DK / Scotoma
When you realize that whether something exists or not is nothing but the perception of your own mind, its external existence is seen as non-existent and non-arising.
Lankavatara Sutra, between 100 BCE and 100 CE
The brain is small. The universe is large. In what way, if any, is it, the observed, affected by man, the observer? Is the universe deprived of all meaningful existence in the absence of mind? Is it governed in its structure by the requirement that it gives birth to life and consciousness? Or is man merely an unimportant speck of dust in a remote corner of space? In brief, are life and mind irrelevant to the structure of the universe – or are they central to it?
John A. Wheeler, 1975
One of the most controversial premises of quantum theory is an idea that has long occupied the thoughts of both physicists and philosophers alike, and has always been deeply rooted in human understanding, from ancient texts to postmodern metaphysics – namely, that the observer, by the very act of observing, co-creates observed reality. This premise was expressed most explicitly by the American physicist and cosmologist John A. Wheeler, one of Einstein’s last disciples, who called it the “participatory principle”: “We could not even imagine a universe that did not somewhere and for some stretch of time contain observers because the very building materials of the universe are these acts of observer-participancy. […] No elementary phenomenon is a phenomenon until it is an observed (or registered) phenomenon.”
DK uses this premise as the focus of Scotoma, an exhibition designed from the ﬁrst to be held in the Jakopič Gallery. “I believe that photography is participatory – that I am responsible for whatever I place in a photograph, since the information in it is stored for further transfers and future observers.” DK links this presumption of the necessity of observer participation – the creative potential of human consciousness through the process of observing both external form and truth itself – with a scotoma, a physiological phenomenon that can signiﬁcantly impair our ability to see.
A scotoma is a spot in the ﬁeld of vision where vision is either impaired or absent. It can be dark, very bright, blurred or ﬂickering. DK mainly uses it in a ﬁgurative sense, to represent a gap in our perception, recognition and understanding of what has been seen– a mental process, in other words. A scotoma is a point that irresistibly draws our mind to fixate on it, thereby unavoidably causing us to lose sight of the big picture. This big picture can still be understood, however, even though there is a blind spot in the field of vision. This is a clear metaphor for a society in which our attention is constantly being drawn to tiny scotomata, artificially produced and externally programmed, in order to prevent us from seeing the big picture: “
Nobody is interested in what I am thinking or what anybody else is thinking; we are only interested in appearances, self-promotion even. It is one long continuum, with no past and no future, just a constant contemporariness where no one cares about facts any more. In this post-fact society, where there is nothing but meaningless processes, the Premonition series and its various subseries emerged quite spontaneously. (Originally this title was used for the photographs forming the series now called Darkening, but it now covers the second series of the exhibition in favour of its concept.) And the work must be spontaneous.
When DK originally spoke these words, the series forming the current exhibition was just starting to emerge. Today, they return him to his starting point, revealing him to have been pursuing the same aim for the last four years: to show his own experience of reality from within, with no hint of the desire to criticise the state of the world that is so widespread nowadays.
DK immersed himself in a process of profound conceptualisation, taking both scientiﬁc discoveries and ancient traditions as reference points, during which time he also photographed extensively. The result is an amazing body of photographs taken in the immediate vicinity of his studio. Although invariably abstract and containing no reference whatsoever to the actual motif photographed, the images are pregnant with visual elements that not only intensify the aesthetic impression but also serve as powerful vehicles for the content the artist is trying to convey. The photographs were created through the speciﬁc act of taking the pictures, an act that can be seen as an experiment in how to use the camera so as to completely subordinate it to the photographer’s idea – meaning that ultimately the camera is no longer capturing reality but is instead lying in accordance with the photographer’s paradigm. This paradigm, together with a photograph’s ability to transport us to other places, allows the artist to depart inwardly without needing to leave his current micro-location. However, just as the Latin expression iter facio is often used in the sense of going on a journey, for DK travelling via photography does not only imply visiting remote landscapes in the imagination; rather, he uses photographs as a means of making his way through the process of re- thinking his own existence in a given social context. This is the ﬁrst time the artist has used this particular creative approach. And although the ﬁrst thing that comes to mind, whether in Slovenia or abroad, when hearing the name DK is still the iconic set of portraits created and displayed in Metelkova, an independent social and cultural centre in Ljubljana, the photographer himself has been active in both the theory and practice of various spheres of photography throughout his career: from documentary photography, even reportage (including a series dealing with aspects of social reality in a recognisable and critical way), to pure abstraction. Abstraction has only rarely ﬁgured in DK’s work to date, but it has been constantly evolving and has now reached the point where it – and, crucially, the viewer – is ripe for ideas like these.
