Witness of the Inadvertent

In a work concerning the possibilities of bearing witness to the holocaust by Giorgio Agamben, a key concept is shame. Referring to a series of authors, Agamben puts forward shame as the hidden structure of every subjectivity and consciousness.   Shame is the primary state of self-knowing of the subject. The subject is ashamed of its being, ashamed of what it is, it is powerless when confronted with the fact of its own existence. In shame the subject is “overstepped and ruled by its own passivity, its own most characteristic sensoriness; and yet, this disempowered and desubjectivised being is at the same time the ultimate and irreducible presentness of the I to itself.” To become a subject then means above all to be present at one’s own de-subjectivisation, inevitable surrender not only to the language that makes possible being for others and with others, but also one’s own sensoriness, sheer receptivity to everything that is submitted to the eye, the ear and the touch; and all these places in which the consciousness is made manifest are not property to the subject; nothing of all that, from the pronoun I via the smile addressed to the friend, the scene of a child at play or the softness of an embrace, nothing of all this belongs to the subject save for shame – shame as a result of the pure fortuitousness that in this response or statement, in front of this scene, in this embrace, it is it, and not someone else; shame because of the interval between the possibility of being subject of all the stated and the non-necessity for being there, the fortuity that it exists at the very place in which another is not or is not any more.Perhaps it is just such a sense of shame that actuates Antun Maračić, representing, as well as humour, the basis of his artistic ethics.   This seems important to emphasize, particularly today, when the shame of the artistic subject has long since not referred to the angst-filled experience of the exposure of the creative individual, rather to the wider context of art and the autonomous activity within the social totality.  The shame of the artistic subject, then, relates to the simultaneous power and lack of power of the artistic collective that has the fortune or misfortune to be in a socially privileged place and accordingly also an obligation or responsibility to those who are not there, but come into the field of social visibility in much less attractive positions – as subject of discrimination, violence, exploitation, poverty. The history of modern art can perhaps be seen as a history of the overcoming of shame because of being in art, choosing on the whole between two extremes – a megalomaniac overemphasis on one’s own authorities, mission and tasks on the one hand and a sado-masochist slur on one’s own free will for the sake of avoiding responsibility on the other. Antun Maračić bears his shame for being in art calmly and stoically; while the days of God’s patience last his art does not tend towards the end of history.   Between the two extremes, he chooses a third way – that which Agamben puts forward as a possibility that opens up the gap referred to between the living being and language, or the overall responses of subjective consciousness (speaking, seeing, touching); the possibility, that is, to be a witness.  In fact the lack of existence of any necessary connection or continuity between the live being and language, between the possibility of being represented in the world of signs and the fortuities of the individual existence, opens up a space that is free for the witness, for someone who speaks or acts on behalf of another. “The authority of the witness inheres in the subject’s being able to speak only in the name of someone who perhaps cannot speak”, who by chance happened to be in his place as subject, or “the point at which the possible makes the transition to existence”. And the creative subject is necessarily a witness, which is the point of the Latin auctor; the auctor, or witness is, then “that one who with its act only finishes off the act of the incapable, who gives the evidentiary power to that one that wants it and life to one that could not live alone; an authorial act pretending to validity in and of itself is pointless, as is the conviction of the survivor truthful and has the raison d’être only if it completes the testimony of someone who cannot bear witness.”   Far from being a creator ex nihilo, an author is then only a witness of the possible. What the author makes real with his act does not exist, that is, it does not exist outside the reality of the artistic act, and in no way whatever can it compete with the real nor does it guarantee the real any existence; what comes into being with the artistic act is just a possibility that is not or is not any more; what is more, it does not exist, that it perhaps never existed, and perhaps cannot exist, except in the testimony of the survivor, of the one who has remained in his or her own shame, shame because he is, that he happened to be in a possibility that does not have to exist and accordingly, in the possibility of non-existing, a state of awareness that Maračić staged in the 1994 work Ambience, when in the empty space of the gallery he placed on the wall cobble stones, each of which bore one letter of the word in Glagolitic script for “non-existence”. With the tautological circumvention of the meaning of the word and its writing out a short circuit was created between existence and non-existence, that is, the possibility of existing in non-existence was opened up, with the compressed mass of the cobble stone summing up the feeling of subjective shame.To be a witness of the disappearance of the existing in the possible, then, is in a sense a task that, without any special premeditation, but consistently, day after day, Maračić’s creative work as a whole carries out.    