Semiotics of Everyday Life

Man – House – Landscape

I met Valter Černeka from Banjole a dozen or so years ago at the Seven Days of Creation Art Festival in Pazin. The 7DC unfolded as a series of workshops, educational content and performances, conceived as a platform for collaborative artistic work and creativity, the final product of which was first presented in the very community it was created, and then beyond. One of his lithographic sheets from the cycle “Notches”, created experimentally – in the process of drawing the sopressa on a lithography stone, remained etched in my memory. Back then, we were still students, he at the Academy in Venice, and I at the Academy in Rijeka. Today, with the benefit of hindsight, I am trying to contextualise his printmaking oeuvre, which I titled The Semiotics of Everyday Life – Man – House – Landscape.

Valter perceives artistic elements all around him (for example, while preparing lunch, building in the courtyard, fishing…). One might say that he is always looking for signs, because, as he himself points out, “all activities around us must have a sign, some appearance”. He is actually trying to materialise that sign. He notices various objects around him, discarded things, food remains (fish scales, sole fish bones, conger eel gills or lobster antennae), plants (fig leaves, mandarin oranges, vines, olives, loquats…), animals (olive flies, bark beetles, scale insects, cuttlefish…) which he transfers to the matrix, etches and then prints.

His printmaking oeuvre can be viewed as a diary of sorts, of everyday signs, visual impressions or, in turn, human traces that he observes with sensibility and tries to record or document in some way. The best way he achieves this is by using the traditional printmaking techniques (intaglio printing: etching, aquatint, vernis mou; planographic printing: lithography, and letterpress printing: linocut and woodcut). We can say that the matrix is extremely important to the artist, it is an object that remembers, that contains something important and valuable, a “reliquary” of sorts. He also collects ethnographic objects, which for him have a spiritual value in addition to having an aesthetic value. These objects often become matrices (for example, billhook, harpoon, demijohns…). On his relationship with the matrix, he says: “the approach is sculptural, each of them is a distinct and special object that can also be used as a matrix. By mixing these matrices, I attain an unlimited number of possibilities to create an image, a visual document”. He does not experience printmaking as a technique of reproduction, but as an analogue tool that records direct traces of everyday life and direct interventions. Printmaking, for the artist, is a medium that offers the full possibility of expression, and printmaking techniques possess immense creative possibilities, while at the same time being complex and demanding. One has to have a wealth of knowledge and experience in order to make high quality print sheets. Valter likes to experiment both with the motif, and with the technique and materials, but he has great respect for the printmaking metier, so there is a visible level of perfection in the technical execution. His prints are aesthetically finished, precise, refined, yet experimental at the same time. The matrices are most often in colour and made in the same 20 x 20 cm format, which allows multiple combinations during printing, “the same matrix can produce different effects and visual impressions. In black and white it looks completely different than it does in colour”. In addition to experimenting with the matrices, he also does so with the printmaking technique itself, but also with colour. For example, he uses cypress pollen instead of rosin in the aquatint technique, his matrices are etched by crabs, etc. In the preparation of colour, he uses natural earth oxides and chemical elements and compounds such as sulphur, lime, soil, ash, cement, which he mixes in different ratios with beeswax/pork fat/turpentine thus obtaining distinctive natural hues. For etching of iron matrices, he uses sea salt and copper sulphate pentahydrate. He is actually a perfectionist who plays like a child, but is at the same time a botanist, a chemist, a biologist…

Černeka plays with matrices and creates a peculiar visual world, which is often critical because it talks about the recent problematic changes of the Istrian landscape on account of accelerated urbanisation, the problem of sustainability in the context of mass tourism, and pollution – the attitudes to waste disposal. Space is very important in Valter’s artistic preoccupations: “I have always been intrigued by the concept of space. Indirectly, space has a considerable influence on our essence, on what we could become. Every society creates its own places and, in that sense, we are all freelance artists of sorts. The process of image creation is long, slow and layered, and although I sometimes depict distinct objects, my intention is for their appearance to take on a semiotic aspect, so that every individual element of the composition or frame, blots and lines, can be isolated and observed separately. If abstraction is one of the fundamental thought processes, then this is a story about the identity of a landscape and an individual who occupies it.”

Noel Šuran

Valter Černeka (Pula, 1987) obtained a degree in sculpture from the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice. In 2014, together with two colleagues, he founded the “MIG” association dedicated to audio-visual production, fine art and intangible culture, and then continued his research through collaborations in various fields (architecture, stage design, ecology, education). In 2016, he founded “MOT” and gained experience in international contemporary art institutions, which provided him with a sweeping view of the critical study of the language of art. MOT’s activities have thus far been aimed at the popularisation of the analogue tradition of printmaking by establishing a lithographic studio and through non-institutional art education. Černeka is active in the fields of sculpture, letterpress and intaglio printing, and lithography. He works on the recontextualization of traditional disciplines that he uses regularly, seeking dialogue, implementation and interdisciplinarity in the social context. He lives and works in both Italy and Croatia.