Gordana Kuč’s Stardust - Petar Ćuković
Discussing the character of the traditional Montenegrin socio-cultural space in a now rather old text, written nearly two decades ago for the catalogue of the well-known 1989 Yugoslav Documenta exhibition in Sarajevo, I said that this “hard” space was distinguished by the public dominance of the “male” element, or, put another (probably more precise) way, by the suppression of the “female”. I believed at the time that the slow, but certain urbanisation and its immanent subjectivisation of this space would surely develop parallelly with the liberation and discovery of this “soft” energy of the world, which, of course, will significantly contribute to changes in the character of the local culture. And, indeed, the last two decades saw a veritable wave of “female” energy, in all its various manifestations, which, of course, transcend current “gender” disputes, and especially the particularisms of the so-called feminist movements and practices; it was as if this polymorphous and universal energy flooded our culture, as if the “lances, sabres, maces and rifles”, the pentametric narrative pathos and pretentious cosmic metaphysics which are eminent signs of the local phallic phantasms, were constantly in retreat before the spidery threads and webs, before the lace, silk and milk which, then and now, webbed over or spilled into our new, urban cultural spaces.
This complex and evidently unstoppable process of rehabilitation of the “female” element in a traditionally male space certainly has deep sociological, cultural and psychological causes. What is most valuable in it, however, is that it can also be understood as a form of deconstruction of the dominant cultural paradigm of this space, as a local variant of the globally current modes of expression and trends, or, rather, as their parallel, broadly speaking, with all the inevitable specific characteristics which such a process entails in the scope of local events. Having mentioned global processes, it should be pointed out that this local “deconstruction” is actually taking place in a general atmosphere of widespread resignation, as a kind of “zero point” which culture and its unsurveyable artistic languages have reached in the twilight of a controversial, exciting, turbulent and unfortunate century, a century which saw the rise of great hopes and an equally great and tragic fall. This “zero point”, this unsurveyability and “indifference” seem to be sharply depicted by the rhetorical question posed at the beginning of a lecture in the mid-1990s in Vršac by the well-known art historian Dr. László Beke, at that time director of Budapest’s famous Muýcsarnok art venue. Starting off his lecture, Dr Beke asked: “Who needs art nowadays, anyway? Who is interested in art nowadays?” Of course, in the answers to these emblematic questions by a well-versed art historian at the end of a tired century, he sketched the elementary dialogic function of art, primarily regarding the basic “subject-to-subject” relationship, i.e., intersubjectivity, and only then the culture-to-culture relationship, as the essential justification of the purpose of art’s existence even in such a chaotic and unsurveyable time as the end of the century and the alleged “end of history”, or in the fog-bound, unclear paths of the “new millennium”.
It is precisely this elementary intersubjective relationship as the basic repository of the meaning of artistic endeavour today that represents an important point of contact between the global situation in current art and the most thematically interesting of its local manifestations, regardless of the fact that the socio-cultural contexts of the global and local level differ significantly.
Therefore, in our circumstances, the growth and strengthening of fragile subjectivity can be read as an increased, albeit belated, rise in urban sensibility, and particularly as the “natural state” (or source) from which our “women’s writing” also draws its energy today. Because the city is not only the obligatory site of “alienation” and the impossibility of the subject to realise itself, as often recorded by that sociology which finds its inspiration at the surface of Marx’s thought; it is precisely the city which is the place in which the subject articulates a mycelic map of its “new itineraries”.
In the wave of younger authors who have marked out and who keep marking out these “new itineraries” in our modern artistic scene Gordana Kuč occupies an important place. Far from “madding crowd”, far from society’s “glamour”, the spotlights, microphones and rolling cameras, with no wish to conquer “honours” and public “recognition”, with an elegance which always accompanies those who, with the greatest caution and questioning, turn their work, their intimate depths, to others for viewing, this artist has carefully chosen the time, place and environment for her public appearances.
There is no doubt that all her works belong to a very specific culture of “intimism”. This “intimism” was first demonstrated in paintings whose formalisation was based on the moulding of a certain internal “frame”, “grid” or “lattice”, around which the formal structure of the painting itself was then built. This internal “lattice” and the entire structure of the painting resisted any quick identification, pointing to oblique strategies for “recognising” the painted “object” as a thing being autonomously constructed in a muffled atmosphere, by hermetical, opaque procedures which “internalise” linguistic operations in order to “twist” the mysterious, dusky forms of the strictly bordered field of the painting, within which the artist’s very being is “cocooned”. This production strategy, essentially based on scorn for the external world, on a blatant escapism from its variable, unsteady social, cultural and visible records, points indirectly to the values of every specific subjectivity, to the extreme ineffability of every individual human experience.
based on A resolute promotion of this subjectivity, so neglected in the public life of collectivist, mass societies was also the strategy on which Gordana Kuč’s following work cycles were based: the series of long paper strips recall a kind of intimogram which retain bare notes, like a diary – linear trajectories, turnarounds, points, views, spidery webs – “reports” on a secret, significant existence. In regard to these works, I use the word “report” instead of, for example, “expression”, on purpose, because “report” is closer to the expressive neutrality and reticence of the visual signs on these long strips, which seem to have been cut according to the particular size of the exhibition venue, but essentially form part of an unbroken, infinite, unsurveyable “cosmic” papyrus. The excitement which these works generate does not rely on the formal aesthetic values of the interplay of the signs written on the surface of these endless strips; to discuss this would lead down a blind alley, as the essential meaning, the paradoxical, highly subjectivist connotation of these works lies precisely in this “inexpressiveness”, in the nearly uniform, monotonous rhythmical repetition, and in the transformation of this recording of mere, unchangeable, pure existence into action without end! Because this is the only untouchable, pure and uncorrupted thing left to the subject today!
