Skip to main content

Prešeren Awards 2022

Board of Directors of the Prešeren Fund annually announces recipients of the highest state awards for artistic achievements on December 3, on this Joyous Day, when several cultural institutions throughout Slovenia open their doors to celebrate the birthday of France Prešeren. The awards ceremony is then held on February 7, on the eve of Prešeren Day, a Slovenian cultural and national holiday, when we mark the anniversary of the death of the Slovenian poet.

Prešeren laureates

The Prešeren award went to:

Prešeren Fund Award went to:

Speech by the chairman of the Prešeren Fund board Dr Jožef Muhović

Dear Prešeren laureates, dear lovers of Slovenian art and culture at home and abroad!

We live in challenging times that keep us apart, fill our souls with mistrust and bring death into our lives. And we ask ourselves how to turn all this around for the better with our limited power. For each individual and for all of us. In this anxious reflection the sentiment of conductor Leonard Bernstein crosses my mind. When he heard of the violent death of President John F. Kennedy, which shocked the global public at that time, he reacted with anguish, saying: "This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before". A modest, seemingly too modest stance, because it activates the energy of deep hurt primarily in oneself and not in others. Since he responds to violence with greater creativity and wants to share with people its most intense, most beautiful and most devoted results, the world becomes a little brighter and more human in spite of the violence and shadows that do not disappear. Contagiously more human. And this means a lot.

If we look back along the axis of time, we can see that this has always been the method of art. Art always responds to challenges and crises – also to those that are just as serious or even more so than our current Covid-related, interpersonal, political and moral crises – with constructive energy. This is how we identify it. It is in its nature that it cannot function in any other way. It breathes in the ordinary, current and suffering time and exhales imagination, meaning and catharsis. It gathers, it does not scatter. When it yearns for words, it transcends the weather and creates clouds of fertile rain, it causes men to grow steadily up and down in riddles; when it digs through the sky with a shovel, it makes appear the blue which brings forth the birds of our souls, as expressed in poetic language. In the first case, art incites wonder at the unexpectedness of what is given; in the second case, it attunes us, like a piano tuner, with absolute pitch to what is important and essential in our lives.

Artists have always created their work on the borderline where the known and the unknown, the routine and the visionary meet. This borderline of transformation is their domicile.  They venture into the unknown and take part of the unknown with them as they transform it into form, rhythm and image. They move the unknown closer to the articulated, broaden horizons, process experience and pave the way from the insignificant to the significant. Art is therefore a rite of passage into "another state of things", another state of perception, existence of forms and coexistence between the world and people. This state cannot be programmed or created in accordance with our wishes or dictated. Sometimes it cannot be created at all, only the conditions favourable for its occurrence can be prepared. The creation of another state is an extraordinary task, because we, as humans, are so accustomed to the categories of this world that we are only exceptionally able to shift into a higher gear, to the level of the ideal. But when this eventually happens, we start to find more value in the works of art than in anything else. Germans call poetry "Dichtung", the concentration of man's relationship with regard to reality.  If I am in nature, I am more attracted to a flower than to grass, because in the flower the vitality of life is concentrated. Art, too, is such a flower, such a concentration of human's needs to intensively experience the world in themselves and themselves in the world. This is important because, for humans, a concentrated relationship to oneself and the world has a potential in all areas to vitalise imagination, experience and value orientation. Before our eyes, art concentrates what is scattered around the world.  In the presence of artistic creations one feels as if in a familiar house suddenly a brand new light has fallen on familiar objects and with this light these objects show meanings not yet revealed and still mysterious. The unknown shines through the works of great artists. It is articulated, and yet it preserves a large part of what transcends us and what we will be able to devote ourselves to and to wonder about for a long time to come. Maybe within them is concentrated a second, which is allowed to live for centuries, as the poet says.

There is a good reason why the world's most expensive and most protected works and events are artistic works and events.  At least that is what our museums, galleries and art collections, concert, theatre and film halls, libraries and book shops, these modern sanctuaries for people all over the world, show.

From the very beginning, the Management Board of the Prešeren Fund (in the present composition) has been unanimous that, during our mandate, Prešeren Day should be exactly what it officially is, a holiday. Not a commemoration, a parliamentary debate or an agitation, for which more appropriate venues and better opportunities are available. On Prešeren Day, when we select the best of the best in art and culture, when we honour the opuses and works that will strengthen and rejuvenate the canon of Slovenian culture, we have plenty of reasons to rejoice and celebrate. Let us therefore rejoice and celebrate! From a competitive and contentious mode which has to some extent a place in the selection phase, we can safely move to a cheerful tonal mode that suits today's occasion. This is not because we want to idealise things in the field of culture and art in Slovenia, where the situation is far from being ideal, but express joy and gratitude for what we Slovenians have in our resilient and venerable culture and young and vital country. It is a sign that we have understood for what we have to thank the creative genius of our ancestors and contemporaries and why we have to appreciate the historical fate that has crushed great and arrogant empires, but has left the fragile right to national self-determination and statehood untouched.

