SC Gallery
Zagreb, 2013

Upon finding out that I would be the author of these lines for the occasion of Igor Ruf’s exhibition, I contemplated for a long time. It seemed unreal to write about individual art pieces, when each of them represents a whole and could single-handedly carry the weight of a solo exhibition. Exhibitions are in a way marked by a simultaneous occurrence – mortification and the beginning of a new life, and working on this exhibition Igor was, to paraphrase Barthes, “moving back in time”.  The Greeks entered into Death backward: what they had before them was their past.” [1] In the same manner, Ruf was moving back through time when he was working on his pieces.

It has been several years since Igor told me, describing his artistic practice: “You know, Peđo, I am a builder.” I cannot decipher the reason for this particular sentence to become so etched into my memory, while I hardly recall the rest of our conversation. Looking back, I see that analyzing memories may be a Sisyphean task. They serve as finely woven “illusions”, constantly attempting to break down the fourth wall.

I have always wondered how far back individual memory goes and I have always been fascinated by those people who could recall events that happened “too early” in their lives. I want to remember, but I am left perplexed and wondering whether these recollections that come to mind truly belong to me? A long time ago, my mother informed me of a situation that now exists in my mind as an actual event. This unfortunate event with a happy ending started off as a harmless game around a low plaster-filled barrel. My parents were building our house at the time, and I was tottering around until I fell head first into the barrel. Although my mother made a much bigger deal of this fatal incident than it really was, much like mothers tend to do, the fall into the low barrel is my first memory. The event is undoubtedly real, but my memory of it is questionable.

Blade Runner comes to mind, where the situation has an interesting twist and it is the event that is considered questionable, while the memory remains undisputable. The plot revolves around the memories of replicants, or androids, duplicates of adult humans, whose lack of memories has been compensated, they have been written into their minds. They are biologically perfect replicas with fragmentary memory corpora, and their design reaches perfection with Rachel, who is completely unaware of her identity and lives, as an experiment, inside “the deception” of her own memories. By asserting that memory equals identity, this movie provides an interesting angle on memories, and blurs the dividing line between original and spurious memories, both of which produce the auratic identity, in Benjamin’s sense of the word. Rachel experiences the cancelling of the original vs. duplicate dichotomy; even though she is “a duplicate”, by discovering her identity, she initiates the unveiling and becomes human in a certain way. I might conclude that memories are in constant conflict between the facts and the truth. The display of fragmented temporality that replicants/humans “suffer” from in Blade Runner, remains nothing more than speculative dystopian fiction, but it points to the postmodern state described by Baudrillard as terror similar to schizophrenia, which can be identified as the inability to perceive one’s self or “THE I” over time.

 Recently, on the occasion of his Osijek exhibition, Igor wrote: “I am interested precisely in those spaces that are part of my memory, but have unspecified origin,” and later on added: “Can real life experience be equal to experience through music, movies or video games?” [2] I choose to interpret the mentioned spaces as fragments of memory with undefined topography, no longitude and no latitude, subject to Lobachevskian rather than Euclidean geometry; their reality is erratic and there is a constant battle between the truth and the facts.  “You can say of a map that is a duplicate, with the help of which we can find our way in a certain kind of reality, but as Lewis Carroll has shown, the map cannot be the duplicate of the country, or we would lose our way in one and in the other.” [3] Igor is interested precisely in the blurry line between reality and representation, he is aware that he owes his perception of reality to his position in space and time. He doesn’t fight this, but rather succumbs, much like Clea, the artist with a prosthetic arm. She wrote to her friend: “I can undertake the most delicate of tasks, even turning the pages of a book, as well as the coarser ones. But most important of all […] IT can paint! I have crossed the border and entered into possession of my kingdom, thanks to the Hand. […] One day it took up a brush and lo! pictures of truly troubling originality and authority were born. I have five of them now […] I know that the Hand was responsible […] I wait, quite serene and happy, a real human being, an artist at last.” [4]

Like a screen, Igor projects memories by building objects from them; they are Proust’s madeleine cookies, strange, sometimes fantastic, and determined by the sly web of his memories. Like a reversed world theatre or ars memoriae [5], we see the thing that triggers us to recall something, but not the actual thing that determines the trigger, the memory itself. Thereby, Igor leaves us with empty spaces that we can furnish ourselves, without it being crucial for our reading of his works to examine each individual art piece through his point of view. The facts present in the piece Table with Hills tell us that we are looking at the artist’s work desk dating back to when he was attending elementary school, with drawers in which he used to hide his comic books and read them while pretending to study in front of his family. However, to express myself vividly, by applying this interpretation we are making the artist take the Voight-Kampff test. [6]

Thinking about the postindustrial society and the digital era, I see that I know many skeptics who would embrace L. Durrell’s poetic sentence about telephones being “symbols of conversations that never really occur”; while the above mentioned examples (Clea and Rachel) may serve as metaphors for that very world.

Recently, Igor and I had a conversation on how to cast out fire. We are both intrigued by this ludic task, especially as art has the one advantage over the utilitarian world – it needn’t be functional. There is no doubt that what the techno-positivistic, rational society perceives as daydreaming and escapism, can serve as a pledge for the more humane social order, at least at the level of individual existence; and that is the escape route Igor takes. “The world is not to be sublated in favor of a higher world, but is to be charged itself with the qualities of the higher world. We find this magnificently expressed in the passage from Ch’ing Yuan: ‘Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that the mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got the very substance I am at rest. For it is just that I see mountains once again as mountains and waters once again as waters.’”[7]

Igor, are you at rest?

[1] Barthes, R. Camera lucida: Reflections on Photography. London, Vintage, 2000.
[2] “Bure Baruta” Exhibition Catalogue. Kazamat Gallery, 2013
[3] Danto, A. C. The Transfiguration of the Commonplace. London: Harvard University Press, 1981
[4] Durrell, L. „Clea“ The Alexandria Quartet. London: Faber and Faber, 1968
[5] To put it more simply, this is the memory technique for an imaginary or realistic locus, i.e. the place or the architectural complex to which we assign certain data that we wish to memorize and remember later on. A/N
[6] A polygraph-like machine in Blade Runner, used by Blade Runners to determined identities by asking a series of emotionally provocative questions. A/N
[7] Danto, A. C. The Transfiguration of the Commonplace. London: Harvard University Press, 1981