Lord of the System 1

Ljubljana, 1998

Fig. 1: Saarinen, 1988

I was encouraged to edit and record my thoughts on the topic that I have been exploring since 1978 by an article by Borko Tepina, entitled Na konici svinčnika (At the tip of the pencil; Borko Tepina: Na konici svinčnika; Likovne besede, 12—13 March 1990, pp. 65—69).

If an artist who is supposed to be quiet and express himself only through visual art uses words, he should describe what he has noticed and what he thinks could help other artists save time in as few words as possible. If he speaks about modular order or a composition of a work, he should act in the capacity of a scientist.

Initially, I learnt a new language during my studies of modular order under Prof. Tine Kurent. Today, I understand and use this language differently, because I observe new phenomena year by year. The pure parameters of experience, which I have learnt, have become broader. The language has become more organic and flexible. I soon discovered that the artistic does not originate only from »purely artistic« properties. All our artistic endeavours are a statement about ourselves and reflect our understanding of the surroundings. Our work is greatly influenced by the surroundings in a way that cannot be expressed in words; the »geometric modular« language is thereby spiritually enriched.

Sequences, fonts, and series — the ordering of things through harmonic relationships is in terms of approach closer to nuclear physics, new biology, new genetics or a completely new conception of existence than a pure work of art. I understand the principle of series (sequences) as a universal principle. It broadens human awareness and possibilities of composition to the extent that it will continue to inspire us for some time in the future.

By using series, I pre—define composition. The material is arranged and organised even before I approach the task. One may wonder what is left for me to do if the preparation of material is based on variation. It means that I do not approach the task freely. I am bound by order. I become its voluntary servant, because I select it myself. But this means that I still have freedom.

People want to be free because they hope that this will release their inherent creative forces. But this is merely an expression of subjectivity. Their hope that it is possible to create only from one’s own source is soon shattered. The only solution seems to be objectivity. In this way, freedom is dialectically reversed. People realise that they must obey laws and the system, but this does not take away their freedom. Freedom is not the violation and disrespect for rules. This would be banal. We are free when we no longer feel rules as a restriction, when we expand on them: when we cease to be anarchic. From a wider perspective, true freedom may be found only in complete order and discipline.

Order as an artistic composition is not there to serve itself. It provides us with support. As such, it is justified, but it must be rejected when it turns into a form of etiquette.

Laws, rules and systems merely confirm real—life experiences, thereby performing a vitally important task. They form an organisation that is of utmost importance even in creativity. Today, these rules are mostly forgotten and perverted. In the past, they were not so objective or so extrovert. They were based on the experiences and practices of ancestors. This was a collective memory, and this something that can be restored; observing these rules meant security.

Some think systems are a trick and therefore they reject them. At the same time, they use a system that has been tested and widely used for centuries and that they are not aware of because it is so widely present. They have probably learnt about it in school and simply adopted the work of others. Without any gratitude or historical awareness!

• • •

Back in the seminar class during the first year of my university studies, I realised that form and material are closely connected. When you wish to create a new image using a material that was intended for a different purpose and has different properties, you notice that there is a contradiction between the material and forms that you wish to create with it. I have always felt that it is extremely important for the material and form to come together and complement one another, that I do not force the material to assume a form for which it was not created.

It all began with a problem of how to place a black square on a white surface. Theoretically, it can be placed anywhere and the square can be of any size.

Fig. 2:

I received the first information about the emerging composition from the format of the paper. The sides of the format generally used in my country are in the proportion of one to the square root of two (both A and B format). The format seems to be composed of a square and the proportionate remainder. For this reason, I drew diagonals of the entire format and diagonals of the square part. This defined both the position and the size (see fig. 2). I placed the black square in the centre of the upper square part, determining its size with the intersection of the diagonals of the entire format (see fig. 3).

Fig. 3:

Later it turned out that I always return to the same foundation. I always find out that I move in an area of what I call »primary composition«. I have also tried to translate this system into the golden section format. The mental construction and the order are the same, but the character of the proportions in the golden section does not suit me because due to emphatic elongation the golden section leans too much in one direction (see fig. 4). Therefore we should not search only for quantity in proportions (relationships), but also for quality. Each proportion has a different character. The difference between two proportions, such as between one to the square root of two and the golden section, in a certain instance resembles the difference between major and minor in music.

Fig. 4:

When I do not wish to construct a certain proportion in a geometric way, I take its arithmetic approximate in the form of a ratio between small integers. The quotients 5:7, 12:17, 29:41. 58:89 and 7:10 are arithmetic approximates of the one to the square root of two ratio. The difference between an accurate geometric construction and an arithmetic approximate is relatively small and of no significance for the usual artistic purposes. If we calculate, we see that the quotient of 1 to the square root of two is 1.414, whereas the quotient of 7:10 is 1.428. This means that in the length of one metre, the difference would be less than a millimetre and a half, which is far beyond our visual capacities.

