Braco Dimitrijević: The Power of Unknown - Germano Celant

The initial premise of the historical period when, around 1963 - the date when he carried out his first action, poised somewhere between Dadaism and anarchism, which consisted in replacing the national flag on the bows of his boat with a rag covered with traces of paint - Braco Dimitrijević began to display a creative aptitude that led him led him to explore a theoretical and philosophical situation in which the concept of "person" was developed as a reflection of the self and of history, was provided by a vision that had started to circulate in Europe with the writings of Jacques Lacan.

A vision that was strengthened in the sixties with the spread of ideas like Ronald D. Laing's drive for liberation, Michel Foucault's archaeology of knowledge and William Reich's theory of the orgasm.

In the art world a different attitude on the part of individual "artists" emerged that allowed them to present, in parallel to their works, the traces left by their bodies. This ranged from the spectacularization of acts of passing through materials on the part of Atsuko Tanaka, Fujiko Shiraga, Akira Kanayama and Saburo Murakami, of the Gutai group in Japan, to the pictorial actions of Yves Klein, with his Anthropometries, in which he used naked female models, covered with paint, as living brushes to leave images on canvas, and to Piero Manzoni, who signed people, issuing them with a certificate, so that they became Living Sculptures for a shorter or longer period of time.

This staging of his own body, although now it was an action reflected in Zen philosophy, and the adoption of another person's identity as a means of expression and communication for the artist, was further strengthened, again in the early sixties, alongside the affirmation of the impersonal and the meaningless that underpinned the thinking of people from John Cage to the members of Fluxus, from George Maciunas to Walter de Maria. The intention was to break free from the tyranny of the unconscious and the heroic, of the subjective and the irrational, that had dominated the fifties, in Action Painting and Art Informel, and develop a practice in which each entity, each image, each object, each sound, each body existed for its own sake, without the remotest connection with the actor - the artist - who was to be removed and erased. The tendency was towards a totally tautological situation, in which each case was considered valid for its identity and each person for his or her significance, but also insignificance.

In 1968 Dimitrijević turned to chance to produce a "moment" of art that consisted in the - un planned - intervention of a vehicle or a traveller in a "constructed situation", that of a material, be it plaster or milk, that was activated by its passage, and in the process became a work. In Casual Passer-By the artist resorted to a "stranger" and to the creation of a situation, an encounter on the road, to give substance to his art. The aim was to nullify the importance of the traditional artist's magical and mythical "creative significance" and entrust it to random and impersonal factors. It was an operation of detachment from the sacrificial hero, who had immolated himself on the canvas to obtain a formless and gestural universe, from Jackson Pollock to Lucio Fontana, in order to exploit the spatio - temporal presence of anonymous life and action, as well as to shed the weight, on a private level, of a father, Vojo Dimitrijević, who was a leading exponent of modern Yugoslav art. From 1969, when the corporeal projections of the Gutai group, Klein and Manzoni were translated into social actions by Joseph Beuys and into narcissistic proposals by artists like Acconci and Gilbert & George, giving rise to Body Art, Dimitrijević stood apart from the role of officiant of the artistic ritual and relied instead on the subjectivity of an unknown person, a passer-by. He turned the view of the work as testimony of a personal feeling, his own, on its head. He did not start from himself, but from the social and the urban: the public in the city, from which he took an individual at random and led him

to "fulfil himself" - like the artist - through a portrait put on display in the street. He produced a communication for "someone else" and got others to participate, as if they were an audience, something typical of the art system. It was a conscious and radical process which used spontaneity to bring out an individual value that, as an unknown, made meaningless the meaningful.

