Lord of the System 3

Ljubljana, 1997

Fig. 1: »123—a«, October 1997

»A realist often wonders: ›Does the line exist at all? The line is after all a section of two flat surfaces. Or a horizontally laid surface at eye level. An exact, active, moving point, a perfect line, is not visible at all. Therefore it does not exist.‹
But an idealist secretly laughs at this and says: ›If I do not see it, I sense it, and what I sense can be made cognitive and thereby visible. Therefore, the line does exist.‹ It undoubtedly exists in relative terms and in comparison with the otherwise manifested — with the flat surface, for example. And what is the line in general terms? A river in the distance. A thought. A railway. An attack. A sword, cut, arrow, ray. The blade of a knife. A beam. A carpenter of all shapes: a plummet.«

Paul Klee, from a lecture given on 9 January 1924 at the Bauhaus.

• • •

Constructing a graphic print from its interior, from the individual elements towards the whole, is a procedure that is diametrically opposed to elaboration. In the case of the latter, I start with the format, with solid material, which I then elaborate and divide. I start with something that exists and that must be turned into something. It is easy to preserve a large, single format or start eating away at it from both sides, without creating space or tension between the elements.

The process of composing is completely different. I start with nothing and in this »nothing« I create a form in the next stage when I add individual elements and combine different materials. Apart from the sum of these elements, I must create at least one more interesting link. The more interesting links are created, the more intense they are; the more elements they yield, the more important the result is.

In composing, the size of an individual unit is important. I do not know the final size of the sum (format) in advance, since the rules of composing and composition are defined by elements. But when I elaborate, I already have the size of the entire picture or format and I start from there. The size of the unit is only a fraction of the whole. It defines the intensity with which the format creates relationships between the elements, and between the elements and itself. Everything emerges from the material, which also contains the rules of the game.

It is not right for me to try to force the material to accept something that is foreign to it. But this forcing has become much easier with state—of—art technology. For this reason a knowledge of different materials has never been as important as it is today when everything is possible, including virtual architecture — architecture that does not give shelter from the rain. Thanks, but no thanks. Some basic rules must be observed. Let us say that artistic production is material production.

I do not experience rules, past experiences and respect for tradition as a restriction. All this is not really the past. Past experiences and principles generate new ones. I constantly interpret what I think once existed. I see splendid forms, large spaces and large formats in the past. I respect order, the very order which has always been omnipresent; the true order that was not invented by man.

In my work, freedom is a result of order — modular order. (It was Nietzsche who told us that freedom could be found only in perfect order and discipline). Among other things, I can ›correct‹ a coincidental shot with a sufficiently firm structure.

But many reject modular order because it supposedly restricts them. I can only understand this as a manifestation of complete ignorance or of a misunderstanding of the problem. This order has evolved through history, which means that it contains experiences from the past and is therefore a completely legitimate principle.

When people do not have sufficient understanding of a procedure, they are like violinists playing semiquavers and demisemiquavers and being fully aware of every one of them. But this can’t be done. A violinist must practice for so long that he stops »thinking« about which note he has to play next. He plays the sounds and consequently the melody.

When people fail to understand laws, they perceive them formally — that is, they see them superficially. They hear only words and they argue your every word. They do not comprehend the essence of things or what is being said. There is no use telling such people that modular order is one of the aspects of the supreme principle or the Lord of the System, hidden in the material with which I work. It is my respect for the material that sets me free.

Together with relevant techniques or crafts, stone, wood, iron, paper and other materials demand total submission. All crafts apart from computer science seem to contain a specific quality that dictates basic rules and demands proper expression. Computer science does not display any signs of craftsmanship or predefined expression, however. The reason for this is that those who usually work on computers are usually occupied with something other than computer science. Computer is nothing but an excellent simulator. It is a universal tool that comes in handy during work. For this reason, whoever bets on computers must above all be a good better rather than a computer expert. People working in an ordinary pre—print studio do not even know printing units. A computer is like a linguist who masters a certain language perfectly but who cannot say (or does not know much about) anything else.

When I draw on a computer, things crystallise much faster. For me, the difference between a drawing and computer graphics is the same as the difference between a man thinking only in his own head and a man who does it aloud in conversation. It is not a matter of getting something from the computer. You usually do not get much from a person you talk to. The computer is »only« an excellent and well—disposed listener. Usually, one’s thoughts crystallise very fast when one talks to such listeners.

• • •

Fig. 2: Mon—1, September 1 1997

Fig. 3: Mon—1—txt, September 1 1997

Why should I always draw shapes that keep repeating themselves in my work? I can define them as blocks in a drawing programme, but why should I keep defining constant relationships between shapes? Therefore I need a programme that can deal with constant shapes and relationships that are partly constant and partly changing. I can enter shapes in the computer like a row of characters. This means that apart from Bodoni, Garamond and Caslon, there are also Characters. The rest can be done using the QuarkXPress programme. The technical side is, in principle, this simple. But things get complicated at the next stage when I set some aesthetic demands.

