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Ana Knežević – Geometry of Light

Form, light and space

Form, light and space in the immediate experience of the individual form the essential contours of Ana Knežević’s works. Sometimes it is also supplemented with sound, which fills the void left after the removal and suppression of all those sensory and cognitive contents in the installation might distract the public’s attention from that which appears in its field of perception in the form of abstract monochromatic shapes. Her works always take into consideration the observer’s movement, and thus the various positions from which they can be viewed, so that it cannot be said that there is a specific isolated point from which they can be singularly viewed in an adequate way. Nor are these forms self-sufficient but rather operate like the intentional correlates of subjective emotional states, their goal being to provoke the observer’s attention.

Two works are presented in the installation in Nova Galerija vizuelnih umetnosti, characterised by the use of different media and also unalike in a phenomenal sense, but still conceptually coherent. These works can be distinguished from those others of Ana Knežević’s entire opus precisely by the fact that they are only perceivable by moving through the space, which in one case is physical, and in the other is virtual. Namely, one of the series of works called The Mirror of Light which is made from a triptych of black acrylic sheets, separated into pieces and placed behind glass, and confronts the observer not only with the materiality and form of the elements which constitute them, but also with the reflections on the glass, those from the light sources present in the exhibition space, which enhance the experience of the work with additional visual sensations, and serve as a counterpoint to the non-reflective nature of the acrylic material. In contrast to this, the perception of the three virtual spaces in the work A Place To Hold You is mediated through the use of specific types of software as well as hardware components which facilitate the observer to exam abstract geometric forms, and carry her/him into a field of experience in which physical factors exert no influence.

Constructed in the software programme 3D Studio Max, developed further and modified in the programme Unity, and presented through an HTC VIVE VR set, the work A Place To Hold You leads the observer into spaces in which s/he encounters light forms in the shape of a square, then two triangles, and finally two squares. The observer can move freely about this space because of the digital technology, and perceive the works it presents from different angles, the experience of which bears forth certain archetypal contents which spontaneously appear and are loaded into the scene onto which the observer’s attention is directed, as well inducing her/him to reflect on the experience of the content presented and the author’s intentions in doing so.

Although they are based on the traditions of geometric abstraction, minimal art, as well as the art movement Light and Space, the main focus of these works however is not on the effects which would keep them in those domains whose formal characteristics are defined by the relation to the space in which they are to be found, and on the perception of the observer, but rather are directed to completely transforming the public’s experience, in line with what Dorotea von Hanselmann wrote about the shift from “the aesthetic of the object to an aesthetic of experience”. Specifically, Robert Morris already wrote a quarter of a century ago about the types of works for which in his time the important thing was “the relationships as s/he (the observer) apprehends the object from various positions and under varying conditions of light and spatial context”, but he still did not think that a shift to some type of art without an object was necessary, which Ana Knežević has realised in the work A Place To Hold You. In this work, there is nothing apart from light, sound and the constructed space.

As Christiane Paul claims, digital art did not develop in some historico-artistic vacuum “but has strong connections to previous art movements”, still possessing its own logic which cannot be reduced to the logic of the analogue art which preceded it and which continues to be applied, even in some works realised in digital media. In the works of Ana Knežević which have been realised in the medium of virtual reality the spatial thinking inherent to this medium has been applied to create hybrid galleries, projection halls and stages, and thus make possible a specific type of immersion of the observer, who is completely drowned in an ambient described by extremely abstract outlines. The application of such a logic enables the realisation of many unattainable dreams in an analogue world, and the artist shares some of these with the greats of the historical avant-garde, like László Moholy-Nagy, from the phase of his transparent paintings in which colour was supposed to float in space.

Peter Weibel declared a quarter of a century ago that “virtual reality, interactive computer installations, endophysics, nanotechnology etc., are technologies of the extended present”, and, also, the type of “technology that frees us from instances of reality.” This optimism in the circles of theorists of art and media has persisted up to the present day, so that only a few years ago Jaron Lanier, the philosopher and computer expert, wrote in his book “Dawn of the New Everything: A Journey Through Virtual Reality” that VR is still “the farthest-reaching apparatus for researching what a human being is in the terms of cognition and perception”.

However, even in the time when Weibel exaltedly wrote about virtual reality, Francis Dyson was warning that the naturalization of such a type of reality can very easily remove the need for that “electro/spiritual mission that the virtual and the vaporlike are supposed to inaugurate”. Even though immersion in this other type of reality by definition eliminates all the stimuli of the external physical world, the question still remains of whether the very logic from which one flees into that virtual world is actually being reproduced there. For Ana Knežević virtual reality is not even a place of escape, rather one in which she can completely realise what Deleuze and Guattari claim that every painter is trying to do. Namely, they state that “The painter does not paint on an empty canvas, and neither does the writer write on a blank page; but the page or canvas is already so covered with pre-existing, preestablished clichés that it is first necessary to erase, to clean, to flatten, even to shred, so as to let in a breath of air from the chaos that brings us the vision.” Even though she is accustomed to exhibiting in different gallery spaces, many of which are far from the ideal of the white cube, and has even managed to transform and perfect them in a significant way through her spatially specific works, Ana Knežević has fixed on the idea of creating an exhibit of absolute purity, of a non-dimensional form in a completely neutral and utterly clean space, just as the space of the ideal white cube would be according to Brian O’Doherty, like “an archetypal image of twentieth century art….”. Virtual reality would be the appropriate space for this.

On the other hand, Michael Fried claimed that Courbet had a fantasy to transpose himself bodily into the painting“, and he imagined himself „entering the picture physically and moving around in it.“ Ana Knežević has in her experiments with the VR space enabled herself and others to feel form, space and light in a direct way which is not burdened with the givens of a physical space, gallery, museum or even of some completely different type of purpose-built location, and through a reduction of that which can be perceived in the installation to a purely conscious phenomenon from which everything else is excluded, the observers embark on a research into their own, albeit, in this case projected corporeality in relation to the light forms which in an almost transcendental way significantly surpass them in size. The approach to the technology here is quite functional, and the specificity of the VR medium is not accentuated in any other way apart from the dematerialisation of the scene in which the light forms are able to almost without any dimensions float in space.

Stevan Vuković

Ana Knežević (1976), born in Belgrade. Graduated at the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Belgrade. She received MFA degree in 2002. at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade. She studied MFA Painting program at Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, USA 2003/2004. She received many awards including Award for Drawing by Vladimir Veličkovi} Fund in 2009, CEC Artslink Foundation Award from New York, Pollock-Krasner Award in New York for 2017/2018. Recent works and exhibitions include “Fiat Lux” in Perpetuummobile Gallery in Belgrade (2017) and Blok Gallery (2019), “Voiding the Void” (2019), CultureHub, New York, USA.
In her work, at the place where art and technology coexist, artist offers the possibility of dramatically different space experience. With reduced visual elements and organizing situational field with light, geometry and sound composition, Ana Knežević discovers new spatial relations as entry points for intensive emotional and mental experiences.