Shelters of Babylon

9 November 2017–1 February 2018
Maribor, Slovenia


Being is life. Any kind of being (habitation) is meant here: interiors, buildings, blocks, houses, tents, earth houses, igloos; provisional, temporary, or permanently set up spaces, trailers, campers, modules, laboratories, space stations, shrines and palaces; or outdoors, in the open space, under the open sky, in water or in the air.


Being is also existence, a continuation, which introduces certain meanings and dimensions into the bare living: on one side, it expands the very natural notion, and on the other, it reduces it to an individual level and personalizes it. In any and every way, either in the sense of existence within a particular group, society, or system, or in the sense of fighting for existence, which always implies conflict, or perhaps rejecting aggression through defense. All these things can be observed in the light of numerous current problems, from wars, imperialism and colonialism, to economic conflicts, which, as a rule, have social consequences, because they wish to use domination to subjugate masses of people, reduce their rights as much as possible, and ultimately level them down to the position of consumers.


Torn down countries, devastated environments, victims, scattered families, exiles, refugees, and migrants are a consequence of the acts of the great ones, then calling the situation "a refugee crisis", although it is in fact the war that has been kindled by the same people for several decades, that is the reason for the refugees' misfortune. Newton à la carte.


Project Risk change conceived the art exhibition Shelters of Babylon to tackle questions related to the notions of being and existence. In this spirit, it is high time to revive some of the questions already addressed historically by existentialism, which advocated not only the individual's freedom and the equality of all people and different social strata, but also the autonomy and the right of every man or woman to express themselves freely. And even if the times are now different, the context is becoming identical: survival.


A variety of artistic procedures have been used to present artists' original visions of being and existence in distinct and diverse forms, and reveal them through various media. Life on the planet, Spaceship Earth, which travels through space-time along settled trajectories, the rotation of the Earth around its own axis and the Sun, the revolution of the Solar System inside the galaxy and of the entire Milky Way in the wider system – these are journeys, which can be illustrated by a human being/artist on a personal, physical, mental, metaphysical, fictional, fabricated, or symbolic level.


Babylon as a historical fact brimming with mythology, the symbol of an ancient civilization, this romantic notion of harmony between people, races, religions, languages, cultures, has been perceived so far through artistic processes and works mainly as an idealistic idea, rooted in numerous literary works and visual depictions. The once independent city-state with its two defining rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris, the Ishtar Gate, the Hanging Gardens, and the most famous tower in lost history, was always in the firing line of capital and politics by different means, its grip not ceasing even today in Iraq, a country torn asunder by foreign forces, resulting in millions of exiles and refugees.


It seems that the world today is more global than it was in the past, although it is indeed the fate of Babylon that convinces us of the opposite, which has, for that matter, been clear for ages. Humans have always sought, as have all living beings on earth, the best chances for survival. It usually began with a formation of some kind of group, which created a center of their existence, out of which through years, decades and centuries, a civilization was formed. It is the latter, the fact of being called a civilization, which is the opposite of the notion/word/fact of militarization; civilization is in constant discrepancy with militarization, and therefore in danger of collapsing from the state of being made, constructed, living – to destruction, devastation, and death.


Hence, Shelters of Babylon concentrates on the here and now. The ways in which we imagine this are presented through various forms, media, and materials in the exhibition encompassing a palette of works ranging from the most intimate, to the more widely engaging, socially committed ones. In each case, the personal and the social aspect are the crucial postulates of a person's (or being's) integration in the environment, in natural landscapes or in rural areas; in deserts, mountains, and woods; in urban settlements, which have become the most densely populated areas on earth; but also in some of the most inhospitable places for man to live – glaciers, rivers, and seas; whereby man's harmony with nature is increasingly becoming a syntagm of alienation, because it means that the human being is no longer considered as one of nature's integral parts, but rather as something alien to this nature; we are intruders who need to adopt to our only habitat – the Earth, although during the course of our evolution, the evolution of our own civilization(s), we have altered this habitat so much, that it no longer acts as our ally, but more and more as our enemy.


The exhibition Shelters of Babylon focuses on personal artistic experiences, derived from distinctive spaces of thought and creation, and the natural environments and cultures in which the artists work. The underlying issues concerned include being (living, existence), survival, migration, as well as other processes in the modern world, which is not only defined by earthly experiences, but also looks towards alternative forms of living in space, on other planets, in neighboring galaxies, even in faraway constellations. Although for now the only human-friendly environment is our planet, artistic perception ventures further, to outline various forms of potential human dwellings, bodies, clothing, settlements, buildings, relationships, etc., which, presented through different media, constitute the central theme of the exhibition. As the title suggests, the art show captures a historical view, a present perspective, and a futuristic vision, and uses artistic codification to communicate these ideas in a number of different ways.


Related to the concept of basic human rights, "shelters" can be associated especially to the notion of safety. Shelters are places where we can hide, where we go to have a sense of safety. It is about the feeling of being somewhere, where it is neither safe nor unsafe. When a sense of insecurity is linked to fear, however, it creates a powerful collective push: today, we are discussing at a global level about which is more important, human rights, or safety. We are coming up with ever new ways and methods of controlling people, who consequently just want to retreat to their shelters. To their peace. To safe ground.


But even there, safety is nothing more than a mirage, as our intimacy is watched over by the sophisticated eye of capitalism, diagnosing our inwardness, our private sphere, our will and desires, our thoughts. There is a mirror waiting beyond this seeming safety, placed there by the exhibition Shelters of Babylon, to reflect and be reflected by society and politics.

— Peter Tomaž Dobrila

Curators of Shelters of Babylon exhibition are Nina Jeza and Peter Tomaž Dobrila.


The exhibition SHELTERS OF BABYLON is the second in a series of large-scale international events of the four-year project Risk Change (2016–2020), co-financed by the Creative Europe program of the European Union. The project is also supported by the Municipality of Maribor and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia.

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Project RISK CHANGE (2016–2020) is co-funded by the Creative Europe Program of the European Union.
The project is also supported by the Municipality of Maribor and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia.
"The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors,
and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein."

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