Anja Jerčič Jakob

Doc. mag. ANJA JERČIČ JAKOB, akad. slik. / MA, Assistant Professor

Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Koroška, Slovenj Gradec: Growing out.

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October 7, 2016 to December 11, 2016.

Archive KGLU, Photo Tomo Jeseničnik.

Anja Jerčič Jakob is an artist who has been firmly and continuously on the path of a subtle and perceptive researcher of nature since the beginnings of her artistic career. Her works are pervaded by a deep and intimately woven bond to the world of nature, which makes her depart, more or less, from the dominant trends within contemporary art discourse. She has developed her insistence on easel painting and her mastery of the art of painting, coupled with her exceptional command of traditional painting skills and her compliance with the modernist structure of painting, into conceptually sophisticated painterly masterpieces that appear completely modern despite all historical allusions to premodern painting. In recent years, her loyalty to the medium of painting (and print) has evolved through the use of new painting surfaces and objects from everyday life, which have lately become hybrid objects with the artist opening up the field of her creativity in her conceptually imaginative and sophisticated creations and turning nature into her collaborator.

Anja Jerčič Jakob is one of the few contemporary artists who use painterly skills to portray those dimensions of man’s relationship to nature that express, above all, intimate bond(ednes)s with nature; that is, bonds that are often ignored in the contemporary technicalised industrial and consumer-invasive milieu and pushed to the margins of general attention.

Anja’s art is distinguished, above all, by her positioning of the simplest, and in everyday life most ignored, natural species at the centre of attention. This apparent simplicity, which manifests itself in the selection of the motif of herbarised clover, which has become the artist’s trademark over the past few years, has a purpose. The artist’s conscious decision to focus her attention on one plant out of a multitude of natural species was initially conceived as a way to avoid identification with botanical illustration, for her minutely painted clovers do not represent visual descriptions of this plant; rather, these modest plants are a medium through which we can see the entire universe. The chose plan is thus the embodied opposite of everything that an average observer of nature would find worth depicting. And even though the modest clover, too, is a vehicle for symbolic and other meanings in both contemporary culture and history, it is determined precisely by its simplicity, invisibility and commonness. It is precisely this depletion of meaning and the absence of narration accompanying this most common motif from the world of nature that force the spectator to reach, slowly, by contemplating the image, the multifaceted semantic structure of the image, which serves the artist as a means of exploring the language of fine art and transforming her own experience of the world into visual language.

At the exhibition at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Koroška (KGLU), Anja Jerčič Jakob presented a selection of works created in several series since 2009. The Florilegium of Memories (Florilegij spominov) and Breathing (Dihanje) series are composed of monumental images of clovers on large canvases, marked by a fundamental multilayeredness and the floating, almost monstrously oversized clovers, whose intertwining thin stems and roots wind through the spaces of the paintings. Using the principle of layering and the oval shape, a certain depth of space is achieved, not unlike the effect in the baroque ceiling paintings; the flattened and fragile clovers exist in the state of levitation like monumental visual creations in the canvases’ mysterious backgrounds. Yet, these depictions do not create an illusionist space of sorts, bur rather define the space of painting through fluctuations and transitions between the azure layers of the paintings, for the images of intertwined roots, warped stems and flat leaves traverse the background and the foreground; despite its flatness, the herbarised plant is present everywhere as a living tissue, while the space of the painting is defined by multilayeredness and the impossibility to determine individual spatial planes. In some works, the persuasiveness of the depiction is intensified by means of the trompe-l’œil effect, where the depicted scenes have a double impact: the deceived eye sees the clover glued to paper; however, at the same time, the painted scene invites several possible interpretations of the spatial relations between the form and the background. At the other of the spectrum, opposite the monumental images, there are the small, intimate depictions of the clover motif, which were initially conceived as a memorial dialogue with the works painted by the artist’s female ancestors, who cultivated their painterly skills as part of their general education.

The exhibition of clovers depicted in various media under the common title Curiosum Trifolium in a cabinet set-up of a special space constructed within the gallery reminds us of the forerunners of modern exhibition spaces, that is, the so-called cabinets of curiosities or Wunderkammern from the periods of the Renaissance and the Baroque, in which collectors, rulers and scholars collected and exhibited rare, exquisite curiosities of various kinds from all parts of the world, whose purpose was entertainment on the on hand and scientific research and wonder on the other hand. In contrast to them, Curiosum Trifolium contains no such exotic objects (often controversial acquisitions resulting from expansionary explorations and conquests), bur rather their perfect opposite; we dive into a multitude of ordinary, common, mundane clovers, depicted with mimetic precision in various forms, from sketches to herbarium specimens, and transferred with care and precision onto canvases, wooden ovals, logs, glassine and video. As Nadja Zgonik writes in her text “The Found Plant”,[1] the artist uses the herbarised details as an objet trouvé, that is, as a found object that the author elevates into a work of art by transposing it into new contexts. In the Curiosum Trifolium cabinet, the images of clovers, plucked by the artist like weed, float in the black background of logs; the multitude of smaller paintings from the Florilegium of Memories is multiplied further by the clovers on wooden ovals, usually used for hunting trophies and here as the bases for miniature clovers. The transformation of meanings of ordinary objects from everyday life into a painting surface is a practice that is also associated with the artist’s interest in fine arts media, for it is precisely her deliberate selection and use of various surfaces and the classic media of Gothic painting (egg tempera, gilding, painting on wood) that allows her to achieve the desired visual effect: the unmissable touch of the old and the evocation of something gone by. The gloomy darkness of the polyptych Surviving Fragments (Preživeli fragmenti), a multipart painting of elongated slit formats in which clovers wind through black backgrounds producing the illusion of endless depth, relates to the strategy of depicting religious scenes, or rather, the form of multipart altars in Western Christian art of the 14th and the 15th centuries. With its swallowing darkness, it represents a contrast to the juxtaposed translucent clovers in hand-made glassine, rendered virtually sublime, almost transcendent by the seepage of light. The emphatic effect of floating spacelessness is continued in the video in which the dead, herbarised nature becomes alive in a digitised form, entering a dialogue with the painterly depictions of always the same motif together the mummified clovers in glassine in the closed space.

