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Banner stills L to R: Litany of Happy People, courtesy Slovene Cinematheque
Death of Metalosaurus
, courtesy Igor Toholj; and Game, courtesy Slovene Cinematheque

OHO Films

19th Nervous Breakdown (19. Živčni Zlom)
Naško Križnar and OHO, Slovenia, 1966, digital file from 8 mm, 4 minutes 31 seconds


Still from 19th Nervous Breakdown, courtesy OHO Group

19th Nervous Breakdown—so named after the Rolling Stones song that makes up its sound track—is a short film made by the Slovene OHO Group, a collective that between in the late 1960s pioneered in Slovenia (and Yugoslavia more broadly) new modes of avant-garde artistic practice. The film depicts what appears to be (though may not have been) an impromptu happening.[1] In it, Marko Pogačnik, one of OHO’s two founding members, along with his wife, Marika, perform a series of playful actions, such as drawing and writing on a concrete wall that sits in the middle of a field, running and dancing in the field, and, finally, after finding an empty cardboard box, making it “come alive” by walking off screen with their legs sticking out from under it.

Shot by Naško Križnar (b. 1943), the amateur filmmaker who made most of OHO’s short films, the film is notable for the feelings of spontaneity, dynamism, and joy that it conveys, partly through the music and partly through the shaky immediacy of footage shot with a handheld 8 mm camera. It also captures the experimental approach to art-making and the philosophical ideas that OHO members were also working out at the time in other media through the concept of “reism”—a way of seeing the world in which objects are equivalent to humans in importance and are not seen only for their utilitarian value. The shoe that Pogačnik draws in the film and then names “Ana” is an allusion to the 1966 “OHO Manifesto,” which used a lengthy verbal description of a shoe—normally, a literally downtrodden object—to show the failure of language to encapsulate the complexity even of everyday things and to defamiliarize the reader’s perception of a shoe. Similarly, seeing the world through reistic “free vision,” the film shows the artists find a creatively non-utilitarian use for a large cardboard box, with which they merge temporarily into a single, strange creature. The film’s most original cinematic contribution may be a sequence in which, after filming the walking box from the outside, Križnar gets under it with his friends, as if to see the world through its “eyes” in a truly reist manner. This technique reappears in several later films that show OHO performances in Ljubljana and is related to the “winking” objects in Dok. Film (also screened in the program), which also make viewers aware of their own habits of perception when it comes to the world of objects around them.

Shot by Križnar in a large empty field in his and Pogačnik’s native town of Kranj, the film seems to derive some of its joie de vivre from the freedom that comes from acting as one pleases in a large, empty space. In 1968 and 1969, other OHO members would intermittently make a conscious effort to bring this sense of freedom, play, and spontaneity into the city by staging a series of performances in Ljubljana’s central Zvezda Park, but these efforts were short-lived. When OHO’s most complicated film, White People, was shot in 1969, it took the members of the group back into nature, which at that point seems to have become a refuge from the futile hubbub of the city (which included political protests whose demands went unanswered) and the only place where the group could create a fantasy of a different kind of life.  — Ksenya Gurshtein

With thanks to Naško Križnar and Igor Španjol and the Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana, for help in making a screening of this film possible in Washington.

Dok. Film
Naško Križnar and OHO, Slovenia, 1968, digital file from 8 mm, 4 minutes 11 seconds

One of the pioneering aspects of the OHO group’s artistic activities were the interventions in everyday life (some more performance-like, some less) that it staged in the Slovene capital of Ljubljana circa 1968 (and later in the Serbian cities of Belgrade and Novi Sad). Such activities allowed the artists to experiment with new and playful ways to engage fellow citizens, tested the limits of what the artists could do in public space, and were sometimes shot on film, showing the range of reactions, from curiosity to suspicion, with which passersby responded to OHO’s games. Dok. Film is a record of one such intervention, and it uses the camera particularly adeptly to suggest how one might see one’s environment in a new way.

In the film, those behind the camera ask passersby to wink into the apparatus and juxtapose these soundless interactions with images of “winking” objects, such as car headlights, a stoplight, and a woman’s ring. These very simple gestures hearken to a reist preoccupation (described above in the text about 19th Nervous Breakdown) with objects and body parts that have agency and with a new kind of vision that does not see objects in the world only through the prism of their utilitarian uses. The whole city, the suggestion seems to be, is alive as it looks back and winks at the person who notices. The winking of course, comes with the cultural baggage of signifying both flirtation and camaraderie, and in the film, these very small movements of eyes (real and imagined) become symbolic of the promise of greater interpersonal understanding, trust, and perhaps even more liberated eroticism between strangers.  — Ksenya Gurshtein

With thanks to Naško Križnar and Igor Španjol and the Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana, for help in making a screening of this film possible in Washington.


1. For my longer article on OHO films, see Ksenya Gurshtein, “When Film and Author Made Love: Reconsidering OHO’s Film Legacy,” in Kino! [Ljubljana], no. 11–12 (2010): 128–54. It discusses, among other things, the unresolved question of how scripted or improvised the film was. (back to top)