Transitoriness?

Gorazd Kocijančič

I have a dislike for churches, mosques or synagogues transformed into museums or exhibition areas. In such quasi-sublime presentations of works of art, I sense a kind of continuation of the venture of transforming a cathedral of Our Lady into a temple of Reason – and this striving seems even more agonizing in a period following the death of reason, in a world that no longer has any need for temples …
What is distressing in this kind of presentation is not only the decomposition of space of the Transcendent, the breaking of its immaterial harmonies into a podium of merely human voices, the turning of its original divine humanity into a garner of ephemeral creativity, … What troubles me most is the feeling that we ourselves are being impoverished. Churches used as exhibition areas and transformed into salons of human téchne generally do not represent ambient backgrounds capable of reflecting the enrichments of our experiences, but stand as monuments of the horrific narrowing of our sensitivity, as mirrors of the shrunken heart of the modern era, fully captured within itself. They reflect the transformation of visions into dreams, the fading of symbols of the Lord into a game of appearances, of the liturgy into a project …
Yet all these scruples vanished when, one sunny April day, I found myself standing before the huge canvases of Jožef Muhovič. His creations belong in the holy space of Kostanjevica where they are exhibited; definitely in this very place: here they decisively, and in a highly suggestive way, seem to establish a trusting conversation with its multitude of meanings and eternal messages accumulated over many centuries. Even more. They enrich the church space in the noblest sense of the word, giving it a new dimension without desecrating its original purity.
And what is the source of this mysterious enrichment of sacral space?
I can more easily say where it should not be sought. On the artistic level, this is certainly not any kind of “religiously correct” depiction of the holy themes of the Christian faith, although such impressions are often evoked by the titles of Muhovič’s works, which at first glance seem like variations of the contents of the theological treatise De novissimis (“Eschatology”, “Meditation on Transitoriness”, “Through the First Veil”, “Force and Suppleness of Glorified Bodies?”, “Easter Figure”) or an evocation of central biblical and liturgical events (“Agnus”, “Mensa”, “Burning Bush”, “Pieta”, “Interment”). Muhovič’s artistic boldness distinguishes his creativity from traditional religious art, and he has obstinately followed the tradition of modern painting and sculpture, which resists any instrumentalization of artistic language. Yet the artist’s enrichment of this sacral space is not merely a modernistic transcription of foreseeable religious feelings, but a distinctly personal expression of his metaphysical experience that is not bound to any spiritual conventions. Muhovič’s world of forms never subordinates itself to semantics, as precious as this may be to the artist, but always engages in an equal battle, searching for a delicate balance between form and meaning, between the symbolism of pure form and its artistic meaning.
The exhibition is entitled “On Transitoriness”, but this should be understood cum grano salis. The artist, searching in different worlds – which need not be described or explained by transcribing them into emblems of clear messages, as the world of each painting or sculpture is a genuine symbol communicated through a delicate synergy of colours and forms –, hunts for and captures the traces of decline, transience and decomposition with an exceptional sharpness. With a grand stroke, Muhovič paints the eschatological decomposition of form and movingly meditates on the mysteriosity of death (“Pieta”, “Coffin”, “Grave in the Mountain”). He applies paint in its rough solidness, crude materiality. But after the paint shrinks into granules of carnality, it begins to radiate a premonition of the last transformation of a resurrective body. Precisely the possibility of matter being transformed, tempered and transfigured seems to be the hidden core of Muhovič’s Chardinian meditations. This is why he does not hesitate to use a variety of colours and new figures reflecting a sort of petrified astonishment at “how all the living are being endlessly scattered here and there by God” (doch furchtbar ist, wie da und dort/unendlich hin zerstreut das Lebende Gott), as Friedrich Hölderlin writes in his “Patmos”.
Yet Muhovič strives not only for a modernized, artistic version of the cry, “Ubi sunt?” – Where are they?” –, which in the past had aroused in the consciousness of humans the images of lost faces and love, and thus a fearful respect for Eternity and the resurrection éschato, while in modern man it instills a dreadful fear of final annihilation, obliteration and the meaningless abyss into which time thrusts everything that is created, like the ancient Greek Kronos who devoured the children he himself had conceived …
Muhovič’s experience with transience, metamorphosis and the transformation of forms leads him to the invisible place of a lingering, permanent awareness of transitoriness. At the boundary of two worlds, the visible and the invisible, the transient forms lead into the interior of the ego, which is no longer the nihilistic interior of the post-modern, vanishing consciousness.
Linking the large canvases, whose messages are intensified by mysterious sculptures and delicate drawings – like a fil rouge enabling a comprehensive understanding of the exhibition – is a sitting figure embracing raised knees, with its head resting on its knees (e.g. in the canvases “Eschatology”, “Red Studio”, “Nocturno II”, “Pieta” …). This return of the human figure into the world of abstract forms symbolizes that which persists and resists transience, although it, too, is transient. A human being, in the midst of transitoriness, at the crossroads of worlds and various experiences, aware of his transient nature and the deterioration of everything; a human being, returned to silence, to the silence of himself and the world. To reflection on God’s silence.
This silence is primarily an introversion, a turning inward. Yet it is nevertheless twofold. It may by all means be understood as an awareness of transitoriness, as a quiet sadness, as a modern version of Dürer’s Melancholy. It embodies our entire tragic experience of the world, pain, solitude, distress. It may, of course, also be perceived as a contemplative introversion, which is simultaneously a resolute openness to the transcendental, to the One beyond all forms and colours. To the Omega point, which, unpredictable as it is, will give meaning to that which is beyond our powers and intellect. Like transcending melancholy, like true “sadness in accordance with God”, a redemptive sadness, such as that described by Paul the Apostle in his second letter to the Corinthians. Like the contemplative, perceptive concentration of transitoriness into a mystical presence. The Hesychastic tradition – the spiritual tradition of the Byzantine East – prescribes a specific pose for the contemplative prayer kat’exochen (“prayer to Jesus”), and this very pose penetrates again and again into Muhovič’s cosmos of abstract figures. The figure of Elijah sitting on Horeb – the archetype of searchers for eternal secrets.
It is in this ambivalence, which on the one side reflects the modern perception of Transcendence of previous eras, and at the same time brings into the church space the deep distress and nobility of freedom of modern man, that one is able to perceive the richness of Muhovič’s metaphysical contemplation expressed in his art. And this ambivalence makes his meditation on transitoriness also a contemplation of art itself, its meaning and purpose, changing it into an introverted contemplation of the very transformation of artistic forms, a reflection on their historical frame and timelessness.
The theme of Muhovič’s exhibition is transitoriness, yet – paradoxically – what one sees is in reality a depiction of that which remains. Perhaps so genuine and sincere that it will always remain invisibly imprinted in this holy, newly consecrated space.

(Translated by Suzana Stančič)