Jankovič/Macho (Monologues, Counterpoints, and Polyphonies)

Peter Michalovič

Jozef Jankovič and Palo Macho: two artists, one exhibition. At first sight, easy arithmetic. After having a look at the different artifacts, however, you begin to realize it is not so easy. In fact, you will find three different groups – or subsets, if you prefer mathematics – of artifacts. The first group, or subset, consists of works carrying Jozef Jankovič´s signature; the second, that of Palo Macho; while the exhibits forming the third group have been signed by both artists. Each group forms a relatively closed unit which combines with the other two into a larger whole or set. This unit, or whole, becomes the primary context within which the displayed works relate, in harmony or opposition, to acquire a new dimension.

In the world of art, Jozef Jankovič is known primarily as a sculptor. At the heart of his creation has been, is now, and will most likely always be, the human body – sometimes the whole of it, sometimes just some of its parts. Certainly, the human body deserves due attention, as we all owe to it our ability to perceive. It allows us to change our viewpoint, serving as the mediator between the outside world and our mind. At the same time, it is the body that expresses our immediate emotional response to those things or situations that make us smile, or feel sad, or even scared. It is our bodily reactions that tell those around us – whether we like it not – how we are doing or what we are feeling. In addition, it is the body that first gets hit, and every single hit hurts! Those who inflict pain know this very well, as it is precisely by causing pain that they try to gain control over others. Gross violence distorts, bends, breaks, sometimes crushes and, in extreme cases, even destroys noncompliant bodies. Of course, violence needs to be justified or else it cannot persist long. The defense for violence has always – readily and shamelessly – been provided for by Ideology. The purpose of the images and writings generated by Ideology, and used to attack man on all sides, is to create an artificial world that would completely mask the current one. Yet Ideology cannot completely block out the real world through pictures and writings. Someone will always break that giant screen, look through, and tell others about the world they have glanced. They might be philosophers or scientists, but it could just as well be a curious artist, such as Jozef Jankovič. It has been decades since his first look at the world with the naked eye, free of any ideological lens. Ever since then, he has stood on the side of the sufferer, regardless of whether their aggressor is brown or red. He denounces gross violence openly because he knows that, sooner or later, aggressors have to be stopped – at least on the outside – in their sadistic appetites and brutal practices. Criticism through art can – often more effectively than political manifestos and philosophical treatises – provoke, in those that suffer, not fake admiration, respect or recognition toward arrogant rulers, but rather disgust, contempt and condemnation. The basic framework in which Jozef Jankovič´s aesthetics and poetics originate and crystallize are specific variants of humanism and anthropocentrism. Throughout his lifelong work, his style has become clearly legible. A considerable number of monumental sculptural and chamber works, produced ​​in traditional and non-traditional media, have developed and stabilized his sculptural handwriting. Meeting glass artist Palo Macho triggered in Jankovič the desire to materialize his own artistic vision in glass, a material that had hitherto remained to him terra incognita. Jankovič knows very well that working with a new medium does not mean just adopting the usual artistic processes unchanged. In order to succeed, he needed to learn to think anew, so that he could translate his vision into glass. At the beginning, he lacked experience with all the material, technical, and technological issues connected with the nature of the new medium or its processing. He did not know just what can be burnt in a kiln, how the glass material can change, how many layers can be "baked" together, how the burning can affect color, etc. With Macho’s guidance, he gradually made himself familiar with glass as a material, with its advantages and limitations. He explored new appropriate compositional methods that glass would be able to handle, and tried novel color ranges. Although the result of this dialogue between the glass and the author is unequivocally Jankovičean, no aficionado or connoisseur of art can overlook the considerable shifts in his work, e.g. his interesting relief outcome or unusual color scale.

Depiction of the human body is what Jankovič uses in order to respond to, and often criticize, the world we live in. He opposes general ideological patterns as well as particular ideologists who are trying to get ordinary people to consider certain "improved" images as the real thing. Jankovič´s paintings offer an alternative version of the world. Not only one that is less positive, but rather one that provokes open aversion towards themselves – as no one wishes to live in a bad world. The pragmatic aim of these images is not to cause mere Kantian contemplation, but to prompt profound changes in the mind, to make it resist manipulation and realize that one has to act in line with one´s autonomous judgment.

