DRAWING as a Mindset and CHAOS as a Higher Degree of Order
The idea behind the foundation of the CHAOS Gallery in 1995 was to present phenomena and the poesy of one particular form of graphic expression – drawing in this case – practised by our and foreign artists. As I was pondering over the purpose and concept of the rented gallery space and a programme which would have to offer something lacking on our artistic stage, the drawing as a marginalised graphic expression, rather neglected by the critics and numerous artists alike, gradually imposed itself. Then the questions why the drawing and what does this art discipline comprise arose immediately. Alongside an attempt to answer these questions and offer my point of view regarding this specific form of art, I find it necessary to mention in this introduction - on the occasion of the gallery’s tenth anniversary - its various activities explain, of course, why chaos and present a brief history and my personal view of this form of artistic expression.
Drawing is a very old art discipline whose roots date back to the very beginning of man’s existence. It is an indelible part of the lasting and priceless heritage of the artistic experience. It is noteworthy that the art history can follow it from the very first examples on animal bones, stone surfaces or cave walls to ancient – Egyptian and Greek – friezes and drawings on parchment and paper. This period was followed, however, by centuries of its absence or very sporadic specimens probably because it was difficult to preserve it on papyrus. It is only in the Middle Ages, or to be more exact, as of the late 15 th and early 16 th centuries that the drawing comes into its own as the autonomous work of art. As of that time it is evaluated differently, collected, sold, used and kept.
As often as not the drawing has been perceived and treated as a subsidiary, incidental phenomenon, a basis for a painting or sculpture, a potential ideal, a guide for the future work, sinopia – the preliminary sketch for a fresco or tapestry, a design for the etching plate, a detailed study for an architectural design, theatre sets or costumes, animation or, these days, even for a digital work. For a long time the opinion prevailed that this was not art to be kept and displayed. With time, however, the attitude and interpretation of the status and significance of this art discipline changed.
For me, ever since my student days, the drawing has been the primary artistic statement, my favourite form of graphic expression, a language of a very special kind and special values. Every time I walked into a museum, wherever it might be, the first thing I would ask was where I could see its drawings and I had the opportunity to see many important collections. For many years I corresponded with the only Centre for Drawing which is in New York . In other words, my personal preference coincided with the evident need for a specialised gallery prepared to exhibit diverse types of drawing as one of the most important elements of graphic creation. Drawings were almost completely absent from our museums and galleries. At the same time, the very fact that an event called Belgrade Drawing (Braća Stamenković People’s University), also started by me, has survived for almost thirty years attested to the need of the artists and the public to cultivate the drawing and present its phenomenological evolution and expansion. Today we can follow its evolution from the very classical, conventional, linearism on paper and diverse graphics on oil paintings, photographs or computer works to all sorts of installations, wire or luminous gas drawings to objects in which the line as a means of expression is materialised in a multitude of techniques. This fact allowed for the great diversity of gallery exhibitions. It lent wings to a concept which was rational but hazardous in view of the time and situation in which it was to be put into practice.
What else is the drawing?
The first thought. An idea. A mental fact.
A statement about the presence of creative energies which – even before the time of the exquisite drawings in the caves of Altamira and Lascaux – set the man apart from other species.
Etymologically, the drawing and to draw are clear terms.
They mean figures, scenes, phenomena, emotions drawn in a line. Images of the surrounding world and our attitude, knowledge and feelings about that world. The drawing is the first sign. Writing. A coded notion.
If we agree with the definition that a line consists of a string of dots in space, then the drawing consists of interlaced sensible lines. These lines – be they drawn contours, graphics, arabesques, hatchings, free strokes, abstractions or signs – are the basic plastic phenomenon, the core element, the essential means of visual expression.
The drawing is also the first script. Definitely! A letter of its kind. Man’s need to communicate, record, preserve for eternity.
Artist’s urge to express himself. An aesthetical intent. A symbol of the painter’s will.
