Understanding of the totality of Robert Hutinski's oeuvre inevitably calls for an outline of the historical, cultural-historical, and social-historical dynamics and the atmosphere of the city in which he resides and creates. It could be said of the historical dynamics of Celje that the city produces more history than it can possibly consume. This is particularly true of the recent history spanning from the late 19th century to this day.

The turbulence of these developments can be described from the vantage point of a resident, not entirely fictional one, who turned 100 and who has lived in his birthplace throughout his life. He was born in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and celebrated his 100th birthday in the European Union. In his days, he was there to observe the capitulation and demise of the Austria-Hungary after World War I; the ascent of Slavophile and Pan-Slavic movement, and the birth of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes; and the collapse of this Kingdom, along with rise and fall of Nazism. He saw mass deportation of nationally conscious Slovenes, collaboration with the occupation forces, shooting of the hostages, and allied forces' air strikes at the end of World War II. He witnessed the post-war killings; he followed the ascent and downfall of communism along with mass industrialization, planned immigration of rural population to the city, and resulting deliberate degradation of the bourgeoisie and the urban culture; he lived to see the war for the independent state which, following the initial economic crunches, joined the EU and NATO early in the 21st century. He lived in six different states, he changed six currencies, and the street he lived in was renamed six times.

This dynamics of constant change persists to this day; albeit in a different form, it is rooted in the 20th century. Today, Celje is a sleepy medieval town troubled by unemployment, local moguls who got the best out of the privatization process, waning historical center, ecological issues, and obtuse and self-absorbed municipal authorities without a clear vision. There are over 30 registered mass graves from the post-World War II period in the broad urban area which also ranks first in the country by retail area per capita; in addition, a resurgence of nationalist movements can be observed. The municipal authorities seem to revere rurality and appreciate mediocrity while turning a deaf ear to urban life and modern art. Daily conversation between the citizens often involves historical issues. As a result of different experiences and world-views, interpretations thereof also tend to diverge. 

Robert Hutinski experienced hands on how any given government recycled the history with remarkable effortlessness, harnessing it to serve its ideology. Sadly, such undiscriminating, one-sided manipulation of only taking from the past the bits and pieces that serve one's agenda is becoming increasingly "mainstream"; even more disturbingly, it has come to be accepted as a "serious" and valid argument in the contemporary political arena. Constant doubt and questioning of the ethical stance behind such twists were the basic motivation for Hutinski as he examined the ways to wrench himself from the indoctrinated view of the past and to close the eyes to the biased history textbooks in order to be able, liberated, to distil and convey his thoughts by means of a photo camera.  Thus, the concept of the 20th CENTURY series, a work in progress, came into existence. With this project, the author is principally coming to terms with his own view of the 20th century. Serving as his starting point is the photographic material from the photo library of the Celje Central Library, materials from the photo archives of Celje's Museum of Recent History, and photos from some private collections. In the concept of the series, individual photos stand as equivalents to major events of Celje's 20th century history. The photos are constructed as nodes that are connected into a continuous line to reflect the Zeitgeist captured in the photo. 

Hutinski dissects the lives of random people of all ages and social classes to rip them from the oblivion of the history and weave them into a story – which, after all, is the gist of history by definition. As a result of his technique of photographing the negatives that he shifts during extended exposition, and home-made filters, images of persons in the photos appear as ghosts, shadows captured by the camera lens, an idea of a person – of persons entangled in their duality: long gone, yet still there to silently tell their story.

As the author behind the photo, he does not keep a distance form historical facts; he avoids poeticizing them and refuses to resort to politically correct euphemisms. Rather, he directly delivers his judgement which, although often bluntly straightforward, is based on exemplary erudite knowledge of history which he reflects on from several viewpoints. Indeed, given the flood of instant mediocrity and ossified patterns of success, this is a particularly impressive and exciting feature of the author. Even if the observers disagree with the author's view, the work will not leave them indifferent. The viewer is addressed with a personal approach and "liberated" through historicization into an active contemplating observer. 

With this process, Hutinski succeeds in analyzing the history and presenting it, devoid of anything redundant, as "Theatrum Mundi" – a moralistic admonition that passing of time knows no mercy. There is an exciting duality about the persons portrayed in the photos. They exude pride and heroism; yet the superimposition instils in the images a sense of fear and an air of the pathological fatalism of the 20th century.

Despite the static nature of photography as a medium, Hutinski's photos emanate a sense of exceptional flexibility and dynamics. The interventions leave them soaked in narrative; a multi-layered appearance triggers a discourse of the time frame captured in each photo. The elements in his photos, living and non-living, refuse to reconcile with the false Weltschmerz; rather, they escalate the diabolicalness and fears dominating the photoscape.  Such dark and heavy motifs can be discerned as a common denominator to all Hutinski's photos and it could perhaps be construed as the author's encoded signature.

Relevant to understanding the author's work is his view of time which he conceives of as a cyclically recurring rather than linear category. Thus, his historical view yields grim presentiments of a pending cataclysm. Carefully thought out and subtle intervention into the artefacts renders them unable to mislead; rather, they dissect the past and, once deconstructed, realign to form the history that is yet to be materialized. Hence, Hutinski's work is endowed with an air of contemporaneity; it even becomes pessimistically visionary.

The message conveyed by the series is not restricted to a specific micro regional area; rather, its theme reaches far beyond to tackle the interpretation of history of the entire mankind.

The spirit of the current times, decadent apathy, and alienation of the individual and the contemporary society can be related to photos  from the series The Book of Death – Metamorphosis featured here. Given their motifs, they could undoubtedly be included in this extended selection. Parallel to the historical changes, humans changed as well: going from being diverse to being different, the human essence has changed. Humans are reduced to a shell, pale and brittle, standing out from the vague black mass of the background, staring helplessly into their destiny.

Returning to the centenarian, he, provided that he was a wise person, kept quiet as he put up stoically with the dynamics of the history, recording like a photo camera the key images (which is why the cyclically recurring history speaks for himself) – the photographs of Robert Hutinski.


Matija Plevnik