A special section comprises paintings and polyptychs on logs, that is, objects of everyday life that Anja Jerčič Jakob, by using them as painting surfaces, put into an entirely new perspective and thus elevated them. In addition to Golden Wood (Zlata drva), painted in the tradition of Gothic painting, she has recently also created new images of Wood (Gozd) and Branches (Veje), in which the logs as the literally cut up bearers of the image contribute to the effect of depth and the translucent illumination of the motif, while the fragmentary nature of the bearers also creates a partially cubist effect of the image as a whole. Moments from nature are painted, its processes are transferred into the world of fine art, while the painted canopies and branches, thanks to the uneven surfaces of the bearers of the image, appear different every time under different angles; the fragmentation of the surface transposes into the image the liveness and playfulness of the pulsating effects of light in nature.

Landscapes represent a special segment of Anja Jerčič Jakob’s art. Her landscapes are always woodlands, or rather, landscape fragments from elementary images of the wood, in which the flow of light and the depth of space achieved through layering become evident as an extremely significant element of her work. The expressive voluminous depictions of tree trunks in a thick forest and the powerful intertwined roots are manifest in the series Abandoned Places (Zapuščeni kraji) and Rašicas (Rašice), while the latest works appear almost impressionistic due to the effect of pasted layers of colour and tactile vibrancy of texture.

The last series comprises art books and other objects, including living plants.  These are objects from the artist’s everyday life, whose common presence and use trigger reflection on significance that transcends mere utility. Art books from Sketchbook and Trilogy to Monograph, out of which clovers grow slightly self-ironically, testify to the process of creation, symbolise the trajectory from fragile initial ideas to the collected works of the artist’s oeuvre, which is almost obsessively preoccupied with a single motif and whose findings then culminate in a single book, in which living nature again speaks to us.

Observing the processes of nature, its unpredictability, the transience of life and its cyclical nature are thus among the key reasons for the artist’s departure from the field of exploring painterly solutions for depicting fragments of nature and for her venturing into the construction of objects whose essential part are the processes of nature. Namely, the depictions of the fragments of nature in paintings are always already layered culture, for painting is the expression of the artist’s supreme ability to transform nature into culture; the clover in them is herbarised, that is, already cultivated. In these objects, however, clover returns as pure nature – in the form of changing objects, with outgrowing clover in small ecotopes creating closed worlds changing in time.

The artist thus establishes a unique dialogue with nature, which, in the progression of time, transforms the initially set framework of work. Nature is thus not merely an object; in the process of natural changes, it becomes an integral part of the process of creating an artwork. In the form of a simple plant, nature creates a different world in every moment of growth; the temporality illustrated in the spiral of Sample (Vzorec), overgrown with clover, represents the cyclic nature of the living and the endless process of transformation of all life, including man. The meditative nature of the focused treatment of clover is expressed in Cushions for meditation (Blazine za meditacijo), whose form derives from traditional cushions for meditation called zafu. The clovers growing out of them exempt them from their habitual usage, so they become contemplative visual objects whose purpose is reflection. Due to the inclusion of living nature, the conceptually conceived objects hark back to the tradition of land art projects, yet, in contrast to them, Jerčič Jakob’s outgrowing objects do not represent (sometimes violent) interventions into nature; rather, in her works, nature is left to its own life process.

Monitoring the life of the exhibited objects during the exhibition proved to be a dynamic process, for the living objects were constantly in the process of transformation as regards their specific nature; admitted to the gallery space and outside the reach of the artist, they continued their life cycle, which is only partially predictable, for it involves natural processes.

Just like the herbarised clovers in the paintings express the ephemeral beauty and they represent an emblem of transience, the artist’s world overgrown with clover addresses us with its direct and naturalist presentation of the fragility of existence. The attention given to an apparently insignificant plant thus proves to be a process of contemplation leading to the realisation that humans, in their transience, remain subject to nature.

[1]     N. Zgonik, “Najdena rastlina”, in: Anja Jerčič, Slike / Paintings 2003–2005, Umetnostna galerija Maribor, 2006, p. 6. Exhibition catalogue.

Katarina Hergold Germ

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