The cycle named Aranea created by Josip Mijić from Bosnia and Herzegovia, a painter and art PhD, it integrates eighty two achromatic small sculptures (approximately 10 x 10 x 10 cm) done in a combined technique in the period from 2017-2018. The cycle consists of wooden cubes painted black to which cobwebs are applied, i.e. spider webs. Even though Aranea did not come about as a result of Mijić’s theoretical and art exploration of his doctoral thesis called “The Role of Dark and the Material in the Visualization of the Transcendental in Sacral Paintings”, defended in 2017, it directly leans on his continual and multiannual exploration of the identity of the dark (color black) and the identity of matter in sacral and contemporary art.
In his doctoral exploration, Mijić uses only two visual elements: the black and the material. With paintings-objects in the cycle Dekadology he extracts the man from the one-dimensional worldliness into a multi-dimensional transcendentalism. The color black, as the ultimate darkness, is free from its manifestation and auto reference; it leads to the metaphysical which tries to get closer to the transcendental. Matter, unlike the transcendental darkness of the color black, emphasizes this earth’s fragile, decaying world. Through opposite dualism of spirit and matter, the necessity for existence of the earthly and other-earthly is revealed, the material and the spiritual world. Dekadologies, in fact, through the usage of the contemporary artistic expression, unite the aporian constellation of the traditional-church and modern-artistic, opening up the space for formal experimentation and further theoretical and practical-art exploration.
In the Aranea cycle, Mijić took his preoccupations on art, man and nature, about the transcendental and the worldly, and translated them into a repetitive sculptural procedure, whereas the geometric forms are linked through fragile, organic, endless connection of the spider web. The cycle was built in relation to two art elements: color black and the square (cube) which also makes it the marker and the constant of Mijić’s entire art opus. The color black emphasizes the transcendental while the square, as a symbol of earth and the material world, is its antithesis. The cube as a square in space does not change its primary meaning but it emphasizes the created material world, and it defines and secures the space in its three dimensions. Aranea rests on binary opposites such as natural-artificial, immanent-transcendental, light-dark, black-white, and these do not cancel each other out but, on the contrary – condition and build upon each other. Polar opposites coexist in the repetition of form and building meaningful connections, making a visual rhythm united in a polyphonic, mute silence.
The Aranea cycle can be seen as a world of geometric and organic forms and their phases. Mijić is interested in forms that, through art intervention, lose their primary characteristics. The transformation process begins with covering wooden cubes with a special color black (Black 2.0) that removes the recognizable, initial structure of the material. Cubic forms are then “covered” with one of the most perfect animal “products” – spider web. Spider web on walls, corners, hidden and lonely places is an integral part of all spaces where humans dwell and therefore the art, education and gallery spaces as well. It is interesting that in the Aranea cycle, the spider web from these hidden places, reaches, or more precisely, becomes the building and integral element of works of art. Variations of the spider web motif branch from recognizable, regular formations and schematic structures to chaotic, complexities of seemingly random lines. Each sculpture carries an authentic fragment of the spider web which dictates its form. The deformation of the basic cubic shape is conditioned by the structure of the spider web which conquers the edges, angles, sides and by doing so it takes the proportional geometric figures and transforms them into truncated, imperfect forms. Mijić takes the unadulterated fragments of the spider web from the institutional art walls, exhibiting it as an art artifact, Mijić, in essence, puts the institutional spider web on a pedestal.
The technical aspect of transferring the spider web to a small sculpture is especially intriguing. The sophistication and the minutiae of the way the spider web is transferred reminds one of the medieval illuminated art, and the painting procedure almost transcends the sculptural form. With the deconstructing of the geometric form, the closed, hermetic monoliths are translated into organic forms that “open up” and conquer the space around them. With a formal procedure, an optical illusion is made which changes the relationship between the signifier and the signified and leads to the erasure of the boundaries between the visible and tangible spatiality. In other words, through cracks, holes, dents, and amorphic shapes, an optical illusion of space is created. The visible, tangible world is white and dead and the inner world is black and alive. Different dents and cracks on some sculptures do not offer a view into the inside but threaten to “suck us in” with their energy. It is not about the projecting of the metaphysical space but about the creation of new constellations and relationships inside the real space.
The optical illusion in the real space functions in the following way: several monoliths of the same size are positioned at different lengths from the eye, we see them as if they are the same size even though the image they project to the lens is different. During the 1970s, Robert Morris emphasized, in the context of minimalist art, that during perceiving relative size, the observer’s (human) body enters a complete continuum of sizes and positions itself as a constant on that scale. The observer automatically becomes aware of the relationship between the sizes that affects the perception of the object, and the distance of the object and the observer expands the circumference of the happening because it becomes the essential observer’s physical participation. Set up in a space of the sculpture from the Aranea cycle, they provoke an active participation of the observer, invite them to come closer, to be watched and seen, individually and as a whole.
