Silvio Vujičić, Stable Fountain, courtesy of the artist
Visual artist Silvio Vujičić will present his exhibition Fountains at the Filodrammatica Gallery (Korzo 28/1, Rijeka), opening on Thursday, February 29, at 6 p.m. After the opening, visit the exhibition until March 21.
Gallery opening hours:
Monday – Friday 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. | 5 – 8 p.m.
Saturday 5 – 8 p.m.
In this exhibition, Silvio Vujičić explores the symbolism of processes through two key artistic devices: the Unstable Fountain and the Stable Fountain. Through chemical processes, artistic works become portals of change, challenging the viewer’s perception. Fountains placed in a contemporary context prompt reflection on global themes such as dystopia, life, and destruction.
The exhibition is not only a homage to Hieronymus Bosch but also a subtle critique of contemporary society, inviting viewers to explore their own destinies within the process of transformation.
Silvio Vujičić, the process, courtesy of the artist
Silvio Vujičić, Stable Fountain, courtesy of the artist
Silvio Vujičić’s Unstable Fountain and Stable Fountain
– Sanja Cvetnić
Works of visual art, much like literary works, have their own destiny, habent sua fata opera visualia. Two millennia have passed since the Roman grammarian and poet Terentianus Maurus wrote the famous sentence about books having their own destiny – with the less famous yet essential addition that this destiny depends on the reader’s capacity or ability to understand them (lat. Pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli). Terentianus’s thought, known in a truncated form – only for the part that says that books have their own destiny – is older than critical concepts such as canon, homage, citation, appropriation, referentiality, scopic regime, or global art. Yet, in our encounter with two works of device art by Silvio Vujičić (b. 1978 in Zagreb) – the Unstable Fountain and the Stable Fountain, for which these terms would be an appropriate critic’s tool – it is the one that comes to mind first.
Vujičić’s two fountains are composed of separate casings made of blown borosilicate glass, which makes them resistant to high temperatures. These are mounted to form a structured outline, vertical, with “spires” reminiscent of Gothic reliquaries. Their glass circulation tubes are a separate system with ampoules at the top and ends. The flowing part of the fountains depends on mechanisms – the engines being their “hearts” and the fans their “lungs” – while the “decorative”, transparent glass towers resembling spires on Gothic churches contain seeds or other objects, substances, or liquids that do not circulate, making these parts serve as ampoules (or vials). The technology of chemical processes in the fountains’ bloodstream – such as crystallization – and the permanent atmosphere of potential (self)destruction of the fragile glass structure looms over the fountains like an uncertain future, a sword of Damocles. If the temperature rises, there may be changes making it impossible for the vitreous bloodstream to withstand increased crystallization, and the system may burst like an overstrained heart, breaking through its casing and releasing all the seeds, substances, and liquids it contains.
Both fountains were first exhibited in 2015, in the French Pavilion at the Student Centre in Zagreb, as part of the exhibition Everything I like is either illegal, immoral or doesn’t yet exist (October – November 2015, curator Marta Kiš). Since then, nine years have passed, and both fountains have retained their concept and their casings but were technologically altered to modern settings and supplied with permanent showcases (60 × 40 × 40 cm). Any critical or media reception of the exhibition and the very complex artistic devices displayed, with their many references – which have yet to be explored – was completely absent. Following Terentianus Maurus’s thought that the fate of books – and we may also say, of artworks – depends on the reader’s or viewer’s capacity or ability to understand them, we invite you now to walk with us around the two fountains and search for signposts that may change their fate. And thus our experience, perception, and everything a work of art can offer.
The first signpost is an analysis of the segments and procedures that make up the artworks. In the Unstable Fountain (46 × 23 × 13 cm), Silvio Vujičić used an extract of myrtle berries (Lat. Myrtus communis) in alcohol for the bloodstream, which circulates as dark venous fluid in a closed system. A peristaltic pump hidden in the base allows the mechanical sound to be completely muted, emphasizing the auditory aspect of the artwork: the rhythm of drops falling to the ground and returning to the bloodstream. A separate part of the glass cap at the top of the fountain contains a psychostimulant (caffeine), and the ampoule below a biological fluid (urine). Two keys were inserted into separate ampoules on the sides using glazier’s skills.
