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Are you conscious of what is happening around you? Fascinated by space and the way we interact with it, Slovenian artist Martin Bricelj Baraga uses urban and natural environments together with light, sound and movement to create kinetic installations for public interaction. His work ranges from pieces that connect us to our most important satellite – the moon – to others in which social and environmental issues are strongly represented. We had a chat to discover the concepts and thoughts behind these raw, awake installations.
Large-scale installations, interactive works, and audio-visual performances. How did it all start? Could you tell us a bit about your background?
I’ve always been interested in space, how we relate to it, how it challenges our perception, and how it affects us in our daily lives or in extraordinary situations. I think most of my work deals with that, the relationship between space and us. I prefer to relate to the installations I create as organisms. But it’s not simply the space, it’s the interplay of space with light, sound and movement – those are key elements I use in most of my projects.
What about your regular workday? Is it possible to have one whilst constantly working on different projects?
Take out the words ‘regular’ and ‘day’, and you’ll be closer to my reality. Since I work on many different projects – each one having its own characteristics –, it’s actually impossible to ever have the same working day. The day never really stops and some weeks are countless actions. But speaking of this, there are some key components that are always present. Right now, I’m actually working on creating a methodological process so that the steps are the same even in the most diverse projects. And even if I have a lot of collaborators, my core team has been the same for many years.
Since sound is a basic component in your work, we’re guessing you’re also a music enthusiast. Do you have some background in the music field? What kind of music are you into?
It started with baritone saxophone sounds – low sounds – played by my dad when I was still in my mom’s belly. My grandfather was a jazz guitar player and the other grandfather, an electrician. I am a mix of those. As for the music genres I’m interested in, I can’t really say. It ranges from rock to electronic to classical. But I know what music I don’t like: I don’t like prescribed music that is condensed to the same matrix of making and functionality. I like exploratory and intimate music.

Space and time are also key elements in your work. Could you explain why?
I work with different spaces. Often, these are public urban spaces but, more recently, also natural ones – although in a different architectural context. When I work on an open-air intervention or an indoor installation, I am mostly interested in the space and the ambience of light and sound and how this all affects the space and the visitor. Sound is very important to me – I’m interested in the sound of spaces and objects; ones that produce sound and become a sort of instrument.
I’m interested in works that evolve through time or that play with the space they are placed in. This time frame can be a few minutes or could be a progression over days, months, and years. I think this interest comes from the wish to get closer to the essence of life – its cycles and unpredictable nature. I appreciate art that evokes different reactions and has different outputs. That’s why I also like to position the same artworks in different places. It always has a different narrative, although the scenario or given starting coordinates are the same or similar.
Is there a big team behind the development of your work? I imagine collaboration is the key to developing projects of such a scale.
Yes, I love to collaborate with many different creators. I’m not an expert in every field and I believe in the value of collective intelligence. Sure, there is always an initial idea and vision, which I usually bring up, and the final artwork – if there is ever such a thing (laughs) – is very close to that. But I think that during the process and work, the ideas are generated and remixed collectively and it is such a beautiful thing. It’s the same with language and slang: you develop your own language, internal jokes and a system of thought. I think that’s super important.

“If we cannot take care of this one, there is no other world that we deserve.”
Up until today, which has been your favourite installation to develop? And why?
It’s hard to say for my own work, but I really like FakeUp, a project I developed with my dear friend Jure Breceljnik. It was one of my first projects that dealt with the western attack on Iraq, biochemical weapons and the mainstream media constructs behind it. I also love the current project Neunundneunzig (99). I like raw things.
Your recent piece, Moonolith, is part of your ongoing Nonument series: a series of utopian objects in public spaces that carry a strong symbolic message. Could you tell us about the meaning behind this particular one?
Moonolith is a monument to the moon and the stars. In the daytime, it’s a dark surface, which reflects the surroundings, and in the night, it illuminates and reflects the stars from the sky, showcasing the moon’s phases. It’s an interactive light and sound installation that connects us with our most important satellite – the moon.

