Laterna magica
BOGDAN LE©NIK Ambi(val)ents of Marko Kovačič
BOGDAN LE©NIK Visions of Ordinary Life
JURIJ V. KRPAN The Lost Horizon
RASTKO MOČNIK The Loving Sights


NADJA ZGONIK Laterna magica

Renaissance perspective nettings, mirrors ranging from the ordinary to the anamorphic, including even a black one, camera obscura, Baroque diagonal optical apparatuses and perspective boxes, panoramic perspectives and stereoscopes from 19th century Realism, stroboscopic discs containing a new dimension of movement, laterna magica; then, the film projector, television and video techniques - all are instruments invented during the historical development of science and art designed to enable as perfect an imitation of nature as possible. Included among them are perspective contrivances, instruments for recording linear effects which follow the principles of projection; optical accessories, various lenses serving to shape the reduced image of the world from the denseness of light, shadow and colours; and magical devices in which optical principles are used to mislead the spectator's perception. From the very moment these magical instruments - from laterna magica to popular peep-shows, phantasmagorias and dioramas - were invented by science and appropriated by art, they were also employed by buffoons, comedians, showmen and religious charlatans to amuse and shock their audiences at popular fairs.

Clearly then, the fascination with the seen, and everything connected with it, is not new. It was optical themes within art that coupled highly scientific, elitist contemplation with the need for trivial popular entertainment. Visual themes retain this ambiguity even today: it is the optical which is the essence of the attraction of mass media. The trick of instantly transforming images on large projection screens, the multiplicity of coloured pictures in magazines which record briefly sequenced details of some important event; the television picture which blends different places and times; the omnipresence of the enchanting visual has been so thorough that it has sneaked into our lives without our even noticing it. In the light of all the above we can easily agree with W. J. T. Mitchell's theory that the ‘pictorial turn’ has replaced the prevailing 20th century notion of the ‘linguistic turn’ which, according to Richard Rorty, has been the foundation of modern philosophy. Moreover, a large quantity of recently published works dealing with this issue also point to the necessity of defining, analysing and discussing optical perception, visual issues, and cognition through seeing. The Dialectics of Seeing by Susan Buck-Morss; Visual Theory, edited by Norman Bryson, Michael Ann Holly and Keith Moxey; The Optical Unconscious by Rosalind E. Krauss; Vision and Visuality by Hal Foster; Techniques of the Observer by Jonathan Crary, The Reader's Eye by Ellen Esrock; Signatures of the Visible by Fredric Jameson; and Downcast Eyes by Martin Jay - these are books which, by taking the optical as a starting point, widen the entire field of art history.

In his most recent project, entitled Laterna magica, Marko A. Kovačič places various optical apparatuses and contrivances alongside one another, combining them regardless of the logic of development and regardless of the fact that more elaborate mechanisms have replaced and entirely substituted the simple ones. He anachronistically combines netting constructions, which weave themselves into a didactical manifestation of different concepts of usually invisible perspective structures; peepholes illuminated with artificial light and equipped with lenses through which one can see various real and imaginary settings; and photographs and video clips. The artist wishes to convince the spectator of the simultaneous actuality of different representative models. The perplexity, simultaneity and equalisation of the optical devices therefore makes us believe at first sight that the title, Laterna magica, accentuating as it does only one of the numerous models, is misleading.

If the artist extracts one historical optical device from the comprehensive discourse on sight and vision, i.e. the one which marks the precisely defined moment when the dead picture came to life and started to move by means of artificial light, this suggests that he is concentrating on that point within the field of art in which one reality transforms into another. This transformation is not merely an optical fact, but a magical act. The term - laterna magica - is about magic, supra-scientific, something inexplicable. And this is how we can understand the title: it suggests that in the relationship between lenses, cameras, and television screens there is not only an optical discourse taking place, but also a more universal debate about the ocular-centricity of contemporary society obsessed with the hyperactive production of visual images.

Secondly, the charm of sight - the most eminent of the senses - lies also in the fact that in the moment when the visual image is formed, direct sense perception is joined by the awareness of the seen, moulded through the human experience of the world. 'By means of judgement residing in my soul I comprehend what I believed to see with my eyes' - thus Descartes connects sight and cognition in his Meditations. To see and to know, voir and savoir, the ocular-centric experience as the basis of understanding and cognition is evident even from the etymological structure itself. At the same time, vision is capable of describing an even more profound cognition: spiritual revelation. Angels and saints appearing in people's dreams either to explain their deeper mystical ideas or simply to advise them, must take on a physical form, a form which can be seen, if they are to be noticed by the people to whom they appear. Exactly the opposite is the fear of being observed and controlled; God's eye is omnipresent, it sees all, and no action seen and found blameworthy can avoid God's judgement. The more recent, all-seeing third eye - in front of important buildings, banks, in museums and galleries - is the camera eye looking at us and thus transforming us from the subject of looking into the object. The discourse about the seen has a polypoid structure: its tentacles extend from the field of sensorial apprehension to the sphere of rational perception, mystical enlightenment and control.

By paying attention to visual themes, Marko A. Kovačič has turned from his original orientation, i.e. sculpture - by definition directed to haptics - to optics. He has condensed the procedure of touch, which works on several levels, into one sole compressive point: vision. Thus Kovačič elaborates the point where the eye touches the material. He uses obvious representative models to transform sight into a materially present fact. He makes no effort to rearrange and interchange the roles of the subject of looking and the object, but rather wishes to freeze the optical fact itself, to keep its distance from the bearer of the view. He directs us into the world of looking itself, into the universal, super-historical point of the emergence of optical perception. Therefore we can say that artist's basic intention is to make visible, evident, and thus perceptible to the eye, the fundamental discourse of the ocular-centric society, i.e. the discourse on the visible - its complex structure is returned to the point of the emergence of sight, the eye, only to be liberated of the ideological frameworks of time, space, and the sacred.

Nadja Zgonik
(from the catalogue of the exhibition Laterna magica, The Museum of Modern Art: Mala Gallery, Ljubljana, 1995)

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