Benares, 2007, barvni linorez / colour linocut, 36,5 x 210 cm
Rehabilitacija barve

»Če bi bila barvitost oblačil njegova namera, bi Bog ustvaril ovce v modnih barvah. Saj je s širokogrudno darežljivostjo do videza cvetlic na zemlji dokazal, da je sposoben ustvariti veliko pisanost!«

Bernard iz Clairvauxa, 12. stoletje

 

Šele kadar potujemo na druge celine ali bivamo v kakšnem velemestu z mešanim prebivalstvom in se srečujemo z nezahodnjaškimi, neglobaliziranimi načini oblačenja, oblikovanja življenjskega prostora in ustvarjalnostjo, se zavemo, da je Zahodna Evropa že dolgo prikrajšana za pristno doživljanje živih barv v njihovih jasnih, pastelnih in močnih odtenkih. To je posledica dvojnega položaja, ki ga je imela barva od začetka krščanstva skozi ves srednji vek in pozneje. Mnogi so menili, da je barva posledica izvirnega greha, zaradi katerega je ves materialni svet obroben in prehoden, in del njegove varljivosti so tudi barve, priljubljeno orodje hudiča in njegovih podanikov. Bernard iz Clairvauxa je bil prepričan, da je barva samo pregrinjalo, ki ga je vrag položil prek vseh stvaritev, da bi zakril njihovo božjo naravo. Drugi pa so barvo častili kot produkt božje svetlobe, ki je vdahnila mrtvi materiji življenje. Vendar je barva neoprijemljiva in izmuzljiva, ne moremo je meriti, okusiti ali poduhati, spreminja se in je vidna vsakomur drugače. Vprašanje je, ali je sestavni del objekta, ali samo njegov dodatek, ki ustvarja pod določenimi svetlobnimi pogoji vtis o sami sebi v našem duhu, ki ga v diahronem zaporedju ali s simultanim kontrastom zlahka prevara.

Še danes vemo, da barva v ničemer ni stalnica, ljudem so ljube različne barve, njihova splošna uporaba pa je odvisna od njenih obeležij, ki  jih je imela v preteklosti in so spremenljiva, glede na družbene skupine, funkcije, moralo itd. Evropski srednji vek je bil barvit, vendar predvsem za premožne, za del meščanov in dvorjane, ki so si lahko draga barvila privoščili. Tako so določene barve pričale o različnih pripadnostih, kar je opredeljevalo tudi stike med družbenimi redovi in rasami: cehi, plemstvom, menihi, Judi, vitezi in obrobneži. Hkrati pa so barve simbolizirale tudi počutje: temne melanholično, rdeče prekipevajoče, pisane norčavo, zemeljske ponižno. Barvitost je postala tako pretirana, da so jo imeli za ekscesno, zato so oblasti ukrepale. Za Cerkev sta bili sprejemljivi samo modra, ki odseva barvo nebes, in črna, ki priča o odpovedovanju veselja nad živahnim, posvetnim in telesnim. Posebej ob pojavu črne smrti sta postali ti barvi tudi žalovalni. Kmalu so ju začeli bogataši in plemiči častiti kot elegantni, saj so se z njima ločevali od pisano opravljenih podložnikov. Protestantstvo je dokončno uveljavilo njuno prevlado, še danes opazno v moških oblekah, večernih toaletah in predvsem vsepovsod priljubljenem, uniformnem jeansu. Črno-bela estetika se je širila tudi z reproduciranjem sveta v grafiki, tisku, fotografiji, filmu in televiziji, kar vse je pripomoglo k našem začudenju in navdušenju, ko se srečamo s prav nič potlačenim veseljem do barvitosti pripadnikov drugih narodov z drugačno zgodovino. Na Zahodu so cvetlične barve hipijev še zadnji izmed dokazov, da je veselje do barv družbeno sumljivo in prevratniško in da japiji – v tej ali oni preobleki, nujno pa temni – vedno zmagajo.