The artist is testing both this ripeness and the viewer’s ability to observe (which is closely connected with it) in the introductory series of this exhibition, which he has called Memories of Tomorrow:
We can never be (merely) observers, for when we observe, we create and transform that which has been created. The discoveries of the 20th century show that the act of observing the world is an act of creation in itself. It is consciousness that creates. When nature forms clouds, mountains and trees, it does not use perfect lines and curves … instead, it makes use of fragments which only become clouds, mountains and trees when we view them as a whole … In a fractal, each part has the same character as the whole. The natural world is made up of tiny fragments that look like other tiny fragments. When we put them together into patterns, what we get is nature. They are self-similar.
The self-similarity of fragments that can be seen in abstract photographs helps the photographer to create landscapes that enable both him and – through his mediation – the viewer to recognise in them motifs and locations previously stored in their memory. And so, in his ﬁrst series, the photographer leads us from the pyramids of Egypt to a lake in Japan and even takes us on an expedition to the coldest and most remote continent of all, Antarctica. The route is well-known to him: he has travelled it in his mind a thousand times. The photographs “show” landscapes often immersed in a murky atmosphere. Sometimes the landscapes are locked in a stillness that seems to have been undisturbed for aeons; sometimes they are being battered by wild storms. They function almost as archetypal images of particular geographic regions. They carry within them an enigmatic lack of human presence. They are no more than memories of what we once saw as real images of real landscapes; seen from the perspective of today, they are no more than prophecies of the world of tomorrow. The world as we know it today cannot exist tomorrow because it has reached the outer limits of its existence. Destruction in whatever unknowable form is inevitable, and will erase everything that we consider self-evident in our image of the world. The seemingly recognisable motifs suggest the symbolic representation of what remains anchored in our memory, regardless of whether we have or have not visited particular places, or will or will not visit them someday.
Yet these landscapes cannot exist if there is no act of observation: the viewer must create them himself and, in so doing, can begin to sense the artist’s intention:
I use a method that employs two cultural constructs. The first is our concept of nature and how nature appears in our experience. The second is that a photograph is, by definition, a piece of reality captured with the aid of light. As truth (even the truth conveyed by a photograph) is conditional on our cultural conventions, this series invites the viewer to consider the images critically. In this way, photography as a form of observing “with” turns into a contemplation of vanishing natural environments, the diversity of their life forms, our ubiquitous influence and the borrowed time we are living on.
If Memories of Tomorrow are still memories of something that lives on in our acquired consciousness, the Premonition series goes a level deeper, into the realm somewhere between what is seen and our mental image of what is seen, the realm that often helps us to ﬁll in the gaps in what was seen. We start to ask ourselves: What is real? What do we really perceive? What do we merely think we see and think is real? The collision between the real views and the subjective ones enables us to make our ﬁrst attempts at blind gaze, a process that is strengthened by the way this series and the Behind the Eyelids series are put together. The photographer himself considers the Behind the Eyelids series a “control process”. The photographs in it strike the viewer as afterimages: the images that linger brieﬂy in the viewer’s vision even after he has moved away. From this point on, we are preparing ourselves for a type of observing in which we try to see less and less; this helps us progress towards blind seeing. Our way there takes us through Gloom, which is the realm of apparitions.
Almost Hope is a series representing the ideational and ideal core of the entire concept. It is the point where the act of observing is ultimately replaced by blind seeing:
The nature of reality as deﬁned in quantum theory and conﬁrmed in scientiﬁc experiments suggests that our inﬂuence on what we observe increases in proportion to the length of time we observe it. The Real is therefore always beyond, requiring a shift from observing to the practice of blind gaze. The images are shown undifferentiated, indifferent even, making it possible to apply the participatory principle.