The labels that he applied to emptied frames are the signature of a witness who testifies that the existing has become merely possibility. In the cycle Emptied Frames / Vanished Contents created during the war and post-war years (1991-1994), Maračić photographed empty frames by the entrances into city facades that once had a board with a sign relating to a public actor or service activity, which by the signing of the author’s name and the date of pure survival of the existing becomes a testimony of the possible.  As well as to the cycle of Emptied Frames, this also holds true for a run of other cycles created at the time of the Homeland War, since when in his work Maračić has resorted more and more vigorously to photography. Historical circumstances are perhaps characteristic of the medium by itself; at the moment when not just an objective but also a social reality vanishes in front of the eyes, when photography, which pretends to documentarity, progressively remains without a referent, risking thus that at the next moment it will have nothing else to photograph, Maračić switches this likely perspective of nothingness to the possibility of non-existence. Thus the cycle No City and its Subrealism, and other cycles in which it is in fact not existing that is the only content, like the photographs of the emptied shop windows or the ravaged municipal benches on the Dubrovnik promenade.  In the photographs of his native Nova Gradiška, every remainder of objective reality in the frame only indicates some vanishment: the yawning street, the absence of pedestrians; the fallen clock, suspension of time; public surface scattered with obituaries – the inability to grieve, and so on.  Far from any pretension to objectivise wounded reality into some incontestable fact of horror, Maračić to the maximum unburdens the field of the representation: the dysfunctional stumps do not come into the frame in the status of central motif; for this is reserved for the bench that no longer is that; respecting the format of the imaginary bench as if it were whole within it, in the field of the visible Maračić opens up a dimension of absence, a place for what is missing or what does not exist; while the broken stump of the bench talks of itself, what has no possibility of appearing seeks the assistance of a witness who will leave the space of emptiness for the manifestation of the invisible. In fact, it is the same gesture that Maračić has been repeating in a string of versions since the beginnings of his work in art. Not only in the performance called Performance (1984), when tearing the red cloth hung on a black painted wall he revealed an empty white rectangular field, but in a whole number of other works that in their poetics belong to the historical genre of  primary painting and of analytical and conceptual deconstruction of the artistic act or the institution as a whole; in the context of works in which through the reiteration of some elementary visual element the process of the creation of painting or drawing is demonstrated; so was created, for example, the lithographic diptych on which Maračić filled the margin with the visual contents from the middle field on the second lithograph leaving the central format empty (1976); or, along the same lines, an exhibition at which instead of paintings, empty pieces of paper were shown, on which, along with the artist’s signature, there was only the printed inscription L’Art en passant, while the actual painterly act was represented by palettes on which paints were mixed (1986); or a performance in which the author stood with face covered by a mirror which returns to the visitor his or her own face (Standing among exhibits with a mirror on the face, 1982) and similar appearances.  However  characteristic of the historical discourse of conceptual and analytical artistic practice, these works of Maračić show the same inclination for having the author, the artist, shift from the position of creator to the position of witness, who bears testimony to his own artistic act. The procedure is always the same: dealing with the paraphernalia and by products of a potential artistic result, the artistic act is done away with as something existing and is set up in the register of the possible, always again confirming that are is not necessarily the outcome of a creative intention, rather the testimony of the surviving subject – of one who remains in his own existential shame after the throwing of the dice, according to the title of one of his early works in which he sets out photographically the moment of always potentially fatal decisions – taking a book down from the shelf, getting out of bed, breaking of a twig of a green branch and so on (Alea iacta est, 1980). In the footsteps of the inadvertent consequences of this, in fact, incessant casting of the same dice in which the paraergon that remains always judges the intended ergon, at this exhibition Inadvertent Pictures are shown, encompassing, under the aegis of their concept, the exhibition as a whole. Once again, the shame of the artist (who is ashamed of his own shameful presence in the accidental, unitended result) was overcome by the courage of the witness. Maračić, then, determines to exhibit precisely what was created as waste material, the by product of his photographic