The drawing is a multilayered feeling whether it is an impression, fear or triumph over nature, pleasure, curiosity, erotic charge or dream. It is a transposed idea and nuanced sensibility.
From the first drawings on cave walls to records on clay, wooden and marble plates to messages conveyed by Egyptian hieroglyphics and friezes with drawings on the temples and vessels of ancient times to the modern-day drawings done in addition to conventional techniques, by laser or even sound – we can talk about the phenomenon of special visual speech, the peak of creative freedom, an authentic graphic fact.
What else is the drawing and why the drawing?
It is my profound conviction that the drawing is a proof of masterfulness. A measure of skill and sensibility. A moment of sincerity. That above all! An expression of adroitness and creativity. Fruit of imagination. Testimony of a spiritual game of its own. Moments of solitude. A segment of the artist’s private dialogue with the world and himself. A manner of discovering and interpreting the world and an unbreakable tie with it.
The drawing investigates, develops and rounds off the formal and meaningful edifice of a work of art. It is a graphic act, a process in which the relationship between the graphic language and experience is resolved, a mindset, one could almost say – artist’s breathing.
The drawing is the beauty of a stroke of a pencil, pen, charcoal, crayon, water colours or some other colorants such as inks, water colours when luminosities make it a wash drawing. At times colour and drawing compete but it never erodes the drawing’s expressivity. With the emergence of new plastic structures the line acquired new qualities such as, for instance, colour or space. The interpretation of its function has changed but the comprehension of its essence remains.
To exhibit drawings also means venturing into borderline areas of other graphic arts and show the pulse, intentions, ideas existent on the many-coloured stage of fine arts. In addition to drawings on paper (classical pencil and ink, charcoal and graphite drawings) there were exhibitions of caricatures, illustrations, water colours, collages as well as works done on canvas, drawings executed with wire, neon, wool or powder in space, drawings on transparent foils, aluminium, cubes of cardboard and digital artworks. There were several very distinctive photographic exhibitions. A certain provocativeness of the photography and its kinship with the wash drawing were impossible to avoid, irrespective of whether they were shown as details, selected parts of the female body (Nina Kovacheva), or as large photographs in a series of male nudes with masterful interventions of the draftsman (Predrag Pajić), multiplied photographs as a space installation (Mirko Lovrić – Savo Popović) or photographs transformed into symbols, anthropological signs caught on the bark of a tree or elsewhere in nature (Dragan Varajić). It goes without saying, however, that the chief attention was accorded to displays of drawings in all their forms or at least in updated classical forms, with new treatments and at times even with nothing more than hints.
The drawing is doubtlessly also a complex visual tissue, a network of visual sensations, impulses, lines, luminosities reflecting a particular stylistic leaning and time irrespective of whether one talks about figurative or abstract art, installations or multimedia projects.
The drawing is all of that and much more than that.
I believe that these are sufficient reasons for our choice of the concept.
A special and important theoretical text about the drawing and the drawing collection of the CHAOS Gallery written on the occasion of the gallery’s tenth anniversary and for this catalogue, entitled THE DRAWING OUTSIDE AND INSIDE CHAOS was written by Professor Zoran Pavlović, a prominent educator, painter, art critic and theoretician and the chairman of the gallery’s Board of several years.
