Artist Nina Pops (who lives in Cologne, Germany and who has done several projects with my friend Zarko Radakovic) just sent me these pages from a 76-page book of hers: "Variations on the Work and Life of the Painter Julije Knifer. Collage, 76 pages, 21 x 29.7 cm, polychrome pencils and graphite on paper and manuscript version of the book Knifer by Zarko Radakovic."
Other pages of the book can be seen here: http://ninapops.blogspot.com/2012/04/knifer-buch.html
The works are thoughtful in that way that makes a viewer thoughtful. They raise questions. They inspire delight. They make connections and sabotage assumptions.
Some responses—first the page, then my thoughts:
The page as a whole strikes the eye. The slightly tinted paper. The lighter sheet of the manuscript page. The text in barbed-wire lines of black, some of them badly spliced. The four forms (visually related to what Knifer called meanders) in grey, red, black, and dark black. The artist's own note at the bottom right:10.1.2003 (?) 13:06 Atelier (?) Köln 1. First page of the book. Finished at 1:06 p.m. in her Köln studio on the first day of October 2003 (if I'm reading the tiny print correctly).
And already I have moved from the whole to the parts, a motion of understanding unavoidable given the nature of understanding and what Hans Georg Gadamer called the hermeneutic circle: you can only understand the whole in light of the parts and the parts in the context of the whole.
Four figures, fat figures, dancing figures one of which is bright red, dancing elephants vertical when seen separately and horizontal as a group of four, four figures that contrast in their abstraction with the scratched words and sentences of Zarko's text that would, if I could read the Serbo-Croatian (for these pages were written in 1993, in Nizza/Nice on the 23rd of March, in a year when the language was under vicious attack from all sides but might still, at least nostalgically, be called Serbo-Croatian and not yet, brutally, Serbian OR Croatian, which would sever, then, the language of the two friends Knifer and Radakovic) evoke meanings beyond the words.
This line of thinking is trying to separate the abstract from the concrete, the artist's image from the writer's words. But whatever sense that makes makes no sense, I discover as I write. In this work the lines of text and the lines of crossed-out text can be read, it's true, but they are transfigured in this context to lines that can be seen. The artist, while commenting visually on the text that itself evokes the work of the artist Knifer, has ripped the text out of its context to comment on her drawings. Her date and place and time are equivalents to the writer's place and date.
However! She has produced a book! Her work has become pages of a book. The motion goes both ways.
The manuscript page takes me back to the page in the printed book titled Knifer, to my copy of which is generously inscribed "my closest friend and spiritual brother," to page 18, to a clean page without the crossed-out words and phrases, to the page that means what it says but has lost the manuscript page's ability to mean also what can be seen.
Page 6 of the artist's book—of the artist Nina Pops, that is, not of the artist Zarko Radakovic (she has taught me to make this distinction). The text, in its filtered and fined form comprises parts of pages 20 and 21 in the printed book. The manuscript page, moved down and to the left as opposed to the one above that dominated the collage from above, is now embraced by red arms, connected to the black form above and on it—graphite indented by vertical and horizontal inlets. This almost sexual embrace leaves me gasping. "The Rape of the Manuscript." Move over, Sabine women.
Vertical fingers rise against horizontal lines. This is a different kind of embrace—phallic, it's true—but gentler in a way, perhaps because of the multiple columns, perhaps because of the light grey, perhaps because the black base is heavy (but not too heavy) at the bottom of the page and not pressing down from above.
It may also be phallic only in my mind. We'll have to ask Herr Rorschach about this one.
Notes on a text. Commentary sketched out and outlined and tied visually to the relevant passages. This artist is a careful and delicate reader.
What is above differentiated from what follows. What stands alone without margin framed by finger-jointed wood, black moulding, rabbeted respectfully. The framing I see is not to make the page pretty. The frame doesn't match the furniture in the room. This frame comments and elaborates and respects and highlights.
I've got the appetite to write 76 responses to this set of works that is already an intimage conversation. This could be an intellectually lusty ménage à trois.