Meet the People

25 May 2022, 16:13 PM

STA, 25 May 2022 - Composer Damijan Močnik is the winner of the 2022 Kozina Award, the top honour for this art form, which is given out by the Slovenian Composers' Association. Močnik is being honoured for his well rounded sacral oeuvre, says Wednesday's press release by the association, which will present the award to the composer on 2 June.

Močnik, who was also one of six artists to win the prestigious Prešeren Fund Prize this year, was born in 1967 in Kranj. He graduated in composition from the Academy of Music in Ljubljana and then studied abroad, mainly in choir conducting, including with the acclaimed choirmaster Eric Ericson.

He works as a professor of music, choirmaster and director of musical activities at the Diocesan Classical Gymnasium at the St Stanislaus Institute in Ljubljana, where he and his colleagues have built the so-called choral pyramid, a hierarchical system of seven choirs.

One of them is the Megaron Chamber Choir, which was founded in 2003 and has developed into one of the most acclaimed Slovenian choirs.

Močnik also participates in the professional and artistic councils of choral events, lectures at courses and professional meetings, and is a member of juries at choral competitions at home and abroad.

As a composer, he explores choral, a cappella and vocal-instrumental music. He is currently one of the most frequently performed contemporary Slovenian composers abroad, according to the Megaron Chamber Choir website.

The Kozina Award, named after composer Marjan Kozina (1907-1966), has been conferred by the Composers' Association since 1994.

21 May 2022, 13:00 PM

STA, 20 May 2022 - Comic book artist Izar Lunaček was conferred on Thursday the French Order of Arts and Letters. He received the honour for his contribution to the promotion of comic books, the popularisation of French culture in Slovenia and the strengthening of ties between France and Slovenia this field.

The French Institute in Slovenia said Lunaček, who received the knight grade of the order, has become one of the most important advocates of French-Slovenian relations in the field of comics over the last 15 years.

In addition to his prolific artistic activity, the 43-year-old has spent a decade at the helm of the Stripolis association, a major factor in the promotion of comics among the general public.

The Tinta Festival, formerly Stripolisfest, which he co-founded, is now an unmissable event for professionals and experts as well as enthusiasts.

Lunaček, who was also one of the forerunners of the concept of the Drawn Concert in Slovenia, is a great connoisseur of the Angouleme International Comics Festival in France where he has established precious ties with French authors and publishers there.

In 2020, Stripolis became a publishing house that has already published several Slovenian translations of French comic books.

Lunaček, who is moreover painter, comparativist and philosopher, received the honour from French Ambassador to Slovenia Florence Ferrari.

17 May 2022, 12:24 PM

STA, 17 May 2022 - Mathematician Franc Forstnerič, a professor at the Ljubljana Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, is one of the three Slovenians who won the prestigious ERC Advanced Grant for established researchers this year. Maths is about creating order in the universe, says the recipient of the first ERC project for mathematics in Slovenia.

Forstnerič received the European Research Council (ERC) five-year grant worth nearly EUR 1.5 million for his project titled Holomorphic Partial Differential Relations, which is aimed at coming up with new methods and findings in the area of Oka manifolds and more generally of oriented holomorphic systems.

In 1985, Forstnerič completed his doctoral thesis about holomorphic mappings in several complex variables at the University of Washington in Seattle, US.

During his studies, he was introduced to the Oka-Grauert principle, which deals with the existence and properties of holomorphic mappings from certain classes of complex manifolds. At the time, he lacked the "mathematical maturity" he now has to build on the principle, he told the STA.

After he obtained his PhD, Forstnerič first returned to Ljubljana and then went on several extended research stays abroad. In 1997, he was back in Ljubljana, determined to work intensively on the Oka-Grauert principle.

"In 1989, an important article on the subject was published by the eminent Russian-French mathematician Mikhael Gromov, the recipient of the Abel Prize in 2009. Gromov put the theory on a new footing, introduced new techniques and suggested possible further development, but he did not present detailed proof.

