Does speech-act theory have its counterpart in painting? Does it know its way around painting?
After decades of acquaintance with this name-concept: Painter Do You Know Your Duty (V.S.S.D.), and countless repeated contemplations of this puzzle (question – answer, no question – no answer), coming face-to-face with my own assignment/promise/debt (duty) to show (myself) my hand in that trans-philosophical, aesthetic game of the question – answer as a name, project, beginning, it suddenly flashed before my “third” eye – like “Newton’s Single Vision,” the vision of a William Blake – that the Painter (hidden under the arbitrary signature of an anonymous “Jordan Ožbolt”) is in the vice of Kant’s three Critiques. Almost explicitly. PAINTER (Painter: aesthetic moment, the “power of judgement” as a link between the pure-theoretical and practical moments of Critique; which, naturally, is also true of Oton Župančić’s Poet) / DO YOU KNOW (knowing, the cognitive moment, knowledge, theoretical mind, with its limits!) / YOUR DUTY (practical, ethical moment of “debt”, duty, promises, obligations, acts, not only pictorial but also linguistic, spoken, in terms of a given word, an act of naming, Austin’s speech acts, actions, performatives: moral activity, with full criminal responsibility, as in graffiti art “crimes” (mostly done at night, according to first-hand witnesses) of the subcultural, underground and “alternative” “Jordan Ožbolt” gang (V.S.S.D., early period) from the stylistic epoch of late socialism with the human face/mask in the mid-1980s.
Vandals are required (forced) to tell the “Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth” before the Power of Judgement. We are here on Artaud’s, Bataille’s and Foucault’s ground of a “murdered suicide” (Van Gogh). In the middle of a cruel arena of surveillance, punishment, madhouse and the Panopticon. The thousand eyes and thousand arms of Argos Panoptes eternally watch over this artistic duo (a trans-temporal dimension of multiple luminosity), rather than some historical collectivism. And this primal many-eyed monster of perception does not care at all about seeing politics as the highest form of art. That paleo-ontological monster.
Super-Painter’s Argos Panoptes. He does not care about any national myths or private (personal) mythologies. This Painter is a Single Author in the sense of “natural”, primordial, ontological, “apolitical” gnostic Anthropos (Hen kai pan), Early Man, Pan Gu. The unity of Dionysian and Apollonian nature that early Nietzsche faced immediately before The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music. With a principled, explicit, declarative distancing (see A. Ožbolt’s lectures) from any political determination/classification; unless such a poetic “habitus” is intended to be forcefully interpreted as a kind of “political” attitude. Which in no way agrees with the artistic oeuvre of Painter Do You Know Your Duty (1984–1995) or with Ožbolt’s own artistic and theoretical work either as an interpretation of basic intention or methodology. For it is an eminently poetic, aesthetic, not political-ideological self-determination. In that way, the V.S.S.D. duo “Jordan Ožbolt”, meant and said cum grano salis, is in many ways more akin to ontologically anarchist “trans-aesthetic” ideas as formulated by Hakim Bey (Peter Lamborn Wilson) since the mid-1980s than, for example, to the discourse of collectivist organizations such as Neue Slovenische Kunst. These are essentially different paradigms.
“And the last thing to say before showing the slides is that my friend and I started working together outside the gallery, not inside. We started as graffiti artists in the streets of Ljubljana in early 1984. Graffiti art is night art, of course. And because it was illegal and could also be dangerous to make graffiti works at that time in former Yugoslavia, it was safer to work in pairs: while one worked on the painting, the other one kept watch...”2
Intro-/Retro-/speculation on/with V.S.S.D.
In the beginning and without end
Where are they, when are they, do they even ek-sist (ek-sistere3, to be-outside-of-oneself), do we feel them inside or outside of ourselves, ecstatically, as in the form of an “exhibition” − like some Ausstellung, some e-motive – ex-movere! – shocking, intensely affective experience (temptation, maybe even the shivering kind in the sense of the temptation of St. Anthony the Hermit, no?), so, where and when are the beginning-end, the alpha-omega of the original time-space as “forms of intuition”, intuition of the succession of becoming/passing and synchronicity of a Retrospective Exhibition, here and now.
I write from memory, anamnesis ... I allow pictures to emerge before my inner eye/s ... I allow the affect to get a word in. So, I see a broken mirror, and I associate it with my thoughts written three decades ago: “Painter Do You Know Your Duty – Museum” (Rijeka magazine RiVal, 1989), with conversations (written and unwritten), along with the postcard with a reproduction of a landscape on which the Painter drew a tiny plane in pen onto the cloudy sky and mailed it to me (we didn’t have PCs, the internet etc. at home yet.) This postcard “exists” somewhere else, perhaps, in some mysterious temporal ecstasy/dimension, along with an issue of the M'Ars magazine (Moderna galerija, Ljubljana) that published articles on the aesthetics of the sublime.
