From 10 November to 4 December, the National Museum of Modern Art presents, at the Josip Račić Gallery, the exhibition “I Will Count from Ten to One” by the academic sculptor Nika Radić. In addition to her latest works, the exhibition will showcase a kind of cross-section of the artist’s work, which in the last five years has been taking place in the field of interpersonal communication, with an emphasis on the psychotherapeutic practice of hypnosis. The exhibition is accompanied by a bilingual catalogue in Croatian and English featuring an essay by the curator and author of the exhibition Klaudio Štefančić, in which, among other things, he writes:
As she points to the structural errors in artistic communication, expressly linking them to similar problems in society, the artist also emphasises situations in which the likelihood of mutual understanding could be greater. These situations – this exhibition also points to them – are dominated by behavioural communication, whether it is the case of psychotherapeutic transfer, gestural signs, psychosomatic processes and the like. The body, claim a considerable number of psychotherapy schools, has excellent memory. If this is true, then maybe it communicates better as well.
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Find out more: www.nikaradic.com
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Several years ago, Nika Radić expanded her preoccupation with the problem of communication in art, and culture in general, by employing hypnosis. Although a phenomenon with a long history, it was not until the 1950s that hypnosis was granted the status of a psychotherapeutic practice and became part of medical science. Hypnosis is perhaps best known to the general public through the act of inducing the so-called hypnotic state. There is no consensus as to the exact description of the hypnotic state: one school of psychotherapy claims that the hypnotised person is in some kind of a dream state (lucid dream, trance), while another school claims that all physiological functions of the hypnotised person – pulse, breathing, reflexes – are similar to those in the waking state, so it is more a case of (auto)suggestion.
There are, however, things that most practitioners agree on: the hypnotised person, in fact, must turn off their senses to the environment. The first step used in hypnosis is usually the subject closing their eyes and not being able to see. Considering the fact that art is Nika Radić’s primary field of work, minimising the importance of seeing, and consequently, visual presentation, can at first seem unusual, but Radić has avoided the representational potentials of art before. Instead of sculptures or objects, she preferred to stage installations that directed the movement of the audience or, in turn, she looked towards “neutral” presentation styles, as when recording video interviews, she would allow others to speak and present instead of her.
In books on psychotherapy one often finds, along with the text, a schematic image of the human head shown in profile – for the purpose of illustration. What makes the image special is not so much the drawing of the head, but the two triangles that resemble a funnel. One of which is placed in the space in front, and the other behind the eye. The wider funnel opening of the one in front of the eye is facing the space that the person is looking at; while the one behind positions the wider funnel opening on the surface occupied by the brain. The narrow sides of the two funnels, therefore, touch at the point of the eye, enabling what is ‘outside’ (reality) to penetrate what is ‘inside’ (mind, psyche). The pictogram is unambiguous: what is happening around us directly affects our thoughts and feelings and vice versa (wat we feel or think affects our perception). Therefore, even if we close our eyes, we will still see images, so one of the tasks of hypnosis is to make them conscious, to bring them from the subconscious “into the light of day”, with the help of language (after the session ends, in fact, the hypnotised persons describe what they saw and felt).
The artist, however, does not interpret or comment on the images produced by the hypnotised persons. “I am not a psychotherapist”, she will point out every chance she gets. Even when she “creates” photographs or videos related to the hypnotic practice, the artist – fully in line with the art preoccupied with social conditions in which it is created, distributed and interpreted – suppresses those aspects of personality that are colloquially associated with artists (ego, imagination, hypersensitivity, etc.) and behaves as a documentarian. If the hypnotised person sees a room full of plants or a fire, Radić will show them. It seems she is interested in the artefact only insofar as it’s able to enter into the process of elementary symbolic communication, and it is precisely this communication that interests the artist the most when it comes to hypnosis. As a matter of fact, hypnosis is a special form of an interpersonal relationship, which requires a great deal of mutual trust between the participants (the hypnotist and the hypnotised person), as it reconfigures the relationship between power and submission, creating and reading, giving and receiving. Hypnosis also radically changes the horizons of expectations. The hypnotist does not know what he will be confronted with. He must be prepared to improvise and take risks; the contact will otherwise not be established. The hypnotised person does not know what they will see and feel; they are highly responsive to sound and touch, but are no longer able to classify and explain sensory information.
In the previously described pictogram, the funnel placed in front of the eye actually illustrates the radius of the view. Since it expands suddenly from the eye towards the space, the picture might resemble a man peering through the keyhole (sight here should be seen as a symbol of human senses overall; like the eye itself – sensitive, unreliable, vulnerable – our senses are also literal or figurative membranes). Besides calling to mind a series of the artist’s works dealing with the relationship between private and public, the metaphor of looking through the keyhole also draws attention to the phenomenon of the boundary, that is, the zone where different phenomena meet, but also the process of their intersection.
In this regard, the appearance of cocoon shapes in the artist’s work is intriguing. Individual cocoons look as if they originated in the organic world, while others resemble architectural domes. In both cases, the cocoons appropriate part of the space and thus enable a different order of events to take place inside the gallery. Light or sounds, albeit muffled and unintelligible, often reach the visitors through the membrane. As it is often the sound of human murmuration, the visitor is faced with two different events: the one inside the cocoon and the one outside the cocoon. He is attracted and repelled at the same time; attracted by the murmuring sounds, and repelled by the absence of its meaning; attracted by the light, repelled by the cocoon’s membrane. In the end, he is left alone, faced with the enigma of the artwork in front of him.
