To separate out by medium the work of a group that thrived on what it called “mediality” — the deliberate defiance of traditional boundaries between media — is a counterintuitive project, and so it bears stressing that the present article is an excerpt from a larger project. Namely, a dissertation which traces the logic of the inner development of the OHO collective’s work between 1965 and 1971. It also seeks to understand the significance of OHO’s utopian impulses and analyzes the group’s continued presence in cultural memory both in Slovenia and in the context of a loosely defined Eastern European Conceptualism.
That said, within the scope of my writing about OHO, a detailed analysis of the group’s films plays a central role since the films are significant for OHO’s oeuvre doubly. Firstly, they are important because they provide a crucial link, both iconographically and structurally, through their mode of production, between the ethos of “free” reistic vision that informed OHO’s earliest object-making endeavors (particularly the publication of OHO Editions books) and the group’s later shift of emphasis to working in and with existing physical space for the purpose of imagining new social and mental uses for it.
Secondly, the films matter as artifacts that gain an ever greater centrality to OHO’s oeuvre with the passage of time. What the films offer, illusory though it may be, is a sense of OHO members’ personal presence, which was once integral to the group’s experiments with dematerialization or the spreading of its work’s meaning across multiple coexisting media. Likewise, the films are also the richest remaining source of the visual texture of the group’s historical context. They are at once works of art in their individual right and key components of the metanarrative of the group’s existence.
This metanarrative of OHO’s work can best be constructed as a series of internal contradictions in the group’s practice which coexisted in productive tension until eventually reaching their logical limits and taking group members in divergent directions. At the core of these contradictions lay a desire to use art to impose logic, order, and systematicity onto one’s experience of the world, which coexisted with an equally strong fascination with chaos and arbitrariness. In the resultant body of work, which was also much indebted to literary activities for its earliest inspiration, the uses of language as raw material had to contend with a progressively greater investment in philosophical discourse while decidedly political urban actions were followed by an equally decided withdrawal from the public sphere. OHO’s work, moreover, constantly blurred the line where the literal ended and the metaphoric began, veering between the love of cold material facts and esoteric mysticism.
The films, as I have already suggested, were an integral part in the process of working out the shape and form these contradictory desires would take and can be used as guideposts for mapping OHO’s history. Thus, in what follows, I strive to provide a thematic chronology of OHO’s film work, combined with detailed discussions of what I see as key works. What Naško Križnar, the man central to the creation the vast majority of OHO’s films, and his collaborators managed to do with their best work, I argue, is demonstrate the great range of ends which film could serve in the context of an expanded art practice, from experiments with pure visual materiality and explorations of the materiality of language to its role in staging and recording a new kind of social action in urban space. Blurring the lines between metaphor and literalness and fiction and documentation, OHO’s productions offered new inventive possibilities for doing away with traditional categories of plot and character and pointed the way for turning films into spaces rather than stories, even as they also became characters of sorts that today can be used to narrate the story of OHO itself.
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