Mijić’s art language and process are minimalistic but the simplicity of the shapes is not necessarily equalized with the simplicity of the experience. By merging the opposing elements, a new unity is created based on its own opposites. The unity that functions as a metaphor of the world, which is black and white, strong and weak. Mijić is not only interested in the formal and aesthetic structure of the spider web but its symbolic value, as well, and the achromatic sculptures from the Aranea cycle represent a carefully thought out conceptual universe in which all parts are connected by a thick web of fine formal and content relationships.
The spider web functions as a kind of visual code which needs to be deciphered, solved, and interpreted. In ancient traditions, legends and stories, the symbol of the spider was connected to fortune, good health and material wellbeing, while the spider web represented the entanglement into one’s own web of ignorance. It is, therefore, a symbol of many associative interpretations while, at the same time, arachnophobia, or irrational fear of spiders is one of the most common human phobias, which is not necessarily conditioned by the situation. With a well thought out and subtle play on symbols and synonyms, Mijić manages to transfer an existential restlessness and (non)artistic material and in doing so reach the essence, the observer. His message is clear and simple. Entangling into the spider web is a kind of metaphor of an existential fight with no happy endings.
Cubes that are smooth and diverse as these tempt us to pick them up and figure out what we want to do with them. Maybe a childhood impulse prompts us to pick them up? We take play for granted and, a serious world that we are, we do not give it its earned credit. A living being, by playing, listens to its instinct for self-development, on every level. (Johan Huizinga, Homo ludens)
These Mijić’s cubes are also first and foremost cubes, and then something more than their geometric definition. They tempt us to pick them up because they are shaped for that. After all, they are a part of a different game and we will resist the instinct to pick them up and leave them for a different musing.
The cube is the first geometric object which clearly defines itself in its earthly existence – the cube has its height, length, and width, it contains all physical dimensions. In this way, it forces its worldly presence more than any other physical object. It is equal on all sides; it hasn’t got the elegance of a cuboid, the authority of a pyramid nor is it adaptable and mobile like a sphere. It is inert and equal on all sides; if we accept these terms, we can rightly say that the cube helped us to define ourselves in space. But space, even this permanent space, has its facets and other views, the Foulcault’s views, the heterotropic views, and metaphysical views. When we talk about these spaces as special places, choosing the cube as an index of their marking, remains a perfectly justifiable solution.
The exactness of the cube’s spatiality is juxtaposed with the black, viscous, shiny and smooth, deep as the night, black hole; a nice, elegant vacuum. The author is no stranger to the black; Mijić has dealt with black in his work for a long time. Black is the area of his research on the surface and in space.
The universe packed in cubes acts like a galenite – lead sulfide, the ore from which this metal and crystal is derived from, is an amazing, almost perfectly shaped cube. Even when it crumbles, the galenite falls apart into smaller or larger cubes, always consistent and true to their original form. Cubism, by over accentuating every form, is trying to save figurative art which has inevitably started to disperse towards abstraction. Cubism grabs every form and every object and transfers it to the level of the sign- geometric shape, which abstracted, saves itself.
The spider web, caught in the methods only the author knows about, also catches its prey. It is thin and sharp like a laser cut, taut or curly in a complex composition in which the dark separates the universe below into smaller and larger islands. Therefore, these objects can be viewed as little boxes, safes, spaces to preserve something valuable and special.
A universe crumbled like this, defined by the cube’s space, takes on itself a delicate and unique note, a writing of thin traces 0,004 mm thick, seven times stronger than steel. Every black cube summons another mythological story into its stellar depot, the one about Ariadne and her famous thread. The thread, a meaningless, thin piece of string saved lives and kingdoms, destinies, so it is easy to remember the fable of the small mouse and lion king who had a thorn in its paw. Great things often hang on a thread and one cannot joke about that. Small and delicate things are necessary to keep the world together; a string of pearls, the lace from the island of Pag, a spider’s web.
So, Noli me tangere!, resist the urge to pick up the cubes because the writing on them is fragile and delicate. They speak to us, offering us their drama and poetry in a fine inscription. And fine inscriptions require fine readings.
The art of Josip Mijić is like a minimalist cuisine in an exclusive restaurant. You don’t know how to eat it exactly but it looks so good you simply have to try it. In his new cycle of art called Aranea, Mijić continues to explore new forms with his usual coloristic scheme, this time with something new, something not present in his usual aesthetics: shapes covered with lace made of real spider webs which, at first glance, may sound unbelievable, but it is also covered in a protective layer that protects it from damage. His deep, seductive black is like a mirror, fractured with delicate white webs- maybe this truly is the most suitable way to introduce a ray of light, in the real sense of the word, (after a previous experiment with LED) into his dominant monochrome. The whole cycle is based on the research of the relationship between tough and fragile, light and heavy, yin and yang. The colored pieces of wood are covered in spider web which are painted over with a matte varnish, which, in turn, creates an illusion that the web will spill over the surface and spread around like mercury. The shapes of the wooden blocks, i.e. the surface, vary from perfect squares to imperfect ones with dents and openings. Aranea really is a cycle, a circle which started with two-dimensional work, smaller in format, and then it reformed into a tactile three dimensionality and in the end it melted towards the surface returning into the two-dimensional, closing the said circle. On the edges the white threads become thicker and in their game they take on the characteristics of a spatial drawing. It would be interesting to see what Aranea would look like on black glass. The author manages to fool us with his technique so we have a feeling it is granite, and not wood, which repeats the premise of contrast, this time between hot and cold.