In an interview conducted by the “15 dana” magazine editor Tomislav Brlek in 2007, the artist at one point says: “It seems that for years I have only been dealing with the fact that we constantly talk, and yet fail to understand each other (…) I don’t think that communication is completely impossible, but only because I think that misunderstandings are also a form of communication.” If the universal language of art does not exist, as suggested by Brlek and Radić, if everyone is free to use their own language, then the artist has no choice but to move towards the audience, to learn to speak in different dialects, as it were, and adapt to the circumstances: the gallery space, life of the local community, mental state of collaborators, etc. And indeed, like few others in Croatian art, Radić is dedicated to the reception of art, that is, to those who are on the other side of the communication channel, and who are, by literature for example, addressed so intimately as readers – by evoking a series of socially telling situations such as the solitary act of reading or the micro-community of book clubs.
“The Message” (2013) exhibition can therefore be considered a prime example of the artist’s style. Herein the observers’ knowledge and desires shape the artwork, however it seems not so much an example of art’s impotence to reach the audience – interactive art is also shaped by the audience on the basis of predetermined parameters – as it is an example of the artist’s renunciation of her assigned creative and cultural power. In professional jargon, this procedure could be described as prioritising everyday life over art. Examples of dissatisfaction with the communicative possibilities of art are not few; for instance, replacing art with political activity or spirituality is not rare in the history of modern art. In Nika Radić’s case, it could be said that this replacement takes place in the field of interpersonal communication. This is of course not surprising in a society that is hyper-connected, but the way in which the artist articulates this problem attracts attention. Psychosomatic reactions to the environment or, in turn, a series of signs and signals that an individual produces automatically, is the “language” that is at the centre of the artist’s attention. For Nika Radić, language as Logos may be and is the most sophisticated form of communication that reaches the largest number of people, but she thinks it does not warrant a great deal of trust, especially within the institution of art. Radić, as well as her audience of course, know that even pre-linguistic forms of communication can be learned, they can be falsified (an actor learns to cry), but she seems to be attracted to the elementary nature of that language and the power it has over the addressee (the viewer cries together with the actor). From early on in life, human beings are structurally equipped with communication skills, which first and foremost guarantee their biological survival. A series of phenomena, such as danger, pleasure, discomfort, pain, sadness, compassion, belonging, etc., can be expressed and exchanged in a simple and effective way: with hand gestures, facial expressions, body language, voice and the like.
Modern society is inconceivable without a constant exchange of information. Digital technology has not only accelerated that process many times over, but has also extended the social reproduction of capital to hitherto untouched areas of private life. As creators and distributors of new content, new subjects appeared in public, which organised the rules of communication around the power that uncontrolled emotions and desires have on an individual’s daily life. It seems that the metaphor of the Tower of Babel has never been more apt. What was once controllable not that far back at the end of the 20th century, that is, the means and effects of public communication, with the help of the society’s education system, now seems like a utopia. The same information is today given completely opposite meanings, not because a new language appeared in the culture, but because a group of speakers who share the same social values has formed new meanings in one of the channels of communication. If linguistics after de Saussure is correct in claiming that there is no meaning without the sign exchange (Voloshinov, Bakhtin, etc.), then the “curse” of the contemporary Babylon is not the multitude of languages (codes), but the amount of communication, which constantly expands the field of meaning. A cynic would say: the fact that we do not understand each other is because we communicate too much.
Perhaps in no other area of society does polysemy have carry importance as it does in modern art. If a group of people who share the same values were to be formed, in the 19th century anything could have been an artistic act, just as it can be today. What is seen as so shocking today – the same fact being interpreted in completely opposite ways – art has, in fact, been living (and working) with for a long time. This is undeniably why a certain sense of reality is lost, which is equally detrimental to both society and art. Perhaps it is the reason why the ultimate reference point in Nika Radić’s artistic work is precisely this sense of reality. As she points to the structural errors in artistic communication, expressly linking them to similar problems in society, the artist also emphasises situations in which the likelihood of mutual understanding could be greater. These situations – this exhibition also points to them – are dominated by behavioural communication, whether it is the case of psychotherapeutic transfer, gestural signs, psychosomatic processes and the like. The body, claim a considerable number of psychotherapy schools, has excellent memory. If this is true, then maybe it communicates better as well.
“When I entered the Roman Pantheon for the first time, I decided it was the most beautiful space in the world and one I would like to live in (I was not deterred even when my mother, an architect, told me this was silly because it is not residential architecture and where would the toilet go). I sat there for the longest of time and looked around, and then I started looking at other people. I realised something fascinating: everyone, but literally everyone, upon entering first looks upwards into the circular bright opening in the dome”, said the artist on one occasion, adding: “It seems to me that if a space succeeds in causing people to move in a certain way, it is already a lot, it is something I think we should strive to achieve.”
Image: From the exhibition set-up. Photo: From the National Museum of Modern Art's Archives © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb 2022.