For example: a space after a character is part of the character. This means that a large character is followed by a large space. But what happens if I want all spaces to be the same? Then I create a font in which the characters are without spaces. I insert spaces between the characters myself, just as I insert spaces between words. With this, I return to the good old days of »lead«, when typesetters worked manually with the help of the n—space. Nobody knows about this anymore. As if the computer knew everything instead of man. All this is good and fair, but everything changes with the n—space. There, the journey must be taken by foot. The computer surrenders its power and turns into the ordinary (indispensable) tool that it really is.

• • •

Fig. 4: √2&Φ—mm—1, September 6 1997

In the old days, back in the 16th century, the craftsman and artisan was also a designer. In addition, he sold his own work. Today, only artists work, although recently even they have stopped working. Software wizards are changing and behave as if they were the makers of »anything«, working only with their heads and not with their hands. But they gain nothing this way. They merely relinquish a huge advantage that they could have. Because anybody can do it on his own. There is no need for others to deal with our personal problems.

The first typographers were both designers and workers. One such example was Claude Garamond. Making punch blanks demanded extreme skill. Characters were manually engraved into pieces of steel. It is easy to imagine how, with great skill and care, the surface of a form could be engraved with razors and small files. But the problem lies in the details of the form’s interior. For this reason, experts are convinced that engravers first perforated steel by punching or casting it in order to create space for the interior of the character. They then proceeded by shaping the character around this space. But this means that old characters are not forms that surround interior space but forms that are built around this space. There is a big difference between these two principles. It is a matter of two opposing principles. (This method hides many interesting and special things. A small anti—form can be used for several characters of the alphabet and not only for one).

Only 100 years ago, characters were designed and made in their actual font size. Today, characters are designed in a very large format and reduced later on. But it is a known fact that, in a mechanical or mathematically exact reduction, dimensions (particularly width) must be regulated. No character is designed universally for all font sizes and is able to be automatically enlarged and reduced by computer. No such character exists, at least not a good one. When enlarged to 72—unit size, a font created for the six—unit size looks like it is in bold.

• • •

I build on the law of contrasts, on the polar contrasts between black and white, and between the hard form and the »soft« anti—form. I arrange black shapes in a format so that the black disappears to the benefit of the form. For me, black is a colour and I am not bothered by the scientific discoveries about light absorption, according to which black is not a colour. I must still go to the shop and buy it like all other colours. Black has the least influence on the form itself. It is the flesh of visual perception and not merely the skin. From all colours, it most efficiently separates the form from its surrounding area.

I do not see the surrounding area of the form as part of universal surroundings. To me, it represents the material itself — a structural part of the object — to the point where it can yield volume just like any other solid material.

I do not incorporate the intentionally descriptive because I can express (myself) with pure forms and pure materials. The non—descriptive (non—object) approach allows me to create graphics that do not need to describe (themselves). Naturally, I cannot separate form from the descriptive, just as I cannot protect denotation from connotation.

Since I compose material and shapes rather than content, I find the anonymous means of the Character »font« very suitable. It facilitates the infinite possibilities of structural laws, the expandability and flexibility of the system, uniform quantities and relativity of dimensions, all of which determine the final appearance. The whole is based on arrangement and rhythm, just like in music, which expresses itself only tonally.

I am interested only in what I cannot express in any other way. Anything I can present through painting should become a painting. So in order to understand graphics, I must first look at what I cannot express in any other way.

• • •

Fig. 5: »3, 6, 9, 4, 2, 10—a«, October 10 1997

Fig. 6: »3, 6, 9, 4, 2, 10—a—1«, October 12 1997

Today, many people speak about content. But is content not a matter for literature? For this reason let us ask ourselves about the relationship between the language of material and the language of words. We think we are so familiar with our own (word) language that we are taken by surprise by the fact that we never accept it as pure, untainted by mediation. We are used to perceiving words as content, even if they are in the form of a text and illustration layout in a book, or the spoken text recorded by a film camera. We forget that we can see in two different ways: we can see by watching with our eyes or by seeing a meaning (in which our eyes play no part at all). The meaning of words is changed due to different stresses, contexts and subversions. In communication, words cannot exist without a certain narrative form: both the design and the designer of visual/verbal language undoubtedly go beyond mere words and the author’s work.

Just as we cannot avoid communication and the attribution of different meanings to it, we cannot avoid the conditions of the present time and space. Tools change, and the text and image turn into a common digital language. I am not a typical representative of the new era. I do not have a mobile phone or a TV set, and I do not have an Internet account. But I cannot imagine the world without a computer diskette. People do not understand this. They keep bringing me texts for publication on paper, typed on computer by their secretaries. Where is the diskette? Paper is only the last link in the chain. It is unnecessary beforehand. At the end we need it because we are used to this kind of printout, we are used to this form. On the screen, I do not see mistakes in typing; on paper, I see them immediately. Who knows why?