activity. The unintended frames that are seen on the viewfinder when the camera is turned on, or when short films are created by mistake (by pressing the wrong button of a digital camera). The apparent banality of these photographs is the same as in the action in the work Alea iacta est: it is on the whole floors and corners of furniture that appear on the photos, the zones that slip out of the focus of homo erectus who, always aiming at the pith and marrow of things, looks straight in front of him, not paying attention to marginal details and the ground he stands on. Photographs then reveal the topology of the edge: nothing strange and unexpected is to be found in them, but simply what is shoved off to the edge of consciousness as unimportant and subsidiary, like coils of cables, the legs of chairs, the edges of tables, the grid of the parquet flooring or the tips of one’s own shoes.The inadvertent films have the same kind of effect, but at the level of movement; on the whole lasting too short a time to be able to form some narrative cadence, they extract fragments of movement from the context, turning them into a superfluous, unconscious and inadvertent gesticulation.   Even when the situation is clearly posed and set up, this gestural surplus of communication discovers only the wish of the individual for an imaginary recognition in the still image of the camera, resulting in an effect that is bound to be comic: the frozen or perfunctory smile, the unnatural flicker of the eye, rigid postures and many other ways of overcoming the discomfort or shame because at the moment the subjective being of the individual is powerlessly dependent on the accidental pressing of the record button, that it surrenders its own being to the image in which it will never be immediately present, to what, about this person and for this person, in the name of the appearance of this person, someone else will be able to bear testimony.   Unlike those films where a person nevertheless necessarily appears as the central protagonist of some kind of minimal action, inadvertent films in which the human factor plays no rule whatsoever are still more telling; mainly directed at the empty space of interior or exterior, in them hardly anything can be described as an action; they have no centre, nothing is found in them strikingly to take the attention; what is at issue are some hardly perceptible differences that the static nature of the frame in time differentiates from non-moving images, i.e. stills (if one bears in mind that photographs are part today of the screen, these filmlets are really at the border of confusion, and precisely because of this their presentation at an exhibition requires they be shown in a loop); the undefined and scattered agitation of the contents in the image, the quiver of the frame; these are the micro-events at the border of consciousness in the absent gaping of the view; a time longer than the real duration of the film is necessary for the viewer to become aware that the picture is not motionless, since in it the rain is falling the whole time. Once again in Maračić’s work, absence is at work, or more accurately, the absence of being converted into the possibility of not-being.  For this very reason, these works are characteristic of the approach as a whole; because they are not particularly pretty, nor historically important, nor interesting and instructive, because in fact there is no reason why in themselves they should actually exist, Maračić is ready to bear witness for these scenes, wants to give them a chance in the register of the possible – the only register where art can be that has never been and never does exist of itself, but always and only for the witness who is willing to bet on it, cast the lot for it. As well as in the inadvertent works, this bearing witness to the banality of the existing has perhaps most come out in the cycles of Appropriated Pictures, also one of the lasting preoccupations of Maračić, in which he appropriates news photos from the crime and disaster pages and prints them together with an accompanying explanation of the scene as an original print.  The attractivity factor of these news photos is certainly not the obscenity of death and violence, but, once again, the very want of content. Although they refer to a certain crime or criminal action, there is a standard absence of sensations in the newspaper crime story photos; on the whole they are depictions of the scenes of the crimes without any visible dramatic traces of the crimes, which bowl us over with the very commonness and triviality, or depictions of some evidentiary material such as weapons, impounded goods and so on.   In the context of the newspaper report, the function of these picture stories is not to show the crime referred to, but only to witness to it via some, whatever it may be, visible remnant; and in fact the non-existence of a necessary connection, the radical gap between the banal and the trivial survivor and the event committed or surmised, opens up an empty space for a witness. What Maračić usurps, then, is not just the picture itself, but this emptiness between possibility and credibility, between proof and what is being proved with this proof; entering into possession of this emptiness, Maračić carries off these remains of the crime, the waste packaging of everyday life dramas, and saves them as pure possibility – the possibility of meaning outside the denotation set by the accompanying text; the possibility that any kind of triviality flickers with a poetic, comic or simply artistic sense in the eye of the witness.