In the course of the past ten years, between May 1995 and May 2005 CHAOS hosted seventy-eight one-man exhibitions of artists from Serbia and Montenegro and other countries and even different continents (Europe, North America, Australia – Nina Kovacheva, Sverre Wyller, Sally Weare, Charles Ramsburg, Gaye Paterson). There were artists of many different sensibilities, styles, hands, poesy, approaches, stretching over several generations. From academicians (Ljubica Cuca Sokić, Mića Popović, Petar Omčikus, Nikola Koka Janković, Radomir Reljić, Vlada Veličković, Dušan Otašević) to the very young (Marko Velk, Vesna Milićević Čvorović, Jelena Krstić, Katarina Termačić, Darko Malenica). From retrospections honouring individual artists (Dušan Ristić, Marko Čelebonović) to introspections (Bojan Bem, Čedomir Vasić, Halil Tikveša) to very recent presentations (like drawings by Dragan Mojović, Aleksandar Cvetković, Gordan Nikolić or Dragan Karadžić) to drawings-caricatures (Predrag Koraksić-Corax, Jugoslav Vlahović, Dušan Gađanski). There were projects conceived purposefully for the gallery (Vjera Damjanović, Zoran Todović, Sverre Wyller), drawings - illustrations (Džoja Ratković Gavela, Milan Jovanović Jofke), drawings - watercolours (Snežana Marinković, Zoran Pavlović, Dušan Gerzić Gera) and drawings cum performances (Radovan Kragulj), digital drawings in a multimedia project by Milan Tepavac, spatial drawings (Pavle Pejović, Dušan Otašević), drawings on canvas (Jarmila Vešović, Jovan Rakidžić), collages and collaged drawings (Ljubinka Jovanović, Miško Pavlović, Jagoda Buić), filigree ink drawings on photographs as carriers (Predrag Pajdić) and so on and so forth. There were authors primarily interested in the drawing (Uroš Tošković, Pero Nikčević, Miloš Vujanović), those who treated it in cycles creating some important works (Vera Božičković Popović, Kosta Bogdanović, Anka Burić, Jakov Đuričić) and those who forsook the beaten path, pushing the frontiers (Sonja Malavrazić, Dušan B. Marković, Zoran Dimovski, Blažo Kovačević, Irena Lagator Pejović). By compressing the lines done with a graphite pencil Nevenka Stojsavljević achieves the effect of an almost relief surface of her large drawings. Works by Kosa Bokšan exude a forceful drawing stroke whereas the gradual concentration of lines creates shapes and volumes in Jelena Trpković’s work and early figurative drawings of Rada Selaković. It was interesting to throw light on different approaches of Milica Stevanović, Velizar Krstić and Željka Momirov, pastels by Petar Đuza, Biljana Vuković and Pepa Pašćan, works on paper by Rajko Popivoda, contour drawings by Miodrag Rogić, colouristic and composition solutions of Anđelka Bojović, graphic frugality of Sonja Briski Uzelac, Bogdan Pavlović’s voyages across continents or works by Bogdan Bata Prica emanating the artist’s need for play as the only goal. The gallery displayed the production of the day or what artists and art historians, custodians or art teachers wanted to show at some point. Thus, simultaneously with the official presentations selected for the October Salon of 2004, the CHAOS Gallery staged an alternative day-long happening of a young Montenegrin artist Blažo Kovačević entitled The Continental Breakfast. His drawings which could be partaken of on the spot are a witty commentary of the spirit of the time. His graphic designs of labels with instructions for healthy food were made of edible material in Philadelphia where he resides at present, sent by air from New York to Belgrade for the occasion and served to the visitors. They were accompanied by a menu with explanations. The event was quite a novelty for our public and a gag with an ironic overtone. Needless to say, the projects are put through in agreement with the artistic director and the Gallery Board, elected every two years and consisting of prominent art historians.
During these ten years the Belgrade public could see drawings as autonomous and specific artworks, that is as an autonomous artistic expression – pure drawings and at times, but that was seldom, as sketches or notes, illustrations, ideas for sculpture, side by side with sculptures, preliminary sketches for paintings, tapestries, murals or graphic albums.