The Stable Fountain (53 × 20 × 13.5 cm) has a supersaturated solution of chromium alum / chromium (III) potassium sulphate [KCr(SO4)2·12H2O], which comes out of four pipes and crystallizes at the base, forming a “geological” pedestal. It is brighter at first, then purple, and finally completely dark. A three-dimensional base was constructed and then printed out as its structure, on which the crystals can grow spherically (convexly) so as to build the rock on which the fountain rests. At the top of the fountain, there is a seed of the flamboyant tree (Lat. Delonix regia), an evergreen tree with a broad canopy and fan-shaped leaves, especially valued in tropical vedutas for its abundant clusters of large arterial red blossoms. Bright red seeds of the red lucky seed (Lat. Adenanthera pavonina) are displayed in the side ampoules. Both trees were historically part of the landscapes of India, Madagascar, and the Far East, and have only spread globally through colonial and trade enterprises. However, the seeds in the Stable Fountain are also part of an autobiographical herbarium, a botanical diary. In 2010, Silvio Vujičić exhibited a subtle mechanism titled Cloud  at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts in Taichung, in central Taiwan. While participating in the exhibition on Exploring the Media Boundaries (June – August 2014) on that distant island and researching the local flora, he felt an urge to transfer some seeds of those exotic plants into an artistic medium.
Another signpost is provided by the unusual, indented silhouettes of the fountains. They are not only an artistic homage to Gothic liturgical objects, but also a direct quotation of two specific motifs (themselves inspired by Gothic art), fountains in one of the milestone paintings in the entire history of art – the triptych Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450 – 1516, ‘s-Hertogenbosch). The triptych is painted in oil on oak boards (central part: 219 × 195 cm; wings: 219 × 96 cm) and is now exhibited at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, having long been part of the collection of King Philip II of Spain at El Escorial.
The outline of the Unstable Fountain is quoted from the central scene of the triptych, depicting (according to later interpretations) Mankind before the Flood, while the keys in its ampoules are from the Inferno scene on one of its wings. The Stable Fountain corresponds in its outline and segments to the fountain in the Garden of Eden on the opposite wing, which is sometimes referred to as Adam Meets Eve after its central figures. The elevated position of the Unstable Fountain, which almost seems suspended, is an interpretation of Bosch’s placement of his fountain in the centre of the heavenly lake, where it seems as if the sphere with the fountain were floating, while the Stable Fountain – as in Bosch’s painting – is set on a dark rock, or rather on crystals that the fountain washes and produces at the same time.
The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1490–1510). Triptych, oil on oak panels, 205.5 cm × 384.9 cm (81 in × 152 in). Museo del Prado, Madrid. Source: Wikipedia/Public domain
Hieronymus Bosch was originally from Aachen (real name Jheronimus van Aken; Jeroen van Aken) and stemmed from a family of painters. He is first mentioned in documents from 1474 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in North Brabant, in the heart of the historical Low Countries, the area later divided into modern Netherlands and Belgium. In Bosch’s time, the city was at the peak of its economic strength and power as the second-largest city of the region (after Utrecht), and according to the detailed urban registers, the painter belonged to the city’s elite, at least in terms of income and property: he was among the ten percent of the richest citizens in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. His membership in the prestigious confraternity of Our Lady (Illustre Lieve Vrouwe Broederschap), founded in 1318 and still in existence, and the important connections between the city’s patricians and the Dutch nobility, indicate that this class most likely included the commissioners of his paintings. The names of the clients are unknown, but they must have been an upper middle class, since they could understand and enjoy these pious yet somewhat secular moralizing themes such as the one on the triptych, which was only later called the Garden of Earthly Delights (Bosch’s other works were also named subsequently). The triptych has been dated variously – from 1490-1505 to 1510-1515, but it was most likely painted in 1503, a year before the death of Count Engelbert II of Nassau. It was first documented in 1517 by the Italian canon Antonio de’ Beatis, who accompanied Cardinal Luigi d’Aragon to Brussels as his secretary and noted in his travel diary that he had seen there some “painted panels with bizarre scenes depicting seas, heavens, trees, valleys, and many other things, such as people coming out of shells, others carried by birds, men and women doing the most diverse things in various poses.”
The painting was therefore not a royal commission, even though it came into the possession of the Spanish king within a century of its creation. The view of Antonio de’ Beatis, a southern Italian priest, a view that is half a millennium old, is invaluable from various points of view. At this moment, the cultural variable of the viewing experience (the scopic regime) and the cultural semantics in the view of a modern artist, Silvio Vujičić, are particularly interesting.
