Shut your eyes and you shall see
James Joyce, Ulysses
#1 There is this question – the one which doesn’t force us to provide an unequivocal and immediate answer – what is the specificity of a black painted surface? When we are looking at the canvases of Dragan Petković from an ideal point of view, that is, from close range and under the sweep of a side-light, we will notice the exquisitely rich facture of his paintings. Therein, in the techniques spanning refinement to that which is spontaneous, raw and crude, one may experience the neat, nigh fused brushwork, the traces and sediments of paint as well as ridges remaining from the previous, unsatisfactory and partially scrubbed-off layers. By that, the material body of the paintings proper is reaffirmed as it is by resorting to frequent reworking and perfecting touches until the desired result and the air of time is attained. As if by the rule, a twofold dating appear on most of the works wherein the later date indicates that the pictorial result adequately met the painter’s exacting criteria.
#2 In front of these black painted surfaces we feel as if we were in front of a dark, somewhat disturbing space which is virtually impressing upon us the evocation of a “negative theology”. Moreover, there are these titles such as, for example, “Deaf” (Sordo) or “Disturbance” (Astasia), which are aćordingly denoting the apprehensive nature of the artworks.
The opaque surfaces wherein “there’s nothing to see” while, at the same time, “there is so much to be looked at” are standing as an iconographic “Ground Zero” in want for their referential strongholds. Their detachment puts into question the very act of seeing, as well as of its aesthetic, psychological and ethical implications. Thus, moving the centre of gravity towards the act of seeing proper, appears to be a logical consequence which is actually confirmed by Petković himself: “… the vision is changed and upgraded when it touches the matter. The paintings – as a final result – are leading an independent life irrespectively of the explanations and narratives of their author”.1F
#3 “That with which we see is important to us and is present in our eyes – only because it concerns us (or because it looks ar us)”.2F
In the mentioned work of Georges Didi-Hubermann there are two distinct types of “viewers” and two unfit comportments. The first type of viewer is always prepared to believe, as an apostle before the Christ’s tomb who, regardless of the view, is transcending that which is seen onto some different level. On the other hand, the other type of viewer is firmly entrenched in the seemingly obvious apparency of things, in the tautology aćording to which “what is visible is visible” and there is nothing more to it. This position is grounding the act of seeing as a tautological act within some “planar truth” which is stating that “what I see – I see”, something which, in the end, may be labeled as a veer into the obvious banality asserted in the spirit of a “Lapalissade”.3F
#4 Actually, it is a victory of language over the act of looking – the language which being enclosed in itself as a “Lapalissade” claims that in front of us there is nothing else but a black surface, and that it is not something that would be different from itself. Thus, it is evident that the tautological approach means discarding the hidden aspects of the work, while at the same time it is merely corroborating the work’s nominal tautological identity. In this way the temporal dimension of the work is rejected from consideration, as well as the action of time, the alteration of the very piece, the function of the memory or – the obsession of the regard. It is to do, in terms of W. Benjamin, with rejecting the aura of the artwork which concurrently indicates an indifference towards that which is beneath, hidden and delayed.
#5 The second experience of looking is related to the religious act and its verity which is presented as being superior, heavenly and authoritative – which is how the dogmatic stance always assumes a theological and metaphysical sense for the obviousness. It is that great phantasmal construction which is directing our view towards the aesthetic (the sublime) and at the same time towards the temporally defined (as hope and fear) universe.
Both distinctions appear to be functional within the indicators which are relying on the phenomenology of perception: it is about distinguishing the visible from the visual. This may be rendered as an illustrative explanation: it is like being awake during the night-time when nothing can be seen and yet knowing from the experience that this does not mean looking at the invisible since the eyes are open, which only agrees with the fact that it is actually a matter of visual experience.
#6 To us, in this sense, Merleau-Ponty represents an excellent guide: “When, for example, the world of clear and articulated objects is invalidated, it is upon our perceptive being, which is torn away from its proper universe, to outline the spaciousness without the objects. It happens at night. The night is not an object standing before me but rather a wraparound, it is entering through all of my senses, it is repressing my memories and is all but wiping out my identity. I am no longer nailed to my view-point wherein I can make out the distance and contours of the objects. The night has no outlines. The night itself is touching me so that our unity is the unity of mana 4F. Hence, besides its resident voices and the distant light, the night is experienced in its entirety as a deep without planes, without surface, without a distance from oneself. In view of reflection, the space consists of thoughts, of thoughts that connect the parts, while during night-time that awareness is lacking its proper place. On the contrary, it is incorporated within the night space in the heart of that same space.” 5F
1. Interview, Nova Makedonija, 26.04 1988., p.9;
2. Georges Didi-Hubermann, Il gioco delle evidenze, Fazi Editore, Roma 2008;
3. It is an expression denoting a truism, a banal obviousness which originated in the renaissance song dedicated to the perished Marshal La palice (La palice is dead/Dead in front of Pavia / A quarter hour before his death / He was still quite alive).
4. Mana is a term of Malaysian origin denoting an impersonal supernatural and immoral power which is manifesting itself in particular natural phenomena. On a social and political level mana stands for a symbolic way of aćepting the special values of some person as well as the basis of this person’s authority.
5. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Fenomenologia della percezione, Bompiani, Milano 2003, p. 372