"Gromov is a brilliant mathematician who has contributed key new ideas in a number of mathematical fields, but he often leaves the detailed arguments and further development to others," Forstnerič said.

He involved his PhD student Jasna Prezelj in the research, and together, in a few years, they managed to make a crucial breakthrough in the understanding of Gromov's ideas.

Forstnerič then went on to work on the problem of characterising the class of complex manifolds to which the results of the theory apply. In 2006, he characterised this class by a simple "convex approximation property" and by a number of other properties which were not obviously equivalent to each other.

"This manifold property means that any holomorphic mapping of a convex set in a complex Euclidean space can be approximated by holomorphic mappings of the entire Euclidean space into a given manifold," he explains. This has solved one of the key problems posed by Gromov, and within a few years a complete theory emerged.

Based on this, Forstnerič introduced a new class of complex manifolds into the literature in 2009, which he named Oka manifolds after the theory's originator, the Japanese mathematician Kiyoshi Oka (1901-1978).

Manifolds are geometric objects such as curves and surfaces. "The world we live in is a manifold," notes the Slovenian mathematician, adding: "We live on a sphere; the sphere, galaxies, the universe, these are all manifolds."

Complex manifolds always have an even number of dimensions. "There is an additional structure to them that defines a special class of mappings between these manifolds - holomorphic mappings."

One reason why holomorphic mappings are important is because they occur naturally in physical problems. "For example, if you want to design an aircraft wing, you need to study laminar flow. The wing is situated in a flow of air, this air will bounce off, the wing will change its direction, and this will cause buoyancy.

"This is what keeps the aircraft in the air. But when you want to model how that airflow is going to flow around the wing, you draw a shape and then you have to calculate what is going to happen. It is more straightforward to use conformal mapping to map this wing shape onto a circle. Having mapped it onto a circle, you have explicit solutions of laminar flow that avoids the circle. Then you map these solutions back using conformal mapping. This is one simple application of such mappings," Forstnerič said.

His Oka theory received significant recognition in 2020. "Every 10 years, the American Mathematical Society renews the classification of mathematical fields in cooperation with the German journal Zentralblatt fur Mathematik. There was no suitable field for this theory, so we proposed it and it was accepted.

"They introduced a new field called Oka Theory and Oka Manifolds. This is my contribution to the classification. As far as I know, this is the second such case in mathematics in Slovenia," he noted.

His work is also fascinating in that it has helped to bring the theory of this type of complex manifolds back home to Japan after 80 years. "My main contribution was to conceptualise the theory and therefore make it more widely applicable."

The ERC project awarded to Forstnerič will allow him to expand his research into this field and pave the way for the existence of solutions to a number of problems in complex analysis and geometry as well as other areas of mathematics and beyond.

It will also allow him to build an international team that will include another three or four researchers. The project will be carried out at the Ljubljana Faculty of Mathematics and Physics.

Forstnerič's work has inspired Japanese mathematician Yuta Kusakabe, who managed to make some important breakthroughs in this field in his PhD thesis in 2020.

"I have invited him to Slovenia. He has a young family, so he can't come at the moment, but since the project will last five years, I hope that during that time he will be able to get a sabbatical and come here," Forstnerič said, adding he is pleased he will be joined by another established researcher, Rafael Andrist.

In science it is very important to introduce a new concept at the right moment, he said. "Examples may have been discussed before, but once you introduce a relevant concept and show that it has many different characterisations that all lead to the same goal, then it can become the germ of a new theory."

This requires a good knowledge of a specific scientific field, the ability to detect and abstract key features, and a bit of serendipity, he added.

"Mathematics is, in a way, creating order in the universe. It's not just calculations. You have to establish a concept and based on this concept, develop a theory. Once you have the right concept, you can develop it further, but until you get it, it's all a bit foggy," Forstnerič said.

