When art is just a skill, it makes us take semblance for reality; it gives us the illusion of reality. It becomes a mystification of man’s demiurgic sense if he renounces the power of the imaginary and the realization of his own poetics.
As an activity characteristic of man, art represents the totality of relations we maintain with nature in order to transform it, in the same way man created the world in order to modify it and change the order of things, because invention exists in a form which is only temporarily a solution to the problem we are concerned with, but also in the dialectic process that determines and governs its position within our entire scope of interest. In its operational discipline, in its autonomy of action, art is experimental research that provides a foundation to the mankind and establishes it in its ability of mediation.
Ivan Picelj, who was one of the founders of the EXAT 51 group in Zagreb, then during the 60s one of the most active participants of the international New Tendencies movement, today appears as the principal initiator of experimental art in Yugoslavia, while his personality and the originality of his work surpass the social and cultural context of his home country. The innovative importance of his research has for almost ten years been mostly related to the problem area of visual perception, on the exploration work of the gaze, on his ability to read constructed languages, and on stimuli he can receive through different distribution within a set of symbols.
Geometrically simple, these systems of symbols are mostly executed as serigraphs or materialized in reliefs with the help of wooden, metal or plastic modular elements. They are rarely also developed in the dimensions of dispositives that can be manipulated or dispositives in environment. However, be they printed or manufactured, they are all strictly standardized so that they might be used for structured assembly or so that they would ensure the syntax of repetition and symmetry in order that their regular or random distribution in reliefs could produce the effects of broken down and multiplied flickering and glimmering.
With such systematic treatment of visual communication, founded on objectification of graphic or concrete properties of its compounds, Picelj affects our way of seeing things and opens a new relation to reality. He has namely never strived to question reality or its virtuality, but spatial and temporal circumstances, traditional conventions that hinder an objective approach during which, however, the gaze remains free to retort to the effectiveness of his poetics. This artist sets the question of method above everything. Although his work was mainly linked to syntactic structures of the work, with combination principles that govern permutations or variations of series of identical or different elements, starting with 1973 he would try to define the structure of adjustment for each series of elements, which determines their integration into a whole he would try to make visible.
As this is indicated by the title Geometrie elementaire, it is inscribed into the framework of methodological research in which the visual experience of the constructive field is not anymore realized by starting only from its real or simulated and recreated phenomena, because since that point it has accepted the control over the information it is focused on. However, in order that everybody could freely follow the artist’s procedures, a certain type of simultaneously individual and collective solution had to be devised, readable and manipulative, implied both by our gaze and our behavior. With his Geometrie elementaire Picelj primarily proposes us two operating sets of material that arise from two different, but by no means juxtaposed techniques and functions.
The first set encompasses eight color serigraphs that show eight masses whose planes are two-dimensionally folded out, delineating a homogeneous, recognizable surface similar to shape patterns for children: ball, cube, tetrahedron, octahedron, icosahedron, cylinder, prism, and pyramid. If each of the eight serigraphs took one of the fundamental colors of the specter as its dominant — the juxtaposition of serigraphs reconstructs it in its continuity — color values or complementary colors and fundamental colors with their chromatic specter will fill the surface of the presented mass with the only intention to make the form and the position of planes that characterize it different through the direction of its regular grids. The other set consists of eight monochromatic metal bodies that three-dimensionally, on the scale of a hand and each in its basic color, shape eight geometric figures executed as serigraphs. And finally, the third set — still only at the level of a proposal — could be inflatable plastics. It would give us the possibility of enlargement of these eight monochromatic bodies to the dimensions of our mobile environment.
Thus we look at two sets of objects that constitute two different and complementary sequences that correspond to two experiments that can be conducted separately or together, depending on two modes of reading or handling.
We can modify the position of factors in each of these two programs, that is to say, we can shift them from one program into the other, inspired by ludic mechanisms, which, influencing our freedom of choice, renew our viewpoint, our aesthetic practice, and encourage us to discover the constants of the problem devised by Picelj, of its permanence, in spite of random permutations that can be localized whatever the transitory status of the devised solutions. In their different distribution, in dependence on illumination and their non-arbitrary function, chromatically serigraphed grids do not only participate in the identification of the mass, in the marking of its unfolded planes, but also introduce certain dynamics into the form, a serial rhythm, different from print to print, changing and developing, without losing intensity or breaking the rule that determines them.
Through mental involvement in this play of grids, in the combination of their interchanging registers, we discover space that belongs to graphic articulation of masses they visualize. We enter the structures of the image, the order which is related to the geometry of monochromatic geometrical bodies, which can be manipulated.
Experimental pedagogy, elaborated in order to embody our power of initiative, enables us to freely intervene into given programs, to transgress the function of the whole at will, in order to build this theatre of action in which each person has the possibility of understanding the materials and the artist’s project.
the Géométrie élémentaire — Soft & hard