V.S.S.D. - The Fall of the Angel of Light

Boris Čibej: V.S.S.D. - The Fall of the Angel of Light

V.S.S.D. and Boris Čibej



Why the title Painter do you know your duty? In what way does it relate to your art?

“Duty” in the title pertains to the Word, or as St. John the Divine put it: In the Beginning there was the Word... The Word is God... From the Word is All descended... In it there is Life and Life is Light. The relationship between words and images is of course a parallel one, which means that they admit no identification, i.e., they are not connected directly or simultaneously. An exhibition, say, would present what the title suggests or the other way around — the title would suggest the subject-matter of the painting. It stands to reason that a title gives a clue to the exhibition as a whole (since it is a sort of “tag”); yet both (exhibition/ image and title) remain within their own limits, unconnected. (They are ontologically incongruous, i.e., the title and its image do not neatly fit together, since the titles are not like A boy with a flute, Breakfast on lawn, A triple composition, etc.). The idea is that a word and its image exist separately. No work of art can ever mirror reality or act as a double to words or to ourselves. As a matter of fact, I find it impossible to entitle my paintings at all; nonetheless they do not go untitled; the exhibition alone has a title.

A question similar to the one posed in the title of your creations, Painter do you know your duty, is found in the history of Slovene literature (Poet, Do You Know Your Duty). In the case of the latter, the medium of both question and “answer” is the same, whereas one can seek the “answer” to your question only in your work, in your visual language in which, strictly speaking, there is no need for this question. In view of the analogy of these two questions, you now have the opportunity to put into words the question you have asked yourself.

Any similarity with Zupančič1 is accidental, or more precisely, any analogy to his question is a necessary evil. It is a matter of two completely different things. His question is political, whereas mine is ontological. My title has no addressee, it is not directed at anyone, not even at painters - it is empty. As I have already expressed somewhere else: here the question presents itself as an answer. What really matters is often a case where an answer exists without a question or vice versa. What I try to express cannot be expressed in words.


The question refers to the technique, the technique of fascination which is proper to your art. What is it? Can you describe it?

Any technique is motivated by the artist's need to express an idea; a technique itself, however, is a craft. Throughout history a technique has proved itself to have been something that went through continuous changes. It repeatedly faded away and was, on the other hand, created anew, the new eliminates the old. (Duchamp, for example, created by means of a precise, laborious technique, the mechanical model of art as opposed to Impressionism, Expressionism...). I am not after modernistic reduction, purification of purpose, clarity or simplicity of form. I tend to exaggerate in my technique, I aim at richness and abundance, I want the purpose to shine with a dazzling light. Apart from this, I make no distinction between 'animalistic' and 'intellectual' expression. The sun is, after all, the brightest thing and no darkness can ever split it up.

Your present exhibits have a tinge of the they remind one of images of altarpieces, of the Way of the Cross, etc. The viewer certainly knows that there is nothing hidden behind, that there is no religion, etc.; these paintings nonetheless fascinate in a manner similar to ritual objects. What role, in your opinion, does the viewer’s faith and religious fascination play in the context of your art?

I try to make images in which as much as possible is hidden, mystified, veiled. The meaning of the word 'to exhibit' is to reveal, to bring out, to display, whereas I am interested in concealing, in dark images, in disappearance in the image. I want the spectators to feel restricted, gaze on speechless; but they should confront appearances and look evil in the face. Their knees should quake.


Renaissance perspectivist painting established the position of the external viewing subject. Your creations are imbued with double perspective, which includes a certain perspectivism of the exhibits themselves on the one hand, and the subject's on the other, i.e., the viewer's entrance into the perspective when he enters the exhibition. By this duplication, however, the autonomous viewing subject dissolves. Where should the subject therefore be placed, i.e., from what position, then, is it possible to view?

