Sculpture in four dimensions
Man Sitting is one of Ivan Kožarić's early works. The sculpture was made in 1954 at the very beginning of the artist's career It was shown in his first one man shows, together with his other, even then formally quite diverse works.
Having understood and absorbed the achievements of modern figuration, as well as the sculpture of earlier periods, including classical sculpture, Kožarić has the ability of responding innovatively to every new creative stimulus. He uses those elements of the plastic vocabulary, or rather, syntactic sculptural material, he has absorbed and which suit a momentary sensation and idea, or motif which requires the application of a particular historical experience. However, the experience of artists like, for example, Degas, Arp, Giacometti, Moore.... never makes an appearance in Kožarić's work in a vulgar eclectic manner
As an author Kožarić is a unique melting pot of styles. In the terminology of the natural sciences, we could say that this is a stylistic compound rather than a mixture, where, within the dominance of the original substance a completely new quality is created.
This approach, which has nothing in common with the need to establish and follow a rigid and formulaic stylistic idiom, out of fear for one's own recognisability, has resulted in an unusual diversity of works from the very beginning of the artist's career
Bara with Chicken (Fig. 1) is a work Kožarić made as a graduate at the Academy of Fine Art in 1949 depicting a figure of a peasant woman. In keeping with the rustic motif, this work bears reference in its voluminosity and strength to Barlach, and in part Marini, yet seems to be based on Cezanesque values of firmness and monumentality (Woman with Caffetiere), and is quite different from the elegant linear fragility of our Man Sitting.
One might think that the reason for this difference lies in the five year gap separating the two works, however in comparing two heads from the same year - 1954 - we would have to think again. While Head of Girl (Fig.3), in its detailed and expressive modelling, recalls both Matisse and classical art, the well known Man from Lika (Fig.4) is a reductive geometric form. It is a synthesis in which the head merges with the characteristic ethnic element of the hat from the region of Lika making it look as if the crown is cut off, and the emphasis of the whole form lies in the stylized detail of the monumental moustache. From the very beginning of his career, Kožarić showed an despite of stasis, consolidation, repetition, 'style'. Without threatening his own individuality, nor his own (on a certain higher level) recognisability, Kožarić's artistic practice is one of constant motion which offers unlimited possibilities.
Kožarić's unusual system of variations does not take place within the limits of figuration alone. Even at this early stage, abstract forms evolved from the source motif of a head or a figure (the head with the corrugated Brancussi-like motif repeated along the length of the face - Fig.2 - or the Torso from 1954 - Fig.5), but also forms that were quite independent of a figurative model, such as Feeling of Wholeness, 1953/54 (Fig.6). This is a small (38 cm high) completely abstract sculpture in which mass and line are juxtaposed. In this work an iron rod penetrates a compact elongated, rounded and wavy plaster shape, the two elements form the letter X and support each other in a dynamic equilibrium.
However, regardless of the fact that certain insights must have occurred at certain times through time and work, the evolutionist principle, the hierarchy of 'progressive' and less 'progressive' stylistic solutions simply does not apply in Kožarić's case. Therefore, he decided to apostrophise his inebriating sense of freedom, which stems not only from his great talent, but also from keeping his eyes wide open, in the figurative sculpture Man Sitting as a kind of crypto-manifest, in a possibly concealed - ich form.
In terms of motif, this would be a work of classical inspiration. It refers to the often used classical Greek motif of Apoksiomenos (Fig.7) a sportsman removing the sweat and mud from his body with a special scraper Kožaria's model seems to be a sculpture attributed to the sculptor Lisip and dating from cca 330 b.c. Contrary to Kožarić's sculpture, the original depicts a standing figure, but what distinguishes it is the activity and position of the hands which are reaching forward at a right angle to the body In relation to the until then practically two dimensional treatment of sculpture which demanded a direct, unhindered view of the front of the body, Lisip's Apoksiomenos represented an attack on the cannons of art, a moment of the figure's spontaneous movement. For classical sculpture this is a revolutionary event which introduced the third dimension, that is, a fearless penetration into space.
And towards the end of the second millennium, a Croatian sculptor declares his own will and vision, referring back to this classical adventure. He radicalises this penetration of space, that is, he extends the hands which reach out, symbolically - into infinity
Man Sitting is a classical paraphrase in motif, but in shape it belong to its own time. Reduced to a compact form devoid of superfluous details, with the face, hands and feet undifferentiated and with its corrugated surface revealing the creative process, this sculpture is the result of a wonderful balance between clear geometric structure and organic vitality In the apparent shematicism we discover the reality of the dissolved form, elements of Matisse's arabesques which are combined with a seemingly Giacommetti-like elongation. For, although the principle of elongating the form may by necessity be drawn from the precedent of the existential sculptor, the manner of its absorption is completely organic. It is conditioned by a very specific impulse, and as such in fact represents a pure opposition to the seemingly appropriated style. While in Giacometti's work the (vertical) extension is a matter of a consistent realisation of the formal and thematic principles of the integral form, in Kožarić's case the (horizontal) extension of the limbs is a matter of something completely different: of an unexpected excess in relation to the form, a form whose concept does not involve proportional anomalies. While in the first case it is a question of a cannon of specific proportions, in Kožarić's case it is a question of breaking one's own canons.
