October 16, 2018

Food for thought. Why searching for a New Visual Language is important

By Joan Hus

For several years now, the main motivation of my work as an artist has been the project of “drawing” people together unhampered by cultural issues. Its starting point was the well-founded claim that culture influences the way we think. Consequently, cultural diversity is not only an enrichment but also a source of trouble. As becomes clear from the many conflicts which arise when people from different cultural backgrounds live in close proximity.

This idea motivates my search for a new visual language which does not impose itself in terms of the norms and rules of a particular culture. Ideally this visual language should allow to create images that transcend the webs of cultural significance in which man as a social being is suspended.

At the beginning, I searched intuitively for ways of creating images which might connect minds regardless of their respective cultural backgrounds. Later, I realized that an artist who trusts intuition and experiments without reflecting, was like a surgeon cutting open patients purely on sentiment, without thinking. Having understood this, I realized that without due theoretical effort, I would never be able to carry out this project. To create visual work which transcends the norms and rules inherent to a particular culture, I first needed to think the cultural matter through. Only when I knew what “culture” stood for, could my experimenting with line, shape, space, colour, pattern and texture lead to the connection I had in mind.

Contrary to common opinion, the belief does not hold that one could reach the realm of universal truth and understanding, simply by making “compositions” that do not refer to the things we see when we look at the world. Case in point are so-called “derivative” works that are the outcome of a recipe-approach which makes use of the visual language created by some artist from the past, e.g. by Klee, Kandinsky, Matisse, Pollock, Rothko, and so forth. Yet, the knotty problem with this procedure is that visual languages invented by artists from the past belong to a particular culture. Hence “derivative” artworks are loaded with cultural significance. They even play an important role in validating and securing the power and authority of a particular culture, viz Western culture. Evidently, this goes against my project to connect people from different backgrounds.

Within the framework of this project, I experiment with the material, physical and sensory components of drawing. It is in this context that the mathematical, the structural part of the creative process concerned with measurement and relationships, with space and shape came to my attention. Assuming that the figurative is culturally significant, I refrain from producing truthful representations of reality – that is to say, I reject outright “mimesis”. For similar reasons I also refrain from giving my work narrative, poetic, or informative titles. A title like “Broadway Boogie Woogie,” (which Piet Mondriaan gave to one of the abstract paintings he made during a stay in New York) suggests a story or a reasoned idea, while I have the opposite in mind. I want to prevent the viewer from considering my visual work as if it contained a message which must be decoded and converted into plaintext in order to be understood. The rationale for this course of action is the assumption that language is culture, or rather, that language is a particular culture, while it is my intention to connect people from different backgrounds through visual language.

It should be added that the idea of art as instrumental in connecting people regardless of their cultural background does not exist in a vacuum. It is linked to other ideas, among others to the idea of social responsibility. For the project I have in mind, this would mean the ecological responsibility of man in general and the artist in particular. As the production of works of art has a polluting effect on the environment, it is my responsibility as an artist to reduce the ecological footprint of my work. I do this through the development of time-consuming over material-consuming techniques, through the recycling of existing works of art (by myself or other artists), and through the use of easily recyclable materials like pen, ink and paper.
In conclusion, I would like to point out the genuine value of my project, artistically and socially. Not only does this project incite me to create work in an environmentally friendly way, it is also an incentive to create a new visual language that could incarnate visually (in a peaceful way) the ideal that humanists from the Renaissance onwards have tried to reach by rational (by dissentious, dialectical means), namely the universal connection of humankind.

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