A body can no longer be regarded as something autonomous or inwardly integrated. A body is disunited, entangled in obscure relations of the image (appearance/depth/flatness/ translucency/lack of clarity) which the eyes cannot cope with. The exhibition is a world filled with voices, echoes, signs, reflections of signs. The subject has no alternative other than to wander amongst the multiplied images, which can be viewed (face to face) from all sides or from nowhere. The exhibition is a sort of a Dionysian machine, a production of appearances and presumptions. Everything is contained in the space — but within it the whole world falls apart, breaks, doubles back again and again and keeps going. Within this space bodies are chained to circles, to circular motion (day/night, black/white, empty/full), to the rotation of whatever the machines hold in their net. Nothing is motionless except for the prime motionless mover.


How do you see 'motion' then?

Life obviously sets bodies in motion (walking, gestures...); in fact an individual becomes an individual as such only after he has started moving. But motion can make you feel bewildered, lost and confused, as if you were wandering around 'rudderless', infinitely repeating the meaningless movements. You follow the traces and your feet turn leaden, because they have been given directions beforehand, somewhere in the suburbs of your mind... I have already talked about the nature of a circle, about circular motion. A circle is finite and infinite at the same time; it has no beginning and no end. It seems, however, that the end precedes the beginning, which means that time is not uniform and can therefore be dilated. We can play with it, we can place holes in it when it stops, freezes or moves forwards/backwards.

"Everything is contained in the space — but within it the whole world falls apart". So this is no longer space as a medium where the artist 'exhibits' his world. What is 'the whole world' then?

One could maintain that everything ceased to exist. The world is certainly a world of total narcissism, everything is oriented towards one's own body, all experiences. The experience of space is achieved by an endless facing of oneself; I got claustrophobic from constantly meeting myself. However, two worlds meet in man: the world of flesh and the world of iron. It is the assimilation of the organic body and the automaton. Whether people are mechanised or machines eroticised makes no difference. This androgyny means that flesh and machine are the muscles of life, therefore your body can no longer be a silhouette — in a silhouette you soon become that which you are not.


In your work there is an incessant oscillation between fullness and emptiness to be perceived. Would you agree that this 'first structure' functions as a framework to which all further 'discoveries' are attached?

In art, not even the artist's first move should aim at simplification or extraction; it should aim at complexity. I do not fancy the idea of clarity, because it implies too much elimination, limitation, oppression and extirpation. Superabundance is of course the surplus of the existing, it is lust - but in my case fullness should result in emptiness. When an object, for example, is being watched by many eyes, we get an image that falls into thousands of pieces. Painting whiteness in white signifies extreme asceticism and limitation. This emptiness should be conquered anew by the process of crystallisation; the broken image, the crystallised image (IMAGE - CRYSTAL) is the fall of the angel of light.


A fold reflects whatever there is, the way a certain place is constructed, for instance. To apply a fold throughout the surface is to extend beyond revelation and disclosure. Paradoxically, the very thing that according to definition protects the nakedness of a painting, now becomes the naked painting itself. The folded surface does not reveal anything and is therefore the death of light. The heads are erased, masked, the nakedness kept secret, depth, the space dissolves on this side, and the other side is all obscure.



In St. Augustine, there are no stains and no folds. In a painting, by contrast, no symbiosis is allowed. An image is not a symbiosis. I draw folds and seek spots. Imperfection is a common feature and many a thing is steeped in darkness: dusky, turbid, obscure. Nothing is spotless — except for the sun.



According to mythology, there are three kinds of bodies in our universe: the luminous, the transparent and the black. The luminous ones are those that shine brightly, brilliantly, with a dazzling glare. They resemble the angels of light who blind you. The transparent ones are those that conceal their material substance and appear in the form of a misty, psychotic haze. There are bodies — black balls — which impetuously fight emptiness and create a black space of sustained quietness and darkness (as if lost in a negative). The black bodies symbolise death more than anything else: inside everything is quiet, motionless.