In addition to a large number of one-man events there were about a dozen collective exhibitions to mark different occasions such as, for instance the exhibition of the Zadar Group (seven authors) in honour of Mica Popover or the Montenegrin Drawing (works of fifteen artists from Montenegro) in memory of Milo Milunović. There were also two group exhibitions, Voices of the New Century I and II held as a form of protest during the bombing of 1999 with works by promising young and very gifted, provocative Serbian and Montenegrin artists. Their names are Jasna Nikolić, Bogdan Pavlović, Saša Stojanović, Nina Markulić and Marija Pavlović followed by Aleksandra Kostić, Jelena Tomašević, Blažo Kovačević, Jelena Papović, Natalija Mijatović and Katarina Stanković. The gallery organised also a one-day presentation of works reflecting Basquiatic expressivity of a young artist Danilo Boršik, the seminar project of art historian Marko Stamenković called Turnovers with Professor Lidija Merenik as his tutor.
Towards the end of every calendar year, always at the same time in December and in a cycle which has kept the title THE VOICES OF THE NEW CENTURY the gallery stages exhibitions of graduates or postgraduates from different academies of fine arts, selected by one of their teachers, so as to draw the attention to the young artists and the latest production, focuses of interest and approaches. For the first such event Professor Gordan Nikolić suggested seven aspiring artists from the Belgrade Faculty of Fine Arts (Vedrana Ivanović, Aleksandar Jestrović, Goran Kovačević, Svetlana Marković, Milica Milićević, Maja Poljak, Jelena Šalinić) and their exhibition was held under the title EXERCISES IN STYLE. After that Gordana Kaljalović singled out Jelena Janev, Milan Nešić and Dušan Stošić from the Novi Sad Faculty of Fine Arts and presented their works under the title FROM SURFACE TO SPACE. The term DRAWING was chosen as the title for the spatial presentation of drawings of three sculptors from the Cetinje Academy (Tanja Topuzoska, Saša Stanišić, Velibor Pavićević) selected by their teacher Anka Burić. A brief overview of their work and this aspect of the CHAOS activities was written by Natalija Cerović, the custodian of the Cvijeta Zuzorić Art Pavilion.
I find it necessary to mention that during the hardest times in our society, that is during the years of war, lunacy, protests, total chaos outside the spiritual sphere – this alternative space brought together the cultural elite of the capital, not only from the field of fine arts but from all aspects of culture – writers and theatre people, musicians, film makers, students, dissidents, decent politicians, university teachers, publishers, directors, translators, actors, journalists, Otpor (Resistance) members. During the most vehement protests against the regime in the winter of 1996/1997, when cultural establishments could not decide whether to go on working or bring everything to a standstill, the gallery held a protest exhibition in which works were displayed on the floor rather than hung on the walls to emit the symbolic message that nobody can issue dictates, restrict, prevent, stop culture and its manifestations because it always devises ways and means of warning and rejection. This form of protest and rejection alongside the petition signed in the gallery during the protest walks was mentioned as a specific example in a publication about the protest issued by the Faculty of Political Sciences (The Spirit of Blitheness – the Culture of Protest – The Protest of Culture, Čigoja Publisher, Belgrade 1998). Also in early 1997, there was yet another exhibition devoted to the protest shared by the university students, political parties and citizens: the first proper presentation of works by the leading caricaturist Predrag Koraksić-Corax, the undisputed master of this discipline, the man whose humour saved us, who made us laugh and continues to do so with his unexcelled commentaries and who has subsequently won numerous important awards in the country and abroad.
This was followed, year in year out, by exhibitions and projects based on strict professional criteria verified by the Gallery Board, bringing together many of our prominent art historians. All in all almost 110 artists exhibited in the CHAOS Gallery. Numerous art critics, theoreticians, custodians, art historians, poets, writers, theatre and film directors, teachers, art educators, diplomats, all of them people of prestige in our country and abroad took part in the gallery’s programmes and the translation of its concept into life. Over one hundred-thirty of them. I owe gratitude for the support and understanding, for texts and words spoken at the openings, recommendations, advice and help to all those whose names will be in the index at the end of this publication. My special thanks go to all the donors, numerous friends who helped me survive, who believed in what I was doing and who wanted to support the specific concept and projects of the CHAOS Gallery. Let the list of their names featured in this monograph as a token of gratitude serve them as a reminder of their noble and useful gesture and a significant cultural act with which they have inscribed their names in the history of this gallery’s cultural activity.
