10 / 6 - 18 / 07 / 2021
Jelena Bulajić’s process of creating a painting resembles mystical and religious beliefs relating to the origin of the world and man. In the beginning, there is a formless void and deep darkness – the first separation is the creation of light. The poetics of her works rests on the relationship between light and darkness, on the inexhaustible hues found somewhere between the deepest of black as found in the work Untitled (Mountains II), the darkest shades of gray in Spree and the utterly white foams we find in the Pacific series. The colour, composition and dynamics of the work are based on creating a middle, what is between these extremes. Depending on the amount of white or black, her paintings reveal an entirely different sentiment – the lightness of an antique fresco in the painting After Zurbaran or the Romantic turbulent drama of water in her paintings of the Thames.
Water and wind, two of the elements first created, shown in the paintings as sections of space, speak of variability, of the flow of matter, of the impermanence of what we perceive as the material world. In this case, the image is an attempt to freeze the moment of change for eternity – to replay continuously the same moment, forever. Unlike her earlier works, which are mostly interpreted as reflections of the passing of time, ageing and transience, her recent work overlooks Western time – linear time has been abandoned. As in Buddhism, time is conceived as consciousness of the impermanence of all things existent in the universe, and in particular through an awareness of one’s own vitality and mortality.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. In paintings of high mountains and close-ups of cliff details, the artist’s relationship to the earth as matter is visible. Marble dust, graphite, chalk and kaolin are physically present as the building blocks of the painting. The materials were used because of their chemical structure and visual properties. In these dynamic paintings of mountains, the care with which the artist composes the elements in the painting becomes particularly clear – the relationship between white and black, the depth of the shadow, diagonals and the rhythm of the painting conjoined, create the impression of the idea of the mountain rather than an actual landscape. As in the case of oceans and rivers, it seems here that these are untouched landscapes whose perseverance, despite change, only add to our sense of our own transience.
The artist’s Neoplatonist approach to the abstraction of an idea is also visible in her relationship to the blueprint. Mimesis works in two layers – the first mimesis occurs with the creation of a photograph that the artist uses as a basis for drawing and, later, painting. She captures the facts of the moment with photography – she records the visual specifics of parts of reality, their materiality, their momentary “exposure”, general properties and the nature of rivers, oceans, mountains, faces, all without losing sight of certain internal properties that seem to appear in certain forms. Here, mimesis is a Neo-Platonist selection of the perfection of appearance. From the factuality of photography, through the act of painting, the artist moves into the domain of investigating the expressive nature of matter, at the same time intervening over the elements of reality. From a selection of excerpts, she creates a new reality of the painting in which mimesis is far from the literal, while at the same time retaining reference to the photograph, which operates as contact with the ground and groundedness in the physical.
The creation of man may well be the least “natural” process, the least creative. While abstraction and aestheticization in Bulajić’s paintings of nature and objects are more present than in the photographs, her paintings of people mirror an augmented reality. The goal here is not the analysis of the overall formal elements of the painting, composing the perfect harmony of the moment, but rather, the goal is – cognition. The giant portraits indicate the need of the artist to try to approach the problem of the representation of the unimaginable and incomprehensible in man, in people: she considers the peculiarities of their physiognomy, their perfectly “finished” and “unfinished” characters. The procedure resembles the reverse alchemical and mystical process of creation from nothing or the creation of man from matter – in this case it is the materialization of spirituality, the surgically precise representation of the character as the bearer of the “soul”. Upon looking at a portrait, one feels a certain tension, far from the reconciliation we witness in paintings of nature. Perhaps because the artist does not intend to decipher nature, she admires it and abstracts its qualities and mysteries, while man seems comprehensible, as something that can be demystified by means of over-analysis.
The works of Jelena Bulajić seem to illustrate Plato’s contradictions: from “negative theology” that potentially leads to mysticism, while claiming that reality cannot be described, cannot be spoken of, cannot be shaped, only experienced in a pure, direct manner – by logos – to the other claim that all human thought is an attempt to speak, describe, model reality, to “create images”. The paintings in the exhibition are proof of the constant determination of art to, on the one hand, comprehend reality with its analytic tools, as well as to, on the other hand, by relying on its own means, present it. Jelena Bulajić recognizes the synthetic nature of art, her ability to know and present at the same time. In later writings, Plato notes that the world itself is a mimetic creation, designed by a divine creator-artist/demiurge, who is depicted as a painter in Timaeus. And, in stark contrast to the demiurge, who is content with its creation because, being the Maker it created nature as a self-regulating system, the artist repeats the process of creation day in and day out, re-creating from the first to the sixth day in hope of the coming of the seventh day, when the system that has been designed will be perfect enough for creation and analysis to cease, and for repose and admiration to ensue.
Ana Simona Zelenović