Performing painting. On Dino Zrnec's Painting

The notion 'performativity’ was devised by linguist John L. Austin in his series of lectures How to Do Things with Words. It encompasses a group of expressions that do not just state something, but perform an action. An example of such an utterance are the words “I hereby pronounce you husband and wife”, spoken by a priest. Taking linguistics and the philosophy of language as a point of departure, linked with insights from anthropology and theatrology, this notion was soon widely accepted in the humanities, enriching many scholarly fields by aspects of presentation and execution.

The lasting popularity of performativity has left its trace in visual art as well, on the one hand in the increased interest in the (historical) medium of performance and on the other in the stress on the performative aspects of both old and new media. Therefore we can also use this term to analyse an action-oriented procedure in current sculptural production. In painting the interest in performativity is primarily reflected in highlighting the processual aspect; the stress on the how as opposed to what can be observed in many current painting concepts.

These positions also characterize Dino Zrnec, a painter born in Zagreb in 1983, who also lives there. During the last few years, Zrnec has developed some original processes that structure his painterly production. He primed canvases on the reverse side with a mixture of chalk and white pigment, which cracked and let some of the oil paint rubbed into this ground through and to the front side of the canvas. He also painted the pre-primed canvases, without preparing them first, on the back side, in order to generate paintings on the front side. Zrnec left plastic tumblers filled with oil paint and turpentine on the canvases; the turpentine dissolved the plastic over night and the paint left round stains on canvas. He also folded fabric dyed with textile paint with oil paint on his fingers into small rectangles.

Zrnec’s practice shows that it is not necessary to use different material if one can find ways to use it in a new way. His indirect approach is in the literal and figurative sense a criticism of the alleged directness of painting, which is frequently ascribed to it. His painting, which in its transfers slightly reminds of the printing process, participates in many respects in essentially time-based art media like performance and video, especially in his folded works. However pictorial in the traditional sense Zrnec’s work may seem, his understanding of his medium is
that it is open and in a certain way “contaminated”. He has repeatedly been productive with elements that are usually seen as flaws, like in the cases of cracked priming, fingerprints or intended overstretching of canvases. The works in which plastic tumblers are dissolved over night can also be interpreted as a commentary of the increased blending of working and leisure time in the post-Fordist era.

To search for concrete influences in Zrnec’s painting practice is not a very productive enterprise, because “influence” is a hierarchical and teleological model, unable to encompass most of the links between current artistic concepts. It would be more productive to search for references for his process-oriented approach. In addition to many other current positions, these references could be works by Bernard Frize and Simon Hantaï. The processual aspect of painting came into focus with Pollock, which means after the difference introduced by a new painting process had become greater than the common traits with traditional painting procedures. Pollock’s influence stretched from Helen Frankenthaler’s mediation to Louis’s and Noland’s post-painterly abstraction, but also to Robert Ryman’s indexical procedures.

In his artistic practice, Zrnec to a great part deliberately cedes the control over the emergence of his works. It is, however, no coincidence that his works “function” as painting in spite of that. This happens due to the semantic width of the painting field, i.e. the fact that so many things are already charged with aesthetic meaning. (Nevertheless, coincidence does play a role in Zrnec’s work, but it is not the surrealist chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella anymore.) His works tie in the historical field of painting, without beeing directly referential. Zrnec rather lets the system work for himself.

Christoph Bruckner