One of the intentions behind the gallery’s foundation was to use it as a space that would bring together people and ideas, good proposals, initiatives, interesting projects. I believe that we have succeeded, at least in part, as attested by the wealth of documentation and supporting illustrations in the monograph and especially by numerous press clippings, good reviews, reports and video recordings.
In addition to art exhibitions, there were presentations of musical CDs, foundations supporting in culture, monographs of artists and even haiku poetry. The gallery worked as a small cultural centre. It has won the status of a prestigious exhibition space and an important cultural institution. It has become an important address on the cultural map of the city. During the past decade – I just have to make this point – it was and still is the oasis and the haven for many creative individuals, numerous artists, art lovers, passers-by, inquisitive public and especially art students. In other words, Cara Lazara Street number 12, that small exhibition space and the whole street have become a favourite and highly frequented address, an alternative and provocative space radiating creative energy. Let me just mention a TV film by a prominent director Bora Drašković made towards the end of last year on the occasion of Jagoda Buić’s visit in Belgrade and her exhibition in the CHAOS. On that occasion a specific homage to this space, its purpose and programme was paid. This kind of support means the most.
The CHAOS Art Gallery has set up the Fund for the Promotion of Creativity and the Mića Popović Award in memory of our great artist. At first, its premises served as the Fund’s office and for the award ceremony. The award is a biennial one and covers all four areas of Mića Popović’s work: art, literature, theatre and film. So far its winners were prominent artists Danilo Bata Stojković for his life-time achievement, Predrag Koraksić-Corax for caricature, Dušan Otašević for fine art, Dušan Makavejev for film and Jagoš Marković for theatre. This aspect of the CHAOS Art Gallery ’s activity is covered in more detail in the contribution by Jovan Despotović, editor of the cultural programme of Radio Belgrade Channel 3, prominent art critic and a long-time associate and member of the Gallery Board.
And now, let me explain our name in a few words.
“Chaos is primeval and the beginning of all things”, said Chinese philosopher Fei Ku, in the 3 rd century AD.
In Aristotle’s time chaos was seen as “empty space” and within the leading 20 th century theories, the chaos theories, as the third big revolution after the quantum physics and the theory of relativity, produced a sea change in science and caused a major upheaval in physics. It has transpired, namely, that chaos is a kind of a higher degree of order, that it is a natural phenomenon occurring in certain situations. A kind of order without periodicity. Irregular and unpredictable behaviour of deterministic dynamic systems. Behaviour which produces information. The dynamics finally released from the shackles of order and predictability.
The exciting diversity, an ocean of possibilities, the opulence from which ever new possibilities burst forth . This last sentence explains it all! The multiple meaning of this magical word – chaos which I chose as the name for a gallery specialising in the drawing, was enough to make me opt for all the unpredictable, exciting and diverse offered by a specific form of creative graphic speech.
It was necessary, however, to draw a line of distinction between the chaos we were living in and the creative chaos. And we were living (and still barely subsist) the years of war, crime, hate speech, bombing, destitution, collapse of all values, without any spiritual platform, with uncertain aspirations, lost faith, destroyed hopes and illusions, overwhelmed by sweeping lunacy, kitsch, plunder, blind alleys, deceit and painful transition. The spirit of the time was perceived and treated as the spirit of chaos. Those years were not “devoured by the locusts” alone but also and much more by tycoons and crazed representatives of a freak regime which tirelessly and purposefully sowed destructive chaos and arrogantly flaunted the “forces of insanity and chaos” as if they were a treasure.
Whenever the name of the CHAOS Gallery, founded at the worst possible time, came up, people invariably associated the name I had chosen with the social reality rather than with the genuine desire to understand the message emitted by the new scientific and therefore civilisational trend.
