Although I have been following the work of Ivan Stojakovic for several years, I have not seen these paintings, other than as images on a computer screen. Writing about his most recent body of work depends, for me, both on memory, on what I recall seeing in Stojakovic’s studio before he moved from Toronto to New York, and on our recent telephone conversations and email exchanges about the contemporary practice of painting. Still, despite the visual resolution of Stojakovic’s paintings and their photogenic appearance, exemplified in the plates of this exhibition catalogue, it may be argued that the labor and materiality embedded in this work can never be fully experienced through digital technology. But reclaiming the medium specificity of abstract painting is not the spirit that mobilizes Stojakovic’s painterly imagination. His pictorial artifice is not about the gestural elaboration of an angst or urgency to rejuvenate the meaning of abstract expression in contemporary culture. Neither is Stojakovic concerned with embodying the task of mourning that underlies the history of modernist abstraction, so eloquently explicated by Yve-Alain Bois in his seminal essay, “Painting: the Task of Mourning”.1 Very little modernist anxiety, let alone the apocalyptic scenarios that threaten the humanity of painting, inhabit Stojakovic’s Wetware.
It all begins with the title, with the term that finds its roots in the jargon of cyberspace and the utopian visions of science-fiction. The term signifies a collocation between the central nervous system, constituting our hardware — a visceral thinking machine — and the imagination and self-awareness of its user decoding the multi-sensory experience of the world, both inside and outside the human body. One of the founders of the cyber punk literary movement, novelist and mathematics professor Rudy Rucker, speaks of “wetware” as a network of “… sparks and tastes and tangles, all its stimulus / response patterns — the whole biocybernetic software of mind.”2 It might be useful to start by looking at these paintings as tactile and visual inscriptions of Stojakovic’s psychosomatic being in paint.
This is not the first time that Stojakovic has shown his paintings to a Belgrade audience. In 2002, he exhibited his Inherited Content in the Gallery Zvono. At that time, Stojakovic explored painting as a process of converting a graphic language of science (diagrams, graphs) into plastic topographies that belie the flatness of canvas. Perhaps we can think of this show as Stojakovic’s first solo show in Belgrade since his move to New York City, where he now lives with his wife Sanja and baby son Aleksandar. As someone who finds New York a place that makes me least anxious, I would say that the lively and colorful character of the Wetware paintings incorporates Stojakovic’s aesthetic impressions of the city — its cacophony of rhythm and noise, its rhizomatic urban networks, and its excess of capital and beauty3. These impressions become palpable in the resin and alkyd-based colour masses; they lend Stojakovic’s linear oil marks, which seem at once cryptic and familiar, incendiary energy. The physicality of Stojakovic’s methodology deteritorializes and reteritorializes4 his visual signifiers, freeing them from their original contexts and molding them into poetic and seductive plastic metaphors.
In “Life of Abundance”, multiple diagrammatic annotations are connected to a larger network, intuitively woven without beginning or end. Does the turquoise interface of this painting evoke the serenity of the Mediterranean landscape, or the luminosity of electronic billboards in Times Square? In “Raising the Stakes of Frivolity”, the drawing of a fighter plane is transmogrified into a Sèvres porcelain shape that might be interpreted as a butterfly, camouflaging itself into a colorful geographical terrain seen from a bird’s eye perspective. In “Simple Beast”, the pictorial space is invaded by a thorny red cell and entangled by florescent conduits. As a matter of fact, the red cell represents the image of the avian flu virus appropriated from Scientific American. However, Stojakovic’s strategies of appropriation are not driven by post-modern irony and the fear of global pandemic. In tune with the hybrid methodologies of contemporary painters such as Julie Mehretu, Fiona Rae, Franz Ackerman and Fabian Marcaccio5, Stojakovic interrogates complex systems of visual signification, and reminds us that we live in a collaged world of hyper-aestheticized images and representations of reality5.
So here it is, all materialized in these pieces exhibited in the Atrium of this historic building. For what other reason if not for the sake of shifting nomadically a viewer’s perception between the beautiful and the ugly, the surface and image making, New York and Belgrade. At their best, Stojakovic’s paintings represent hybrids of analogue and digital imaginations capable of alchemically transforming the real into wetware – a mercurial chromatic mud meant to cast the physiognomy and the body of a painter6.
Vladimir Spicanovic © 2006
Vladimir Spicanovic is a painter, educator, and a theorist of contemporary art. He teaches at the Ontario College of Art & Design in Toronto and is also an Assistant Dean in the Faculty of Art. The author would like to thank Stephen Pender for his feedback on the final draft of this essay, and Nenad Jovanovic for his work on the translation of the essay in Serbian.
1 Yve-Alain Bois (1990), Painting: the Task of Mourning. In Painting as Model. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
2 Rudy Rucker (1997). Wetware, Avon Books 1988.
3 My description of Ivan’s impressions of New York draws on the comments on New York that he made in one of our recent email exchanges. I also find the impressions of New York in the work of American contemporary painter, Denyse Thomasos.
4 Contemporary painter, Fabian Marcaccio, talks also about deteritorialization and reteritorialization of visual signifiers in his paintants, however, without any reference to Deleuze and Guattari’s use of terminology in their concept of rhizome. See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
5 For hybrid painting, see exhibition catalogue, Hybrids: International Contemporary Painting, and essays by Simon Wallis and David Ryan (2001). Hybrids: International Contemporary Painting, Tate Liverpool, UK.
6 In his book, What Painting Is?, James Elkins compares the process of painting to alchemy, and talks about paint as matter in which a painter’s bodily movements are cast. James Elkins (1999). What painting is? London, Routledge.