17 May 2022, 10:58 AM

STA, 17 May 2022 - Slovenian astrophysicist Maruša Bradač is the recipient of the prestigious European Research Council (ERC) grant for a project called FIRSTLIGHT. The dive into the prehistory of the universe, backed with EUR 2.1 million over five years, will allow the researcher, who has worked in the US for 17 years, to continue her career in Slovenia.

The main focus of Bradač's research has been the formation of the first galaxies, from which all other galaxies evolved. She was also involved in the development of the NIRISS camera, one of the four most important instruments on the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope.

The ERC funding was awarded to Bradač for the processing of data from the James Webb telescope and related research on the first galaxies in space. "This is a very important part of the origin of galaxies in the universe, because it is about a very early universe, about which we know very little," the astrophysicist told the STA.

"The universe at that time was full of neutral hydrogen and was not permeable to visible light. Try to imagine it like a kind of fog, and like with fog which can be dispelled by the sun, the first galaxies gave off enough light to ionise the hydrogen and drive the fog away.

"This brings us to the end of the cosmological dark ages. However, we know very little about how this actually happened. Thus this data and this ERC project will help us answer this question," she explained.

The James Webb Telescope differs from the older Hubble Space Telescope in that it captures images in the infrared spectrum, whereas Hubble operates in the visible spectrum. In the infrared, we can observe galaxies that are far away from us.

"The main thing about the James Webb are the spectrographs which are featured on all four cameras and which allow us to not only capture images of an object, but to study its composition. So for these first galaxies, we will be able to discover what they are made of and, as a result, answer the question of how they were formed," Bradač explained.

With FIRSTLIGHT, Slovenia is also gaining access to data from the new telescope. "As a result of me having been a member of the scientific team that helped develop one of the four cameras, we have access to data that other researchers around the world do not have," Bradač said, pointing out that only about 30 people in total have access.

"Since I am one of them, all my collaborators on the ERC project will have access to this data. This is a really good opportunity for young researchers," she noted.

The Slovenian astrophysicist, who spent 17 years working in the US, most recently at the University of California, Davis, said it had been "quite a big step to move back to Slovenia".

Bradač said she would continue her research in Slovenia at a higher level than in the US, and that she was looking forward to better opportunities in the future.

"This is the biggest project I have been given in my time as a researcher, so it will definitely allow me to work more easily than would be the case presently in the US."

"I expect that we will take Slovenia to a higher level of membership of both the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory, which is building the next large telescope in Chile.

"If Slovenia joins these projects, we will have optimal conditions, even better than in the US, where these projects are experiencing some issues at the moment," she explained.

The project will be carried out at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, University of Ljubljana, where Bradač will set up her own research group, which will include students at the faculty and researchers from abroad.

"We have just recruited a researcher from Australia and one Slovenian researcher is returning from Germany, so it will be a diverse bunch here."

"I'm already full-time at the faculty and I already have one course, so I'm getting to know the students. Of course, I'm trying to get them to take part in this project, because there will be a lot of opportunities for research here," said Bradač, who herself studied at the Ljubljana faculty.

26 Apr 2022, 12:09 PM

STA, 25 April 2022 - One of Slovenia's most prolific painters France Slana has died, aged 95, several media reported on Monday. He was most known for his oil paintings and watercolours, but also for his prints, painted ceramics and tapestries. He was one of the 1964 recipients of the Prešeren Fund Prize.

Slana was a painter of classical themes as his work is centred around landscape, figurative and still-life painting.

He often depicted ethnology-related motifs such as typical Slovenian hayracks, barns, mills, wine cellars, interiors of old inns and attic rooms. He is also well known for his paintings of bouquets, roosters, cats and fish.

According to art historian Milojka Kline, he presented glimpses of the everyday life of the common man and the characteristics of their worlds in various moods, spanning from the poetic, imbued with nostalgia, to the effective expressiveness conveyed by the painter's easily recognisable stylisation.

Born in the village Bodislavci in the north-east of Slovenia in 1926, he started painting actively during the Second World War as a member of the Slovenian anti-Nazi resistance movement. In 1949, he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana, and before that, he took a painting course with acclaimed illustrator Hinko Smrekar, considered one of the pioneers of Slovenian graphic art.