In this sudden penetration of the figure's extremities, where the thigh of the right leg is planted at the knee and the left hand, symbolically, reaches into infinity, Kožarić is expressing his early desire, sense, and praxis of freedom. The freedom is in the artist's gesture through the gesture of the sculpted figure and in the elaboration of the signifying results of both.
It is a question, therefore, of a freedom from anatomic and proportional givens of the figurative sculpture, from the restrictions of the medium and from the imperative of style, and last (or first) of that which conditions everything else - the unlimited freedom of the mind and the imagination. Moreover, Kožarić's freedom is defined by the boundlessness of the imagination. Kožarić, like a child, does not differentiate between the realisable and the unrealisable, the possible and the impossible. He thinks of a project, which even if it cannot be materialised is not denied its status as a work of art. On the contrary, it even gains a powerful poetic aura, an intimacy and a secure place in our memory Such was the idea of the gigantic sculpture bridging an entire crossroads (Fig.8), or the project of cutting up a mountain, or the casts of the insides of heads, or the cast of the planet Earth (Fig.9, 1 1).
Freedom may well be a category, condition and main attribute of art as such, but in that case Kožarić owns the license. Freedom is something we automatically relate to Kožarić, like his mascot, like a synonym. In fact the paradox of Kožarić is this: however atypical he may be in his artistic behavior on the one hand, on the other hand he is prototypical - he represents the ideal role model for learning art. Naturally, as a praxis of freedom whose presence and intensity reach such levels that the artist himself feels like its captive. (As wheri he filed a request to the imaginary Office for the repossession of freedom for it to rid him of freedom - catalogue of his one man show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, 1976).
In this exhibition, almost half a century later, the artist returns to his early work and, in keeping with his own inverse phenomelogy of the artist who grows younger over the years, 'completes' it by hypertrophying the indication of its peculiarity to the level of the absurd.
Returning to and intervening in an earlier work is no exception in Kožarić's practice. As a result i of his well known theory of the 'need to sustain the continuity of not agreeing with oneself', that is, his acceptance of every new moment and its accompanying fresh outlook, Kožarić revises his own body of work in a variety of ways. Sometimes this involves changing particular works through actual physical intervention, regardless of the encyclopedic status these works may have gained; other times he uses his works to fill his 'bundles' with; or he degrades the work to a mere element of a heaving 'pile' by according it equal worth as non-artistic objects or even refuse, at other times he 'melts down' their differences of date, size, material and style with gold-plate Kožarić continually sustains a productive instability and a creative temperature of self questioning and openness.
By relativising any official status of the work, Kožarić plays havoc with convention and dogma as well as with eternity, which, paradoxically, in so doing he acquires. Eliminating limits of time and space, Kožarić from his modest ground-floor plebeian position transforms the world into art. Sculpture 1954-2000 is Kožarić's wonderful new gesture in which he radically unites and affirms both his practical experience and his most important principles. On this occasion, Kožarić uses tinfoil, a light pliable material, along with the bronze cast of 1954. He has been using tinfoil since 1976 when he made a whole range of little tinfoil forms, from heads to cyprus trees (Fig. 10), which he called 'temporary sculptures'. This time the tin foil appears in a 350 m long mega-version.
As far as excessive, long shapes are concerned, there are other points of reference in Kožarić's work besides Man Sitting. For example, in 1971 he made a series of archetypally ironic phallic figurines, 'willies' (Fig. 12). The same year he conceived of the unrealised project Multicoloured light strips going over buildings (Fig. 13). Kožarić produced something similar to the 'strips', but much smaller in scale in 1975 at the Gallery of Contemporary Art. As part of his one man show he spread a 'laufcarpet' over the gallery floor which in the end lifted up and 'flew' up to the ceiling. In 1991, Kožaria made a series of ironic self portraits in pencil and plaster featuring long, variously shaped noses (Fig. 14). The drawings in which the nose meanders and circumscribes the entire surface of the paper wrapping itself sometimes round the head it originates from are particularly close to his latest project.
Both the title and the time span of 46 years suggest a retrospective exhibition and this exhibition truly does present a work whose content consists of half a century's experience of one artist. However, this experience is not presented in a mechanical form, where the space is treated as a receptacle, a storage space, an emptiness waiting to be filled with objects, objects which are then listed to justify a lifetime's activities and one's bourgeois presence.
