Winners of Slovenia’s top prizes in the arts announced

Multidisciplinary artist Ema Kugler and painter Herman Gvardjančič are the winners of 2023 Prešeren Prizes, the highest national accolade for lifetime achievement in culture and arts, which will be handed out on 7 February, the eve of Culture Day.

A film and video maker, performer and set and costume designer, Kugler, 67, has been exploring different media, melting them together and composing them into new forms of artistic messages.

Gvardjančič, 79, has been a central figure of the Slovenian fine arts scene for decades, being the most important representative of the expressionist figural art in the country.

The winners of the two Prešeren Prizes for lifetime achievements were announced by the Prešeren Fund Board on 2 December, along with the Prešeren Fund Prizes for individual accomplishments in the past three years.

“In her work, Ema Kugler translates her inner images and does not follow the current artistic and visual trends, as a rule, she goes beyond them and transcends the framework of the time and space in which she works,” the judging panel said.

An auteur, Kugler has won awards for her work on almost all continents. Her films, including Phantom (2004), Le Grand Macabre (2005), For the End of Time (2009), Echoes of Time (2013), Man with the Shadow (2019), are evocative rather than narrative.

The judges described Gvardijančič’s oeuvre as “both consistent and varied, with a distinct recurring theme on the one hand and uniqueness that sets it apart on the other”.

Most of his work is characterised by a dark, anxious atmosphere. However, “he never descends into nihilistic renunciation, into a denial of the world, but […] maintains that fundamental vitalism which, as Nietzsche would say, is the essential quality of art”.

The Prešeren Fund Prizes will go to Trieste-based author Dušan Jelinčič, film and theatre music composer Drago Ivanuša, pianist Alexander Gadjiev, painter Nikolaj Beer, film director and screenwriter Matevž Luzar and the architectural studio Medprostor.

The prizes bearing the name of Slovenia’s greatest poet, France Prešeren (1800-1849), are presented annually on the eve of Culture Day, a public holiday marking the anniversary of Prešeren’s death.