Moralno in estetsko ozkost pri dojemanju barv na Zahodu je opravičevala tudi zgodovinska zavest, ki pa je, tako kot barve same, tudi varljiva. Nekatere barve so si, ne da bi znali razložiti zakaj, pridobile izjemno slab sloves, največkrat vezan na napuh, ki sta ga pokazala Adam in Eva, in je odtlej značilen za človeštvo v odnosu do Boga. Najslabše je ostala zapisana rumena, kljub temu da je blizu zlati, torej sončni in božji barvi. Morda je k temu prispeval verz iz Janezovega Razodetja (6,8), ki omenja barvo konja, na katerem jezdi Smrt: »In glej, prikazal se mi je konj mrtvaško blede barve. Tistemu, ki ga je jezdil, je bilo ime Smrt, za njim pa je prihajalo Podzemlje. In dana jima je bila oblast nad četrtino zemlje, da morita z mečem, z lakoto, s smrtjo in z zverinami zemlje.« Na Zahodu v severni Afriki priljubljenih rumenih oblačil skorajda niso nosili, še več, predpisovali so jo kot obvezen znak za Jude, Muslimane, vse druge krivoverce, prešuštnice, prostitutke, čarovnike, čarovnice in celo rablje. Rumena je postala splošni znak barbarstva, grdosti, nezanesljivosti, izdaje, ljubosumja in strahopetstva in je kot taka ostala na Davidovih zvezdah žalostna priča svoje usode prav do polpreteklega časa. Drugače je bilo s škrlatno barvo. Včasih še ni bila sintetična, ampak so pigment dobivali iz redkih polžkov. Zato je bila najdražja in namenjena samo vladarjem kot znamenje največje časti. Danes jo morda opazimo le še kot kakšno trenirko.

Tudi naslednje zgodovinsko dejstvo je poznejši razvoj dogodkov obrnilo po svoje in je prav tako pripomoglo k opuščanju živih barv na Zahodu. Veliko srednjeveških bivališč, palač, gradov, cerkva in drugih objektov je bilo nekoč pobarvanih in na sploh okrašenih z močnimi, čistimi, svetlimi ali temnimi barvami. Posebej v kapelah in cerkvah je bil s polihromacijo preobložen vsak del arhitekture, oltarjev, opreme, poslikav, tapiserij, oken, skratka celoten prostor je vzbujal vtis kalejdoskopskega pisanega trepetanja v soju sveč in svetlobe poslikanih oken. Veliko barv je zaradi neobstojnosti pigmentov izginilo ali zbledelo. To je bilo sicer v skladu s srednjeveško predstavo, da je vse na tem svetu, razen v raju, podvrženo propadu, čeprav je po drugi strani barva nosilka lepote, v kateri se razkriva božje. Že kmalu se barve v cerkvi kot dvojnega znaka, minevanja in lepote, niso več zavedali oziroma so ji nasprotovali. Reformatorji so jo v katoliških zgradbah razbili ali zažgali ter gradili svoje dolgočasne sive molilnice. Tudi prvi restavratorji so si znali predstavljati romanske in gotske katedrale samo še kot sive, neživljenjske gmote. Podobno je bilo z antičnimi stavbami in nošami. Zavest, da je bil Partenon modre barve, stebri in kipi pisani, ljudje oblečeni v živobarvna oblačila, je bila v neoklasicističnih obdobjih izgubljena. Zahteva po vračanju k antični veličastni belini je namesto kičasto zlatih, srebrnih in rožnatih baročnih fasad in notranjščin prinesla dolgočasno sivo monotonijo neoklasicistične arhitekture.

