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Jovan Despotović

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Above and Below/ Slobodanka Stupar

When Jacques Derrida reactivated the discussion of language and its representation it was immediately so provocative that it was only a question of time before it would have repercussions in all other forms of textual and visual expression, first among philosophers and then among artists. Of course the basic field of this school, known under the name deconstruction, was and remains philosophy, and along with it, as a kind of permanent cohort and some kind of testing ground for the verification of theoretical conclusions, the literary text. But ever since it became legitimate (and inevitable) to speak about the “language” of visual art the Derrida's deconstructivist postulates have become a sine qua non in any critical and theoretical discussion also of this kind of work – visual textualization.

The separation of elementary metaphors and other figurative mechanisms, i.e. deconstruction, has become an effective tool for understanding and interpreting recent visual art. This is especially true where the artist has moved from a more “classical” form of expression, arising from an academic training, to a practice involving a visualized language and semantic composition mode of expression, of which Slobodanka Stupar is an example. This transition was all the more likely in her case given the freedom which she already had in using the graphic art medium, closer to experimentation than the reproduction of any standard approach. Even from the outset of her artistic career she had been leaning towards a reexamination of the expressive capabilities of visual art.

This meant practically leaving behind the classical language of expression and moving to the pure, self-confirming image which addresses the observer only by it’s significance regardless of the form it takes at the moment. This direct communication, that is to say this emission of visual and mental stimuli follows its own rules which each artist designs to her own needs. To achieve that goal initiated by the artist from the outset of her work required the deployment of new techniques and technology. With her early works using painted sheets of semi-transparent paper Stupar attempted to break through their two-dimensionality, to penetrate their surface and draw the viewer into the installed three-dimensional environment created by the sheets. Moving among these translucent “curtains” visitors could clearly discern the orientation of her creative and visual predilection.

Combining the incompatible, to maintain any discourse (in this case visual) one has to remove or circumvent ordinary comprehensibility, or “sense”; to make something “apparent” the plastic narrative had to be reduced to the brink of unrecognizability in order to be “seen” as a new work. This is precisely the kind of work Stupar has been producing over the last few years. The works at this exhibition are among those which have emerged from this new understanding of the function of art works as self-sufficient structures of meaning, autonomously establishing the scope of their own significance


The works Stupar presents here fall into two basic types. The one which could be called static embodies distant reverberations of her early graphic art, as already mentioned, making use, however rudimentarily, of elements from that medium. For example, objects which resemble graphic plates have been assembled in the form of a book “What is Subjectile” which can be “leafed through” to reveal its decomposed constituents of fragmented interwoven words spread across several pages, sometimes written diagonally, sometimes in reverse or in some other way, etched as on a graphic plate. The wall-mounted installation “Time is Now” includes black tar resembling the paste which is applied to graphic plates before printing; its consistency recalls the “mixing” to the correct thickness before application to the plate and pressing.

The other type is kinetic: though not conceived as video works they have the appearance and use the syntax of that medium. “What is a Subjectile”, “Horizontal-Vertical”, “Sugar Life” and “Wow” shift perception and cognition in the direction of the detection, recognition and comprehension of primary visual elements, using fragments of figures, shapes and repetitive movements along with equally rudimentary forms of repetition of voices, sounds, gestures, grimaces, recitation of text fragments (from Derrida's Forcing the Subjectile), etc. This enables us to traverse the same path as the artist during the creation of these works, putting first herself and then the observer both under and above then, between the images on screen and the activities which we see. Here the work itself is the process of its own emergence and embodiment into a visual entity. The quotation from Derrida's text in her work titled “What is a Subjectile” reads: “What is a subjectile? (…) The concept belongs to the code of painting and refers to that which, in a way, lies below (sub-jectum) as a substance, a subject or succubus. Placed between the above and the below, it is both a support and surface, sometimes it is also the material of a painting or a sculpture, everything within them which can be distinguished from form as well as from sense and representation, that which escapes representation…”

Looked at this way, we can with conviction take Stupar's work here as a kind of visual essays deriving from some of Jacques Derrida's writings. Thereby we have also come back to the initial posit of this prologue.

Visual art used to be considered a means to “express” experience. Today, as well evinced by Stupar's work, it has become a technological channel for transferring the artist's optical sensations and deconstructed narratives. It is left to the beholder, after experiencing the visual (and audio) sensations, to reconstruct the integral verbal and visual language in terms of words, sound and movement. This is facilitated by the exceptional simplicity, “legibility” of the works which at a visual level communicate via radically simplified elements. Stupar has consciously and deliberately avoided burdening the beholder's reception with technological and interpretative enigmas, making way for a stable fundament of significance.

Thus we can say that Stupar's central creative urge lies in the synthesis of word and image, the process of generating verbal icons, in fact a search for something lying in between them, below the creative subject (the sub-jectum, sought by this exhibition as its title indicates). The artist here totally relies on Derrida’s explanation of the deconstruction of language, here transferred to the image and visual presentation that compose the observed scene.

Is deconstruction in fact reexamination? In this example of the creative practice it evidently is: Stupar has not only created a work but also queries or emphasizes the meaning of certain words provoking the beholders to delve in their own vaults of knowledge, memories, feelings... Stupar avoids any misunderstandings about meaning which she deliberately eschews from the work, making it straightforward and unenigmatic, calling forth only experience stored in the memories and feelings of the beholder. Her works steer one towards the elementary, the primordial figure, image, word, towards often forgotten or suppressed experience from long-since established relationships with the real world (through touch, sight, sound). The artificial world she creates is but a map of possible trajectories in memories of the past, be it individual or collective, artistic or quotidian, real or imaginary, forgotten or deeply engraved in the mind, which we can traverse in many directions, in between what is forwards and backwards, upwards and downwards, above and below, between meaning and representation...


Jovan Despotović

Translation: Paul Pignon

Prodajna galerija ’Beograd, Beograd, March 2011 (pref.)