Illuminating Sections of the Human Condition (Jankovič – Macho)

Martin Kaňuch

The intermedial character of Palo Macho’s work, his persistent quest for common boundaries between different artistic media and new possibilities for their conceptual fusion are frequent subject of discussion. I will, therefore, focus from the outset on an aspect that theory of art and philosophical reflection insinuate just rarely or only hesitantly when talking about Macho’s glass painting: its dialogical interface with film making. For Macho’s creation reminds me of the outcomes of, mainly, experimental cinematography; from the first idea how to deal with the film matter, e.g. how to directly intervene to the celluloid, resp. polyester film base, explore its transparency limits, saturate its craving for light, reveal its photogenic (poetical) aspects of reality. For many creators their experiments in film and art are, indeed, merely complementary. A strip of film replaces the canvas or becomes “modelling material” especially in the case of cameraless films. The filmstrip can not only be drawn and painted on, but also carved; organic material (butterfly wings) can be glued onto it, it can be perforated, sewn or engraved. The preparing facture of the matter surface, to use László Moholy-Nagy’s concept, is complemented by other authorial intervention raids – visible paste traits, obvious brushstrokes, acknowledged colour combinations. Beyond doubt, Stan Brakhage’s films (The Dante Quartet, Stellar) constitute the pinnacle of hand-painted works as a very personal spiritual vision. No wonder, then, that in abstract worlds the colours and “the texture of light” also spark explicit analogies with glass painting (Black Ice).

I am not talking about painting on a strip of film, just like in Macho’s case I do not mean painting on glass. When experimenting with a transparent carrier, either a filmstrip or a pane of glass, what is really essential is that the painting is not anchored to the surface. It does not form an outer layer. The maker of the direct film inevitably needs to steady, apply their physical, chemical, painting, and collage intrusions into the raw material by recurrent imprinting. The butterfly wings are not supposed to burn in the glow of the lamp during the first projection, but to proliferate and get moving towards the amber that will perpetuate them into a film (Mothlight).

In Palo Macho’s work what plays a key role is precisely that unique, truly lyrosophical creative process in which an image is burnt into matter, colour alloyed into glass. According to Valery, art resulting from fire cannot allow the intention, ​​courage or mood to waver: it requires precision as its prodigious marks are irreversible and delicate. First, Macho has to master the matter, or in his own words, to break its severity - its ready condition (smoothness, purity, transparency). He takes possession of the glass surface, forever shaping the distinctive roughness of its artificial epidermis anew. From this first plan on, each new work mints Macho’s own path of physical imagination as well as the painted manifestation of its dynamics. The distinctive character of glass as the translucency of matter allows him to overlap the creative spheres of matter (of its elements). The density of glass evokes the inconstant physical state of the element (fog, water, ice, “air thick as honey”), the way we perceive its motion, its (in)docility, its flow, its energy. Fluidity means that shapes cannot be told apart, that forms are unstable, that the physical state is ebullient, full of the photogenic potential, of the genuine cinematographic quality that characterizes pure film. Light can blow life into a wavy glass surface and turn it into a lake. On the other hand, fire lends Macho the power to make each painting a unique testimony of the moment its energy is captured.

This visual adventure is set into motion when the artist manipulates the transparency of the medium and tells light what to do. The different sections of the image draw attention to themselves and invite the eye to tell them apart, to overlap them, to unveil the (dis)harmony of shape and colour. “Dismantle and put together again till one gets intensity,” as Robert Bresson puts it in one of his notes on cinematography. Light brings the depictions of a glass painting into life, into space, before and behind the screen. It allows sight to dive into it and to unfold the meanings “fused” into the depth of the glass matter. According to Macho, a picture comes into being when a cross-section of reality, in a specific space and time, is compressed into a sort of giant aquarium. He describes how its walls are slowly pushed towards one another. “Everything is flying around, the obscure disappears, records remain, colours mix, the air is increasingly denser, people and objects change their proportions, they expand, flatten, deform, combine, divide like cells, clone, creating new figures that change into signs.” At some point (freeze frame) Macho lets this growing swirling and cumulation solidify into a thin glass impression — a luminous cross-section of time and space. Its aim is to break into the instant to reveal its timeframe (see Michael Snow's “time monument” Wavelength).

In this explorative “cinematographic” perspective of Palo Macho’s work, his joint projects with other artists have always managed to enrich each other semantically and to create a dialogical connection with one another. Maybe it is just a matter of time before Macho finally joins experimental filmmakers to give vent to his latent film disposition (his film portrait by Lubor Dohnal already suggests this possibility). A pretty evident media relation — a shadow play — was brought about, for instance, together with Svätopluk Mikyta’s artistry. Macho’s already highlighted artistic traits gain remarkable intensity in the common works with Jozef Jankovič, injecting new life into the latter’s iconographic constants and material attempts of the late 60s (objects playing with the space between translucent polyester boards).

On the foreground there is, again, glass. Like canvas, it is the potential projection screen of the mind, of human consciousness (memory). The transparency of matter and the rough finishing unveil the strength, the planes, the colour scale and the overlaps of the disruptions. A series of flat head profiles, though, also appears as a set of disparate scenes and plot lines representing mazes, crossroads of decision, hesitation and action (the head speaks for the entire body). These projections adamantly display the emptiness of “the inside” or the transparency of its (in)activity. Macho, indeed, compares the final quality of his intrusions into glass to the irreversibility of acts in life. A series of joint figures of heads seem to suggest this type of situations. Malformed, bent and broken under the pressure of various totalitarian regimes, Jankovič’s man has long lost their face (see his older “windows to the soul” made of broken glass). A faceless human head becomes a Rilke-like open wound. Its deletion, inter alia, perfectly fits the continuous confinement of Man in the relationships, beliefs, traditions, and ideologies that a self-preservation instinct make people seek refuge in. The outlined barred heads that Jankovič revives every decade regenerate in glass thanks to a powerful internal strain (that makes one’s head “blow up”). Just that this time they’re barred in a wire mask. The head here constitutes a closed whole we cannot necessarily see into (for some have been blown up out of stained glass). However, the captured psychic condition of some time-unrelated tenseness, which is about to explode, just strains the thin lamina of glass even more.

The compactness, inflexibility, and rigour of the matter perfectly mirrors the docility and fragility of Man’s physical frame. Indeed, in one of Jankovič’s bodies, which breaks over the edge of the glass pane, it does so literally. The movements of the individual in the aquarium of society define the unequivocal geometric timetable of space, the architectonics of onewayness, of regularity, of hierarchy, of complete thinking. Jankovič’s figures share our ambitions: looking for a place of its own, for a (higher) position, trying to adapt, to elbow its way into the heat of the spotlight (Miracle in Milan). However, the glass edges of compulsory direction are sharper and the injuries they inflict more painful. The wedge of — not only — red totalitarianism leaves no space for hope.

Jankovič and Macho have locked up one of their characters into a blue disc. Like a window into a washing machine. Glass, again, lends meaning to the indefinable instant of the last compulsion. The resulting illuminating section projects into the depth of time the lot of a helpless man, as if whirling in one of the “washing programs” of history, of the regime, of life. For Man is helpless mainly against himself. And out of his own docility.