The Cycle: Art in front of the Art Pavilion
Neven Bilić: The Big Muntius



If we categorise “the Big Muntius” as an ambiental installation, the scene might perhaps recall the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale and the wall of briars that prevents entry into the castle, in this case, the Art Pavilion. In which lies the sleeping princess, or art. The wall of thorns, however, is not organic but generic, did not grow, but is composed of equal pieces. Updated, the thorns refer us to an updated interpretation of the scene, which might be barbed wire, and the castle the embassy of some Western power in Kabul.
Knowing that Bilić is fond of enlargement (for example, when he exhibits a monstrance, he calls it “Big Monstrance”), we might suspect that the installation is also an enlarged depiction of something. A detached part of some sequence, and since its essential dimension is the joining of elements, it is clearly a chain, or a sample of one, magnified. And if we were to associate it with the DNA chain, then we would see that the structure of the Big Muntius is not human but of some unknown species. For example, if we compare the appearance of Ridley Scott’s Alien with the look of a human, then this, judging from the thorns, would logically be the Alien’s DNA. In other words, a foreign body has occupied the Art Pavilion, an unknown force has blocked up the entrance.
To this one has to add the information that Professor Muntius is a minor character of the SF novel Solaris by Stanisław Lem. And not even minor; merely at one place his planetological heresy is explained, what is called Solaristics, the equivalent of religion in the space age. Put simply, it is about people not needing to try to understand the ineffable, for it is a waste of time. Which in the novel refers to the planet Solaris, or to it having an awareness with which it works telepathically on the consciousness of humans.
And as the characters in the novel did not manage to defend themselves against the mental virus that Solaris inserted into them telepathically, so we in reality are able ever more feebly to defend ourselves against the consequences of what we are chucking into our planet. We cannot find a solution, and there is no need to be embittered pessimists for us to agree with Muntius that we are just wasting our time even trying. But unlike the characters on Solaris that can flee back to Earth, our only chance is the hope that on Earth that prince will at last arise, waken us with a kiss, and so the thorns will vanish.
Bilić materialises this pessimism, building it of thick, black, inimical pieces of plastic, and apart from looking like a threat and from people being helpless in front of it, this artefact is established in a way similar to their perception of the world around them. In the interweaving of reality and the subjective interpretation of it, sometimes a ray of light will appear, a crack in the understanding that this world and everything in it is as bad as bad can be, and when by some chance a given thorn is sliced off, it can be at once replaced by a new thorn; defined by its generic structure, every element in it is replaceable.
And just as Solaris with its mental broadcasts has produced in the minds of the astronauts the images that sent them mad, so Earth too incessantly projects images that will make any normal human being insane. Muntius’ recommendation, from this point of view, might be understood as resignation, consent to an end that is increasingly certain. Unlike Camus’ Sisyphus, who finds freedom when he goes down for a new stone, Muntius finds it in this period before the final ending.
Downloaded from the global terrain and shifted into the artistic courtyard, the materialisation of Muntius’ thesis tells that it is a waste of time to understand art, to answer the question as to what it is exactly. But the shaping of the elements and the structuring of the whole indicate a precisely worked out creative language, and the proportions of the installation show a very great engagement, telling us that Bilić did not spare artistic effort to illustrate the pointlessness of any attempt at understanding it. One does not need to be an ingrained pessimist for the probable future of sculpture to be included in this senselessness. Not even at a practically literal level, in an endeavour to fathom the ineffable, for at a particular moment we arrive at the wall, we cannot go on any further, and yet know that this further exists. Bilić’s wall is additionally supplied with thorns on the links of the chain, the impossibility of understanding is the thorn in our awareness. Interpreting still more literally, it turns out that in fact art is not the sculpture, but the art lies inside, inaccessible in the spaces inside its thorniness.
Moving to a still more confined space, Bilić’s authorial investigation The Big Muntius carries on at a semantic and performative level from his last exhibition, Ad Infinitum (20-19). Since the dictionary in the translation of the title cites the verses of Jonathan Swift (… and so proceed ad infinitum / Thus every poet, in his kind / Is bit by him that comes behind) the exhibition might be interpreted as the materialisation of the everyday bites of invisible pests… “Bit by bit Bilić fits them into a shape the structure of which appears menacing, as if the piece is going to blow up, and perhaps already has, and now is frozen at the moment of the explosion. The form produced by the arrangement of parts ultimately looks like a part of some network, like an enlarged part of it. Made up of stereotyped elements, this puzzle includes the possibility of continued development on the same principle, until the whole space is filled by it. The structure is presented, the parts are cast, the building can be continued ad infinitum. But Bilić is exhibiting just a part, wittily bringing in the usual translation of the saying of the title: and so on.” (“Conquered areas – volume 7”, Petikat, 2019). This chain too can be built ad infinitum, and just as there is no shortage of everyday bits, so there is no want of new incomprehensibilities. Just as the “playful ornament of Ad Infinitum, which in part recalls the crystallisation of evil in the mythological genre, and on the other hand the thick and thorny bush of someone’s psyche, already very well spread,” so the interpretation of Muntius’ viewpoint threatens to encircle the whole of the Art Pavilion, symbolic palace in which culture slumbers.
Although attacked on all sides, although threatened within and without, Bilić sculpts his demons. Put more clearly, he breaks them down into parts, shapes their moulds and so multiplies them, putting them into an awkward position. He has “downloaded” their principle, and can at will produce them, and indeed exhibit them. Making them phenomenal, he has in fact unmasked them, made them visible, he has blunted the blade of their threat, eliminated the main lever of their working, which is fear of the unknown and the ungraspable.
In his sculpting of the ungraspable, Bilić draws on a contemporary iconography, on visual genres that always present evil, whether elementary or human, in pointed forms: the horns of the Unclean, the ruffled wings of great black birds, the gown of the Reaper spiking in the wind. Evil is never rounded.
Apart from on the pipes of installations, when they appear, for example, in the frame of an SF film, we know that sooner or later they are going to blow up. And so it might be said that the black, thick, plastic tubes in their entirety linked with futuristic valves and enriched with the ancient thorns in terms of genre combine the iconographies of past and future. In these enclosed dark passages, negative energy circulates endlessly, attempting to break through to the outside. The big curling horns illustrate its discharges.
Muntius is also interpreted self-referentially, an attempt at understanding the unintelligible brought into the space of art and translated as an authorial act in which there is also an attempt to express the unutterable, to approach some light that constantly shifts away. On the other hand the space of art confronts reality, as in a dream when an apple is picked, it is in the hand, but when you try to bite, it turns into a snake. Does one have to give up on dreams in fear of the nightmare, or continue to waste time in a struggle with the ungraspable?
Bilić represents the position of the artist and picks the third option, not giving up on dreams, but being victorious by shifting the nightmare into waking and making use of it as motif. At the same time he admits that, portraying the adversary, the artist still wastes time, not because the other side is constantly changing its face, but because the referee doesn’t register this kind of victory.
But irrespective of the outcome, there is, in fact, for the artist, no other way out, no waste of time more responsible than the attempt to understand the unintelligible.

Boris Greiner

  • Date of the exibition: October 8th – November 29th, 2021
  • Published: 12.43 pm, 29 September 2021
  • Category: Upcoming exhibitions