However much it might seem that this devotion of attention to the periphery of events of Maračić’s is a search for the bizarre detail, what is at issue is in fact something else – a sometimes completely abeyant, muted by melancholy, but through the whole of the oeuvre a palpable optimism; the basic Maračić disposition for the quodlibet of the existing to be opened up for the possibility of the beautiful, the funny  or the poetic; and however much everything that he follows or, as the artist himself says, stalks with the camera goes on without premeditation, inadvertently and en passant, the result is far from any kind of realism. Although he takes immediate everyday life, Maračić is not a witness of the individual.  That is perhaps why, so belatedly, people have at last arrived in his frame; and when they do come, they come to a place of some universalised identity – as people who are looking at the sea, people who are sleeping or people who are eating and talking.   For what Maračić does with the camera is actually a constant generalisation; Maračić’s photographic activity is hence necessarily structured in cycles, series and sequences; rarely, almost never, is the motif taken just once and never again, or more accurately, from the one off some universal iterability is always derived, even if it is located, as often happens, in some completely marginal detail. The intention of the recording is not to document the ephemerality of the existing, rather to open up the possibility of cyclical returning, of endless and infinite repetition of the possibility.   For the witness always comes to the site of events post festum; even when the event is going on, the witness is located at the edge of events and voyeur-like gleans the crumbs of the existing   Never starting with the assumption that he is taking something essential and crucial, showing the centre of some event or situation, Maračić includes the camera, still or cine, as a kind of marginal extension of the possible, but not of the necessarily existing, real and literally visible event.  This is how most of the other films that he takes with the help of the video option of his little digital camera are produced.  The equality of the recording that cannot achieve the level of the dedicated cine camera, leaving the impression that the medium is following the course of events somewhat languidly, only confirms this peripherality, the non-essentiality of the set view of the situation.   Although they come into being with the deliberate involvement of the camera, in most of the films it is impossible to determine the existence of any precise happening. At first view, most of the scenes filmed are extremely monotonous; the shot of people hanging out and helping themselves to the food offered; a shot of a talk held at a desk in an office where a woman is listening to an invisible interlocutor; a shot of Evelina, Maračić’s partner, lying in bed in the agony of morning awakening; a shot of a regular summer day in Libertina, a little café in the heart of Dubrovnik that the local clientele frequent; a panoramic shot of the bathing place called Banja in which swimmers run across the shallows after the waves from the south; the shot of a little pile of waste paper and packaging that the wind whirls round in some dark cranny of Dubrovnik; the shot of a group of people trying their best with a stamp vending machine, and so on. Although there is clearly some event, it does not have the status of central content, the purposeful cause of the shot, rather the event appears subsequently, breaks over the edges of the immediately visible or patent, invoking the imagination of the  witness, not seldom enjoining a wager on the border of likelihood: a shot of a conversation is perhaps testimony to a drop in concentration and weariness and an attempt to conceal this; the pastoral scene of three birdlike women’s figures from Banja is impossible to understand as a real event like the shot of the whirlwind of trash that raises the imagination of a covert choreography or the child’s balloon that jumps in the rhythm of a fado. Although this kind of abolition of the existing in the possible is more doable on an inanimate and objective world than in the world of living beings, in Maračić’s work, after a long time, human beings have nevertheless started to appear with increasing vigour. The fact that the latent comedy of his films coincides with the appearance of human protagonists, is certainly not fortuitous; every making general is of necessity cruel, it wells up out of the shame at the gap between the living being and language, individual and his picture, the fortuity of existence and the possibility of appearing in the frame in which the very next instance he will no longer be.   This shamefacedness at one’s own presence in the remnants of someone else’s appearance urges Maračić to let man into his photography always at some general place, in a clearly defined and intersubjective role from which the individual can apparently freely walk off, unlike his own conditions, to which he remains shackled: the subject that looks at the sea, the subject that sleeps, or talks over dinner.  In the cycle of people who look at the sea, in the series of photographs that come into being in a common way of continued photographing of an ordinary everyday situation that one meets on the way from Museum to City and back again, once again it is to do with the vanishing of the existing in the possible; what Maračić photographs is only pure possibility; the possibility of stopping, sitting on a vacated bench, of observing, perhaps of enjoying the view. People who put this possibility into practice are the associates of the cameraman; instead of faces, they turn to him the backs of their heads, hiding the view, understanding the artist’s and hiding their own shame; shame for enjoying the view, the intimate surrender to beauty. For the moment in which one becomes receptive to beauty is always the moment of subjective disappearance in the possible, moment of desubjectivisation; and precisely for this reason, this moment cannot bear the face of a person, but can only be hidden behind a nape of a neck. And napes too of course reveal, but here begins the latent comedy. From the hairstyle and the properties it is possible to guess at vices and virtues, from the way in which someone sits, the relations of couples and so on, but this is part of some other story; in this story about the view, all of these comical people at one moment felt shame before what they were looking at.