The proliferation of portraits of passers-by encountered by chance on the façades of buildings in Zagreb, Milan, Venice, Berlin, London, Paris and New York was an act of opposition to the hypo - thesis of a "creation" detached from the real. It suspended its potentialities in order to enhance the power of the living. The artist became "inactive", depriving himself of his subjectivity and placing himself at the service of an "inexpressive" subject. He curbed his own impulses and blocked them by entrusting them to an impersonal element. This became the complement to his "personality", allowing him to speak of a whole that comprised the entire system of the contemplative. It was an all-round vision that aspired to invigorate, with a disenchanted attitude, undervalued territories and mechanisms that comprised the whole of reality. It was a leap over the boundary between known and unknown aimed at a democratization of the subjects and materials.

In 1976 the artist published Tractatus Post Historicus, in which he criticized the view of the history of art as an evolutionary process and proposed that is seen instead as a living body, not a static and ideal mass but something moving in all directions. Thus the artefact should not be regarded as an immobile entity of a different nature, but as a living element, able to involve other phenomena of seeing and perceiving. The picture and the sculpture, notwithstanding their enigmatic force, con - stitute a world that cannot be detached or distinguished from other perceptible instruments, capable of producing emotional and physical reactions. In this way Dimitrijević had the work of art, modern and contemporary, make a movement that was no longer vertical - one of superiority with respect to the everyday - but horizontal. He brought it down from above to a position alongside human and natural events. Thus from 1976 onwards, giving them all the title of Triptychos Post Historicus, and between 1978 and 2005 often with explanatory subtitles like Secret Repeated toVan Gogh Goes to Heaven, he reduced masterpieces of art, from Kandinsky to Malevich, from van Gogh to Modigliani, to the bare bones of the perceptible. He placed them alongside fruit, from apples to oranges, and work tools, from the telephone to the rake. He put them all on the same level, by inserting them in wardrobe doors and carts. He made them resound by associating them with trombones and violins.

Thus the materials came to make common cause, without any superiority and without greater evid - ence. They lay claim to be considered, on a par with the passer-by in the street, as part of a common and everyday way of seeing and thinking. They had the same physical and chromatic, mental and intellectual right. And if inanimate and inert nature, with its fruit, or the tools with their function, are things that make us think, like pictures and sculptures, then animals can also be included in this sphere of interpretation and comprehension of the world.

From Dust of Louvre and Mist of Amazon, 1998, to Tolerance 1998, the artist recognized the linguis - tic and communicative parity between unrelated entities, like a peacock and a Picasso, a lion and a Léger. He "coupled" them and made them partners, getting both to assume an extraneous role. It was an astonishing and surprising conjunction because it took art out of a viscous and isolating magma that removed it from life and nature. The simplicity of a living and breathing animal, bounding continually here and there, was brought into collision with an artistic representation. One was turned into the other, and vice versa. The artefact was stripped of its spiritual and ideal status, presented as a body in an emotional and sensory enclosure. It came to share the wanderings and the corporal excess of the animal. It was not annulled but enhanced by this company.

Thus Dimitrijević's transgression of the rules of exhibition, since 1969, has consisted in making people, things and animals pass from a neutral and irrelevant condition to a dimension of excellence.

He brings in the meaningless in order to redeem and deliver it. He is not interested in the possession and narcissistic projection of the self, as manifested by artists from Manzoni to Beuys; on the contrary he abstains from and renounces it. Dimitrijevic mounts a challenge to his own nature, to his self, tending to dissolve its subjectivity in order to arrive at a state of anonymity, which passes through the unknown and the meaningless. He gets them to coexist with the legendary and the sublime, in order to immerse them in a neutral whole that belongs to no one but is accessible to all, because it relies on a reciprocal excitation of the parts. In this way he brings the artefact into a circuit of knowing and perceiving that does not remain extraneous to and isolated from daily experience.

He makes it descend from the oversensitive plane that causes it to demean and degrade the "nonartistic" dimension and has it pass into an indifferent territory, where it can move without negating the context. It is an exploration of spaces that are complementary and contiguous with one an - other, art and life, with the aim of presenting a vision of the world in which human beings, known and unknown, plants and fruit, animals and places are united in a continuum, one in which they can emancipate their solitude and diversity.