Incubare by Igor Lonjak

„In a nutshell, the installation deals with the nature and history of the location; its content is the interaction between the form, the medium, and the location. By simple analogy, the installation is located beneath the surface of the Earth, it is made of earth, and occupies the same space once filled with earth. This space now reacts on its own, to itself, and within itself. Incubare is a kind of perpetuum mobile; I am merely an assistant in this situation which I consider Architecture; the shape and architecture of space are the consequence. Of course, the underground bears many associations, all of which may be correct, but everything is born of earth, and everything returns to it. It remembers EVERYTHING.” This is how Miran Blažek describes, in a few words, his installation shown in Osijek’s pedestrian underpass Pothodnik as part of the 17th POPUP held on 18 December 2014. Blažek is a visual artist, a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb with a postgraduate degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana. In 2012, he received the Radoslav Putar Award for best Croatian young visual artist.

This time, instead of employing his usual medium, the painting, he presents a sophisticated and carefully thought-out approach to the space that hosts the installation, akin to site specific. Blažek’s new exhibition does not represent a radical detour from his earlier work, hence we can view this exhibition in Osijek as a more intellectually refined follow-up to his earlier show in Zagreb, Inside Story, held between the 3rd and 14th December 2013 at the Institute for Contemporary Art. On that occasion, the artist painted all the walls of the gallery black with charcoal, as high as his hands could reach, after which he cast a model of the exhibition space to the scale of 1:100 from the remaining charcoal dust which he bound with wax by boiling.

Before going into a more detailed analysis of Blažek’s work, the following is a brief description of what it is about. The artist chose a room in Osijek’s Pothodnik in which he decided to intervene. He started by learning about the location, researching what occupied that same space before – not before it was closed off and became an unused space available for rent, but before the room itself was built. Osijek’s Pothodnik is located underground, below the city’s main square (Dr Starčević Square), built during the office of Mayor Ivica Fekete in the early 1980s. Evidently, the Pothodnik was created by first removing the earth from under the city square and moving it to another place. This is Blažek’s starting point. He tries to bring the space, if only on a symbolic and ritualistic level, back to its original state, that which was taken from it by man. The reason? Geomancy teaches that the entire Earth, and all its space, remembers everything. Accordingly, Blažek wants to empty the space of the sediments of memory, to dememorize it and return its substance to its original state. In an introductory note, the artist declares his intent: “(…) everything is born of earth, and everything returns to it; the earth remembers EVERYTHING.” By taking measurements of the room’s dimensions and making a wooden mold to a scale of 1:25, the artist made a cast of the measured space, its corpus. The cast is made of earth mixed with beeswax. His choice of earth is self-evident, but why beeswax? In Blažek’s words, “it is a known fact that beeswax improves in quality through a process of cleaning and bleaching, and I tarnish it with earth, beneath the surface of the Earth, so earth can complement wax in this case. By losing its quality in this way, beeswax actually takes part in creation. Organic beeswax is not here by accident, it is deliberately chosen instead of paraffin wax.”  We could say the corpus is in fact a sculpture which adequately corresponds to the space it is in, by condensing the empty space of the white room into a thick, dirty, cast mass. However, we need not stop there, thinking about the installation as a sculpture, because Blažek’s artwork is also site specific with elements of land art. Walter de Maria was the first to bring earth from the outside environment to galleries in Munich (1968), Darmstadt (1974), and New York (1977), the latter being the most famous intervention of the three, named “New York Earth Room“. To return the earth to the underground space of Pothodnik is not only Blažek’s goal, but also the purpose of what he does. He considers it his calling, a ritualistic act which must be performed; “I am merely an assistant in this situation I consider architecture”, he says.

Blažek’s view of space is all-encompassing and, we may safely say, metaphysical, and the result of his intervention is minimal in the physical sense. This is because precedence is given to the spiritual, not the physical component of the artwork. The physical is only here to express the spiritual, the transcendent. Blažek’s understanding of space is concerned not only with its dispersion as a consequence of absorbing objects and things; he is much more reminiscent of Mircea Eliade, who explains that both space and time can be viewed as either sacred or profane. “There is, then, a sacred space, and hence a strong, significant space; there are other spaces that are not sacred and so are without structure or consistency, amorphous. Nor is this all. For religious man, this spatial nonhomogeneity finds expression in the experience of an opposition between space that is sacred – the only real and real-lyexisting space – and all other space, the formless expanse surrounding it. It must be said at once that the religious experience of the nonhomogeneity of space is a primordial experience, homologizable to a founding of the world.”[1] The space of Blažek’s installation has these very characteristics of sacred space which, while not visually different from its surroundings, contains an enhancement, a kind of sanctity. It is the space in which Blažek performs ritualistic practice by returning it to its original, primordial state with the aim (and necessity) of bringing his art to life. In his study Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky writes: “The artist uses his strength to flatter his lower needs; in an ostensibly artistic form he presents what is impure, draws the weaker elements to him, mixes them with evil, betrays men and helps them to betray themselves, while they convince themselves and others that they are spiritually thirsty, and that from this pure spring they may quench their thirst. Such art does not help the forward movement, but hinders it, dragging back those who are striving to press onward, and spreading pestilence abroad.[2] Like Kandinsky, Blažek pursues the “soul” in the artwork, primordial art in its purest form. Was it not the aim of Romanticism to connect and unite living, philosophy, and poetry (art)? Not to mention how vehemently the second half of the 20th century insisted on erasing the boundary between art and life! Furthermore, is prehistoric art not a representation of this identity of living and creating, of life and art? Were tribal shamans and medicine men not performers of something that could be referred to in modern art terms as performance art, happening, action (…), but with different motivations, spiritual ones, transcending our material surroundings? Were cave paintings of animals not “living images” materialized in nature in the form of the real animal the hunter was about to kill?

In this case, minimalization and “primitivization” of artistic form are not due to an absence of métier; rather, they are the result of the artist’s conscious striving to come closer to the primordial, the authentic. By intervening into space, Blažek seeks to be no more than a mediator and implementer of something that needs to and must be done. He does, however, become something more: he is now the co-creator of an artistic process that transcends the domain of art and reaches dimensions which Kandinsky considered the true foundation of artistic practice and art in general. Perhaps this is the element missing from today’s art practice. Perhaps…

Igor Loinjak

[1] Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion.New York: Harcourt & Brace, 1959

[2] Wassily Kandinsky. Concerning the Spiritual in Art. New York: Dover Publications, 1977