He was well-travelled for the time, having visited France, Norway, Egypt and the US. He had his first solo exhibition in 1953, and afterwards the number of solo shows at home and abroad topped 150.

Slana received the Prešeren Fund Prize in 1964 for a series of works on a quake-stricken Macedonian capital, Skopje, which was ruined by an earthquake in 1963.

In 2013, he released an extensive publication on his work.

18 Apr 2022, 20:32 PM

STA, 18 April 2022 - Composer and pianist Janez Matičič, one of Slovenia's most notable contemporary composers, has died at the age of 95. His oeuvre was centred around piano music, which he himself performed as well. He received numerous awards for his work, including the Prešeren Prize for lifetime achievement.

Matičič was born in Ljubljana in 1926. He graduated in composition and conducting from the Ljubljana Academy of Music. The first instrument he picked up was the violin, but he later became enamoured of the piano, reads a statement posted on the website of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, of which he had been a full member since 2007.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s he studied in Paris under Nadia Boulanger, a renowned French music teacher and conductor known for mentoring many leading composers and musicians of the 20th century. He later collaborated with the experimental collective Groupe de Recherches Musicales, led by Pierre Schaeffer, who is considered to have been one of the most influential experimental and electroacoustic musicians.

Matičič taught music at several schools, including the Ljubljana Academy of Music. He also taught piano at several conservatoires in Paris.

His debut compositions were influenced by Romanticism and Impressionism, but following the time spent abroad, his work acquired a contemporary feel. His best known works include two concertos for piano and orchestra, a concerto for cello and orchestra, and pieces created in a modernist and experimental mode.

On the occasion of his 90th birthday, he told the STA that beauty was what he was looking for. "My soul has pushed me to look for beauty, the beauty we have always admired in the wonderfully composed pieces of music..." he said.

Matičič received the Prešeren Prize for lifetime achievement, the country's most prestigious accolade in arts, in 2007. The news of his death was shared on Facebook by his musical colleagues.

05 Apr 2022, 12:23 PM

STA, 4 April 2022 - Emerik Bernard, one of the most important Slovenian painters and representatives of late Slovenian modernism and postmodernism, has died aged 84, the MMC news portal reported on Monday.

Art historian Tomaž Brejc described Bernard's contribution to Slovenian art as the most visible and successful synthesis of the principles of modernism with the artistic inventions of postmodernism.

Bernard received a number of awards, including the most prestigious national award in culture, the Prešeren Prize for outstanding achievements in fine arts in 1997.

His early work was made in various collage and assemblage techniques; these paintings objects were close to New Realism in their composition and the materials used.

In the early 1980s, he combined the collage technique with a poetic iconisation of landscape images from the coastal Istria region.

One of the highlights of this period is the monumental painting Materada, a kind of a synthesis of this period of Istrian palimpsests.

His works from the 1990s are marked by a highly urbanised construction reminiscent of Cezannesque rethinking of the design of space and the layering of colour in landscape imagery.

Bernard was also a philosopher of art, an expert in the history and theory of painting, philosophy and literature, publishing his writings in this field in two books, in 2000 and 2008.

Born in Celje in 1937, he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design (ALUO) in Ljubljana in 1965 and finished his post-graduate studies three years later.

He worked as a freelance artist for years before becoming an assistant professor for fine arts at the ALUO in 1985, where he worked as full professor from 1995 until retirement.

In 2001, he was elected an associate member of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SAZU) and became its full member in 2007.

31 Mar 2022, 12:56 PM

STA, 31 March 2022 - Robert Waltl, the director of the Mini Teater theatre and the Jewish Cultural Centre in Ljubljana, has received the Order of the Arts and Letters of France (Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) for "deepening ties between Slovenia and France and promoting mutual respect and combating all forms of discrimination."