Kdo drug bi lahko bolj boleče začutil ta manko zahodne civilizacije kot likovni umetnik, ki mu je barva lahko glavno izrazilo. Ustvarjalci, kot James Turrell, Anish Kapoor in med njimi je tudi Mojca Zlokarnik, se trudijo s svojimi deli vrniti barvi kot samostojni entiteti nekdanje dostojanstvo. V tem prizadevanju jih utrjujejo neevropske kulture, kjer ideologija in religija nista oropali otrok enega prvih veselj,  ki jih imajo, ko se rodijo v svet barv. Na Zahodu institucije to spontano radost v imenu estetskega okusa sistematično krčijo. Pojmovanje elegance, ki jo je nekoč, denimo, tako učinkovito prinašala prekrasna črno-žolta kombinacija avstroogrske zastave, za njo pa banalno rdeči znak kokakole in estetiko, ki dopušča kič samo Disneyjevemu kapitalu, je Zahod že skoraj vsilil celemu svetu. Upamo, da Mojca Zlokarnik na svojih potovanjih še razkriva oaze, kjer mu to ni uspelo. Hvaležni smo ji, da navdušenje nad drugačnimi močmi barve in njenimi spektri deli tudi z nami v galerijskih prostorih, v katerih se živahni, a harmonično ubrani pigmenti osvobajajo svojih materialnih nosilcev in kot barvne koprene zalebdijo pred našimi očmi in duhom in da lahko v njih, vsaj za čas razstave, spet spontano in neobremenjeno uživamo.

Jure Mikuž

Prvič objavljeno v:  Mali Benares / Small Benares, Ribnica: Galerija Miklova hiša, 2007.

 M.B.I / S.B. I, 2007, barvni linorez / colour linocut, 100 X 33 cm                                 M.B II / S.B. II, 2007, barvni linorez / colour linocut, 100 X 33 cm                               Roke-zeleno / Hands-Green, 2005, barvni linorez / colour linocut, 100 x 32 cm                             M. B. / S. B. III, 2007, barvni linorez / colour linocut, 100 X 33 cm                               Roke-roke-modro / Hands – Hands - Blue, 2005, barvni linorez / colour linocut, 100 x 32 cm

foto / photo: Tomislav Vrečič, Brane Božič

 

Rehabilitating Color

 

If God had intended man to wear colors, He would have created sheep in a variety of hues. For He has manifested with His bounty to the flowers of the earth, that He can create great colorfulness!

Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century

 

Only traveling to other continents or sojourning in some big city with a cosmopolitan population, which brings us into contact with non-Western, non-globalized styles of dress, domestic designs, and artwork, tends to open our eyes to the fact that Western Europe has been denied, for a long time, a genuine appreciation of bright colors in their distinct, pastel and vivid, hues. This stems from the dichotomous position color held from early Christianity through the Middle Ages and later. On the one hand, it was believed to be a result of original sin; original sin made the material world marginal and transient, and colors a part of its deceptiveness and a favorite tool of the Devil and his worshippers. Bernard of Clairvaux professed his conviction that color was merely a veil the Devil had drawn over all creation to conceal its divine nature. On the other hand, color was cherished as a product of divine light, which breathed life into dead matter. Either way: color is ungraspable and elusive, it cannot be measured, tasted, or smelled; it changes and appears slightly different to every person. The question is whether it is a constituent part of an object or just an addition that creates, under certain conditions of light, an impression of itself in our minds, which are so easily deceived by a diachronic sequence of colors or a simultaneous contrast.

 

Even today we find that color is not constant in any way; people delight in different hues, and the general use of an individual color depends on its historical connotations and their changes with regard to social groups, functions, morality, etc. The European Middle Ages were a brilliantly colored time, but primarily for the wealthy strata, for courtiers and affluent townsmen, who could afford the expensive dyestuffs. As a result, certain colors came to denote people’s standing and provenance, and consequently, to determine contacts between social groups and races: guildsmen, noblemen, monks, Jews, knights, and people on the fringes of society. At the same time, colors symbolized moods: dark ones were considered melancholy, the reds exuberant, harlequin colors buffoonish and earthy hues humble. The use of colors became so exaggerated it was deemed excessive, and the authorities took measures; the Church pronounced only two colors acceptable: blue, which reflected the color of heaven, and black, which stood for renouncing merriment, secular life, and the body. With the occurrence of the Black Death in particular, these two also became the colors of mourning. Soon, they were adopted as elegant by rich people and the nobility, since they set them apart from their brightly attired underlings. Protestantism conclusively sealed their position as the dominant colors, a position that prevails to this day in formal men’s suits and evening wear, in evening gowns, and last but not least, in the ubiquitous, uniformly beloved denim. The aesthetics of black and white has spread also by way of the reproductions of the world in graphic prints, in the press, in photographs, films, and on television, which have all laid the groundwork for our astonishment and enthusiasm when we chance upon the completely unbridled rejoicing in color by people with a different history. In the West, the floral colors favored by the hippies were a final proof that delighting in colors was socially suspect and subversive and that yuppies – whatever their inevitably dark costume – always win.