Can you describe the overall Nonument project?
I started using the term ‘nonument’ many years ago, when curator Mihnea Mircan wrote an essay on RoboVox – my first large-scale installation –, a kind of temporary/mobile monument. Nonument is a long-term art and research project. It’s a series of actions developed by the multidisciplinary collective Nonument Group and a research project that’s being developed in the frame of MAPS (Mapping & Archiving Public Spaces platform). The term ‘nonument' – referring to a non-existing monument – denotes decaying, destroyed or otherwise forgotten architectures, public spaces and monuments of the 20th century that have emancipatory potential in today’s society.
So, on the one hand, Nonument is a series of sci-fi utopian installations I have been developing – monuments standing between the future and the past. On the other hand, with the Nonument Group as an artistic collective action, we research the forgotten and hidden objects and try to temporarily revive them with artistic actions and try to find ways and meanings for communities today through these acts.
We’ve noticed that in some other pieces, such as the Cyanometer installation, social and environmental issues are strongly represented. What influence do you wish to have on the general public?
Well, as you said, Cyanometer is a kind of ecological installation. Besides its main characteristic – to daily capture and archive the blueness of the sky – it also showcases air quality data, becoming a data transparency sculpture. People can relate to it in a different way than that of commemorative sculptures to soldiers or politicians. It looks quite sci-fi and its position within the real world, with its sleek surface, makes it look unreal. I hope to make people stop, read and rethink their relationship to the sky, clouds and air. A fun fact is that all my installations are in some way human interactive and I thought: this will be the first one that only interacts with nature. Though its beautiful reflective surface brings so many visitors, both in Ljubljana (Slovenia) and Wroclaw (Poland) to take selfies with it. Check #cyanometer on Instagram for proof.

I wonder if you have a positive prospect for such issues like air pollution, climate change and environmental policies? Do you know other artists that also explore these themes in their work that you’d like to share with us?
Not really. For a while, I thought it less interesting for art to involve ecological issues but then I completely changed my mind. I think each one of us has a duty to keep our environment safe and to make it better. It’s easy to say, harder to realise. But this is exactly why I think everybody should be dynamic towards this theme. Artists or non-artists, we should all encourage our neighbours and communities to become active citizens.
I don’t know many artists that deal directly with the topic aside from the well-known, such as Ólafur Eliasson or Saraceno. But I do know of some amazing initiatives. There’s Gala and Julie’s Bicycle, or collectives such as Bellastock from Paris, with whom I have had the privilege to work with. On the other hand, some of my great artist friends from Ljubljana – for example, Robertina Sebjanič or Saša Spačal – have another take on the environment.
On the other hand, Neunundneunzig (99) is a very intense and dark piece. What was the inspiration behind it? What effects does it try to conjure?
Neunundneunzig (99) is a kinetic sound sculpture. It takes the shape of a matrix made of ninety-nine balloons that inflate individually to surround visitors in a physical, sonic, and visual experience. The piece inhales and exhales, expands and deflates, building up an almost claustrophobic experience that aims to echo the crises and dilemmas our society is going through. It is a very physical experience, a kind of engagement with the machine. You enter the grid, which really functions like an organism – and looks like one too. You are seated in total darkness and start to hear and feel the initial breathing part; the intensities that follow can bring up different reactions.
The title and use of balloons evoke 99 Luftballons, Nena’s ‘80s song that talked about innocent objects that provoke nuclear paranoia in the cold war era. Nena’s song was a starting point and the formal part – the grid of ninety-nine balloons – comes from there. But in the reverse sense, these balloons don’t bring hope. They act instead as a suffocating grip. The intensities of the blocks or the logic of polarisation in the world are facts that seem too powerful to escape them. But it is not just about the cold war, which seems so hot now. By creating a total darkness, I’m interested in building an environment that doesn’t have the constant influx of information and distractions that we’re always exposed to.

What excites you more, the virtual world or the real one? Do you have high hopes for the future and artificial intelligence or does it scare you?
Definitely, the physical world. I prefer to enjoy the limits and errors of our physical reality. I think it is beautiful. The AI doesn’t scare me. What scares me (or turns me off) is rather the prophetic expectations behind it – such as Elon Musk’s scenarios of escaping this planet to start a new life. The kind of tactics that clearly derive from business interests. If we cannot take care of this one, there is no other world that we deserve.
What about your future? Are there any upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
With Nonument Group we are planning to activate many important places and objects in Europe such as Slovenia, Cyprus and Bulgaria. And we hope more will follow. There are many other projects in the making. One of them is the Metronomic series, which deals with the repetitive structures that mesmerise the natural phenomena – such as waveforms, flocks and metronomy. They also open ideas of circular energy – how one energy transforms into another and how it creates potentials for our coexistence with nature.
For example, Aethronome works on the scientific physical principle of osmosis – evaporation process – to create a kind of metronomic Perpetuum Mobile. It’s a kinetic artwork for waters, a kind of gentle reminder of the rhythm and pace of life. Lumitronome, on the other hand, uses solar cells to collect the energy during the day and works by night as a kinetic and light structure, mainly used indoors. I am currently working on a system or programme for how all our projects relate to the principal earth elements. It’s like a ‘space programme’; not space as the universe, I am referring to our space on earth. ‘Space’ is the ‘place’.

Catarina Marques

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