Brane Kovič
Ulm Variations

The artistic and philosophical paradigm to which Ivan Picelj has remained faithful since the time of the EXAT 51 group is once more masterfully realized in his print portfolio Ulm Variations. By the same token, we can again affirm the thought stated by the poet Jure Kaštelan in his introduction to the catalogue for the exhibition Kristl, Picelj, Rašica, Srnec in the winter of 1953, namely that “what is new is discovered through experiment; what is new is being created and conquered.” Picelj’s oeuvre as a whole, regardless of the techniques he uses, from painting and printmaking to the construction of three-dimensional objects and graphic design, is explicitly experimental in its orientation. Always open to new challenges and initiatives. For Picelj, l’art construit, as a chosen stylistic and thematic framework, with its many derivations and the individual poetics through which it is realized, is far more than an aesthetic imperative; it is also an ethical and moral one. Related to the noblest traditions of the historical avant-gardes and reflected in the works of those rare contemporary artists for whom artistic activity is much more than simply a professional practice.

The title of the present series of eight color serigraphs was not an arbitrary choice. Founded more than fifty years ago, the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm revived and built on the efforts of the Weimar Bauhaus; its faculty, led by the rector, Max Bill, took as their starting point the relationship between the artistic imagination and rationally based scientific thought. Rationalism as the conceptual foundation of modern philosophy is inseparably linked to the writings and thoughts of René Descartes who in the course of his multifaceted life — one mwarked by much travel and frequent changes of residence — spent a few months in this German town as well. These two facts provided the indisputable rationale behind Picelj’s graphic homage to clear and exact thinking patterns, generating a brilliant series of chromatically subtle orthogonal compositions, consisting of four units defined by black contours and four by white contours. In terms of continuity — which we can trace from Picelj’s triple project Remember, realized in 1984, and then, especially, through the single prints and portfolios he created (after a certain hiatus) between the years 1992 and 2002 — the artist again, in the present work, focuses on the eternal question of the principle of logical combination, with the presupposition that what he has to work with are a given geometric form and the primary colors of the chromatic spectrum. The articulation of relations between the shape and the colors is carried out in accord with a previously selected mathematical model, which dictates the multiplication or reduction of both structural components, that is to say, of both the geometric shapes within the whole pictorial field and the chromatic elements with their interferences. But despite such strict predetermination in the process of articulation.

Picelj’s solutions are, in the final consequence, to the senses perceptible as visually attractive statements that never fail to excite the eye and the spirit. The poetics of order and harmony on which they are based is, in fact, the natural opposite of the ideology of laissez-faire, the predominant excuse of feeble image-makers who cite “spontaneity” as their guiding principle while trying to conceal their own insufficient skill and modest imaginative potential under a cover of rhetorical displays and formalistic pleonasms. In other words, precisely determined form is not a priori limiting; quite the contrary, it is here that the artist’s inventive subjectivity can unfold in the fullness of its power and persuasiveness, thus at the same time confirming the fact that no formal structure is arbitrary, but rather in itself acts as the determinative content. In this sense, Picelj’s Uim Variations are a thorough and consistent original visualization of a specific mental concept, which in its openness sets forth a constructive, comprehensive vision of spiritual and sensate space. To put it another way, while many artists today merely articulate mostly chaotic aspects of the contemporary world, Picelj and others who share his way of thinking construct this world in a new way, and together actively shape its image.

Foreword to
Ulm Variations Print Portfolio