 

The moral and aesthetic blinders the West put on when perceiving colors are also attributable to historical awareness, which is, however, deceptive – like the colors themselves. Some colors have, quite inexplicably, acquired an extremely bad reputation, most frequently in association with the vanity of Adam and Eve, vanity that has characterized mankind’s attitude to God ever since. Yellow fared worst, despite the fact it is akin to gold, the color of the sun, hence divine. Perhaps the verse from John’s Book of Revelation (6, 8), where the color of the horse ridden by Death is mentioned, has contributed to that: “I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” Yellow clothes, so popular in North Africa, were hardly ever worn in the West; what is more, yellow was imposed as a mandatory badge for Jews, Moslems, other heretics, adulteresses, prostitutes, sorcerers, witches, and even hangmen. Yellow became a general symbol of barbarity, vileness, unreliability, treason, jealousy, and cowardice, and the Star of David remained a sad witness of its fate until recent history. Purple, on the other hand, fared quite differently. Before it was synthetically produced, purple pigment was obtained from a rare species of snail. This made it the most expensive of all dyes and reserved for rulers as a sign of the highest honor. Nowadays it is rarely seen in clothes, with the possible exception of tracksuits.

 

There is another historical fact that skewed later developments in a distinct direction and contributed to bright colors being renounced in the West. Medieval residences, palaces, castles, churches, and other edifices were often brightly painted and otherwise decorated with vivid, pure, light and dark colors. Particularly in chapel and church architecture, polychromy abounded everywhere: in altars, furnishings, wall paintings, tapestries, windows, in short, church interiors must have shimmered kaleidoscopically in the glow of candles and in the light coming through their stained-glass windows. Over time, many of the colors vanished or faded, due to the short life of pigments. This conformed with the medieval notion that in this world, unlike in paradise, everything was bound to perish, although color was on the other hand a bearer of beauty, in which the divine principle revealed itself. Quite soon, however, color ceased to be perceived as a dual symbol of beauty and transience by the church, and became a target of opposition. During the Reformation, colorful elements in Catholic edifices were smashed or burned, and boring, gray oratories built in their place. Early restorers, too, could only picture Romanesque or Gothic cathedrals as drab and lifeless bulky masses. A similar thing happened with buildings and costumes from classical antiquity. The fact that the Parthenon used to be blue, the columns and statues boldly painted, the people dressed in flamboyant colors, was lost from sight in the period of neoclassicism. Its call for the reinstatement of ancient majestic whiteness led to replacing the gaudy golds, silvers, and pinks of Baroque facades and interiors with a dull gray monotony of neoclassicist architecture.

 

The people who feel this deficiency of the Western civilization most painfully are artists, for whom color can be their main means of expression. Artists such as James Turrell, Anish Kapoor, and also Mojca Zlokarnik endeavor in their works to restore color as an autonomous entity to its former dignity. They find support for their efforts in non-European cultures, where ideology and religion have not robbed children of one of their earliest joys – to be born into a world full of colors. In the West, institutions systematically curtail this spontaneous enjoyment, all in the name of esthetic taste. The notion of elegance, formerly so effectively embodied in the gorgeous black-and-yellow combination of the Austro-Hungarian flag and then replaced by the banal red Coca-Cola logo, and the esthetics that only allows kitsch when backed by Disney capital, have been imposed on virtually the whole world. Hopefully, Mojca Zlokarnik discovers in her travels oases where the West has failed in this. We are grateful to her for sharing with us her enthusiasm for the different powers of color and its spectrum in a gallery space, where the vivid yet harmonious colors break free from their material supports and hover, like tinted veils, in front of our eyes and minds, allowing us, at least for the duration of the exhibition, to again enjoy them spontaneously and without inhibition.

 

Jure Mikuž

Translated by Tamara Soban.

First published in: Mali Benares / Small Benares, Ribnica: Galerija Miklova hiša, 2007.