JÁNIS NEDÉLA - ENIGMA : A Suite of Variations # 2

  • In 1996, Janis Nedela launched his trilogy of self-prescribed exhibitions under the designation ENIGMA: A Suite of Variations. In that exhibition, Nedela presented ten large wall objects thereby liberating his work from the use of the book as a primary means. Whereas in previous exhibitions books had been used sculpturally in the manner of found objects, in this instance, text rather than the book itself, had been elevated as a source, as much for its pictorial significance as its meaning.
  • Suzi Gablik's 1986 publication Has Modernism Failed? provided a key for that exhibition, not only through Nedela's adoption of some of the author's ideas and arguments, but also by providing a text that the artist transcribed using a colour code to represent the words from specifically chosen passages. The resulting works were fields of coloured patterns and signs on black or white grounds. The configurations were lively, lyrical and reminiscent of the rhythms of dialogue. Nails, golf tees, door stoppers, adhesive tape and coloured pencils were the markers.
  • This current exhibition, the second in the trilogy, is significantly more ambitious building upon the previous approach and in some ways enabling a more consummate response to Gablik’s tenets. The number of works is far greater, the variations infinitely more complex and the materials more experimentally exploited. Nedela has worked systemically and obsessively to deliver a series of predetermined objectives. These objectives manifest themselves in a number of parallel ways, and through an imposition of restrictions the work has been paradoxically given increased potential. This body of work clarifies Nedela’s investigative intent and strategic method.
  • The scale of the works has been kept to two sizes, a reduced square format and a comparatively expansive rectangle. The media has been limited to pencils and crayons in favour of the diverse found objects in former work, thus emphasising the subversion in using such materials as the marks instead of a means to make marks in a conventional sense. Additionally, all applied materials have been exhausted by incorporating every component to avoid waste and to further underline Gablik's premise for the possibility of art being made from anything. Nothing is discarded. Residue is non-existent. The wooden shell of the pencil, be it split and splintered, is treated equivalently as the lead. The shavings from sharpened leads and stubs of crayons are embedded and fixed into position to complete surfaces. Swirling eddies and ridges in the paint have been formed by a scraping action with the edges of pencils.
  • The relationship between ground and surface, too, is more thoroughly considered, as is the inherent tension in the conjunction of the rational and the intuitive in the course of constructing the work. The ground is a site that is regarded either as a surface to build marks upon, or alternatively as a receptacle to be filled or concealed. Occasionally, works confound by sharing both distinctions. The works comply easily to serial or sequential readings, with set or pairs being devoted to certain variations of colour, material, form or codes. Many of the works again encode Gablik’s text, some attributed to a passage of forty-eight words while others quote twelve words.
  • Significantly, Nedela remains committed to the works being displayable in any permutation— that is without a right way up. He also elects not to reveal the actual passage of text that he transcribes. This ensures the primacy of the process of making and the materials over representation or readability. Nevertheless, allusions to the book, landscape or phenonema seem inescapable. The square format is at times imaginable as a book page with the space between pairs conceivable as a spine. Pencils undulate like landfalls. Flecks of crayon look like confetti or confectionery and the embedded matting of pencil fibre and shavings appear organic. The deliberate shadow plays also serve to heighten the allusions and help bring a painterly impression to the work.
  • When speaking of the work Nedela scatters references to music that he has listened to in his studio while making each work, or likens the actions of moving paint and placing elements as habitual and yielding as the raking of Japanese pebble gardens. Clearly a conundrum lies within these bounds of intuitive or sub-concious gesture in unison with the intervention of calculated agendas. The works move between the pure and the impure and our response is similarly dualistic, between the sensuous and the intellectual. The colours, patterns and tactility are superficially seductive, yet we can accept the markers as signifiers of language, even if we are deprived of the meaning or intent of that communication. Here the muteness of art is challenged by the artist and in turn it challenges us. We are participants in the game.
  • Already as this suite of variations is released from the artist's studio Nedela is critically evaluating the results and setting himself the charter for the finale. One suspects that the unleashed exuberance of this suite, as rewarding as it is, may be reigned in or focussed to close the trilogy. Nedela has advanced wide-ranging explorations and is generously sharing with us his journey of inquiry. To borrow a book reference, he is allowing a considered glimpse of the manuscript before the proposition of this three part tome is complete.

Margaret Moore July 1999