Essay by: Petra Kapš: Plant as Communication
Oversized and naked in front of the human eye, the images of plants are embedded in the paintings. However, they are not exotic and mysterious, which would capture the imagination of the viewer and stimulate their ability of associative interpretation, but the most ‘common’ plants from our environment – clover, primrose, daisy, ornamental nettle. They are so ordinary that we are completely unaware that are long gone from our sensory world, along with a number of things and feelings and emotions that we no longer notice or feel. With the ruthless propagation of urbane dwellers and appropriation of ‘public space’ they habitually emerge into our field of vision and consciousness only as mere illustrations on the wrapping paper of an industrially manufactured product. Interpretation leads us to contemplate the ever-increasing chasm in man – a being of nature and a being of culture.
The symbolism ascribed to plants has been changing through the history. Given the existing level of awareness and needs of the social, cultural and political entities, we can always assign them different meanings, natural and supernatural powers, hidden messages, aesthetic values and norms. The perceived significance of the explicit plant imagery, deliberately positioned just so by Anja Jerčič, is left to the individual and their personal interpretation. Potential associative insights and relationships originate from the very system of man’s internalised sensory patterns, whose extreme ends are the ‘stereotypical provocation’ of a superficial view directed towards the audience on one hand, and the metaphor of the now empty vessel whose contents have been removed, without any actual reference to real life.
Despite the tendency towards descriptive accuracy of her paintings, the artist has been studiously avoiding imitation. Against the backdrop of the repetitive simile of the motif, and in the exploration of the physical appearance of plants, which is being articulated by the artist through the optics of fluidity of composition and by creating a continuous, rhythmic motion of the parts and spreading them across the entire canvass, we can sense a fascination with herbariums and pressed, dried plants; with plants, off which soil has been carefully removed and which have been placed on paper and arranged into desired shape, following own creative impulse; with plants, whose continued existence is due only to massive pressure and drying up of all juices of life. In that artificial condition of existence, the plants are now ready to be placed in other contexts, colour codes, yielding themselves to visual experimentation.
While modernistic painting was characterised by its incommunicativeness, in contrast Anja Jerčič’s paintings are highly communicative precisely on account of their clear imagery. In that respect, the images of plants play the role of a communication doorway, which leads to other (at first sight concealed) realms and insights – ‘co-realms’ of the painting.
The elaborate strategy of constructing the composition of the paintings gradually guides the viewer to look beneath the surface. If the sample plant images form the original realm, then their co-realm becomes the ‘heavens of the painting’, to which they have been pinned. That realm is the metaphor for the sky, reminiscent of clouds, a glimpse captured, and precisely because it is captured, it allows the viewer a quieting, contemplative insight into what lies within, into the very core. ‘The heavens of the painting’ are much more a product of the artist’s subjective world. The painter explores and initiates various emotional states and responses in the viewer through the co-dependence of colours and (the lack of) transparency of their individual layers. I am not trying to avoid a personal reference to Japanese painting and their famous folding screens of the 16th and 17th centuries, which served as partition walls to conceal and hide from view while offering the lure into an alternative, meditative, tranquil state of consciousness. The analogy is twofold – to begin with, there is the application of gold foil, which was once used in the geometric system for gilding the paper; and then there are the images of plants, flowers, leaves that seem to be floating and are apparently independent of their background. And that is precisely where the two references meet – in both instances we can talk about the arbitrary nature of two realms, the difference being that with the Japanese folding screens the gaze comes to rest on the visual level of the painting, while in case of Anja Jerčič the plant and the ‘heavens of the painting’ form two co-realms, where the former (as in the symbol theory of F. de Saussur) despite being arbitrary leads to the latter.
And precisely by directing the gaze beyond the obvious and into the depth of the painting, the next co-realm opens. The shape of the circle, the square; the inclusion of linear perspective; the illusion of space. A perfect circle of merely a part of it; the line and the mesh-like structure. If the ‘heavens of the painting’ are the expression of the subjective and the metaphor for that which has been set apart and which has caused the setting apart at the same time, then the incorporation of secondary geometric elements of the definition of space represents the quest for the universal structure and the articulation of the objective.
The painting takes the viewer and their consciousness from the actual image of the physical realm to the metaphysical, from without to within, from the image rooted in reality to the state which shines through or originates in the co-realms of the painting. That opens the space for the viewer’s individual interpretations, and their abilities and willingness to communicate with the insights offered by the painting.
And if we earlier mentioned a chasm in man – a being of nature and a being of culture, then we can use that premise to read the strategy of the composition of the canvass – the arbitrary nature of individual co-realms of the painting, the tension between imitation and non-imitation, material and spiritual – in that respect Anja Jerčič is an artist who is profoundly concerned with the issue of tension between modernism and art, before and after.
 The word ‘co-realm’ should be understood in the context of the preposition co-, which does not imply a hierarchical strategy.
 This is paraphrase of a notion advanced by Jean-Luc Nancy, which refers to ‘stars’.