Warhol, Stella came to your mind, Painter (... purely by accident, or perhaps not, I am oddly, strangely, making only American references...), and I “skipped” to Barnett Newman in memory, the “here and now” and Lyotard, to the “Kantian” and “Lyotardian” issues of the limitless/the infinite/the unrepresentable, that “horrific”, abhorrent, impossible, that which distinguishes “judgement of taste” and canon, Beauty, kalokagathia from the aesthetics of genius, the sublime. Which we willy-nilly have to deal with, not for the first time, but always all over again, at least as we wander the fractal dimensions of the landscape of a certain past, “in the company of the past” (a reference to John Berger). By its very nature, the symbol of such a landscape as an Intro-/Retrospective is supposed to be cannot by any means be unambiguous; it is not a “signal” like traffic lights, but something “natural”, self-forming, contingent, irreducible to a term, always multifaceted and subject to reinterpretation. It is contradictory and inexhaustible, since it resists any notion: if it were possible to reduce it to a term, we would not need symbols, we would dream up “concepts”. (No, not everything is on the surface, as Warhol quipped, nor is it what it is, as Stella claimed.)
The problem of Topos, topology, maps/territory... This also runs deeper, shattering/entangling, penetrating the “surface”, even in Hakim Bey’s works (The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism (TAZ) and other texts), and in Houellebecq’s novel The Map and the Territory.
Bey succinctly formulates the deceptiveness of the “map”: “The ‘map’ is a political abstract grid, a gigantic con enforced by the carrot/stick conditioning of the ‘Expert’ State, until for most of us the map becomes the territory – no longer ‘Turtle Island’, but ‘the USA’. And yet because the map is an abstraction it cannot cover Earth with 1:1 accuracy. Within the fractal complexities of actual geography, the map can see only dimensional grids. Hidden enfolded immensities escape the measuring rod [emphasis B. Cerovac]. The map is not accurate; the map cannot be accurate.”4 (emphasis H. Bey).
From this ontological-anarchist digression (Bey), I return to a seemingly narrower topic/subject: a possible staging of a Retrospective Exhibition.
My thesis: a new set-up is, in itself, necessarily contingent, a new event/projection in a 3D “box” (“enclosure”/“grid”/”structure”/”construct”) of temporal space or “spatialized/unfolded/exhibited” time: The Landscape cannot in any way be deduced from the history of all previous events-acts-works-installations-performances-events; in that regard, existentialism is in the right. Achille Bonito Oliva (The Ideology of the Traitor) is also right about something. It is not true that it is the task of the critic, or even the “self-critic”, the curator, or the philosopher, to be “objective”; no, (s)he needs to create some “concept”, “conceive” something. To choose someone, something (artists, works...) and fight for that, as a Subject, not by acting as, supposedly, a scientist (whose work is also necessarily susceptible to selected axioms, premises, measurement systems, paradigms, preconceptions, bias). In a certain creative sense, you end up at the beginning of a new situation. That Opus Magnum, Mysterium Coniunctionis, was “not on the agenda” at the beginning, except in the sense of Bergson’s view (which I highly appreciate) that time transpires – from the future: first there is the future, then comes the “present”: the here and now (Barnett Newman), and it just “passes” into some form of was/were, the past, into a supposed “non-being”. There was no brain at first that only later began to “function”, perceive, think... As if the “future” acts in advance, “a priori” upon the legendary “beginnings” of the actions we now reconstruct, set forth retrospectively; still elusive, complex, ambiguous. Ek-static, the ecstatic nature of time, existence, the subject of perception/action/thought is a strange “thing”, as is the Ding an sich, about which we can neither see nor scientifically claim anything beyond the phenomena, works, “installations” in 3D projected in the “black gallery” of Time-Space. How can “it” in itself “appear” without it? To whom?
Thus, the Introspection-Retrospective project is necessarily some kind of “measurement system”, an “accelerator”, which implies the involvement of the Subject in the whole process, without any claims on a “final solution”.
No, not everything is on the surface.
Internal Voices, Internal Views
During the 1980s, I wrote several essays,5 discussions that touch upon aesthetic problems that we think and converse about initially when preparing for a Retrospective.
In the essay titled “Being and Space” (a critique of Heidegger’s reinterpretation of Kant) I point to the problem of “simultaneity” of any “historical”, “temporal” set-up, even the form of Exhibition (a Retrospective one in this case).