In the same manner of generalising, for years Maračić has been photographing Evelina asleep, or for a somewhat shorter period, Ivo, one of the lads who carry goods within the Dubrovnik city walls. Although these are concrete persons from private life, Maračić photographs them caught in extremely general situations, without any striking and sure indications of particularity. The image of a personality lost in sleep, the state in which the individual existence is suspended, reveals only the possible position of the sleeper, the shows of covering and uncovering, the body surrendered to the bed; in the background of the absent consciousness of the sleeper the individuality of the interior is brought out, the character of room and furnishing, the inroads of light. In the Sisyphean figure of a middle aged man who pushes or pulls his little trolley, the presence of personality is also minimalised.  Repetition of the endlessly same or similar scene draws away attention from the person to the details of the mise-en-scene, the whole context in which one and the same action is repeated ad infinitum, and although this eternal returning of the same to an extent guards the unrepeatability of the individual existence that happens to be found within it, the moment in which he crops up is inevitably tragicomic; for although the performance of a job guarantees the individual survival and subsistence in the field of visibility for others, the passionate connection, the familiarity, the shameless dependence of subject on its own role or character is resolved only in the tender concern or piety of the witness. And precisely this shame because of the dependence of a living person on an imaginary image of his own character, dependence on the mere possibility of clicking, is probably the reason that there is hardly a single portrait in Maračić’s oeuvre.  His reduction of the people and even the individuals of his closest surroundings to situations and roles is equally cruel and merciful; it is a manner in which the fellow man is kept at a distance from the fatal judgement of the camera on every individual existence. And yet, such a generalisation of the individual, the raw insistence on the common places of his appearance, is at the same time the only possible way of staging the irreducibility of a person. In a cycle that he has called Little Women (the name, not at all derogatory or dismissive, is just another one of the author’s generalisations), Maračić discreetly but after all did come close to the portrait.  These are photos of women with whom he regularly comes into contact in his everyday life in public, mainly women employed in various services industries, shop assistants and waitresses.  Undoubtedly sincerely prompted by their personality that captures the amorous heart of the artist, Maračić can shyly approach them via their professional roles; photography becomes a kind of voluntary failure of generalisation, in which the author takes up on himself the obligation of witnessing for the person that avoids representability, or every representative generalisation. Little Women is one of the few series that has come into being with a voluntary exchange between photographer and photographed, where the shooting is an act of communication. The smile that he gets in return breaks through not only the professional identity of the woman, but the image of her physis, taking away the detail of an existence totally outside the reach of the representable, to the same absence, suspension of existing in potential, which in all Maračić’s photographs makes mortality an acceptable possibility.If that thought present from the beginning is radicalised ultimately, i.e. that the subject is present to itself, aware of itself, right at the moment of the drainage of all the attributes of affiliation, every distinctiveness to self, every independence of figure or work, even one’s own view – then perhaps a reason will be found why Maračić has photographed the island of Lokrum – the scene that is before him everyday from the office of the Museum of Modern Art in Dubrovnik.  Always from the same viewpoint, without changing a single parameter of the frame, carefully recording time, date and day of origin, with some possible comment on the weather situation, Maračić is in fact making his own self-portrait. Taking Lokrum, he witness to himself; not via his figure or work – which his personal and artistic shyness would never allow him – but by his own view, just as he did in work from the beginning of his artistic career in which he shot the movement of his own view marked with a spot in a mirror. This minimal sign for objectiveness of his own  view has turned into the image of the island; like the dot, the picture of the island tells of a moment of subjective suspension in non-characteristic possibility, the impersonal possibility of looking at the island instead of his own likeness in the mirror. Ultimately of course it is all the same, for the image of the face is no more or less characteristic than the image of the island; for Maračić, the image of Lokrum is a place of ideal recognition, having an effect of a mirror reflection in front of which he feels shame because of his happening to be in what he sees. And so he photographs the island; day after day translating the shame of existence into the possibility of beauty. Because of his dependence on this view, Maračić seldom goes to the island, certainly not primarily with the intention of photographing it; for to peer into what lies behind the image means the risk of breaking the illusion required for daily subsistence. Still, one rainy summer day Maračić, like Alice, went to peer behind the looking glass; and there he discovered that the picture, in his own phrase, had its own “inner volume”, something like a bag without a bottom. After several hours of the falling of the gaze through layers of greenery and a rashomon of trees, treetops and paths, during which a cycle of photographs called Lokrum Inside was created, Maračić returned again (at least as far as Lokrum is concerned) to his old position: Lokrum in a blizzard, Lokrum in fog, fog lifting on Lokrum, in sequences. And so on again, day by day, Maračić does not tell of the island, rather the opposite, the island witnesses to him.  Behind the image of Lokrum, Maračić conceals his own artistic shame; he switches the impossibility of being in art into the possibility of non existing. The island is the common place of Maračić’s subjective disappearance; what remains of the author, the remnant that completes the testimony of one who fatalistically surrenders himself to the view.

Ivana Mance