Art-Cologne, gallery Pudelko, 2004
Understanding an artwork by Igor Ganikowski is easier than it first seems, assuming that one shares this artist’s certainty that there is a spiritual realm that continually reveals itself to humanity. The gravitas of the artist confronts everyone in whom the longing for the nonarbitrary lies dormant. While some artworks ask the viewer to fixate on the image itself, Ganikowski’s productions direct the viewer’s attention toward the reality the artwork bears witness to.
The message is that authentic Being is invisible but conveys itself into the sensible substance of the artistic object and can be unearthed there. The artwork has an ambivalent character, as in the Neoplatonic theory of language from late antiquity found in the writings of Proclus (5th century A.D.) or Ammonius (6th century a.d.). On the one hand, the artwork nourishes itself from familiar conventions such as Jewish symbolism or the Russian color tradition, and thus is constructed so as to be mediated by the experience of the viewer. On the other hand, it is an allegory, showing forth intelligible Being only in a veiled, analogical manner.
The structure of the artwork is, so to speak, the grammar of a reality that mirrors itself. As a signifier, it points beyond itself; it is the expression and exponent of a spiritual universality, a whole world of feeling, outlook, and spirit which has found subtle expression in it. The fact that it is only fragments and facets that come into view, details that shift in some cases with changes in the viewer’s position, stems from the fullness and displacement of Being itself.
The spiritual cosmos is fundamentally not accessible as a completed whole. It contains not only order and clarity but also tensions, contradictions and danger. Accordingly, the images can bring about highly-charged emotional effects (if the viewer is in a receptive frame
of mind and is open to the horizons, levels and expanses offered), without this being more than a step on the way to the cognition of nonverbal states. It is no wonder that the artistic means of expression remain on an abstractly geometrical plane, since the mathematical/geometrical is already for Plato, in his allegory of the divided line, the means of approaching the highest spiritual level (Plato, Republic 509b-511e) - and in later Platonism serves as the middle term between pure thought and the sensible world, apportioning immeasurability.
The reduction of the contents of the artwork to its essentials is decidedly more nearly commensurate to invisible reality than a conventional form of illustration by means of motifs, which runs the risk of staleness. The choice of abstraction stems from the recognition that only in this way can an invisible reality be communicated.
If such an approach allows one to begin to see into the effects of the artwork, then it becomes clear that Igor Ganikowski intends neither to
carry out a philosophical program nor to create a world of ideas nor to master a self-imposed technical challenge of forming a material, for example, or producing a certain effect of lighting, even while on closer inspection perspective, spatial construction, vanishing points, light-and-shadow effects and other familiar compositional elements do play a role in his work. What is decisive is the spiritual content the work bears witness to. Surprising as it may sound, the regularities of abstraction that disclose Being in his works stem from the artist’s life experiences. Paradigmatic experiences of separation, for example, or privation, the monotony of compulsions, the oppressive demands of recent or distant history, walking along the edge of an abyss, or the overcoming of crises, the fantasy of escape, the experience of
strength, being protected by higher authorities, etc., are situations that serve as starting points that, in the artwork, are brought into relation with universality. The more these impressions have undergone a purification in light of timelessness, the more distanced and the colder the result situated in the work may seem, the more frequently they touch upon primal themes that have already been engaged by the humanistic tradition - problems such as the relation of time and eternity or the One and the Many, to name just two examples. It is no wonder that Gnosticism, Neoplatonism and the Kabbalah offer not only constellations of themes but also explanatory models for the manifestation of reality in these artworks.
It is, however, the artist alone who bears the responsibility for the truth of his insights. Whether his works venture into territory that is familiar or unfamiliar to the viewer, they derive prophetically visionary features from this territory, but clearly without intending to create a new reality themselves. What is seen is borne witness to; standing structures of Being are emulated. Since the soul of the artist stands in a sympathetic connection to the spiritual universe, the call is at the same time universal. The individual experience of the artist manifests the universal. Corresponding to much Russian and Jewish tradition, microcosm and macrocosm are always intersecting sets, ideally concentric circles.
The language of the messenger latches onto what is original and simple, because only what has already survived the test of time is
suited to what he has to express. One learns, particularly, that Jewish ciphers preserve a treasure trove of symbols of humanity prior to any religious narrowing. The expressive potential of this language is nevertheless diverse and unbounded. All elements such as colors, shapes, letters and the like can serve as references.
Whether colors have a fixed meaning remains (as in icon painting) somewhat open. The effect can be accomplished in various ways: some “signs” function by means of similarity, others through analogy (cf. Proclus, in Rem Publicam Commentarii II 151, 4/9). Clear signals can also appear: wrinkles, doors, filters, symmetries, the third dimension, etc. shepherd the viewer to the juncture between this world and the next and serve as guides for the border crossing.
Through simple description, the viewer already begins the process of understanding the work, by raising into consciousness what he sees, without deep or scholarly rumination, without laboriously attempting to burden details with weighty significance. One can bring the object to life by connecting it with negative or positive experiences. The more concretely one encounters the existential in the artwork, the more immediately it begins to speak. In contrast to its apparent inaccessibility, the work is tailored for communicability, without in the least conforming to the viewer’s perspective.
Just as a piece of music only gradually discloses its substance after repeated listening, or as a flowerbud slowly blossoms, the spiritual treasure concealed in the object reveals itself only after an extended period of looking. The dialogue with the image leads to an open situation that is fundamentally uncompleted. The dialogue should not lead to a nebulous meditative state but always to the next step toward understanding. The reference back to the concreteness of the work itself defends against the arbitrariness of association. One must, however, always bear in mind that what stands open today may be closed off tomorrow, and what was silent yesterday may speak today, while some aspects of the work may resist interpretation for a long period.
The work never merely documents a state of mind; rather, it has a purifying effect. It enriches, since it is not artificial and leads humanity into a self-relation and therewith into a relation with Being, but not in a pedagogical manner. Characteristics of icons, devotional pictures, and literary dramas are all (so to speak) combined in one of Igor Ganikowski’s works.
Whoever finds oneself in a hermeneutic circle also comes more deeply into contact with the aesthetic qualities of a work of Igor Ganikowski. In this respect, his objects possess a great power of attraction. Even those images in which something threatening stands in the foreground radiate, in fortunate moments, repose, serenitydignity and gravity. They display life from a higher vantage point and awaken, despite everything, the hope for goodness. That is great art.
( translated from German by Prof. Dr. Jeffrey Wilson, Los Angeles, CA, U.S.A.)