The word chaos was in fact a concise name of a fast growing movement which profoundly affected the tissue of the scientific establishment. The chaos theory is a set of ideas. Chaos is, first and foremost, the science of the general nature of the system, the science of the process rather than the state, the emergence rather then existence. It has been established that even the simplest of the systems can be highly unpredictable although they also contain a great deal of order intertwined with a large amount of chaos. The ideas contained in the theory of chaos were accepted only when it became impossible to ignore anomalies.
“Chaos is harmony that was destroyed when the world was created” said the Polish writer Stanislaw Jerzy Lec (1909-1966). This definition fitted perfectly the idea about the purpose of the gallery.
If the world was created from chaos, from non-order, the question arises as to what is the creation of order or the beginning. It is indubitably the articulation of chaos and attribution of meaning to new phenomena. I might add my own interpretation of chaos in the creative sphere because that is something quite different from the accepted stereotypes and common definitions.
Chaos is an introduction to change, provocation, transgression. A wave of powerful energy destroying the established order of values, habits, ordinariness. It does not condone pre-established rules, principles, faded ideals. It is, in fact, an act of rejection of the blindness of spirit and wear and tear of the conscience.
Professor Ratko Božović, our prominent sociologist of culture is wont to say, “Chaos is absolute provocation; the supremacy of emotions over thought and the instinct over the intellect. Now and then it reveals the suppressed, the endangered, the subconscious. That is why it is imbued with the spirit of directness.”
Chaos is a kind of game which cannot be tamed easily. The creative forces are hard to tame anyway.
Chaos is also an act of anarchic freedom. It demolishes the codes of communicating conventions and strikes out at the world of the omnipresent necessity. It is always set against false orderliness and likeability, the apparent aesthetics. That is why its fusion with the artistic creation is so essential and practically unavoidable.
Chaos is a transgression in relation to the semblance of the organisation and tidiness of the world. The blade of its irony is directed at the mirages of harmonious beauty and spiritual harmony. It is fatal for false emotions and false art. It endlessly provokes the world of art with the force of free imagination and new sensibility. Where there is no chaos, there are no new values. Or art either. No changes. Not even life itself!
As you can see, the choice of the name was far from random. Let me only say who suggested it and thus, at long last, pay tribute to the godmother. Her name is Ratka Marić. She is a sociologist of culture and my friend. True, what she had in mind was chaos as something out of the ordinary, something cool, “in”, imaginative. My deepest thanks to her. She was patient. She waited ten years.
Since the beginning the CHAOS Gallery has been a haven for all new, inventive, out-of the-ordinary, ingenious, chaotic energies and their creative design. It remains loyal to a specific concept, recognised and already honoured and adopted as the essential graphic language.
With this exhibition in the Cvijeta Zuzorić Art Pavilion and its catalogue we wanted to show that any chaos, especially the destructive one, the one outside the spiritual sphere, can be overcome if one truly wants it and aspires to it. It is possible to persevere in every well-conceived concept however futile and quixotic it might have looked at some point in time. We realise – my associates and I – that we are on a certain mission. Do the others see that? We do not know but that is not the reason to worry! Even if you don’t like this presentation of the modern drawing and other borderline graphic disciplines that we have been preparing all these years, we shall say – this is only one of the possible choices. The whole project is the result of a decade-long work of a specialised gallery just as it is the fruit of the enthusiastic commitment of numerous participants to a common project – the creation of a collection of drawings as a fund for a future museum intended for this specific and highly precious form of artistic expression.
The initial and the hardest ten years are behind us. Many years are still ahead of us. Do not forget: CHAOS is a game, an act of anarchic freedom, introduction to provocation, a set of ideas. Diverse, unpredictable, exciting. And the drawing? The DRAWING is an impulse, a testimony to the spirit of the time and above all the proof of masterfulness!