Space Travels of Painting
Miklavž Komelj, 25. VIII. 2009

The new series of Sergej Kapus's paintings bears the title 6+1. Six paintings, plus one painting that is present in the six paintings as a painting in relation to which the six are structured, all together make up the series as a whole. However, this one painting does not exist before the other six paintings, but rather it is the result of their concrete formulations. What is more: this one painting, as a result of the other six painting's concrete formulations, is inexistent. Only as such it can constitute the series without being one of its elements, making it potentially infinite; the realized paintings allow us to imagine an infinite number of unrealized paintings within the same series. If instead of these six realized paintings there were only five – would the inexistent painting be the same? Would this infinite series be the same? And if beside these paintings there was another one from the infinite series – would this inexistent painting be the same? Would this infinite series be the same? Do reference points of identity exist in painting? Perhaps Kapus's paintings testify to the fact that the mode of existing of painting should be thought of as an infinite dialectics of existence and nonexistence, as existence in the name of the nonexistent.
By explicitly applying elements of the geometric perspective, Kapus uses that very visualizing procedure typical of the history of Western painting which makes possible the identification link between the space of the painting and the space of depiction, a procedure linking existence to nonexistence. Moreover, the elements of the geometric perspective in these paintings imaginatively open up an empty space within a space that is already filled up (this is all the more evident in the captivating central “night” painting painted in acryl and ranging in colour from dark blue to violet) – either with the dense layers of acrylic paint or computer prints.
The combination of acrylic paint strokes and computer prints of photographs confers the “same” structural value to both the acrylic paint strokes and computer prints within the same series. However, this is not to say that a clear distinction is not established. For the distinction between painting and photography does not occur on the line of distinction between the acrylic paint stokes and the computer prints; these last, cut and assembled into the pictorial structure, become themselves elements of painting. In the process of constructing an image, such a procedure is not arbitrary; it is only through the act of cutting that the consistency of the image-as-structure is established, surpassing the fragment. Let us consider any landscape photograph: the whole photograph regardless of the wide panorama it depicts is always cut-out from some wider context – as such it always remains on the level of a fragment. The state of the fragment is, paradoxically, transcended at the very moment when instead of a cut-out there is a cut within an image through which the image-as-structure is constituted. As it seems, Kapus wants to show this explicitly, facing the viewer with the paradoxes of the visible, with the “abysses” that devour the gaze on its way. The “abysses” create an interesting interaction between the assembled fragments of photographs and paint strokes that transcends every given conception of the nature of the visible. The “night” painting produces a very intensive visual effect as if the dark central part of the pictorial field (painted with acrylic) illuminates the bright (computer printed) landscape to its right, attaining a time dialectics of “night” and “morning”. Particularly interesting is when the painted perspective illusion of these paintings (which is at the same time a disillusion for it is constructed in such a way that it gives the impression of moving into two opposite directions; basically, this is an abstract machine rotating in an infinite imaginative space) is confronted with the illusion of the photographed landscape: the perspective illusion does not penetrate the space of photography, but it is shaped before it, thus touching upon the nature of the pictorial space proper.
Computer prints used as “elements of painting” in Kapus's paintings are not just any landscapes. These are landscapes taken by a probe on the surface of Mars. Painting and space travels … Is this connection contingent? In a room of the space station in Tarkovsky's film Solaris (by the way: the time when the film was shot was also the time when Kapus became engaged with painting) hang some Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings (replicas). Is this some kind of nostalgia for the Earth? (Like the pieces of paper a scientist in that same space station fixes on an electric device in order to create sounds analogous to the rustle of foliage.) Or perhaps the presence of painting on a space station simply means that the mode of existing of painting implies space travels? (This was Malevich’s conception of painting. However, it should be noted that as soon as man oriented technical appliances towards space, that didn’t simply imply the substitution of the human eye with a technical appliance, but also required a new reflection on the nature of vision. Benedetto Castelli, Galileo's disciple and friend, ascribed to Galileo “the most precious eye nature has ever produced.”) Are we to understand Bruegel’s paintings in the space station as a commentary on the rupture between the concept and the seen – in connection with those unheimlich “visitors” who appear as visible materializations of people's fantasies in the space station and who are generated by Solaris? What if Breugel's paintings in the film are themselves such “visitors”?
When Kazimir Malevich discovered the spatial effect of the hovering colours before the pictorial field, wherefrom he developed the notion of Suprematism (reaching beyond painting) that wrenched gravity away from painting dispelling the horizon line in terms of organization of the painting, he linked his discoveries to the perspective of space travels. I do not maintain that the rejection of the horizon line in Malevich's painting enabled space travels (although prehistory of space flights of art is an imaginative blend of science and art – let us just think of Nikolai Fjodorov!). However, Malevich’s rejection of the horizon line has set the visual coordinates that allow for such travels to be conceived of.
Almost a century after Malevich's rejection of the horizon line, a space vehicle with a probe is sent to Mars taking snapshots of landscapes which then, digitally coded in a binary system of 1s and 0s, travel long distances until they reach the Earth where we can finally see the images. These last represent a desert landscape, and the horizon line is back. At first, there is a rejection of the horizon line that announces space travels, and afterwards we again have snapshots with the horizon line and spatial coordinates same as those which Malevich, following his discovery in painting, did away with.
What does Kapus's painting do with these snapshots? Does he want to show us that we need painting – and here I understand painting in particular as a specific mode of vision – in order to break through the horizon line? Kapus’s paintings, in my opinion, are not to be understood in the context of banal painterly commentaries “of a media-mediated image” that, with constant reference to contemporaneity, may well also be an excuse for the regressive visual tendencies, but rather as “space travels” of the gaze. All the more so, since the used snapshots are snapshots taken on Mars. (Basically, what is involved is a constant combination of the space travel, by way of which snapshots of Mars have been obtained, and the infinite “route between the same place”, to borrow the formulation from Tomaž Šalamun's early poetry.) The perspective of space distances is essential for reflection on nature of the (human) vision proper. Pascal was already aware of this at the dawn of modern science when he wrote about (non)essential disproportion de l'homme. But the painter's gaze knows that these distances emerge in simple questions as is the question of what happens to colours in the dark – where are the colours when none of them can be seen?