From classical antiquity to the present day, philosophy and the fine arts have often intermingled. More to the point, the phenomenon of visual arts just as art in general has been and still is the subject of philosophy and philosophical eflection. However, during the second half of the twentieth century and now, at the very dawn of the twenty-first century, the relationship between philosophy and the visual or imitative arts has become much more complex. One can even say that they complement each other to a certain degree. The emergence of new artistic media and expressions, such as conceptual art, installations, ambient art, videos or performances, have considerably broadened and enriched the scope of possibilities to convey a message, and by this very fact they have redefined the artist’s role in society. No longer content to remain exclusively within the framework dictated by traditional problems of form and content, contemporary artists are using their creativity to become increasingly involved in philosophical discourse. Such aspirations are summarized in a maxim/query that often imposes itself: “Ethics or aesthetics?” To be sure, the aforementioned changes have also influenced perceptions of the classical artistic disciplines; painting and sculpture are building upon their foundations by introducing completely new ideas.
Zagreb-based artist Davor Preis unambiguously confronts the problems surrounding the contemporary relationship between philosophy and art. He actually comments on it through a specific form of artistic narration. The fact that he does so through simulations is intriguing. Less than two years ago, Preis exhibited an installation called Landscapers in the Matica Hrvatska Gallery. This installation incorporated references to the achievements of the great philosophers and scholars of the past: a broken sphere on a surface and a sphere on a deformed surface represent something of an homage to Newton’s law of gravitation; right triangles distributed in concave and convex patterns allude to the Pythagorean theorem; balls floating in water distributed in nine glass jars clearly refer to Archimedes’ principle. By the same token, Preis used the Landscapers to deal with the postulates of linear perspective, for which Brunelleschi deserves the most credit. There are, namely, five photographs of the moon’s phases (1), each with a different size. Even so, their placement was computed such that if they are viewed from a certain point they appear to be the same size and positioned next to each other. A change in the position of the observer alters the entireoptical structure of the installation, while the linear perspective acquires “manneristic” connotations.
The selection of light additionally emphasizes perspective. Therefore yellow lighting is used for the nearest part of the installation, green for the middle section, and blue for the most distant components. The reason for selecting precisely these colors is not difficult to comprehend: yellow is a warm color that creates the impression of proximity to the observer, and green is neutral, while blue, with its coolness, seems more distant and suggests depth. It is therefore worthwhile to stress the exceptionally important role played by three-dimensional space in the Landscapers installation. A recent work by Preis called “Think about...” presents the earlier Landscapers installation in two-dimensional format, in photographs shown on six displays. The observer’s movement is no longer essential to experiencing this work. The photographer supplied the movement, and the photographed sequences only simulate the observer’s movement through the space in which the exhibition was installed previously. Two-dimensional particularity therefore replaced three-dimensional unity, while the observer’s movement was simulated through the movement of the photographer within the artwork itself.