No, this exhibition is also a work, a creative conclusion. In this case, the space has been thought through and animated, the physical element is but a minimal model for optimal mental involvement. *
By combining two elements, the sculpture and its sequel, Kožarić, apart form brilliantly solving the problem of space, has also bridged time. In this sense, the exhibition can be seen as a temporal sculpture, a sculpture in four dimensions. For this work not only marks the two sides of the artist's experience, two modes of expression, a sculptural and an installational mode, but also sublimates this whole experience and in so doing relativises its mediatic limitations. Also, it bears witness to the youth, vitality and energy of the older idea which has grown stronger with age, merrily taking on a new 'serene Sisyphean' strength.
The sculpture Man Sitting has, contrary to its title, a fresh quality, one of unextinguished motion. Apart from the position of the hands suggesting an impertinent gesture, the unreallsurreal extension of the left hand creates an additional dynamic effect. This is further accentuated by extending the hand into the tinfoil. Avoiding the triviality of literally sticking one material onto the other, Kožarić lucidly left a space of around a meter and a half between the sculpture and its extension. In so doing, the intention of joining loses none of its strength, but achieves an additional tension between the two elements, one we could compare to the tension running between the fingers of God and those of the first man on Michelangelo's famous fresco.
Furthermore, the hand in its existent and now emphasised dynamism appears like a gun barrel firing its own continuation. The impression is as if the silvery material had hardened and defined its trajectory just before we catch sight of it. Thus, the work gains very specific contemporary qualities, recalling science fiction films where the boundaries of the real and the unreal, the possible and the impossible disappear in an atmosphere of extreme dynamism. Just as he avoided the literal linking of the hand and its continuation, Kožarić was not concerned with the similarity of the materials, its colour or proportions (the tinfoil strips are much wider than the hand of the sculpture). And yet, in the perception of the work, the idea of this addition never comes into question. Moreover, the similarity in the textures of the bronze and the tin foil is astounding, as is the character of the form which is sustained in its addition, regardless of the fact that the tinfoil was modeled by assistants, and the artist never even touched the material. These facts indicate the stability of the idea, or rather the vision, which excludes any notions of literalness, nuances and superfioal ideas, and confirms its essence through its realisation. The small sculpture, only 65 cm tall, is placed in the Gallery PM diametrically opposite the entrance, in a space which is otherwise difficult to master A space full of competing shapes and constructions: railings, cabinets, staircases and banisters. However, despite this, and despite the fact that this little sculpture, which from a distance looks like a fragile bronze mosquito, more of a drawing in space than a sculptural volume - not only does it survive visually but it presents a definite focus point. And this small body generates a large extension of its own extremity which in turn gives it power and significance. However, the silver, shiny line frees itself and travels through the space following its own configuration. From its source in the Gallery PM it extends into the large circular exhibition space - 'the ring' - in which, levitating and tvvisting it makes a full circle. The line then lands and circles the space once more, ending just above the steps which lead out of the gallery
This whole environment becomes independent of its source. 'The Hand' becomes an independent spatial element whose dynamic in all of its elements creates a new plastic aspect, a different visual quality At the same time, by separating from the core and the source idea, it also leaves behind the possible pathos of a utopian gesture. It frees Kožarić's characteristic humour and autoirony which intensifies the feeling of wideness, expanse and airiness. In fact, despite its extent, this is another uncompleted work. Like the bronze hand of the Man Sitting it remains but an indication, reserving its potentlal of further growth and transformation.
This fact was consolidated by a rather unplanned end to the exhibition. As it was impossible to transport hundreds of meters of tinfoil, and even harder to find a place to store it, the idea of distributing it to the public came about.
Out of practical need, exactly a month after the opening of the exhibition, on the 22nd of February 2000, a date numerologists and cabalists may well find intriguing, a happening occurred in the Croatian Association of Fine Artists. The public announcement of the dismantling and distribution of the exhibition brought in the usual art public, but also an unexpectedly large and colorful crowd. A merry crowd of hundreds of impatient potential owners of the relic of Kožarić's hand gathered demanding their piece from the overworked cutters. The stnp was cut into irregular sizes, according to demand, from palm sized pieces to pieces 20m long. The artist carefully signed each piece.
That evening, these light silver pieces floated around town like tame stellar trails radiating good vibrations, under their owners' arms, in cars and on roof racks. And so, the long hand, although fragmented, experienced an additional extension, continuing its existence in many different ways. It entered the homes of hundreds of people and long after the exhibition it will continue radiating the idea of continuity
Having spread his work out among people, Ivan Kožarić has united them with his sign. And once again, radically and gently at the same time, he has realised his basic and vital principle of the open work.