If you have ever been to a drive-in, one of those open-air cinemas, if possible an American one, then you will know that there is nothing more impotent and pathetic than a drive-in by daylight. No, nothing more impotent and pathetic than a drive-in when there is no film showing, in other words when the night is extinguished and the white screen has no playful twinkling of light, shade and colour. Nothing is emptier or at the same time creepier. And Borut Krajnc has captured Slovenia’s advertising hoardings like the screens of drive-ins during the daytime. The empty advertising hoardings – Praznine – are a pure horror vacui. Kenophobia, the fear of a void, is the alma mater of art, or rather horror vacui is the morbid feeling that has been experienced by every painter or writer sat in front of a bare canvas or a clean sheet of paper and wondering where to begin. There have always been too many false starts. Morbidly, awfully, stiflingly too many. An empty sheet of paper in a typewriter: horrors! With the transition to computers, this has changed: on the computer, in a “new document”, there is no false start. All beginnings of text are right. And why not? For various reasons the writer is convinced that the entire text he wishes to write is already in his computer. Aristotle also had sufficient reasons to believe that the statue was already in the rock itself and the sculptor had simply to remove the extraneous parts, but it was Aristotle himself who thought up the horror vacui: nature abhors a vacuum! But it is even creepier when the vacuum becomes nature itself.
We could see very well how this happens in the Blair Witch Project, the occult horror film about three people who go into the woods to seek a mythical monster. The film became a pop culture phenomenon at which many people felt quite faint – from fright. And what was so frightful? The fact that the film only suggested the monster? The fact that the monster could not even be seen? Of course, what was creepy was precisely that there was nothing to see. What was creepy was that vacuum, that empty nature, nature without the monster, that emptiness that would not become a spectacle. Civilisation, which is obsessed with the fullness of the picture and the metaphysics of sense, cannot tolerate a view of emptiness. For culture, which regards the spectacle as its natural state, emptiness is something creepy, shocking and against nature. And this is precisely the effect of Krajnc’s Praznine: the viewer is horrified at the sight of it. Right where he should be seeing an advertisement, the ultimate spectacle of fullness and sense, he unexpectedly sees emptiness. The first reaction is: Where are the adverts? The viewer, a captive of the modern hypermedia landscape, can only – like the heroine in Blair Witch Project – pant in panic and anguish: “I’m so scared! I don’t know what’s waiting for me! We’re all going to die! I’m so scared!”
In Krajnc’s Praznine [literally vacuums, voids] it is creepy that nature becomes a vacuum. And what does this civilisation regard as something entirely natural? What appears to this civilisation to be a natural phenomenon? Precisely this: spectacle and advertisements. And something else: capitalism, which turns advertisements into spectacles and spectacles into advertisements. Praznine captures capitalism at the moment when it lacks a script, or rather at the moment when it lacks a picture. At the moment when capitalism falters and when the “big picture” no longer shows economic growth, liberalisation of capital and goods markets, globalisation, deregulation, free movement of capital, privatisation of public property, reduction of the public sector, the transformation of everything into financial investments, surplus investment, efficiency, the competition for export markets, growing exploitation (“while there is still one single muscle, sinew or drop of blood that can be exploited,” as Marx would say), dehumanisation and accumulation of capital, which is everywhere and nowhere. The moment capitalism has nothing to say, when it stammers and stops, when it lacks adverts for itself and when it comes to a halt, is the moment we sense a crisis, the freefall of profit levels, recession, instability and revolution, and at the same time the moment when the illusion that capitalism has no alternative collapses. Yet ironically all these vacuums, which for a moment did not seem worth exploiting, are on the one hand vacuums that do not represent reality but constitute it, and on the other hand they are vacuums awaiting the import of freedom and capital. And again this is creepy, so creepy that you have the feeling there is some special effect involved – something against nature. Praznine shows little disasters of capitalism, fleeting utopias. Capitalism disappears, but just for a moment. It is no wonder that Krajnc hunted down these Praznine for four years. Life under capitalism is toil – as is the struggle with it.
(Marcel Štefančič Jr.)