Homage to Dan Flavin
In the spirit of the times, driven by the idea that their work would make a strong contribution to contemporary art, the Minimalists read philosophical essays that helped them clarify their ideas and enrich their professional vocabulary.1 Their accomplishments still serve as an important reference point for artists, especially because of perceived requirements related to the perception of art. If Dan Flavin had not recoiled from the word sculpture and chosen picture-object instead, or even more straightforward expressions such as arrangement or position, he would not have introduced novelties to the field of sculpture. What was radically new, though, was to question the perceptive possibilities of light as a setting the onlooker free from a historical perspective on art in order to provide them with a transparent and unambiguous relationship with the artwork itself.2 Instead of conventional art vocabulary, Flavin preferred using everyday language, referring to his signature fluorescent light tubes as situations, routines and stripes.
The actualization of Flavin’s work as an aspect of art in public space resulted in a solo exhibition by Lara Badurina. Dedication to his work can be seen from the very title of the exhibition, and it manifests through an extraordinary use of light and non-artistic procedures, through the implementation of prefabricated materials and readymades and a respect for space and seriality. Literalness, upon which Flavin had insisted, has been recreated by Badurina in a tripartite composition: the replica of the neon sign Turbo, transferred from Chromos’ building as a readymade, continues with a series of photographs of urban nightscapes and finishes with a light tube installation that uses the existing gallery lighting, only slightly altering the gallery setting. This unusual arrangement concentrates on light as an energetic device, as a marketing instrument and, finally, as an artwork, more or less disengaging itself from the aesthetics that foreshadowed new sensibilities in the art of the 1960s. Instead of the categories traditionally considered important for the perception of art – psychology, narration, emotion and subjectivity – the Minimalists embraced simple and common objects, such as cubes or pyramids. Arranged in a line or a series, these minimal objects were not associated with one another, but rather they formed a relationship with the wholeness of the work and its spatial setting.3 What was seen as radical at that time – and still is, in a way – encouraged Badurina to prefigure Flavin’s The Nominal Three, (1963). The artist arranged twelve cold-white fluorescent tubes on the walls of the first section of Mali Salon gallery, in such a manner that they could be seen as a reconstruction of the aforementioned work. One could also see a detachment from Flavin’s piece, particularly through the artist’s adoption of the gallery’s standard lighting system. By doing so, she abolished distinctions between the non-artistic, factory pedigree of the lighting and its artistic features, breaking away from any craftsmanship or signature work.
With the tubes positioned on the wall, instead of on the floor, Lara Badurina's work reminds us of Flavin's first work with fluorescent tubes, The Diagonal of May 25, 1963, which he hung on a gallery wall. At that time, Flavin was not thinking about gravity, but soon after he designated it as a vital element for the activation of space in the viewer-artwork relationship. By introducing gravity to Mali Salon's situation, Badurina addressed Flavin's discovery of light, which he used to reach the ideal of minimalist sculpture, the so-called “expanded work“. In doing so, Badurina reveals that the preference for the medium of light is grounded in a unique optical quality whose structure and effect are always the same, while color, being applied to sculpture as a separate element, obscures the view of the sculpture’s physical quality.4
In each of the works, Badurina addresses and explores the themes of the Minimalists’ legacy. Speaking in favor of seriality, i.e. repetitions, it is important to mention that Flavin dedicated The Nominal Three to the medieval philosopher William of Ockham, a nominalist philosopher who attributed existence to singular notions and regarded general terms as abstractions of the mind. This seemingly unimportant dedication proves deeply significant after reading Ockham’s famous quote: plurality should not be posited without necessity.5 We may interpret this as the author’s reference to the diverse combinations of Flavin’s fluorescent installations or his potential statement that artworks are created for a reason, based on the principle of reduction, where each situation produces different variation of the series. By accepting that, Badurina chooses the site specific and adjusts the numerical progression to the configuration of Mali Salon gallery.
The unusual amount of light in the gallery greeted visitors at night, too. Through the large gallery's window, passers-by could see the illuminated Turbo sign, which the author used to address the subject of light in public spaces. On her quest for an object made outside the scope of art, the road led to the readymade. Serving as a lure for customers, Turbo, removed from its original context, takes on a completely different meaning. In the barren space of the gallery, the marketing superlative becomes a parody. However, the author’s intention is twofold: to preserve its marketing aesthetics and, at the same time, to denude it of its added value, set it free from various meanings and open up a different perspective on the optical effects of colored light. Such parallel points of view support a subversion of the hierarchies of the usable and the artistic. However, the main idea of transferring the Turbo sign to the gallery, put in the words of the Minimalists, is to support the expanded sculpture – light object (light space).
Badurina expresses her own sensory experience by taking photographs of street lighting. She arranges these photographs of urban nightscapes into continuous photo-lines, producing rhythmic variations of the lights that continue to exist high above the eye level of passers-by, in bus stations, and unsightly underpasses where they go largely unnoticed. Badurina has been exploring such non-places, which people use out of necessity, not for pleasure, and which are known for their absence of aesthetics, since 2012 and she has discovered numerous fluorescent bodies set up in star-like compositions, parallel lines, columns, etc. By means of photography, she isolates the bodies from their original surroundings and dispossesses them of their function of public lighting. She arranges them, in this purified state, in visual rhythms that take on the appearance of stylized computer graphics, attractive and miraculously decorative. The artist chooses quite unusual material to exhibit her photographs in the gallery context. A five-meter long piece of self-adhesive foil, which would be discarded after the exhibition, supports an endless line of photographs of different scenes placed next to each other. Constant changes in perspective, as a consequence of connecting close-up shots and wide panoramic views, call for extended observation, all the more so since the optical series becomes even longer, achieving a meditative effect and providing pleasure in observing the spaces created by these illuminated structures. It would be wrong to think of Flavin as a blind follower of the new or as the creator of a rigid form of conceptualism. His colleague Dan Graham once said that they were both enraptured by the paintings of Albert Bierstadt, whose sceneries were unique for their depiction of light.6 We can conclude that fluorescent light installations are the result of an interest in light that has existed since time immemorial. Badurina is intuitively aware of this, and she refers her fascination with light to her predecessor. By paying homage to Dan Flavin, the artist pays homage to light as a unique phenomenon, which we experience in quite a simple, but incomprehensible way.
1 Dan Flavin, Series and Progressions, ed. Kristine Bell, Tiffany Bell, Alexandra Whitney, David Zwirner, New York; Steidl, Gottingen, 2010, pp. 104-5.
2 Ibidem, pp. 85.
3 John Perrault, Minimal Abstracts, in Minimal Art, A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battcock, E.P. Dutton&Co., New York, 1968, pp. 257-8.
4 Ibid., Robert Morris, Notes on Sculpture, pp. 223-5.
6 Dan Flavin, op. cit., p. 104