Whatever Happened To Major Tom

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Installation, video 25’30”, two photographs 100x70cm, vitrine with project fragments, 2012

Mark Požlep’s installation Whatever Happened to Major Tom pertains to that part of his artistic output that visually and symbolically draws on clichéd motifs taken from the world of contemporary media images. The artist transforms and presents them in installations that often include videos.

Thematically, the installation is a sequel to Požlep’s Close to The Clouds (2011), in which he planted a palm tree on a heap of sand in a flooded exhibition room at the Art Gallery Maribor. Fictively transported to a romantic island, surrounded by the sea and illuminated by a sunset, the viewers were faced with both illusion and reality. In the present show, the artist preserves some of the romance of the previous installation, investing it, however, with new content.

Unlike the earlier work, the premise of Whatever Happened to Major Tom is not the creation of an artificial space in which a palm tree could live, but the placement of that same palm tree into a natural environment. This is not just the escapism of traveling to fictional parts of the world; what is in focus is real space and real travel. By introducing actuality, Požlep enables viewers to identify with the palm tree: not only is its fate unclear, but also its need to be able to integrate into the unfriendly environment of a rocky reef in Unije Bay in Croatia equals everyone’s need to daily adjust, compromise, or integrate into a new social group when changing one’s milieu. Actually, the journey follows two separate tracks: on the one hand there is the palm tree’s transition from the Maribor gallery to the island of Školjić, and on the other, the journey of a Cayuco boat that started its trip during this project in Hamburg. The relocation adventure thus brings together two stories, intertwining them into a narrative of a several-day-long coexistence of two elements whose interrelation reveals identity to be a hybrid and inconstant thing. 

The installation gets its title from David Bowie’s 1969 song “Space Oddity,” in which the character of Major Tom appears for the first time. In Major Tom, Bowie created an archetypal figure of an astronaut who loses touch with ground control or deliberately cuts off all contact with Earth and remains in space. The choice of Major Tom for the main character is not unusual for Požlep: the artist’s choice of sci-fi themes and superheroes and the creation of his Black Hat alter ego are not far from Bowie’s flirting with similar subjects. Bowie’s song ends with the lyrics “Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do.” Požlep’s escape into a world of exciting experiences, his adventure wherein the astronaut is replaced with a sailor and the endlessness of outer space with the vast blue Adriatic Sea, show a desire for change, for transforming the world and himself in it.

— Alenka Trebušak

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