Essay by: dr. Nadja Zgonik: Plant as Objet Trouvé
Surrealists and dadaists at the beginning of the previous century succeeded in changing our perception of the material world around us. They advanced the concept of objet trouvé, ‘found object’, and showed us how to behold an object in the reality of its physical existence, disregarding its function, meaning, status, symbolism. That way, they created a new way for the object to exist, and facilitated its campaign into the arts, as by a tiny alteration or placement in a new context an ordinary item would become an exalted objet d’art. That did not only serve to change our attitude towards the physical world; it also had a profoundly disturbing effect on our notions about the status, significance and value of the artwork. Suddenly it no longer mattered how the chosen subject in painting or sculpture was used to articulate the artist’s idea; instead, the focus was on the relationships between the objects. The plants, which have surfaced in Anja Jerčič’s art over the past few years, can be regarded as her objet trouvé. First, literally: Anja finds them on her walks in nature, cuts them or pulls them out by the roots. Next, she processes them with care and precision: Carefully arranged, pressed between the leaves of a heavy book, flattened and dried – once the process has been completed, they lose their former spatial dimension and turn into two-dimensional objects. The process of transforming the plants could be compared to the upside-down process of the modernistic transformation of the concept of painting, from using perspective to create the illusion of a three-dimensional space to the flattened look of the painting field. Anja draws on the legacy of modernism, which in the multi-layered structure of her paintings is captured in one of the layers: the background. Its superficial treatment, with a two-dimensional interaction of different application of colour to the canvas, dots, spots, strokes, dripping, all of which points to the links with the modernistic autonomy of the painting, is merely the base. Against that backdrop, a dramatic intrusion of the material world into the ‘modernistic’ reality is shown. The physical experience of objet trouvé is now reintroduced into the painting as the object. Accordingly, the new painting – a post-modernistic painting – is composed of layers, a flattened painting field and a flattened plant, simultaneously abstract and figurative, personal and universal.
Anja Jerčič was first captivated by the world of plants in 2003, when she took part in an artist colony at Gaj by Maribor (Gaj = ‘grove’ – what wonderful symbolism, discovering plants in a grove), to which Simona Šuc had invited her artist colleagues. Plants did not catch Anja’s interest by their rich display of colour, diversity of shapes or variety of patterns created by the flower carpet, which was what appealed to the early modernistic painters. The velvet quality of the petals of a rose, the translucency of leaf textures, the peculiarities of natural shapes or the inner symmetry of the bloom did not interest her in the slightest. Instead, she was intrigued by modesty, simplicity and the frequency of individual species; Anja is fascinated by ‘democratic’ flowers, such as clover and daisy, which are unpretentious and do not seek to impress. While the symbolic connotation has become lost in the modern secularised society, and although Anja herself says that she does not concern herself with flower symbolism, nevertheless their message cannot be ignored. It is a fact that in Anja’s paintings, in place of ostentatious and prestigious blossoms of cut flowers as a lavish gift characteristic of the middle class, we are confronted with tiny wild flowers, which – in the ritual of gift giving – are a sincere and unaffected offering of a child or a great lover of nature. That is the hidden meaning, which touches the soul. Noticing that, which is modest, pushed into the background, marginal, can also be a deliberate social message, one only too relevant to our era. At the same time, plants help us regain the lost bond with nature, and their presence serves to awaken the environmental consciousness within ourselves. And then there is also the pacifist message, which, of all living creatures, is best embodied by plants.
The painted flowers, minutely detailed, fragile and modest, have such a ‘northern’ character, and yet their huge sizes and intertwined structures make them seem menacing. In the comparatively large formats, the tiny wildflowers become beings of Cyclopean dimensions. The naive, utterly plain depicting of the flowers reminds us of medieval tapestries, of minuscule wildflowers growing in Mary’s flower garden, of the symbolic hortus conclusus, or of the flower carpet in her arbour; only there, individual plants were being lost in the multitude. Wildflowers have always found a way of insinuating themselves among the prestigious and pompous plant rarities in all branches of art and in different cultures. Anja’s treatment of plants comes closest to the tradition of natural science illustrations, which, while dating back to the ancient Greeks, were only rediscovered on a grand scale in the scientific-method-enthused age of enlightenment. However, her depiction of plants has little in common with natural science illustrations apart from a botanic interest in their being portrayed with meticulous exactness, from the tiniest roots to the leaves and the blossom. In her herbarium of wildflowers, which she picks herself and keeps in transparent folders, no systematic approach can be observed; there are no attributes, no dates of picking, no locations… Its significance lies in it being the link between the nature and its likeness. The image of the pressed flower combines its spatial nature with the memory of the flower, which remains timeless in the herbarium or in Anja’s painting, not in a botanical drawing, which bends the image of the flower to the scientific interest. With the isolated placement, the solipsism of the plant on the canvas becomes only too obvious, subjective. One of the most stunning effects, in term of painting, is a leaf folded over itself. The folded cloverleaf is expressive, deeply moving, like a tiny crease hiding unexpected power, or perhaps even concealing the cruelty of nature. It reveals yet another layer of this style of painting.
When speaking of the artist, who has chosen plants as her dominant motif, it is impossible to pass over the tradition of flower still life, which in the past, apart from portrait, was one of the few socially acceptable subjects for women artists. Flower painting was also a compulsory skill for young women of respectable middle-class families, who, once having accomplished their life mission of getting married, passed their time doing embroidery or painting flowers. Anja once mentioned to me how her grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s flower watercolours, which they would paint not as artists but as respectable housewives, had made an impression on her in her childhood and how they had continued to hold a mysterious fascination for her ever since. Through those watercolours she established the difference between engaging in art as a skill versus the mission of the mind. Since she found the role models for that in her own home environment, they became like her nature, treated as a matter of course.
Female culture is also reflected in the hand-mixing of paints, egg tempera, which over the past two years Anja has been combining with oil painting. Breaking eggs, mixing and storing painting materials in the refrigerator is a very housewife-ish experience. Her former passion of herb-picking could also be included among the factors, which have shaped Anja’s artistic expression. Nowadays, feminist art no longer takes the form of affirmative action, but is increasingly transforming into a facet of an accomplished, complete painting experience.
Anja Jerčič’s paintings can be viewed as a humble, ascetic remnant of paradise, an interplay of painting and nature. In place of a symbolic hortus conclusus, composed of moral virtues, we are now facing a closed garden (which has replaced the former high-modernistic visual field), in which the modernistic artistic experience has clashed with the material world and the nature.