Prešeren Prize laureate Kugler says no problem, no creativity

Ljubljana, 7 February - Interdisciplinary artist Ema Kugler, one of the two winners of 2023 Prešeren Prizes, the top national accolade for lifetime achievement in culture and arts, considers every creative pursuit simultaneously difficult and what challenges and drives the artist forward. "If there is no problem, there is no creativity," she told the STA.

Interdisciplinary artist Ema Kugler as she gives an interview for the STA.
Photo: Bor Slana/STA

Born in 1955, Kugler graduated from the Ljubljana School of Economics and Business. Between 1981 and 1985 she served as head of business and promotional services at the independent radio station Radio Študent while also being active in fashion design and Ljubljana's alternative scene.

In the 1990s, she emerged as an independent artist, creating a series of performances, films, installations and original videos that featured complex stories and elaborate scripts, costumes and set designs. She worked with many other artists and made ample use of high technology in her projects.

Kugler, 67, has received numerous awards and recognitions for her work at home and abroad, particularly at independent film festivals.

In Slovenia, she has won a number of Slovenian Film Festival awards. In 1994 she also took home the Golden Bird award for her multimedia work and in 2008 the Prešeren Fund Award for her film Le Grand Macabre and for her performance Introitus.

She has made five feature films to date: Phantom in 2004, Le Grand Macabre in 2005, Za Konec Časa (For the End of Time) in 2009, Odmevi Časa (Echoes of Time) in 2013 and Človek s Senco (Man with the Shadow) in 2019.

She also shot six shorts from 1993 to 2000 and three documentary films, including Orion (2012), which is about Palaeolithic remains in the eastern Kozjansko region. Between 1985 and 2019 she authored more than 20 performances.

In the justification for the Prešeren Prize, the jury highlighted her constant quest for new ways of expression and exploration and fusion of various mediums. She is lauded for ignoring contemporary artistic trends, being ahead of them and transcending the current time and space.

This may seem as the most difficult path to follow, but Kugler told the STA in a recent interview that every creative path is strenuous, including those taken by conventional artists.

"Everyone finds it difficult when they are faced with a blank page. But if it is not strenuous, it isn't a challenge, and challenge is what drives you forward. If there is no problem, there is no creativity."

The harder it is, the better it is, she said, but noted that she is not a fan of the financial problems she faces. Nevertheless, she keeps in mind that if she had more money, some other problem might pop up.

"Life is a struggle, life is a problem. Every day all of us must solve problems. As some keep complaining, I think of different people, for example factory workers, miners, field workers being abused. Actually, we shouldn't complain. Everyone decides for themselves whether to take this or the other, conformist road. We all have this one life to live it out, and that's that."

Comparing her films with other Slovenian productions, Kugler considers her work to be different mainly because she makes non-narrative films featuring an everyman who represents an archetype.

These archetypes bring to the fore the inability to put one's finger on what or who people truly are. "Man is one huge question mark," she said, and there is no way of learning what prevents people from getting to the core of what they are, just as there is no way of defining freedom.

"We live in a free world compared to those living under repressive regimes. But how free are we? If my leg stops working, how can I be free? ... Also, when we breathe we did not decide ourselves to breathe. We are essentially an organic machine driven by genetics, the unconscious and who knows what else."

What inspires her is the combination of several factors, ranging from what people bring into the world when they are born as well as their environment and its impact on them. Old films, classical music and other works of art are another source of inspiration.

Even though Kugler makes films, a form of visual art, she finds sound to be more important than image since the former is abstract. Without music she would see no point in living and she envies composers for their ability to write music.

Commenting on the rise of online film festivals in the wake of the Covid pandemic, at which she has received numerous awards, she said there is nothing wrong with them since they provide another platform to watch films, but she is also a 100% supporter of the cinema experience.

Looking ahead, the artist touched on her workplace arrangement. Kugler's studio is located in a dilapidated building owned by the national rail operator. She was evicted from it several times in the past, but under the current government her contract has been extended until the end of 2023.

Hopeful that she could stay on when the year ends, the artist noted that unless the building is renovated, it is not appropriate for anyone, except for "a crazy person" like her.

She will receive the Prešeren Prize on Tuesday, on the eve of Culture Day, together with another laureate, painter Herman Gvardjančič.

© STA, 2023