There is no expectation in this way of presenting them, no thought, no vision, no sound, no judgement. The photograph, too, becomes utterly immaterial, its referent ultimately vanishing; since its motif does not exist, the photograph is merely a record of emptiness. Having acquired this new skill of blind seeing, we can now cross the border and enter the ﬁnal space: the Darkening series. The passage is hermetically sealed. There are no cracks in the view of contemporary (though eternally recurring) social reality. What remains is a bipolar black and white world, sinking into greyness and dissolving into complete darkness. It is here that reality ﬁnally emerges: a reality that, in the world as it is currently, is more real even than Truth itself.
To some, the exhibition might seem gloomy, the hopeless situation it presents just too depressing. However, DK differs in one crucial respect from those who use art or photography to raise awareness, warn, criticise or protest, in that he tests our ability to see and proves that the images he shows are ac- tually fake, thereby inviting us to consider the nature of fundamental Truth. After all, the only tangible reality in today’s world is the lie. And the only way we can threaten the reality of the lie is to stop feeding it with our engagement. For if we are able to become fully aware of the existence of the lie – to the point where we stop engaging with it by either agreeing or disagreeing with it – its reality will no longer be possible.
– Marija Skočir
With Scotoma, DK focuses on one of the most controversial premises of quantum theory. This is an idea that has long occupied the thoughts of both physicists and philosophers alike, and has always been deeply rooted in human understanding, from ancient texts to postmodern metaphysics – namely, that the observer, by the very act of observing, co-creates observed reality. For DK it is not just “that photography is participatory – that I am responsible for whatever I place in a photograph, since the information in it is stored for further transfers and future observers”. He insists that the viewer’s participation is necessary too, with the viewer’s consciousness having the potential to create both the external form and truth itself through the process of observing. DK links this potential with the idea of scotomata. In medicine, a scotoma is a spot in the field of vision where vision is either impaired or absent. It can be dark, very bright, blurred or flickering. DK uses the term also in its psychological meaning that signifies a gap in our perception, recognition and understanding of what we have seen – a mental process, in other words.
“I don’t travel to photograph. I photograph to travel.” DK has created an astonishing body of photographs taken in the immediate vicinity of his studio: although invariably abstract and containing no reference to the actual motif, the images are pregnant with visual elements that not only intensify the aesthetic impression but also serve as powerful vehicles for the content he is trying to convey.
Consisting of six independent series that combine to form a distinct whole, the exhibition invites the viewer to become aware of, and even transform, his or her own manner of seeing it. In the photographs in Memories of Tomorrow we can still make out archetypal dream landscapes: aided by the creative work of our consciousness, we are still able to follow the artist on his journey across the world. At the same time, the images act as a warning that the hopelessness of contemporary society must inexorably lead to the destruction of our planet as we know it today, leaving it to exist tomorrow only in the form of memories. The Premonition and Behind Eyelids series, which are placed next to each other, are much more removed from reality, inviting us to ask ourselves: What is real? What do we really perceive? What do we merely think we see and think is real? From here we come to Dusk, the realm of apparitions, where we are able to see less and less. For DK the ideal state is one where the act of observing has been replaced. He calls this state blind gaze, and it is made possible by the quiet but strong inner vibrations of the photographs in the Almost Hope series. There is no expectation in this way of perceiving the images, no thought and no judgement, making it the only possible way of seeing Truth. Once we have crossed the border into the final space, Darkening, and have acquired this new skill of blind gaze, the reality of our contemporary society opens up before us, more real even than Truth itself: a bipolar black and white world, sinking into greyness and dissolving into complete darkness.
This idea might seem gloomy, the hopelessness of the situation just too depressing. However, DK differs in one crucial respect from those who use art or photography to raise awareness, warn, criticise or protest, in that he tests our ability to see, thereby inviting us to consider the fundamental reality in today’s world: the lie. And the only way we can threaten the reality of the lie is to see through it and stop engaging with by either agreeing or disagreeing with it.
The exhibition is accompanied with a monograph Scotoma, including the texts by Dr Marina Gržinić and the exhibition curator, Dr Marija Skočir. It is produced by Museum and galleries of Ljubljana, in collaboration with Forum Ljubljana. DK is represented by Galerija Fotografija.