On the edge of the Al Jazeera Al Hamra festival village for the ongoing Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival is an installation of 36 carefully placed stones. Seen from above they form the shape of a stylised bird, the wings of the dove of peace; the work is Portal of Peace, the artist is Marko Pogačnik, and there’s much more to this permanent installation than you might think.
Marko Pogačnik (right) is from Slovenia. He graduated in the 60s from the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana as a sculptor but also gravitated to other, more avantgarde, art forms – conceptual art, performance, body art, land art and more. Later he also designed the official flag and coat of arms of the newly constituted post-USSR Republic of Slovenia, but he says “experimenting in these fields was my true art study”.
In 1971 he was one of the founders of an agricultural and artistic community in a rural area of Slovenia, called the Šempas Family after the nearby village. “Our idea was to combine art and ecological awareness practically working with plants, animals and minerals, constructing our mobile sculptures from natural materials”. That community lasted till the end of the 90s, and he continued to refine his ideas in other art collectives as well as individually and with his wife Marika.
“During the 60 years of my artistic practice I have followed a core idea: ‘Art of Life – Life of Art’,” he says. “By this I mean that art should engage practically in the processes of life without loosing itself as art.”
He also calls this approach ‘Third Art’ – because it goes beyond ‘First Art’, “the art of serving a given culture and its dominant patterns of civilization and religion” (classical art) and ‘Second Art’ “art that focuses on its own essence and follows its own purpose; its foundation and justification is art itself (contemporary art)”. ‘Third Art’, he says, is about “developing tools to become creative in a world situation characterized by crises of all kinds … We need to help the Earth and its inhabitants to open the way to a new level of evolution which will secure peace and abundance to all beings visible and invisible”.
The Portal of Peace installation takes its inspiration from this overriding need to connect with the world. More specifically, the principal of engagement with life translates into a basic theme of peace that has been exemplified by Marko’s role as a UNESCO Artist for Peace and UNO Goodwill Ambassador (2016-2022). “It was clear to me that I should do something to foster peace in a part of the world that is often under stress of conflicts.”
So what does he hope that the visitor might get from the Portal of Peace? “First of all I do not work simply to satisfy the interest of a visitor. But anyone interested in this work can experience that ‘peace’ is not only a global matter but can also exist as the inner peace that brings uplifting feelings to the individual.
“I worked on each stone, tuning it to its new function within the art work so that the Portal of Peace can sound with proper harmonies.”
That gets to the heart of the matter: Portal of Peace illustrates Marko Pogačnik’s belief that appropriately sited stones, some with carvings, can help to redress some of the interventions by man – such as aggressive deforestation or uncontrolled industrialisation – that may lead to a sort of weakening of the essential force of nature. He feels that art can intervene to restore some of the original quality to the landscape.
As such, Portal of Peace represent Marko Pogačnik’s engagement with a philosophical examination of the relationship between man and the biosphere. The peace that is referenced in his work isn’t just the peace between people, it’s a hope for peace between humanity and the earth.
Portal of Peace is one of the contributions of art from Central and Eastern Europe presented at this year’s RAKFAF by the Croatian curator and art collector Marinko Sudac. The stones were quarried locally by the RAK company Stevin Rock.
The exhibitions of the Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival remain open to 28 February, but Portal of Peace will be a permanent installation at Al Jazeera Al Hamra Heritage Village.