporary art. This strange, charming, and deeply American event is the bee. The term signifies an event that has been staged—and also the group that has gathered together—to create something that an individual alone would have difficult time doing.

The cellar…was dug by a bee in a single day. — S. G. Goodrich.

There was a bee to-day for making a road up to the church. — Anne Langton


“The significance borne by the word bee in the United States constitutes a pure Americanism,” states The Encyclopedia Britannica. An apocryphal etymology links this pure Americanism to the insect, since honeybees are known for working together. This would make sense. In actuality, the etymology of the word is unknown, and probably not linked to the honeybee. One thought is that it was derived from the Middle English word bene, which means “a petition to God” or a “boon.” In England, a dialect form of this word, been or bean, referred to "voluntary help given by neighbors toward the accomplishment of a particular task." (Webster's Third New International Dictionary). It may be that the term is derived from the Swahili word harambee, which means "all pull together" and is also the official motto of Kenya.


The true constitution of any bee is found in the need for the action, and in the invitation for—and acceptance of—group participation. The project of UTTER, an immense, shell-like geometric structure and durational performance held in the Slovenian pavilion at the Arsenale, strikes me as a new form of bee. I would like to propose that this new type of bee, which I will term an “alchemy bee,” would be entirely in keeping with the teleology of Jaša’s work. By staging a performance that will carry through from the beginning to the end of the Biennale, Jaša would similarly use an event (the Biennale) and a group (himself, his collaborators, and his visitors) to alchemize a poesis of meaning. At a spelling bee, what is established, in the end, is not a quilt or a road or a cellar or a pile of logs. Nothing, materially speaking, is produced during a spelling bee; it is simply the oral execution of many letters that, together, form a litany of tricky words. It is literally a bee for spells: incantations and charms. An alchemy bee would thusly transmute known materials into newer and scarcer forms.


Jaša told me that he chose the term “utter” because of its dual meaning. The first meaning is to bring forth speech; the second is to connote absoluteness. The term utter “is derived from the Old English ut: "out, without, outside.” Its cognates are the Sanskrit ut: "up, out" and the Latin usque: "all the way to, without interruption.” The term is also derived from the Middle Dutch uteren or Middle Low German utern: "to turn out, show, speak.” Utter also has a third, lesser-known meaning in English; one I like: it is the action of putting forged currency into circulation. “To utter and publish a counterfeit note is to assert and declare, directly or indirectly, by words or actions, that the note offered is good.” (The American and English Encyclopedia of Law). This type of utter is a magic spell, alchemizing slyly printed paper into an activated substance, capable of owning and buying and keeping. It is the criminal magician’s utterance.


I reference bee and utter and their flexible and multitudinous meanings to point out the necessity of language to be supple and mutable—that it must give form to ideas without imprisoning them or imposing an ineluctable language-logic onto them. Meaning is found in a gesture, a moment—in an utterance and in a bee. And therefore it is intriguing to think of Jaša’s work not only in terms of the bee—the alchemy bee he creates—but also in relation to the bee insect and the honeycomb structure. A bee produces a marvelous substance (honey), builds a uniquely profound container (the hexagonal-structured beehive composed of beeswax), and also produces a painful poison (bee venom delivered through its stinger). Each of these materials is produced and secreted by the bee at different times and for different purposes. A honeybee is, therefore, an alchemist and an artist.


In his work—which is underscored with near constant creative collaboration with other artists—Jaša creates characters, situations and embodied spaces that bridge a critical distance between political action (the term used by fellow alchemist and noted honeybee fan Joseph Beuys) and enchanting social scenario (¿Cómo se dice party?). In a 1965 text that Beuys used to describe his seminal work How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, the artist (who covered his face in honey and gold leaf) stated, “In putting honey on my head I am clearly doing something that has to do with thinking. Human ability is not to produce honey, but to think, to produce ideas. In this way the deathlike character of thinking becomes lifelike again. For honey is undoubtedly a living substance. Human thinking can be lively too. But it can also be intellectualized to a deadly degree, and remain dead, and express its deadliness in, say, the political or pedagogic fields.” Similarly, Jaša’s desire is to activate and bring forth, rather than preach, new forms of political thought and engagement. Whether Jaša transmits these ideas through song, aesthetic, material, or poetic action, the intention is that they will be received through an alchemical bond between himself, his collaborators, and those who experience the work. 


A 2008 film and eponymous character created by Jaša, Sweet Life, transposes the disposition of the worker bee with the honey-giver and the venomous stinger. In this character, one finds the streak of adrenalized aggression that runs through Jaša’s work—which can, in the parallax view, seem incapable of anything but beauty and sweetness. Sweet Life, as a character, represents a force undone by dramatic shifts. He finds himself rotten from the sweet, illustrating the Socialist undone by the new excess found in Capitalism, gradually deteriorating into a glass-walled perception of decadence. Jaša’s 2006 public work and performance Cocktail Problem featured a Hansel and Gretel gingerbread house that Jaša and the artist Meta Grgurevič, his wife, outfitted with a sort of welcome sign that proclaimed, (with intentional irrelevance): “Punk’s Not Dead.” Jaša and Meta transported the cake to a gallery, covered it in honey, cut it with a chainsaw like a Matta-Clark cake, and watched as visitors lapped away all the sweetness.


Part of what makes Jaša’s work politically relevant is its insistence on spiritual transcendence meshed with social critique. Illusion, the chariot of human existence, is harnessed to astute critical inquiry. Radikal Chic, a book made with Jaša’s longtime collaborator Junzi (aka Janez Vidrih), composes images and texts from exhibitions and performances Jaša created alone and with his co-creators (as well as the collective Crash in Progress). The book documents his work from 1999 to 2009, and includes endnotes written by Jaša. He describes one uneventful 2008 group show thusly: It was “one of those situations when people put works on the wall and go ‘UAU it’s perfect!!!’ and go for a coffee.” As simple and venomous as this statement might seem, let’s face it: it’s not how people talk about shows (and particularly not the expected words of an artist whose work is actually being exhibited). How many boring and meaningless exhibitions can one attend—or participate in, or assign meaning to via the written word? Jaša, in the happy, beautiful, brutal causality of both his word and his deed, implores his viewer toward analytic intelligence and against simple acceptance of the status quo. Just as poems and flowers are beautiful—the spoonful of honey that makes life sweet—so is pure truth. Let’s exist in the hive, in the hothouse, in the place of ecstatic production. Then in the venom, in the fever—and, eventually, in the antidote and resistance.