One day David X found himself in Las Vegas. As he was walking, he felt a sharp pain in his chest and collapsed… dead. Even though what follows makes no logical sense (the man is dead!?), here’s what he told us about it: “When I woke up in this place, everything around me was white. It was neither light nor dark, just plain white. I found myself asking: „Where am I? What kind of place is this? Where are all the shapes? Where are the colors? Where are the cars? What is this? This is not a room! There was no door! And then I heard a voice: ‘This is your eternity!’ Whaaaat? This can not be my eternity!” Then he said he tried to run but he couldn’t move an inch. He soon realized the reason he couldn’t move was he had no legs. What was worse, he realized he had no body at all! He ended up in a place where there was nothing: no past, no future… nothing. Time as a category simply didn’t exist. Absolutely nothing! He woke up in the hospital after that and realized he’d returned to the world of the living. He claims the entire experience lasted seven minutes.
David X believes what he experienced was Hell.
This is certainly not the only account of a clinical death experience. One can’t deny, however, that it stands out by being absolutely immaterial and static!
This singular story opens up new horizons, associations, and analogies with a world which many would say has no relation to the place and event we’ve just described. I am talking about art, of course. Many 20th century artists, from Maljevič to Yves Klein, wanted to accomplish a kind of purity, emptiness. The problem has figured in the work of many artists to this day.
Needless to say, all of this sounds profoundly intellectual, uniquely spiritual and unavoidably elitist by default. Let’s not fool ourselves, the truth is a bit different. But what happens when it’s not?
Imagine you’re a worker at a chicken farm. You open the door of the chicken shed and see a “feathery white sea” (it moves, of course!), and a voice behind you says: “Would you please go inside and pick the ten with the whitest feathers!” “Which ten, they all look the same to me?” you ask. “Well, you’ll know once you’re inside which ten you need to pick, there are not more than ten with the whitest feathers!” (you look for those ten among a thousand others…)
To all authors of introductions, monographs and theories – it is not enough to simply quote eastern mystics without truly understanding what is said in order to grant some credibility to those who just happened todecide to empty themselves one day.
And this is the questionable part! Choosing emptiness.
First of all, one can’t quote the mystics by relying purely on one’s own mental processing powers. When you quote the mystics (be it western or eastern mystics) it is not the same “act” as quoting a philosopher, scientist, writer or artist, for example. If it were the same, they wouldn’t be mystics!
So, why is it not the same?
In 1958, at the Iris Clert Gallery, Yves Klein decided to display “nothing” to the public. He (aptly ?) named it the Void, given that the interior of the gallery was empty, with the exception of a cabinet, and every surface was painted white.
Fifty-five years later (in 2013), Miran Blažek blackened the whiteness of the exhibition space of the Institute for Contemporary Art with charcoal (the exhibition was titled “Inside Story”). He did this by coloring the parts of the wall he could reach with his hands, respecting the limits of his own body. The artist seemed to refer to Le Corbusier or David Smith (however, I know for a fact that he didn’t!) since it is a known fact that the first artist devised the Modulor in his architecture (a schematic model of the human form which served as a basis for a system of measurements to be adjusted to one another), while the second was an abstract expressionist sculptor who also used the human body as a scale for his sculptures-totems. After partially covering the inside of the white cube of the gallery in sfumato blackness , the artist picked up the remaining soot, mixed it with liquid wax and shaped a black cube of the same proportions as the gallery in a scale of 1:100.
Plainly listing concepts such as: hypnosis, contemplation, alchemy, self-referential painting, institutional criticism, and the sense of space, doesn’t do much to aid the perception of Miran’s work without a deeper understanding of the artist’s artistic or, I should say, personal philosophy.
I believe that the artist told the curator about alchemy and alchemical processes in his work but I doubt they saw him as a man who, in the words of Thierry Page, stands somewhere between the traditional mystic and a priest, because an alchemist doesn’t strive as much to be at the same level with God, but rather to have a true relationship with God. How do I know this? Read the concepts I mentioned above once more! From such a sequence (if I were Miran), the following story would develop: God and I decided to criticize institutions together. While we were headed to one of the institutions, God and I stopped for coffee and talked about Agnes Martin, Robert Ryman, Robert Mangold… mostly about monochromatic artists. While waiting at a stop light, we mentioned the inevitable Yves Klein. God then said to me: “See, Miran, I’ve been thinking about a chicken farm and I think I will need your help”
Miran later told me it wasn’t like that. He said he is usually alone in his processes, although he admits he realized there is more to a thing than its mere individual existence, whether we’re talking about an angel, a man, an insect, a rock, or anything else.
Let’s return for a moment to the unfortunate David X who, according to his own account, experienced the utmost absence of warmth, closeness, and support of anything a man longs for, in an indescribable whiteness. This brings us back to Blažek’s exhibition Inside Story. If coal is, like they say, a reserve of heat the earth stole from the Sun, isn’t the artist’s act a sort of sparkling, a revelation of the true nature of man, and this means the acceptance of bodily existence since the spirit cannot act without a body and without a soul the body would be tortured in its longing for a soul, and the soul, being a union of the spirit and the body, is the philosopher’s stone.
This helps us understand the artist’s ritual of completing his process by shaping a black cube made of wax and coal. The cube is a symbol of firmness and an image of eternity, and the wax as a gift of the bees (a Middle Welsh legal text says: the origin of bees is from paradise and on account of the sin of man they came from thence, and God conferred his blessing upon them; and, therefore, the mass cannot be sung without the wax) symbolizes perfection.
Miran Blažek now wants to do the opposite and paint the rooms of an abandoned mall in the center of Osijek in white. He will call this projecthorror vacui (fear of empty space). This historical concept from art history has an entirely different meaning for Blažek who, by his act of blackening with coal, which he started last year, made a simple statement that very few can deal with the subject of emptiness. Only the ones with the whitest feathers.