THE FORMA-VIVA NATIONAL PROJECT
The international sculpture symposium named FORMA VIVA (Live Form) was initiated by Jakob Slavinšek and Janez Lenassi, two leading Slovenian modernist sculptors. Thus a term to denote any non-monumental sculpture situated in public spaces was coined. They transferred to the Slovenian context the concept of the art symposium held at an ex-quarry in St. Margarethen in Burgenland, Austria. The idea was favourably supported by the then-contemporary cultural politics and already in 1961 the first two worksites in Kostanjevica na Krki (wood) and in Portorož (stone), respectively, were initiated. Only three years later the successful national project fascinated Franc Fale, the then director of Ravne ironworks, who was also an art-lover. He brought the ambitiously set up symposium of steel sculpting to the town with a rich tradition of iron making. In 1967 the framework of the Forma Viva international symposium was rounded up by sculpturing in concrete, performed at a working site in Maribor. The Forma Viva Symposium was an important international art project, comparable to the International Graphic Biennial and the Industrial Design Biennial in Ljubljana. It was successfully managed up to the end of the 1980s by the Central Board in Ljubljana as its central national coordinator. Despite occasional breaks, the well-established sites have remained connected until today. The four collections of monumental sculptures by top artists from all over the world promote the concept of a 'live form' as a universal language of art connecting countries and people.
FROM TRADITION TO THE MODERN TIMES
Production in the renovated and enlarged ironworks of Mežiška dolina Valley (Meža Valley) was flourishing in the first half of the 1960s. The fast-growing town of Ravne na Koroškem was developing in parallel. High quality steel was a material with a symbolic significance in the industrial era. That is why it was no coincidence that the idea which had been brought to Ravne by Franc Fale, a future director of the ironworks, after his coincidental meeting with the representatives of Forma Viva in Ljubljana, was so well accepted. But while in Kostanjevica and Portorož the great art works enriched a sculpture gallery in the surroundings of a picturesque Cistercian monastery or a small piece of the Adriatic coast in Seča, respectively, the concept in Ravne was different. In the 1960s new residential areas were being built. So the sculptors were creating their works of art for the urban settings determined in advance, among the blocks of flats in the Čečovje workers' residential area, and later on selected locations of the wider town's surroundings. The original concept was to erect the sculptures at carefully selected points of town where they would, a singular attraction and encompassing cityscapes, determine the basis for the urban planning.
'FABRIKA' ('THE FACTORY') AS A PLACE OF ART
In the years when Ravne iron makers were proud of the steel production being measured in thousands of tonnes, a summer sculpture workshop with keen but also extravagant and at times capricious artists was sometimes perceived by workers and local people with ironic mockery, but mostly with a self-esteem displaying itself in extraordinary hospitality towards the sculptors and in a good professional cooperation. Situated in a remote part of one of the yards of the vast factory premises, the workshop always gave an impression of a playful fair with the artists being completely free in bringing their ideas to life. They had at their disposal the materials, tools of all kinds, including large pneumatic hammers in the forge, as well as the technical support by the factory's skilled workers. During the working process bonds of friendship between workers and artists were formed which usually continued for years. In the end everybody liked the artists, many people would help them and admire the works of art of monumental dimensions.
RAVNE NA KOROŠKEM - THE INTERNATIONAL SCULPTURE CENTRE
The first Forma Viva event in August and September 1964 was meant to be a single performance. The sculptures by seven artists should enliven Čečovje, a new residential neighbourhood, where lawns and parks started to be arranged.
Encouraged by the success of the first symposium, the organizers invited four more artists in the following year.
In 1970, after a considerable gap, there were four sculptors creating in the 'sculptors' studio' behind the factory fence. For the first time, two of the completed sculptures were erected in other towns of the Mežiška dolina Valley (Meža Valley) as well: in Črna and in Prevalje.
Barna von Sartory
After five years (the interval which became common for the Ravne symposium), in 1975, only three artists tried themselves in creating with steel and iron. Exceptionally, there were no Slovenian or Yugoslav artists among them.
