Text By: Igor Zabel
Text for: VITAMIN P; NEW PERSPECTIVES IN PAINTING, PHAIDON Press, New York, 2002, pg. 314 -315
Throughout its history, painting has been essentially connected to the question of reality and illusion. In discussing the nature of abstract painting, Modernist critics have returned to these issues. In their understanding, the presence of a brushstroke on canvas is the reality, and is therefore loaded it with ontological and moral issues. Miha Strukelj paints in a world, which is radically different from that of Modernism. Nevertheless, his decision to use the technique of oil on canvas in a time when so many other, quicker, easier and perhaps more spectacular ways of producing images are available, seems to be connected exactly to this reality value of a brushstroke.
The subject matter of Strukelj’s paintings are images, which all belong to a world radically transformed by digital and virtual technologies, to a reality completely permeated by images and simulacra. He depicts scans of human interiors, photographs, images from media, and virtual battlegrounds from computer games. In a sense, all these images exist on the same level; one can, for example, see no difference between an image from a computer game and an image depicting a scene from the Gulf War. Nevertheless, what we see on his paintings is not a world where “nothing is real” and everything are just simulacra; rather, it is an endlessly complex and always changeable network of realities and fiction, of truth and appearance. Strukelj uses the tension between the real and the fictional on his paintings as a tool to disclose these elusive relations.
A series of paintings of brain and scull scans is a good example for that. The works are based on scans of artist’s own head, done after he’d had a heavy accident. The interior of his own body has been exposed, transferred into a network of data, into an image, which can even become the object of a purely aesthetic contemplation. (Strukelj in fact often uses elements of digital images, especially their mosaic structure, as a basis for visually attractive “painterly” effects.) Still, the image speaks about artist’s very existence, about a line between life and death.
To understand these paintings, however, one does not need to know their particular biographical background. They are not so much records of a personal experience as a statement on the human condition in contemporary world. One’s body and mind are constantly being scanned, transformed into images, and thus mapped, controlled and even manipulated. Our existence is being transferred into ordered grids of controllable data. To depict these relations, Strukelj uses his craft of painting, which swings between the reality value of a brushstroke on the canvas and the visual pleasure it arouses.
Thus, we can perhaps better understand images representing scenes of wars and disasters, such as the Gulf War, Chernobyl, etc. The Gulf War is considered to be the first case of a “virtual” war. The operations were carried on through technology, from distance – on monitors, so to speak. At the same time, they were available, in real time, to the audience worldwide. At least, such is the general perception of the war. But it also took place on the spot, in a very real, very physical way. Just as in the Gulf War, the images in our society are used both to control and manage the reality and to hide its traumatic dimensions. It is this traumatic Real that Strukelj’s paintings expose as the other side of their visual appeal.
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