Fig. 5:

Usually I take the B2 format because it is physically controllable but still large enough. I imagine that one side is 7 and the other 10 units long. The entire format is therefore a structure of 7 x 10 squares, which shows the basic principle of composition (see fig. 5). »Struktur ist die Wiederholung einer Einheit. Die Gliederungen werden bei den Proportionen Halt machen m¸ssen.« Paul KleeAnd this is a visible difference between the first and second composition, a difference that is behind the two drawings. The first follows geometric principles and its format is internally divided. Individual elements are different and proportions (ratios) connect these elements into a whole. In the second example, a certain unit repeats itself and individual elements are products of this unit. The individual elements can be subtracted or added without changing the rhythm of the composition.

Fig. 6:

In this I distinguish between the structure within an individual element and between the structure of equal and independent elements. If I draw a square with a grid that divides it into 5 x 5 small squares, this represents a structure within or of the square. It is something completely different if I draw 5 x 5 squares. The difference is immediately visible because squares no longer have common borders: each square has its own four edges (see fig. 6). This means that when we pay attention to the edges and less to surfaces, what we see within the structure are two parallel borders. This is a structure of 5 x 5 (squares) on the 7 x 10 surface, which is a foundation for my further work.

With the basic grid, I define the rules of the game/composition. Actually, I already define them in the first composition. The black square measures exactly 3 x 3 and the line cuts away the upper square part of the format three units above the lower edge. In this way, the format is divided into two surfaces measuring 3 x 7 and 7 x 7 respectively.

As long as there is only this, I speak about pure composition that is characterised by a special inherent constructional solidity and order that borders on rigidity. It is like a scientific work. It contains suppressed forces and tensions. It is beautiful as it is. This means that when I lay emphasis only on its construction, I receive an assurance that the final result will be »beautiful« no matter what the composition contains. In this case I achieve this by drawing a grid/structure. I could for example accentuate the perspective cross when drawing an architectural space. But this kind of composition is not alive and it is quickly exhausted. I find life in irregularities. Irregularities manifest as stresses, unexpected position, etc. Pure composition is merely a box for the required content. The content can be anything and does not change the composition.

Fig. 7:

I emphasise the squares of the basic structure by adding another element. In this way, the squares attain individuality. If I set additional elements in a regular position, which due to special features is mathematically called specific position, if their position is central or axial (symmetrical), characters emerge (see fig. 7). But in order for a character to be recognised at the first glance, it must constructed in a way that clearly reveals its regularity (it is mathematically specific).

Fig. 8:

But when additional elements are arranged in a general position, square turn into ordinary boxes with inserted content (see fig. 8). When additional elements are in a central position, we see only these elements as such, but when we move it, they acquire the significance of their position (in relation to other elements). The relative significance overshadows the absolute significance. This means that a simple line could be equally replaced by an elephant in the same position. Consequently, the main difference between the character and a certain sequence is the way elements are arranged. Characters are defined by their specific position. A character is memorable because of its regularity. Or else, if we remember a character only partially, it can be reconstructed with the help of the strict laws of its structure. This resembles a music written in a certain harmony that is defined by a solid, almost rigid inherent order. It lives in our memory for a long time.

Some of the best characters are letters. It is interesting that Y did not seem good enough to the sculptor Adam Smith. He changed it by adding another arm to the conventional two. This gave additional emphasis to the letter’s specific nature as a character. On the contrary, James Joyce in Finnegan’s Wake discovered something extremely interesting about characters: in the passage where a red hen finds a letter, he says that there is no difference between writing and drawing. The hen found a secret message. The letter means: »You have sent for me.« All letters bring the secret message: »You have sent for me.« They do not say: »I have sent for you.« Consequently Joyce believes that all characters have a common significance in addition to their own individuality. By trying to be as specific as possible, they achieve exactly the opposite. They became general.

• • •

With this I realised that pure composition is a craft. I found my solution to the problem, because the laws of a craft are not mandatory for creativity. A science about craftsmanship is practical and as such extremely useful and possibly even unavoidable.

This procedure can be called a composition—building method with a limited number of elements that are connected only to one another. It consists of a single basic image of a many times varied line of (five) elements; this defines the horizontal and vertical line, as can be expected from a basic motif with a limited number of elements. This method is one of craftsmanship, which has no decisive influence on the composition, and the character of the work. It is merely an issue of approaching the material with regard to a selection of design approaches and awareness of the material’s characteristics.