In the realm of the visual, representation is the ruling principle, whereas anamorphosis acts as an excess which converts revelation to concealment, i.e., disguise. One image is absorbed in another, when one appears, the other one disappears. The ever-changing appearance does not merely have one single image, as there are other, hidden, parasitic ones concealed in it. A painting of destruction is not the destruction of a painting: overload, exaggeration, superabundance pass the limits of meaning and are, in fact, beyond meaning. Rationality and irrationality are two sides of the same image; within, however, is it's essence. That is why my images are brought to light in darkness; so I do not display them. Anyway, there is enough light for those who want to see them and enough darkness for those who veer in the opposite direction.



Are memories imbued with images or images with memories? It is a mystery, of course... I name an image of the sun and my memory holds this very image, and it is not the image of this image that keeps triggering my mind, but the image of the sun itself: I call up an image of the sun and it is this very image that responds to my evocation. I pronounce the word 'memory' and comprehend exactly what I am saying. But where do I comprehend it if not in the memory itself? Does memory therefore live only through its image and not on its own?


Do you use line to create 'life'?

In order to create life one needs universality, self-reliance and integrity, if one creates by assuming the role of 'nature' and not by mirroring it. I never draw lines, because there should exist but one single from-the-beginning-to-the-beginning-of- the-circle line. The whole world is steeped in the search for the Way and line itself is a trace, the brush is the seeker. Everything and everyone is in pursuit, but running in a circle, circular and endless pursuit. The heart of the painting therefore does not have a fixed position, it extends all along the line, throughout the surface of the painting. In painting, a line is a razor blade (a cut, a scar); it marks the borderline between the existent and non-existent, but it is still not enough for life.


In Egypt, paintings of life beyond death are images of life on this side. The lifestyle of the Egyptians is extensively covered in their books of the dead; so there is some sort of mutual reflection between the living and the non-living. Malevich held the view that the Renaissance, Baroque, etc., artists tried to incarnate living forms but they actually only inserted dead bodies in their paintings, locked their souls in marble — thus Renaissance art was a monument to Death... In point of fact, it is all about this vague boundary between life and death, a result of the incredible similarity between that appearing and the act of appearance. It may be that, with the help of a pendulum, the formula of the two natures (living/non-living), like perplexity, changes into a single one, but it is neither the first nor the second.


What does the crown of thorns mean in the context of the exhibition?

It is not really the crown of thorns... He was seized with horror and his head began to swim. Pinpricks, stings, spines, thorns, needles — all these in fact equal dead life. Evil is sometimes permitted and sometimes even necessary, as if there was an urge for the equal share of good and evil. The blood- drenched linen does not show how many nails have been actually driven into him.



Landscape is like a green box, populated by beings (paradise is a place inhabited by beings in peaceful coexistence) who hardly ever whisper of the wind or gaze at the starry sky. (The Japanese paint the wind by blowing paint onto paper). Facing the landscape is the gloomy chamber of blindness, everything is plunged into darkness and the world has ceased to exist as an open book or an open palm — it is more like the dead of night, dizziness all around. The eye is not the projection of optics any more, it is like an opening on top of a stylus, because it is powerless, it is nothing at all. Going back to landscape, and having a look around, there is the sculptor Carl Andre who exhibited his sculptures without plinths, so that the viewers stood level with them (in fact, the floor functioned as part of the sculpture). Thus his sculptures ceased to function as 'figures' or 'bodies', but rather gained the character of a 'landscape'.


Walter Benjamin came to the conclusion that; in the 'period of technical reproduction', which ran parallel to the rapid expansion of the fdm industry, the aura of works of art atrophied. The fdm industry soon found the remedy — the phenomenon of stardom. The aura is introduced at the level of technical reproduction itself and transmitted to every home through the media. Although the visual arts are increasingly placing their hopes on the media to attract attention and thereby recover their lost aura, it is still quite obvious that fdm holds sway. You, too, undoubtedly have hopes in the media but your strategy is noticeably different. You keep away from technical reproduction (if this is defined as a process through which creation Teaches every home') and you maintain that anyone who really wishes to see something should pay a visit to your temple. Do you use this strategy to produce 'aura'?