Works in a smaller format, in which the collage application of various materials dominates, and which were shown by Gordana Kuč together with the works discussed above, have practically the same purpose of intimography, with a somewhat different formalisation, which entails perhaps less dramaturgical “suspense”, but more of a methodical principle of “construction”.
When first exhibited, the numerous strips-intimograms, relatively regularly distributed, practically took up the entire volume of a gallery venue: removed from the walls where one would expect to see them, like unfurled “rolls” they “hung” in free-fall from a high ceiling to the floor of the gallery. This demarcation of the “aerial” volume of the gallery’s internal space seemed to “unburden” the specular activities of the observers, of the eyes’ “long-distance” work, by transferring part of the receptive “obligations” to his body and to the heat of the temptation of his “caught”, unpredictable physical trajectories in a fragile labyrinthine space with no beginning and no end.
Once felicitously “discovered”, this model of activating and tempting the observer’s body, of catching him in subtly laid nets of aerial coordinates, went through two more articulations. The first was in the Blue Palace in Cetinje, as part of the 1997 Cetinje Biennial, where the receptive potentials of the observer’s body were even more strictly activated: the intimograms were applied on the inside and outside of a metal frame in the shape of a long, open, rhythmically regular spiral which formed a kind of tunnel into which the observer was invited to step. The stereotype of gallery space as the site of standard socio-cultural communication was questioned here, too: “carved out”, in its interior, was an exclusive space of the elementary “subject-subject” relationship, the most important, fundamental relationship in the field of artistic meaning pointed to by László Beke; beyond the usual social, cultural and life codes, beyond the established network of signs and instructions, an isolated, sovereign territory of the undisputed realm of intimacy and subjectivity was occupied and defined. The body-being was invited and sent into a kind of accelerator, into an experimental chamber of purification through the exegesis of a meeting between two pure subjectivities.
In the wonderful work Diaries for Inspection, carried out as part of the Orchid project at the 2004 Cetinje Biennial, in a cell of the former Bogdanov Kraj prison, the body of the observers was invited into the interior of the cell, but, at the same time, entrance was denied! In the centre of the room, on a high wooden plinth, diaries were placed written by the artist when she was entering adolescence; records, therefore, of the deepest, vulnerable intimacy of early youth, of intimacy usually carefully hidden as the protected field of an untouchable and unpublished holy secret. Precisely because of this holiness, the entire volume of the cell surrounding the raised plinth was webbed over with a thick net made of transparent fishing lines, thus guarding the sacrament of the diary from “inspection”, from desecration. The body was thwarted and, with help from the eye, which had its “jurisdiction restored”, it was converted into the subject of “smouldering desire”, of a longing for the unattainable, ever receding object. The brilliant formalisation of this work further feeds and lavishly enriches this longing: the object is visible and present, practically within reach, on a plinth of tangible, convincing, hard and not too polished raw wood; the physical limits of its visibility are defined by its positioning just above average eye height and, viewed slightly from below, the diaries are visible as open books, but neither the pages nor the handwriting, that is, the content, are accessible. The spidery network, meanwhile, by enabling transparency and visibility, but also by being, in its transparency, an insurmountable obstacle to unquenchable desire, suggests the delicacy and holiness of subjectivity, any subjectivity, now no longer “pure”, like the one we saw in the strip-intimograms, but specific, socially narrated subjectivity, caught, or, rather, thrown into the frequently merciless “jaws of life”. Thus, the jail cell was the right place for the articulation of this work, and it represented a kind of homage to the site, or to those who at it were subjected to the worst humiliation and indescribable suffering, having been mostly convicted for “thinking differently”, for being “subjects of thought”, bearers of “high subjectivity”, always accompanied by a defence of the right to the most intimate personal beliefs!
From the prison environment, Gordana Kuč returned to the stardust of her own studio. Back from one socially undesirable space into another, or, rather, the first one, a space which itself more often than not represents a kind of social ghetto: within it, even today, live those who in vain, vulnerable, feel the pulse of the world “more than the millions”; within it, still today, freeze the hearts of those who move in the delicate space between soul and body! Therefore, the dust, the real dust of her own studio, which Gordana Kuč has put on canvas in her latest works, is not only a gesture of decisive, scornful escapism from the world of established socio-cultural signs and their networks, of networks in which dust is “undesirable”, “unclean”, “unworthy” and, in art, certainly “unexpected” and “unimaginable”; it is actually an exciting, nearly classical, but no less unique story of how non-being, or practical non-being, even in a physical, material sense gives rise, through creative will and power, to being. And of how this being reconciles and overcomes time: all the exhibitions, all the work outside the studio, all the intervals which finally announce this or that form of Gordana Kuč’s artistic activities, all this seems to be “covered” by the stardust of her studio in its implacable action without end; finally, everything seems to have been dispersed in a hazy space irresistibly reminiscent of the images and secrets of cosmic iconography! And it is as if everything has been turned back whence it had once come from, as if the soul of the subject, of the specific, unique subject of the artist, and therefore our souls, too, have been dispersed without hope in this reconciling, mysterious, ineffable, absolute haze!