Petar Hadži Boškov
Jørgen Haugen Sørensen
The fifth international gathering in 1981 was for the first time attended by two women artists.
Thomas A. Lindsey
Irmtraud Olga Ohme
A theme was set for the first time for the artists attending the 1984 symposium: 'Peace - Never Again War', thus connecting the creative process with the 40th anniversary of the final battle of the World War II in Poljana near Prevalje.
Gary C. Dwyer
The last Forma Viva project in the period before the longest gap took place in 1989 when the first signs of a global crisis in heavy industries occurred, including in Ravne. Magnificent sculptures were made despite conditions incomparable to those in the 'golden' sixties. They rounded up the first twenty-five years of the international symposium.
After a 'dry spell' of nineteen years, the sculptors' gathering was again awakened by the Koroški pokrajinski muzej (Carinthian Regional Museum), through the support of the Municipality Ravne na Koroškem and some successful companies which have developed from the once mighty ironworks. In 2008 the symposium took place again. A board of experts invited artists who had already attended Forma Viva at other working sites in Slovenia and left their strong personal mark at those sites.
Boštjan Drinovec Primož Oberžan
The last symposium took place in 2014 in the framework of the promotional project 'Ravne - the Forma Viva Town'. By successfully erecting three new modern sculptures, the symposium taking place in the northernmost end of the four Slovenian working site network, received appropriate attention and got its former role back.
FORMA VIVA - THE SYMBOLIC IDENTITY OF THE TOWN
During the nine symposiums between 1964 and 2014 thirty-six sculptures, created by the same number of artists (among them nine Slovenians, five Japanese, three British, Germans, Croatians and Italians, two Americans and a Jugoslav, a Pole, a Macedonian, an Austrian, a Dane, an Irishman and a Canadian), were incorporated into the visual image of the central town of this valley on the river Meža. In spite of their abstract language they have become indispensable and they symbolically represent more than three-hundred-years-old iron-making tradition in the region. Although the concept of the art symposium received different and contradictory responses in the provincial industrial region such as Ravne, the unusual steel sculptures are accepted by the local people. Many are so used to them that they don't even notice them anymore. But no-one is indifferent. Some of the sculptures have been given more or less witty and also roguish 'folk' names. So, the sculpture by Tihec in Čečovje was named 'Monstrance'. Hoskin's sculpture on the road entering the town was given the name 'Plane'. Basaldell's statue in Čečovje reminds people of a radar, Yoshikawo's in Janeče of a snail, and Trudeau's sculpture close to the fire department building of a beheaded human figure that could represent a 'bureaucratic mind of the management of the factory'.
FORMA VIVA FOR TOMORROW
The past developments together with the artistic power and expression of the Forma Viva sculpture collection represent a valid basis for continuing this fine arts exhibition in the future. It is not only important for the immediate local environment. As a prestigious international event of high reputation it makes Slovenia stand out on Europe's and the world map of modern arts events. Sculpture may even be the medium of fine arts which most accurately determines the status and the characteristics of numerous forms of contemporary art. Whereas due to the digitally created image painting has become more and more undefinable, the traditional 'slowness' and the emphasized 'physical nature' of sculpture have become a unique advantage for expressing one's wishes and visions. In this way the seemingly awkward but in fact very 'real' works of sculpture design provide a continuity of the artistic design as one of most noble and exiting expressions of human creativity. Taking advantage of this specific power of sculpting the Forma Viva international sculpture symposium can compare to similar projects abroad.
The companies behind the factory fence of the once great ironworks, and above all the company 'Metal', still provide the necessary working site infrastructure for the creation of steel sculptures of monumental dimensions. But the merciless logic of market-oriented enterprises now requires a stronger involvement of the local community. Once again the Municipality of Ravne na Koroškem has listed the Forma Viva collection and symposium among priority projects of cultural development, considering them the identity markers of Ravne which, with the help of the noble message of the artistic creativity, consolidate the iron-making tradition with the present and the future.