Painting is not the same as a rite or a prayer although, in former times, looking at paintings, looking at images of saints sometimes implied it... What I create seems to me more and more as if I was talking to myself, in the radical sense — what I get from the viewer is nothing but my own answer. The whole being listens attentively and if the viewer is rendered dumbfounded, it is because of a flashing idea which appears during petrified discourse. Due to the petrification of the original, a reproduction of the thing is no longer possible. It does not bear any resemblance to the image, nor even to itself. When you are left without tongue, your whole being in fact no longer exists.

Let us get back to Benjamin, his fantastic comparison of the relationship between a painter and a cameraman on the one side, and a sorcerer and a surgeon on the other. This comparison implies comprehending the painter's eye as 'synth— his opinion, the painter's painting is 'total' in comparison with the disintegrated one of the cameraman (and the cameraman's eye as 'operative', 'destructive') the discord achieves a new image only through editing. You probably would not easily see yourself in the role of this kind of painter. In your case, the label 'painter' is somehow totally out of place. Still, no one can deny the fact that fdm brought about a decisive change in all domains of art. How would you define your relationship to, say, the cameraman's method?

In both cases the point is the strategy of infinite space. There are great distances within the space (within the thing itself), but there is no fixed point, no limit of horizon: everything is leaking or abbreviated. But the conquering of space is not a result of my wish to simulate it, it is the result of my desire to destroy it. Not in the sense of abstract erasure (behind every abstract painting there is a hidden space), but of subordination. In contrast to vanishing time there is 'eternal continuity' preventing colours from fading. If you take a good look though, you can see that the world is turned upside down and that your head is for walking.


In present 'retro' times your link to the Baroque seems 'obvious', 'evident'. Is this your contribution to the eighties?

It is useless to reflect history and usually history can be found where it is least spoken about, it is never really where you may see it. My art lives beyond its time, it speaks a forgotten language. I cannot imitate the lives of the ancient masters, I cannot think their thoughts and work with their hands. The past is lost and the future will never be the same again. I have actually never wanted to be contemporary, to belong to this time and contribute something to it. My art is very ancient.

When you refer to some earlier masdoes it not therefore imply that you feel committed to them?

In my opinion, history is a kind of a limited liability company, therefore one cannot speak about the prime cause nor of the prime motionless mover. The roots of my art belong to the remote past, perhaps even too remote, but nothing is fictitious. On the other hand, however, an original is its own opposite and there are many things that bind you and watch you, that sort of make their 'imprint' on you. Many works are made of flesh and blood. But I build up and carry on nothing but my own work, which is an absolute 'must'.


In the third phase — the Cave of Postojna in Ljubljana — you build a museum for yourself. On the one hand, this self-directed act is striking as it is in contrast to the customary, everyday conception (a museum is built or we build a museum for something) which blurs the very fact that a museum is always built for the self (both the self of the viewer and the self of the exhibit). On the other hand, however, the word 'museum' evokes some past which plays a constituent role in the present. In other words: in fact, you must die first in order to start living again symbolically as a (museum) exhibit. How will your museum be?

Museums are supposed to be the power of memory (image/memory), places where, to put it banally, decisions about transitoriness or eternity are made. If someone builds a museum for himself, this means that he has become the object of self-remembrance and self-reference. Such crap does not bear thinking about. The images I make cannot possibly be sent around the world, they are images to which one makes a pilgrimage. I am not interested in populating (fill- ing/emptying) galleries. Neither am I interested in mere formal questions concerning visual arts, so I must find informal ways. So, if I do not want to give in to the loss of sight, voice or of an object, there is only one move I can make: build a museum myself, which does not necessarily imply either ridiculing or taking revenge.

V.S.S.D. - The Fall of the Angel of Light

V.S.S.D. - The Fall of the Angel of Light

Alen Ožbolt