I wasn’t able to meet Ive Tabar when I was in Slovenia, but in many ways his work is so striking that it speaks for itself. Tabar is not an artist by training. Rather, he is a medical nurse. As such, he knows a lot about the body and the way that it functions, and often witnesses it, in the course of his work, delicately straddling the border between life and death. In some of his projects, Tabar seeks to put his body in that same position.
Tabar began working as a performance artist after he came into contact with Jurij Krpan at the Kapelica Gallery, a place that is well known for its extreme body art performances and controversial exhibitions. Tabar’s work fits right in to that category. His performances are frightening, shocking, and often repellent. I’ve seen a lot of extreme performances (at least in pictures and video), and I have to say that I gagged and had to turn my head away from the screen as I was watching Tabar’s Europa III performance, where he removed his own fingernail using surgical scissors. It was the stuff of the most graphic slasher film, except that it was real.
Tabar began working with Krpan because he wanted to use his medical knowledge combined his body to express himself. At all of his performances medical staff are on hand to make sure that nothing goes wrong, For example, in El-en-i (1998), when he inserted a catheter in his arm, all the way to his heart. At the moment it reached his heart, it began to flutter and fibrillate, which could be seen on the screen of the heart monitor. The piece was dedicated to Tabar’s wife – a medical love poem.
From 1999-2008, Tabar created a series of four performances to express his feelings about Slovenia’s accession to the EU. The first piece, Europa I, from 1999, dealt with Slovenia’s obsession with entry into the EU. The artist imbibed a blue liquid and with gold stars in it, then placed tubes in his nose and pumped his stomach out. The piece plays on the Slovenian phrase “to have something/someone in your stomach,” which is used when you can’t stand that thing or person, and indicates that you have to simply pump it out. The next piece in the series, Europa II, was Tabar’s protest against EU membership, which he found less pleasant than drilling a hole in his shin bone, which he did in the gallery. In English, we say “I’d rather have a hole in my head than…(doing something),” whereas in Slovenian, the phrase is “it’s better to drill a hole in one’s knee than…”
On the eve of Slovenia’s entrance into the EU, Tabar’s performance involved him removing his fingernail, which had been painted with the Slovenian coat of arms, from his middle finger; affixing it to a plastic salamander indigenous to Slovenia; and then “conquering” it (and thus Slovenia) by sticking an EU flag into the salamander. Finally, in 2007, three years after Slovenia became a full EU member, he created a performance that expressed disappointment with the unfulfilled expectations that that membership would bring. In Europa IV, He again drank a blue liquid, cut a hole into his stomach, stuck a catheter into it, and transferred the blue liquid into a container with gold fish in it. Reading this performance literally, the EU “pisses on” the promises it made to Slovenia.
The extreme graphic nature of these performances is what I believe makes them quite poignant. Despite his lack of artistic training, the performances are eloquent, sensitive and direct. They also do contain an aesthetic, especially with regard to the Europa performances and the symbolic use of blue and gold. What the artist may lack in artistic training he makes up for in commitment and dedication to body art. He literally puts his life and well-being on the line for the sentiment that he wishes to express through his art.