The Second World War that ended seventy years ago has profoundly affected many human fates in Slovenia no less than elsewhere; so much so that it has become deeply ingrained in the collective memory of the land and the people.
It is therefore not surprising that after seven decades, the events that took place at the time on Slovenian soil continue to fuel numerous polemics of opposing views and standpoints on topics ranging from the nature of the occupation and resistance against it, to its ultimate national, political, and socio-economic consequences.
Their unrelenting dynamics stands witness to the power and effect of the war on generation after generation as they revisit the subject of the same war time and again, although not necessarily in novel ways, often succumbing to no more than blind faith in one or another dogmatic, ideologically and politically illuminated code. This in turn stands in the way of critical distance and objective, as far as possible, placement into the national historical consciousness. Moreover, it is reflected in contemporary national identity and self-concept, and simultaneously opens up precipices and gives rise to ever new doubts about the numerous truths and their interpretations which are allowed or forced to coexist in the post-modern world where big stories are not to be believed, regardless of how true and thoroughly tried and tested they may be.
Among all interpretations of the past, artistic interpretation is perhaps the most authentic and objective, especially when it successfully avoids making any categorical judgements and conveying any messages or agendas. This is certainly true of the photos by Robert Hutinski, which do not seek to relativize, distort or even revise the historical facts; intervention is only employed to further underscore their very essence. Rather than challenging the historical facts or calling them into question, the photographs keep re-examining them. In the process, their artistic reinterpretation is geared less toward reminiscence, learning about, and understanding of the past, and more towards facilitating the establishment of a relation with it and toward it, here and now. The issue they tackle is not how to think history today; it is how to intimately perceive and experience it.
In series Za-bris, Hutinski travels 70 years back in time to the era of the German occupation, ethnocide, and violence. In this time travel, he dwells the longest on the most terrifying chapter of the period – the faith of Slovenian resistance families who saw husbands shot by the Nazis, either as Partisans or as hostages; wives deported to death camps; and children sent to special children’s camps for re-education, or even assigned an entirely new German identity. In his artistic expression, he starts with a photographic document as the primary historical source, whether it be ID photos of Auschwitz inmates – which more often than not were their last photos – or documentary photos of the Celje-based photographer and chronicler Josip Pelikan, taken in the streets of Celje. In an attempt to artistically (re)interpret them, he juxtaposes them, draws on them, and exposes what he believes to be their very essence. He does so in a manner similar to that of a historian.
While such darkness is the unambiguous common denominator of “Za-bris”, its conspicuous counterpoint in Hutinski’s work – the light that either permeates or emanates from nearly every one of his photos – begs the question of its interpretation. The possible answers probably number no less than the plethora of truths referred to in the introduction to this writing; the difference being that these answers are not necessarily mutually contradictory.
Is this light a Christian symbol of eternal life, and at the same time a metaphor of a memory that should never fade? Is this the light we have always been drawn to, yet is so powerful that it blinds us and leaves us wandering the dark labyrinths of history in futile hopes of reaching it? Is it a warning that we should recognize the darkness while there is still light, because by the time the darkness descends upon us, it will have been too late? Or is it merely a hint that the line between darkness and light may be blurred, or rather effaced? – Tone Kregar – [Official Website]