The Big Picture
Text: Ralf Christofori
Branko Šmon was born in 1955 in Maribor, Slovenia. He studied painting and drawing from 1978 to 1985 at the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design. After he had completed his studies, painting soon became "too limiting, too flat" as he says. But he has remained faithful to drawing and sketching to this day. Even during his studies, he started to experiment with methods and materials seemingly far-removed from art and developed the technique of so-called "Blower Art", creating space-filling installations which he set into motion with huge industrial fans. Right from the beginning of his career, Šmon gave his all. And his concern was for the bigger picture: the relationship between nature and culture, man and technology, economy and science and politics and society.
To bring these themes artistically into an appropriate form, Branko Šmon abandoned not only painting and the classical tableau, but also the traditional territory of the art business. He carried out international projects in the metropolitan cities of New York and Moscow but also in South Korea. Very often the imagination from which his work derived went beyond the limits of the conceivable and the doable. Proof of this is illustrated by his project " World Wide Wiring", for which, as early as 1988 (!), he had worked out the possibilities of a communication network between mobile human beings and a global system composed of information transfer and data storage. What was then just a vision is today a major part of our individual, social and technological make-up. In 1993 the artist created his work "INTER-INFO" that involved attaching 24 red windsocks to the Stuttgart Television Tower which were to be understood as "signals of global intercommunication". This idea was pursued in greater depth in his 1995 work "VR Heads", in which virtual reality is seen simultaneously as mutation and fascination, the consequences of which are unforeseeable. Branko Šmon commented this work as follows: " The human being, interconnected and linked up, becomes increasingly isolated, fends for himself, lives and reproduces himself inherently in the system". In a series of drawings and protest letters entitled "Data Storage by Creditreform Rating Agencies", Branko Šmon again addresses the notion very early, in 1989, that details stemming from personal data and profiles and movements of the interconnected individual are constantly under observation and being stored by powerful enterprises and constitutional bodies.
The extent of this systemically-inherent reproduction and its impact on the individual and society are difficult to measure in the economic and banking systems. But Branko Šmon makes this visible. Four years before the currency changeover to the Euro, he created the "Project Cash 2002", a glass cube with a side length of 15 m, which was to be exhibited in Frankfurt's banking district. Its content: the sum of the DM banknotes in stock held by the German Central Bank (Deutsche Bundesbank), with a value of 230 billion DM, shredded and made completely worthless by the changeover to the Euro. In 2008 in Brussels, on the occasion of his homeland Slovenia's presidency of the European Union, Šmon exhibited a similar project.
Even though Branko Šmon's work may appear fundamentally critical of the system and yet visionary, it also displays a lightness and openness which allows the observer to let his thoughts and imagination run free. He deals intensively with facts, conditions and systematic correlations, giving them an artistic form that not only suggests a different perspective and way of thinking but radically demands it. Wherever human beings and nature meet, Branko Šmon does not create the obvious but always something completely unexpected, as in the case of the "Winddrawer". In 1995, the artist suspended a metal pendulum attached to a triangular sail between two wind turbine towers which functioned as a huge needle, etching the wind's movement onto a copper plate placed below. And it also applies to the "Golden Breath", created for an exhibition in the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen in 2011. Regardless of the theme of his work, be it technical, economic, political or social, Branko Šmon always examines each individual system critically, but never in isolation. It is much more important to him to deeply explore the limits and powers at work between the systems and even to look beyond them. Sometimes logically, other times energetically, at all times phenomenally and always poetically.
Ralf Christofori, 2014