Vujičić has entered into a very open and intellectually inspired dialogue not only with the canonical part of art history or with the old master Bosch, a dialogue occasionally appearing as part of his poetics (Alchemic Polyptych, 2009 ; Caput mortuum, 2010 ), but also with the status and by the perception of the triptych, which becomes his interlocutor. Vujičić approaches Bosch’s work with full awareness of the entire cargo of interpretation and the aura that has been attached to it over time. However, it is not with the desire to explore Bosch’s imagery academically or philosophically – such thoughts are present as well, but hidden, and it is only after a prolonged contemplation on the Unstable Fountain and the Stable Fountain that they are revealed to the patient “reader” – but rather conceptually, reflecting about utopia (the garden of earthly delights) in a different medium and a different time.
Individual motifs from all three parts of the Garden of Earthly Delights, such as flowers, seeds, or keys, and moreover, some of the attempts at interpreting Bosch’s artworks (such as the explanation that his extraordinary imagination was due to psychostimulants) – are found “blown into” Silvio Vujičić’s fountains. Instead of the magical and sometimes perplexingly debaucherous, yet two-dimensional stage of Bosch’s painting, Vujičić creates a three-dimensional art device and shifts from outlines and painted forms into real objects, like a realized metaphor. From the moral teaching of the world emerging from medieval bestiaries and the carnivalism of the world turned upside-down (Lat. mundus inversus), we are transferred to a global dystopian reality concentrated in the liquids of Vujičić’s fountains. Nevertheless, the fountain motif connecting the two artworks and two worlds five centuries apart, which Silvio Vujičić uses to present his work as an homage to Bosch, is no longer the fons vitæ, the source of life of baptismal water and salvation, as in the famous triptych, because the glass bloodstream of his fountains is filled with dangerous or dangerously intimate substances: explosive, toxic, hallucinogenic, biological secretions… which in controlled chemical processes create crystals or vapours that must be trapped in glass casings. Vujičić’s fountains evoke a different atmosphere, because today’s sensibilities are no longer disturbed so much by “the most diverse things in various poses,” but by the significantly more terrifying thoughts about the delirium of destruction. These are no longer individual physical and mental torments as in Bosch’s Inferno, but the collective European (and then individual) anxiety of Michel Houellebecq’s novel To destroy (anéantir, 2022). It was published after the first “edition” of Vujičić’s fountains, and with this gap of almost a decade, the understanding of these complex art devices has been changed by new experiences of the world. Cautious enthusiasm, or at least curious wonder at globalization have given way to anxiety caused by global migrations, not to mention the unexpected (and relatively recent) catalytic impotence of global healthcare. Here, another connection between the Unstable Fountain and the Stable Fountain with Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights is revealed: on the closed wings of the triptych, the old master painted the Creation of the World: The Third Day (grisaille), a scene between the creation of vegetation and that of animals and man (Gen 1, 13-15). To us, with our present experience, it does not look like a world in the making, but a world in disappearance, a post-apocalyptic landscape without people and animals, so Silvio Vujičić’s fountains with their dark or dangerous substances likewise look like dark mirrors of Bosch’s fountains of life.
The defamiliarization with which Silvio Vujičić (re)shapes his experience of Bosch’s fountain motif, and his contemplations about the canonical triptych in general, enable him to publicly pay homage to an artist who died half a millennium ago, but also to breathe new dimensions into the life of forms, in an unpredictable context. From the silhouettes of fountains in Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights to Vujičić’s real, materialized fountain in the role of complex art devices in an (al)chemical laboratory, this is the journey on which the artist takes the viewer – if the latter is ready for it (remember, pro captu lectoris) – through dystopia and global neuralgia, just like Virgil took Dante through the Inferno.
 Device, oyster pigment, black wall, size depending on the exhibition venue. Exhibited at Platform3 in Munich, 2010; T-HTnagrada@msu.hr, Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, 2011; Translife, International Triennial of New Media Art, 2011 in Beijing. Zagreb, Studio Silvio Vujičić.
 Wooden polyptych frame, wire hangers with twenty-five T-shirts, with organic paints, S1 silicone, two metal holders, two books, 304.5 × 400 × 210 cm. Zagreb, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2009.
 Metal hoop and stand (construction), water, fabric, 150 × 400 × 400 cm, site-specific installation. Zagreb, Gallery of the Student Centre, 2010.
29 February – 21 March, 2024
Thursday, 29 February, at 6 p.m.
GALLERY OPENING HOURS:
Monday – Friday 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. | 5 – 8 p.m.
Saturday 5 – 8 p.m.
(closed on Sundays and public holidays; contact us to arrange another time of your visit)