Palo Macho goes the opposite way. His glass paintings are not depictions of our world at all. No: they originate in the author´s free imagination. Imagination is also the creator and architect of a new world, produced exclusively by the artist. This does not mean that the world of Macho´s pictures has nothing in common with the world we perceive. It does indeed, as his paintings are constructed from the elements of our world. It´s just that its compositional layout goes far beyond that this world, giving rise to pictures that are free of any preconceptions or models.

You must see the contours of these artifacts as borders. Once you do, you´ve taken the first step towards coming to understand their real meaning. Being cut off from their environment – not their context, because it is here and now that Jankovič´s glass artifacts are! – the viewer´s attention is taken to what is most important in Macho´s artifacts, i.e. the composition. Why the composition? Because it is through this that the various elements of Macho´s artistic fingerprint line up to form a structure. This is, of course, a trite statement, but it will appear much less trivial once you have focused on the actual structural layout. First of all, this structure does not have a fixed center that would order the different elements into a hierarchical formation. In this case, we can hardly say that the different artifacts consist of a pyramid, of expressive and semantic elements which come together to articulate the theme or gist of an obviously clear or ambiguous artistic message.

When you observe Macho´s artifacts, you find that they consist of planes that separately integrate color, lines and fields into an internally organized whole. However – and this needs to be properly pointed out – these planes are not mechanically overlapped, but rather open onto one another, creating depth. This depth is different from the one you typically see in traditional paintings on canvas. The nature of this depth is not an illusion; it has nothing to do with perspective. Planes are not divided into background and foreground. On the contrary, Macho´s work with depth is not based on the principle of hierarchy. Depth in this case makes use of one of the major optical qualities of glass: its transparency, i.e. the possibility of painting on both sides of the sheet. When they overlap and are “baked” in the kiln into one object, something rather curious happens. The elements organized on one plane submerge into this depth and touch other planes, giving rise to a formation that is not flat but ordered in space. It's different from the space known to sculptors. Whilst the planes manage to create the basis of the semantic implications and explications of the elements based on their mutual position, contiguity, and opposition within the field, the spatial layout forms the basis for the "interlacement" or complication that not only gives the artifact a new dimension, but also provides the different elements within the planes with a new meaning.

However, it would be wrong to remain only in the realm of implication, explication and complication, leaving out amplification – for it is amplification that forms the basis upon which the author´s handwriting takes shape and becomes stable. Aesthetics and other art-related sciences use the term "amplification" to indicate, among other things, the multiplication of the meaning of a work of art; for example, by means of different interpretations. Such interpretations frequently originate ​​in other media, mostly in verbal form. In Macho´s case, amplification results from the play on two opposing concepts: inclination and declination. Inclination expresses the similarity between two or more of Macho´s artifacts. The different artifacts are kinds of variables of a hidden invariable stored in the “wax” of the artist's brain. Declination, on the other hand, indicates a deviation, departure, i.e. that which guarantees originality. It is what makes an artifact matchless in the whole world, since not even in Macho´s own world will you be able to find another one that cannot be distinguished from it. Needless to say, inclination lies at the root of style, while declination prevents this style from becoming schematic or rotting into harmful cliché.

As mentioned earlier, the third group consists of common artifacts by both Jozef Jankovič and Palo Macho. If we were to try hard to name the principle of their artistic creation – even with making substantial concessions – we probably could not do better than to label it interpellation. In general, interpellation means when an MP publicly asks the Prime Minister a question, and this question must be answered. When interpreting Jankovič and Macho´s creation, the political connotation of the term "interpellation" is irrelevant. What is important is that if one asks a question, the other has to answer it. Or if one raises an issue, the other has to deal with it. And this is what really happens. Fortunately, the spectator is able to read both the question and the answer, and, with a little effort, can see the point that lies in both asking these questions and finding answers to them. Two authors. Three groups of works. Might sound a bit complicated, right? It is – but let´s not forget that the reason there are artists in the world is not to provide simple solutions to complex problems. What, then, is their reason to be? To offer us their solutions to complex problems, oblivious of any limitations? To force us to constantly change the horizon of our aesthetic expectations? To be quite honest, that is not what I expect from them. I do not need to agree with the way they present problems and their solutions. I am happy when they simply catch my attention, and force me to break free from the stereotypes of everyday life and look at the world from a different perspective. That is more than enough for me, since afterwards the world just seems to be enriched somehow, by something which I had consciously or unconsciously overlooked before. And if this is not enough for you, then I suggest you simply choose something else from among Jozef Jankovič and Palo Macho´s work, as they really have a great deal to offer.