For this reason, the work displayed at the exhibition is also on paper.

5 Themes of Composition About Structure

»Our universe appears to be constructed according to the principle of hierarchy: small things are part of bigger things and those are part of yet bigger things. The molecules of aluminium silicate make up clay that can be shaped into bricks, and bricks — in certain combinations with other materials — make up houses, garden walls and workshops, that in turn make up a city. It is true that these things are manmade, but the same principle governs nature — the human body for example. Brick cannot be used for building modern skyscrapers, which demand steel construction, and if we use bamboo and paper as building materials we are faced with different limitations altogether. These limitations are the reason for many ›laws‹, but in reality these limitations are laws. This hierarchical order of the universe, however, facilitates an encoding system that can be used for the formulation of efficient general guidelines that allow us to detect complex data.«

Milan Butina, Elementi likovne prakse (Elements of Art Practice)

Theme I
Structure is the Repetition of a Unit

I create a pattern or an ornament that is based on a grid or, exceptionally, on some other form of repetition.

→ Patterns are nothing but mathematical isometric projections (on a plane). Isometric projections are usually understood as mirroring (there are several types of mirroring), a vortex, repetition or the like. Through the primary pattern, I grasp dimensions, module, scale, ratio and proportion.

I repeat the primary pattern in different compositions. The final product depends on how I begin. I work systematically and rationally, not »intuitively«.

Theme II
Structure → System
Standard Element → Group → Set

Standard elements function as representational elements. The number of elements in a set → the number of elements in all sets → the number of sets → the size of graphics. Each element is, in terms of quantity, equally distributed in all sets and each set is, in terms of quantity, equally represented through the graphics as a whole. → The size of an individual element equals one unit.

It is a matter of quantitative contrast known from colour theory. Usually the problem lies in the size of individual surfaces, something studied by Johannes Itten. But my work, like the work of Josef Albers, Owen Jones and above all Richard Paul Lohse, is about the quantity or number of repetitions.

Theme III
Structure → Sequence

I divide the format of 70×50 units into 7×5 squares with 10—unit sides, or a very similar format of 70 x 49 units into 10 x 7 squares with 7—unit sides. I continue to divide each square into smaller squares with 1—unit sides. The result is a grid of thick and fine lines which serves as a structure (framework) for my graphics. This means that elements, two versions of sets (groups) and the format are defined. Within each set I create a theme that is repeated in different variations in all other sets. When I move to a higher level, the previous sets turn into elements and the story repeats itself, so that the entire format represents a variation on the theme from the previous sets. Be aware: I do not describe the shape, I merely state the rules of the game!

Theme IV
Structure → Elaboration

I divide the format of 70 x 50 units into 7 x 5 squares with 10—unit sides, or a very similar format of 70 x 49 units into 10 x 7 squares with 7—unit sides. I continue to divide each square into smaller squares with 1—unit sides. The result is a grid of thick and fine lines which serves as a structure (framework) for my graphics. Within each square, I develop a theme through elaboration: I join squares with one—unit sides into 3 x 2, 7 x 5, 17 x 12 and 41 x 29 planes. I can combine two longitudinal planes because the ratio does not change. If I am not happy with four different pairs of numbers, I can multiply the divisor (the smaller number in the pair) by a factor of two (the arithmetically expressed previous graphic law). Then I arrange the compositions of squares so that their inner composition logically continues horizontally and vertically. I respect the immanent linear (discursive) logic of √2.

It is all about the play of ratios or fractions that are arithmetic approximates of the √2/1 ratio. In the proposed procedure, I play with the law: (√2)-1 = √2 / 2. [The reverse value of √2 equals its half value, which is (1.414)-1 = 0.707; the law also says that (1+√2) = 1/(√2-1) or (1+√2) = (√2-1)-1.]

Theme V
Φ (Golden Section)
Structure → Elaboration

I divide the format of 72×45 units into 8×5 squares with 9—unit sides, or a similar format of 65 x 40 units into 13 x 8 squares with 5—unit sides. I continue to divide each square into smaller squares with 1—unit sides. The result is a grid of thick and fine lines which serves as a structure (framework) for my graphics. Within each square, I develop a theme through elaboration: I join squares with 1—unit sides into 3 x 2, 5 x 3, 8 x 5, 13 x 8, 21 x 13, 34 x 21 and 55 x 34 planes. Each plane can be enlarged by a square along the longer side, its edge coinciding with the side, or reduced by a square located within the plane along the shorter side, its edge coinciding with the side. If you take a closer look at the fractions, you will see that they feature the numbers 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 and 55 (an = an-1 + an-2). Then I arrange the compositions of squares so that their inner composition logically continues horizontally and vertically. I respect the immanent plane logic of φ.

It is all about a play of ratios or fractions that are arithmetic approximates of the φ ratio (φ = (√5+1) / 2). In the proposed operation, I play with the law: φ-1 = φ-1. [The reverse value of φ equals its value minus 1. (1.618-1 = 0.618)].