The word penumbra is often rendered "half-light." The Latin origin paene umbra literally means "almost shadow." In between the shadow and the light there is a zone through which we may see what is in the penumbra, but we see it with this darkened hue, and it is problematic to say whether it is illuminated or not.
In his work Danja Akulin is able to cast light into what is but a partially illuminated landscape. In the way he masters the light he is able to visually translate emotions and thoughts within the duality of darkness and brightness. The more obscure the landscape, the less light is needed for the mysteries that are either hidden or obvious to our eyes, and vice versa. This metaphor accounts for the fact that weak and unimportant feelings might easily resurface, while other strong ones might live in perpetual obscurity: A dim light cast into near darkness stands out more than bright light in full sun. And yet, Akulin in his paintings insists that all illumination has its share of darkness: "Light can be dark too." Artists, while providing illumination, also cast shadows - they create a scene that somehow occupies a position between total illumination and total darkness.
For Danja Akulin the shadow is a place of complete insecurity and the light is a naive confidence in the certainty of knowledge. He actively avoids giving himself up to one or the other but operates, instead, in the in-between area, the penumbra.
It is more likely that Akulin's rhetoric in his ephemeral landscapes owes its inspiration not to mimesis but to the less methodical rumination on literature in Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy. Like Nietzsche, Akulin relates light to knowledge and darkness to ignorance, and like Nietzsche, Akulin conceives of art as a place where the two meet, clash, and collaborate. In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche asserts that all literature manifests both the clear-headed, visual, sober, Apollonian impulse and the wild, blind, chaotic revelry of the Dionysian. In the first lines, he insists that it is about time that the manifestation of this opposition in works of art be taken as an eternal truism.
It is worthwhile to consider the role light and darkness have played historically in the conceptualization of knowledge. Nietzsche considered his thinking in some ways a return to the ancients, a recapturing of the power of the Bible and ancient Greece to establish the foundations for a civilization. The question of mimesis in Plato figures as a play of light and shadow, although its poetic implications are not directly relevant. After all, the parable of the cave describes human reality itself by means of mimesis: the human being is chained in a cave observing a procession of shadows cast upon the wall of the cave by ideas. Literary mimesis, for Plato, is considered dangerous because its distance from the world of ideas makes readers and hearers focus on second-degree mimetic figures, mere imitations of imitations.
But in the essay "Light as Metaphor for Truth" Hans Blumenberg claims that the status of light with regard to knowing the world has completely changed its valence since ancient Greece. According to Blumenberg, it was not until the Enlightenment that knowledge became conceived as light cast by human beings into a world whose basic state is darkness. In ancient Greece, by contrast, being itself was associated with light; human beings were in the artificial darkness of Plato's cave, and acquiring knowledge had to do with turning away from the shadows into the light. In modernity, Blumenberg says the world is "subjected to the lights of an exam," and he makes much of the political possibilities that come from this conception: Vision is no longer associated with freedom; the truth can be manipulated like the lighting on a theatrical stage, and humans are thus exposed to an unprecedented amount of political coercion. Akulin seems to fit this modern paradigm, but, unlike Blumenberg, Akulin celebrates the darkness as an essential part of life and part of life's essential value as a form of knowledge.
Akulin provides knowledge about the world precisely by means of a mimetic poetics that not only confronts what lies in the open to be seen and grasped but that also preserves a sense of the world's mystery. The success of Akulin's images lays on their ability to continue to function resolutely between the poles of darkness and full illumination.
Penumbra by Danja Akulin at Erarta Galleries London
15 June -- 14 July