She is an artist of the younger generation, who has already established herself in the wider Slovenian space by exhibiting paintings, and recently she has been expanding her field of work to include sculpture and installation. “I was, in a way, pushed into this situation in my life. The role of a mother took up much of my time after the birth of my son and also took me away from my painting studio. When you spend a large part of the day in the kitchen, you try to be creative in a different way.” Šuštar ponders the rational motives for entering a new field of artistic work and adds: “Quite spontaneously, I began to see something beautiful in eggshells, in this ordinary household waste, and I started taking photos of them, collecting them, cleaning them and setting them up for a future installation. There have been several; there were several ideas for an art project.” Maruša is attracted by natural materials; she was impressed by the fragility of the shell on the one hand and, on the other, its finished perfect shape. She saw a strong symbolic meaning in the shell.
The central part of the installation is a circle of eggshells that are placed in sand, like some sort of pancake that rises slightly towards the middle. There is a terrarium on the elevation, in which there are ten week-old live chicks in a heated environment, supplied with water and fed. The eggshells “rise” from the sand and give us the feeling as though they are perfect. As such, they are no longer just refuse and we cannot simply step on them. The chickens in the middle entice the spectator to caress them but, alas, they cannot reach them without stepping on the shells or eggs. We could say that the “chicken” hillock is complemented by four chicken egg cartons, where plastic figurines that represent foetuses, a twelve-week old human embryo, are placed instead of the latter. “By doing this, I draw a parallel between the human being and the chicken. Namely, they are both living beings. Chickens also hatch from a fertilised egg.” The artist added the price of the eggs bought from the shopping centre, which beckons the question of whether this is a price of a life.
On the walls, we are accompanied by symbolic photos that present the comparison between the life cycle of the chicken and human being, animal and human existence. Thus, we start with the origin of life and cosmic chaos, followed by the egg and the uterus, which are similar in their enabling function fostering the development of a new being, to the photo of a discarded chicken and child, their undesirability, while in the next photo we see workers at a conveyor belt and hens in cages, their flocks penned up on the farm and battalions of brainwashed soldiers. This is followed by an American Indian and a rooster; people are differentiated by race and animals by breed, etc. and the last photo shows Da Vinci‘s Uomo vitruviano presenting a human being as an organism that is built according to ideal mutual relationships and perfectly blends in with nature. The art critic Petja Grafenauer, among other things, wrote the following: ” In Maruša Šuštar‘s installation, art protects life by making a choice for the aesthetic, yet this life is not really worth much and is – now let this send shivers down the spine – similar to yours. A chicken and a human being despite not being so similar on the outside are related inwardly and the organised conditions they live in are alike as well. Also, their story is similar, since only a few of their kind bear life, many drop out on the way and, in the case of chickens, end up on our plates. The artist discovered a potential for exceptionality in the banal.” “I wanted to show how measly the price of a life is, be it a chicken‘s or a human,” adds Maruša Šuštar, who has several more painting exhibitions planned for the future, but is always inclined towards sculpture and installations. At least, whenever she decides to do so spontaneously.
Today, the artist is given plenty of opportunities for conveying sensations and ideas. Perhaps the moment that enables, or in which anything has the potential to become a medium, substance or content of a work of art, causes confusion in establishing the norms and stabilising the criteria by which a work of art is valued – but in the visual field, it is still a successful combination of form, content and consideration of the context of a work of art with many dimensions, whereby, of course, the external factors that are extrinsic to the work also play a role. The openness that art gained through strategic or aggressive campaigns in other areas of human activity also influenced the practice of Maruša Šuštar, who in the context of motherhood, shifted from painting to installation. In addition, the content is also related to the themes of motherhood and domestic environment, as the starting point of the installation in the Škrlovec tower are eggshells – hundreds of them that the artist collected in a year and “cracked, washed and stored separately.” In short, she fostered a relationship that is not usually given to eggshells. The artist discovered a potential for exceptionality in the banal and transformed waste into a building block that represents a budding feature. It is especially interesting that the artist represents though she does not use the real, as this decision conceals the association with the personal. The eggshell that she used, collected and preserved, forms a bond with her in a period of life when a person is very close to feeling life as a source of vital energy that has not yet settled into a word. Maruša Šuštar giveth and Maruša Šuštar taketh away. The lives of chickens, the lives of children.
In the installation, life is present elsewhere (there is no representation here) and is well taken care of. After the installation is finished, it will return to its everyday tracks. But for now, it is here to showcase itself, to put itself on show. It shows us the centre of the outburst of life, which is in fact a closely guarded secret of death. The secret is revealed to us if we step on it, but who among us will destroy what could become life in order to get closer to it. The “Do Not Tread On Me!” sign hides two prohibitions: do not destroy the fragile beauty of the work of art and do not kill.
In Maruša Šuštar‘s installation, art protects life by making a choice about the aesthetic, but this life is not really worth much and is – and let this send shivers down the spine – similar to yours. A chicken and a human being are related inwardly though perhaps a little less regarding appearance. However, the organised conditions in which they live are also similar. In addition, their story is similar, since only a few of their kind bear life, many drop out on the way and in the case of chickens, end up on our plates.
Maruša Šuštar enters the story of life, which has been characterised by the image of an egg in the visual presentation of the world since the days of yore, an iconography that is well known to the artist. She is one of those authors for whom history is a field in which they put their practice to the test. At the same time, it is a call of art towards a respect for life and an understanding of its interwovenness at all levels, from evolutionary to socio-organizational. As with some chickens, only a few of us come from a free range environment, most of us have to reconcile ourselves to coming from the barn range, and many even from the battery range. Too little thought is devoted to life while, day after day, it oozes through our hands. With institutionalisation, killing somehow became less terrible; it was granted an absolution that was previously, yet a little less easily, given by the Church. Make no mistake, the artist is determinedly against, but her peep “Pro abortion!” can be heard; that is, abortion and euthanasia as the most justified forms, since wars, exploitation, overburdening and any devaluation also bring killing and suffering on all sides. We need to raise our voices about this and talk about it repeatedly. And as the artist wrote to me in our e-correspondence: “That which is below is like that which is above and that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracle of one only thing.” When I googled the hermetic text the Emerald Tablet, which Maruša Šuštar unearthed while conducting her artistic research, I transmogrified myself into the world of alchemy and the late Middle Ages. I became aware of eternity and the numerous battles that await us and returned to the present moment.