Text by: Martina Vovk
MAPS OF THE PERCEIVED, GALERIJA ŠKUC, Exhibition Catalogue, Ljubljana, 2007
In the last decade, Miha Strukelj, an artist of the younger generation, established himself as an original painter with a distinct artistic vision. His works from the end of the 1990s and the beginning of this decade examined a typical selection of critical events in the human history of the last decades, including the Chernobyl disaster, and the sophisticated technological gaze on the distant phantom setting of the Gulf War, which played itself out in the blurred reality of infotainment, and finally, robbed of a status of a real event, became a video game. In recent years his scope has widened to include new motifs, such a Ground Zero, which explore a different level of irrational self-destruction of the human species. However, Strukelj now also focuses on new themes, scenes from big cities, anonymous and seemingly coincidental details of city outlines, rarely inhabited with human figures, crossroads, bridges, roads and buildings from the capitals of the developed world which established a different, parallel cartography of contemporary reality.
However, this is only the first impression, the first gaze which unravels the subtly implied content, iconography and literary dimension of the paintings, which further develop at a different level – the formal realisation of the painting process and the concept of the canvas as a painting surface, which is free of the centennial burden of this artistic practice. The tradition of painting techniques is reflected in the grid as the basic tool, which aids the painter in organising the visual field. On the other hand, Strukelj uses digitalised images, edited photographs and images from the mass media, which are translated into a painted image in a slow process of creation in the intimate studio. This method unites two opposing principles, which operate on a different temporal dimension: the ephemerality and directness of a digital image, where time is measures in tenths of a second, versus the painted image in oil or acrylic, where time can stretch into infinity. This duality and paradoxical dependence is manifested as rectangular fields, the completely abstract colour of white surfaces; which distort the image like when a signal is being transmitted on the screen. In other places the painting emerges from a white base through subtle strokes of pencil or marker to create a dream-like image, a record of a memory or an abstract filigree. Sometimes the image steps down from the canvas to inhabit a prefabricated plastic surface with a grid, or creates a gradually composed scene on multy-layered transparent paper, where the most distinct dark contours imply discernible figures, while the light shades dissolve into the milky depth of the drawing. In addition, at this exhibition, Strukelj's images are also on a gallery wall, a unique short-lived account, which gives the impression of a filigree proto fresco.
Finally, the motifs in Strukelj's paintings and there execution make us consider the role of the painter's gaze and the role of the subject that, through this gaze, is first traumatically and insecurely established, in as much as the reality that the subject perceives constitutes itself as utterly uncertain. With the scenes he copies from media images, thus imitating the gaze through the eye of the film or photo camera, whose image can circle the world in a few moments and in more than a million copies, he represents reality in its extremely relativised status. The media images of catastrophe sites become part of a spectacle and function only as a source of voyeuristic pleasure, while at the same time their connection to the real loosens and in the end completely vanishes. Such an image easily becomes fetishised; it becomes a “historical” image, yet it stops bearing historical evidence at the moment it is instrumentalised, which every media image is, in its essence. This can always be only a mediating image and, in it, its reality can only be mediated, controlled and constructed, even or especially when it conveys the images of the most real and most traumatic events of humanitarian catastrophes. The innocence of the gaze and the perception of reality are lost, as is the certainty of any kind of knowledge about the state of things, reality itself and the subject's place in it. The media conveyed imagery in Strukelj's paintings manifests this uncertainty of the subject in relation to the perception of reality as a sort of traumatically subjectivised gaze that is always already shown a hindered, either by way of imposing on it an irrational obstruction of abstract fields of pure colours, white or black, or by the perceived scene appearing before the spectator's eyes as a thoroughly abstracted drawing of contours and surfaces where we cannot with any certainty determine its iconic content. This procedure is taken so far that it even becomes the painter's obsessive motifs of Chernobyl resolved in a type of sophisticated lyrical abstraction.
When the images in Strukelj's painting's penetrate the essence of cities, their horizons narrow and focus on coincidental, ephemeral motifs and details, as if a person walking these cities could discover a wide panorama of the modern urban environment, which they live and breathe. The modern individual of Strukelj's art does not have the panorama to experience that, because since the beginning of the 21st century Benjamin's flanêur has been limited to an inhabited spectator, someone who cannot ontologically give sense to the gaze from their own subjective core, who connects it with the outer world as silhouettes, anonymous street scenes, where the odd human figure is pictured with the same intensity as a pedestrian crossing; where one is standing or where a cross-roads is only scenery to the silent presence of being, no longer determined by any social or anthropological aspect. The image becomes a stain of light, a stroke of a shadow, which, in the totality of the painting base, changes into a colour account with minimal information, which begins to resemble filigree topography of an abstract landscape and lose a mimetic connection to reality, as it serves only as an echo of a lost reference point. But this is not a matter of painter's inability to observe or copy reality, for we believe that this task has been long surpassed in painting and art. It is a matter of a much profounder knowledge that, for the contemporary subject, no other insight into reality is possible, for there is no ontological anchor any more to which the meaning of the perceived reality could be attached. This plays out before us in an unprecedented haste of images in which facts and fiction take turns without any dramaturgical sense, and in which subjects disperse and dematerialise in a barely arising outline of reality that they inhabit and which, in turn, inhabits there subjective essences. Despite being able to recognise a certain traumatic experience of the newly arisen gaze in these works, this gaze still preserves its fundamental fascination with there remains a diminished yet burning image that has not yet lost its exciting attraction through the thousand-year history of Western culture. The image, though anonymous and reduced, dispersed in the quiet of the whiteness, melted away in the ungraspable urban landscape and taking up moments of historical madness and pain as monochrome apparitions behind the arbitrary grid of abstract fields, remains a witness to being, a type of map of the perceived reality in which the innocence of the gaze meets the lost innocence of its time.