The French Institute in Slovenia has announced that the knight grade of the order had been presented to Waltl on Wednesday by French Ambassador Florence Ferrari on behalf of the French minister of culture.

The institute said that Waltl had earned the accolade for his work in arts that deepens ties between Slovenia and France and for opening the repertoire of Mini Teater to French productions, also in his roles as an actor and director in the theatre.

The director of Mini Teater is also promoting mutual respect and combating all forms of discrimination, especially as the initiator of the House of Tolerance festival, it added.

Waltl has furthermore invested his efforts in establishing and developing the Jewish Cultural Centre, an "exceptionally important cultural institution in Ljubljana that preserves Jewish cultural life as well as the memory of suffering, including the Holocaust, while calling for respect for others and peaceful coexistence."

In theatre, he has created a strong network of connections with France through good relations with many French authors and institutions, and he has performed in several plays that encompass the production from the era of Classicism to the present day.

As a great Francophone and Francophile, Waltl has been an irreplaceable factor in the French-Slovenian relations for many years, the institute added.

Related: The Return of Jewish Ljubljana in the Story of Two Men

10 Mar 2022, 15:22 PM

STA, 10 March 2022 - The Cukrarna Gallery will host an exhibition of works by almost 60 women artists, all either Slovenian or working in Slovenia, from the 1990s to the present day in a highlight of this year's programme. Opening tonight, Returning the Gaze deals with different social topics and presents various artist approaches.

The group exhibition offers an extensive selection of paintings, sculptures, videos, performances, interventions and audio events, as well as an accompanying programme of presentations, film screenings, lectures and discussions; the aim being to shed light on aspects of the Slovenian art scene by creating dialogical relationships between the works of artists from different generations, all using different media, practices and approaches, Cukrarna says on its website.

Blaž Peršin, the head of the Museum and Galleries of Ljubljana, which manages Cukrarna, told the press today that the artists presented had become a constitutive element of Slovenian contemporary art. He said he was glad that the exhibition and the diverse accompanying events would offer an insight into Slovenian contemporary art, not only that created by women.

The artists presented had to overcome many obstacles to "find their place in the sun and they have not only found it but literately owned it", he said.

According to Alenka Gregorič, one of the four curators of the exhibition, artists who live and work in Slovenia are being presented as well as those who have left Slovenia but have been marked by the country. More than 150 artists were discussed and in the end works by almost 60 were picked, including some who are no longer active but their works were either characteristic of a particular period or groundbreaking in their approach or execution.

Some of them focus on specific social themes, such as issues of identity, gender and feminism and the way women artists are represented in the art system. Special attention has been paid to the artists who have consistently adhered to a particular style of expression, approach, form or concept.

The curators have identified four main themes: urban and natural landscapes; the body or figure; the art system; and the socio-political environment.

The accompanying programme will start in April and last until the exhibition closes on 21 August.

According to Cukrarna's website, the title of the exhibition alludes to the "eternal question of who is doing the looking and who is being looked at". In his book based on the famous BBC television series Ways of Seeing, John Berger explores the centuries-long history of painting and sculpture, highlighting the ways in which women have been looked at.

"Regardless of whether their role in the artwork is as metaphor or iconographical element, women have consistently been presented as objects of desire intended to satisfy the male gaze. And this has been compounded by the fact that women's artistic creativity has all too often been hidden from the public eye. Denied, misunderstood and, until fairly recently, marginalised," says on the website.

09 Mar 2022, 16:13 PM

STA, 9 March 2022 - Jože Pučnik, a leading dissident under the Communist regime in Slovenia who played a key role in the country's independence, was honoured with a bust at Brdo estate on the 90th anniversary of his birth. In his address to the ceremony, Prime Minister Janez Janša drew parallels between the situation in Slovenia at the time and the war in Ukraine.

The bust carries the famous quote with which Pučnik welcomed the outcome of the 1990 independence referendum: "Yugoslavia is no more, now it is about Slovenia", the words that Janša said should be kept repeated today.