Mijić is obviously enjoying his artistic play, and in the color that became his trademark he compiles new narratives and semantic levels, like an organ musician that, in his performance with nearly obsessive precision, manipulates the instrument’s registry from which complicated Baroque harmonies come out of. Of course, Baroque and minimalism are essentially two mutually exclusive concepts but in the case of Aranea we have an exception that confirms the rule, because we do not have a Baroque form but we do have a symbolic one. Both imply a form of spirituality but Mijić is closer to Eastern simplicity. This premise seems appropriate, since the author has experience with sacral art. Evolution of the cycle is visible in the construction of the surface as well; it starts with an almost perfect geometrical cube and then moves into a gradual transformation of melting the edges and frayed, diagonal cuts. Sometimes he subconsciously evokes the sensuality of the Bull, by Bakić but his story is about finding the monumental in something small, like Japanese haiku poetry that gives form and language to something inexpressible. Unskilled eye will probably see nothing in this exhibition, but that is not the goal anyway, because great art does not come with a manual, and Mijić avoids the obvious gimmicks to get the attention of the spectator. Instead, he offers primordial forms with which anyone can connect on a deeper level because they evoke toys from a distant childhood from which small castles for imaginary children’s kingdoms were built. It is a point where experiences of the “insider” and “outsider” audience merge, on common ground at last.
One could say this is a co-authored project because a spider is at the other end of the equation, its web a vital part of the works. Without getting into a discussion about authorship, both are equal partners, one might be invisible but its interventions are more pronounced because of it, since Mijić with the logic of his color is withdrawn into the background and he gives the floor to the energetic artistry of the co-author whose hysteric artistic dynamic strongly imposes itself onto the viewer. Despite of this, they function in harmony that nothing can be added to or taken away from.
This exhibition raises the concept of intervention to an even more intensive level by transforming the space of the gallery into a camera obscura by painting the walls created by the conscious or unconscious balance since the spider has “taken over” the morphology of the sculptures, the author uses the dark color of the walls to “regain” control over the narrative. Who will win these cyclical battles of the co-authors remains to be seen, if there even is a competition and not an equal game in which the winner is the observer. If the beauty is in their eyes, they will need many because they shouldn’t miss this extraordinary artistic happening. If Mijić’s experiment succeeds it might be a beginning of gallery’s morphing into colorful zoos. I hardly dare to ask the inevitable question- maybe they already are.
The art of small formats demands purpose in an intimate, delicate approach to a subject, as well as looks for patience and perseverance. There is no place for megalomania here; the creative process is deliberate, precise, and it demands a filigree-like precision and great artisan skill. During the whole process of making the piece, the artist has to have a close connection to the format and obey its rules. In his minimalist sculptures, Mijić uses hard, black, cubic forms and he applies soft, organic, spider web painted white onto the cubes. The cubic forms are made out of wood and he paints them with the color “Black 2.0” that has such a strong concentration of pigment, it erases all structure of the material that creates these sculptures. That makes the sculptures take on material characteristics of hard, geometric, granite forms and radiate permanence and stability like Egyptian granite sculptures polished for eternity, and they become timeless. The monolithic forms sometimes have sharp and menacing edges, and sometimes those same edges are gently curved and appealing. They become monolithic fragments torn from the context, life, emotions, the state of the soul and universe; patterns of being from whose different forms we can see the diagram of feelings and the history of existence. The spider web applied to the sculptures is by nature elastic and moveable and it is used to soften the structure of rigid geometric bodies and it is precisely that softness that gives life and melody to the monumental landscapes cut from the earth’s crust and it examines them like a scientific pattern. The webs glitter like light-bearing connections, like a mark of movement on the ground, the mark of a path we left behind, sometimes complicated and incomprehensible, sometimes clear and readable. The webs are also thought constructions which swarm and become threatening abysses under which one can drop into the depths of the black. With their seductiveness they entangle us into the hundreds of paths and side roads and to act like puppets that wish to exit the trap of life. By simple expressive means, Mijić manages to dissect and watch the relationship between man and universe, to observe the man as a universe drowned in nature. With his minimalism and layering of the artistic problem he shows that merging the monumental and meticulous is possible. It is that artistic oxymoron that makes these works even more powerful and leads us to the Kubrick’s monolith, encouraging the evolution of emotions towards the natural, the human.