We can indeed rejoice and be grateful on this year's festive occasion.

We can thank academician Dr Kajetan Gantar for his translations of the literary canon from Antiquity and the Middle Ages. For the artistically translated literary classics into Slovenian that breathe in all literary genres, emerge as volcanic eruptions of hexameters and epics, think in the dimensions of the fundamental principles and archetypes and calm down in the miraculous potion of catharsis, the wellspring of new inspiration. The vitality of a nation depends on this distant profound inheritance, which is why every nation renews it periodically.  If only to taste in the mother tongue, in this most intimate spiritual proximity, the deepest essence of civilisation to which it belongs. And also to see how the creative achievements of its own modernity behave when observed against the eternal backdrop of the world's classics.  

We can rejoice over the oeuvre of musicologist and choral conductor Dr Mirko Cuderman. Through his persistent work, Slovenian choral music has been elevated from an amateur to a professional, world-class level and has gained renown among the national and international concert public. Cuderman's medium is the music of the human voice and heart, the music of original elements of sound in the most direct form of articulation and participation. In this music, humans seek more than their own breath; they seek the breath of someone who breathes in rhythm with them. Breathing, making music and living with someone in harmony creates a counterpoint that can put love and knowledge, strong emotions and deep insights, the individual and the community in a proper order. Cuderman has succeeded in bringing this precious counterpoint to the harbour of our modernity.

But we should also pay tribute to other authors and their works. To works that are recognisable for being highly disproportionate to the seductive imaginary of looks, fame, power, money and hedonism. To works which, because of the very disproportion to the ordinary, easily imaginable and easily accessible "blow" our mind and give us a "dizzy" experience which both find their way into the transcendent dimension of art.  This year, such works were discovered in the following areas: 

In the field of creativity of literary writing in the creations of Anja Štefan which carry elements of fairy tales and folk tradition, but are at the same time true works of linguistic art with a refined sense for presenting archetypal images, for the playful language and the masterful exuberance of verse, when the author expresses herself through it. 

In the field of stage acting, the creations of Jette Ostan Vejrup, have come to the foreground. The actor has succeeded in opening up fascinating horizons of stage manifestation in her non-native language which is particularly challenging and through which she has enriched the Slovenian theatre with a series of remarkable theatrical roles in a wide range of genres, from the dramatic classics to the new expressive possibilities of the performative.

Composer Damjan Močnik has brought an anticyclone of fresh compositional energy into Slovenian culture which the world public on this as well as on the other side of the ocean has felt and recognised in his choral, multi-choir and vocal-instrumental works.

Somewhere in the close proximity of the creative High C on the scale of musical interpretation we meet the work of soprano Andreja Zakonjšek Krt. Her success is based on the freshness and purity of her voice and the fresh precision of her interpretation which sets the tone for her opera creations as well as her solo performances, in particular her solo cantata, this wonderful language of the deep levels of the human soul.

Among the works that "astonish" your mind and give you a "dizzy" experience are the paintings of Dušan Kirbiš who, through an overview of his forty years of creative work, proves that the relevance of an old medium does not at all fade away in the age of new media if the artist feels in its potential not only historical exhaustion but also new freshness and new expressive possibilities.

Most outstanding among the works with an analogue potency in the audio-visual milieu are the works of director Špela Čadež, an author of animated films. Čadež takes as her starting point demanding existential content and uses the magic of animation to articulate it, flavours it with humour and spices it up with a burning ending.  The result is not only that viewers cannot remain indifferent, but the director also tells them things without words that they would most probably not even want to hear in normal discourse.

The art we talked about tonight is not intended to improve the world or relieve our ills in it. Its task is primarily to help us bear the world and these ills in order to fill the world and our distress with its transcendent, fulfilling and cathartic presence.  For, as the famous painter puts it, art "serves knowledge, not entertainment, glorification or play".

I wish for all of us that the works of this year's Prešeren laureates fill our personal worlds, our hardships and hope with transcendent horizons and core values. And that through the power of such encouragement we can all overcome our ups and downs, crises and distances in life "more intensely, more beautifully and more devotedly".