Here is an excerpt, a fragment of the discussion, for the purpose of further “work on the material”, a talk about the exhibition: I quote myself, after three and a half decades of formulating these sentences:
“/.../ The simultaneity of something can be conceptualized as internal without being transcendentally enabled by the formal condition of time /.../ ‘Simultaneity’ is not a matter of time, since it is not primarily about the succession of a subject-object of events or temporal ecstasy, neither is it about temporal transcendence, nor about temporal self-affection, for the coexistence of all those coming from different domains of experience cannot be substantially understood or explained by ‘temporal synthesis’ or schematism as supposedly purely temporal. / We have merely come to the conclusion that without referring to the production power, spontaneity and receptivity of transcendental imagination and its formation of schemata, temporality and spatiality would be absolutely unthinkable, since only ‘full’ and substantively educated existence ‘transpires’ and ‘extends’. / Time and space do not fade away as empty forms only because they originally form part of the structural whole of the world’s shaping, of its integral formation /.../”6
An ideal Intro-/Retrospective projection would be something extremely sublime: an absolutely infinite and unrepresentable fullness, for whose excavation from the pit of a radical past there is no adequate archeological method. Therefore, we need to dig it up and re-think it, re-examine it, with respect to its ambiguity. From the dark depths of the “last millennium”! How to deconstruct this extremely differentiated and “excessive” complexity using the superstructure/infrastructure of one particular Intro-/Retrospective whose problematic is equally difficult to grasp? This would now be “our” or the Author’s task, “duty”. The past, which “now” includes several decades of the “former” Future, should be picked up, like mental and physical “art material” (Adorno). Not to approach it as a conservation, restoration, monumental, antique memorial assignment (Nietzsche, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life), but by revolutionizing the form/genre of retrospectives to make some transformation in terms of a jump, not from quantity to quality, but to some contingent, “accidental” novelty, which directs the phenomenology of the landscape, the territory towards the possible intuition of the phenomenon – noumenon relation, revealing/hiding the disclosure (aletheia) of that invisible, “intangible” genius loci without which this and such a landscape would never have emerged. A landscape transformed with a new/repeated look at the ancient place (landscape), the “elapsed time-companion-partner-companion”... With the inevitable pain, suffering, sacrifice, renunciation, selection of “material”, entailed by every (re-) creative display made of the body/spirit of the past.
And deepened Introspection should be a sublime satisfaction for wasted time.
Cave, Fire, Burning Painting/Anamorphosis
/.../ “Language and culture are the most complex human systems, and they are my elementary homeland.” /.../
/.../ “History is not only a time of great and marvelous works, monuments, history is HYSTERIA, too. You have this dark side of human being, evils in human history and in present.” /.../7
To radically diminish/overcome the fate of the modernist white cube is particularly challenging. Temporality, ephemerality, inherent expenditures of every creature, every artifact, destined from the very start to displacement, skewedness, anamorphism, political incorrectness, ahistoricism, amorality, migration, anonymity, its eternal return through elemental processes like burning – this is one of the topics of radical examination in the practice of the V.S.S.D., the Painter.
Burning Painting / Anamorphosis, (Ljubljana, 8 February 1990) is a necessary “Zen” slap to Culture by Physis, nature, in the pre-Socratic, Heraclitan sense. This artistic act of V.S.S.D., both poiesis and praxis, has a special ethical and theoretical or philosophical dimension, going beyond any political-ideological contamination and pragma. Its contingency, one-offness, affects the entire cosmos of Creation, humanist illusions and prejudice (that is, desires, aspirations, existential concerns, hopes, anxieties, interests). The pattern of behavior of this Painter with fire – with no stylistic idiom – belongs to the “styles of radical will” and “aesthetics of silence” (Susan Sontag). The work of difference (Jacques Derrida, On Grammatology) “splits” the monolithic corpus of art, and V.S.S.D. occupies the underground of Ljubljana and the Škuc Gallery (in the radical 1980s) with its “non-museum”, “blackness”, the total environment, only to finish it off with fire in the dawn of the “dark” 1990s.
Certain radical Bauboesque, maieutic (maternal, midwifery) interests in giving birth to specific “non-museum” acquisitions in an underground warehouse – where they would occur a priori deprived of normal life pre-histories – were not realized by V.S.S.D., but were left to incubate in the “matrix” of infinity, taken back to the realm of sublime, unrepresentable ideas.
The warehouse remained empty, never becoming a museum.
Rijeka, August 2019
Translated from Croatian by Željka Miklošević