Even though Pučnik did not spend much time at Brdo pri Kranju, the estate where state functions are held, Janša said the location for the bust was picked because it was here that one of the most momentous political decisions was taken.

After the plebiscite on 23 December 1990, where Slovenians voted overwhelmingly for independence from Yugoslavia, Janša said there were many doubts about Slovenia breaking free from Yugoslavia.

Pučnik then called a meeting at Brdo of the DEMOS government, which unified over the decision for independence, said Janša who at the time served as defence minister.

He said Pučnik was not burdened by grudges or the difficulty of building consensus between the great number of parties forming the DEMOS government, but fought for the Slovenian nation's right to self-determination.

"I'm glad Slovenia's main airport carries his name and that streets and squares are named after him," said Janša, regretting that this was not the case in the capital Ljubljana.

Janša said that just before his arrival at Brdo he got a call from Australian PM Scott Morrison, who inquired about the EU's steps in the coming days and weeks. What happens in Ukraine will also determine what happens in the South Pacific and elsewhere in the world in terms of peace and respect for international law, Janša quoted Morrison.

He noted that many Ukrainians who live in various European countries are now returning home to help defend the country. "Pučnik too came from the comfort of a foreign country into the turbulence of Slovenian Spring."

Culture Minister Vasko Simoniti praised Pučnik for his fearlessness which allowed him to keep his faith in life and the future. He saw the future in Slovenia and was one of its pillars.

The bust of Pučnik was unveiled by Janša and Pučnik's son Gorazd Pučnik.

In tribute to the 90th anniversary of Pučnik's birth, a guard of honour laid a wreath at Pučnik's grave in his home village of Črešnjevec in the north-east on behalf of President Borut Pahor. One of the halls in the Presidential Palace was named after Pučnik in 2015.

Pučnik (1932-2003) was one of the most outspoken Slovenian critics of dictatorship and lack of civil liberties in Yugoslavia during the Communist regime. He was incarcerated two times in the late 1950s and 1960s because of his critical writing, after which he emigrated to Germany.

After returning to Slovenia in the late 1980s, he co-founded the Social Democratic Party of Slovenia (SDSS) in 1989 and remained its leader until 1993. From 1989 to 1991, he also headed DEMOS, a coalition of parties that won the first multi-party election in Slovenia after World War II.

In 1990 he run in the election for the president of Slovenia's collective presidency, but was defeated in the run-off by Milan Kučan. Pučnik was deputy prime minister in 1992 and in the 1992 election he was elected MP. He retired from politics in 1997. He died in Germany in 2003.

14 Feb 2022, 12:47 PM

STA, 14 February 2022 - Anthropologist and sociologist Nika Kovač, the founder and head of NGO the 8 March Institute, has been named the Slovenian Woman of the Year 2021 by the women's magazine Jana and its readers.

The 8 March Institute has been warning of inequalities and the problems of the most vulnerable, the magazine said. "She (Kovač) is aware that the power lies in the community and she has been proving this constantly," Jana said in a press release.

Kovač has mobilised more than 600,000 citizens to vote on changes to the waters act, which were overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum in July 2021, the press release stressed.

"That she is definitely a future leader had been noticed by the Obama Foundation as well, which first accepted her to a programme for 40 future European leaders and then picked her as the only representative of Europe among 15 young people who have been changing the world for the better and will continue to do so."

Currently an Obama scholar and researcher at the Columbia University, New York, Kovač remains active in Slovenia as well, building a community with her compassion and perseverance.

At last night's ceremony, she accepted a unique statuette, a work of artist Ljubica Ratkajec Kočica, from Jana's editor-in-chief Melita Berzelak.

Among those shortlisted for the award were climber Janja Garnbret, actor Zvezdana Mlakar, Špela Miroševič, a researcher who initiated research into her son's rare genetic disease, activist Andreja Slameršek and Emilija Stojmenova Duh, the professor who supported students protesting against school closure.

Shortlisted as a group were also founders of the NGO Legal Network for the Protection of Democracy.

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